D. Chander-Week Three-Description of a Ritual

I am of Indian origin, so I decided to describe a traditional South Indian wedding. First comes the “Muhurtham” which is auspicious time selected by the astrologer. Between July 15th and August 15th, September 15th-October 15th, and through December 15th-January 15th are all inauspicious times to be married, so typically South Indian weddings won’t occur during these times.

The next thing that happens is the betrothal. This event is lavish with lots of traditional indian snacks and sweets, singing, dancing and stories. Following that, some time usually passes, before the “Mehndi” which is a few nights before the bride’s wedding. During the mehndi, the bride gets an extensive henna tattoo all over her palms, hands, arms, and legs. It takes hours, and typically the henna artist will hide the groom’s name in the mehndi. If she finds it quickly, it’s supposed to signify good luck. The mehndi night is only for the women between the bride and groom’s friend group. Most of the ladies get small henna designs as well.

The wedding is a long ritual. It starts at an auspicious time, it’s usually in the morning at a Hindu temple. The bride and groom both enter, and sit on the “mandap” a structure of pillars with chairs and the fire. The priest begins to chant ancient sanskrit prayers, and play devotional music to accompany it. The fire is lit as he chants, the couple is instructed to repeat after him. After the chanting is complete, the groom ties the “mangalsutra” a gold necklace that a married woman wears. The crowd throws rice after this point, which signifies health, fertility and prosperity for the couple. Then they tie the bride’s sari a long silk garment worn by the bride, to the groom’s sherwani, a suit , and then walk around the fire in the mandap, 7 times. In the first round, they pray that god gives them an abundance of food and that they never are hungry. In he second round, the couple wishes for prosperity and a fulfilling life. The third round signifies, wealth and the couple prays that God grants them the strength to get through happy and painful times together. The fourth round signifies love and respect for one another and each other’s respective families. The fifth round, the couple prays for fertility and that God blesses them with children. In the sixth round, the couple asks that God grant them longevity and a peaceful life with one another, and in the last and final round they pray for companionship and to be the best of friends and that god give them the friendship that lasts a lifetime.

After the 7 rounds around the fire, the guests throw flower petals showering the new bride and groom. The last part of the wedding is when the father gives away the bride. She no longer has her father’s name and will no longer live in her father’s house. Instead, her father gives her away to the groom, and asks that he watches over her and treats her with the utmost respect. This is a emotional time, if the bride has never left home before. The bride usually cries, as well as her father and mother, while her husband consoles her.

The next night is the reception. The reception always takes place at night usually the day following the wedding in a large wedding hall or a hotel. The bride wears a lehenga, which is traditional for the reception, and the groom usually wears a suit and tie or a salwar suit.  The reception is where the bride and groom kinda just oversee the entire event. They eat and get gifts and pictures and they dance, just like in typical Western weddings. It’s very upbeat and happy, as opposed to the wedding which is more serious and emotional. When the bride goes to the groom’s home for the first time, she kicks a small pot of rice before entering signifying the start of their married life together, kind of like carrying a bride over the threshold. Sometimes they decorate the bed with many many flowers, and the couple consummates the marriage.

This is a pretty condensed version of the entire thing. What are some of the emotions at weddings across the world? What are some traditions that you’ve observed at a wedding?

2 thoughts on “D. Chander-Week Three-Description of a Ritual

  1. I have never been to a wedding of any culture, so I cannot reply to your answer based on personal experience. Nonetheless, I am curious about the different customs that take place during a South Indian wedding. I notice how culture plays a huge role in our understandings of weddings. I am not very familiar with Indian rituals, so I found myself trying to relate certain actions that correspond to customs of western weddings. “Mehndi” of Indian weddings relates to “bachelorette’s party” of western weddings. I would not have been able to recognize that by merely looking at the word “mehndi.” This brings me to Whorf’s question: “Which was first: the language patterns or cultural norms?” Yes, cultural traditions, behaviors and rituals help our cultures understand custom by way of language conventions, in a sense. But if I knew all the languages of the world, could I interpret a “mehndi” the same way as bachelorette’s party” without the cultural knowledge and influence behind each of these words? They are similar, but they are distinctly different; and culture as well as language do not function without each other’s cooperation.

    A few questions I have:
    1) Is the fire holy fire truly fueled by cow manure?
    2) What is the significance of the number seven?
    3) Must a bride and groom practice mantras, vowels, and promises weeks before the wedding, or is this learned through childhood?

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