The Indian culture, which reaches back about 5,000 years, is arguably one of the oldest and most varied in the world. The Indian culture is formed by customs and traditions that would tend to differ greatly from region to region.
We will write a custom Essay on Indian Custom and Culture Community specifically for you
301 certified writers online
However, many of the Indian customs and traditions are said to be common, and in that case, are integral part of the country’s unique cultural beauty. India has a wide range of cultural diversity, and for that reason, there are numerous culture-affiliated ceremonies that are celebrated each year to mark diverse customs and traditions of the Hindu.
This clearly explains the multitude festivals marked by different communities in the country all year round. Some of the common aspects of the varied Indian culture include language, religion and the arts. Other common aspects that have been used to define the Indian culture are things such as cuisines, theatre, music, and festivals, to name but a few. Rites of passage form an integral part of the Indian custom and cultural activities.
This paper examines the marriage rite of passage as it is practiced by the Hindu in India. In this particular case, the observations of various activities which are undertaken by the Hindu while marking this particular passage of rite are mainly based on Indian custom and culture, rather than on religion.
I have personally had the opportunity to participate directly in various celebrations intended to mark specific rites of passage in India. Through these celebrations, I have come to gain a better understanding of the colorful and unique culture of India.
As it would be observed, Hindus have come out clearly as the only religious group that has meaningfully celebrated the ideal stages of life as they are perceived by different cultures in India. One of my most memorable custom and culture celebrations of the Hindu was a rite of passage that took place some months ago in Guntur district, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The main transition that was being marked here was marriage.
As it was clearly manifested in this traditional event, Hindus have their own special way of celebrating marriage ceremonies. For example, there were various activities used to illustrate this marking, and these would include invitation and welcoming of the bridegroom, exchange of flower garlands, presentation of the would-be wife, the ceremony of the sacred fire, holding of hands, taking of the seven steps, sacred fire circumambulation, the use of ‘kum-kum’ to mark the hair parting of the bride, viewing of the sun and the pole star, exchange of presents, tying of the knot whereby the garments of the groom and the bride are tied together to symbolize union, and then the blessings from the officiating priest and the elders.
Traditional Hindu marriage celebrations are highly regarded among other custom and culture celebrations in the Indian society, owing to their colorful decorations which are usually expensive (Dubois, 2007).
More importantly, the celebrations are momentous occasions that are characterized with great joy and rich food cuisines, among other distinguished aspects of celebration. All these aspects were evident in this big event that would extend for nearly three days. For instance, the wedding venue was decorated with fascinating, beautiful colors that symbolized love and affection.
The other eye-catching aspect was the dressing code of the bride. She wore two dresses; a red one and a white one. It later occurred to me that the colors carried significant meanings in connection to the ceremony. The white one was a symbol of purity, and it showed just how pure the bride was.
The red color, on the other hand, was a symbol of her fertility. I came to realize that a couple of other small, but meaningful activities had preceded the big event over the last few days. One event which had caught my attention was one in which the bridegroom had to break a clay pot by stepping on it to symbolize his strength, just before he walked into the marriage ceremony.
Numerous processes took place in the course of the ceremony and following is a brief description of the main rituals. Invitation of the groom and his people was the first ritual to be conducted as the ceremony unfolded, and this happened at the boundary of the compound where the celebrations were to take place.
This was followed shortly by the application of ‘kum-kum’ powder on the foreheads of the bridegroom and his companions. Formal introductions of family members from both sides taking part in this big occasion were then conducted, indicating the birth of a new reunion between the two sides. It was then time for the bridegroom and the bride to exchange garlands or ‘Jayamaala’ as they are commonly called.
The second ritual of the Hindu marriage ceremony is ‘Madhu-Parka’, and this was another impressive moment, especially for the bridegroom, who was escorted to a well-decorated altar where he was welcomed with a drink. This particular drink, as I would come to learn afterwards, was a thick fluid comprising of a mixture of honey, yoghurt and sugar, among other things.
Get your first paper with 15% OFF
The next ritual was ‘Gau Daan’ and ‘Kanya Pratigrahan’, and here, a cow was donated to the bride’s family by the bridegroom. There was also a symbolic exchange of presents such as clothes, cosmetics and ornaments, among other things. Afterwards, a special necklace which is the emblem of an Indian woman’s marital status was presented to the bride by her would-be mother in law.
In Hindu, this necklace is known as ‘mangala sootra’, and it means that the bridegroom family has accepted to welcome the bride to be part of them. At this point, the proud father to the bride stood up in front of the couple where he loudly proclaimed that the bride together with her people have conceded to the bridegroom’s plea to marry their daughter, and that there was no other option, but for the other family to take her as their own from that time henceforth.
The above main parts of the marriage ceremony were followed closely by a couple of other rituals that included Vivaha-homa, Paanigrahan, Shilarohan and Laaja Homa, Sapta-Padi , and then Ashirvada. ‘Vivaya-homa’ entails the lighting of the sacred fire which is used to manifest the presence of god ‘Agni’ in the ceremony.
Meanwhile, the just married couple was surrounded by their families and friends, among other people who had attended the ceremony, as the priest started to chant the holy mantras. After he had recited the sacred mantras in the presence of everyone who was in attendance, the priest then embarked in another mission of leading the couple around the fire.
