The five parts of a wedding – “KANYA VARANAM”
Now let us come to the topic proper. What are the various rituals connected with a marriage and their significance?
In ancient days, when a boy decided to enter ‘Grahasthasramam’, he started looking for a girl who was compatible with his own race, religious practices, age, financial status and aptitudes. When he decided in his choice, he contacted the parent or relatives of the girl, and requested them for the hand of his daughter or ward. This request is called “Kanya Varanam”.
So, you see that it has always been the practice that the boy requests for the hand of the girl that he wishes to marry and not the other way around, as it has become a custom now. The habit of parents of a girl sweating it out hunting for a suitable groom and paying a heavy penalty in the form of ‘Dowry’ for having a daughter came into existence only during the period of the invasions of the Moguls and other barbarians, when the parents were eager to get their daughters married in a hurry. The grooms’ parents got greedy and started demanding dowries! Also, the ratio between boys and girls, greed and ego played a part in the introduction of the ‘Dowry Ststem’. Like in economics it became a question of ‘Equi-marginal Utilities!!’.
Now, back to the boy and ‘Kanya Varanam’. The boy requests two elders to go to the girl’s parents and ask for the girl’s hand on his behalf. He addresses the elders by uttering a manthra, the meaning of which is as follows: “Please go to the prospective bride’s home with a full heart. Indra, who is going to accept my oblations during my Yagnas after I accept ‘Grahasthasramam’ has given His consent. Let your travel be a pleasant and successful one” Then he prays to the Devas with another Manthra. “Oh! Devas. Let the path that these two elders tread be without stones or thorns. Let ‘Aryana’ and ‘Bagan’ unite me and the girl of my choice. Please bless us that we shall be united throughout our lives”
At every stage of the wedding, the couple pray for their mutual wellbeing. With the strength of Divine grace invoked through vedic manthras and the blessings of elders, the couple begin the life journey into ‘Grahasthasramam’ There are five main ritualistic parts to the conduct of a wedding. “Vaakdhanam cha pradhanam cha varanam panipeeta namah Sabthapatheethi panchango vivahaha parikirthithaha – Say the ‘smrithis’. The five are: (1) ‘Vaakdhaanam’ or the promise or consent to give. (2) ‘Kanya Dhaanam’ or offering the girl as a gift. (3) ‘Vara prekshaanam’ or purification. (4) ‘Pani grahanam’ or accepting the bride by taking hold of her hand and praying to the Gods. (5) ‘Saptha Pathi’ or the groom holding the bride’s hand and requesting her to take seven steps towards his house.
Now. Let us go into the details, one by one, of the various rituals that has to be performed during the wedding. Vaak-Dhaanam: Once the girl’s parents have consented to the wedding, the bride and groom will be brought to the wedding platform. The groom will sit facing east. The bride’s father will wash the groom’s feet, uttering manthras that describe him as Mahavishnu or Parameswara according to the sect they belong to. As the water is being poured, the groom will utter a manthra which says “Let the water which washes my feet destroy the evil spirits which are opposed to this union. Let me have Brahma Tejaz” The father treats the boy as Mahavishnu and says “Mahavishnu swaroopasya varasya idham aasanam” which means “I offer this seat to him who is Vishnu himself”. Then the groom looks at the bride for the first time. He addresses the bride with some manthras which are full of meaning. In short they mean, “Have a good heart and win the hearts of your husband, parents and relatives by your behaviour. Be devoted to God and show kindness to human beings and animals which save you”. He then invokes the blessings of God to remove the impurities in the bride by placing a ‘Dharbai’ at the bride’s forehead. After the manthra is chanted he throws the dharbai behind the girl.
Kanya Dhaanam: The bride then sits on the lap of her father. The groom will place a coil of Dharba on her head and on top of that place a miniature yoke. The hole on the right hand side of the yoke will be at the center of the girl’s head. Then the groom prays to Indra to remove all diseases from the body of the bride. Then a gold coin is placed in the hole and the manthra uttered. By this manthra the groom says “Let this gold bring you health’ wealth and prosperity, let the water that I now sprinkle on you cleanse your psyche and all impurities and make you fit to join your husband. Some people interpret the significance of this ritual to mean that the couple should tread the same path always together and united and with one mind like the two bulls joined by the yoke.
Varaprokshanam: After the bride has her “Mangala Snanam” or auspicious bath. There are five manthras for this ceremony. I shall briefly give the meanings of these manthras: (1) Let this golden water which is pure and purifies all other objects, remove all the evil thoughts surrounding this girl. (2) Let this golden water from which the sun and fire appeared, this water which is pure and purifying, bring you auspiciousness and a united happy life. (3) Let Varuna, the king of all the auspicious waters, bestow upon you a contented life and bring unto you good company. (4) Let this water, blessed by the devas bring you happiness and peace of mind. (5) Let this auspicious water which embraces your body bring you happiness and unity. After the auspicious bath, the bride is given the bridal sari or what is called the “Koorai Pudavai”. After she returns wearing the sari, the groom ties a chord made of Dharbai (Kusa Grass) around the waist of the bride uttering a manthra which means:
“This girl has prayed for a good heart, healthy and intelligent children, long life for her husband and a healthy body for herself to be of service to others. She stands by in front of the fire (Agni) ready to follow me in my religious pursuits, Vrathas and Yagyas. For the sake of sanctifying this marriage with her, I am tying this sacred Dharbai around her waist”
Then the groom takes hold of the right hand of his bride and brings her to the holy fire. The bride and the groom sit on a new mat placed in front of the “Homa Kundam” or ‘Holy Pyre’. The groom sits on the North side and the bride on the South. After they are seated the groom chants the manthras which say: “The moon gave you strength, the Ghandharvas gave you beauty and the lord of fire ‘Agni’ gave you youthfulness so that you may give me your service. You are divine by nature”.
After this the groom ties the “Thali” (SacredThread) around the bride’s neck. It is interesting to note that there are no Vedic Manthras stipulated for the tying of the ‘Thali’. In fact no mention about the “Thali” has been made in any of our Puranas or Ithihasas!! Only “Metti” has been mentioned. It plays an important part in Ramayana where Lakshmana identifies a metti as Sitha’s. What you hear in almost every wedding here and Tamil Movies is: “Mangalyam Thanthunanena mama jeevana hethuna Kante badhnami subhake sanjeeva sarathas satham” The above is only a ‘Sloka’ or verse and not a Manthra. Its meaning is: “This is a sacred thread which helps in keeping me alive. I am placing this around your neck so that you can live happily for a hundred years”. From this you can assume that during the Vedic period there was no ‘Thali’. The couples were bound by the vows they took in front of the sacred fire and all the Gods, Devathas, relatives and friends present as witnesses.