The seven pheras, or sacred vows, performed during a Vedic Hindu wedding are one of the most important parts of the entire wedding ritual. During these vows, prayers are made to the gods to bring divine blessings to the newly married couple. In addition to saying prayers, the bride and groom make serious promises to each other involving fidelity, family harmony, and marital responsibility.
The seven pheras of Hindu weddings conform with the following concepts that the phera vows and supplications are based on:
- First Phera – Nourishment
- Second Phera – Strength
- Third Phera – Prosperity
- Fourth Phera – Family Unity
- Fifth Phera – Togetherness
- Sixth Phera – Fortune
- Seventh Phera – Wisdom
The pheras in a Hindu wedding might seem complicated, but they’re a beautiful representation of the bride and groom’s future life together. Keep reading to learn more about the seven pheras of a Hindu wedding and what they mean for the happy couple.
The First Phera is Based on Nourishment
- Groom’s vow: “You will offer me food and be helpful in every way. I will cherish you and provide for the welfare and happiness of you and our children.”
- Bride’s vow: “I am responsible for the home and take charge of all household responsibilities.”
The first phera of a Hindu wedding is concerned with the physical security of the bride, groom, and their future children. This is one of the most basic vows of a Hindu wedding since Indian households dictate very specific roles for both the man and the woman in a marriage concerning their household responsibilities.
While the marrying couple vows to each other to uphold the traditional domestic husband-and-wife marital roles in the household, they also call on the gods to bless the household with nourishment so that no one within it will ever go hungry or without a roof over their head.
This phera might seem focused on the rights of the husband in the marriage since he demands that his wife always cook and be helpful to him. Still, the husband is also shouldered with the heavy responsibility of always providing financial support to the family. An Indian wife may be required to run the household without her husband’s help, but she is also exempt in many cases from working outside of it.
The phera for nourishment and shelter might seem strange in comparison to a Western wedding, but there’s a deep-seated cultural reason for its inclusion—over two-thirds of India’s population lives in poverty. Both starvation and homelessness are a very real threat for many people who live there. (Source: SOS Children’s Villages Canada) This makes the husband and wife’s solemn vows to provide nourishment and shelter for each other always, or their children take on serious weight.
The Second Phera is Based on Strength
- Groom’s vow: “Together, we will protect our house and children.”
- Bride’s vow: “I will be by your side and be your courage and strength. I will rejoice in your happiness. In return, you will love me alone.”
The second phera is concerned with the strength of the newly married couple. It is a prayer for the strength to love each other through good times and bad and is similar to the “through sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer” vow that is common in Western marriages.
The second phera is concerned not only with asking the gods to bless the household physical health and happiness but also with the couple’s promise to stick together in times of adversity. The wife agrees to support her husband emotionally by acting as his rock in troubled times and to be happy for him when he’s prosperous. In other words, she agrees to support him regardless of his station in life or his turn of luck.
In return, the husband promises that he will be completely faithful to his wife and will love no other woman after they’re married. This is an important vow since Hinduism considers marital vows of fidelity to be sacred and adultery from either gender to be a serious moral sin. (Source: Advocate Khoj)
While in many respects, the Indian wife is expected to be subservient to her husband, in the second phera, the wife shows that despite her subservience to her husband that she is not weak-willed and is willing to stand behind him with courage and conviction. This shows that her subservience is not timidity but a sacred show of respect.
The Third Phera is Based on Prosperity
- Groom’s vow: “May we grow wealthy and prosperous and strive for the education of our children. May our children live long.”
- Bride’s vow: “I will love you the rest of my life, as you are my husband. Every other man in my life will come second to you. I vow to remain chaste.”
In the third phera, the husband seeks wealth and prosperity from the gods to bless their life together. The wife’s vow focuses entirely on her marital fidelity in this phera. In Hindu culture, chastity does not just refer to celibacy—it refers to sex that occurs only within the course of the marriage bed.
