Indian marriages…and they lived happily ever after… (Part-II)
In the previous article titled ‘Indian marriages – Arranged Love or lovingly arranged’, we peeped into the psyche behind traditional Indian marriages. In this concluding feature, let’s look at the wedding ceremony, particularly the traditional wedding vows.Indian weddings (Vivaha) are bright and colourful events filled with pomp, majaa-masti, celebrations, gifts, food, adornment, shopping etc that continues for several days. Watch a typical Suraj Barjatya movie and you will come to know the many traditions, colours of a traditional Indian wedding. With all the colours in this Vivaha ceremony come the customs and rituals that are supposed to be explained to the bride and the groom. But many a times, the bride and groom get so overpowered by the attention they get on their wedding day that the significance of such an important ceremony gets sidelined.
In Sanskrit the word ‘Vivaha’ (meaning marriage) comes from the root ‘vah’ which means to carry/flow. The word ‘Vivaha’ (marriage) is a composition of two words ‘Vaha’ and ‘Vi.’ Wherein, ‘Vaha’ means ‘to flow’ and ”Vi’ means ‘harmoniously together.’ Therefore, the word ‘Vivaha’ means ‘to flow together harmoniously.’ The oath and bond of dedication that the bride and groom take to each other is mutually agreed that “carries” them along for the remainder of their life journey.
The Hindi word ‘Shaadi’ is supposed to have come from the Urdu word for marriage – (which in turn comes from a Farsee/Persian root word ‘Shaad’ meaning ‘happiness’).
Why so many rituals in a traditional Indian wedding?
All the Indian wedding rituals without any exception has deep significances and provide valuable guidance to the newly wed ~ to live a productive life. Elders and the wise-heads who fully understand these rituals often assert that the Indian wedding rituals and customs teach us the actual essence of a married life. It tells us the values, which should be followed after marriage to lead a happy married life. Indian marriage rituals portray marriage as a symbol of purity, union of two individuals, community and culture. All the Indian marriages carry out similar rituals with slight difference due to regional preferences and the Priest’s training.
The final wedding day…
Though the wedding ceremonies are sometimes several days long, the final day is the most significant and that which solemnises the union. The final wedding day include many rituals, readings, and blessings which are said in Sanskrit by the Priest. Only on this final auspicious day of the wedding, the “prescribed” vows are taken by the bride and the groom before a fire that represents the Almighty and as a witness to their marriage. These vows come directly from the Vedic scriptures and they are the very same vows that Indian ancestors took to on their wedding days.
While various steps are followed by different sects and regions of India, the steps that form the core of an Indian wedding ceremony range from ‘Var Satkaarah’ (reception of the bridegroom and his kinsmen at the entrance gate of the wedding hall) to the ‘Aashirvadah’ (benediction by the elders). Though all steps are significant, the critical ones are the ‘Mangal Fera’- where the couple circle the sacred fire (Agni) seven times taking the wedding vows using chanting of the Saptapadi (seven steps) mantras. The ‘Mangal Fera’ legalizes the marriage according to custom.
The sacred seven wedding vows – SAPTAPA?I
‘Sapta’ means seven and ‘Padi’ means steps. The seven vows in the Saptapadi (Saath phere in Hindi) is taken with seven steps representing nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life and harmony and understanding, respectively.
The ritual of Saptapadi is symbolic of the journey of life, which both the bride and groom should travel together hand in hand. The seven promises or vows, which are made while they take the seven steps together around the sacred fire can be summarised as follows:
- The first step is taken to earn and provide a living for their household/ family, avoiding things that might harm them – FAMILY
- The second step is taken to build their physical, mental and spiritual powers to lead a healthy lifestyle – HEALTHY & HOLISTIC LIFESTYLE
- The third step is taken to earn and increase their wealth by righteous means – RIGHTEOUS WEALTH & PROSPERITY
- The fourth step is taken to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love, trust, respect, understanding and faith – LOVE
- The fifth step is taken to have children for whom they will be responsible and blessed with healthy, righteous and brave children – NEXT GENERATION
- The sixth step is taken for self-control, self-restraint and longevity – VALUES
- The seventh step is taken to be true to each other, loyal and remain life-long companions by this wedding – LOYAL & LASTING COMPANIONSHIP
A layman’s version of the Saptapadi reads like this:
Let us take the first step to – provide for our household.
Let us take the second step to – develop physical, psychological and spiritual powers.
Let us take the third step to- increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use.
Let us take the fourth step to – acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust.
Let us take the fifth step, so that we- be blessed with strong, virtuous and valiant children.
Let us take the sixth step for – self-restraint and longevity.
Finally, let us take the seventh step and – be true companions and remain lifelong partners by this marriage.”
We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me. Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning, united. You are thought and I am sound. May the night, morning, earth, heavens, plants, sun, cattle, yield be productive for us. As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable, as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable, so may our companionship be permanently stable.
The ‘SAPTAPADI‘, is thus an important wedding ritual where the Almighty is invoked and vows made in the divine presence for a bright and better future by the newly married couple.
Though the Indian weddings have now been commercialized like many old traditions, the core of ancient Indian traditions is still practiced and hasn’t changed, even in this century.