Our very dear friend and family doctor, Dr. Parul Patel's son Ryan is getting married in a Hindu ceremony. We were invited. Being our first time to attend a Hindu weeding, we are excited.
A typical Hindu wedding ceremony can last for days, but being near Houston, Texas where everything is rush, rush, rush, this affair was condensed to a day and half wedding. Starting Friday night with a Henna for the groom's family and friends. Well for the family's female friends, the men mainly stood around and enjoyed the cocktails and food.
What is Henna, other than a dye made from the henna tree? Today, Henna is applied in celebration of special occasions such as weddings and birthdays in the joyous gathering of people. The Henna paste symbolizes good health and prosperity in marriage, in some cultures, the darker the henna stain, the deeper the love between two individuals.
A henna artist is hired to apply the designs for the ladies.
Though the henna ink may look black in this photo, the ink dries quickly and flakes off,
leaving a light brown stain design on the skin. The intricate design will darken on its own over the next few days, then fade away within a week. So the patterns applied Friday night will be very evident for the ceremony the next afternoon.
The Henna artist created beautiful designs on the ladies hands. Some wanted a simple motif,
others desired something quite elaborate. A few brought design ideas with them on their iPhones, asking the artist to recreate them.
As the ink is applied wet, one must be very careful not to touch anything until it has dried, or it will smear. As it dries, it turns to a crusty dust and falls off, leaving the ink design on the skin. Over the next several days, the design will darken with a wonderful warm tone, only to disappear completely within a week. In the photo above, one can see the intricate henna designs mirrors the intricate designs on this lady's clothing and jewelry. All very much a part of the Indian culture.
Below: Meena had both sides of her hands done, so she cannot touch anything until it completely dries. She tries to maneuver a straw with her mouth to take a sip of water without touching the straw or the cup.
The following afternoon, Saturday, was the three hour wedding ceremony in the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, Texas. Said to be the first Hindu temple built in the Unites States. Palatial in structure with architecture common in southern India, the Sri Meenakshi temple is the only one of its kind outside of India dedicated to Meenakshi, the goddess of marriage.
Though a long drive to reach the temple, it only makes sense to have this important event here. Many do not realize that it can be a hundred mile drive from one side of the Houston metroplex to the other side.
Actually four Hindu Gods are honored here at Sri Mannakshi. Stepping inside the main temple which is centered within a large walled compound, you will see homages to Shiva, Meenakshi, Vishnu and Lakshmi.
The white structures are part of the inner buildings while the beige facade is the outer wall.
Set apart from the main temple area, is a smaller venue reserved for intimate weddings.
Here we will enter to participate.
Shoes are forbidden inside the temple. Hats are okay.
Note the pair of cowboy boots in the shoe rack... only in Texas.
Will attempt to relate an understanding of the various steps and traditions of a Hindu wedding, which are quite elaborate to say the least.
The principal activities of the wedding ceremony will take place under the yellow and red canopy (Mandap) lead by the local swamis (priest).
The slightly elevated, draped Mandap (wedding dais) is erected in front of the invitees so all may witness the ceremony. The groom Ryan, proceeds to the front with his family and friends where it all begins...
The elder walking towards us in the aisle is a close family relative. Ryan its standing just to the left of the Mandap.
Swagatam - Welcoming of the groom with a Puja (worship ceremony),
then Ryan is to step on an earthen pot, breaking it, symbolizing he will not allow any obstacle to come between him and his bride.
(Note: the bride is still not present for this portion of the ceremony)
Now under the Mandap, Ryan is further welcomed by family (Var Puja) by paying their respects as the groom is believed to take the symbolic form of Vishnu, the Hindu God of Preservation.
The swamis, partially seen here dressed in orange will lead the prayers and chants through out the ceremony.
Ganesh Puja - Every auspicious celebration begins with a Ganesh Puja. Ganesh, the Lord of Prosperity and Achievements, is invited to grace the occasion and bless the families to carry out all the rituals without any obstacles.
