The Vedic Wedding Ceremony
Oppiliappan Koil Varadachari Sadagopan
Veda mantras or sacred hymns play a key role in every step of the traditional Hindu marriage. The mantras for this ceremony come mostly from the ṛks (RK - a metrical verse from the Veda) housed in the tenth mandala of the Rg Veda, where Sūrya, the daughter of the sun god, is given in marriage to a bridegroom by the name of Soma. These mantras are mostly from Section 10.85. (Refer at the end of this article for mantras)
Many Divya Desams have references in their traditional histories (sthala purâṇas) to the Lord seeking the hand of Maha Lakshmi, who is raised by a maharishi after discovering her as an infant of divine origin (ayonijâ). For instance, in Oppiliappan Koil, Markandeya Maharishi accedes to the request of Sriman Narayana who seeks the hand of his daughter Bhūmi Devi. She was found as a child in the tulasi forest by the Maharishi. At Kumbakonam, Sarngapani weds Komalavalli, the daughter of Hema Maharishi. At Thiruvahindrapuram, Hēmâmbujavalli, the daughter of another rishi, marries Dēvanâthan in a Vedic ceremony. At Tirupati, Srinivasa marries Padmavati after seeking her hand from her father, Akasa Rajan. At Tiru Idavendai, the Lord got the name of Nitya Kalyâṇar through his marriage to the 360 daughters of Kalava Rishi. He married them each one a day and made them all into one named Akhilavalli Nacciyar.
The most celebrated one is the wedding of Andal and Ranganatha. Ranganatha seeks the hand of Andal from her father Periyalvar and weds her in a ceremony at Srivilliputtur. Andal had previously dreamt about this marriage and recorded the wedding in detail in her Nacciyar Tirumozhi, Varanamayiram section, exactly as prescribed in the Vedic ceremony.
In the following sections, I will describe the steps of a Vedic wedding and their significance.
Step 1: vâk dânam
This step is a part of Kanya Varanam, where the groom-to-be (brahmachari) sends two elders on his behalf to the father of a girl whom he wishes to marry. The elders convey the message of the brahmachari and ask for the daughter's hand. The two mantras in the form of brahmachari's appeal to intercede on his behalf come from Rg 10.32.1 ("pra sugmantha…") and 10.85.23. The first mantra begs the elders to proceed and return quickly with success back from their mission on his behalf. The second mantram ("anruksharaa Rjava:…") asks for the gods' blessings for the elders' safe journey to the house of the father of the would-be-bride. The mantra prays to Aryama and Bhaga for a marriage full of harmony. The father accedes to the request of the elders and the resulting agreement for betrothal is known as vaak daanam.
Step 2: kanyâ dânam
Here, the brahmachari meets his prospective father-in-law. The latter seats him facing the eastern direction and washes the feet of the future son-in-law, considering him as Lord Vishnu Himself. All honors are given including the ceremonial washing of the feet of the groom by the father-in-law and offer of madhu parka (a mixture of yogurt, honey and ghee) to the accompaniment of selected Veda mantras.
Step 3: vara prekshaṇam
In this ritual, the bridegroom and the bride look at each other formally for the first time. The bridegroom worries about any dośa (defects) that the bride might have and prays to the gods Varuna, Brihaspati, Indra and Surya to remove every defect and to make her fit for harmonious and long marriage life blessed with progeny and happiness (mantra: Rg 10.85.44). The bride groom recites the mantra and wipes the eyebrows of the bride with a blade of darbha grass, as if he is chasing away all defects. The darbha grass is thrown behind the bride at the conclusion of this ceremony.
Step 4: maṅgala snânam and the wearing of the wedding clothes by the bride
Five Veda mantras are recited to sanctify the bride in preparation for the subsequent stages of the marriage. This aspect of the marriage is known as mangala snanam. The sun god (Surya), water god (Varuna), and other gods are invoked to purify the bride in preparation for a harmonious married life. Next, the bride wears the marriage clothes to the accompaniment of additional Veda mantras. The bridegroom then ties a darbha rope around the waist of the bride and leads her to the place, where the sacred fire is located for conducting the rest of the marriage ceremony. The bride and the groom sit on a new mat in front of the fire. The groom recites three mantras which invoke Soma, Gandharva and Agni to confer strength, beauty, and youth on the bride.
There is no Veda Mantram for tying the mangala sutram (auspicious thread) around the neck of the bride by the groom. The latter takes the mangala sutram in his hands and recites the following verse:
mâṅgalyaṁ tantunânena mama jîvanahetunâ
kaṇṭheḥ badhnami subhage! sañjîva śaradaḥ śatam
This is a sacred thread. This is essential for my long life. I tie this around your neck, O maiden having many auspicious attributes! May you live happily for a hundred years (with me).
