I have been to several weddings but never realized the importance or significance of these rituals. I used to just attend the ceremony, enjoy, and come home. My niece and I attended a wedding last week. She asked me questions related to the wedding rituals and to my dismay I was as ignorant about them as she was. I then realized that there may be many more like me who just blindly follow the traditions and customs without understanding their meaning or significance. Through this blog I want to share what I learnt about the most important ritual of the Hindu wedding, the “Saat Pheres or the Seven Rounds” taken by the couple during the wedding.
The Hindu weddings are mesmerizing. The wedding rituals find their roots in the Rig-Veda. According to the Rig-Veda the life of a man is divided into four stages or “ashrams” that are : brahmacharaya, grihastya, vanaprastha, and sanyasa. When an individual enters the second stage ‘grihastya’ he/she is supposed to get married and lead a family life. The Hindu wedding comprises mostly of Sanskrit Shlokas and innumerable rituals. The wedding begins with the invocation of the ‘fire god” or “Agni.”
The integral part of the wedding is going around the ‘Sacred Fire’ seven times. The “Saptapadi” is one of the most important rituals without which the wedding is considered to be redundant. The couple encircles the “Sacred Fire” seven times with the bride leading in six of them. The “Seven Pheres” or the circles made by the couple are seven vows taken with the ‘Holy Fire’ as the witness. Fire is considered to be holy and pure because apart from spreading warmth and light, it is also capable of burning down the evil. The couples take a vow, “like this burning fire we would keep our relationship bright, warm, alive, and pure. The seven vows taken by the bride and the bridegroom are as follows:
1. With the first step, the couple prays to the Gods to give them the mental, physical and spiritual strength to lead a healthy life. "Let us be happy and enjoy life. Let us walk together so we grow together in strength.”
2. With the second step, the bride and groom invoke the gods for attainment of happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust in all walks of life. "Let us not forget parents and elders. Let us walk together so we get happiness by sharing our joys and sorrows.
3. With the third step, the couple invokes the gods for plenty of pure and nourishing food. "With God as our guide, let us take the third step to live with honor and respect. Let us walk together so we get good food in plenty.
4. The fourth step is for preserving wealth and prosperity in life. The chant at this stage means, "let us share joys and pains together. Let us walk together so we get wealth.”
5. During the fifth round they pray for the welfare of all living beings in the Universe and pray for virtuous, noble and heroic children." Let us observe all acts of charity. Let us walk together so we have family.”
6. While taking the sixth step they ask the gods to give them a long, joyous life and togetherness forever. "Let us live a long and peaceful life. Let us walk together so we have joy.”
7. With the seventh, and last, step, the couple prays for understanding, companionship, loyalty and unity. "Let us be friends with love and sacrifice. Let us walk together so we have friendship.”
After the seventh step has been taken, the groom says to the bride, “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. 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.”
With completion of the “Saptapadi” or the “Seven Pheres” the two are pronounced husband and wife.