Can Anyone Have a Hindu Wedding?

Hindu wedding couple holding hands at an Indian wedding

If you are looking to tie the knot with a sacred ceremony worthy of eternity, you may be interested in a vibrant and extravagant celebration lasting several days. After all, there is no wedding, quite like a Hindu wedding.

Though there are specific restrictive requirements for a Hindu marriage to be valid and governed under Hindu marriage law, anyone can partake in a Hindu wedding if the values and ceremonial practices resonate with them.

In a lengthy, sacred process, a Hindu wedding joins together two individuals and their families to allow them to embark on the next stage of their lives. In this article, we’ve put together everything you need to know to determine if you can (and should) have a stunning Hindu wedding.

Understanding the Hindu Wedding Tradition

Of course, to determine whether a Hindu wedding is appropriate for you and your spouse-to-be, it is first worth understanding the cultural and religious meanings and practices behind the Hindu wedding tradition to see if it resonates with you both.

In Sanskrit, a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony is called Vivaha. Though the specifics may vary depending on who you ask, everyone agrees that Hindu marriage is a sacred and binding act. Thus, a Hindu wedding is a sacred ceremony that binds a man and woman together in a life-long commitment or ultimate eternity.

Traditional marriage in India extends beyond the individuals being wed. Instead, the wedding signifies the joining of two families, as displayed by the traditional rituals of consummation. The families of the bride and groom play essential roles throughout the entirety of the wedding celebrations.

Once wed, the married couple can pursue Hindu values of Dharma (truth), Arth (meaning), and Kama (physical desire). Marriage is part of the second ashrama or life stage of the human experience.

Types of Hindu Marriages

Hinduism recognizes eight types of Hindu marriage; however, only three forms are regular and valid by ancient Hindu or Shastri’s law. The three forms of sanctioned marriage are:

1.    Brahma Marriage

A boy is eligible for marriage once he has completed the first stage (the student stage) of life called Brahmacharya. The parents of the boy seek out a suitable bride for their son. Otherwise known as an arranged marriage, a bride is “gifted” to the groom by her father.

Considered the most supreme and valid form of marriage, Brahma marriage is the most common type of marriage in India, as well as the most socially acceptable. The wedding is performed according to the rites and rituals that are custom of the community.

In modern times, a father typically finds an educated man that he finds worthy of his daughter’s hand. He proposes the idea of marriage to the potential groom. If the groom, bride, and their families agree with the proposal, they continue with the ceremony, which is usually Vedic.

Hindu groom kissing Hindu bride
Brahma wedding

2.    Gandharva Marriage

Also called love marriage, the bride and groom choose each other in the act of mutual consent; this may even be performed without the parents’ knowledge or approval.

This form of marriage has become more prevalent in the modern world and is like the idea of common-law marriage. The unique and modern aspect of love marriage is that it focuses on ideals of love and choice as opposed to contract and consent.

3.    Asura Marriage

Today, this form of marriage is shunned and considered highly unacceptable. Essentially, the father of the bride aggressively sells off his daughter to obtain wealth or some other benefit. Traditionally, a groom would offer the bride’s father a dowry in exchange for the bride.

Other Types of Hindu Marriages

Other traditional and religiously appropriate forms of marriage include:

  • Daiva Marriage: As a form of sacrificial fee, a father would give his daughter to a priest along with ornaments; this happened when a woman did not receive a suitable groom by a specific time and was instead used to forge diplomatic ties and is, thus, considered pretty degrading. Though interesting, this form of marriage is only relevant to ancient times.
  • Arsha Marriage: In exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage, a father receives a cow and bull from the proposing groom. The groom then vows to fulfill his obligations to the bride and family life.
  • Prajapatya Marriage: This type of marriage is like a Brahma marriage; however, the bride’s father is the one who seeks out a worthy groom. Such a custom is considered strictly inferior, though money transactions are still not a part of this marriage form.

Two types of marriage are considered socially heinous while also being religiously forbidden:

  • Rakshasa Marriage: In ancient times, this occurred when a groom would forcibly abduct a bride from her home after slaying her kin. In modern times, it is not only sinful but also considered a crime.
  • Paishaca Marriage: If a man forces himself on a woman while she is drugged, intoxicated, sleeping, or mentally challenged, it is called Paishaca marriage. In modern and Western terms, this is a criminal act.

