Feb 07, 2023
Feb 07, 2023
Main Observances and Rituals – An outline
Adi Sankara in Vivekachudaamani extols human birth as the noblest and the highest in God’s creation. Among the humans the pride of place goes to the learned ones and above these figure those knowing ones of the sacred Vedas and above these are those who have attained self-knowledge and there by the knowingness of Absolute Reality also known as brahmajnaana. The Vedas are the declarations and pronouncements of the Supreme Being handed down the generations by the sages and seers of distant antiquity. These glorious treasures are not conceived by mere humans. ‘Ved’ is the root from which Veda is derived. Vid is ‘to know’. Since these are learnt through listening to the drashthas, visionaries, among sages and seers these came to be known as ‘shruti’. Shruti laid down certain procedures and rituals to be followed and performed in the observance of ceremonies and rituals.
For the achievement of sublimity in this human birth sixteen ‘karmas’ are laid down. Karma is an observance along with some ceremonial performances. These are in three different periods or stages: a) prenatal, b) infancy and childhood, and c) student d) adulthood and finally old age. These in their original order are 1. garbhadaana, called consummation in English 2. pumsavana a ceremony performed to cause the birth of a child of the desired sex, usually a boy 3. seemantham (called Baby Shower in the U.S.) 4. jaatakarma, getting the horoscope of the baby cast 5. naamakarana, naming ceremony 6. annaprasana, ceremonially giving rice meal 7. chaulam (tonsuring) 8. upanayanam thread-ceremony 9. praajaapatyam 10. saumyavratam, 11. aagneyavratam 12. vaishvaadevam 13. Odaanam 14. snaataka vratam 15. vivaaham 16. pitrumedham.
With the first, the seed of jeeva is propitiated in the first ceremony and the last, the sixteenth is the ceremony to give sublime state to the jeeva. This is also called ‘aparakarma’. First we shall explain the fifteen important karmas or ceremonies. To find fulfillment of human birth, the human being is expected to achieve the four goals of human existence called chaturvidha purushaardhaas: dharma, artha, kaama and moksha: righteous life according to the sacred law, affluence and riches, fulfilling desires and finally salvation or deliverance from the cycle of birth and death, respectively. Dharma is the most important of all which comprises basically aashrama dharma and varnadharma. If dharma is ignored, set aside or transgressed, there is no meaning in one being called a human being. The four stages of life are the ashramas: brahmacharya, grihastha, vaanaprastha and sannyaasa. Of these grihasth ashram gives one an opportunity to support and aid those in vanaprastha and sannyaasa ashrams. For this reason Manu in his smriti, code of laws, called Manusmriti considers the stage of being house holder is the very best for a human being. For the adherence to dharma, one should be in one of the four aashramas listed above.
For a grihasth, householder, it is essential to perform the five yajnas or fire rituals to propitiate and honour the sages and seers; parents and manes; deities; the (five) elements, and the guests. These bless the householder when he discharges his duties to these five. By sticking to one’s own studies, the householder satisfies the sages and seers. By offering oblations, the manes would be pleased. By performing fire rituals, the deities would be pleased. By sacrificial offerings, the elements are satisfied. Finally, by hosting, unexpected visitors and guests would be pleased.
Man is bound by his debt to the sage, to the parents and the deities. One cannot achieve salvation unless one redeems the three kinds of debt. By studying the Vedas systematically and by observing celibacy, one can redeem rishi runa, the debt to the sage: by being a grihasth and begetting righteous offspring, one can discharge his debt to the parents and the manes. By performing fire rituals, the householder can redeem his debt to the deities. It is not enough to be virtuous or meritorious (earning punya, merit). One needs the blessings of the sages, manes and deities too. One is also helped by one’s own son: for it is said the son is the atman and so is the Veda: aatmaavai putra naamaasi; vedovai putranaamaasi. These are Vedic pronouncements and declarations. Just as one’s own deeds of dharma save one, the son also helps him achieve deliverance from the birth cycle. To get such a son, one must take the grihastaashram and become a householder.