By making this vow, the wife reinforces and returns the vows of marital fidelity made by her husband during the second phera. It is also significant that she states that she will put “every other man in her life” second to her husband. This is culturally significant in Hinduism since up until this point, the wife’s father was the head of the household in her world. Once she is married, that responsibility falls to her husband instead.
The Third Phera and Education
Another vow made in this phera concerns the education of any children that result from the marriage bed. Hinduism places a large amount of importance on the value of education, which it calls shiksha (education).
While education is important in and of itself in Hinduism, education is also considered a stepping-stone toward more permanent wisdom called vidya or knowledge. The skills taught in a person’s education are meant to last him the rest of his life, but the vidya he learns is carried from lifetime to lifetime.
Like the previous pheras that came before, it, this phera focuses not only on the prosperity of the married couple but also the prosperity of any children that come from the union. In Hinduism, students are often educated through a system called dekhana aur jananna (watch and learn).
Traditionally, a wife does not play a large role in the education of her children—her main responsibilities are to the household and the marriage bed. (Source: The Hindu Philosophy of Education)
The Fourth Phera is Based on Family
- Groom’s vow: “You have brought sacredness into my life and have completed me. May we be blessed with noble, obedient children. May our children live long.”
- Bride’s vow: “I will shower you with happiness from head to toe. I will strive to please you in every way I can.”
In the fourth phera, the husband calls for blessings on the family unit and praises his new wife. In return, the wife vows to make her husband as happy as she can. These vows of mutual affection are meant to strengthen the family bond and cement the couple’s dedication to the children they haven’t conceived yet.
There is also a larger meaning of the fourth phera around extended family—not only does this phera call for harmony within the household, but it also calls for harmony amongst the two larger branches of the family coming together as one. This phera is about legacy and the strength of a family in numbers when they’re willing to come together and support each other.
Not only does the fourth phera direct the married couple to respect and love their children to receive the blessings of the gods, but it also directs the married couple to respect and love their elders on both sides of the family. In Hindu weddings this is an important aspect of the wedding ritual since it isn’t just about the wedding of two individuals, it’s also about the wedding of two households.
This is one of the reasons why arranged marriages are still very popular in India. The extended family (and even strangers like professional matchmakers) have a huge influence on the final match between husband and wife.
Matches are chosen not just on whether the bride and groom would like each other, but also on whether the two families are compatible in class, caste, and economic status. For this reason, accolades and education are emphasized for matchmaking purposes. (Source: Cultural Atlas)
The Fifth Phera is About Togetherness
- Groom’s vow: “You are my best friend and staunchest well-wisher. You have come into my life and have enriched it. God bless you.”
- Bride’s vow: “I promise to love and cherish you for as long as I love.”
The meaning of the fifth phera is about togetherness. In this phera, the bride and groom focus on their responsibilities toward their future children, making vows to become excellent and loving parents at the same time as they seek divine blessings for future offspring. In Hindu culture, these blessings are important to ensure the health and happiness of any children that arise from the marriage.
In this phera, the bride and groom also reaffirm their loyalty to each other. Not only do the bride and groom vow to love one another, but they also make a pact to be best friends, not just lovers. In Hindu weddings, the idea of friendship between a groom and bride is important since many Hindu weddings are not conducted based on love; they are an alliance.
While it is becoming more and more common for Hindus to marry for love in the contemporary age, especially if they live outside of the Indian mainland, there is still a strong culture of matchmaking in India. This often results in marriages where the bride and groom are not that familiar with each other except in how they look in photographs and matchmaking dossiers.
In some cases, a bride may be wed to a man she has never even met before. So, the cultivation of friendship in a Hindu marriage is the foundation on which more lasting forms of love and affection between a married couple can grow. In other words, in the Hindu religion, you have to learn to like each other before you can learn to love one another, and you have to be willing to compromise to do it.
The Sixth Phera is About Fortune and Fidelity
- Groom’s vow: “May you be filled with joy and peace.”
- Bride’s vow: “I will always be by your side.”
