Before attempting to present the above, I have consulted authoritative books on the subject and people who are well versed in Sanskrit literature and Vedas. I shall appreciate suggestions to improve its contents.
Many Divya Desams have references in their traditional histories (sthala puranams) to the Lord seeking the hand of Maha Lakshmi, who is raised by a maharishi after finding her as a parentless infant (ayonijaa). For instance, in Oppiliappan Koil, Markandeya Maharishi accedes to the request of Sriman Narayana who seeks the hand of his daughter Bhumi Devi. She was found as a child in the tulasi forest by the Maharishi. At Kumbakonam, Sarangapani weds Komalavalli, the daughter of Hema Maharishi. At Thiruvahindrapuram, Hemambujavalli, the daughter of another rishi, marries Devanathan in a Vedic ceremony. At Tirupati, Srinivasa marries Padmavati after seeking her hand from her father, Akasa Rajan. At Tiru Idavendai, the Lord got the name of Nitya Kalyaanar through his marriage of the 360 daughters of Kalava Rishi. He married them each one a day and made them all into one named Akhilavalli Nacciyar.
The most celebrated one is the wedding of Andal and Ranganatha. Ranganatha seeks the hand of Andal from her father Periyalvar and weds her in a ceremony at Srivilliputtur. Andal had previously dreamt about this marriage and recorded the wedding in detail in her Nacciyar Tirumozhi, Varanamayiram section, exactly as prescribed in the Vedic ceremony.
The following sections describes the steps of a Vedic wedding and their significance.
Kalyana Rata: Fixing the first pole of the marriage 'pandaal'. An auspicious time is arrived at for fixing the first pole of the marriage 'pandaal' (canopy erected for the wedding rites).The 'kalyana rata' or pole is adorned with turmeric powder, mango leaves and 'rangoli' (coloured rice flour) designs. The 'pujari' performs a 'puja' by sprinkling turmeric, 'kumkum' powder, yellow rice and flowers amidst the chanting of Vedic mantras. The 'kalyana rata' is then fixed very firmly into the ground and an 'arathi' is performed. Prayers are offered so that the 'pandaal' should remain strong and firm throughout the ceremonies.
The next day ceremonies start with Kasi Yatra, Malai Maatral (exchange of garlands) and Oonjal (Jhoola). These have no religious significance as such. Secondly, these rituals vary from community to community, depending on the established custom and traditions.
The Kasi Yatra ritual which is peculiar to Brahmin community is the one when the father of B symbolically weans away the BG from the pursuits of Brahmacharyam, which is symbolically represented by his journey towards Kasi (Benares or Varanasi), the seat of Vedic culture and knowledge, and requests him to enter Grahasthasrama by marrying his daughter.
Note: This apparently counters the very ceremony conducted thereafter (Kanyavaranam), where the B's emissary is sent to seek the hand of an identified girl from a specific family. Even then, this is continued as essential part of a marriage. Probably, this incongruancy can be explained as follows. In the ancient period, it is the boys' side which took all the initiative and was searching for a suitable girl for the boy. This has reversed amongst the Brahmins now. It is the girls' parents who search for the boys and seek their alliance. In most other communities (example: Gounders family in Tamil Nadu), the ancient system still continues. I would appreciate, if any one who reads it can offer better and more authentic explanation for it.
Oonjal, is a ladies ceremony, where BG & B are made to sit in a swing and propitiation is done, to ward off the effect of "evil eyes" (bad peoples evil thoughts or curses) on the couple.
The real and important Vedic side of the ceremony starts only thereafter; the following paragraphs indicate briefly the meaning of some of the most important rituals and mantras recited at the time of the wedding ceremony. (No attempt has been made here to reproduce the mantras in original Sanskrit or Anglicised version, as it will only confuse readers who do not have knowledge of Sanskrit.)
The very first ritual is started with mantras soliciting the bride (Kanyavaranam)
Sequence of events following this are:
(1) Seeking the bride from an identified family through the emissary of Brahmins (Kanyaavaranam);
(2) Promise from the brides side to offer the girl in marriage (Vakthaanam);
(3) Invoking the Holy waters to purify and protect the girl from evil forces. (Here a water pot Kalasa) is established and waters of the sacred rivers and all the gods and goddesses including, Thrimurthis and Varuna, are invoked in it. The girl takes a symbolic bath with this Holy water (Kalasa Pooja);
(4) Worship of the divine power that causes sprouting (ankuraparna);
(5) Worship of ancestors (Nandi);
(6) BG receives directives from the teacher (Sama vardhanam - Kasi yatra);
(7) B escorted by bride's maid enters the hall and stands facing the BG;
(8) Meeting of the eyes (Sameekshanam);
(9) BG & B garlands each other (varmaalaa).