In the pristine way of life, marriage is a samskaara, a kind of sanctification and sacrament. Man, being civilized and being gifted with discretion and intellect, should lead a ‘cultured’ life adhering to dharma, the holy law. Only leading such a regulated life gets and gives comfort and happiness. Living beings are the only instruments to see that nature is held in balance. Nature gives the necessary strength to beings. That is the power of mutual attraction between man and woman. Our ancients made one Gandharva a symbol of this power. This power depends upon and acts on the attraction of a planet called the moon. This moon is a satellite to the Earth. The Moon creates in men and women several qualities of mind, age, delicacy and attraction. These manOdharmas, qualities of the mind-heart created by nature can be used to the best advantage in samsara, family. This way of samskaara was taught by the ancient law-givers. They laid down a way for man and woman to beget children by marriage, an important samskaara. By following this way, by this samskaara, man and woman would beget children. This is a scripture-accepted or scripture ordained way of living starting from grihastha ashram. It is for this reason that this stage is respected and followed as the best for perpetuating our culture. As per this culture, the ideal of monogamy is laid down for a man and the principle of utmost fidelity, paativartya, for woman.
For man the most important samskaras are upanayana, thread ceremony and vivaaha, marriage. Brahmacharya is a deeksha, commitment. For this one has to have a preceptor to initiate him. This requires the thread ceremony, which is performed for a boy before he is sixteen. Usually this used to be performed any time after the boy attains the age of five. After the thread ceremony the boy goes to the preceptor for studies and acquisition of knowledge of men and matters. After completing his studies the celibate, brahmachari attains the age when he can become a grihastha, a householder. In the modern days upanayana, which means being taken near the preceptor, may be understood as a ceremony to cause the jnananetra, the eye of wisdom and knowledge, to open. In our times, it is desirable to perform the thread ceremony in the uttaraayana at an auspicious time before the vatu (the one to be initiated) turns sixteen.
Now to the important and successive events in the marriage ceremony.
There are twenty-four of these:
1. The Selection of the Bride and the groom
2. Exchange of betel leaf pans between the two wedding parties
3. Deciding and fixing the auspicious moment for the wedding and preparing the wedding invitation
4. Decking the young woman and young man as the bride and groom at an auspicious moment
5. Going forward to meet the groom’s party
6. ankuraaropana, sowing of seeds in the ceremonial open earthen bowls (this is basically a fertility ritual)
7. Snaataka vrata the observance of a ritual signifying the completion of the groom’s studies, like a formal convocation
8. Varapooja, worship of the groom (he has the amsha, an aspect of Lord Narayana in him)
9. Mangalasnaana, auspicious bath for the bride and the groom
10. Gauripooja, the worship to Devi Gauri
11. Kanyadaanam, giving away the bride
12. Sumuhurtam, the auspicious moment to solemnize the marriage
13 Maangalyadharana, tying the auspicious mangalya
14. Talambralu a festivity of playfully sprinkling the auspicious yellow rice by the bride and the groom on the heads of each other
15. Pradaanahomam, fire ritual of offering
16. Saptapadi, the bride and the groom going seven steps together round the sacred fire 17. Laaja homam. fire ritual with puffed rice
18. Pravesahomam, fire ritual at the time of entry
19. Sthaaleepaakam is another ceremony along with a fire ritual
20. Sadasyam, some kind of an open house
22. Naakabali or Nagavalli, a ceremonial sacrificial offering
23 Appagintalu, ceremonially handing over and the taking over of the bride and the groom to the other party
24. Nutana vadhoogrihapravesham, the ceremonial entry of the bride into her attavari illu, parents-in-law’s house, called sasural in Hindi.
Earlier, marriages used to be performed elaborately in five days. All the above rituals and festivities used to be performed with gaiety and élan. But over the years things have changed drastically, what with the growing busy schedules and the hurry burry of modern times. Things have come to such a pass that the whole function is performed in as short a time as four or five hours. But notwithstanding all that, the attempt here is to outline the significance of each event while citing the incantations, mantras, chanted with each of the events. While the mantras are chanted by the purohit, the revered priest, who conducts the proceedings, he would ask the bride and the groom and the others who are seated to perform in the ceremonies to do certain things. Some mantras have to be repeated after the purohit. Though there may be people eager to know the meaning of the mantra, usually for the purohit or the elders there is no time to explain them. The purohits, themselves, in some cases, do not know the meaning of the sacred incantations. Usually in the morning the thread ceremony is performed and the marriage in the evening. By nearly midnight all the ceremonies are rushed through. This little book is meant for those who are enthusiastic to know what the chants mean and what the performances and ceremonies signify.
