Hindu Wedding Ceremony in Northern Ireland

Hindu Wedding Ceremony in Northern Ireland

We have covered a few indian weddings to various degrees but when Archana asked me to cover her traditional Hindu Punjabi wedding in the Culloden in Northern Ireland, I had to do some homework on the Hindu rituals and traditions.  In the end I found out that there are many variations on the Hindu wedding and the Punjabi Hindu wedding is full of rituals, ceremony and symbolism.   The entire wedding was so interesting, colourful and eventful that I thought I would share some of the details. 

Henna hands at indian wedding

We had covered the Henna party a few days previous to the wedding.  The colour of the henna on the hands symbolises prosperity.  Archana's henna was very dark which was perfect for her wedding day. 

The Hindu Wedding Ceremony

Introduction and background

The hindu wedding ceremony is based on traditions and rituals originating in the Rig Veda, the earliest of the four ancient Sanskrit religious books of knowlege known as the Vedas.  The Vedas propose sixteen rites, called "sanskaras", that should be performed in order to make the life of an individual: noble, prosperous and fulfilled.  The most important of these sanskaras is that of marriage or "Vivaaha Sanskara", which marks the start of the most important stage of life.   Marriage is thougth to have been made in heaven and considered as a "divine knot purified and blessed by sacred fire"

In the Hindu tradition, marriage is the union between a man and woman, who then become one integrated unit, destined to complement one another.  It entwines their two families in a strong everlasting bond.  Marriage is an irreversible commitment for a lifetime and each ritual represents timeless sentiments and values.  The ceremony is performed in the presence of their parents, relatives friends and God. 

The main stages of a Hindu wedding ceremony are "Baraat", "Milni", "Jai Mala", "Sarva Deva Pujan", "Shakochar","Kanya Daan", "Paanigrahan", "Gath Bandhan", "Agni Sthaapna", "Lajja Homa", "Agni Parikrama", "Shila Rohan", "Sapta Padi", "Saubhagya Chinh", "Aashirwaad", "Shaanti Paath", and "Doli".  The precise rituals performed in a Hindu wedding ceremony vary in different regions of India and can often take several hours to complete. 

Baraat

The celebrations commenced with Vishal's arrival.  He arrived on a motorbike surrounded by drummers and his family and friends.  They walked from the front of the Culloden round to the front of the Stuart Suite to a cocophany of sounds and music.  A procession of colour surrounded Vishal as he drove in on his golden motorbike. 

Baraat at Hindu Wedding

Milne

Milne literally means introductions.  Vishal was first welcomed by the brides sisters.  In Hindu tradition, the female cousins are also considered sisters during the wedding.  The girls lined the entrance of the Stuart Suite and the groom had to negotiate with money to get the golden scissors to cut the barrier to get in to marry his bride.  These girls were tough negotiators. 

Milne indian wedding at culled

After cutting the barrier, he requested the blessing of his future mother-in-law for happines, a long life and a successful marriage.  She then blessed him and performed a small ritual to ward off any bad luck.  During this ritual she applied a "tilak" (red dot) on Vishal's forehead.  This symbolises his third eye, a place which governs consciousness and reason; it acts as a focus, clarifying thoughts and allowing him to see the truth. 

milne mothers blessing at indian wedding

After the blessing, the formal introductions of the main members of each side of the family took place by the exchange of garlands of beads.  This gesture welcomed and signified the formal acceptance of the two families.  Equivalent members of each family came together for the greetings.  Example, a brother of the bride and the brother of the groom.  After the garland exchange, the men hug each other.  During this time, one will try to lift the other to show strength.  The men took this more seriously than the women and there was alot of cheering and excitment as the battle of strengths took place.  

milne mens strength

After the greeting, all the guests were served breakfast in the reception area of the stuart suite. 

