What are the thirteen steps of a Vedic marriage ceremony?
The basic purpose of marriage is the union of mind, body and soul of two persons. This can only occur when a person has acquired full knowledge about the ‘self’ which is the purpose of Brahmcharya. Once a person has decided to enter Grihasth Ashram, he has to abandon his childish behavior and start behaving in a mature manner.
The signs of maturity in a person are controlling the senses, acquiring humility, controlling ego and taking a vow to work in the interest of the family, society and the community. After the ‘Ghudchadi’ Ceremony, which is a ritual depicting control of the senses and practicing humility i.e. bowing in front of each other in public (varmala), the main marriage ceremony involves understanding the very purpose of marriage and taking a vow in the presence of Agni (Fire)and people and God.
The sankalp denotes commitment to each other and to fulfill jointly the very purpose of life, which is to earn righteously, to fulfill the desire of acquiring inner happiness. Most of us know this ceremony as the seven pheras or Saptapadi which actually came as an offshoot of the four vows, fulfilling the four Purusharthas or the very purpose of our life.
The thirteen steps of a Vedic marriage ceremony may vary among communities, from north to south and from priest to priest who conducts the ceremony.
But the essence remains the same and that is, the parents give away their daughter to the boy and his family, and the boy and his family accept the girl as their daughter and take a sankalp in the presence of people, Agni and God that from that day onwards, their basic purpose in life will be to look after the interest of each other, community, family and the nation. The sequence of the rituals is self-explanatory. In some marriages, the pheras are four, and in others, seven. Traditionally, the seven pheras have now become synonymous with marriage.
Though the steps may have regional differences, the following thirteen steps form the core of a Vedic wedding ceremony.
1. Vara Satkaarah, Aarti and Varmala: The reception of the bridegroom and his family and friends at the entrance of the wedding hall where the officiating priest chants mantras and the bride’s mother blesses the groom with a garland, rice and trefoil, and applies a tilak of vermilion and turmeric powder; then she offers a small sweet piece and pan (beetel leaf). The ceremony signifies the importance of forging strong family ties as the counterparts of each family meet and greet each other over milni offerings.
Then the groom steps down from the horse and is taken to the wedding place where the bride and groom exchange garlands of fresh flowers and acknowledge their lifelong bond in front of everyone. The varmala ceremony teaches the next compulsory step in any marriage and that is to surrender to each other. The exchange of garlands is not possible without bowing to each other and this symbolizes the giving up of ego as the main step in committing to the marriage bond.
The next series of steps take place in the mandap (canopy) where the actual marriage ceremony takes place and where the partners take their vows in front of the fire, God or the community, which bind the couple together to fulfill the very purpose of life.
2. Madhuparka Ceremony: The reception of the bridegroom at the altar (mandap) and bestowing of presents by the bride’s father.
3. Kanya Dan: The bride’s father gives away his daughter to the groom amidst the chanting of sacred mantras.
4. Vivah-Homa: The sacred fire ceremony ascertaining that all auspicious undertakings are begun in an atmosphere of purity and spirituality.
5. Pani-Grahan: The groom stands with the bride still seated. He takes her right hand in his left hand and accepts her as his lawfully wedded wife by chanting “I take your hand in mine for fortunes and happiness for both of us. Live with me up to the days of old age, for all the wise people present here and God Himself have consented into us getting married…” Hathleva is another ritual of joining of hands. In this ceremony, some henna is put in the right hands of the couple and are tied with a cloth. The couple then prays to the gods to bless their union. This signifies an eternal bond that will join the couple forever and emphasizes that although they are separate individuals, from now onwards they are one in mind and spirit.
6. Pratigna-Karan: It is also called Pradatishine. The groom leads the bride around the Havan Kunda three times, chanting, “I am Vishnu, you are Lakshmi. I am the Harmony of music; you are the words of wisdom. I represent heaven, while you are the earth personified. Let us become one, with minds in harmony. Let us live a long life together, and while living, let us see and hear the best things in life”. To put it simply, they take solemn vows of loyalty, steadfast love and life-long fidelity to each other.
Shila Arohan: The mother of the bride assists her to step onto a stone slab and ritually counsels her to prepare herself for a new life. Or the groom asks the bride to put her right foot on a slab of stone, exhorting her to be firm like a rock when the winds of wrongdoing come to make her fickle minded.
Always remember the divine.
Always treat each other with sympathy, love and compassion.
Help each other in all good deeds.
Keep in mind pure and virtuous. Be strong and righteous.
Show goodwill and affection to parents, brothers, sisters and other family members.
Bring up the children to be strong in mind and body.
Always welcome and respect guests.
Laja-Homah: Puffed rice offered as oblations into the sacred fire by the bride while keeping the palms of her hands over those of the groom.
9.Parikrama or Pradakshina or Mangal Phera: The couple encircles the sacred fire four times (making it a total of seven). This part of the ceremony legalizes the marriage as per customs and also according to the Hindu Marriage Act.
10. Saptapadi: The marriage knot is symbolized by tying one end of the groom’s scarf with the bride’s dress. Then they take seven steps in the northeast direction representing nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life and harmony and understanding, respectively. As each step is taken, a promise is made. The seven promises are:
1. The first step to nourish each other
2. The second step to grow together in strength
3. The third step to preserve wealth
4. The fourth step to share joys and sorrow
5. The fifth step to care for children
6. The sixth step to be together forever
7. The seventh step to remain lifelong friends, the perfect halves to make a perfect whole Commitments of Marriage
11. Abhishek – Sprinkling of water, meditating on the sun and the pole star.
Jai Sinchane: The priest sprinkles water over their heads, asking them to cool their powers of thought in life.
Soorya avalokan: The groom points out the sun to the bride, saying, “Here rises the glorious eye of heaven, ever rising and pure. May we live a long life to behold the golden color of the rising sun.”
Hridya sparsh: They touch each other’s heart, saying, “I take your heart into our vows, may your mind follow mine. May you listen to my voice attentively and lovingly, because God has given you to me and me to you to live together in wedded life.”
Sindoor daan/mangalsutra: The groom puts a sacred necklace around the bride’s neck as a symbol of a happy and prosperous married life. He applies sindoor in the parting of her hair, and asks the audience to bless him and his bride.
12. Anna Praashan:The couple makes food offerings into the fire and then feed a morsel of food to each other expressing mutual love and affection.
13. Aashirvad: Benediction or blessings by the elders. This is followed by Vidai in which the bride is bid farewell. This is the most emotional part of the marriage ceremony. After the wedding is over, the bride’s parents give a warm and tearful send-off to their daughter. They wish her a harmonious and long married life. From now onwards their daughter does not belong to them.