At some point, the sounds of a ringing bell suddenly greeted the air, symbolizing the beginning of just another significant moment of the ceremony. Here, a wide array of offerings was showered onto the fire, with some words representing the virtue of selflessness being uttered by the multitude to escort the gifts. The main theme behind this practice was to remind the newly-wed couple about the importance of the virtue of selflessness as it applies in modern families, and especially the new ones.
‘Paanigrahan’ or the ceremony of vows was the next ritual, and here, the gentleman, while holding his wife by the hand, would make his long-waited proclamation that he and his love were now husband and wife. All these happened as the couple made rounds around the sacred flame, where the main section of the celebrations was centered.
‘Shilarohan’ and ‘Laaja Homa’ were the next rituals. In the course of this part of the ceremony, the woman would systematically jump onto the surrounding stones and stand on them briefly as she and her husband continued to dance around the fire. This was a way of affirming her strength in marriage and loyalty to her husband in the course of her marital period.
There was then the last part of the fire-side activities, where the couple was required to go round the sacred flame in a gentle pace for at least four times. Here, the bride would lead her husband for the better part of the exercise, while the husband led her in the final lap. The main aim of this exercise was to remind the man of his duties and responsibilities as the head of the family.
Then, the bride and the groom held up their hands together above the burning flames into which barley grains were directly sacrificed by the bride’s male relatives and companions. This, however, was a symbol of unity amongst themselves for the welfare of the entire society. It was then time for the ‘kumkum’ powder to be applied on the woman’s head, and this was done by none other, but the groom himself. This is known as the ‘sindoor’, and it serves as a characteristic feature for married Hindu women.
Finally, there was ‘Sapta-Padi’, which is regarded as the legal section of the event. During this stage, the newly-wed couple was required to take about seven steps around the sacred flame in a clockwise manner.
The seven steps have significant meanings in the following order, starting from the first to the last one: food, strength, prosperity, wisdom, progeny, health, and friendship. The Hindus attach a lot of significance at this stage, since it is here where it is announced officially that a wedding ceremony has successfully come to an end, and that the union between husband and wife has been sanctified.
A matrimonial knot was eventually tied to unite the couple, after which they took a glance at the sun and another one at the polar star to seek blessings and resolve to remain unshaken, respectively. ‘Ashirvada’ was the last part of the colorful matrimonial ceremony, and here, the couple received immense blessings and best wish greetings in their married life, from the priest and the elders from both sides.
As it would be observed, rites of marriage are conducted for a common goal of marking a transition in people’s lives from adolescence to adulthood (Bell, 2003). Different communities and societies across the world would tend to mark these celebrations in different ways, due to the aspect of cultural diversity.
This, however, does not imply that there are no similarities at all in the manner by which these celebrations are carried out across different cultures. For instance, there are both similarities and differences between Hindu traditional rites of marriage as observed from this case, and the ways in which my folkgroup carry out the ceremonies.
Starting with the similarities, there are several ways in which Hindu rites of marriage match with those of my own folkgroup. For instance, there is the presence of priest in both situations, to officiate the sacred part of the ceremony. Another similarity is observable from the point where the bridegroom is joyously welcomed into the ceremony to meet the bride, before they are bonded for life by the priest.
Another way by which the Hindu rite of marriage matches with the way marriage ceremonies are conducted in my own culture is the exaggerated decoration of the venue where the ceremony is to take place. In both situations, different types of colors are combined to symbolize peace and happiness.
Another similarity with the two is that, a cow is given during the wedding ceremony as part of the dowry payment, and also as a present to the bride’s family for giving out their daughter to the bridegroom and his people. Blessings and best wish greetings from the officiating priest and the elders from both sides are also common features with the two cultures.
Apart from the above similarities, the Hindu rites of marriage also differ greatly with the practices of my own culture as far as this particular rite of passage is concerned. For example, unlike in my own culture, where at least a day is spared for the ceremony, Hindu marriage ceremonies normally comprise of numerous conservative rituals that would see the occasions being extended up to three days or even longer.
Another obvious difference is that, the Hindu tie couples’ garments together into a knot to symbolize matrimonial bonding, while in my culture, both the groom and the bride exchange wedding rings to symbolize that they have accepted each other as husband and wife.
The other common differences would be in the symbols used in Hindu marriage ceremonies, which are not applied in my own folkgroup when similar celebrations are being conducted. For instance, there is the use of sacred fire in Hindu marriage ceremonies, a practice that does not apply in my culture.
Brides in Hindu wear garments with symbolic colors such as white and red, while in my culture only white is the acceptable color for brides’ wedding garments. The other observable difference here is that, the hair parting of Hindu women is marked with colored ‘kumkum’ powder as a symbol of their marital status, a practice that does not apply in my own culture.
There are also differences in the manner by which these two different cultures conduct themselves before and after marriage ceremonies. For example, bridegrooms in my own culture are not required to step on any clay pot to prove their strength, as it is in the case with the Hindu. More importantly, there is nothing like dancing around a burning fire, stepping on bricks around the fire, taking seven steps, and viewing of the sun and the pole star in my own culture, as it applies in Hindu marriage ceremonies.
Bell, B. (2003). The rites of passage and outdoor education: Critical concerns for effective programming. The Journal of Experiential Education, 26(1), 41-50.
Dubois, A. (2007). Hindu manners, customs and ceremonies. New York: Cosimo, Inc.