Today’s marriages are unsurprisingly dominated by Brahma and Gandharva marriages as they are the most religiously and socially acceptable.

What Is a Hindu Wedding Like?

To decide if a Hindu wedding is for you, it is only natural to want to know more about what it is like. A Hindu wedding can be summed up as an epic experience that is grandiose in nature. With plenty of food, music, and dancing, Hindu weddings typically feature tons of colorful clothing and equally vibrant decor.

An average, traditional Hindu wedding takes three days, though some can last up to a week and include a myriad of important steps, symbolism, and vows. The three days consist of:

  • Day One: A ceremony called the ganesh pooja is performed on the first night. The gathering is small and performed at the couple’s home. Few people are invited to attend, typically including just the bride and groom, the bridal party, and close relatives.
Ganesh Pooja ceremony
  • Day Two: Kicking off the day is the mehndi ceremony, in which the bride and her female family and friends cover their hands and feet with intricate henna patterns. Later that evening, everyone who is invited to the wedding is also invited to the sangeet. Here, the couple’s families are introduced to each other. The event involves a meal, a lot of mingling, and performances, such as dance.
Mehndi ceremony
  • Day three: The final day consists of the most important events, including the cocktail hour, reception, and main ceremony.

The wedding ceremony itself is filled with a plethora of essential vows. The Kanyadaan is a ceremony performed by the father of the bride. The word “Kanyadaan” is made up of two words that accurately describe the point of the ceremony. Kanya means maid or girl, and daan means donation. As the father places his daughter’s hand into the groom’s, he is effectively passing on the responsibility of her wellbeing to the groom.

During the Sankalpa, the bride and groom display their mutual approval by placing garlands on one another.

Following, a symbolic fire is lit by the groom to signify the beginning of a new household. This act is called Vivaha-homa.

An event called “holding the hand” or “Panigrahama” symbolizes the union of the couple and their families. The groom accepts responsibility to the four deities: the deity of wealth (Bhaga), the deity of the heavens (Aryama), the deity of new beginnings (Savita), and the deity of wisdom (Purandhi).

The most important and legally binding part of the process is the Saptapadi. The bride and groom circle the sacred fire lit during the Vivaha-homa seven times as they recite unbreakable vows. The fire acts as a witness to their union. After the couple is bound together by clothing or sashes or by holding hands, they make their vows to each other, which solidifies the marriage.

The Hindu Marriage Act

Since 2006, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 requires all Indian couples to register their marriage. However, even if you fail to register your marriage, the marriage is still legal, but you may be subject to a monetary fine.

If a Hindu couple marries in India under the Hindu Marriage Act, the marriage is valid as long as the following conditions are met:

  • Both partners are single at the time of marriage.
  • Both partners are of sound mind and capable of giving valid consent.
  • Both partners are of age (21 for the bridegroom and 18 for the bride).
  • The couple is not within seven degrees of familial relationships.

It is important to note that the marriage, regardless of registration, is legally recognized in other countries, including the US.

Can You Have a Hindu Wedding If You’re Not Hindu?

As with many cultural and religious traditions, the most important aspects are knowledge and respect.

Anyone can have a Hindu wedding as long as they respect the traditions and understand the specific meaning behind all the ceremonies and vows. If the values of a Hindu wedding resonate with you, there is no reason why you cannot have a Hindu wedding.

Though the act or event of a Hindu wedding is available to everyone, holding the ceremony and making the vows does not necessarily mean it will be legally recognized or legally binding. For your marriage to be valid and guided under Hindu marriage law, for instance, you must follow specific guidelines outlined below.

Even if your marriage is not recognized legally, you can still have a Hindu wedding—as long as you understand that the benefits of the law will not affect or protect your marriage.

Requirements for a Hindu Marriage

Whether you are looking to have a Hindu wedding for cultural or legal reasons, you should be completely aware of the traditional guidelines for a Hindu marriage.

