Symbolism of Rituals

(1). Symbols have a great place of significance in marriage rituals (and even other rituals). Any thing may be unseen by eye or it may be a concept or ideal that crops up in the mind. To reflect that through a visible sign or a known thing (or appropriate words) is the advantage of symbols.

A symbol throws light on a particular ideal, at least to some extent, if not fully. Symbol has some nearby or far off relationship to an ideal/concept. The moment a symbol is seen, the visualization of that ideal/concept should occur to one’s mind. The practice of many people in a society using these symbols since long would easily register an indelible impression in people’s minds. For example ghee, known as clarified butter, is also bright, hence it is a standard symbol of mental clarity; any clear thought is said to be shining.

So the act of rubbing the ghee on the forehead is a prayer for the mental clarity to manifest and increase. Some think that this act indicates friendship. Obviously friendship can only thrive in an atmosphere of mental clarity.

Here, the external form of the symbol by itself is not important. It is enough if the symbol can throw light on the cherished ideal, which it represents. Purpose of the symbol is to serve only as means to an end. When the man’s verbal capacity cannot efficiently and completely explain a particular idea, it can be featured through appropriate symbols designed with the help of creative power of mind.

Symbols have come for effective use in religion-related work, heart centered activities and the emotional world of poetry.

There is an instance in the marriage ceremony, where the bridegroom holds the feet of bride, lifts them and place them on a hard stone. (One cracks a jokes that the husband has already started holding the feet of his sweet heart.) (One may be aware of the significance of this symbolic act or may entertain the attitude of negative cynicism instead of positive appreciation.) Those who are not aware of the significance must ponder over as to why the piece of stone has been brought to marriage platform. One may guess this act as testing, whether the girl can stand erect and walk properly. To understand the symbolism, note that a stone is a symbol of something hard. Stepping on a stone is the symbol of overcoming the obstacles.

The symbolism is :
“You rise up and stand up on this stone. Be as hard as stone. Stamp upon your enemies (as you are now on this stone). Drive out the enemies to their rightful corners.”

This inner meaning is conveyed by the accompanying chant.
The whole range of such practices is to embrace both the outer activity for fun, and to draw the inner essence for guidance in life. The practice of external rituals without grasping the inner truth is just an absurdity.

Similarly thinking all these practices, as senseless, mechanical, blind heritage is also an absurdity. Considering the human sentiments and deficiencies from all angles and implications, and to fill the psychological gaps for pursuing towards future life enrichment, such symbolic rituals in the marriage ceremony are necessary.

(2). Hindu convention does not approve the idea that marriage is a mere mutual agreement of two persons or a deal. A marriage involved not only the two partners, but their respective families, sects, castes, and even their vast society of friends and well-wishers. Another important aspect is the cosmic guiding force which is controlling all the human activities externally and internally, and which remains the cause for such marriage in the cosmic law. Therefore the whole insistence that the marriage ritual be done as per the dharmic rites and holding the God as witness. The righteous and divine force further strengthens the mutual bond of love & relationship between the couple. If such a stand-point is either weakened or denied, the system of marriage would lose its sanctity and significance and becomes pale. If the institution of marriage is weakened, then it weakens even the institution of family. If the base of the family is destabilized, then the whole edifice of the society loses its strength and safety.

(3). Look at the position of a small plant with creeper being removed from one place and planted in a new pit at a new place. To enable them to root well and grow with mutual support, do they not require greater effort, care, protection and nourishment? Marriage is also similar. P??igraha?a (holding each others’ hands), heart-touching (touching the hearts), Sahabhojana (dining together in the same plate or leaf), Samanjana are practices with deep meanings behind them. In Samanjana act, the bride’s father applies ghee to both the bride and bridegroom for their bond and the Vedic chant prays the deities to grant them that bond. The higher and noble aspiration here is that there should be unification and integration of the couple’s body, spirit and the mind.

(4). The marriage is a seminal event in one’s life. There are possibilities of variety of expectations, fears and anxieties to arise and bother the minds. Symbolic rituals and prayers are incorporated in the marriage ceremony only to identify such evil cares and influences and drive out those forces far away, so that the couple may start the trouble free new life. A greater focus is also directed towards cognising the woman’s position in the scheme of nature, and the framework of society and other peculiar circumstances. In the back drop of this, we should understand the utterance “”Let your looks at your husband and new relatives be kind and compassionate and not fearful.”

(5). Hindu system of marriage is the one permanent and stable bond. A marriage taking place as a result of short-lived bodily sexual urge or out of the necessity to fill the temporary economic adversity or gap, may crack down any time due to even silly reasons. The dualities of happiness & sorrow are inevitable facets of life. It is the elder’s desire that the couple understand the art of enjoying, sharing and living, which enrich their friendship towards life fulfilment. Idea behind showing the star of Dhruva, Arundhati, and Vasi?h?a is only to reflect this upon.

