The wedding day has so many rituals packed in the morning and if the Muhurtham (solemnisation of the wedding) is very early, then the activities need to be started real early, sometimes at 3.30 am itself. Thankfully, for R’s wedding, the Muhurtham was not very early and having done the vratham etc. the previous day itself, the morning was quite relaxed. Normally the bridegroom’s party arrives at the bride’s house only in the afternoon of the previous day and therefore all the rituals are done on the marriage day only. These days both parties arrive at the Mantapam towards afternoon of the previous day, the event managers arrive in the morning and make the necessary arrangements. In the present wedding as already mentioned earlier both the parties had arrived at the Mantapam in the morning of the previous day and therefore had performed the Vratam.
The first ritual on the day of the wedding is Mangala Snanam for the bride and groom, for which, the toiletries like, bathing oil, soap, shampoo, shaving soap, brush, etc., need to be taken to the groom. After this, both the bride and groom get ready after the ritual bath.
At this point, the groom, suddenly decides to give up all the earthly pleasures to go to Kasi, in pursuit of spiritual knowldege. For this, he is attired in formal panchakacham and walks away with a walking stick, a handfan, an umbrella, a veda pustaka and some groceries for the journey. The uncle of the groom holds the umbrella for him. Usually, he walks upto the nearest temple, by which time, the bride’s father meets him and promises to give his daughter in marriage and requests him to give up the Kasi yatra. He is then ushered to the venue of the marriage where the bride is waiting with a garland in hand, ready to receive him at the front door. They both are supposed to meet for the first time. These days, they are made to sit together on the previous day itself / even at the engagement ceremony. Some parents make a vain attempt to avoid their sitting together before the wedding rituals are completed (there are instances where the receptions are postponed to the muhurtham day just to achieve this end); I am yet to meet a parent who has been successful in this attempt.
After this, the bride and groom exchange the garlands, helped by their respective uncles. This is the time for lots of fun and frolic, intended mainly to relieve the bride of the tension in entering a new phase of life with a stranger. (This was the custom in the olden days, these days the bride and groom meet and discuss about their compatibility and then take the decision).
The bride and groom sit in a swing and the ladies present sing songs. The swing represents the ups and downs of life. The bride and groom are given “milk and plantain” by elderly ladies. This has many explanations. The most important being that as the bride and groom are supposed to observe a fast on this important day until the solemnisation of the wedding, the milk and plantain are supposed to give them some nourishment. Another explanation is that, just like milk and plantain combines well without losing their respective identities, the groom and the bride also should be united in all their thinking and decisions, but at the same time maintain their identities.
This done, the evil eye is exorcised by coloured rice balls in red and yellow colors. The bride and the groom are then, taken to the vivaha Mantapam or the venue of the marriage.
After the initial vedic rituals, the bride is given away as dhana (offering) by the bride’s parents to the groom to the accompaniment of vedic chantings. The groom then offers the traditional dress to the bride. Meanwhile the Mangalya or the bridal necklace is passed around the congregation for their blessings. The bride wears the new 9 yards saree and sits on her father’s lap. The groom ties the Mangalya sewn in a yellow thread around the bride’s neck with a knot. The groom’s sister ties two more knots, symbolizing the harmony in the family.
Next is Panigrahanam, which is the actual “muhurtham” they say though for all practical purposes, Mangalaya dharanam is considered as the muhurtham.
This is followed by the Sapthapadhi, in which the groom and the bride take 7 steps together, symbolizing life long friendship and togetherness. The groom actually holds the right foot of the bride and helps her walk the 7 steps, at the same time holding her right hand. The 7 th step of the bride is placed on a stone (Ammi – which was used for grinding in the olden days and hence this ritual is also known as ammi mithikkal) and the groom tells her, “be firm as a rock in your decisions and also in your resolve in life.” The Sapthapadhi is the most important ritual of an Indian wedding.
The Sapthapadhi is followed by Udhwaha Homam and Laja Homam. If the groom’s sister ties the two knots of the Mangalyam, it is the bride’s brother who offers the laja (puffed rice) to the hands of the bride and groom, who then offers the rice to Agni, the Fire God.
More homams follow and the whole congregation blesses the couple along with the vedic pundits, and with the singing of Mangalam by elderly ladies the morning functions come to a finale.
Then follows the grand lunch, after which guests take a little nap before the evening functions.