As the Hindu ceremony took place after our English Civil ceremony we were in fact already legally married. So we decided to do a few things a little differently so that the ritual made sense to us as a couple.
We had spent months researching the Hindu wedding ceremony as there are many parts to it and each community/state/family does have a different way of doing the ceremony. As with most cultures and religions there are some parts of the ceremony which are more cultural and others more spiritual. We were keen to have both ceremonies in one day and bring both elements of our cultures and background together. So we sought a way to reduce the length of the Hindu ceremony, which usually takes all day, to an hour in length and only including the spiritual elements of the ritual.
Many people probably don’t realise that Raj and I are quite spiritual people, which is why we were keen to include a spiritual element to our wedding day, as well as honouring Raj’s religion, background and culture.
With a lot of research, soul-searching and discussion with our Mahraj (Hindu Priest, and also the UK’s first female Hindu priest) we came up with a Hindu ceremony that was meaningful to us as a couple, honoured the Hindu religion, and importantly (to us) included our guests, many of whom had not been to a Hindu wedding before.
We arranged the wedding barn so that the mandap (a 4-pillared wooden structure within which the couple and priest conduct the ceremony) was positioned in the centre with our guests seated on two sides facing inwards. This gave an intimate feeling to the ceremony and allowed the guests to have a better view of the rituals were went through.
The mandap was also used for the English Civil ceremony and was beautifully decorated with fairy lights and green leaves to over the aged wood to give a stunning magical vibe. Inside the mandap the Mahraj arranged the shrine and prepared the supplies that we were to use in the ceremony.
We included this explanation in our Order of Service:
What is a Hindu Wedding Ceremony?
“The Hindu ceremony is a calling the Hindu Gods to bless the couple on the day of their marriage. We will welcome the spirits to witness the marriage. Parts of the ceremony symbolise rebirth, overcoming of obstacles and the respect they have for one another. Raj and Elizabeth have created a ceremony that speaks true to them and their spirits, recognising the significance of their own spirituality and beliefs. After this blessing Raj and Elizabeth will be one in the eyes of God.”
Bride and Groom Arrival
As we were already married we entered the wedding barn together once the guests were seated. We stood outside the mandap where we were first blessed by the Mahraj.
She pressed red powder and rice onto our forehead whilst reciting a blessing. She feed us each small bite of benda (an Indian sweet).
After that she had a copper pot with leaves and a coconut perched atop which she waved in front of us whilst again reciting a blessing. She then rubbed holy water behind ears and began the final blessing, called an Aarthi, which involves a silver tray containing holy offerings which is waved in front of us in a circular motion whilst a mantra is spoken aloud.
Saput / Crushing of Obstacles
Together we broke the Saput under our feet. This is a smashing of a small claypot to show we can overcome all obstacles in our future marriage.
We were then welcomed into the mandap where took our chairs next to each other and removed our shoes. Immediately my youngest sister, Annabelle, leapt up to steal Raj’s shoes. She was super speedy! This is a fun game the sisters of the bride play with the groom and it involves them hiding his shoes for the day and having to pay to get them back.
Jaimla / Giving of Garlands
We were welcomed into the mandap where our Mother’s each handed us a flower garland each to place over one another’s head. These are given as a sign of respect. The priest recites a mantra as we face each other with our garland and place them onto one another whilst gazing into each other’s eyes.
Varmala and Granth Bhandan / Connecting as One
A sacred thread of woven cotton is passed over and around both of us to symbolise the unification of two souls. Scarves worn by both of us are tied together to symbolise the unbreakable bond between the two from this day forth. Again, the priest recites a blessing as this happens.
Ganesh Puja / Prayer to Lord Ganesh
During this ritual we pray to Lord Ganesh, one of the most important and recognisable Gods due to his elephant head. In many cultures he stands for peace, prosperity and is considered the remover of obstacles. In this ritual we invite Lord Ganesh to come down to the mandap to bless our marriage. The priest recites the Ganesh Puja which is a specific mantra to invite Lord Ganesh to join us.
Then, the priest invites the 5 elements of nature, the sky, earth, water, fire and wind. She recites another mantra.
In front of us is a small shrine including a stature of Lord Ganesh. With the guidance of the priest we make offerings to Lord Ganesh.
– pour milk over Lord Ganesh 5 times.
– pour holy water over Lord Ganesh 5 times.
– Use a flower to touch Lord Ganesh with red powder.
– Feed sweets to Lord Ganesh.
– Tie thread around Lord Ganesh for protection. The thread is red, orange, green and white. The red is for love, orange is for strength, green is for calmness, and white is for purity.
The priest recites the Gayatri mantra, one of the holiest mantras in Hinduism.