While the vows in the sixth phera are simpler than some of the vows that come before it, the sixth phera is more about the couple asking for divine blessings for their health and prosperity as a union. By wishing that his wife has a life filled with joy and peace, the groom is also reinforcing his oath to ensure his wife’s happiness. In response, the bride reaffirms her undying loyalty.
In Hindu marriages, there is a lot of emphasis put on fidelity. Not only is sexual union outside of the marriage bed considered a huge moral failing (especially when the infidelity rises from the wife’s behavior), but a Hindu marriage involves a stronger level of emotional and mental fidelity. In India, a bride’s vow to remain at her husband’s side throughout his life is taken very seriously.
In India’s history, this oath of fidelity was taken so seriously that if the husband died before his wife, the wife would commit suicide through self-immolation by stationing themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre in a funeral ritual called sati or suttee. (Source: Culture Trip)
At some points in history, this practice was voluntary, but in others, it was compulsory, and the wife was forced to commit sati whether she wanted to or not. However, this practice was banned in December of 1829 by the Bengal Sati Regulation Act put into place by the British Empire that ruled India at the time. Today, the ancient practice of sati may be forbidden, but the depth of loyalty expected between a husband and wife in Hindu culture has not changed.
The Seventh Phera is About Wisdom
- Groom’s vow: “We are now husband and wife and are one. You are mine, and I am yours for all time.”
- Bride’s vow: “As God is witness, I am now your wife. We will love, honor, and cherish each other forever.”
The seventh phera is centered around wisdom. While the words of the seventh phera only reiterate what the couple has told each other through all of the other parts of the phera wedding ceremony, there is a deeper meaning to this last and final phera. Not only does it affirm the couple’s love and loyalty to each other in this married life, but it also promises their love and loyalty throughout all lifetimes.
Wisdom, or vidya, is not just acquired in a lifetime—it is acquired over hundreds of lifetimes of reincarnation in the Hindu religion. Similarly, the love and loyalty that are fostered in a Hindu marriage are not meant to be contained to the lifetime that the married couple is together. Instead, this love and wisdom are meant to be passed down into their later carnations as they become closer and closer to an enlightened spiritual state.
The seventh phera is also about asking for maturity in a married relationship. Because many Hindu marriages are forged on practicality, friendship, and trust rather than lust and love, this call to maturity encourages the married couple to fall back on this more stable foundation of their relationship to see each other as life companions and friends as much as they do passionate lovers.
For Hindu marriages, passion often comes after marriage, once respect deepens into friendship, and friendship deepens into romantic love. In Western societies, romantic love comes first. Since romantic love and lust are often difficult to discern in the early stages of a relationship, this can lead to many Western marriages dissolving prematurely. In comparison, India has the lowest divorce rate in the world—and not because marriage is compulsory. Divorce has been legal in India since 1976.
What is the Purpose of the Satphere Ceremony?
The satphere ceremony containing the seven phera vows and blessings is one of the most important and sacred parts of the Hindu wedding ceremony. This religious ritual is not only responsible for ensuring that the gods bless the new marriage, but it is also responsible for making sure—without a doubt—that the two members of the marriage understand in detail their responsibilities to each other as part of the marriage.
In the satphere, the husband and wife recite these vows to each other while circling Agni, or the sacred fire. This fire isn’t just symbolic—it is considered to be a witness from the gods themselves that is centric to the blessing of the marriage. (Source: The Knot)
The process of circling the sacred fire in a satphere ceremony is called agnipradakshinam. Marriage vows are performed around the sacred fire because these vows are taken within the direct sight of the gods and breaking them is serious blasphemy within the Hindu religion. During their circling of the sacred fire, the bride and groom are either tied to each other by their clothing or circle the fire while holding hands.
What Are the Promises That Hindu Couples Make Based on in Hindu Religion?
In the pheras, while each vow is made in a slightly different way and invokes different gods and blessings, there is a running theme across all of the vows that the husband and wife make to each other.
