Frequently Asked Questions about Indian Weddings
1. During many Indian weddings, quite a few people seem to be socializing, sometimes even eating or skipping the ceremony altogether ??
This is very common for weddings in India. Indian priests focus the rituals mostly on the couple and the parents. The guests are not involved except at the blessing. Further, the ceremony may be too long and may not be explained in English or the local language. This gives opportunity to the guests to socialize! Further, because of time constraints, food may be served even though the ceremony is not complete! This tradition is continued in many US weddings.
In the USA, it really depends upon the organizers and the Pandit how to officiate a formal, serene and solemn marriage ceremony. The socializing during the ceremony can be avoided by getting guests involved in the ceremony as witnesses, explaining to them the significance of each and every step in English and conducting the whole ceremony in an hour or so.
Some Indians may skip the ceremony completely; because they have seen too many long and boring rituals. I have observed many empty chairs for the ceremony but the reception attendance increases dramatically ! This is especially embarrassing in Indo-American weddings.
The hosts need to request all guests to arrive well before the start time. The Pandit should emphasize that guests need to witness and bless the couple at many key steps of the ceremony and make the ceremony meaningful. Finally, no food or drinks should be served in the wedding hall during the ceremony.
2. What are pros and Cons of Hotel, outdoor or special venue for an Indian Ceremony?
Most of the weddings that I perform are at a 4* hotel, outdoors or at a specialized venue.
Outdoor wedding ceremony can be very are romantic and beautiful. The venues are primarily chosen for their scenic beauty such as a lake, mountain or sea backdrop, a garden, a state park or natural falls. These venues typically accommodate small number of guests and lack facilities for a large group.
Outdoor ceremony can be a great success if the weather cooperates, if the venue meets requirements for an Indian wedding, if there are no external distractions and if all the facilities are available for the ceremony and for reception for a large group.
However, lighting a small fire is very difficult outdoors. Most of the outdoor venues lack a stage and are done at ground level. This may cause the wedding party to walk bare feet on grass or gravel. An outdoor ceremony may cause unexpected distractions. It tends to be less formal and less serene compared to an indoor, well controlled ceremony.
Some indoor/outdoor specialized venues for wedding are meant for small Christian weddings. They have many restrictions: they are not open all the time and are rented for an 8 hour period or so; thus causing unnecessary time pressure on the event. In some public venues, you may not get the hall until 5 pm!
On the other hand, indoor ceremonies, at a 4* hotel can minimize the unexpected events and can be well planned and managed. The 4* hotels can easily accommodate large number of guest with more than adequate facilities.
Doing the ceremony, reception and accommodations at the same hotel will considerably reduce your stress level. The hotels are open all the time and you can visit the venue multiple times for proper planning.Thus, it may not be unique but most practical venue for an Indian wedding.
Major considerations must be given for the stage/ Mandap, sitting arrangements and audio considerations. In general, outdoor ceremonies pose many logistics challenges for our type of ceremony. Outdoor ceremonies, if planned, should have a good back up plan.
3. What are the Legal Considerations of an Indian ceremony?
According to Hindu tradition, the Priest need not be formally trained as a Hindu priest. He or she should be thoroughly familiar with Hindu Vedic marriage steps, should have an impeccable character and be comfortable acting as a master of ceremonies, guiding the participants through their parts and explaining the meaning of the various steps to the couple and to the audience. The couple, parents and attendees should accept his or her role as the officiating Hindu pries.
In Texas, ordained Ministers, Priests, Rabbis or Officials, authorized by their religion can conduct the wedding and sign the marriage certificate. My role as a Priest in Texas comes under “officials authorized by their religion”.
In Texas, you need to have marriage Certificate at least 3 days before the wedding and signed and returned to the county office in less than 90 days after getting it .
However, in other States, the laws in the county you reside could be different. The Officiant may need to be certified with a licence and/or must be an ordained priest or the Justice of Peace or a Judge.
Outside Texas, if a licenced priest is required, you can arrange to have the county Judge or Justice of Peace can sign the marriage certificate. If there is a church wedding in case of Indo- American weddings, the ordained priest can sign the certificate. This can be done same day, a day earlier or a day later than planned wedding day.
4. What should be the ideal Stage or Mandap Arrangements?
The mandap should be typically set on a stage. The stage should be at east 16 ft long, 12 ft wide and 2 ft high. The mandap itself should be open for better viewing the marriage rituals by the invited guests. A four pillared mandap should be at least 12 by 12 ft; even then, some guests may not see all the rituals because of obstructions caused by the pillars.It is customary for the parents on either side to sit inside the mandap. Even a 10x10 ft mandap is too small to accommodate the six chairs and rituals like going around the fire.
