The Hindu wedding

Indian weddings are traditionally three or four day affairs and begin with the mehendi rat - the woman's symbolic evening where the bride's hands and feet are covered with mehendi. A party of the bride's women relatives and in-laws spend several hours at this task during which they sing appropriate songs. For the bride the process is therapeutic in calming and preparing her for the event.
Mehendi is one element of the Hindu woman's "complete decoration", shringar, and is the symbol of satisfaction and happiness in marriage. Traditionally the bride has her groom's initials incorporated secretly into the design and the groom must locate them before he is allowed to share a bedroom with his new wife. Mehendi may also be applied to the groom's hands and feet.

the bride's decorated hands

the groom's hands

Another pre-wedding ceremony - sangeet, a music evening, where the bride and the women relatives from the both sides dance for the groom and the guests. Food and drinks are served.

the bride and groom are dancing for the guests

On the day of the ceremony the groom wearing a crown or a turban, necklaces and other ornaments sets out in procession from his house. As this procession usually takes place after dark it is accompanied by several men bearing portable arc lamps, with a brass band leading the way, followed by a throng of male relatives and wedding guests.

The groom's party is met outside the bride's house or the place of marriage by her female relatives. To honour the groom the bride's mother performs the oil-lamp ceremony waving the flame in a circle around his face. The groom is then met by the bride and they exchange with flower garlands.
The marriage ceremony is performed within a special canopy, pandal, decorated with auspicious mango leaf and marigold flower garlands. The groom is brought under the pandal and seated, followed by the bride, who is seated to his left. Married women bring in the sacred fire and place it at the pandal centre. Fire represents Agni, the fire god, who witnesses the marriage ceremony.

During the ceremony several rituals are performed, one of the most important is "the gift of a virgin" which symbolizes the bride's transference to the groom: the bride's father places his daughter's hand into that of the groom. Then the groom ties the mangalsutram, the marriage cord, on his bride's neck. This act symbolizes the groom's acceptance of the gift of a virgin and signifies that from then on she is his property.

The concluding ritual of the Hindu marriage is the Saptapada ceremony: the groom's lower garment is knotted to that of the bride and they then take seven steps around the sacred fire, each step symbolizing force, strength, well-being, offspring, luck, wealth, and their eternal friendship. This rite solemnizes the marriage.

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