Here are the basic principles that the pheras invoke in the husband’s role during marriage:
- Dharma, for both men and women in the Hindu religion, refers to their lawful and moral responsibilities. In the marriage bed, dharma often refers to the traits of loyalty, encouragement, and emotional support.
- Artha is the concept of marital wealth, and by reaffirming his dedication to artha during a Hindu wedding, the husband promises not only his wife but her father as well that he will always fulfill his duties as the financial provider to the family.
- Kama is the concept of marital love, and by promising to fulfill his duty to kama, he not only promises to remain sexually and romantically faithful to his wife, but he also promises to keep her sexually and romantically satisfied as well. Because Hindu marriages are often arranged, kama is a promise to try and always foster a deeper romantic love in the marriage bond.
In a Hindu wedding, the bride is responsible for just as many vows to her husband as her husband is to her. Even though it is a patriarchal culture, the fact that Hindu culture is centered around the household makes the female figure a powerful one in India.
Here are some of the promises that a Hindu wife makes to her husband while undergoing agnipradakshinam:
- Care of the family: In Hindu culture, the wife is responsible for most of the child-rearing and all of the management of domestic and household activities. Since many Hindu families are large, this can end up being a major responsibility on the shoulders of the wife to ensure the happiness of everyone who lives under her roof.
- Support for her husband: A Hindu wife is expected to stand behind her husband through thick and thin and should be a source of solace, sympathy, and understanding for her partner even when the whole world seems to turn against him. Life can sometimes be harsh and having this kind of spousal support is a godsend during troubled times.
- Frugality: While a Hindu husband must vow to provide wealth and financial prosperity for his household always, it is the wife’s responsibility to manage this wealth wisely and use it as effectively as possible to further the success of the family.
- Chastity: Chastity in the Hindu religion doesn’t refer to virginity, although Hindu wives are preferred to be virgins at marriage. Chastity refers to a wife’s responsibility to reserve her romantic passion for her husband and the privacy of her bedroom alone. Therefore, while a Hindu wife might have a very sedate and modest appearance, she may have a much more passionate relationship with her husband behind closed doors.
- Respect: A Hindu wife is expected to respect and comply with her husband’s wishes as long as they’re reasonable, but in return, a Hindu husband is also expected to include his wife in any major decisions that would affect the household. For the marriage to thrive, this respect must be mutual between both parties.
- Sacrifice: In the case of danger, a Hindu wife is expected to be willing to act as a human shield for her husband and defend him with her life. This expectation goes back to the days of sati, when a wife would be expected to die for her husband if he died before her. While much of this oath is symbolic and a nod to the deep “ride or die” connection expected between a Hindu husband and wife, it is still a serious vow.
- Generosity: A Hindu wife is not only expected to be generous to her husband in marital affairs, but she is also expected to provide a generous household for her children, for guests of the household, and for all extended relatives who may visit it. Generosity in a Hindu wife also extends to making sure that her children are instilled with strong values such as work ethic, religious devotion, and compassion.
- Equality: While a man and a woman might not be treated as equals in much of Hindu culture, there is a strong emphasis on Hindu marriage being an equal partnership between man and wife. For this reason, half of the pheras are led by the groom, while the wife leads the last three of the pheras. This, too, is symbolic of their marital equality, as each is responsible for bringing their respective strengths to the marriage.
In Hindu marriages, while the relationship between the man in the woman can sometimes seem unbalanced due to the patriarchal nature of the culture, there is a lot of respect, love, and support that is expected to go both ways during this romantic union.
Hindu Wedding Pheras Are Sacred
While everyone loves Hindu weddings for their pomp and extravagant ceremony, rituals like circling the sacred fire aren’t just for the family photo albums. This ritual and the many other rituals in a Hindu wedding have deep religious significance that goes back thousands of years.
In modern society, only 2 of every 1,000 Hindus end up getting a divorce. So, with all of the complicated rituals that a Hindu wedding entails, they’ve got to be doing something right. And much of this marital fidelity can be traced back to the seriousness with which Hindus approach the marriage union and the religious nature of the act.