Preferred Guest Sitting is in front, in two sections, with a middle path for arrival/departures for the bride and groom. Please avoid high pedestals with flower pots along the middle path as they obstruct the view.
Ideally, the mandap should be facing east. However, we need to be realistic and take into account other considerations as well.
Some people had planned central location for mandap with guests sitting all around on four sides. Logistically and technically, this does not work.
There should be reserved seats for the immediate family and for bride's maids and groom's men.
All folks entering the Mandap should remove shoes.
All sitting arrangements, Mandap/ stage, Mandap decorations, Microphone /speaker set up, required items etc should be complete two hours before the ceremony.
5. What are the Audio / Video / Music requirements?
The Pandit should have a clip on microphone. There should be a separate standup microphone available for any other participants or for other announcements.
The groom and the bride should choose appropriate music for following steps:
- Celebratory, enthusiastic Music during Groom's welcome
- Specific Music during Arrival of the bride of her choice
- Congratulatory and celebratory music after formal announcement as Husband and Wife
- Soft music background music, e.g. Shehanai, throughout the ceremony.
6. What are the ideal days/ times for the Ceremony?
According to Vedic Astrology, we should perform the ceremony on a good Muhurta, an auspicious time period. The Muhurt timings are available for a specific year and month in the Hindu Calendar, called Panchang. These are based on a number of considerations such as auspicious month, tithi, day, yog, karan and nakshatra. Further, the specific auspicious times should not occur on the same nakshtra as the bride and groom's birthday nakshatra and the bride should have Gurubal and the groom should have Ravibal. These are only the general guidelines and one should consult a knowledgeable Pandit, if you want to to have your wedding on a good Muhurta. In general, looking for an auspicious day will significantly reduce your options.
Most of the weddings in the USA are done on Saturdays for practical reasons. We need to jointly work this out based on the wishes of both the families as well as other considerations such as major holidays, weather, hall availability etc. Some families prefer major holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day etc but one should take into consideration that travel may be more difficult for invited guests.
One should decide upfront whether one wants to follow the Muhurt practice or Pragmatic considerations for the marriage timings. Please do not decide your day first and then ask the Pandit to find an auspicious time!
7. What is Muhurta??
You may receive a wedding invitation stating that the Marriage (Vivaah ) Muhurt is at 10:30 am on Thursday, Feb 26th, 2015. What does it mean?
In short, it means that it is the most auspicious moment for the start of the marriage ceremony for that specific day, according to the Vedic Astrology. Muhūrta ( मुहूर्त) is a unit of measurement for time in the Hindu calendar. It denotes a division of time: one-thirtieth of a day, or a period of forty-eight minutes. Thus, there are 30 Muhurtas in a 24 hr day. The first Muhurt period starts at the Sunrise for a given location. All the 30 Muhurta periods have been classified as auspicious or inauspicious.
An auspicious day is defined based on Shubha Vaar, Shubha Nakshatra, Shubha Tithi etc. Then, an auspicious time period for that particular day is defined as the “Muhurt” as lasting at least four hours. The beginning moment of this auspicious period is defined as the marriage Muhurt ( 10:30 am in above example). It has become tradition to assume that this specific moment is the beginning and end of the marriage rituals!! It is not so.
Vedic marriage ceremony is a logical sequence of many rituals. Typically, the garland exchange between bride and the groom should happen at the auspicious moment followed by Sankalp, Kannyadaan, Akshataropan, Panigrahan, Vivaah Homa, Laja Homa , Saptpadi and Blessings. Vivaah Homa is the centerpiece of the ceremony, when the transition from Brahmacharyasharm (Student life) to Grahasthashram (Married life) occurs. In many weddings, all the rituals, other than garland exchange, are finished BEFORE the auspicious moment for the sake of convenience, so that, other ”important” events like photo sessions and/ or lunch are finished on time! I have even seen the “Barat”, arrival of the groom to the mandap, after the Homa and Saptapadi!
8. What is a typical Hindu Wedding celebration?
Most of the Hindu weddings are held on Saturdays, with the festivities starting as early as Thursday. Thursday evening is normally dedicated to an informal get together of family and out of town friends and Mehendi. The bride’s and Groom’s family do pre wedding religious ceremonies on Friday mornings. The Pandit and all participants should go thru all the logistics and the various steps of the ceremony on Friday afternoon, preferably at the wedding venue. This may be followed by Sangeet, Raas-Garba or the rehearsal dinner. The Saturday afternoon is the big event, either a single Hindu ceremony or a second Christian or Jewish ceremony. This is followed by the reception. The hosts typically arrange a send off luncheon on Sunday mornings.
