Saptapadi or Seven steps in Hindu marriage!
Saptapadi or seven steps is the most important rite of a Hindu marriage ceremony. The word Saptapadi means “Seven steps”. After tying the Mangalsutra, the newly wed couple take seven steps around the holy fire, that is called Saptapadi.
In a Hindu marriage , the most Important rite is the tying of the Thali or Mangalsutra, by the groom around the neck of the bride, but the marriage is incomplete without the ‘Saptapadi’ or ‘Seven steps’!
- With the first step , the couple invokes the Gods for plentitude of food.
- With the second step , the couple prays to the Gods to give them both mental and physical strength and a healthy life free from ailments.
- The third step is for the fulfilment of spiritual obligation for the couple and for the successful performance of their spiritual duties.
- The fourth step is for the attainment of happiness in all walks of life.
- The fifth step is to pray for the welfare of all living entities in the entire Universe.
- The sixth step is for bountiful seasons all over the world.
The seventh step is taken invoking the prayer and sacrifice for universal peace.
The variations in Sapdapadi or Seven steps: During Saptapadi or seven steps, some communities, the groom holds only the little finger , while taking his bride round the fire seven times, in gentle steps, in still others, he holds her right hand cupped fingers all together. The most sacred and critical Seven Steps.
Husband and wife only after the Sapdapadi: The man and woman who tie the knot, are declared husband and wife, only on completion of the ‘Saptapadi’ or ‘Seven steps’.
The sentimental and deep values of Sapdapadi in Hindu marriage: When a wedded couple takes the seven steps or rounds holding each other’s hands firmly, around the fire, they not only evoke the Almighty’s blessings and pray for each other ‘s health and well-being, they pray for their families, and the whole Universe. The ritual embraces all the elements of nature, fire, water and seasons, spirituality and universal peace.
The Implied elements of true partnership in ‘Saptapadi’: The couple during Sapdapadi, agrees to be with each other in times of pain and pleasure respect each other’s likes and dislikes, family values. The partners agree to be perfect companions through all walks of life.
The Saath pheras or seven steps in the North: The North Indian weddings have a similar , very Important ritual where the couple goes around the fire seven times, called ‘Saath Pheras’ Or ‘Seven rounds’ where they pledge to be with each other in all times of pleasure and difficulties, not quarrel and part ways, also pray for their families. The difference in the North Indian customs is that the ‘Dupatta’ or the bride’s head cover, is tied to the Dupatta of the groom and they walk in close proximity around the Agni or fire. The priest or pundit chants very effective mantras as they go round the fire.
Saptapadi followed by Metti or toe-ring slipping: This most important rite of a Hindu marriage is followed by the groom bending down, lifting his wife’s feet one by one, and slipping the silver toe-ring (another symbol of marriage), into her second toe of each feet.
The essence remains the same in Saat Pheras and Saptapadi: Whatever be the differences in rituals between a North Indian Hindu wedding and a South Indian Hindu wedding the essence of ‘Saat Pheras’ and ‘Sapdapadi or Seven steps’ is one and the same evoking blessings for the well -being of the couple, their families and the whole Universe.
Mangalasutra designs in South India
‘The sacred knot’ or the Mangala Sutra, also known in the South as ‘Thaali’ is the most Important symbol of an Indian married woman in the North, West, East and most significantly South India, in both Brahmin and non-brahmin weddings. While the toe-rings, the red sacred powder, ‘Kumkum’ also are equally Important, the sacred thread or chain called ‘Mangala Sutra’ is the one that actually transforms the hitherto ‘Single’ status of the girl to a ‘Married woman’ or ‘wife’ of someone’!
We normally refer to a wedding like this ‘The two have decided to tie the knot’ figuratively it refers to the sacred bonding for Life, together in pain and pleasure, in disease and well-being. Specifically though the turmeric dipped sacred ‘Thaali’ (in the South), is the first , sentimental , Vedic-rich Intimate touch of the groom and the bride, when normally, the bride’s father gives away the bride in holy matrimony, to the man who becomes her husband, her partner and protector , for Life! This ritual is called ‘Kanyadan’ or ‘Kanyadaanam’ ( Tamil), which means giving away the daughter by the father. At weddings, especially in the South, it is the most awaited moment, by the bride’s parents, groom ‘s parents, as well as all the kith and kin present at the wedding Hall. The moment of hysteric and feverish excitement, with tears welling the eyes of the bride’ s mother , her close friends, and the bride herself are worth a watch! also there is a drastic twist in the note played by the musicians on the Nadaswaram, the beats on the accompanying pair of drums ( called the ‘Thavil) have a particular moment of loudness ( as signalled by the Pundit or Poojari or the vadiyar who conducts the rituals). And yes! it has been tied around the bejeweled and heavily garlanded neck of the bride, and everyone is clapping, wishing each other, congratulations pouring from all the sides , and well-wishers and elders sprinkle rice grains soaked in haldi, or turmeric and Vermilon ( Kumkum or red sacred powder), to offer their love, blessings to the newly wed couple! Soon after the three knots are tied ( In Brahmin Weddings, the first knot is tied by the groom and the rest 2 are tied by the sisters of the groom , further strengthening the bond with the new addition to their family). If the groom has one sister, she ties both the knots, and if he has two sisters they share the remaining two. If the groom is a single child with no siblings, then his cousin sisters get the right to tie the remaining knots!
