Marriage ceremonies in the Indian subcontinent abound in references to nature and its powers to invoke favourable aspects of prosperity and fertility.
A common feature of all weddings, whatever the religion, is that they are highly decorative occasions for feasting and gathering together of relatives. Marriages usually involve ceremonies besides the actual wedding. The ceremony could be simple or exceedingly complex and stretching over several days.
Hindu ceremonies will have a regional flavour and objects used would vary according to the riches of nature in a particular region. For example, marriages in the south will feature plantain trees, coconuts and plenty of jasmine, while roses, marigold and mangoes decorate weddings in the north; shola pith crowns form part of wedding attire in the east. All weddings will feature auspicious items like turmeric, rice, holy ash, sandalwood paste, betel leaves and mango leaves.
In brief, a Hindu ceremony takes place around a sacred fireptt placed within a pavilion, or mandapa, decorated with flowers and leaves. The venue is either the bride's home or a hall chosen by her family. With oblations to the fire, the Brahmin priest chants the ancient rituals of the Vedas in Sanskrit, the couple vow loyalty, steadfast love and fidelity, and garlands are exchanged. Circling the fire seals the union. They are showered with flowers and rice and blessed by family and friends. A feast then follows.
Around this core a variety of customs and traditions have been built. Before the wedding, mehndi ceremonies are a popular feature of the bride's preparation, particularly in northern India. In Bengal, the groom's party visits the home of the bride in a ceremonial procession bearing gifts on bamboo trays.
Kashmiri Muslim weddings feature the vazwan or special cuisine prepared by the bride's side for the groom's party. Sweets, dry fruits, nuts and fresh fruit are placed on huge copper trays as ceremonial gifts or haziri. Muslim weddings in the subcontinent generally feature a mehndi ceremony when the bride is decorated a day before, the nikaah or wedding ceremony when the imam and elders officiate and pronounce the union, the rukhshat or departure to the groom's home, and the valimah, or feast of the groom.
A Parsi wedding reveals the eternal combination of prayers and rituals, invoking the grace of God and the forces of nature, which is common to all castes, creeds and cultures of the subcontinent. The wedding is to be celebrated before an anjoman, or assembly (that is, openly, in the eyes of the public).
It begins with the Rupia Peravanu, or announcement of the engagement and the acceptance by both families of the marriage. The groom's family visit the bride's family and gifts such as silver coins and sweets are given. Four days before the wedding, Mandav Saro takes place; each family ceremoniously plants a mango sapling in a pot; the soil of which has been enriched with betel, turmeric, rice and other auspicious items.
The next day is for the ritual exchange of gifts, or Adarni; the houses are gaily decorated with rangoli designs. The day before the wedding is the Supra nu Murat where the women gather to sing songs and some married women ritually exchange significant objects such as paan, dates, and coconut pieces. They smear the couple with a turmeric and milk paste.
Parsi weddings can take place after sunset or before dawn. On the day, the dastur, or family priest gives the couple a symbolic purification bath, or Nahan. The assembly then gathers in the agiary, or fire temple for the Lagaan (wedding ceremony). This involves the symbolic tying together of the couple with seven twists of thread, Chero Bandhvanu. After the ceremony the couple receive the Ashirwad (blessings) of all who have gathered and are showered with rose petals and rice. The wedding is then celebrated with a lavish banquet (Bhonu).