a Hindu wedding ceremony at its core is essentially a Vedic yajna
(a fire-sacrifice), in which the Aryan deities are invoked in the Indo-Aryan style. It has a deep origin in the ancient ceremony of cementing the bonds of friendship/alliance (even among people of the same sex or people of different species in mythological contexts), although today, it only survives in the context of weddings. The primary witness of a Hindu marriage is the fire-deity (or the Sacred Fire) Agni
, and by law and tradition, no Hindu marriage is deemed complete unless in the presence of the Sacred Fire, seven encirclements have been made around it by the bride and the groom together.
A Vedic sage emphasized that the basis of happy and fulfilling married life is the sense of unity, intimacy and love between husband and wife. Thus, marriage is not for self-indulgence, but rather should be considered a lifelong social and spiritual responsibility. Married life is considered an opportunity for two people to grow from life partners into soul mates.
The Saptapadi (Sanskrit for seven steps/feet), is perhaps the most important component of Vedic Hindu weddings. The couple conduct seven circuits of the Holy Fire
(Agni), which is considered a witness to the vows they make each other. In some regions, sashes worn by the bride and groom are tied together for this ceremony. Elsewhere, the groom holds the bride's right hand in his own right hand. Each circuit of the consecrated fire is led by either the bride or the groom, varying by community and region. Usually, the bride leads the groom in the first circuit.
In South Indian weddings, after each saying a mantra at each of the seven steps, the couple say these words together:
- "Now let us make a vow together. We shall share love, share the same food, share our strengths, share the same tastes. We shall be of one mind, we shall observe the vows together. I shall be the Samaveda, you the Rigveda, I shall be the Upper World, you the Earth; I shall be the Sukhilam, you the Holder – together we shall live and beget children, and other riches; come thou, O beautiful girl!"
All of the rituals vary based on family traditions. Some of the rituals are performed in slightly different ways in different regions.