Soon after the thread with a holy pendant in gold ( the thaali) is tied, the groom puts around his brand new wife’s neck , yet another gold thaali where the chain is in pure gold with some opting for traditional designs, and others going for fashionable patterns of the chain, but the pendent or the locket remains the same for each caste conforming to its specifications! It is Indeed Interesting to understand and examine the differences in the Mangala Sutra patterns of different regions across India!
Before we examine the differences in the designs, it is critical to understand the Importance of ‘The Mangala Sutra’ or ‘Thaali’
The phrase ‘three knot tie’ literally means’ ‘an auspicious thread which is knotted around the bride’s neck’. It is usually a gold pendant strung from a yellow thread prepared with turmeric, a string of black beads or simply a gold chain. It is comparable to the wedding ring of the West. A married woman is expected to wear this thread and is the most important part of a Hindu marriage ceremony.
It is called Mangala Sutra in Maharashtra, தாலி (thaali) in Tamil, ತಾಳಿ (thaali) or ಮಾಂಗಲ್ಯ (Mangalyasutra) in Kannada and thaali (తాళి), maangalyamu (మాంగళ్యము), Mangalasutramu (మంగళసూత్రము) or pustelu (పుస్తెలు) in Telugu. Konkanis (Goansand others) wear three necklaces around their necks referred to as “Dhaaremani” or “Muhurtmani” (big golden bead), “Mangalasutra” with one or two gold discs and “Kasithaali” with gold and coral beads. In Malayalam it is simply referred to as “Thaali” in general and “Minnu” by Syrian Christians.
A ‘Thaali’ ( or “Minnu”) is also worn by the brides of Kerala’s Syrian Christian community. An engraving of the holy spirit is a distinguishing feature of the Syrian Christian Minnu. According to tradition, the families of the bride and the bridegroom contribute a piece of gold and melt it with the help of the family goldsmith. This is then used to make the rest of the necklace. The process of tying is assisted by a sister of the groom, as it is with other Hindu communities. During the wedding ceremony, the Minnu is held on and tied using a braided thread made by twisting together seven threads taken from the Manthrakodi (wedding saree).
The practice of wearing a mangala sutra is mainly followed in western Indian and south Indian states.
The Kashmiri Pandits have the distinction of being one of the few Hindu communities that does not have the Thaali as part of its wedding ritual.
Adi Shankara and Mangala Sutra
In his famous book Soundarya Lahari Adi Shankara has mentioned that as per Hindu cultural ethos, the Mangala sutra symbolizes the inseparable bond between a husband and a wife. During the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom ties the Mangala sutra to the neck of the bride uttering- “May you live long by wearing this sacred Mangal sutra, the reason of my life”. Married women are entitled to wear a Mangala sutra throughout their life as it is believed that the practice enhances the well-being of her husband and family. It is also believed that the Mangala sutra protects the marriage from any evil. Three knots symbolize three different aspects of a married woman – the first knot represents her obedience to her husband, the second to his parents and the third represents her respect for God.
Design Variations in Mangala Sutra region-wise: It is very Interesting to see the differences in the design patterns of Mangala Sutra chains across our country. While the Maharashtrian ‘Thaali’ or ‘Mangal Sutra’ is Intricately woven around black beads, and has two gold Inverted cups with pinkish or red tiny stones on them at the centre , as a locket ( with the chain of varying length as per Individual choice), the South Indian Brahmin Thaali’ in Iyers (followers of Lord Shiva), has a ‘Shivalingam’ on one said of the dome shaped pendant, and next to it the figure of Madurai Meenakshi amman or goddess who symbolizes a perfect and holy matrimony with her husband Lord Sundareswarar, and in Vaishnavites or the Iyengars the dome shaped pendant is the same, but has the figurines of ‘Sangu’ ( conch shell) and ‘Chakram’ ( the wheel), these symbolize the elegant arms of Lord Vishnu, and also has Goddess Lakshmi who is his wife. The Chettiars are a Shaivite sect of merchants in Tamil Nadu, the central pendant (thaali) depicts Shiva with his consort Parvati. The Mangalorean ‘Thaali’ has most definitely black beads woven on a gold chain and is alternated with either rounded or oval shaped Corals ( red, precious beads). The ‘Thaali ‘ of the Karnataka brides is similar with black beads and gold with a pendant, and may either have corals or not. The ‘Karnataka’ Mangal Sutra of the Smartha and Madhwa Brahmins bear a striking resemblance to the Maharashtrian Thaali, since Pandharpur, Belgaum, etc are on Maharashtra border, so most customs are similar, like the green glass bangles, along with her gold bangles, worn by the bride on the wedding day. The ‘Coorgi’ thaali is very very majestic and typical band-like chain with huge rounded beads that symbolize the ‘Malanad or Kodagu Warrior ‘ community. The Thaali is called ‘Pathaak’ and it is tied by the bride’s mother around the bride’s neck. The Kerala bride usually wears a simple ‘Thaali’ in gold with a tiny leaf as its pendant, and the figurine of baby Krishna at the center ( Krishna is the undisputed Lord for the Keralites). The Syrian Christians of Kerala also adorn a thaali besides the wedding ring, but with a cross at the center.