Kanyaadhaanam (Giving away the bride): Here, the brahmachari meets his prospective father-in-law. The latter seats him facing the eastern direction and washes the feet of the future son-in-law, considering him as Lord Vishnu Himself. All honors are given including the ceremonial washing of the feet of the groom by the father-in-law and offer of madhu parka (a mixture of yogurt, honey and ghee) to the accompaniment of selected Veda mantras
This is an important ritual wherein the girl is gifted away to the BG's family; B loses her family identity completely. Even the Gothram (family lineage/heritage) to which B belongs till marriage is changed to that of the boy. At that time, BG recites a mantra which says:
"Let the holy water which is poured on my feet safeguard me against all enemies and let me glow in splendour equal to the Brahma. He then takes a mixed liquid made of honey and curd (and sometimes ghee is added to this)."
Then BG looks at B directly and prays to the gods (Devas) to protect B from all defects and deficiencies (in word, thought and deed) and recites mantras addressed to B by which he expects B to look beautiful, be loving to her husband and his family, be of good heart and do good things, be pious, protect the animals and the family of BG, and get good children. He then recites another mantra which removes (destroys) all bad qualities in her.
Placing Yoke on the Head of B:
B's father makes B to sit on his lap. BG places a rounded Dharbha(I) and on that places a small replica of a wooden yoke. This is expected to be witnessed by the sisters and mothers of both BG & B. When he places the right end of the yoke, he recites a mantra to indicate the following meaning. "As Apaalai was cleansed by you of all her sins and purified through the holes of a wheel, a rath(am), and a yoke, Oh, Lord Indra, cleanse this girl of all her illnesses and make her shine in splendour."
He then places gold coins on the holes of the yoke and pours Holy water in one of the holes reciting a mantra with this meaning:
"Let these gold coins bring you prosperity and happiness. Let the Holy water purify you and bring happiness to you. You can thereafter offer your body to your husband."
Five Veda mantras are recited to sanctify the bride in preparation for the subsequent stages of the marriage. This aspect of the marriage is known as mangala snanam. The sun god (Surya), water god (Varuna), and other gods are invoked to purify the bride in preparation for a harmonious married life. Next, the bride wears the marriage clothes to the accompaniment of additional Veda mantras. The bridegroom then ties a darbha rope around the waist of the bride and leads her to the place, where the sacred fire is located for conducting the rest of the marriage ceremony. The bride and the groom sit on a new mat in front of the fire. The groom recites three mantras which invoke Soma, Gandharva and Agni to confer strength, beauty, and youth on the bride.
Koorai (Wedding) Saree:
The wedding saree is worn specially for the marriage ceremony. The type and colour of the saree depend upon family custom. It is usually in red (arakku) colour. It is given to B with a mantra by the priest. After B comes back wearing the saree, BG ties a rope made of Darbai around her waist with a mantra which says: "With a good heart and praying for good children, long life for the husband and good health, B is sitting near Agni. Tying this rope I take her to the sacred wedding ceremonies."
He, then, holds the right hand of B and takes her to a carpet spread near the Agni and recites mantras to indicate and acknowledge the boon given by Soman, Gandharvan and Agni in giving her strength, beauty, and youth to B for his enjoyment.
In South Indian Brahmin families, Mangalya Dhaaranam is considered to be the most important ceremony. Though there is no special mantra for this, the BG recites the following sloka:
kanttae bathnaami supahae sanjeeva sarasa satham:
The meaning is: "This yellow rope is managala suthram. This is a sacred thread. This will help my longevity. I tie this around your neck, O maiden having many auspicious attributes! May you live happily for a hundred years (with me). "
With this sloka, he ties the rope around B's neck and puts two knots in it. The third knot is usually made by Bride Groom's sister. The explanation of the three knots is common knowledge 1) First knot of relation ship 2) Second knot given the groom right over the bride and 3) third knot tells the world they are married.