After mâṅgalya dhâranam, the groom lowers his right palm and encloses it over the right hand of the bride. He covers all the five fingers of the right hand of the bride with his right palm through this act of paani grahanam. He recites mantras in praise of Bhaga, Aryama, Savita, Indra, Agni, Suryan, Vayu and Saraswati, while holding the bride's hand. He prays for long life, progeny, prosperity and harmony with the bride during their married life. The closed fingers of the right hand of the bride is said to represent her heart. The pâṇi grahaṇam ritual symbolizes the bride surrendering her heart in the hands of the groom during the occasion of the marriage.
Step 7: sapta padi
During this ritual, the groom walks with the bride to the right side of the sacred fire. All along, he holds his wife's right hand in his right hand in the way in which he held her hand during the pâṇi grahaṇam ceremony. He stops, bends down and holds the right toe of his wife with his right hand and helps her take seven steps around the fire. At the beginning of each step, he recites a Veda mantra to invoke the blessings of Maha Vishnu. Through these seven mantras, he asks Maha Vishnu to follow in the footsteps of his wife and bless her with food, strength, piety, progeny, wealth, comfort and health. At the conclusion of the seven steps, he addresses his wife with a moving statement from the Veds summarized below:
Dear Wife! By taking these seven steps, you have become my dearest friend. I pledge my unfailing loyalty to you.
1. Let us stay together for the rest of our lives.
2. Let us not separate from each other ever.
3. Let us be of one mind in carrying out our responsibilities as householders (gṛhasthas).
4. Let us love and cherish each other and enjoy nourishing food and good health.
5. Let us discharge our prescribed Vedic duties to our elders, ancestors, rishis, creatures, and gods.
6. Let our aspirations be united. I will be the Saaman and may you be the Rk (Saaman here refers to the music and Rk refers to the Vedic text that is being cast into music). Let me be the upper world and let you be the Bhumi or Mother Earth. I will be the Sukla or life force and may you be the bearer of that Sukla. Let me be the mind and let you be the speech.
May you follow me to conceive children and gain worldly as well as spiritual wealth. May all auspiciousness come your way.
This series of Veda mantras starting with "sakhâ saptapadâ bhava…" and ending with "pumse putrâya…" are rich with meaning and imagery.
Step 8: pradhâna homam
After sapta padi, the couple take their seat on the western side of the sacred fire and conduct pradhâna homam. During the conductance of this homam, the bride must place her right hand on her husband's body so that she gets the full benefit of the homam through symbolic participation. Sixteen mantras are recited to the accompaniment of pouring a spoon of clarified butter into the sacred fire at the end of recitation of each of the mantras. These mantras salute Soma, Gandharva, Agni, Indra, Vayu, the Aswini Devas, Savita, Brihaspati, Viswa Devas and Varuna for blessing the marriage and beseeches them to confer long wedded life, health, wealth, children and freedom from all kinds of worries. One prayer — the sixth mantra — has a sense of humor and provides deep insight into human psychology. The text of this mantra is: "daśâsyaṁ putrân dehi, patim ekâdaśaṁ kṛti". Here, the groom asks Indra to bless the couple with ten children and requests that he be blessed to become the eleventh child of his bride in his old age.
Step 9: Stepping on the grinding stone
After pradhâna homam, the husband holds the right toe of his wife and lifts her leg and places it on a flat granite grinding stone known as "ammi" in Tamil. The ammi stands at the right side of the sacred fire. The husband recites a Veda mantra when he places the right foot of his wife on the ammi:
May you stand on this firm stone.
May you be rock-firm during your stay on this grinding stone.
May you stand up to those who oppose you while you carry out your time-honored responsibilities as a wife sanctioned by the Vedas and tradition.
May you develop tolerance to your enemies and put up a fair fight to defend your legitimate rights as the head of the household in a firm manner, equal to the steady strength of this grinding stone.
Step 10: lâja homam
After ammi stepping, a ceremony of doing homam with puffed rice is conducted. Here, the wife cups her hands and the brothers of the bride fill the cupped hands with puffed rice. The husband adds a drop of ghee to the puffed rice and recites five Veda mantras. At the end of each of the recitation, the puffed rice is thrown into the sacred fire as havis (offering) to Agni. Through these mantras, the wife prays for long life for her husband and for a marriage filled with peace and harmony. At the end of the lâja homam, the husband unties the darbha (grass) belt around the waist of his wife with another mantra. The husband states through this mantra that he unites his wife and ties her now with the bonds of Varuna and invites her to be a full partner in his life to enjoy the blessings of wedded life.