9. How long is the actual marriage ceremony in your way of conducting it?
Almost all the brides and grooms want a short Indian ceremony! They have seen many ceremonies lasting 2-3 hours and would like a shorter but meaningful version of the ceremony.
By consolidating the most important steps of the ceremony, eliminating unnecessary procedures and a good pre planning, time for the ceremony is about an hour. See detail answer in the next question.
Some couples did request me to reduce the time even further down to 30 minutes. I do not think I can impart the meaning and the significance of each step to the couple in such a short time!
10. In India and even in the USA, the traditional Hindu marriage ceremony takes 2-3 hours! How can you complete the same in one hour? Do you eliminate some rituals?
Let me explain why the traditional ceremony may take 2-3 hours.
- Traditional Hindu marriage ceremony has pre- marriage, actual marriage and post marriage rituals. Some priests may do all the rituals all together at one time, causing a lengthy ceremony.
- Each of the rituals requires presence of different folks which may not have been preplanned and time is lost getting them together.
- Some priests may do all the rituals even though some of these may not be relevant.
- Some rituals involve giving gifts to the groom and the bride during the ceremony. Bride and the groom will take time to wear given clothes for the next ceremony.
- Many plan a small meal or appetizers in between the rituals, such as a small breakfast, tea/coffee etc.
- There may not be detailed logistics review or prior briefing to the bride and the groom or to their parents of the various rituals or their significance. This may require on the spot explanation or teaching.
- There is no preplanned schedule and program for various rituals except the time of the Muhurtam.
- All required items for various steps may not be available readily.
Our focus is on the actual marriage rituals, specifically, the commitments and the blessings. These can be completed efficiently in one hour because of following:
- We do pre wedding rituals ahead of time as a part of Grahashanti. Post wedding rituals are typically done when the bride arrives at the in-laws’ home.
- We have several discussions and email exchanges with both parties. All participants are aware about their roles ahead of time. The bride and groom are fully aware of the significance and meaning of the various rituals. No time is lost explaining and how to do the various steps at the ceremony itself.
- There is a logistics review at the venue a day before. We also rehearse some key steps with Sanskrit verses for good pronunciation, coordination and proper flow.
- The focus of the ceremony is the commitment by the bride and the groom to each other and to their family and friends.
- We reduce the length of key rituals and use only the Sanskrit verses that are most pertinent.
- There is no gifts exchange or food served during the ceremony.
- The marriage program is planned with the approval of both sides. There are no last minute changes. All the invited guests attend and participate in the full program.
- All required items are readily available wnen we do the set up before the ceremony.
Because of these steps, there is no dead time going thru various steps and the overall program is done very efficiently and timely.
11. Who else is involved in the Ceremony other than the Bride and the Groom?
The Hindu ceremony involves marriage rituals not only between the bride and the groom but also bringing together both sets of families and their cultures. So, we get as many people involved in the ceremony as follows:
- Maternal Uncle : Brings Bride to the Mandap
- Close relatives or brother, sister: For Antarpat at the beginning and flower distribution at the end of the ceremony.
- Parents of the bride for Kannyadaan and Mangalashtaka
- Parents of the Groom for Mangalashtaka
- Mother or Sister of the Groom: Mangalsutrabandhanam, Tying the marriage Knot
- Brother (or Cousin) of the bride: For Mangal Fera / Protector. Note that he acts as a protector for his sister and then becomes the maternal uncle who brings his future niece at her wedding.
- Five Married women (3 from Bride’s side, 2 from Groom’s side): for blessings and facilitating bride’s transition to in-law’s home.
- Invited Guests: As witnesses and for giving blessings.
Please make sure all people are well informed well ahead of the ceremony of their respective roles! I have had many situations when some people were not informed at all or only informed la the last minute!
12. Sometimes, you do Mangalashtaka twice. Why?
In India, most of the guests attend only the Muhurta and it is typically assumed that that is the only important part of the marriage. Many Mangalshtakas may be sung, all at one time.
But here in the US, I split Vedic Mangalashtaka from any other composed Mangalashtak for logistical and practical reasons .
1. The actual Vedic ceremony has only prayers to God to declare the Muhurta for the marriage. It is at the beginning of the marriage. The bride and the groom garland each other to indicate mutual approval to start the process.
