Derek Timmins-Jones on Hindu Weddings
Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Derek Timmins-Jones and I am member of the Northern Guild of Toastmasters and winner of Toastmaster of the year award 2014/15. I am a full time Professional Toastmaster and Master of Ceremonies. I am a specialist Wedding Toastmaster and Asian Wedding Toastmaster.
I am based in the North West, but have, through many recommendations, worked all over the country as well as appearing on TV in the “Celebrity 4 Weddings” reality show on Living TV.
I am going to take you through a Hindu wedding ceremony - because there are many varying factors involved, which usually depends on which part of India the Families are from I have had to present this article as an overview of a Hindu wedding.
The Hindu Wedding Ceremony.
The wedding ceremony itself is a culmination of several days of prayers and ceremonies and this, like all weddings, for the couple and their families is their very “special day”.
According to Hindu scriptures, marriage is a lifelong commitment, representing the strongest social and religious bond between a man and a woman.
The ceremony is performed in both Sanskrit (The ancient Hindu language) and in part translated into English for the benefit of the assembled guests, and is solemnised in accordance with the Vedas (The sacred Hindu scriptures)The ceremony honours the couples love for each other and in doing so joins the two families together in marriage.
The primary witness of a Hindu marriage is the Sacred Fire (Known as Agni). By law and tradition no Hindu marriage is deemed complete without the presence of the sacred fire. The ceremony itself takes place in a Mandap (canopy) which must have four pillars, which represent the four Vedas.
The arrival of the Bharat (Parade)The Bridegroom and his family gather outside the venue very often with the bridegroom astride a white horse, there would be Dhol drummers to accompany the dancing and singing as the “parade” makes its way to the entrance of the venue to be greeted by the family of the Bride, especially the Mother of the Bride, they will embrace and welcome each other to mark the official beginning of their new relationship as one family, this is followed by a “entrance” ceremony often called the Aarti ceremony or Ponkhvanu where Aarti is applied to the hairline of the Bridegroom and he has to break a “sumpot” (two clay saucers tied together) or a small coconut to represent his ability to overcome obstacles.
The bridegroom is then led to the Mandap by the bride’s mother to begin his Puga (prayers) the ceremony is conducted by a Pandit (Priest) everyone entering the Mandap has to remove their shoes as the Mandap represents sacred ground. The bridegroom often has his shoes taken by the bride’s family where he later has to buy them back from them...this is great fun as the best man is “supposed” to prevent it happening.
Following the Bridegrooms Puga (Prayers) comes the very special announcement of the “Arrival of the BRIDE” often called Kanya Pravesh or Kanya Aagman.
As a Toastmaster I always give this announcement top priority... Pandit Ji will ask for the bride, I then announce the “arrival of the Bride” she would be accompanied by a maternal Uncle or Uncles, (Mama’s) flower girls/boys and of course bridesmaids, special music will begin or once again Dhol drummers will lead her down the aisle.
A symbolic cloth will have been placed in front of the bridegroom to prevent him seeing his bride until Pandit Ji asks for it to be removed, the bride & bridegroom then exchange beautiful fresh flowered garlands this is called Jaimala to denote their mutual acceptance of marriage and proclaiming their love for each other.
Ganesh Puja (Prayers to Lord Ganesh) Ganesh is the Hindu God of Wisdom and Salvation; prayers are to ask that His divine grace, power, love and spiritual strength may remove all obstacles from the wedding ceremony.
Kanyadaan follows, which is the “giving away of the bride” In Vedic scripture it is stated that there is no gift greater than offerings daughters hand in marriage. The father or mother of the bride places their daughters hand into the right hand of the groom, (this is called Hasta Melap) who then accepts his bride and makes a pledge of enduring love. fidelity and security of their daughter... this is a particularly moving moment in the whole ceremony and to witness all the love and happiness at this point is truly uplifting.
