My best friend Gopal recently married his longtime girlfriend Joanna in Northern Virginia. Gopal, coming from a traditional Indian family, had several days worth of beautiful and elaborate traditional Hindu ceremonies leading up to the traditional American wedding ceremony on Saturday. I have been fortunate enough to have photographed a traditional wedding in India before, so the ceremonies and customs were somewhat familiar to me. The three days of ceremonies I photographed were full of family gatherings, henna tattooing, many coconut blessings, feeding the bride and groom traditional sweets, and smearing the bride and groom with traditional turmeric. The ceremonies culminated on Saturday with the main Hindu wedding ceremony, beginning with the Baraat, the groom’s wedding procession leading up to the entrance to Durga Temple in Fairfax Station, Virginia. The bride’s family welcomed and received the groom’s family at the temple’s entrance, then then groom’s party entered and ascended the temple’s stage.
Some of the more significant ceremony rituals performed on Saturday:
- Jayamala – The bride and groom exchange their flower garlands by placing them on one another’s necks, which signifies mutual acceptance of both the bride and the groom as the enter their rolls as husband and wife.
- Kanyadaan – A ritual in which the bride’s uncle entrusts the bride to the groom, who is at the time of marriage considered to be a form of Lord Vishu. As a condition for offering his niece to the groom, the uncle asks a promise from the groom for assisting the bride in achieving three important goals of the life – dharma, artha and kama.
- Mangal Fera – The couple hold hands and walk around the fire four times while the maharaj (priest) chants matras. Each round, they offer grains to the fire, representing their sacrifice of material possessions for God’s blessings.
- Satapdi – The most important rite of the Hindu marriage ceremony in which the bride and groom take seven vows of marriage. A sacred fire is created with ghee (clarified butter) and wooden sticks in order to evoke Agni, the fire god, who serves as the witness to the ritual of seven vows. Amidst the blazing fire of the havankund and the chanting of mantras, the bride and groom pledge their commitment to each other for their lifetime.
It was a beautiful three days of ceremonies. I was the best man, and apparently the best man is supposed to protect the groom’s shoes from being stolen. If stolen, the shoes are held for ransom by the bride’s friends and family. Needless to say, the shoes went for $50 a pop. Whoops!
May Gopal and Joanna have many happy years together full of adventure traveling down the road that is life!
~ Chris Mackler