2. The composed Mangalashtakas typically are Blessings type and assume that the couple is married. This is an added tradition on top of the basic ceremony. In the US, it is more appropriate towards the end, after the couple is married. People on the stage shower flower petals as the relatives sing the Mangalashtaka. If done right, this builds tempo towards the end as a good conclusion of the ceremony.
3. Doing both parts at the beginning can be potentially too long and can distract from real marriage rituals ! This also means that the antarpat has to be held too long, tiring the people holding it!
In some customs, instead of garlanding after the Antarpat, the bride and groom put a mixture of rice, brown sugar and jira on each other’s forehead.
13. The groom has not undergone the Upanayan (Munja or Janovi) ritual. Can you do both Upanayan and Samavartan a day or two before marriage ceremony?
The Upanayan ceremony is done to induct him in the Brahmacharyashrama and to start his formal education process, typically when he is around eight years old. After his induction, he needs to follow a code of conduct, that of a Brahmachari until his formal education is complete. Just before the marriage, he is released from this code with another set of code in a ritual called Samavartan for him to enter Grahasthashrama.
Thus doing Upanayan, followed immediately by Samavartan, a day before the marriage defeats the purpose of both the Samskars!
However, sometimes, it is better late than never! If the groom and his family wants to do the munj, I will do it primarily as an educational tool. This ceremony should be different than what one do for an eight year boy. It allows me to discuss the basic tenets of the Santana Dharma, the various Samskars and their importance and asking the new groom and his bride to perform these Samskars for their future children. The groom, if undergoing Munj, before marriage ceremony, should study and understand the key principles of Hindiusm as discussed later in this website.
14. How many rounds are there for Mangal Fera or Agni Pradakshina? 3, 4 or 7? Who leads whom? When? Why?
During the Laja homa, the Vedic ceremony describes three Feras or Pradakshina for the three deities, Aryamn, Varun and Pooshan and for children, prosperity and long life. These are led by the groom by holding the bride's right hand, clockwise. The last oblation is done for Prajapati but without the Fera.
In some customs, the rounds are done four times, presumably for Dharma, Artha, Kaam, and Moksha, although the last one is not the main objective of the Grahasthashrama.
During the Agni Pradakshina, the groom describes to the bride their complimentary relationship. He also asks her to be as strong as the stone she ascends during Ashma Rohan. He also requests the Agni for her smooth transition from her parents home to the in-laws' home. Thus, he plays the leading role in the three feras per the Vedic ceremony.
There is no Vedic ritual for four feras nor the custom of bride leading the fourth fera. However, over the years, a tradition has been involved for four feras, the last one being led by bride. This tradition achieves three main objectives. First, it indicates their equal and complimentary relationship. Secondly, after the fourth round, the bride naturally moves to the left of the groom, closer to his heart. And finally, she symbolically moves towards the in-laws' home by sitting next to the groom's parents, thus completing her transition
One can also say that the four feras are associated with four stages of life ! This makes practical sense as the man leads in the first three stages of life.In the last stage, he detaches himself from the routine work, spiritually and physically, handing over the duties to his wife!
The custom of seven feras seems to a combination of Saptpadi and Laja home.
The couple walks seven steps to do the Saptapadi. Saptapadi means seven steps, not seven rounds. At each step, the couple takes a vow about their relationship to each other and conduct during the married life.
In some customs, there are no rounds associated with Laja homa but the Saptapadi is done by going around the fire seven times to take the seven vows. This is not supported in any Vedic literature that I have studied.
15. Why is the rehearsal necessary? How should one prepare for the rehearsal?
Many Indian parents are reluctant to do the "rehearsal" . First, they have attended many Hindu ceremonies or may have conducted their own son's or daughter's wedding and feel that they know all the steps. Second, the day before the wedding is very hectic and it is difficult to find two hours for the rehearsal. Third, some object thinking that the rehearsal may be actual ceremony and are not comfortable with it.
These are all valid objections. However, in the USA, most of the brides and grooms want to know the logistics of various steps, they want the ceremony to be meaningful but short, smooth flowing, serene, logical and much more formal than a typical Hindu ceremony. This is also an opportunity for Pandit to get to know all the participants and review all the logistics considerations such as the venue, the facilities, timings, audio video considerations etc. Many relatives may request changes to the program because of their family traditions. There are many different ways of performing the same rituals and we can avoid any misunderstandings by discussing those differences ahead of time. Many a time, we need coordination between out side singers and the Pandit. I also discuss how to do certain rituals, who sits where, how to say certain Sanskrit verses etc. Thus, I feel, the two hours or so spent in meeting all the people and reviewing the various logistics steps results in a well coordinated, smooth flowing and short one hour ceremony.
