Marriage Indian Style: The Traditional Hindu Wedding

If you read my last blog you learned about my personal wedding here in India. It was a court marriage because my husband and I are of different religious backgrounds, but in this blog I will talk about a traditional Hindu marriage. Just to clarify however, this is my personal experience with weddings, talking to my in-laws and my husband and friends experiences. All of India and other couples may have different experiences

The actual wedding is a bit undramatic as most folks don’t even see the real ceremony. To begin, the guests and family members will start at the groom’s home and either walk or take a bus to the place where the wedding will happen depending on the distance. There is a band accompanying them along the way, lots of music, dancing and general festivities. Frequently the groom travels on a very decorated horse or elephant depending on the part of India you are in. This is called the baarat.

Once at the wedding hall, the groom is placed on a stage. A bit later the bride joins
him on the stage and they exchange flower garlands placed around their neck. This means they are now married. No words are exchanged, and certainly no kiss!! Very taboo.

Meanwhile all the guests are enjoying a festive meal, talking amongst themselves and congratulating the couple. Once the meal is done, the people will leave the way they came, bus, car or walk. Usually the only people left are the bride, groom, a few close relatives and friends, and a Hindu ceremony leader. At this time the bride and groom are usually still not even speaking to each other.

The actual ceremony usually takes place after midnight depending on what the astrologer determined was the best time for the couple. A lot of wedding ceremonies are scheduled for 3, 4 or 5 am. The ceremony consists of seven trips around a fire. Each trip signifies a birth so the couple is actually committing themselves to seven births or lives together. I’m not sure what happens after the seventh birth, but I guess they figure that is plenty of time to spend together!! Also during the ceremony the groom ties the mangalsutra around the bride’s neck.

Another event that occurs during the ceremony is the placing of sindoor on the bride’s
head. It is a deep red powder that is also used for tikka on the forehead during religious events and during a visit to a temple. However, the sindoor on a married woman’s head is a symbol of a desire for a long and happy marriage as well as long life for her husband. It is about 2-3 inches long and placed in a straight line in the part of the hair, directly in the middle. The story behind the sindoor goes back to a goddess that had lost her husband to death. She would not accept this and instead followed him into the hereafter and rescued him bringing him back with her to this life. During her struggle, she was branded with a red flame or strip in her hair. Hence the sindoor applied daily to the hair of a married woman represents her willingness to protect her marriage.

And just in case you were wondering, yes I do wear sindoor every day. It is important
to Vijay and a large part of his culture so I have no problem supporting him on
this. At first I was afraid I would stick out and look silly, but then I realized I already use a bright red chair, so the sindoor is the least of my worries in the “sticking out” arena!! In the same vein, he wears a wedding band even though it didn’t mean anything to him before I came into his life. Now however it is important to him because he understand the significance of it and the importance of the ring to me. That is why I have no problem wearing items that are of great importance to him. I guess the older I get the better I am at not caring what others think and doing what is important to me and my loved ones.

And while we are on the subject, I also wear a bindi every day as well. A bindi for those of you who have never heard the term is the dot worn on the forehead between the eyebrows. Indians believe that spot represents the third eye in the chakras, and is the seat of knowledge, creativity, energy and wisdom. The bindi is worn to enhance the spot and protect the woman wearing it. It also protects her husband and family. It can be any color these days, but it used to be predominately red because the color red signifies prosperity and protection. It also used to signify marriage, but again now it can be worn by
woman and girls of any age and marital status.

And finally, I wear a beautiful mangalsutra that Vijay and his parents picked out for me (my Christmas gift). It is perfect and couldn’t have been any more suited to me if it had been made for me. I am a silver girl; don’t really like gold much so my mangalsutra is a silver, teardrop shaped pendant, on a black bead and silver chain. On the pendant, there is a small painted flower. In fact, it is double-sided. On one side the flower is green and red and the other side it is pink and purple. So, to be honest, I do look a bit different
these days, but I am proud of the new me.

So, back to a Hindu wedding. After the ceremony the couple retreats to the groom’s family’s home. They will spend the night there, and the next day the bride’s family will come and get her and take her, and only her, back to their home for the night. The following day, the groom’s family will once again come and take her back to their home. Permanently.

Oh, and you want to hear a really interesting fact? Indian mothers are not at the weddings usually. They are back at the home getting it ready and waiting to meet the newlyweds when they come back from the wedding. Only the father actually attends the
ceremony. I know, all you women out there are shaking your head right now saying over my dead body, but that is the way they do things. Kind of makes me sad to think of a wedding without a mom. Maybe the more progressive, and modern India becomes that particular injustice will change. And again, this information is coming from my in-laws, my brother-in-laws wedding, friends, neighbors etc. That is the way it is in Northern India.

Have you ever attended an Indian wedding? Was it like this or different?

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