Now the events along with the incantations and their meaning:
1. The Selection of the Bride and the groom
In the selection of a groom for a bride, our ancestors used to go into the tradition and history of the bride’s family. The criteria generally are indicated in the following sloka:
kanyaavarayitE roopam, maataa vittam. pitaa shrutah
baandhavaa kulamichchanti mrishtaanaamitarE janaah
The bride looks for the groom’s handsomeness; her mother looks for the riches of the groom, her father for the scholarship and accomplishments of the groom, while relatives look for the fame of the clan and the others for sumptuous feasts.
The following are some of considerations usually borne in mind for selecting a kanya, a virgin, the bride. If the young woman, when the intending groom’s party visit them, is said to be sleep or absent from the house, or is grieving for some reason, the idea of an alliance is given up. What are important are the nobility of the family of the bride, their tradition-mindedness and the good physiognomic features of the bride. The groom is also considered worth going in for an alliance along similar lines. Then the bride should not come in objectionable relationship lines. For example if she comes to be in the (vavi, varasa) line of a sister mother or such kind of relationship among near relatives the match is not considered at all. Then the gOtra of the two families are considered. Gotra is a term showing the lineage from a rishi etc. If the gotra of the bride and that of the bride happens to be the same, if they are sagOtriks the match is not considered. However, there may be exceptions and turn- around procedures also. Consanguineous marriages are not desirable even according to modern science. These considerations are to ensure that the offspring of the bride and groom are healthy and intelligent.
2. Vara lakshnaas, qualities and characteristics of the groom
The groom should be from a good family. He should have a wealth of relatives and he should have a good nature. In physiognomic features he should be well built etc. He should be youthful and handsome and senior to the bride. If he is so the couple would like charming. Either for a man or a woman, the fullness of life would come only through wedding. However great or lowly they may be, when the duo start life as a wedded couple, they get a special status in society as householders. Wife is considered half the body of the husband. He does not find completeness till he weds. Only the one who gets offspring after duly wedding a woman would get real fulfillment. Though born into different families in different places, the two have a feeling of unity and oneness. Though having different bodies, their manas, mind-heart, is just one. The woman has a unique place in the man’s life as ardhangi, half body. The knowing ones and the elders consider this bond as holy and inseparable. Our culture believes that the bond continues for seven births. The couple has the onus of setting an example to others in their union, in their daampatya, in their being one as wife and husband. For discharging their duty to society, the couple needs the blessings and help of all. The ceremony of marriage is to bring people together.
3. Nischaya taambulas: Exchanging auspicious betel leaves (pans) as a token of having come to an agreement
This ceremony is called ‘nischitaardham’. Beginning with this, till the very end of the ceremony of marriage, all the events are very important and are full of significance. In all the ceremonies, the object is to ensure their happiness, prosperity and well-being. For all this, the very first event is where the heads of the two families of the bride and the groom exchange symbolically the betel leaf pans. This is done on an auspicious day while fixing the match for the bride. In olden days the parents of the groom used to search for a bride for the groom in their family and the ceremony thereafter used to be kanyavarana, choice or selection of the bride. As times went on, we have come to a stage where the bride’s family is in search of a groom for the kanya in their family. The bride’s parents declare that they would give their daughter marriage to the groom in the groom’s family ceremoniously and offer tambula in the meeting ceremoniously. The two parties agree for the match and make formal auspicious presentations to the bride-to-be, which include new clothes, fruits, turmeric and kumukum. This ceremony is usually performed in the groom’s place. But in modern times, this ritual-like thing is replaced by the name of ‘Engagement’ Strangely enough elders do not seem to realize that this practice does not entitle the bride and the groom to consider themselves free to go about taking photographs, going on outings etc. It is requested that these be avoided till the formal marriage is not solemnized.
4. Deciding upon the muhurtam: Fixing the auspicious time, for the marriage and preparation of lagna patrika, a note containing the details of the time and place of the marriage ceremony.
To fix the muhurtam, the details of the birth time, star and horoscope (birth chart) etc. of the bride and the groom, the groom’s father goes to a purohit with a request to fix a date and time for the performance of the wedding. Accordingly the purohit/astrologer fixes a time and date studying the movements and position of the planets and stars. After a good deal of calculation etc, he writes the muhurtam on a piece of paper and gives it to the bridegroom’s father with his blessings and good wishes. The paper, the lagna patrika, is conveyed to the bride’s family through a purohit at an auspicious time. The bride’s father accepts it and with due ministrations to the purohit, and sends back the message accepting the date and time in a fitting manner to the groom’s father, again through the same purohit. The purpose of this patrika, note or letter, is to prepare both the parties for the solemn performance of wedding at the auspicious moment.