Step 11: gṛha praveśam
This ceremony relates to the journey of the wife to her husband's home. The husband carries the sacred fire (homa agni) in a earthern vessel during this journey home. There are many Veda mantras associated with this journey. These mantras pray to the appropriate Vedic gods to remove all obstacles that one can experience in a journey. The bride is requested to become the mistress of the house and is reminded of her important role among the relatives of her husband. After reaching her new home, she puts her right foot first in the house and recites the following Veda mantra:
I enter this house with a happy heart. May I give birth to children, who observe the path of righteousness (dharma)! May this house that I enter today be prosperous forever and never be deficient in food. May this house be populated by people of virtue and pious thoughts.
After gṛha praveśam, a fire ritual known as prâviśya homam is performed by the couple to the accompaniment of thirteen mantras from the Rg Veda. Jayadi Homam is also part of the prâviśya homam. This homam offers the salutation of the newly married couple to Agni Deva and asks for strength and nourishment to discharge the duties of a grihasthas for the next one hundred years. After that, the bride shifts her position from the right side of her husband to his left side. At that time, once again, she recites a Veda mantra invoking the gods for blessings of children and wealth to perform the duties of a householder.
At the end of the above homam, a child is placed on the lap of the bride and she offers a fruit to the child, while reciting a prescribed Veda mantra. Yet another mantram asks the assembled guests to bless the bride and then retire to their own individual homes peacefully. During the first evening of the stay in her new home, the couple see the stars known as Dhruva (pole star) and Arundhati. The husband points out the pole star and prays for the strength and stability of the household thru a Veda mantra. Next, the husband points out the Arundhati star to his wife and describes to her the the story of Arundhati and her legendary chastity.
The rich and meaningful ceremony of the Hindu marriage (Kalyâṇa Mahotsavam of the temples) is thus carried out in concert with sacred Veda Mantras. The bride and bridegroom should enunciate clearly the Veda mantras and reflect on their meanings during the different stages of the marriage ceremony. This way, they can be sure of a long, happy and prosperous married life and play their appropriate role in society to the fullest extent. Srinivasa Kalyanam is performed in the temples to remind us of these hoary Vedic traditions behind a Hindu marriage.
lokâḥ samastâḥ sukhino bhavantu
Oppiliappan Koil Varadachari Sadagopan
December 10, 1995
HYMN LXXXV. Sūrya's Bridal.
1. TRUTH is the base that bears the earth; by Sūrya are the heavens sustained.
By Law the Ādityas stand secure, and Soma holds his place in heaven.
2 By Soma are the Ādityas strong, by Soma mighty is the earth.
Thus Soma in the midst of all these constellations hath his place.
3 One thinks, when they have brayed the plant, that he hath drunk the Soma's juice;
Of him whom Brahmans truly know as Soma no one ever tastes.
4 Soma, secured by sheltering rules, guarded by hymns in Brhati,
Thou standest listening to the stones none tastes of thee who dwells on earth.
5 When they begin to drink thee then, O God, thou swellest out again.
Vāyu is Soma's guardian God. The Moon is that which shapes the years.
6 Raibhi was her dear bridal friend, and Narasamsi led her home.
Lovely was Sūrya's robe: she came to that which Gatha had adorned.
7 Thought was the pillow of her couch, sight was the unguent for her eyes:
Her treasury was earth and heaven.ẉhen Sūrya went unto her Lord.
8 Hymns were the cross-bars of the pole, Kurira-metre decked the car:
The bridesmen were the Aśvin Pair Agni was leader of the train.
9 Soma was he who wooed the maid: the groomsmen were both Aśvins, when
The Sun-God Savitar bestowed his willing Sūrya on her Lord.
10 Her spirit was the bridal car; the covering thereof was heaven:
Bright were both Steers that drew it when Sūrya approached her husband's, home.
11 Thy Steers were steady, kept in place by holy verse and Sāma-hymn:
All car were thy two chariot wheels: thy path was tremulous in the sky,
12 Clean, as thou wentest, were thy wheels wind, was the axle fastened there.
Sūrya, proceeding to her Lord, mounted a spirit-fashioried car.
13 The bridal pomp of Sūrya, which Savitar started, moved along.In Magha days are oxen slain, in Arjuris they wed the bride.
14 When on your three-wheeled chariot, O Aśvins, ye came as wooers unto Sūrya's bridal,Then all the Gods agreed to your proposal Pūṣan as Son elected you as Fathers.
15 O ye Two Lords of lustre, then when ye to Sūrya's wooing came,Where was one chariot wheel of yours? Where stood ye for die Sire's command?
16 The Brahmans, by their seasons, know, O Sūrya, those two wheels of thine:One kept concealed, those only who are skilled in highest truths have learned.