Here are some guidelines:
All persons listed in the program should attend the rehearsal. All persons, who are part of the ceremony, should have read the program and be familiar with the steps. Do bring enough copies of the program for the rehearsal.
Rehearsal should be at the wedding venue.
Allocate two hours to go thru the program. The Pandit will explain the program, review the Sanskrit pronunciations and rehearse some key steps to minimize any "how to" s.
Do come on time for the rehearsal.
If something is not clear, do ask for further clarification. Any special requests, outside the program, should be discussed at the rehearsal. Discuss the logistics and timing of Baraat, if any, and Madhuperk.
Review the Mandap set up, sitting arrangements, fire regulations, photo convenience etc.
If possible, ask the DJ to attend to review planned musical interludes and reconfirm a clip on microphone.
16. What are the key messages of the Hindu marriage ceremony?
The Hindu marriage ceremony is very symbolic as well as full of meaningful rituals. As you go thru the various steps; following messages become apparent for a successful marriage.
- Commitment: The bride and the groom commit to each other, to their families, to the God and to the society.
- Compatibility: Presumably, this is well thought of prior to the ceremony but is reemphasized in the ceremony as well.
- Complimentary Relationship: The groom describes their complimentary relationship as a part of going around the fire.
- Communication, Free and Open: The bride and groom express their expectation from married life and support from each other.
17. Do we need to speak Sanskrit?
Most of the ceremony will be in English. However, I do ask the bride and the groom to repeat certain Sanskrit Shlokas and sentences during the ceremony. We will rehearse those and I will explain beforehand what these mean. I can also provide written transliteration ahead of time if requested. The parents of the bride will also do Kannyadaan in Sanskrit. I will also ask the invited guests to bless the couple in Sanskrit. Repeating Sanskrit words as told by the priest, will bring authenticity to the ceremony.
18. Some Hindu rituals do not seem appropriate in this age of gender equality. Comments?
The Hindu society is paternalistic and the marriage ceremony reflects that culture. Traditionally in our culture, the women are taken care of thru out their lives by father, brother, husband and son at various stages of their lives..
Some brides object to the wording of Kannyadaan (Gift of a bride to the groom). Kannyadaan should not be interpreted as a physical gift but more as giving the groom permission to get married to your daughter, handing over the primary responsibility of her future welfare and giving her hand in marriage to the groom
In some customs, bride’s parents wash the groom’s feet. The script says that the groom is treated as the God Vishnu and the bride as the Goddess Lakshmi during the ceremony. In any pooja, when we invite the deities, we wash their feet and offer water to drink. The groom has come from outside, just like any other deity and hence the custom. The bride, Laxmi, is already there. It is up to the bride’s parents to decide whether to perform this ritual.
Some brides object to walking a step behind the groom and not with him during Mangal Fera. During the Feras, groom describes their complementary relationship, asks her to be strong and requests for her smooth transition to his home. Hence, he leads the first three rounds. The last round is led by the bride to indicate her transition.
The Saptapadi is performed with them walking together on equal footing, still groom describing the married life aspirations.
There are also some prayers when the bride requests for “sons”. Note that “Putra” or son is a generic term for progeny and should not be taken literally as "sons" only. One of the primary objectives of Hindu marriage is continuity of future generation.
The ceremony is some 3000 years old; so, some old traditions are reflected in the rituals. If some of these things bother you, we can work around those.
19.What are some of the logistics problems that have happened in conducting Hindu Weddings?
Indian weddings involve coordination of many events and working out the logistics to the minutest detail. Some times, things do not turn out the way they were meant to be! However, many of these can be avoided with brainstorming of " what if " scenarios and little more detailed planning. Some of my do’s and don’ts are based on these and many other situations. Here are some real incidences, which I hope, will help you plan your big event and avoid potential problems. Please do not take this as a criticism of the involved brides or grooms or their parents as things can go awry even with the best of plans!
In general, outdoor ceremonies pose many logistics challenges. We had unexpected events such as airplanes and helicopters flying overhead, outside public watching over the ceremony, dug up area where the marriage was to take place and of course, the uncertain weather. We have had either too hot or too cold days, too rainy or too windy days. In quite a few weddings, the hosts had to move the ceremony last minute indoors because of inclement weather.
Outdoor wedding can also be a safety issue. At one wedding, a strong gust of wind toppled the backdrop right over the Homa!
