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Traditional Hindu weddings are known for being a spectacle. Weddings contain at least 19 discrete parts each of which is packed with cultural and religious significance. The highly ritualistic nuptials traditionally took place over a long period of time. Many Hindus who can afford a long ceremony have weddings that last nearly a week. Such long weddings have become less common over time as people lead busier and busier lives. When a Hindu wedding must be shortened, the necessary rituals can be conducted on the night before and the day of the wedding. The shortest ceremony possible, while still including all the necessary rituals, will still take more than two hours.

Marriage for Hindus is an extremely important moment. For men, it marks the transition from their stage of life as a student to that of a householder. As soon as the ceremony is complete, the groom is responsible for his bride and their future together. For a woman, a marriage marks her transition out of maidenhood. Traditionally, she leaves her family behind to join her husband’s family, and her relationship with her parents becomes minimal and formal. When couples marry, their purushartha, or their “soul’s purpose,” changes. They are to focus on artha, or abundance, and work to increase the wealth, power and status of their family.

The many rituals found in Hindu weddings date back to ancient times, and each ritual has a religious significance that is over 4,000 years old. Hindu weddings focus on the bride’s and the groom’s families coming together and traditional ceremonies are known for their beauty and color. Both brides and grooms often wear colorful clothing, and Hindu brides are known for wearing intricate henna designs and ornate jewelry.

Mistakes made during a wedding ceremony have serious spiritual consequences as well. Marriage is an obligatory duty unless a person becomes a renunciate and turns their back on all life’s comforts and pleasures in favor of meditation and contemplation. If certain parts of a Hindu wedding ceremony are either skipped or done incorrectly, the wedding is not considered to be valid. Hindus also believe that the bonds formed during marriage do not dissolve when this life ends. Instead, the souls of the couple are intertwined for at least seven reincarnations. The couple may not be married in all seven lifetimes, but the two souls will work together to resolve karmic issues on earth and ensure their mutual salvation. As such, it is extremely important that each stage of a Hindu wedding is carried out correctly.

Ganesh Poojan

The Ganesh Poojan is an invocation to Ganesha, the god of wisdom and salvation. He removes any obstacles from the wedding ceremony so that it can be performed without hindrances. The Ganesh Poojan can be performed a few days prior to the wedding or on the night before the nuptials.

Baraat

The baraat marks the beginning of the wedding ceremony itself. The groom and his party, also called the vara yatra, enter while the groom’s family dances to the Dhol drum. Traditionally, the groom enters on a white horse, though this custom is, understandably, not always logistically feasible.

Milni

During the milni, the bride’s family welcomes the groom and his family. The bride’s family greets the groom’s family with akshat, a type of rice; tilak, a dot drawn on the forehead; arati, a ritual involving a plate with a lighted lamp; and an exchange of garlands.

Grahashanti

Before the ceremony begins, the nine planets are invoked by name. The couple-to-be receives blessings from each planet for their married life.

Kanyadan

During this solemn ritual, the bride is offered to the groom. She is led in by a brother or uncle while her parents wait with the groom. Both the bride and the groom have their feet washed with water and milk to purify them for their new life together. They then hold their hands open and the bride’s father holds his open hand over their palms. The mother of the bride pours water over the bride’s father’s hand, and the water falls onto the bride’s and groom’s open hands.

Hastamilap

The bride places her right hand on the right hand of the groom as part of the hastamalip. A cotton thread is wound several times around the couple’s hands as a priest recites holy verses. The thread is meant to be a metaphor for a married couple’s unbreakable bond. The cotton thread is thin, delicate and easily broken on its own, but when it is coiled it is durable and resilient.

Shilarohan and Laaja Homa

During this set of rituals, the bride climbs over a rock or stone to symbolize her willingness to overcome difficulties in her marriage or obstacles that keep her from performing her traditional duties. The groom and bride then take part in sindoor. Sindoor is the moment when the groom paints the parting of his new wife’s hair with red kumkum powder for the first time. This red strip is the traditional symbol of a married Hindu woman.

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