Indian wedding: traditions, typologies and duration

September 18, 2019

Hindu marriage is called Vivaha and it's a beloved institutions, colorful and lively, characterized by rituals and durations that vary from region to region. The nuptial ceremony has a great importance among Hindus.

Indian bride and groom

The Hindu wedding is called Vivaha and is a very heartfelt institution, colorful and crowded, with rituals and duration that vary from region to region. The actual wedding ceremony is called Vivaah sanskar in North India and Kalyanam in South India. The Hindus consider wedding extremely important.

What is common to all the typologies of wedding are three main rituals: Kanyadaan, Panigrahana and Saptapadi. In the first, the daughter says goodbye to her father, in the second the bride and groom symbolically hold their hands close to the fire to signify union and in the third they turn seven times around making seven promises. The fire is the most important symbolic element of the ceremony, which is almost always celebrated in Sanskrit, the language for holy ceremonies in India, even though the local languages of the bride and groom can be also used.

Indian marriage with bride and groom
Loving couple just got married

The duration of Indian weddings varies according to the preferences and economic means of the families involved. It also depends on the choice whether to arrange or not some pre and post marriage celebrations. For example, before the marriage an engagement ceremony can be arranged, with the groom marching to the house of the bride.

After the wedding, several ceremonies can be held to welcome the bride into the new house. Anyway, according to the law, no marriage can be considered celebrated without the cermony of the seven turns before the holy fire.

Groom and groomsmen celebrate together
An Indian wedding is a moment of great celebration

The 8 types of Hindu wedding

The ancient literary Hindu tradition establishes that eight types of marriage exist:

  • Brahma Marriage - it is the most common form even today, and it is considered as the most appropriate among the eight. In this case, the father of the bride proposes his daughter as a wife to a man he has selected. Both families agree and meet, while the girl is offered as wife and accepted.
  • Daiva Marriage - this second type of wedding was held in ancient times and it is not used any more nowadays: the father gave his daughter as sacrificial gift to a priest.
  • Arsha Marriage - in the Arsha marriage, the groom gives a cow and a bull to the bride's father, who gives in turn his daughter as wife. Even if questionable, this practice is considered appropriate by the Indian community. In return, the groom solemnly promises to provide for the woman and family's livelihood.
  • Prajapatya Marriage - in this sort of civil marriage, the couple exchanges some mantras in Sanskrit.
Indian bride and groom
Bride and groom travel in a taxi

These four types of wedding are approved by Hinduism, but other four exist which are considered inappropriate, two acceptable and two not acceptable.

The acceptable marriages are:

  • Gandharva Marriage - the man and woman live together for love, without religious ceremonies.
  • Asura Marriage - in this case, the groom offers a dowry to the bride's father and the father accepts it, meaning he sells his daughter. This type of marriage is considered unappropriate because it can cause greediness and unions between people of different social classes.
Indian couple shows their wedding rings
Bride and groom happily show their rings

Finally there are two types of wedding that are unappropriate and not acceptable, even though children born out of this marriages are considered legitimate. They are:

  • Rakshasa Marriage - the man kidnaps the woman against her and her family's will.
  • Paishacha Marriage - the man takes and unconscious woman, who's drugged or drunken.

Main rituals

The Hindu marriages can vary according to the different regions in which they are celebrated and the economic availability of the families.

Anyway, the main rituals are three and are common to all kinds of marriages:

  • Kanyadaam - it is the part of the ceremony in which the father gives the daughter as wife to the groom, the daughter says goodbye to her father.
  • Panigrahana- the groom takes the hand of the bride, and the joint hands are held close to the fire to symbolize the new union.
  • Saptapadi- it's the rite which defines and validates the wedding. Also called ritual of the seven turnings, it means the couple turns seven times around exchanging seven vow, often close to the holy fire.

The Indian bride's attire

The Indian brides are beautiful and present themselves to the future husband majestically dressed, wearing an embroidered gown called lehnga or a sari. The bride's dress is generally red or golden, especially because red is considered to bring good luck. The veil on the head symbolizes modesty and virginity.

Detail of Indian bride wearing wedding clothes
A beautiful Indian bride

The clothing of the bride is made up of several stages.

  1. Bride's dress: as previously said, it is a richly ornated gown or an embroidered sari. Once the dress is chosen, the brides chooses accessories to match.

  2. Hairstyle: also called Kesh, the hairstyle of the bride must be in harmony with the style of the dress. A sort of braid is made divided in three parts, each a symbol of a different holy river in India, respectively Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. The dress is decorated with flowers arranged in a pattern called Gajra and a jewel called Maang tikka is put on the forehead.

  3. Jewellery and henna drawings: Haar are necklaces that the bride wears on the day of the wedding, usually made up of gold and diamonds with elaborate designs. One of the necklaces that the groom puts on the bride's neck is instead Mangalsutra, symbol of the fact that the woman is now a wife. The golden bracelets the bride wears are called Choodiyan and are a wish of long life for the husband. There are also Baajuband, made of diamonds, gold or silver, in order to protect from evil. Heavy earrings are worn at the ears, the Karnphool, often made lighter by a thin chained fixed at the sides of the ears. The hands and feet are decorated with elaborate henna pattherns, called Mehendi. At her feet, the bride wears the Payal, anklet with little bells, while the Bichuas ring indicates that the woman is married and is worn on the second toe. On her first toe the woman often wears a ring with a little mirror, called Aarsi.

  4. Belt: the belt around the bride's waist is called Kamarbad, and is usually golden with gems.

Indian bride ritual of cleaning
A wedding ritual
  1. Nath: The Nath is a big ring to be worn on the right nostril, often embellished by precious stones and linked to the right ear by a little chain.

To end the preparation of the bride, finally comes Itar, a perfume that is sprinkled on the skin to keep it fresh throught the ceremonies.