Hindu Marriage Ceremonies
UK law allows for Hindu temples to be registered for marriage according to Hindu rites. The legal requirements are those that apply to civil marriages. The celebrant will explain the legal and religious requirements to the bride and groom to be. The different branches of Hinduism have their own customs and traditions, but wedding traditions also vary from family to family.
Hindu marriages are often arranged by both sets of parents but the bride and groom have the right to refuse. The celebrant visits the bride’s home a few days before the ceremony to offer prayers and readings, blessing the coming ceremony. The bride’s parents welcome the groom’s family on the evening before the wedding with another small ceremony. During this period the bride and groom are not permitted to see each other for fear of bringing back luck to the marriage.
A traditional Hindu bride most often wears a red and white wedding sari, symbolising fertility, wealth and purity. She wears lots of gold jewellery, and her hands and feet are painted by her family with henna in the Mehendi ceremony, held either before or during the wedding ceremony. The groom wears a loose, untucked long-sleeved white shirt.
The universal Hindu wedding, the Vedic marriage, is named after the Vedas (holy book). Before the ceremony the priest blesses the bride’s bangles. It is considered unlucky if she removes them before 40 days have passed. The groom and his wedding party are then received by the bride and her family.
Everyone moves inside the temple where the celebrant calls for Ganesha’s blessing, followed by a prayer. The bride’s maternal uncle and sisters walk her to the wedding tent where her father performs the handing-over ceremony. By spreading turmeric on her hands the bride acknowledges her change in status from daughter and single woman, to wife. Her father places her dyed hand in her groom’s, and he holds it as a symbol of everlasting love. When the bride’s father pours out some of the sacred water he is ‘washing his hands’ of her, while the groom recites Vedic hymns to Kama, the god of love. Three times the groom promises the bride’s father that he will help the bride to realise enlightenment, wealth and true love.
The celebrant ties the bride’s veil to the groom’s shawl while they stand facing each other, symbolising their union. They then exchange garlands and rings. With the bride facing east and the groom west, the groom takes the bride’s hand again, reciting Vedic hymns for longevity, happiness and a lifetime of marriage.
Lighting the Hindu Marriage Fire represents the divine witness and sanctifies the ceremony, while the ‘sacrifice’ of grains signifies a male relative’s continuing support of the bride and the request for prosperity. Before the ritual of the Seven Steps, the bride and groom walk around the fire seven times offering a mix of sandalwood, herbs, sugar, rice, ghee and twigs, while they pray for the union of their hearts and minds. They also recite Vedic hymns to the gods, calling for wealth, good luck and fidelity. As bride and groom walk, the bride’s sister reads a passage from the Holy scriptures. As each circling of the fire is completed, the bride and groom stand on a stone and pray for their love to hold firm.
The ritual of the Seven Steps is the most important part of the Hindu marriage ceremony. As the bride and groom walk seven steps together, either forwards or round the fire, they ask for an individual blessing at each step, for sustenance, strength, prosperity, bliss, children, longevity and finally, union, devotion and companionship. The ceremony is concluded with a prayer asking for the union to last for life. Once this is completed, the groom and bride are husband and wife. The husband then touches his new wife on the heart, and makes a further verbal vow. A gold chain with black beads is then tied around either the bride or groom’s neck and the husband puts the red powder known as sindhoor in his bride’s hair. Throughout the wedding, the different customs and traditions of each branch of Hinduism are apparent in the ceremony.
Once the groom’s parents have offered a blessing, they welcome their new daughter-in-law with a gift of cloth, or a flower, and the guests shower the newlyweds with flowers that ward off the evil eye and bless the union. The wedding feast is elaborate. Once it is over, the bride says an emotional farewell to her family and leaves to begin her new life.
Sikh Marriage Ceremonies
Some Sikh Gurdwaras (places of worship) in the UK are registered for marriage. A civil ceremony will be needed if the marriage is held in an unregistered gurdwara or in the bride’s parents’ home. Since the religious service is the most important part of a Sikh wedding any necessary civil ceremony is attended by close family and friends only. The couple will not live together until the religious rites have been held.
