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The Hindu Wedding

Excerpt from a beautiful book about weddings, describing a Hindu wedding.

Excerpt from the new book
Weddings, Dating, & Love Customs of Cultures Worldwide,
Including Royalty
by Carolyn Mordecai

Special thanks and credit to Sumitra Singh, Librarian
Embassy of India, Washington, D.C.

The world's third largest religion, Hinduism began about 6,000 years ago in India. Hinduism, a polytheistic religion also known as Brahmanism, is rich in ceremony and the smell of sweet incense. Hindus have magnificent temples with abundant carvings and roadside shrines. Though over two-thirds of the Hindu population now reside in India, their religion has spread to Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia where its influence is felt today. Small Hindu populations are scattered throughout Europe, North America, Africa, and the West Indies. Even though customs and the people's languages in different countries vary, Hindu followers still maintain the same fundamental beliefs.

Hindus base their way of life on sacred laws from books illuminating their duties or dharma. Hinduism has many gods and goddesses to worship, but each of them is part of the Supreme God, then beyond, only One. Two major Hindu sects have a different, but significant major God, as well as lesser gods whom are divine. The major Gods from each sect are--

* Shiva, the Lord of the Dance, symbolizes the world's eternal energy. It causes patterns and cycles, and through its dance, the universe will be created over again though an endless cycle.

* Vishnu who comes to the aid of people.

Obedience to Gods' laws and placation through ritual are part of the Hindu's everyday life. The tikka, the divine eye, is represented by a dark sandalwood paste applied to the middle of the forehead. It is a sacred symbol to aid in the search for God.

Because of their belief that all existence is comprised of earth, water, fire, wind and aksha (ether), Hindu people make ritualistic offerings, symbolizing each element, at dawn or dusk at Hindu temples. Their offerings are made to the accompaniment of drum beating, bugle-blowing, bell ringing, and the chanting of Vedas.

Present-day Hindus often feel existence and the reality of life are too complicated and broad to be encompassed into a creed. Their beliefs contain many metaphysical ideas and viewpoints; therefore, an individual can choose his beliefs, practices, and rituals according to his understanding. Annually, shraadam, a day long ceremony with feasting takes place to honor their Hindu ancestors.

The Hindu's sacred text is the Veda which includes the Upanishads, a collection of rituals and mythological and philosophical commentaries. The most significant belief is that the soul is reborn many times; that the body grows old and dies, but the soul lives on. This soul is then reborn within a human form or another living form. Should the person's action in his life be one of good deeds, the person will be reborn to a higher level. Conversely, if his or her bad characteristics outweigh the good, the rebirth would will be in a lower form. The law of karma, cause and effect, is thereby based on one's deeds which determine one's next life. Their birthright is the reward or punishment for how they lived in their prior life and the events taking place in their lives are predestined.

Hindus believe that people start on a Path of Desire by wanting pleasure, wealth, fame, and power. Such wants are considered legitimate as long as people do not no injure others or act stupidly. Most people eventually tire of such pleasures and finally embark on a Path of Renunciation. They simply realize that truth goes beyond self-aggrandizement. What people truly desire is what they already possess within their own bodies: their true hidden self composed of their conscious being and their own personality buried beneath distractions, false assumptions, and untruths. Hindus believe that all peoples are linked to the God-creator Brahma. The goal after seeking pleasure is to achieve oneness with Brahma, the World Soul, who is in an eternal state of perfect knowledge and bliss. Hinduism offers the following paths to salvation to obtain bliss:

* Psychophysical exercise. Insight and spiritual knowledge gained from meditation and yoga until a state of enlightenment is attained.

* Total devotion to the ultimate God. The way to God is through knowledge.

* Work. Unselfishly serving others and striving for a good society.

* Philosophy of love and marriage

According to Dr. Krishna Nath Chatterjuee, author of the Hindu Marriage Past and Present, ³The purpose of the Hindu marriage is to have sexual relations, continuity of the race, and discharging of religious, and social duties.² The Path of Desire, consisting of achieving religious duty, attaining prosperity, worldly pleasures, and salvation, are the goals of marriage. The Hindu marriage is a sacred institution with the couple becoming one in spirit. A Hindu man has not attained his complete self unless he is married and has the cooperation of his wife. Among the Hindus, begetting a son is important.

Selecting a spouse

Hindu marriages are arranged by parents. They select mates best suited for their children by examining personal qualities, education, and social status of a prospective partner. Because their concepts of reincarnation and karma keep the Hindu caste system alive, the people accept their station in life and thereby marry within their caste.

For many Hindus the caste system remains strong, especially in Indian villages where 75 percent of the population resides. Castes are related to the traditional occupations which are passed from father to son and influence who a Hindu marries, even with whom a person shares food. The castes are---

'. The Brahmans who are priests and philosophers.

2. The Kshatriyas who are the warriors responsible for military service and sustaining the law.

3. The Vaishyas are those responsible for trade and commerce.

4. The Shudras are manual laborers.

5. The low-caste masses called ³untouchables.²

The higher the caste, the greater the purity. If a person from a higher caste accidentally touches an untouchable, he must bathe and perform a ritual to regain purity. More achievements are expected from the higher castes than from the lower ones.