Many special venues and outdoor venues have very limited rest rooms and changing facilities. Many a time, I have changed my clothes in my car or in the rest room!
Logistics review of the ceremony or a rehearsal is a foreign concept to Indians. Secondly, everybody is busy a day before the wedding. So, we did not have rehearsals for a few weddings. This resulted in last minute requests, lack of coordination between singers and the Pandit, the Pandit not knowing even the bride and the groom until a few minutes before the ceremony, missing a few steps, mispronouncing names, people totally unaware of their part in the wedding and what to do for the simplest procedures and in general , a longer, haphazard ceremony.
In one wedding, the parents of the bride circulated a totally different program, not the one I had sent them!
I had no choice but to change my script to fit the program that I had not never seen before!
So, I no longer do weddings if the party cannot find time for logistics review.
Sometimes, after announcement to welcome the bride, we waited too long for her entry to the hall !! In one case, the bride was not ready with her final hairdo; in other cases, the bride's room was too far away with no communication channel!
In one ceremony, when I asked the couple to exchange garlands, the bride put the garland on herself!
Many ceremonies started late because of various reasons such as key people arriving late to the venue, unexpected breakdowns in transportation arrangement, not doing logistics review , lack of communication, not availability of required items and in few cases, bride not ready on time!
Some surprising events included the Barat horse not showing up and the couple's pet dog being a ring bearer !
In one hotel, I got stuck in an elevator just before the start of the wedding ceremony. The hotel protocol was to call the Fire dept in this case; so it took quite some time for us to get out.
In another instance, I was supposed to officiate a wedding at an 10000 ft mountain top at 11 am. I took the gondola and was at the top at 9:00 am; only to find nobody there! I returned to the base and met the bride's father who also did not know why the mandap was not set up at the top! We later found out that the coordinator knew that the weather nasty at the top 11 am! She had moved the ceremony indoors, much farther from where we were and had made the announcement on Facebook!
In my own son’s wedding, we wanted to do both the Christian and Hindu Ceremony at one location. Unfortunately, the Church would not allow a Hindu wedding there. So, we approached a Jewish center. They had no problem for the Hindu wedding but would not allow a Christian Ceremony! So, we ended up doing the two ceremonies at two different places.
In one ceremony, the bride called off the wedding just few hours before the ceremony was to start.
In all cases, we recovered well !
20. What is an appropriate Dakshina (Service Payment) for a Hindu Marriage Officiant?
Many temples and other religious organization have well defined service charges for various poojas and marriage ceremonies, depending upon the extent of the service offered. These priests are professional, extremely well versed in Sanskrit shlokas and rituals. They offer an elaborate but generic, in depth but with minimum explanation rituals. One should follow their guidelines regarding Dakshina for the various services.
The "pragmatic or custom " ceremony as described in this website, is focused more on the meaning and less on rituals. The Pundits who perform these ceremonies are learned in other disciplines like professor, engineer etc. They spent significant amount of time to prepare for the ceremony.They typically do not expect or demand a specific payment as this is not their main business. They follow the general Indian tradition in which is the hosts decide the dakshina based on scope of the function. These Pundits are more like family friends who may also attend other wedding functions. It is up to the hosts to decide an appropriate Dakshina. But at minimum, they should be compensated for travel, lodging and boarding !
The most important part of a wedding celebration is the ceremony itself. So, please treat it accordingly.
21. What is the difference between your ways of conducting the Hindu marriage ceremony vs. that of Arya Samaj?
The Arya Samaj wedding is short, simple and the rites are few. The Vedic mantras chanted during the process are explained to the couple, in their own language. The Arya Samaj wedding is centered around fire worship and no other deities. I conduct the ceremony in Sanskrit and English, do full pooja of key deities, do all the key Vedic rituals, follow traditional family customs and involve many family members and invited guests.
22. In a nutshell, what are the key ingredients that make this Hindu marriage successful in the western environment?
- The bride, groom and their parents need to be in agreement on the appropriate venue, the logistics and the specific marriage steps.
- Ideally, the ceremony should be indoors and the mandap set up should be as prescribed earlier.
- The Pandit needs to prepare the final program and review the logistics steps a day before at the venue.
- The Pandit needs to speak in fluent English and act not only as the Priest but also as an MC! He needs to convey the meaning of the various steps and get the audience involved as witnesses.
- The ceremony should not last more than an hour.
23. What is Brahm Vivaah ?
According to Aashvlaayan Sutra, there are eight different ways of getting married. Brahm Vivaah is the highest form of marriage between a man and a woman.