Jai Mala

After the Milne, Vishal was guided to the "mandap" (canopy) and waited patiently in anticipation for Archana to arrive.  She was escorted from her room to the mandap by her father and brothers.  The men created a canopy over the bride with a colourful shawl and surrounded her on the journey to the wedding ceremony.  The men walked Archana up the aisle to meet Vishal.  On meeting they exchanged a garland of flowers, signifying mutual love and acceptance for each other as lifelong partners.  The Culloden Hotel was transformed for the wedding by Sarah B at SBD Events

jai mala as bride and groom meet at indian wedding

Sarva Deva Pujan

The ceremony then opened with the priest calling upon Lord Ganesh as requested his blessings.  It represents the removal of obstacles and the dispelling of darkness and ignorance.  Then to the chanting of  "mantras" (sacred words) by the priest, Archana's father offered Vishal a sweet drink called 'Madhuparka' made from honey and yoghurt.  The groom drank the Madhuparka three times, signifying that he will develop sweetness (like the honey) and coolness (like the yoghurt) in his dealings with his new wife.

Sarva Deva indian wedding ritual in northern ireland

Shakochar

At this point the priest declared the union of the two families.  He announced the names of the preceeding three generations of Archana and Vishal's families.  This is done so that the priest can get the blessings of their respective fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers. 

shakochar under Mandap by Sarah B Designs

Kanya Daan

Kanya Daan is one of the most devout ceremonies a father can conduct.  It represents Archana's father gifting his daughter to Vishal. 

Archana's father placed her hand into Vishal's right hand.  He then held his open palm over both their hands. Archana's mother poured water and then milk over her husbands hand, which subsequently fell on the hands of the couple.  The water symbolised the purification of their union and the milk blessed them with happiness, love and prosperity.  With this gesture, Archana's father declared to all present, that on this day and hour, of his own free will and that of Archana, he gave his permission for her to marry Vishal. 

Kanya Daan at indian wedding

Paanigrahan

When Vishal took Archana's right hand, it symbolised that he took her as his wife.  He accepted and promised to treat her as an equal partner and to fulfill all his responsibilies and duties towards her.  With the help of the priest, he then recited the mantras for a happy, loving and lifelong relationship.

 

Paanigrahan ritual at indian wedding in belfast

Gath Bandhan

To complete the symbolic union of Archana and Vishal, the ends of the scarves over their shoulders were tied together representing the unity and unbreakable bond between them.  It is from this tradition that we get the term "tying the knot" as a term for a wedding ceremony. 

Gath bandhan tying the knot at an indian hindu punjabi wedding

Agni Sthaapna

While chanting Vedic mantras, the priest lit a sacred fire to witness the marriage. Archana and Vishal made offerings of "ghritahuti" (clarified butter) into the fire and others sitting around the mandap made offerings of "samagri" - a mixture of herbs, grains and dried fruits.  The fire symbolises strength, knowlege and progress as it leads us all from darkness to light.  Samagri signifies the sacrafice and selflessness required to build a family together. 

Agni Sthaapna at hindu wedding

Lajja Homa

"Lajja Homa" is the offering of unhusked rice into the sacred fire.  All of Archana's brothers placed some rice into her hands, giving her the family's blessings for prosperity.  She poured the rice into Vishals hands, who offered it to the sacred fire on their behalf.  When the unhusked rice receives the warmth of the fire, it blooms. Thus, when Archana and Vishal recieve each other's affections, they will blossom happily too. 

Lajja Homa ritual at hindu wedding service in culloden hotel

Agni Parikrama

Archana and Vishal walked around the sacred fire four times.  These walks are known as "phere".  Vishal lead the initial three phere and Archana lead the fourth.  Each Phere represents the pursuit of the four goals for a fulfilling and rewarding marriage;

Agni Parkirama walking round the fire four times at indian wedding

  • DharmaArchana and Vishal will fulfill religious and moral duties
  • Artha - Archana and Vishal will gain the wealth and prosperity needed to enjoy the comforts of life. 
  • Kama - Archana and Vishal will enjoy life with energy and passion
  • Moksha - Archana and Vishal will aim to achieve enlightenment and liberation from a Hindu perspective

After the phere, Archana and Vishal exchanged seats so that Archana was then seated on Vishal's left so that she was closer to his heart.  This also signfiies acceptance of each others' families. 

