It is interesting to note that unlike most Indian communities where dowry plays a vital role, the Gujaratis have proved to be quite progressive. In case of the Naagar Brahmins, their girls are often married off with no expectations of wealth from the in-laws side. This is called kanku-kanya, meaning that the bride is welcome only with a vermilion mark on her forehead.
Chandlo Maatli: The 'chandlo' (applying the vermilion mark on the forehead) announces the acceptance of the alliance between the two families and the consent of the bride and groom to come together in holy matrimony.
'Chandlo' is the 'tikka' and 'maatli' is the clay container in which 'mithais' (sweetmeats) were packed in the olden days. The bride's father and four other male members from her family visit the groom carrying auspicious items and the bride's father applies the 'chandlo' on the groom's forehead and gives him a 'shakun' (a blessing symbolized by a token sum of money). An astrologer is consulted and the wedding date is fixed. The 'chandlo maatli' ceremony is usually followed by a high tea or dinner.
Ganesh Sthapan / Ganesh Matli: Ganesha is always the first deity to be propitiated at any significant event. His blessings are invoked before the preparations begin for the wedding so that no obstacles present themselves and all goes well.
This 'puja' is attended by close family members and is performed in both homes simultaneously on an auspicious day. After the 'puja' a vegetarian meal sans onion and garlic is served along with a sweet called 'khansaar'. The Ganesh puja signals the start of all the festivities.
Mehendi: This is an intimate gathering of the bride's female relatives and close friends two days before the wedding. While the mehendi (henna) is applied in fine patterns on the palms and feet of the bride, songs specific to the occasion are sung and lunch is served.
Garba & dandia raas: On the evening of the mehendi, or the next day, family and friends of both the bride and groom, gather together dressed in traditional finery and sing and dance to the beat of the dhol (drum). The women form a circle to dance the garba and the men join in later in an energetic dandia raas, a rhythmic dance performed with sticks or dandias. The garba is normally held after 8 p.m. until midnight.
Mandva Mahurat & Griha Shanti: This ceremony bears a deep religious significance because the parents of the couple seek the blessings of Mother Earth and Lord Ganesha and ask permission to commence with the digging of the soil to erect the mandva or mandap (platform erected for the wedding rites covered with a canopy).
Griha Shanti, a ceremony conducted to seek the blessings of all the nine planets, immediately follows the mandva mahurat. This is carried out in the respective homes of the bride and the groom.
Jaan: This ritual involves the groom arriving at the house of the bride to seek the blessings of his mother-in-law. He must bow his head and clutch his nose. This gesture symbolizes his humility and understanding of the tremendous sacrifice that his future wife is about to make. The groom's prospective mother-in-law blesses him and performs a small ritual to ward off the evil eye. She also tries to catch his nose as she reminds him that he is the taker since he will be taking her daughter away and they are the givers.
Pithi: The bride sits on a bajot or low stool, palms upturned. It is the prerogative of the kaaki (paternal uncle's wife) to mix the pithi (a paste of sandalwood powder, herbs, rosewater and mogra / attar (a type of perfume). She then arranges the pithi on a decorated platter and has it blessed by the priest. The women of the household apply the pithi on the bride's skin. The pithi is applied by married women. They keep their arms crossed (like an X) while applying the pithi. They start applying the pithi from the bride's foot to the bride's head.
Mameru or Mosaalu: The bride receives gifts from her maternal uncle (mama) which consists of clothes, jewelery and other gifts items including the traditional paanetar (silk saree - usually white with red border) and choodo (ivory bangle). The mameru ceremony takes place one day before the wedding. The bride wears the paanetar and choodo during the wedding ceremony.
Lagna - The wedding ceremony
Bridal Wear: The saree is the usual bridal wear for Gujarati girls. It is worn in a bit different style with the palav facing the front. Red is the color which is thought to be most auspicious for the occasion. Designer lehengas are also fast becoming popular these days. The bride wears the paanetar given by her mama. The reception clothes and jewelry for the bride is presented to her from her mother-in-law.
Groom's Attire: The Gujarati bridegroom’s wear the traditional dhoti kurta for the ceremony and a formal suit for the reception. The clothes for the reception are presented to him by the in-laws.
Varghodo: The groom's procession
On the evening of the wedding, the groom, dressed in all his finery and carrying a katar (small dagger) prepares to leave for the wedding venue. The priest gives the groom's sister a small bowl wrapped in cloth and containing coins on which the Hindu Swastika has been etched. She rattles this over her brother's head to ward off the evil eye and also to warn him that even though he is getting married, he must not forget his sister! After being blessed by all, he mounts a richly caparisoned mare and leaves for the wedding venue accompanied by his relatives and close friends. On disembarking at the wedding venue the groom is greeted by the bride's family and accorded the traditional aarti welcome. The bride's mother places two clay pots filled with rice on the ground and the groom breaks them before entering the wedding 'mandva'.
Varmala - The bride's mama (maternal uncle) escorts her to the mandva where she garlands the groom and he reciprocates.
Kanya Daan - The wedding rituals are performed in front of a sacred fire and conducted by the acharya. The rituals begin with the kanya daan. The bride is given away by her parents who abstain from eating to make themselves pure in body and mind for the occasion. Their folded hands reflect the hope that their son-in-law will take good care of their daughter and never cause her pain. They wash his feet as they believe that he is none other than the Hindu Lord, Vishnu, to whom they are handing over his rightful consort, the Goddess Laxmi in the form of their daughter. The bride's right hand is placed in the groom's right hand and they both reach out over the unlit fire below. With this gesture the father of the bride symbolizes this promise; " I offer you this most precious gift of my daughter to take as your own, to cherish and to protect. "The bride's mother connects the couple by tying the 'varmaala' (a length of sacred red thread) across them and looping it like a garland over their hands. After the ceremony the 'varmaala' is removed and put around the bride's neck like a garland.