The next two rituals namely Panigrahanam and Sapthapathi are very important for all Hindu marriages. Do not offer to shake hands or try and gift the newly weds at this point. They shall remain untouched until Sapthapathi is over:
After maangalya dhaaranam, the groom lowers his right palm and encloses it over the right hand of the bride. He covers all the five fingers of the right hand of the bride with his right palm through this act of paani grahanam. He recites mantras in praise of Bhaga, Aryama, Savita, Indra, Agni, Suryan, Vayu and Saraswati, while holding the bride's hand. He prays for long life, progeny, prosperity and harmony with the bride during their married life. The closed fingers of the right hand of the bride is said to represent her heart. The paani grahanam ritual symbolizes the bride surrendering her heart in the hands of the groom during the occasion of the marriage
1. I hold your hand to keep you with me to raise good children and till you become old. Devatas including Indra have offered you to me to become the Lady in charge of the house.
2. Sun God/Lord Agni, who have been powerful when they were having their "Grahasthasrama" has given you to me.
3. Oh, Goddess Saraswathi, you should protect us well. We will offer our oblations to you before all the creatures of this world.
4. Let the Vayu God who cleanseth and pervades all directions and corners, and who holds Gold in his hand and is the counterpart of Agni, unite you with me in mind and thought.
After this, Sapthapathi is performed. This is the most important of all Marriage rituals. The marriage is considered complete after this point.
Dear Wife! By taking these seven steps, you have become my dearest friend. I pledge my unfailing loyalty to you. Let us stay together for the rest of our lives. Let us not separate from each other ever. Let us be of one mind in carrying out our responsibilities as householders (grihasthas). Let us love and cherish each other and enjoy nourishing food and good health. Let us discharge our prescribed Vedic duties to our elders, ancestors, rishis, creatures, and gods. Let our aspirations be united. I will be the Saaman and may you be the Rk (Saaman here refers to the music and Rk refers to the Vedic text that is being cast into music). Let me be the upper world and let you be the Bhumi or Mother Earth. I will be the Sukla or life force and may you be the bearer of that Sukla. Let me be the mind and let you be the speech. May you follow me to conceive children and gain worldly as well as spiritual wealth. May all auspiciousness come your way.
The bridegroom(BG) gets up from the seat holding the right hand of the bride(B). He then goes round the Holy Fire (Agni) from the right side, by lifting the right feet of B step by step. This is done for seven steps. With each step, he recites a mantra addressed to B, with the following meaning.
"Let Lord Maha Vishnu follow each one of your steps for the following specific purposes.
Step 1: To give you unlimited food.
Step 2. To give you excellent health and energy.
Step 3. To make you perform your vrithas (rituals) as ordained in Vedas, during your life time.
Step 4. To give you happiness in life.
Step 5. To make your cows and good animals to grow in strength and in numbers.
Step 6. To make all the seasons be beneficial to you.
Step 7. To make the homams (sacrifices to be done in Holy Fire) to be performed by you in your life as ordained in Vedas, successful and free from hindrances."
Obviously, the idea behind this is to pray to Lord Vishnu, the protector of life, for his blessings in marital life.
BG then recites a mantra to convey the following meaning: (Alternative Summary of Sapthapathi)
"After crossing seven steps with me thus, you should become my friend. I too have become your friend now. I will never discord this friendship and you should not also do that. Let us be together always. Let us resolve to do things in life in the same manner and tread the same path. Let us lead a life by liking and loving each other, having good heart and thoughts, and enjoying the food and our strong points together. Let us have undivided opinions. We will perform the vrithas united. Let us have same and joint desires. I will be Sama (one of the vedas); you will be Rig (another Veda). Let me be the Heaven; you be the Earth. Let me be the Shukla (Moon) and you be its wearer. Let me be the mind and you its spokesman (Vak). With these qualities, you be my follower. You the sweet tongued, come to me to get good male children and wealth."
Note: These are pregnant with meaning and it would have a better effect, if the these mantras are explained to BG & B in advance; unfortunately it is not done now. In fact, both BG & B go through these rituals as a matter of routine. Even the visitors show least attention to the ceremonies that follow Mangalyadhaaranam.
