Gujarati wedding ceremonies from western India have their own regional traditions and customs that add a unique flavour and colour to each ceremony. Gujarati marriages elevate the woman to become her husband's sadharma-charini, and she is always seen as an equal partner to him in life's pursuits. Below is a very brief guide to Gujarati wedding ceremonies (regional variations apply).
ROLE OF THE PRIEST
A Hindu Brahmin Wedding Priest plays a very important role in conducting all the ceremonies detailed below. Having studied the sciptures, he is able to guide the couple through all the rituals and ensure that everything runs smoothly on their most important day
PRE WEDDING RITUALS
This ceremony is undertaken at the outset of most auspicious events. The families of the bride and the groom perform this ceremony in their homes a few days before the wedding. The families pray to Lord Ganesh, the Hindu God who is believed to remove all obstacles and seek his divine blessing. A priest is called to perform the puja.
Griha Shanti (also known as Saatak)
This is an important puja or prayer session and is conducted at the bride's home as well as the groom's. A mahurat or auspicious time is chosen for the puja. This ritual springs from the belief that the stars and constellations exert tremendous influence on the lives of human beings. Any disturbance in the stars can cause harm or clashes in the marital relationship and the lives of the couple. The purpose of the puja is to bring peace among the stars. A priest conducts the puja for Griha Shanti with the family members and relatives participating in the rituals
ON THE WEDDING DAY
The groom, along with his entourage of family members and friends, arrive at the marriage venue. At the entrance (or just inside) the groom is welcomed by his prospective mother-in-law in a ceremony called Pokhvanu (welcoming the groom). She blesses him and performs a small ritual to ward off the evil eye. During this time she may even try to pinch his nose to remind him playfully that he will have to rub his nose on the door to ask for her daughter. This gesture symbolises his humility and understanding of the tremendous sacrifice that his future wife is about to make. She will, after all, be leaving behind a life as a daughter, changing her name and taking on the responsibilities of running his household as wife and daughter-in-law.
COMMENCEMENT OF WEDDING RITUALS
The groom is then escorted to the mandap where prayers are offered to Lord Ganesh first and then a brief ceremony takes place to honour the groom and sanctify the mandap under which the wedding ceremony will take place.
The bride then makes her grand entrance and is escorted to the mandap by her maternal uncles or brothers in a ceremony known as Kanya Agaman. A screen called the Antarpat is kept in front of the Groom separating him from the bride.
Once the bride has settled down then the antarpat is lowered and the couple exchange garlands(Jaimala).
The rituals begin with the kanyadaan. This ceremony is generally performed by the brides parents, under the priest's instuctions . Their folded hands reflect the hope that their son-in-law will take good care of their daughter and never cause her pain. They may wash the couple's feet, as they believe that the groom is none other than the Hindu God Lord Vishnu, to whom they are handing over his rightful consort, the Goddess Lakshmi in the form of their daughter. The following rituals make up the Kanyadan ceremony:
Granthibandhan, Varmala & Hasta Milap
In this ritual, the groom's scarf or shawl is tied to the bride's saree, a long sacred cotton necklace called the Varmala is put around both their necks bonding them spiritually and the bride's right hand is placed in the groom's right hand.. This knot and the joined hands of the couple symbolise the union of two souls joined together in holy matrimony. The priest chants mantras to invoke the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Parvati for the saubhagyavrata of the bride. The bride's parents bless the couple. Thus ends the Kanyadan ceremony.
Havan A sacred fire called the Havan is lit. Mantras are chanted inviting the various Deities to be present to witness the wedding. Agni the Fire God, being a symbol of light, energy and purity is regarded as the chief witness to the wedding.
The pheras or walking around the sacred fire. The couple goes around the fire as the priest chants mantras. Bridesmaids shower the couple with flower petals.Unlike many other Hindu weddings, a Gujarati Wedding has only four pheras called the Mangalpheras(steps around the sacred fire by the couple) where the pheras symbolize the four basic human goals of: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha (i.e. religious and moral, prosperity, earthly pleasures and salvation).
The saptapadi which literally means seven steps is another vital part of the wedding ceremony. Seven Betel nuts (Sopari) are placed before the bride and groom. The Sapta Padi or the seven vows for married life are then recited by the couple while they touch seven betel nuts with their right toes. Through these vows, the bride and groom seek each others support to make their married life a successful and happy one.
Sindoor & Mangalsutra
The groom places Sindoor (red powder) on the brides forehead & front hair-parting and places a necklace (called Mangalsutra) round her neck, a sign of his love and respect for her. Wearing a mangalsutra is a statement by the bride that she is a happily married lady.
This is where married ladies come and whisper their blessings in the bride's right ear, wishing her a blissful married life.The number of ladies involved varies from community to community.
The couple are now married and seek blessings from the priest conducting the wedding, their respective parents and other elders present. They all give their blessings to the newly wedded couple for a happy, healthy and prosperous life together. And they live happily ever after!