17 To Sūrya and the Deities, to Mitra and to Varuṇa.Who know aright the thing that is, this adoration have I paid.
18 By their own power these Twain in close succession move;They go as playing children round the sacrifice.One of the Pair beholdeth all existing things; the other ordereth seasons and is born again.
19 He, born afresh, is new and new for ever ensign of days he goes before the MorningsComing, he orders f6r the Gods their portion. The Moon prolongs the days of our existence.
20 Mount this, all-shaped, gold-hued, with strong wheels, fashioned of Kimsuka and Salmali, light-rolling,
Bound for the world of life immortal, Sūrya: make for thy lord a happy bridal journey.
21 Rise up from hence: this maiden hath a husband. I laud Visvavasu with hymns and homage.Seek in her father's home another fair one, and find the portion from of old assigned thee.
22 Rise up from hence, Visvavasu: with reverence we worship thee.Seek thou another willing maid, and with her husband leave the bride.
23 Straight in direction be the path:s, and thornless, whereon our fellows travel to the wooing.Let Aryaman and Bhaga lead us: perfect, O Gods, the union of the wife and husband.
24 Now from the noose of Varuṇa I free thee, wherewith Most Blessed Savitar hath bound thee.In Law's seat, to the world of virtuous action, I give thee up uninjured with thy consort.
25 Hence, and not thence, I send these free. I make thee softly fettered there.That, Bounteous Indra, she may live blest in her fortune and her sons.
26 Let Pūṣan take thy hand and hence conduct thee; may the two Aśvins on their car transport thee.
Go to the house to be the household's mistress and speak as lady ito thy gathered people.
27 Happy be thou and prosper witlh thy children here: be vigilant to rule thy household in this home.
Closely unite thy body with this; man, thy lord. So shall ye, full of years, address your company.
28 Her hue is blue and red: the fienod who clingeth close is driven off.Well thrive the kinsmen of this bride the husband is bourid fast in bonds.
29 Give thou the woollen robe away: deal treasure to the Brahman priests.This female fiend hath got her feet, and as a wife attends her lord.
30 Unlovely is his body when it glistens with this wicked fiend,
What time the husband wraps about his limbs the garment of his wife.
31 Consumptions, from her people, which follow the bride's resplendent train,—
These let the Holy Gods again bear to the place from which they came.
32 Let not the highway thieves who lie in ambush find the wedded pair.
By pleasant ways let them escape the danger, and let foes depart.
33 Signs of good fortune mark the bride come all of you and look at her.
Wish her prosperity, and then return unto your homes again.
34 Pungent is this, and bitter this, filled, as it were, with arrow-barbs, Empoisoned andṇot fit for use.
The Brahman who knows Sūrya well deserves the garment of the bride.
35 The fringe, the cloth that decks her head, and then the triply parted robe,—
Behold the hues which Sūrya wears these doth the Brahman purify.
36 I take thy hand in mine for happy fortune that thou mayst reach old age with me thy husband.Gods, Aryaman, Bhaga, Savitar, Purandhi, have given thee to be my household's mistress.
37 O Pūṣan, send her on as most auspicious, her who shall be the sharer of my pleasures;Her who shall twine her loving arms about me, and welcome all my love and mine embraces.
38 For thee, with bridal train, they, first, escorted Sūrya to her home.
Give to the husband in return, Agni, the wife with progeny.
39 Agni hath given the bride again with splendour and with ample life.
Long lived be he who is her lord; a hundred autumns let him live.
40 Soma obtained her first of all; next the Gandharva was her lord.
Agai was thy third husband: now one bornof woman is thy fourth.
41 Soma to the Gandharva, and to Agni the Gandharva gave:
And Agni hath bestowed on me riches and sons and this my spouse.
42 Be ye not parted; dwell ye here reach the full time of human life.
With sons and grandsons sport and play, rejoicing in your own abode.
43 So may Prajāpati bring children forth to us; may Aryaman adorn us till old age come nigh.
Not inauspicious enter thou thy husband's house: bring blessing to our bipeds and our quadrupeds.
44 Not evil-eyed, no slayer of thy husband, bring weal to cattle, radiant, gentlehearted;Loving the Gods, delightful, bearing heroes, bring blessing to our quadrupeds and bipeds.
45 O Bounteous Indra, make this bride blest in her sons and fortunate.
Vouchsafe to her ten sons, and make her husband the eleventh man.
46 Over thy husband's father and thy husband's mother bear full sway.
Over the sister of thy lord, over his brothers rule supreme.
47 So may the Universal Gods, so may the Waters join our hearts.
May Mātariśvan, Dhātar, and Destri together bind us close.