Here are some key characteristics of the Brahm Vivaah:
1. The marriage is completely approved by the bride, groom, parents and other family, on both sides, with full consent and no reservations.
2. All immediate family members actively and joyously participate in the various rituals. These rituals are meant to integrate both families - both vertically and horizontally.
3. Family, friends and other invited guests witness the ceremony and bless the couple in their new roles as Grihasthis.
I prefer to do only those ceremonies where the above three requirements are met. If these cannot be met, I suggest the couple get married at a temple or by a judge or Justice of Peace.
For the Brahm Vivaah, the Grihya Sutras ( home rules) have many recommendations regarding the various compatibility requirements between the bride and the groom in numerous categories ( religion, caste, age, physical, heredity, gotra etc) if the marriages are arranged. However, I, as a priest, do not get involved in those issues. I assume these have been discussed and resolved by the couple and parents before they arrive to the ceremony!!
24. What are your thoughts on Hindu Marriage ceremony for Gay/Lesbian couples ?
In the USA, there is an increasing acceptance of the Gay and Lesbian weddings. The Supreme court has ruled these weddings as legal. Many same sex Hindu ceremonies have been conducted and are well publicized.
The Hindu Marriage Sacrament is based on the marriage of a bride and a groom as described in the Rig Veda and other Grihya sutras . All the eight types of marriages are between man and a woman. Majority of Sanskrit verses are addressed to the groom and to the bride in gender specific nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs.
One of the primary objectives of this most important rites of passage is a continuation of life cycle by procreation and passing on the Hindu culture and traditions to the next generation. Yes, adoption is acceptable in certain cases but the objective has been that the married couple have their own children. Secondly, the Hindu marriage is a transition to the lives of married householders with gender specific responsibilities to uphold the Dharma and other civic and societal responsibilities.
Thus, one cannot do the same Vedic Marriage ceremony for a gay or lesbian couple. Theirs is a personal commitment to each other and to friends and families. Any ceremony should reflect that commitment. Thus, there is a need for writing a ceremony specifically for same sex couples by some well known authority.
In many states, there are written guidelines as to who can perform the wedding ceremonies. Accordingly I like to conduct the ceremony only as prescribed by Vedic tradition, although some Pandits have performed these ceremonies by modifying some of the rituals for the gay or lesbian wedding.
25. What are some interesting traditions in the Hindu Marriage Ceremony?
In the past, most of the Indian marriages used to be arranged at a much earlier age. The bride and the groom did not know each other fully, neither did their families. In order to create a bond between them as well as other family members and to create a little fun during the wedding, many games or traditions were practiced which have nothing to do with the Marriage Rituals ( Sanskar or Vidhi). But because of their nature, people remember them and consider them as part of the rituals themselves!
Washing Groom's feet: It used be a tradition in India to wash your own feet before entering your home for cleanliness. When we worship "God", it is also customary to invite Him in your own home and wash his feet, give him water to drink and in general give Him a pleasant welcome. During marriage ceremony, the groom is coming to the venue from outside and he is also considered " Vishnu" for the ceremony. Thus, it is a tradition that the bride's parent welcome him by washing his feet and give him "madhuperk" before entering the Manadp.
Kashi Yatra : Before the start of the marriage ritual, the groom is advised about his duties as a future Grihastha or a married householder responsible for the well being for his family. After listening, he decides that the marriage is not for him and wants to go to Kashi ( Varanashi) to become a Sanyasi , to avoid the forth coming marriage. Some older person, typically uncle of the bride, promises him to marry his daughter with full fun fair and then all is good !
Kaan Pili ( twisting Grooms' ear): After the mangal Fera, as the bride leaves for her husband's home, the bride's brother reminds the groom that he needs to take care of his sister by twisting is ear hard!
Finding the Ring : The rings are hidden in a narrow necked pot filled with rice and the groom and the bride put their hands to find the opposite ring. Whosoever gets the ring first is declared the winner.
Who sits first ? Bride or the Groom ? : After the Mangal Fera, whosoever sits the first is declared to be the one who will dominate the marriage!
Stealing Groom's shoes : As the groom goes to the Mandap, his shoes are stolen and given back to him only after extracting lots of money from him.
Lifting the bride/groom during the garland Exchange : The bride is raised high by her brothers and cousins so that the groom is unable to garland her, thus creating a little mischief.
Showering with tons of rice: This seems unique Telgu custom when bride and groom literally shower each other with tons of rice.
Some of these customs can get little too out of hand and disturb the sanctity of the ceremony!
