Hinduism is not a religion in the sense Christianity or Islam is. Hinduism is a way of life. Thousands of year ago Samskaras or sacraments were instituted by Hinduism to bring sanctity and stability to the lives of the individuals and to integrate their personalities with the society they were born in. The ancient seers and sages, gifted with light and resource, tried to transform the crude animal into a refined man with the help of the Samskars. As in Philosophy so in rituals, life is regarded as a cycle. From birth to death a Hindu person undergoes 16 Samskaras; and marriage is one of the most important among them.
Manu, the great sage enjoins, ‘Having spent the first quarter of one’s life in the house of the preceptor, the second quarter in one’s own house with the wife, and the third in the forest, one should take Sannyas in the fourth quarter, casting away every worldly tie.’
The sacrament of marriage impresses upon a person that earthly life is not to be despised; rather it should be consciously accepted and elevated to the level of a spiritual existence. This is the rich, noble heritage of Hindu ethos.
Thousands of Hindu families are settled outside India all over the world. They have strong ties with the Hindu culture and way of life, and feel that should, on such important occasions of life like marriage, avail themselves of the rich, noble heritage of Hindu thought. They like to perform the Samskara in the traditional Hindu way.
However, even those who are staying in India, know little Sanskrit. No wonder those who are not born in India, find it unfamiliar. For their convenience, Jnana Prabodhini has translated the rites into English. Similar English versions of Namakaran (naming ceremony ), Upanayana (thread ceremony ), Ganesha Pooja, Satyanarayana Pooja, are also available. Receptions are usually arranged to celebrate the joy of wedding. Gatherings of near and dear ones most certainly enhance the pleasure of the occasion. However, Hindu marriage ceremony is a sacred vow, an ennobling Samskara and it is advisable that the rites may be performed in the presence of a limited number, in a serene, quiet atmosphere and the other celebrations follow later.
Punyahavachan (calling the day auspicious), Sankalpa (expressing the desire to marry), Mangalsutrabandhana (adorning bride’s neck with the auspicious necklace, Panigrahan (receiving hands), Agnisaksha Pratijna (pledge before the fire), Lajahoma (sacrificing popped rice), Parikraman (perambulating the holy fire), Shilarohan (ascending the stone), Saptapadi (walking seven steps together) and Karmasamapti (concluding ceremony) are supposed to be the essential rites in marriage. Nakshatradarshan [soliciting the blessings of seven sages (stars) and Dhruva (pole star)], Griha Pravesh (the bride enters the in-laws’ house, and Lakshmipoojan are optional rites.
The whole content of marriage ceremony is rich with noblest thoughts. In Hindu tradition, marriage is not just a contract between two individuals. It is a union of two souls for their own betterment, for the betterment of their progeny, of their relations and the society at large. Grihasthashrama (life of the householder) is supposed to be the backbone of the society. It shelters all other Ashramas-phases of life. Ashramas and Purusharthas form the fabric of Hindu life.
Purusharthas are major goals to be attained in the life span for the attainment of Dharma (righteous life), Artha (material resources), Kama (fulfillment of natural desires), marriage is instrumental. Moksha (self-realization) is an individual pursuit,
Any gentleman or lady of good character belonging to any caste or creed can conduct the ceremony as a priest or a priestess.
We hope that this English version of the Hindu marriage ceremony may give insight into the Hindu values to those who participate in it. The beauty and sublimity with which our forefathers formulated it are unmatched.
With all the best wishes to those who are entering this noble phase of life-