While Sikh marriages are usually arranged, the prospective bride and groom are allowed to get to know each other and refuse the marriage if they wish. A number of parties and ceremonies at which gifts are exchanged are held in both the bride and groom’s homes before the wedding, in the presence of the Sikh holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The bride’s maternal relatives perform the ceremony of Jaggo the night before the wedding, preparing and decorating a copper vessel with lamps made from dough. They visit relatives, singing and performing a traditional dance in each house, enjoying tea and snacks while the visited family puts oil in the lamps. A gold embroidered tunic with red trousers or a red sari is the traditional bridal dress, along with a red headscarf, heavy veil and lots of jewellery. The groom wears a white pyjama-style top and bottom with a long coat, a pink turban, an orange scarf and a heavy gold and tinsel veil over his face.
A Sikh wedding always takes place before noon. At around 5am the bride and groom undergo a cleansing ceremony in their own homes. The groom, accompanied by his friends and relatives, arrives in a joyful procession with music, singing and dancing, and is received by the male members of the bride’s family. The families exchange garlands and gifts. Morning hymns are sung after this reception and the couple sit down with the groom first and the bride to his left, before the holy book.
A female friend or relative attends to the bride. While a short hymn is sung the couple and their parents stand, and the celebrant talks to them of the obligations of married life. A garland of flowers is placed on Sri Guru Granth Sahib by the bride’s father and the couple then assent to their marriage by bowing to the holy book. The celebrant reads hymns to the marriage and the performance of the wedding song celebrates the holy union between the human soul and God while the bride and groom walk four times clockwise around the holy book. The groom, who leads, holds one end of the long orange scarf given to him by his mother, while the bride’s father places the other end of the scarf in the bride’s right hand, a symbol of their being joined as husband and wife. She then holds it for the remainder of the ceremony. After the fourth round bride and groom are showered with flowers and declared married. Singing concludes the service, while the congregation gives the couple money and gifts. The groom gives silver rings to the bride’s sisters and friends who then hide the groom’s shoes, only returning them to him after he gives them money.
The bride leaves for her new home a few hours later. By throwing rice over her shoulders as she leaves she signifies that she is paying off her debt of food to her parents. When the newlyweds reach the groom’s home they are received by his mother. Mustard oil poured at the entrance of the front door welcomes them. The bride takes grains of wheat into her new home to signify that her food is now to be found there and that her entry will bring prosperity. On the day after the wedding the bride and groom visit her parents where they are given gifts and a welcome feast.
Muslim Marriage Ceremonies
The UK’s marriage laws allow for mosques to be registered for the solemnisation of marriages, although many are not and if this is the case then a civil ceremony is also necessary under UK law. For Muslims, however, it is the ceremony in the mosque that counts as the actual wedding rather than the register office ceremony that legally validates the marriage.
While Muslim marriages are often arranged, Islam recommends that the couple meet in a chaperoned environment so that they can get to know each other. The marriage should only take place if both agree that it is their wish. Once the marriage is confirmed the groom makes a wedding gift to his future wife. This can take the form of money, property or a non-material promise and can either be paid immediately or promised for a later date. The marriage is not regarded as valid without it. Muslim weddings held in Britain vary according to the often very different traditions and culture of the people involved.
Many Muslims who marry in the UK, for instance, are from widely different cultures, including European, Turkish, Malaysian, African and the Asian Sub-Continent. But there are certain traditions that are common to all Muslim ceremonies. Marriages must be declared publicly and there’s no better way of doing this than by holding a feast or party that announces to all that the wedding has taken place, so once the marriage is consummated the groom holds a celebration banquet to which relatives, friends and neighbours are invited. While Muslim brides from the Asian sub-continent may wear a shalwar-gameez in scarlet with gold thread, and have their hands and feet painted with henna, most brides choose a traditional white wedding dress. Allowing for the many cultural differences, a Muslim marriage ceremony begins with an address or sermon by the officiator, who may or may not be the Imam, inviting the bride, groom and guests to a life of piety, mutual love, kindness and social responsibility.
The help and guidance of Allah are sought, followed by the Muslim declaration of faith. Three verses from the Qur’an and one prophetic saying form the main text of the marriage and the ceremony is concluded with prayer for the bride, groom, their respective families, the local Muslim community and the Muslin community at large. In some cultures a huge feast of celebration will be held, while in others a simpler gathering of family and close friends is favoured. There may be dancing, firing of guns and a noisy gathering and sometimes the joyful celebrations will stretch over several days.