5. Performing pooja to Vighneshwara with a solemn vow
For the performance of a solemn ceremony, it has been the custom, to begin preparations by offering pooja to the Lord of Obstacles, Vighneshwara. At this ceremony certain rice etc are packed symbolically in a small knapsack taking a vow to worship Ganapatideva again after the completion of the ceremony of wedding. That is the occasion when the grindstone is formally decorated with turmeric etc to grind pulses etc in preparation forthe forthcoming event. The powder of rice and chenna dal ground first are offered to Sri Ganesha and kept in the knapsack. Thus Sri Ganesha is propitiated first and only thereafter preparations for the wedding are started. The ceremony is to ward off any obstacles with the grace of Ganapatideva.
6. Preparing the Bride and the Groom
The young man and the young woman are ‘made’ groom and ‘bride’ at an auspicious moment in the presence of auspicious women (suhagans) and elders and relatives. Usually there would be small boy and a small girl that are designated co-groom and co-bride to make it a festive occasion. (This is to avoid the embarrassment for the young ones going to get married while sitting alone on the planks, peeTalu)) This ceremony is performed nowadays on the very day of the marriage owing to present constraints of time, and other exigencies. Aartati offered and then there is the sacred bath and only then the two are seated along with the little ones on the planks. Nowadays people do not find time to observe this ceremony as a festivity. There is a clear purpose for this ceremony: making it known widely to the invited audience that the ceremony is fixed. This assemblage of invited muttaiduvas, suhagans, auspicious women, pEranTam is a matter of joy for all relatives and the public. The way the bride and groom are made up in their own respective homes is in a way a public announcement in proper, auspicious style, where the young get the blessings of the elders around.
When once this ceremony is performed, the bride-to-be is not supposed stir out of home. When once the young man is made the groom he is not supposed to cross a river or a rivulet. But these have no strict religious significance. These are intended as safety measures.
7. Eduru sannaham :Meeting the groom’s party in advance at the outskirts
This ceremony is called diversely in diverse areas. This is called variously as ‘edurukolu’, ‘eduru sannaham’ or ‘varagamanam’. The groom and his party are welcomed with music and auspicious tunes to the ‘viDidi’ the groom’s party resort in style. In the olden days marriage parties used to arrive in bullock carts from nearby villages. They are met on the outskirts of the bride’s village and ceremoniously lodged in the ‘viDidi’. In some areas, the groom’s party stations itself in a garden or wood, where the bride’s comes to take them to the ‘viDidi’ in great form or style. There the ‘guests’, the groom’s party are served refreshments etc. After resting thus, they proceed next to ‘viDidi’ along with the welcome party.
8. ankuraarOpaNam: Ceremonial sowing of seeds
This ceremony is observed before every major performance like an upanayanam, vuvaaham etc beginning at an auspicious moment. Grihasootra, a manual of household ceremonies, lays down when and how this needs to be observed. In the case of a marriage, at the bride’s place, this ankurarpana, sowing of seeds, welcome to the naandeeshobana deities (the manes on the side of the bride and the groom) and the observance of the auspicious initial ceremony is to propitiate all deities and seek their blessings. The deities are invited into the five open earthen bowls filled with earth and ceremonially decorated and sowed with the nine types of seeds, nava dhanyas. To begin with the seeds are soaked in water and milk and then the various deities are invoked beginning with the Lord of Impediments, Vighnanayaka.
madhyE chaturmukham vindhyaatpoorve vajraNamevacha
dakshiNechayamam vindhyaatpaschime varuNam tadhaa
uttare shashiNam vindyaat paalikaa sthaapanam kramaat
In the middle bowl Brahma, in the one on the East Indra, in the one on the South Yama, in the one to the West Varuna and the one in the North Kubera are invoked and offered the sixteen holy ministrations (shodashOpachaaras). After suitable worship, these earthen basins are kept safe in a corner of the house and watered regularly. From the day of the marriage for sixteen days they have to be watered. They sprout very thickly and before end of the sixteenth day, these bowls along with the sprouts should be handed out to suhagans along with blouse pieces, turmeric and kumkum and (dakshina) money offering as vaayanas, ceremonial offerings. After this also there is mane worship explained above again. The idea is to invoke the blessings of the forefathers of both the bride and the groom. A few hours after the completion of these poojas, it is considered that the auspicious beginning is made for the wedding. From this ceremony till the wedding performance is completed the bride’s parents, kanyadaatas, and bride are expected to be on fast.
