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Exchanging Rings in Christian Marriage If you have witnessed a Hindu wedding in any part of the world, you would probably have noticed a rite which involves the bridal couple taking seven steps together. According to the Hindu Marriage Act, this rite known as the SAPTAPADI, is essential (together with another rite known as the LAAJAHOMA) for the marriage to be deemed complete. While Vedic rites for the performance of a wedding ceremony are many, these are the two most essential in the eyes of law. In any part of India, a Hindu wedding performed according to Vedic rites will have the SAPTAPADI as part of the ceremony.

Saptapadi constitutes the chief element of the marriage. The groom holds the bride's right hand with his right, his shawl is tied to her sari pallav, and they go around the sacred fire seven times. He takes hold of the right foot of the bride and makes her take seven consecutive steps where the bride touches her feet to a grinding stone (ammi). This symbolizes that their union be as stoic, solid and steadfast as stone.

While taking each step, groom has to recite a Vedic verse (mantra):
  • First Step - " let Vishnu follow thee in the first step for plenty in food".
  • Second step - "let Vishnu follow thee in the second step for strength."
  • Third step - "let Vishnu follow thee in the third step for religious vow".
  • Fourth step - "let Vishnu follow thee in the fourth step for the attainment for happiness".
  • Fifth Step - "let Vishnu follow thee in the fifth step for cattle welfare".
  • Sixth Step - "let Vishnu follow thee in the sixth step for good seasons."
  • Seventh Step - "let Vishnu follow thee in the seventh step for observance of the Somayaga and other sacrifices".
The fire, which is considered sacred, forms part of any kind of Hindu worship. In many ways fire is a great leveler. It burns whatever is thrown into it, and rids the object of all that can be burnt away. What is left thereafter is pure, even if only as ash. In a wedding too, fire plays a central part, quite literally.

 Couple in Wedding Hall A pit is built at the centre of the wedding hall, where the sacred fire is burnt. Agni, or fire, is the God who witnesses the wedding, takes up all that is offered and purifies it, and blesses the couple for a harmonious future.

In detail, the actual Hindu wedding ceremony in various parts of India differs quite considerably. Marriages are performed during the day in some parts, while they commence after sunset in others. The actual ceremony is spread over hours in some regions, and over day in others. While present day lifestyles seldom permit long ceremonies, there are certain essential rites that simply cannot be done away with, no matter how hard-pressed the couple are for time! In north India, the couple walk around the fire seven times, and this rite (saath phere) is considered extremely important by the Hindu community.

Most people recognize this rite as signifying the couple "married". However it is not to be confused with the saptapadi, for while the former involves circumambulation by the couple around the sacred fire, the later involves their taking seven significant steps together, each step symbolizing something special. In South India, the groom ties a sacred thread or chain around the bride's neck (called the mangalsutra or the thaali)I, and for most people the completion of this rite signifies the couple as "married".

After marriage the women takes up the gotra or the clan name of her husband's family. However the change of the married women's gotra is specified by certain authorities as taking place only after the saptapadi is over. (In fact, the sequence of rite often allows the saptapadi to occur only after the thaali is tied). It is interesting that a witness to south Indian wedding will find great excitement and congratulations after the thaali - tying ceremony, while the saptapadi will often go unnoticed!

What is so special about the saptapadi? Why is it significant?

Seven Steps of Couple The seven steps are taken together by the couple, signifying their togetherness at each step in their journey of Life. While taking the first step, the groom vows that they (he and his partner) will provide nourishing food for their household so as to ensure a healthy life. At the second step he vows that they will together develop their physical, mental and spiritual powers. Thirdly, they promise to attain wealth through righteous means only. In the fourth step, their vow is to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust. The fifth step, is accompanied by a prayer to be blessed with strong and virtuous progeny. The sixth step, is taken to attain self-restraint and longevity. The final and seventh step is taken with a vow to always be true to each other, with mutual understanding and spiritual oneness.

What do most people want out of life? In the order of food, health, wealth, pleasure, children, discipline and spiritual union, the seven steps signify what every person needs and longs for. The significance here is to vow and pray for these things, so that the marriage is not a contract, but a joint prayer and promise. With humility and trust, they take these seven steps as they begin their life together.

Having asked for these, there is nothing left to ask.
Having made these promises, there is little else to promise!
Rendered in English the hymn would read:

Walk with me four steps and three,
I seek thy hand ; let me not
Break from thee, nor thou from me.
Let us swear in joy and strength,
One in thought and deed, one within.

Heaven and earth are me and thee,
Seed am I for thee to bloom.
Wedding Couple Hymn and verse are me and thee,
Word and mind are thee and me
Be my friend and make me groom
Come my mate and blend with me,
For sons and weal, O cheerful girl!

Addressing the bride as 'friend' the man describes the nature of the bond that shall grow between him and her, and seeks endorsement. There is almost a nervous pleading in the second line of the hymn. One can sense the prayer on the lips of the man who says set me not break from thee, nor thou from me, recognizing, as it were, that the journey is arduous.

The hymn reveals how the relationship between man and woman is visualized in different ways: heaven and earth, music and hymn, mind and word. As the chant rises one can see an ordinary man turn into a poet while he seeks the hand of a girl in marriage. And the metaphor flows from the discipline of Agriculture, Art and Learning, in each of which, the two elements are underlined in mystic vision.