Years ago, parents arranged marriages for their children while they were babies or very young. Compatibility between the two families was of primary concern, for a young daughter had to live with her husband's extended family. They believed if young people grew up together, they could learn over time how to understand and adjust to each other's manners. The girl did not have to leave her parents to live with her husband and in-laws until she matured. In that case, she just visited them. Because the wedding occurred before puberty, the girl was a virgin and her parents did not have to be concerned about their daughter having a child out of wedlock.

Today, child marriages are forbidden, and girls can marry only after they are '4 years of age. Young girls are not permitted to have any other boyfriends prior to marriage and are expected to remain virgins. Marriages are arranged by parents, but now with the consent of their son or daughter. (Some parents consider whether or not their children's horoscopes are compatible.) Marriages are arranged with the expectation that love will grow and blossom throughout a lifetime.

The Hindu Marriage

During the Hindu wedding ceremony, the bride and groom take the sapta-padi or seven steps together, promises led by a priest or Brahmin. The couple takes the sapta-padi before God, the Radiant One, symbolized by fire and light. Thus, their promises are witnessed by God's wisdom, truth, and justice.

Today's Hindu weddings are celebrated lavishly by family and friends. They also provide an opportunity for the parents to observe prospective eligible prospects for their other unmarried children.

The wedding usually takes place at the bride's home with the bride wearing a beautiful sari. Usually a large tent is erected and filled with beautiful interior decor: flowers, colorful personal adornment, and jewelry. Other places for the wedding are a garden, courtyard of the bride's house, a blocked-off street or square. Weddings are elaborate celebrations with about '00 relatives gathering for the occasion. Guests enjoy dining and lunch on their three-day visit. Sumitra Singh's father was so pleased on the occasion of his daughter's wedding that he had roses thrown to the earth from an airplane.

Because people's wealth and status differ and every state within India has its own customs, language, and manner of dress, Indian marriage customs and ceremonies vary.

Pre-wedding customs: When the groom, his relatives, and friends arrive at the bride's town, the bride's parents hold a welcome ceremony. After the groom dines at the bride's home, the bride and groom stand on a decorated wood plank as priests hold a curtain between them. While the bride's bridal party (maternal uncle and bridesmaids) stand behind the bride, the priests chant marriage songs and the guests shower rice and other grains over the couple.

Wedding ceremony: The priest or Brahmin officiates at the wedding ceremony. The wedding begins when the curtain is removed and garlands of sandalwood chips are placed around the necks of the bride and groom.

Bridal upliftment of Dharma: The bride's father gives his daughter to the groom for the upliftment of Dharma. The father includes his daughter in the three Purusharthas: Dharma for right conduct, Artha for prosperity, and Karma for the enjoyment of legitimate gratification.

Marriage symbols: After the bride applies sandalwood paste to the groom's forehead, he makes a round red mark on her forehead for her to display as long as they are married. The offerings of puffed rice and purified butter from the hands of the bride and groom are thrown into the fire, representing the Radiant One, while the priest removes the darkness by chanting more mantras, which are blessings.

Vows: Vows in a Hindu marriage are made before a fire that represents the deity, the Radiant One; thus vows are witnessed by the God's wisdom, truth, and justice. The husband accepts his wife as a token of good fortune so they can assume their Hindu life together. The groom vows to always include his bride and to consult her. While the groom takes the bride's hand and leads her around the fire, mantras are said. These mantras include accepting the responsibilities of fidelity, love, mutual respect, and procreation for as long as they live. As the priest chants the seven steps, the bride and groom step closer to each other. The couples start walking where the rice is heaped on one side. Holding hands, they take the sapta-padi, seven steps symbolic of their common journey through life. As they circle around the sacred fire pot, they agree to do the following:

*  Earn a living for their family and respect their abundance.

*  Live a healthy lifestyle for each other.

*  Be concerned for the partner's welfare, happiness and friendship throughout their religious-centered lives.

* Eat and drink together and be with each other on special occasions.

*  Desire children for whom they will be responsible and love.

*  Adapt to the other person at any given time and place.

Then, the bridegroom recites the traditional mantras to the bride, including:

I am the words and you are the melody, I am the melody and you are the words.

Blessings: The bride's parents present gifts to the groom. Cotton is tied around the bride and groom while blessings for a long and happy life are given. The bride washes her hands, then bride and groom pray that their prosperity, success, and Dharma will be fulfilled.

Placing of the floral love necklace: The bridegroom places a floral love necklace around his bride's neck while he asks her to accompany him in his Hindu activities. Another wedding necklace, a gold or silver chain with gold semicircles and black beads from both families, symbolic of the union of the two families, is also worn.

References: Living Faiths: Marriage and the Family by John Prickett, Hinduism and India, Collier's Encyclopedia, Marriage Customs by Anita Compton, The Encyclopedia of Religion by Mircea Elilade, Hindu Marriage Past and Present by Dr. Krishna Nath Chatterjuee, and The World's Religions by Huston Smith.

Excerpted from WEDDINGS, Dating & Love Customs of Cultures Worldwide, Including Royalty (Nittany Publishers, LLC). Carolyn Mordecai wrote two previous nonfiction books, published by Crown Publishers in New York. Her latest book, WEDDINGS, will be recommended in the next edition of World Book Encyclopedia.

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