26. What are the relative positions of the bride, groom and their parents?
From the audience perspective, the brides parents are on the left, bride and groom are in the center and the groom's parents are on the right.
Typically, in all Hindu religious ceremonies such as Poojas, Yadnya, Vrat , Vivaah etc, the wife sits on the right side of the husband. During social occasions, walking, eating, sleeping, taking blessings, etc., the wife is on the left side of the husband.
At the beginning of the marriage ceremony, the bride is on her parent's side and the groom is on his parents side. Thus, the bride is on the right side of the groom. Since bride's left hand and groom's rights hands are closer, we do the Sutrabandhan on bride's left and groom's right wrists. The bride moves to his left side after the Agni Pradakshina.
These positions are based on traditions as well as some rational thinking. During religious rituals, it is easier for the wife to contribute to the rituals by touching her husbands right hand as she sits to the right. During social occasions, she is on the left, closer to his heart and presumably, the husband can protect his wife from unforeseen circumstances as his right hand is free to fight!
27. The Hindu marriage Ceremony focuses only on Dharma, Artha, and Kaama ? Why not Moksha as well?
As written elsewhere, the Hindu society divides the human life span into four stages, each stage with distinct emphasis on the four key objectives. In the life of the married householder, main emphasis is to provide the basic necessities for your immediate family and take good care of your each other, children and parents. The second stage is also the backbone of the society which thrives when all the family members follow their respective duties to each other and do the right things to uphold the laws of nature and sustain the life as we know it. Also during this stage, one must do all the Samskaras, follow a spiritual life and do the rituals that lead towards basic understandings of the Sanatan Dharma.
Moksha is an individual pursuit towards self realization and liberation from the recurring life cycles. This requires withdrawal from material life as well as from the daily responsibilities of sustaining a family. During Grahasthashrama, the couple should lay the foundation of spiritual understanding but the dedicated effort towards Moksha is better pursued in the third and fourth stages of life.
28. Have you done "FUSION " weddings where Hindu and Christian rituals are done together?
More than 50 % of the weddings in America are between a Hindu and a Christian; most of them prefer to have separate ceremonies, if at all. Many are happy with just Hindu ceremony.
Both ceremonies are based on their own religion, customs and traditions. Rituals in both ceremonies emphasize the importance and duties of the married life. However, the location, style, procedures, set up, dress code and duration of the ceremonies differ significantly. To make the most of each ceremony, it is better to do them separately.
The few Fusion ceremonies that we performed turned out to be ok but they did not blend as well and seemed hodgepodge of rituals without a clear logical flow. It was difficult to convey the meanings of the rituals and we needed a drop a few of them because of time pressure to finish both kinds of rituals in one hour or less! It becomes difficult to preserve serenity and sanctity that is present in separate ceremonies, in spite of rehearsals. So, I personally do not recommend a single fusion ceremony.
28.What are your views on horoscopes, auspicious days, muhurt etc?
In India, there is a well established and widespread belief in individual horoscope, auspicious days and muhurtas for many activities like poojas, starting a new career or venture, buying property and doing various sanskars like thread ceremony or marriage. This belief system started in Vedic period when Jyotish became one of the subsystems of the Vedas.
It goes without saying that the Sun, the Moon and various planets do affect our daily lives and are essential for our very existence. We cannot live without our own planet, Earth and our own star, the Sun. The moon is responsible for ocean tides and provides light on many nights and romantic atmosphere. The other planets provide gravitational balance to keep the unique rotation of the Earth around the Sun.
However, some times, our own planet can create catastrophic events like earth quakes, hurricanes, tornados, natural fires etc affecting millions of people every year. The Sun can create unbearable hot weather. The solar storms can affect electrical grids on earth and knock out our satellite and radio equipment.
Our Rishis identified these positive and negative influences and created a respect for these planets and various celestial bodies and included them in our prayers and poojas. Astrologers carried this further to predict good or adverse effects on Individual's based on their specific horoscope which depicts the location of various celestial bodies at birth.
However, it has not been proven scientifically that their influences affect us individually based on our own horoscope or on the relative movements of various celestial bodies at the time of any activity. There is no evidence that an auspicious day or a good muhurt necessarily results in the future well being of an individual.
So, I do believe that the various celestial bodies are essential for our life and we should acknowledge them respectfully in which ever way we can; the Grahashanti being one of them. But there is no evidence that they affect us individually, positively or negatively, based on our horoscopes or an auspicious time for any activity we undertake. I support whatever belief system that one has for conducting various poojas and sanskars.
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