The requirements for a Hindu marriage include:

  • Minimum age: The bride must be at least 18 years old while the groom must be at least 21 years old.
  • Zero tolerance for relation: The bride and groom must have at least seven genetic steps between them, ruling out distant cousins as a spousal option. As a very serious requirement, familial relation is one of the first things evaluated when one finds a suitable partner.
  • Unmarried: Neither partner can be already married or have a husband or wife who is alive. In an act called bigamy, marrying during the lifetime of one’s wife or husband is a criminal offense. An offender may be punished with imprisonment and a fine. Furthermore, a bigamous marriage is considered void under Hindu marriage law.
  • Mentally sound: At the time of consummation, both the bride and groom must have a sound state of mind. Having any mental disorder makes one unfit for marriage.
  • Voluntary consent: A marriage without consent from both parties is invalid. Consent also cannot be obtained by force or fraud.

A Modern Perspective

Traditionally, Hindu marriages are arranged by parents who choose their child’s partner. Historically, arranged marriages came about to honor the rule against familial relations in marriage. Travel was uncommon. Thus, people had to find wives and husbands from other villages since they ran out of non-relatives within their village.

Many Hindus still honor arranged marriages; however, modern times have led to an increase in what is called “love marriages.” In other words, marriages in which the couple chooses their partner rather than their parents.

Can You Have a Hindu Wedding If Either You or Your Partner Are Not Hindu?

The rules on mixed-faith Hindu marriages tend to depend on who you ask. Under Hindu marriage law, the non-Hindu partner must convert to Hinduism if they wish to have a religious marriage that is governed by Hindu law.

However, requirements in countries like the United States are much laxer. There is no obligation that both partners must be Hindu to participate in a Hindu marriage ceremony, though it tends to be uncommon; in 2012, 94 percent of Hindus in the United States were married to other Hindus.

According to a Hindu priest named Shukavak Dasa, mixed-faith Hindu weddings may be on the rise. Such a viewpoint is supported by the increase of love marriages and the influence of modern society.

Can Same-Sex Couples Have a Hindu Wedding?

Same-sex couples can have a beautiful, full-blown Hindu wedding; however, their marriage will not be recognized by Indian law. The Indian Supreme Court decriminalized Section 377 of the Penal Code, which previously prescribed a 10-year punishment and a fine for it. Still, Indian laws have yet to take it further and recognize same-sex marriage.

According to the law, marriage explicitly takes place between a man and a woman. In the case of failed relationships or other situations that would usually be influenced by marital law, same-sex couples receive no such treatment.

As far as public opinion goes, same-sex marriage is a controversial topic in India. Polls suggest that the legalization of same-sex marriage is not strongly supported; however, like most of the world, support for legalization seems to be growing.

If you are interested in learning more about same-sex Hindu weddings, you can read this article about a stunning same-sex Hindu wedding that has inspired other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Who Should Not Have a Hindu Wedding?

If you are only interested in the large, celebratory aspect of a Hindu wedding, then you should probably refrain from having one. While Hindu weddings are incredibly enriching and fun, it would be inappropriate to have a Hindu wedding solely for those reasons.

A Hindu wedding is a sacred ceremony that should not be taken lightly. You should believe in the vows you are making and the values of a Hindu marriage.

While modern Hindu marriage allows for divorce, traditionally, the bond of marriage is one that can never be broken. You should at least consider the sanctity of such tradition and what it means to bind yourself to another through sacred vows.

As with all types of weddings, you should make sure that you and your partner are really ready for the ups and downs of marriage. If you have any doubts or are not ready to be wholeheartedly committed to making it work, then you should not have a Hindu wedding (or any type of wedding for that matter).

In Summary

Hindu marriages are a sacred and bonding arrangement between two consenting adults that embrace Hinduism values and everlasting united life. As the ceremony that embodies and solidifies such traditions, you should make sure that you are aware of and understand Hinduism values before you have a Hindu wedding.

When it comes down to it, anyone can have a Hindu wedding. However, if you are an Indian couple looking to have a Hindu marriage that is valid under Hindu marriage laws, you will need to make sure that you follow essential guidelines and register your marriage. Remember, marriages under Hindu law must be between two consenting, previously unmarried, and of sound mind adults that are of age and separated by at least seven degrees of relation.

If you wish to take on the vows of Hindu marriage and the wedding ceremony practices appeal to you, then the brilliant, celebratory nature of a Hindu wedding might be perfect for you!

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