Arrival of the Bride - Victoria
The bride is brought into the room, but not seated in the Mandap just yet. She and her attendants patiently await to be invited in.
A veil (Antarpat) is held by family in front of Ryan, blocking his view while the bride is being escorted into the Mandap. After more instruction and prayers from the swamis, the veil is brushed aside with great fanfare for the two may now view each other. The bride and groom exchange garlands.
Note: I wonder if in times past when marriages were arranged, was this moment the first time the couple might actually see each other?
Kanyadan - Giving away the Bride
Victoria's hand is placed in Ryan's hand. The joining of hands symbolizes their joining as husband and wife. The groom's scarf and the wife's veil are tied together, symbolizing everlasting unity.
Agni Stapan and Manpal Phera - Fire ceremony and Circling the sacred fire.
The sacred fire, representing Agni - the god of fire - is lit to symbolize purity and to act as a witness to the union. The bride and groom circle the fire four times. Twice with the groom leading, then twice with the bride leading - offering rice grains to the fire each time. Each circle represents one of the four aspects of married life:
Djarma - Spiritual Duties,
Artha - Personal Development,
Karma - Positive Work and Actions believed to bring goodness to Life,
Moksha - Liberation from Cycle of Death, Life and Re-birth.
Saptapadi - Seven Sacred Steps
The married couple then stand in front of the Mandap, where they will take seven steps in their new lives together. With each step taken in unison, the couple take vows before God and their community.
1rst Step: Together we shall share responsibility of our home and life.
2nd Step - Together we shall have trust and respect for each other, and live in harmony.
3rd Step - Together we shall fill our hearts with strength and courage.
4th Step - Together we shall acquire knowledge and wisdom.
5th Step - Together we shall love and care for our children,
and keep our family happy, healthy and strong.
6th Step - Together we shall cherish and support each other in sickness
and in health; in joy and sorrow.
7th Step - Together we shall remain lifelong partners and grow spiritually.
Mangal Sutra and Sindoor Dharan - Symbols of marriage. Ryan now adorns Victoria with the symbols of a married woman. He puts red vermillion powder (sindoor) on her forehead and ties a Mangal Sutra (wedding necklace) around her neck.
Akhand Saubhagyavati - Blessings from married women. Married females, relatives or friends whisper blessings in the bride's ears, offering advice and wishing the couple a long and happy married life. This is an important step in the ceremony as the groom's mother specifically requested multiple photos of this moment, which the main photographer took.
Aashirvad - Blessings from the family. The swamis prays for blessings from the Supreme Lord for the well-being of the newlyweds and for those assembled.
The swamis now proceeds to take the couple outdoors for additional teachings of spiritual direction and a life of worship.
A large portion of the ceremony is the swamis chanting, praying to the gods, asking for blessings on the couple, the attendees, teaching the couple about life, living together, accepting change, acknowledging higher spirits while honoring each other.
The ceremony included many symbolic references fire, food, water, plants and life.
A great way to start a new life as husband and wife, honoring all living things and each other.
The attending audience are welcome to stand, walk around, talk, enjoy the food and drink in the adjoining room all the while the long ceremony is happening.
The colorful sari's make for a happy joyous occasion. By the way, the colors black and white will not be seen at a Hindu wedding as they are associated with death.
Before all departed for the reception, Amparo and I were able to have our photo taken with the newlyweds, Ryan and Victoria. We wish the bride and groom many, many years of happiness and joy as they now journey along life's path, hand in hand.
The party then continued at Ashai Indian restaurant/reception hall until the late hours of the evening. Most likely it might have been me, the photographer, but those reception photos are all fuzzy... and got fuzzzzzzzier as the night went on.
We greatly appreciated being invited to this family's joyous event,
a new learning experience for us.
One we will never forget.
Ride safe, experience something new, my friends.