Ghanta Badhan or Gath Bandan which means “tying of the knot.” Pandit will tie the edges of the brides scarf and the grooms stole together this is the symbol of the sacred and unbreakable bond between the couple, the ends of the knots are tied with betel nuts, copper coins and rice which symbolises the realities of life as well as their hopes prosperity and happiness.
It is now time to light the sacred fire Agni; this is called Haven or Yagna Havan “offering of the fire”. Agni is the goddess of fire.
The fire signifies the sun within the heart, inner consciousness or the illumination of the mind giving purity and strength and offerings are made to purify the air around the ceremony driving out lust, greed, anger, pride, and jealousy.
We now have Mangal Phera which means “circling of the fire”- The couple now circle the sacred fire 4 times with the bridegroom leading the bride for the first 3 circles and the bride take the lead for the final circle, they exchange vows at the beginning of each circle and the brides brothers/brothers are invited into the ceremony to place puffed rice into the brides hands which she then offers into the fire. The four circles signify the four main goals of life:
Dharma - Religion or moral duty
Artha - Wealth and prosperity
Kama - Love and happiness
Moksha - Salvation.
This is again time for some fun as legend suggests that whom so ever sits down first at the end of the fourth circle will rule the household.
I have never witnessed a bridegroom winning this particular game! Great fun.
We move on now to what is my favourite part of the ceremony - Saptapadi which means “Seven Steps” and this is the most important part of the ceremony as the bride and bridegroom take 7 steps together with each step signifying their vows to each other, these sacred vows are as follows;
1. To remain together through happiness and sorrow
2. To love respect and embrace each other’s family as their own.
3. To remain faithful to each other.
4. To resolve and abide by each other’s wishes.
5. To care for each other in sickness and in health, -
6. To acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual trust and respect,
7. To contribute to the welfare of humanity. The bride now takes a position to the left of her now husband thus becoming closer to his heart... just beautiful.
These vows can and do change according to the religious framework of the families.
Sindoor and Mangalsutra (Red vermilion & sacred thread) the bridegroom is asked to apply Sindoor to the parting of his bride’s hair signifying that she is now a married woman. He then places the Mangalsutra which is usually a black and gold necklace around her neck declaring his everlasting love and commitment to her... What bride doesn’t want to hear that? The bride and bridegroom then take food together for the first time in the form of sweets; this represents the sweetness of their new life together.
Kansaar Bhojan (sweets as gifts for the bride and bridegroom)
Married women of the family and friends enter the Mandap to bless the bride and offer sweet products to the couple, they then whisper in the brides ear to wish her well and offer words of wisdom, quite what is said remains a mystery.
Finally we have Aarshidvad (Blessings) - The Pandit blesses the newly-weds they then turn to their respective parents and elders to seek their blessings.
Family and friends then shower the couple with flowers and blessings of health, wealth, peace and happiness.
The marriage ceremony is now complete and toastmaster can declare that the couple that entered the room separately are now as one.
Family photos are usually taken at this time followed by a lunch.
Very often after lunch the bride will take her Vidai or Bidai this is a ceremony that is equally sad and happy as the bride begins her journey with her new husband by leaving her maternal family - the family will line up to bid their farewell to the bride which is highly emotional, as the bridegrooms family wait to receive her into their family care.
There follows a ceremony of the bride and bridegroom leaving together as Husband and Wife not forgetting as you may you remember from earlier that the bridegroom has to “buy back” the shoes that were taken from him earlier, both these events are extremely light-hearted and great fun to watch.
In the evening there will be a beautiful meal of celebration - dancing- speeches - cake cutting and yet more dancing.
It is a full but wholly satisfying day - it’s no wonder I love what I do so much as these occasion rarely if ever fail to impress me with the splendour the colour and the absolute dedication to having a really great day.
I offer my grateful thanks to all my brides and bridegrooms and their families for allowing me to be their Toastmaster on their Very Special Day.
Toastmaster of the Year 2014/15 & Asian wedding Toastmaster of the Year.