Afterwards the priest ties a thread around each of our right wrists and in turn we do the same for her.
We then pray to the river Ganges, for without water there is no life. This part of the ceremony involved a short bit of mindfulness as the priest closed her eyes and asked us to picture the river and imagine the water.
Raj and I both held copper pots in our hands. Mine was full of holy water. As the priest recited a mantra I slowly poured the water from my pot into his.
Afterwards we then added betel nuts, sweets and flowers to the pot as an offering to the river Ganges. We then added 7 green leaves to invite greenery into our lives, plus a coconut on the top of the pot as the coconut is the only fruit in the world that provides both food and water. We take the pot and use it touch each shoulder and to the forehead.
The priest pours a little water into our palms whilst we repeat a mantra and take a sip. We take further and use the middle finger touch our eyes, ears, and head to signify pure thoughts, pure words, and pure intentions.
Hasta Melap / Passing of Hands
In this ritual I give my hand to Raj and he promises to love, respect and protect me for the rest of our lives as my happiness is his happiness and prosperity.
Our chairs are turned to face each other. I place my right hand in Raj’s right hand, facing up. Into our hands the priest places leaves to invite greenery into the home, coins to bring wealth, betel nut for strength, turmeric for a strong foundation, sweets for sweetness in our lives, and a red rose for lots of love.
We then place our left hands, face down, over the offerings and a red cloth is place over our joined hands.
Raj makes a public promise to take care of me and rice is then poured over our hands for good luck.
Havan / The Holy Fire
Fire (Agni) is the symbol of light, energy and purity. It embodies the spirits of the Gods and our ancestors. Offerings are made to the fire in the form of rice and oil.
Placed in the middle of the mandap is a small steel pot, called a Kund, is containing some pieces of wood. We sit on our chairs facing the pot at a safe distance away. Together we hold a wooden spoon with a firefighter (I think that’s what it is) on the end. The priest recites a mantra as she lights the spoon and together hold the fire above the pot. She pushes the fire into the pot using a piece of wood.
Next we take a tray containing seeds as an offerings. Together we take small handfuls at time and pour the offerings into the fire at the end of each verse of a mantra recited by the priest. She lights incense sticks.
We continue to make offerings.
The whole congregation then recites the Gayatri mantra as we continue to make offerings to the fire.
Manga Phera / Walking Around The Fire
As a couple, taking it turns to lead, we walked around the fire four times. Each time representing one of the foundations of life.
1. Dharma – to lead a life of purpose, morality, and principle.
2. Artha – to be a meaningful source of wealth, prosperity, and happiness.
3. Karma – to live life by righteous actions.
4. Moksha – to attain eternal happiness by leading a life of compassion, kindness and grace.
Whilst we walked around the flowers our families threw fresh flower petals over us as a blessing and the women of Raj’s family sang a traditional song. Each time we walk around the fire we stop to touch a betel nut with our toe. Meanwhile the priest recites a mantra for each time we pass around the fire.
Between the 3rd and 4th walks, we are given a handful of rice to offer into the fire.
Raj leads on the first 3 walks around the fire, and on the 4th I lead.
At the end we stand by our chairs and the priest counts to 3, whoever sits on their chair first ‘rules the house’. I sat first. Although, I’m pretty sure Raj let me. He gave me a kiss and everyone cheered and clapped.
The brothers took the fire outside and I am now sat on Raj’s left side, the side closest to his heart.
Saptapadi / The Seven Steps
Whilst we prepared for this ritual the women of Raj’s family sang a blessing to all the men in the house, as a group of the youngest guests each gave a leaf to be arranged in front of our 7 decorated betel nuts.
For this ritual we were seated with a row of 7 decorated betel nuts in front of them. Together we touch each betel nut with our toes and read out a mantra, seven views to commit to one other for all to witness. For our vows we chose love, passion, honour, respect, truth, understanding, and freedom.
At this point, in the eyes of Hinduism, we were now married.
Kansar / Sweet Meal
At this point we feed each other a little something sweet so that our first meal as a married couple is as sweet as the rest of our life will be.
Sindoor and Mangalsutra / The Husband’s Promise
Raj marks my forehead with the Sindoor, a red powder, and places a Mangalsutra, a beaded necklace, around my neck, to symbolise is love for his new wife and promising absolute devotion and integrity.
Aashirvaad / Blessings
The final part of the ceremony was about the blessings from our priest. Just at that moment the sun came in and was shining through the window above us. It was pretty special.
And that was it! We were untied by Raj’s sister and together we left the wedding barn one final time as a fully married couple.
It was now time for the celebrations to begin!
All photos by Simon Brettell