Observance of Snaataka Vrata
The age of the brahmachari, celibate would be about twenty-one to reach this stage after having gone thorough thread ceremony, vowing celibacy, undergoing the learning available at the preceptor’s while serving him, and getting accomplished in his scholarly pursuits. Now is the time for snaataka, literally, bathing. The preceptor would now permit the disciple to have this ceremonial bath and declares him eligible to marry and enter grihastashram. This makes the young man eligible to marry with a view to perpetuating his vamsha, family lineage.
Samaavartana, the ceremony of staging a return to one’s own parents
The preceptor orders the disciple after teaching the celibate all that there is to be learnt under him and he enjoins on him to speak truth, to follow dharma, and not to be negligent in his duty to continue his adhyana, studies as per the dharma. While doing this he accords permission to the young man to marry. In this context, the guru, the preceptor tells him to discharge his debt to his parents in his turn by bringing forth worthy children.
Now he is allowed to be free from his deekshas undertaken while at the hermitage, ashram. The young man is permitted to shave his beard etc. Now he can get the service of a barber. This is gOdaana, not the charity of giving a cow, but to have the service of a barber and have a hair cut. This ceremony is called samaavaratna, coming back to his parents. After this and the snaataka, the disciple presents to his preceptor, ear studs, a pair of dhotis, an umbrella, footwear and a staff along with a garland of flowers. He also presents the guru, hair oil and powder to cleanse his body, kohl or mascara and a turban. The young man also acquires all these for his own use. Now he is permitted to trim hair, look into a looking-glass, talk to women and eat pan, till then forbidden. This is the beginning of the right real thing, the marriage.
The important things in this vrata are pooja to Vighneshwara, purificatory sprinkling of war, punyaahavachana, a penance and absolution for deficiencies in the practice of the celibacy, a fire ritual called paahitrayadasha homam, a fire ritual called praataragnikaryam, rakshabandhanam, hair-cut, kaashiyatraa, visit to Kashi, and finally getting the blessing of the guru and elders, asheervachanam. There are mantras to be chanted. The young man makes amends that any lapses that might have been there in his deeksha, commitment and vow of celibacy. When these mantras are chanted, the assembled elders pronounce that he is absolved of the possible, accidental lapses. The fire ritual, praataragnikaryam is done for longevity, fame, effulgence and strength. Later he wears a rakshabandhan also with the prescribed prayers and observances for protection from evil forces. Then he gets his hair symbolically cut on all four sides for fame, longevity etc. Then he has other self-ministrations, like brushing his teeth, bathing applying mascara to the eyes and wearing on his brow a baashikam, an ornament not only for beauty but also for warding off of evil and making himself prominent and easy for identification. The bride too wears this. Then he is shown the looking glass.
Then there is the symbolic kaashiyatra, a visit to Kashi. He sets out to the holy place to get the blessings of learned ones thereby showing them his accomplishments. He equips himself for travel with footwear, staff, umbrella and materials for his sustenance on the way. It has been customary for the bride’s father to attend to these needs. There are certain mantras to go with the various acts of wearing the footwear, taking the umbrella and the staff offering prayers to all those to protect him and bless him. He offers prayers to the four directions, East, West, North and South to protect him.
This ceremonial observance has significance. Kashi is a religious centre and a centre for all oriental learning too. Any one who has come back from getting the blessings of scholars there for his scholastic achievements is considered great and is held in high esteem. The brahmachari with the permission of his guru used to go there. The idea of performing this ceremony before marriage is to make the bride’s father request the young man not to go away to the distant Kashi, while promising him to give away his daughter, fully decked, in marriage. There are slokas one chanted by the groom and the other by the bride’s father:
charita brahmacharyoham kruta vrata chatushtayah
kaassheeyaatraam gamishyaami anujnaam dehime shubhaam
Young man: After brahmacharya vratam, I performed four others too: praajapatyam; saumyavratam; aagneyavratamu and vaiswadevam. I am going to Kashi. Kindly bless me and permit me to go.
saalamkaraam mama sutaam kanyaam dashyamitE dwija
paaNim grihitvaa, saagnistvam gachcha swaagachcha madgruham
Bride’s father: Oh, Brahmin! We would give you our daughter duly decked. Take her hand with the holy ritual fire as witness and then go to Kashi. Please come to our house.
Honouring the young man by giving him new clothes and perfumes etc, the bride’s father takes him home. Thus comes to a close the episode of Kashi yaatra as part of the wedding.
Continued to Hindu Marriage - 03
More by : Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.