Shila Rohan

Archana's brothers asked her to place her foot on a piece of rock.  This symbolises that she should be as strong as the rock and to withstand any dificulties that life may bring. 

Shila Rohan at Hindu wedding ceremony northern ireland

Sapta Padi

Archana and Vishal took seven steps together.  Each step they placed their foot onto flowers and rice.   These seven steps represented.

  1. Live Faithfully - Let us live faithfully with honour and respect, sharing the responsibilities of our home;
  2. Be Happy - Let us be happy and enjoy healthy lives, filling each others' hearts with strength and courage
  3. Work Honourably - Let us work honourably together for knowlege, harmony, wealth and prosperity
  4. Deepening Love - Let us share a steadily deepening love for each other which grows in understanding and unselfishness:
  5. Family - Let us embrace each others' family, as well as our own that is yet to come:
  6. Bring Peace - Let us bring peace, patience and forgiveness to each others' lives, sharing in all joys and sorrows:
  7. Best of Friends - Let us be the best of friends with love, trust and sacrafice

 In the eyes of the Vedic law, the completion of the seven steps taken jointly is considered to be the decisive and irreversible stage of a Vedic wedding.  

At this point, they touched each others hearts and foreheads and spoke these words:

"I am establishing a special place for you in my heart from this day onwards.  I will always be loyal to you.  Let our hearts and minds always remain united through mutual love and understanding"

Sapta Padi ritual at hindu wedding ceremony

Saubhagya Chinh

Visha carfully placed a pinch of 'sindhoor' (red vermillion powder) in the middle parting of Archana's hair.  This is the traditional mark of a married Hindu woman and it welcomes her into her husband's life as an eternal partner. Seven married ladies then also applied sindhoor on her forehead and simultaneously gave her their blessings. 

Saubhagya Chinh ritual at hindu wedding ceremony

Aashirwaad

The priest prayed for the well being of the newlyweds.  After this friends and family showered them with rice and flowers.  The happy couple touched the feet of their parents and the elders in both families.  This is seen as a mark of respect and an opportunity for them to receive their blessings. 

Aashirwaad blessing of families at indian wedding

Shaanti Paath

This prayer is recited at the end of all Vedic ceremonies.  It is a prayer for perfect peace and tranquility to reign throughout the universe. 

At this point, the happy couple leave the canopy and walk down the aisle to their car.  The close family also leave at this point and go to the family home  of the bride. 

Shaanti Paath blessing of 3 high priests

Doli

This stage of the ceremony is very emotional.  It is when the bride prepares to leaver her 'maika' (birth / childhood home) and to go to her 'sadural' (in laws home).  As she left the home, she threw back five handfuls of rice over her head.  This symbolised Archana returning what her parents had given to her over the years she had been with them.  It also signifies Archana's hope that the house she now leaves will continue to flourish.  She was escorted to Vishal's car by her parents and the rest of the family.  It was very tearful especially for all the women of the family.  As the car pulled away, her brothers gave the car a gentle push to signify their support for her to begin her new married life. 

Doll leaving home of indian bride

Reception

It was then back to the Culloden for photographs, more food and music.  The day was filled with music, colour, food and laughter.  The energy was tangible the whole day.  The photography started at 7am in the brides house and the dancing shots stopped at 11pm.  It was a very long day but the energy of the crowd mean't that I was on a high all day and did not feel tired until I got home that evening.  Congratulations to Archana and Vishal for putting on such a beautiful wedding and allowing us to be part of this special day. 

Indian wedding rings

This is just a little glimpse into a Hindu wedding.  Everything was spectacular from the cake cutting to the first dance to the bollywood style dancing of the sisters to the crazy moves on the dance floor.   There is so much to show that we could do a second blog on the rest of the wedding but I thought I would just cover the ceremony and rituals as I found this part of the day totally fascinating. 

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