The essence of Mangala Sutra or Thaali: Whatever be the design or figurines Inscribed on the sacred chain worn by a bride on her wedding day, called the ‘Mangala Sutra’ or ‘Thaali’ the underlying essence is the bonding of the bride with her spouse for life, in the best or worst situation.
A Brahmin Wedding in Detail
This is a start of a series where we give you a detailed overview of a typical 3 day Brahmin Wedding.This article intends to throw light on the vedic ceremonies of a Hindu wedding.
Weddings in the Puranas
Although there are many references in the Hindu traditions including the Sthala Puranas, the most important vedic process comes from the most celebrated, the Andal – Ranganathan, Shivan – Parvathi and Rama – Sita wedding from the Hindu epics. According to the epic Nacchiyar Thirumozhi, Andal dreams about Lord Ranganathan/Vishnu in holy matrimony. Ranganathan then seeks the permission of Andal’s father Periyalvar to marry his daughter and with immense joy. They are bonded together in marriage with a prolonged vedic process. This vedic process is detailed in the Varanam Ayiram section of Nacchiyar Thirumozhi.
The Brahmin Wedding Rituals
Below is the explanation for each steps performed in a Vedic wedding and the significance.
1. Vaakku Dhaanam
This is the first and foremost step in the wedding process where the groom or the Brahmachari sends two well-read elders from his family to the house of the Bride. The elders approach the Bride’s father and explain the groom’s wish to marry his daughter. During this process two important mantras are chanted, one that asks the elders to bring back good news of acceptance from the Bride’s father and the second mantra prays for the safe return of the elders from the father’s house. These mantras plead for a harmonious and prosperous from the Lords Bhaga and Aryama.
Once this process is complete, the father happily acknowledges the brahmachari’s request and accepts to the marriage.
In present day brahmin weddings, this event is popularly known as Nichayathartham where elders from both the bride and groom’s family meet and exchange their “Vaaku” or promise to marry their son and daughter with whole heart and happiness. The pandit reads out a paper or the “Pathram” which tells everyone gathered that the wedding is set for a date with ancestral blessings and family acceptance. Once this is done, the family exchanges gifts to welcome one another to their family. The Nichayathartham is an important ceremony in most south Indian weddings, however, this ceremony is also held months before the wedding to suit present situations and traditions.
2. Kanyaa Dhaanam – Giving away the daughter
Yet another vedic ceremony that is often seen in Hindu weddings is the Kanyaa Dhaanam. This originated from the vedic epics where Lakshmi was given in holy matrimony to Lord Vishnu by her father and Lord Vishnu in total happiness accepts and promises to take care of his daughter as he did.
In today’s Hindu wedding, the bride is made to sit on her father’s lap, facing east with her mother stand on the right side. The father hold his daughter palms with tamboola and coconut. The groom stands opposite to the father and hold the brides palm and the father slowly transfers the tamboola to the groom’s palms. This symbolises that the daughter is now rightfully given to the groom. This is also known as” Dhaaravathu Kodukkal”. During this ceremony mantras are chanted by both the bride’s father and the groom.
3. Agni Prasthithapam – Raising of Fire
Fire has been an elixir of life since the existence of mankind. The role of fire in hindu weddings is compared with that of the sun. In olden days, fire was obtained by the only method of churning wood or rubbing it against each other. Because this played a vital role in a household, the man of the family took in charge of bringing a home the necessary fire and maintaining it for eternity. Thus in today’s weddings this holy ritual is of lighting the new fire in the homam is done by the groom with the help of the pandit. The fire is lit using Ghee or clarified butter, and wooden sticks. This symbolises that the groom will take care of the essentials in making a home and will provide for his wife till eternity. In north Indian weddings the bride and the groom walk around the fire seven times thus worshipping it. In south Indian weddings, the bride and the groom walk three times around the homam, with the end of the bride’s saree tied to the end of the groom’s dhoti. This symbolises their bond of togetherness and this bond is witnessed by the god of fire, Agni.
The above mentioned vedic ceremonies are performed before the actual marriage happens and that is known as Mangalya Dharanam. Await more insights on this in the Part 2 of this series.