Hindu Marriages in the USA Starting in the nineteen sixties, thousands of Indian families have settled in various parts of the USA. The second-generation young people, born and raised in America, are getting married in increasing numbers. They have strong ties with the Hindu Culture and the Hindu way of life, either through bring up at home, or with their participation in local cultural activities, or through their friends and yes, even through Bollywood movies. Many of them have chosen their soul mates, not only outside their own caste, religion and language but also from USA, England, Germany, Mexico and many other countries. All of them do feel that they should avail themselves of the rich and noble heritage of Hindu way of married life. I have put together this website to introduce them to the basics of the Hindu marriage ceremony and associated logistics.
Although the basic Hindu marriage ceremony is same across the breadth and width of India, the details can be different because of specific regional, local and even family traditions, within different parts of India. Further, many marriages in the USA are between an Indian and a non Indian. Hence, we need to blend the best of eastern traditions and western logistics in such a way that the overall ceremony is custom tailored and meaningful, not only to the bride and the groom but to the families on both sides and the invited guests.
The marriage ceremonies must address the social, religious and legal aspects of the marriage, which tend to be different in the USA than those observed in India. The Pandit needs to be cognizant of these differences and tailor the celebrations accordingly. The Hindu marriage ceremony can be conducted by any person with good character, knowledge of Sanskrit, fundamental understanding of the Sanatan Dharma and with ability to be the master of ceremony in fluent English.
I have been doing Indian marriage ceremonies over 20 years in the United States. I am an engineer and a project manager by profession but became a Hindu Marriage Pandit out of necessity. As a Brahmin, I had some training doing poojas and knew Sanskrit to be able to read and translate Sanskrit verses. This qualified me as somebody who can do the Hindu rituals in our small town in Vermont. When my friend’s daughter insisted that I do her marriage ceremony, I had to learn all the details about the Vedic ceremony and the meanings of the various rituals. Since she was marrying an American, I had to interpret them so that I could explain them to an American audience. That was back in 1996. And ever since, I have been doing the Hindu weddings strictly based on word of mouth from the people who appreciated my style of doing the ceremony. More than 50% of the marriages in the US tend to be between an Indian bride or groom and an American groom or bride. These tend to bring out striking behavior differences between the Indians and Americans because of different cultural outlooks towards the marriage ceremony.
To the Americans, a marriage is a formal, religious and a dignified event, typically conducted in a church with a prior rehearsal and in a timely fashion. In India, it is less formal, more social and a religious ceremony, typically conducted in a marriage hall, apparently chaotic and unorganized to an outsider. A typical American wedding will have a rehearsal dinner a day before for immediate family and the wedding and formal reception the following day for relatively small guest list. An Indian celebration is at least three three days long with a mehendi/ pooja day, a sangeet night and the wedding/reception day, each attended by large number of guests. The Christian marriage ceremony is short, about 25-30 minutes, and is almost exclusively focused on the bride and the groom. A Hindu ceremony can be 3-4 hours long with many members of the families on each side involved in the ceremony. An American wedding starts on time, there is a pin drop silence thru out the ceremony and is well structured and well coordinated. The Indian ceremony may appear unstructured and more of a social gathering! Since guests are not involved in the Hindu ceremony (other than at the specified Muhurta), it is not unusual to see people talking, eating and kids running around during the ceremony! Some people may show up only for the reception and not attend the ceremony at all!
Because of these cultural differences, I experimented with various techniques so that we can bring the best of both the cultures in our marriage ceremonies here in the United States. First, I conduct the ceremony as a logical progression from one ritual to other with full explanation in English. Secondly, it is conducted in a formal atmosphere in front of all the invited guests and with their participation as witnesses. Thirdly, I do a full logistics rehearsal with all involved participants a day before, which results in a timely, seamless, relatively short and meaningful ceremony. And finally, I use Sanskrit Shlokas sufficiently but sparingly and use light hearted comments to get some of the key points across to the marrying couple and the invited guests. This approach seems to result in a formal, dignified, serene but very enjoyable Hindu wedding ceremony.
The second generation Indian brides and grooms want to tie their marriage knot in a traditional Hindu ceremony. Our older, first wave generation parents want to impart their own culture and traditions to the newly married couple in a meaningful way in the overall context of human life and our values. Hence, It is important to take into consideration all of their views as how they like the marriage to be conducted. That is why, I like to meet them way ahead of planned ceremony date and do a logistics review of the actual program a day before the ceremony. It is amazing how many things can go wrong or misunderstood if we do not do this! I consider officiating the Hindu wedding as a civic service to our community which is very rewarding and fulfilling for me. I learn about our own culture in different light every time I do a wedding as individual customs from region to region are so different in different parts of India. And finally, after the marriage ceremony is over, we all have good time at the reception, with the parents, bride, groom, who are now completely relaxedand all the guests and ready for an evening of nice entertainment and a tasty dinner. All the preparations seem to be so worth it!
This website is based on my personal experience and views. It includes basic information regarding the engagement, grahashanti, marriage ceremony, post wedding rituals, do' and don'ts and FAQs.I have added a separate chapter for Hindu and non Hindu brides or grooms for their understanding of the basics of Hinduism. Further, for interfaith marriages, interfaithShaadi.org is a good source of your concerns and issues. I hope this website will help the prospective brides, grooms an their parents on the essential planning and execution of various rituals associated with the Hindu Marriage. I am located in Austin,TX. Please contact me email@example.com for any questions you may have.