“I am the Ritual, I am the Sacrifice, the Oblation and the Herb,
I am the Prayer and the Melted Ghee, The Fire and its Offering.”
Krishna in Baghavat Gita IX 16
In Sanskrit, the word Yoga means to union or integrate, the marriage union is perhaps the most profound Yoga of all.
I recently attended a spectacular wedding of my nephew who lives in South Africa and his bride who lives in India, so the meeting place between the two continents was the magnificent island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
Indian weddings are known for their grandeur and week-long festivities and have been in the news lately as a $11 billion dollar market (second largest in the world). So much emphasis is on the Bollywood aspect of Indian weddings people forget the significance of the Vedic rites and rituals that are also performed to elevate the mind of the bride/groom and guests to higher consciousness.
As you will see the wedding ceremony rituals are profound, life affirming (and very romantic) – as they invoke and honor all the main forces of nature – the five elements of water, air, fire, earth and ether, the sun and moon, the planets and the Gods.
Traditionally, the Hindu sacrament of marriage is seen as equal to the divine union (yoga) symbolized by Shiva and Shakti (the masculine and feminine forces of nature), hence, during the ceremony the bride and groom are worshiped, as well as worship each other, with the same rituals and intensity that is reserved for the divine in Hindu temples.
The hour and date of the marriage ceremony is very carefully chosen by the astrologer to find the most auspicious moment of time and maximize marital success. When done following all the Vedic astrological rules there are technically only about 40 days or so in the year that are considered appropriate for marriage (the solar month is among the most important considerations and the sun cannot be in Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio or Sagittarius).
Here is a brief step by step description of the main wedding ceremony:
Milini (Welcoming Groom) — Bride’s family and friends formally greet the groom – the bride’s mother performs puja (worship) to show reverence to the groom by applying tilak (sacred dot) on groom’s forehead and Arati (worship by waving a flame in front of the divine) and showers him with flower petals.
Jai Mala (Exchange of flower Garlands) — The bride and groom honor each other by exchanging flower garlands, while the priest chants sacred mantras.
Madhuparka (Offering) — The bride welcomes the groom and offers him a mixture of yogurt, ghee (clarified butter) and honey. Not very vegan, I know – but this elixir is considered to give vitality, health and happiness in an Ayurvedic diet (probiotics, omega3, and amino acids).
Achaman (Purification) — The bride and groom sip a small amount of fresh water to symbolize purification of the self in preparation for participation in the ceremony.
Kumbha (Witness) — The priest invites Lord Ganesha (remover of all obstacles), Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva (the trinity of Hinduism), and Nava-Graha (the nine forces that direct our destiny — Sun and Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu) to bless and witness the ceremony.
Kanyadan (Giving Away the Bride) — The bride’s parents give their daughter to the groom by placing her right hand in his right hand.
Homa (Sacred Fire) — All Hindu rites and ceremonies commence with the performance of a sacred fire ceremony. The sacred fire is lit with offerings of ghee and medicinal herbs. The priest chants prayers requesting that the veil of darkness and ignorance be lifted from our lives and that the divine fire will lead us to eternal light and higher knowledge.
Lava phere (Circling the Holy Fire) — The couple is tied together with two scarves, symbolizing the unbreakable bond between them and they circle the sacred fire four times representing the four goals of Hindu Life; Dharma (righteousness), Artha (prosperity), Kama (fulfillment of desire) and Moksha (spiritual path). Each time the couple circles an offering is made into the flames. The groom, signifying the masculine energy, leads the first three rounds promising to guide the couple in righteousness, resources and help them to fulfill their worldly desires. The bride signifying, the feminine energy, leads the last circle around the fire promising to uphold the most important aspect of their marriage, which is the common journey of spiritual liberation.
Asmaarohana (The Stone) — The bride places her right foot on a stone symbolizing that she will be steadfast and firm like a mountain in her support for each other.
Saptapadi (Seven Steps) — The most sacred of all the mantras – Gayatri mantra – is chanted three times to invoke the three worlds; the heavens, the mid-region and earth. The couple take seven steps to symbolize the beginning of their journey together for life. The priest recites the seven vows for happiness, peace, prosperity and lifelong friendship.
Saubhagya Chinha (Blessing the Bride) — The groom blesses the bride by putting sindhur (sacred red powder) at the parting of her hair and by giving her a sacred necklace to the planet Mars (Mangal Sutra). Mars is the planet that causes the most turmoil in relationships, as he is the impulsive, vital, animal instinct of the moment in our consciousness. (A little sexist I know, but somebody’s got to wear it).
Haridaya-Sparsha (Touching of Hearts) — The bride and groom touch each others’ heart reciting promises to each other.
Abhishekh (Purification and Meditation) — To end the ceremony, the priest sprinkles purifying water on the bride and groom after which they both meditate on the sun and the pole star to give them power to lead a creative, meaningful and righteous life.
Aashirwad (Blessings) — All the guests shower the couple with flowers. The newly wedded couple touch the feet of all those older than them, as a mark of respect and to receive their blessings.
Never pass up a chance to go to a big fat Indian wedding; they really are once in a lifetime events.