(6). An elementary objective of marriage is to beget the progeny and sustain the continuance of human race. This is basic to animality. A natural sexual urge is enough for this work. But in Hindu convention and way of life, this aspect has been accepted; and on its foundations, other ideals also have been built and incorporated. Repeated reference to “progeny’ in the marriage prayers is justified, so also the aspect of wealth, food, cattle, age, health, property etc, and the friendship and co-operation between the two sides of relationships. It is worthy to take note that the ideals of marriage involve economic, social and cultural value systems.

(7). The role of prayers to Sun in the Vedic system of marriage is exemplary. Essence of some of the chanting is as follows:
“This bride was first possessed by the deity Soma; later by the deity Gandharva; thirdly, Agni (God) is your master and fourthly the human man. Soma gave you to Gandharva. Gandharva gave you to Agni. Agni has given you to me for obtaining progeny and wealth.”

This verse has been subjected to wrong and vile interpretations by persons who have no initiation into Hindu culture and Vedic language and those who do not have sympathy to the convention and those who are indifferent to it. Soma, Gandharva, and Agni are the divine forces. Only their benedictions and grace have led to the development of this girl. This girl is construed to be the boon, gifted to men by Gods. This has been narrated in the symbolic and poetic style in the aesthetic sense. Atri Smriti has described as follows:

“Soma is the purifying force for women. Gandharva is the force gifting melodious tone and fine speech. Agni force will make her fit to all kinds of sacrifices.”

Soma is the presiding lord for all plant life and human mind. He nourishes the body and mind of the woman first. Gandharva is the presiding lord for all music, dance and romance. He prepares the woman in these moulds out of his grace. He prepares the woman-hood to full virtue, and regulate her menstrual cycle. Marital relationship of the bride and particularly the begetting of the progeny is a sacrifice. Agni by his grace, makes her fit for participation in all sacrificial acts.

(8). The two lives (couple) who have been immature so far, and living and thinking depending upon the elder’s care without much responsibility, have been let open now by the marriage, which imposes independent and new responsibilities on the couple. Hereafter, they start their (Griha) new household (not house) and get and nourish the children and undertake five types of obligations. Viv?ha is a Samskrit word which invokes all these significant responsibilities. “Vi ‘ means “particularly’, and “V?ha’ means “carrying’ i.e. sharing responsibility. In other words, it is to undertake and administer the duties and obligations. It is also as Vudvaha, journey to higher states of consciousness. Lagna, Kaly?na, Manga?a K?rya are also used for marriage.

Our Hindu marriage system prescribes mutual sacrifice for each other and both of them should serve the society in the spirit of service and sacrifice and thereby achieve welfare “here & there’ by meeting their duties & obligations. The wish that there be happiness from marriage is appropriate. Happiness in its elementary understanding is bodily happiness. Those who nourish the feeling that marriage is only for such happiness, will soon get necessarily disappointed. Self-centred and individually confined happiness are not the aims of marriage. Ritual involving the psychological preparation to couple to enable them to step in the new path of life with awareness, happiness, and responsibility is Hindu marriage.

Mere ideals are not enough. They should be able to achieve a distinction whereby they are the source of inspiration and guidance, serving as proof for emulation. Parvati-Parameshwara, Lakshmi-N?r?ya?a, Saraswati-Brahma, Shachi-Indra, S?ta-R?ma, Rukmi?i-Krishna, Draupadi-Pandavas, Atri-Anusuya, Savitri-Satyavan, Nala-Damayanti, Ahalya-Gautama, and other hundreds of ideal couples have stood as examples of beacon light. Remembering them daily and particularly during marriage ceremony is very essential. One of the clear symbols of marriage is the ideal couple-hood of Lord Parameswara holding his other-half of his body in female form, as his consort Parvati Devi, popularly known as Ardha Narashwara. Great poet Kalidasa in his hymn prays as follows:

(Raghuvamsha – 1-1)
Vagarthaviva Sampruktau Vagartah Pratipattaye
Jagatah Pitarau Vande Parvati Parameswarau

“Sound and Substance have to unite together. Eternal Mother and Eternal Father of this Universe, Parvati and Parameshwara are united together well without separation. I am prostrating before them to grant me inspiration for incorporating appropriate sounds (vak) and meanings in composition of poetry.”

Paraspara Tapassampat Phalayita Parasparau
Prapancha Mata Pitarau Pranchau Jayapata Stumah

As a fruit of penance done by each one, to obtain the other, they have now become husband and wife. Prostrations to those divine eternal couple, who are the celestial parents of this great cosmic existence.

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