Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hindu Weddings, Part II

Hindu brides traditionally wear some variation of red. Sindhoor or the color of the planet Mars is very popular because it is associated with life, fertility, love and luck. Red is auspicious and prestigious. Mars, by the way, is the planet that rules marriage in Hindu culture. Hindus may also incorporate green for fertility or orange for renunciation.
Interestingly, the Christian tradition of wearing white is frowned upon by traditional Indian brides. Most American brides wear a variation of white, representing purity and virginity.  On the contrary, Hindus associate white with widowhood or mourning.
As with anything, contemporary thoughts mixed with the desire for self proclamation, entice people to modify traditions. Today there are many who wear whatever color they choose. Some even combine the traditions of old with modern day concepts to create their own unique ceremony.
Two acts were passed in the 50’s that further defined the way a Hindu could marry. In 1954 an act was passed called the Special Marriage Act. It stated that a Hindu can marry a person who is not Hindu, “employing any ceremony provided specified legal conditions are fulfilled”. A year later in ’55 the Hindu Marriage Act was passed stating that “all Hindus of any caste, creed or sect, Sikh, Buddhists and Jains are deemed Hindus and can intermarry”. Of course these acts were passed for legal purposes and even to today many families have not incorporated these lenient standards into their own family.   

Throughout the years, many edicts have passed forbidding this practice or allowing another, but anyone who has ever loved knows that rules and laws cannot ever define true love and bring real happiness. Marriage (from any culture) is a sacred pact and should be entered into with certainty of heart and mind barring the opinions of culture and tradition.

Speaking of Marriage, tomorrow we celebrate 7 years of commitment. Celebrate with us!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hindu Weddings, Part I

Oh, how I am in love with love! Inspiration spews from a well spring of joy. Thinking about love, the impetus for marriage, always evokes a feeling of euphoria in my spirit.  A wedding, simply put, is a ceremony proclaiming one’s eternal commitment (or love) to another, before God and witnesses. It is intended to produce a miniature heaven on earth that radiates the example of Christ and the happiness that can only exist in” perfect” love. Perfect love can only be achieved by a pure heart and pure motives.   Humans are in an endless quest for this kind of love. For this reason, we are compelled to marry, vulnerably, pledging our lives to another person in hopes that life will be more enhanced and more beautiful than ever it was before. Even when we fail, we are impressed, almost blindly, uncontrollably, to try again, and in some cases, again and again, in search of getting it right. For when it is right, it can be the bliss that God instituted marriage to be.
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Various cultures, creeds, faiths, races and religions have unique ways of executing the wedding ceremony. African American’s jump the broom, Jewish brides and grooms stomp on glass, Irish consume fruit cake spiked with whiskey, Some Native Americans partake in the blanket ceremony, which is similar to the traditional candle ceremony of two becoming one. But Hindu weddings stand out from the rest because of the bright colors and extravagance associated with them. Many Hindus practice the Saptapadi (the Sanskrit for seven steps, a ceremonial ritual of the Vedic Hindus). This particularly interesting ritual requires the bride and groom to walk around fire 7 times, the bride leading some cycles followed by the groom leading the last few cycles. If this step were to be omitted the union would not be “blessed”.
Bridal Wedding Attire

My first real glimpse of an Indian wedding was on the T.V. show, Platinum Weddings some years ago. Obsessed with and engrossed in the planning of my own wedding, I was constantly searching for some unique and memorable details to incorporate into our ceremony. Though I did not ultimately use the components I saw, I did enjoy watching the show which chronicled a Hindu bride and groom who threw a very lavish wedding that lasted several days. Throughout the documentary, the audience was allowed to follow the bride through the designing and creation of her gown, the picking of d├ęcor, venue selection, food selection and so on. It chronicled various different rituals, customary to their faith as well.
"Flower Bed", where the bride and groom consummate

I was captivated by one such ritual still practiced today in Hindu weddings. It was the incorporation of the very spiritual henna tatoo, Mehandi. The Mehandi is used as a form of adornment for the bride. Certain inscriptions within the design denote the presence of their god in the lives of the couple. The deepness and richness of color signifies the strength of the union. In my opinion the most intimate component of the Mehandi is the “name game” that is played via the ritualistic marking. Customarily, the henna tatoo is placed on the bride’s arms and hands by a woman in her family and hidden within the artwork is the groom’s name. If he cannot find his name, it is said that the woman will be the dominate force in the relationship. Even more meaningful (for the man at least) is a man who sought but failed to find his name cannot consummate his marriage until it is located. I’m sure given the importance of the “name game”, many brides cheat in a mad dash to their “flower beds”, giving at least a hint to reveal the where abouts of that crucial and very important name.
Hindu Ceremonies, like those in America contain vows or sayings spoken from bride to groom and groom to bride. The details of the special sayings themselves may vary based on family tradition or regions within India. One such “vow”, from Northern India, perfectly sums up the sentiment of every couple who has ever chosen to travel the mysterious, sometimes perplexing, but often glorious rode of marriage:
 "We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me. Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning, united. You are thought and I am sound. May the night be honey-sweet for us. May the morning be honey-sweet for us. May the earth be honey-sweet for us. May the heavens be honey-sweet for us. May the plants be honey-sweet for us. May the sun be all honey for us. May the cows yield us honey-sweet milk. As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable, as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable, so may our union be permanently settled.”
In a few days my husband and I will celebrate our wedding anniversary. Some would say one perfect cycle of seven years, as the number 7 represents perfection and completeness. Together as a married couple, the above quote is still our desire. Check back as we continue our beautiful exploration in Hindu Weddings, Part II.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Saree or Sari, that is the question...

You learn something new every day. That is what “they” say, isn’t it? I actually would expand that to say I learn several new “things” throughout the day, (most of which are actually taught to me by a 4 year old). As I research to learn all I can about India, the perfectionist in me reads and re-reads previous passages that I have written, scouring them for accuracy. I want to make sure that everything I learn (and you learn) is accurate. Discrepancies can not only make for a dreadfully embarrassing moment, but misrepresentation (even unintentional) could potential lyoffend the much esteemed and highly treasured region that I fervently desire to pay tribute.
Case in point, in an earlier post the word saree appeared. This was the first way I saw it written. Yet, in fact, I discovered that there were indeed two ways to spell the word used to describe the beautiful piece of cloth worn by women of Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and several other regions.
Inquiring and researching has not yet revealed to me which term is the more proper or if there even is a more appropriate time to use one term over the other. Sources suggests that one term, saree, refers more to the fabric its self and what process was used to produce it or region it derives, where as the term sari seems to describe the complete garb or ensemble. This is what makes learning beautiful, it is not static. It is ever growing and ever moving. After all, we do learn something new every day. Stay abreast, earn more folds in your gray matter and let’s keep learning together. Want to take an interesting journey into all things sari or saree, check this out: