http://www.hansakaria.com/Oh wow, you are getting married! Are you going to have a Hindu wedding? What will your wedding be like? What do your wedding rituals symbolise? Why do you walk around the fire? And those are just a few questions your non-Hindu friends will ask when you announce that you are getting married. Many British Asians do not really know about their own wedding rituals and very few think about it before they tie the knot. Over the years, we have attended many weddings and the thought of a Hindu wedding tends to come with ‘oh but it’s so long.’ Yes it is long, but they have become shorter over recent years. Many couples want their guests to sit and see their wedding. After all, you are inviting guests to see a wedding, not drop in and out as you feel like. For people who have never seen a Hindu wedding, it is a colourful affair and there is a lot going on, with family members rushing left, right and centre, we wouldn’t expect anything less.
What does the stages of a Hindu wedding mean? You may have heard people mention ‘Saat Phere’ and unless you understand the language, you wont know what it means. Translated into English, Saat Phere means Seven Circumambulations we know it’s a mouthful so we will just use the word ‘phera’ which is much easier to read! The Saat Phere is basically seven vows that bind the bride and groom into husband and wife and each vow has a significant meaning. The wedding ceremony will begin by the brides’ family welcoming the grooms. A prayer is then read to Lord Ganesh to bless the occasion and to remove any obstacles from the ceremony. The Bride then joins the groom where they exchange garlands, which indicates their agreement for the wedding to begin. Although, this tradition was based on the bride and groom not seeing each other before, it is now just seen as part of the welcoming ceremony as couples would have already accepted the proposal and they do already know each other. The mother of the bride pours water into the hand of the brides father, which then flows to the grooms hand and then to the brides and this is to symbolise the eternal life and also passing the family heritage to the next generations.
Saat Phere, the important part of the Hindu wedding is for the bride and groom to walk around the holy fire together and the couple lights the fire and pray for a happy future, using the fire to pass on their prayers to the various Hindu deities. Each phera has a different vow, which is read out by the priest before the couple becomes husband and wife.
FIRST PHERA – PRAYER FOR FOOD AND NOURISHMENTS
“With God as our guide, let us take the first step to live with honor and respect. Let us walk together so we get food”
The first stage of the Saat Phera, the couple prays that the Hindu deities provide them with food that nourishes the couple so that they can live together with respect and honor for one another.
SECOND PHERA – STRENGTH
“Let us be happy and enjoy life. Let us walk together so we grow together in strength,”
The couple pledge to grow as one in mental, physical and spiritual strengths so that they can enjoy and share their life together.
THIRD PHERA – PROSPERITY
“Let us share joys and pains together. Let us walk together so we get wealth.”
At this stage of the vows, the couple promises to earn an honest living so that they can live comfortably. Both bride and groom promises to stay faithful to each other and respect one another
FOURTH PHERA – FAMILY
“Let us not forget parents and elders. Let us walk together so we get happiness by sharing our joys and sorrows,”
In this phera, the couple promises to take care of their elders to maintain a strong family relationship.
FIFTH PHERA – PROGENY
“Let us observe all acts of charity. Let us walk together so we have family”
The fifth vow the couple make is to be blessed with healthy children who are kind and courageous and that the bride and groom will fulfill and provide all aspects of their childrens lives with education, love and care as well as values of live.
SIXTH PHERA – HEALTH
“Let us live a long and peaceful life. Let us walk together so we have joy”
With the sixth vow, the couple pray that neither of them will suffer from ill health and that their future is calm and balanced together.
SEVENTH PHERA -
“Let us be friends with love and sacrifice. Let us walk together so we have friendship”
In the final step of the Saat Phere, the couple promise to live a life of love, friendship and mutual trust. The Saat Phere makes the marriage eternal and the couple are now officially husband and wife.
There are translations of the vows where the wife’s role is to be a homemaker and that she will look after her husband and children and the husband is the provider. However, in this day and age, it will be very hard for British Asians who take these vows to commit to being a housewife or sole earner for their family, so the vows can be interpreted as being more modern where there isn’t an emphasis on gender biased duties. It is always a good to know what your marriage means before you take the vows. Only then will your vows mean something to you rather than your big day being a tradition because that is the way a Hindu wedding is.
Image Credit: HS Photography for the wedding of Anisha and Vikas