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Decoding the meaning behind Indian wedding traditions and rituals

What do the saath pheras signify?

The rituals of a Hindu wedding are as colourful as the celebrations that ensue — right from picking the most auspicious day and time according to the horoscope of the bride and the groom to the saath pheras they take around the holy fire. Each step has a deep philosophical and spiritual significance behind it. Whether you're a skeptic or a believer, understand the meaning behind these ancient rituals which could serve to bless you on your big day.

While the traditions vary from region to region, three key rituals are common: kanyadaan (when the father gives away his daughter), panigrahana (presence of the sacred fire) and saptapadi (the seven steps and oaths taken around the fire). Here, we break down the most common wedding customs:

Pre-wedding rituals

The engagement

Also known as roka, saga, sakhar pudra, kasamdry, nishchayam or ghor dana in different states, as the name suggests, the ceremony involves the bride and groom exchanging rings. The two families also exchange gifts with each other as an acceptance of the match, and as a gesture of welcoming each other into their respective families.

The mehendi 

Popular in the North, the mehendi function is where the bride's hands and legs are decorated with beautiful henna designs, often inscribed with her to-be husband's name. (Check out this season's trendy bridal mehendi designs here). All the women in the family also decorate their arms with mehendi. This ritual is considered to be a good omen that welcomes the bride's promising future; it is said that the darker the colour of the mehendi, the more love and appreciation she will receive from her husband and in-laws.

The sangeet

Bipasha Basu dancing3

If there's one ceremony where the bride and her friends can let their hair down, this one would be it. From both families enjoying song and dance performances, the idea is for the two families and their relatives to mingle and get to know each other in a light-hearted setting.

The haldi 

A common ritual amongst almost all communities in India, the haldi function is usually held in bride and groom's respective homes. A special turmeric paste, believed to have healing powers while warding off negative energies, is applied liberally to the skin, usually by their mothers and close female relatives. The two families are not allowed to see each other during this ceremony, so as to preserve the sanctity of the family. Once the paste dries off, it is washed with holy water.

Wedding rituals

Kanyadaan

One of the most crucial steps in the wedding is the kanyadaan, which involves the bride's father giving her away to the groom. The bride's left hand is placed on top of her to-be-husband's right hand while the bride's parents recite a chant that absolves them of their bad karma and their debts to their forefathers. 

Panigrahana

This ritual sees the groom accepting the bride's hand as a symbol of their impending marital union, while announcing that he fully accepts his responsibility to the four deities: bhagya (wealth), aryama (heavens), savita (new beginning) and purandhi (wisdom). The rig vedic mantra is also chanted.

Vivaah Homa

This rite involves the symbolic fire being lit by the groom to signify the start of a new household.

Saptapadi 

The bride and the groom's garments are tied together in a knot and they take seven circles around the sacred fire while promising to be each other's eternal mates in life's journey. The groom takes the lead in the first six rounds, while during the seventh, the bride walks ahead, symbolic of her now being part of his life. The final ritual is the reciting of the seven sacred vows — to respect and honour each other, to share their joys as well as their sorrows, to trust and be loyal, to inculcate appreciation for values and knowledge, to grow through familial and spiritual duties, to follow their dharma, and finally, to nurture their bond of love and friendship. After this, the newly-wedded couple looks towards their elders for blessings.

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Post-wedding rituals

Vidaai

The bride is given an emotional send-off by her family, and she throws three handfuls of rice and coins over her head which settles her debt to her parents for bringing her up with love and care.

Kalash

On arriving at the groom's home, the mother welcomes the two with a traditional aarti. The bride enters her new home by knocking over a kalash of rice which symbolises that she is ushering in abundance and prosperity. The bride then puts her feet in a red paste and walks in, leaving footprints behind to pay homage to Goddess Laxmi.

The reception

This is the last ceremony that celebrates the divine union of the couple, with the purpose of the two meeting and greeting all their friends and family while receiving blessings and gifts.

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