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A step-by-step guide for an Indian Wedding Ceremony

Indian wedding ceremonies are incredibly special and memorable.

The ceremony itself takes about one to two hours and is made up of many different parts. Let’s break these down step-by-step.

The Varmala Ceremony

The Varmala Ceremony signifies the start of the wedding. The groom makes his way to the entrance of the venue where he meets the mother of the bride, who applies tilak (a mark on the forehead) and performs aarti (prayer) to rid him of any evil eyes cast upon him. The groom then takes his place at the mandap and awaits his bride where they exchange floral garlands. The bride is the first to try to place her garland on the groom’s neck, as the groom and his family playfully stop her from placing the garland around his neck. Once the groom successfully exchanges his garland the couple takes their seats in the mandap. At some stage in a playful tradition, the bride’s sisters or close female relatives will try to steal the groom’s shoes which are placed outside the mandap. He must pay them to get them back later in the day.

Kanyadaan ritual

Kanyadaan means “giving away the bride” in Sanskrit and is a symbolic marriage ritual for the bride’s parents and the couple. The father of the bride takes his daughter’s right hand and places it in the groom’s right hand, asking the groom to accept his daughter as an equal partner, showing his approval of the marriage. After the two hands are joined the mother of the bride pours sacred water onto the palms of her husband’s hand, which then flows onto the daughter’s and the groom’s hands as rituals are chanted. This is known as Hastamelap.

Vivaah Homa

The couple then praises the Agni Devta, the Lord of Fire, in hopes of bringing the presence of Vishnu into the ceremony. The Vivaah Homa is performed to indicate the purity of the upcoming rituals. The priest lights up a small fire in a kund (copper bowl). The fire is created from ghee (clarified butter) and wool wicks. Mantras are recited by the priest and repeated by the couple while obligations (crushed herbs, sugar, rice, oil and sandalwood) are offered to the fire, as peace offerings to Lord Vishnu.

Hastmelap

The Hastmelap means ‘the joining of the hands’. The couple is united with the joining of their hands in the presence of Agni Devta (the Lord of Fire). The bride places her right hand in the groom’s right hand, then to strengthen their bond, the groom’s sister or mother ties the ends of the scarves worn by the bride and groom together, ‘tying the knot’. The couple vows to treat others with respect love, compassion, and sympathy, and show goodwill and affection to each other’s families.

Mangalsutra

The bride moves to sit on the groom’s left side, taking the closest position to his heart. He places a Mangalsutra, a black and gold necklace with a gold or diamond pendant that symbolises good luck, love and friendship, around her neck. He also applies sindoor (red vermillion), to the centre of her forehead. The two offerings signify the groom’s devotion to his bride. A ring exchange then takes place, where the couple commits to support each through the challenges that life may throw them with unconditional love.

Granthi Bandhanam

Granthi Bandhanam means “tying of the sacred knot.” During this ceremony the couple is literally tied together. The bride’s brother ties a white cloth to the bridal sari and the other end is draped over the groom’s shoulder. The knot symbolises the unity between the two families, bonding as one. A garland made of pure cotton, or a gold threaded string, known as the ‘Varmala’, is placed around the couple’s necks. This contains no knots, signifying no breaks in their union. Once the brother of the bride ties and knots the cloth, the couple is connected, mind, body, and soul.

Saptapadi or Mangal Fera

This portion of the ceremony represents the commitment the couple makes to each other. Saptapadi means “seven steps.” The couple takes seven full circles, walking clockwise around the agni, representing the seven principles and promises they make to each other. The seven steps or “phere”, show that the couple vows to fulfill these principles during their married life.

Mangal Fera consists of the couple taking four circles around the agni, representing the four stages of life: 1) to pursue life’s religious and moral duty (Dharma), 2) to pursue prosperity (Artha), 3) to pursue earthly pleasures (Kama), and 4) to pursue spiritual salvation (Moksha). The bride leads the groom on the first three pheras, while the groom takes over for the fourth and final, signifying balance in their marriage. When the couple makes their last round together, they rush back to their seats, racing to sit down first. Whoever takes their seat first will be the ruler of the household.

Kalasha

The coconut is one of the most common offerings you find at a Hindu temple (known as the fruit of God), and is used to break new ground as it is smashed into two halves. The ‘Kalasha’ is a sacrificial object placed in front of the Havan, the fire pit located at the centre of the Mandap, it is made of a metal pot with a coconut placed atop. The coconut is blessed before the ceremony and is one of the offerings that the couple submits to the Gods. It is adorned with turmeric and vermillion powders, with a garland of mango leaves at the base. A red thread is tied around the coconut to symbolise the presence of the cosmos. The pot may be filled with coins, grains, gems, gold or water.

Laaja Homam

The bride and her brother offer rice to her husband, wishing him a long life. The bride is not allowed to offer the rice with her own two hands, so she is helped by her brother. The groom places his hand beneath his bride’s so that while her brother pours the rice, it slips through her fingers and a portion of it is shared with him. This symbolises the links between the two families. The couple then circles the fire together three times while feeding the fire with rice each round. The offering ensures the couple will be blessed by Agni and will be offered happiness and prosperity. Hymns in praise of Lord Yama, the God of Death, are sung to promote to warrant her new husband’s happiness.

Kansar Bhakshan

The bride and groom are fasting during the day of their wedding ceremony. Right before the couple seeks the blessings of their relatives and friends (also known as Ashirvad), the bride and groom feed each other Kansar, an Indian sweet made from crushed wheat, sugar, and clarified butter. This is brought out and offered to them by the mother of the bride. This portion of the ceremony symbolises that the couple will now share everything equally with each other.

Ashirwad

The last step is the Ashirwad, meaning “blessings”. After the priest declares the couple as husband and wife, the couple takes a bow from the mandap stage towards all the invited guests thanking them for their attendance. They seek Ashirwad from their parents, grandparents, and other elder family members in ranking order.

As the couple makes their way down the aisle, guests shower them with rose petals or rice, blessing them with a long and prosperous life ahead.

Written by Jem – Feature Weddings

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