Hinduism is not a single religion, but a complex of beliefs and philosophies that have evolved in India and share similar features. Hindu wedding rituals incorporate local and regional customs and cultures, and these influence how and when a pre-wedding celebration is performed. There are several ceremonies which are consistently present in most cultures, however.
The Engagement Agreement and Ceremony
The very beginning of the pre-wedding rituals and celebrations is the engagement ceremony at which rings are exchanged. In certain Indian communities, this may simply involve the parents of the future bride and groom creating a marriage agreement, or the bride and groom meeting for the first time. If the ceremony’s focus is on creating a marriage agreement, a matchmaker, called a nayan, will serve as a go-between as the marriage guidelines are agreed upon. Once a general agreement is made, the families may get together to finalize details. Often, however, it is a time when rings are exchanged in the presence of family. The families of the bride and groom then exchange gifts -- sweets and fruit are common -- before sharing a meal together. Sometimes a ceremony called the sagai ceremony is included, in which the family of the groom gives gifts to the bride-to-be and the bride’s family to the groom.
The Sangeet and Mehndi Ceremonies
The Sangeet ceremony is a reserved exclusively for the female family members and friends of the bride. Although it started as a tradition in northern India, it has now spread to the South. The focus of Sangeet is to celebrate the upcoming wedding through song and dance, and it offers the women a respite from the busy time prior to the wedding. At the Sangeet ceremony, the women sing traditional wedding songs, perform choreographed dances, and even come to terms with the separation that will occur between mother and daughter. Sometimes performed before Sangeet, the Mehndi ceremony is an integral part of the pre-wedding rituals. During this private ceremony organized by the bride’s family, intricate designs are stained with turmeric onto the bride’s skin by an artist who specializes in the procedure. These designs are meant to make her more attractive and are considered one of 16 important adornments required to complete the beauty of the bride.
On the evening prior to the wedding, a priest visits the home of the bride and the home of the groom. He performs prayers with the aid of ingredients such as coconut, rice and various spices, and accepts grain from the groom as a symbol of continued charity even after marriage. The married women of the household grind wheat as a symbol of prosperity for the couple. The bride and groom’s mothers will dress in wedding finery and carry a pot of water to the doorway in order for the water to be "cut" and evil spirits warded off. Unlike the mothers, the bride and groom wear old clothing in order to represent their old life. This clothing is then torn off in a ritual meant to symbolize the release of the life they lived before marriage.
On the day of the wedding, a large procession -- composed of the groom, his entire family and friends -- travels to the bride’s house or wedding location, where the bride will be waiting. Traditionally the groom rides a horse or elephant during this event and is dressed extravagantly. The procession is very colorful and participants play music and dance as they travel, rejoicing in the start of a new stage in life. When they arrive to their intended location, the bride’s family is there to meet them with gifts of money, and the wedding ceremony between the bride and groom commences.
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