In this ritual, with a view to ensure long life to her husband, B offers puffed rice to Agni. The rice is poured into her hand by B's brother and with the recitation of mantras BG adds ghee to the rice and together they offer the rice to the Agni. BG goes round the Agni and once again keeps her right feet on the stone. This is done three times. The meaning of the mantras recited during the Lajahomam is summarised below:
B says: "May my husband live long for a hundred years and may all my relatives prosper."
BG says: "Oh, Agni, bless me, my wife and children, as you blessed Savitri and Soma. Oh, Agni, bless the couple with perfect mental accord. Oh, Agni, leaving her parents, my bride who is going to set up home with me, has performed all the ordained rites. Please bless us with safe travel through a path of life free from misfortunes. (Addressing B), May Heaven, wind, the Ashwins and all the divine forces protect you on all sides and the children you bring forth until they are old enough to take care of themselves."
BG then unties the Darbai rope from B's waist and promises a happy married life for her.
Grahapravesam (Establishing of the new household or entering BG's house):
Certain mantras are recited for the safe passage of BG & B up to BG's house to establish a new household. These have no significance in marriages conducted in marriage halls in cities. In most marriages, logistics do not permit BG to take bride to his house. The function is symbolically done in the room allotted to BG's family members. BG enters his house with B, carrying the Agni in a mud pot from the Homa Kunda(m) in the marriage hall. B places her right foot first while entering the allotted place.
BG then creates a homa kunda(m) on the north-east side and invokes Lord Agni in it. With B touching his shoulders through a Darbai, he then offer ghee in the Agni and recites certain mantras to convey the following:
"May the Lord creator grant us progeny.
May the Lord anoint us together for longevity.
The auspicious Lord has given you to me. Let us enter our home.
May you bring facility to all living beings.
May we both be together in our home and never be parted.
May we both attain long life."
So far, B has been sitting to the right of BG. Now she shifts and sits to his left side. A male child from a family in which no death of a child has taken place, is made to sit on the lap of B. ( The idea is B should get such healthy male children.) The child is given fruits with a mantras which convey the following meaning:
"Let the children so born bring love and affection."
"Be aware of your duties to your husband and guests; propagate good deeds to all those you have contacts."
"Let this pure girl be blessed with happiness and prosperity."
"Oh, Pole Star (Dhruva Nakshatram), as you are fixed for ever, let me be similarly fixed in this home; Protect me from my enemies."
BG and B looks at the Arundathi* Star in the constellation of Great Bears and BG says:
"Keeping Arundathi* star in view, let my wife be like Arundathi and grow to be the eighth of the (model) pathnis."
"My wife, with bonds of the food that we eat together, with the many hued threads of life, may we bind our minds and heart with the knot of truth."
BG says: "This, which is your heart, may it my heart and this, which is my heart, may it be your heart."
B says: "From that which makes the ocean holy, the air vital, all actions complete in cosmic order, may we derive harmonious thoughts and the power to realise them."
BG places kumkum in the middle portion of the hair at the top centre of the forehead and says:
"We are freed from all the bonds in our lives up to now, bonds which ordained by the Supreme Lord for our protection in our unmarried state. In this Universe of righteous order and righteous action, we have become each other's life partner."
Concluding the Agni worship,
Water is sprinkled around the Agni.
"Oh Lord Adithi, Anumathi, and Saraswathi, you gave us leave to do this worship. Oh Lord Creator, you bless us. Our Salutations to you Oh Supreme Lord."
BG and B walk around the Agni three times and each time bow in reverence. Aseervath(am)-Blessings The priest and elders bless the couple with several mantras to convey the following:
"Let the mantras, the holy chants, uttered during this ceremony be true and bear fruit."
"Let this period of time when these two were married prove to be very auspicious period in their life. Let all the benefits that the celestial powers can confer be conferred on this couple."
"Let all the inauspicious planets confer benefits as if they are in auspicious position; let all the auspices planets yield manifold benefits."
"Let this couple who is setting up a household be blessed with long life, health, fame, vitality, material wealth, steadiness of purpose, fulfilment, blessedness, compassion, spiritual lustre, impeccable virtue and happiness and let this couple be ever engaged in celebration of happiness, ever filled with happiness and ever immersed in happiness."
"Let the people all over the world be free from illness and other distress, be followers of righteous conduct, be strong, be without jealousy and be compassionate."
After these, Mangala Aarthi is performed by ladies; this concludes the vedic rituals concerning Hindu marriages.
sarva mangaLaani santu