Hasta Melap - In this ritual, the groom's scarf or shawl is tied to the bride's saree. This knot and the joined hands of the couple symbolise the union of two souls joined together in holy matrimony. The acharya chants mantras to invoke the blessings of Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Parvati for the saubhagyavrata or wife. The family and relatives present also come together to bless the couple and shower grains of rice and rose petals on them.
Mangal Pheras - The couple hold each others hands and walk around the agni four times while the maharaj chants mantras. Each round, they offer grains to the agni, representing their sacrifice of material possessions for God's blessings.
1st round: Dharma (righteousness-moral values-duties)
2nd round: Artha (Prosperity-material possessions)
3rd round: Kama (Happiness in Family-desire to enjoy)
4th round: Moksha (Spiritual-toward the path of God)
Mangal Fera is a vow to carry out moral duties & responsibilities toward each other, family and society; and to balance a life of material possessions and worldly desires with the continual striving towards spiritual liberation. There is a small tussle to see who gets back to the seat first!
Saptapadi - There are seven phera or steps in an Indian Hindu Marriage. Each step has its own importance and its own meaning. These pheras are to be taken around the holy fire called "Agni Devta". In each step there is a significant vow to be taken both by the bride and the groom. They vow to each other for the rest of their lives.
Vows to be taken by the groom:
Vows to be taken by the bride
1. In the first step the bride commits to her lord same as the groom that she will share the responsibility of the house, food and finance. She will discharge her share of responsibilities for the welfare of house and children.
2. With the second step she vows to fill the heart of her husband with courage and strength and to rejoice in his happiness.
3. While taking the third step the bride promises that I will love you with single-minded devotion as my husband. I will treat all other men as my brothers.
4. O my lord, in all acts of righteousness (Dharma), in material prosperity (Artha), in every form of enjoyment, and in those divine acts such as fire sacrifice, worship and charity, I promise you that I shall participate and I will always be with you.
5. From this day of life I will share both your joy and sorrow. Your love will make me very happy.
6. May the blessings of God always be with you. I will be with you in any stage of life.
7. In the seventh and the final step she says that now that I have been your wife in front of the holy fire. Whatever vows and pledges I have taken, are all taken with pure heart. I shall never deceive you nor shall I let you down. I shall love you forever and ever.
In some communities such as Gujarati, instead of seven, only four steps, signifying Artha, Dharma, Kama and Moksha are taken.
The bridegroom then comes over bride's right shoulder touches her heart saying:
"I hold your heart in serving fellowship, your mind follows my mind. In my word you rejoice with all your heart. You are joined to me by the Lord of all creatures."
Vidaai - The bride bids a tearful farewell to her parents, family and friends. The 'pujari' performs a small 'puja' for the decorated car by applying 'tikka' to the hood. The bride's mother breaks a coconut in front of the car, invoking blessings for a safe journey for the couple. The bride and groom leave accompanied by at least three others (it is necessary to have a minimum of five people in the car). The bride's brother usually escorts her to her new home.
Ghar ni Laxmi - The bride's first step into her new home is considered auspicious. She is the Ghar ni Laxmi or the goddess Laxmi who will bring wealth and good fortune to her home. The mother-in-law welcomes the bride with arti and tika. Then she places a vessel, filled to the brim with rice, at the entrance of the house. The bride must knock the vessel down gently with her right foot, spilling some of the rice over. The rice is a symbol of wealth and by following the ritual she conveys full understanding of her duties and responsibilities towards her new home.
Aeki-Beki - This is yet another interesting ritual observed at the groom's house. The newly wed couple is made to play a game called Aeki-beki. In this, several coins and a ring are placed in a tray of water covered by milk and vermilion. It is believed that the person, who finds the ring four times first, would be the ruler of the house.
Reception - The reception can be as simple or as elaborate an affair as desired by the families. The purpose is to introduce the bride and groom as a married couple. It is an opportunity for relatives, friends and well-wishers to bless the newly weds, enjoy a sumptuous meal with them and give them gifts.
Fire - the element that dispels darkness
Water - life nourishing element
Rice - Dispeller of evil spirits (soil/land)
Coconut - Fertility
Sindhur - Auspiciousness
A Knight on a White Horse: It's not something that only happens in fairy tales. In India , the groom often arrives to the wedding on a horse. This tradition has been adopted at Indian weddings in America , as well. You can rent a horse, preferably a tame, white one, from a stable. Usually the horse is adorned with a decorative saddle. In America , the tradition can be adapted to suit your taste. Grooms have been known to arrive on elephants, a carriage, or even a white mustang convertible - the modern day interpretation of a ~white horse.~
Who gets the garland on first: When the bride and groom first meet each other on the wedding day, they exchange flower garlands. This is to greet each other and to acknowledge mutual acceptance of the wedding to take place. Sometimes the family members have fun with this tradition. They will lift the bride or groom high off the ground so that it is difficult for the other member to get the garland on.
Stealing the Groom's shoes: Since the groom has to remove his shoes during the wedding ceremony, members of the bride's family (usually her sister) often try to steal his shoes at this time. The groom's side usually goes to extreme measures to hide these shoes because if the bride's family steals the shoes, the groom must pay them whatever amount of money they ask for to get the shoes back - sometimes costly endeavor!