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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Understanding the meaning of "SAAT- PHERE" (seven steps) in a Hindu marriage

I was born in a Hindu family. Since my childhood I have always seen various Hindu customs and rituals being performed. I have been to so many Hindu marriages of my relatives and have seen the same or similar rituals being performed in all of them. But I rarely understood the deep meaning that these rituals are supposed to have, the reason why they are being performed since ages. I rarely saw the pundit (The priest) explaining the meaning and significance of these customs while being performed.
I am not very aware of customs and rituals because personally I follow the religion of “Humanity”. For me the customs and rituals are less important as long as the person follows a “good character” (which all religions advise, though what constitutes a good character varies) and understands his or her own potential as a Human being.

Since I feel a social responsibility to do certain rituals, then it becomes my responsibility to first understand them beforehand because I will hate to follow them blindly! Keeping in mind that my own marriage ceremony is to be held in near future, I began to search for the answers for the questions I had in mind regarding the rituals that I will be expected to perform for my marriage.
Hinduism being a symbolic religion, most rituals and ceremonies have a symbolic meaning to them therefore, just performing the act is going to make no sense until the meaning of it is well understood. Anything done without this understanding, is supposed to be “Blind Faith”. Many times when I asked the seniors for the meaning of a particular ritual they would either get offended of they would say things like “It is to be done because it’s being done since ages and we are sure there is a meaning to it”. Yes, I am sure there is a meaning to it, but my concern is that anything done without its proper knowledge can be even harmful….for example: How do you know you are doing it the right way? If it’s done without reasoning and understanding then, it is blind faith and hardly has any meaning!!

Originally the Hindu-Vedic systems were very scientific in nature. They even did not discriminate between men and women, however this practice is very prevalent now by the people who do not fully comprehend the religion. I attempted to understand the meaning and significance of what I will be doing in a few months. “Saptpadi” OR “Saat Phere” which translates as “seven steps” in English is considered to be the most important custom of a Hindu marriage (and now I know why), so I dedicate this article to the same.

The “VARMALA” OR “Jaimala” is the ritual where the bride and the groom put garlands around each other’s necks. This signifies that the two persons have chosen each other as life partners. This is essentially a ritual performed by “Kshatriyas” (The warrior caste) in ancient times, however now I see it being performed in all Hindu marriages I attend.

Another very important ritual is “Kanya Daan” Which translates as “giving away one’s daughter to the groom [“Kanya means girl and “Daan” means “donation”].This ritual is performed by the father of the bride or the father figure in his absence. The groom recites Sanskrit Shloks about love. [Shlok is a small stanza usually in Sanskrit]

But the most important of all Hindu marriage rituals is “SAPTAPADI” referring to “SAAT PHERE” in general Hindi now-a-days. This ritual is the core of the whole marriage ceremony and couple is considered as married just by performing this ritual alone.

Saat Phere:

How it is done:
Some older person of the family ties a knot with one end of the bride’s clothing and one end of the groom’s clothing. Then they stand up to take seven rounds around the fire [called the Agni Kund in Hindi] one by one. These rounds are taken as the priest reads certain Sanskrit Shloks to bless the couple. The picture below shows the knot symbolizing the “Sacred wedlock”

The rationale:

“Fire” Or Agni is considered as Very pure and sanctified. Also, the Qualities of fire are such that, no matter how many times it is lit, yet it remains “immortal” and “young forever”. This is why I have seen people in almost all major religion of the world – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhist and more… all use fire in one way or the other for their worship. Amazing!! How fire is considered important by multiple beliefs systems.

The term “Agni Pariksha” is commonly used in Hindi language which refers to “a very difficult exam”. Coming back to the point, because fire is considered to be so pure, immortal, young and sanctified, it is used as a symbol for the couple to solemnize their marriage with the seven promises. This is called “Agni Sakshi” which means “fire is the witness”. The promises thus made are considered to be immortal and the couple is expected to be MOST truthful and honest to each other in making these promises. Despite which, I am so sad to see so many promises being broken, where the wives are killed, beaten and tortured either psychologically or physically or both. And some husbands too!!

What are the seven promises: (Credit for this section goes to “Wikipedia”).

With the first phera, the couple invokes the Gods for the plenitudes of pure and nourishing food and a life that is noble and respectful.
With the second phera the couple prays for physical and mental strength and to lead a healthy and peaceful life.
The third phera is taken for the fulfilment of spiritual obligations. The Gods are invoked for blessing the couple with spiritual strength.
The fourth phera is taken for the attainment of happiness and harmony through mutual love and trust and a long joyous life together.
The fifth phera is taken to pray for the welfare of all living entities in the entire universe and for begetting noble children.
The sixth phera is for bountiful seasons all over the world. The couple prays for bountiful seasons and seeks that they may go through these seasons together, just as they would share their joys and sorrows.
With the last phera they pray for a life of understanding, loyalty, unity and companionship not only for themselves but also for the peace of the Universe.

In North Indian weddings, the bride and the groom say the following words after completing the seven steps:
"We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me. Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning, united. You are thought and I am sound. May the night be honey-sweet for us. May the morning be honey-sweet for us. May the earth be honey-sweet for us. May the heavens be honey-sweet for us. May the plants be honey-sweet for us. May the sun be all honey for us. May the cows yield us honey-sweet milk. As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable, as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable, so may our unions be permanently settled.

Thanks for reading !!

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  1. This is nice and informing. I have never thought a lot about what all things happen during the ceremony. I wonder what are actual Sanskrit verses uttered during the ritual, obviously they could be from Vedas or Upanishads. Also I have some reservations about some of the things mentioned in the last paragraph.
    "We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me."
    That last line is suggestive, is it really so?

  2. Yeah, I believe that people who are capable of thinking on their own, should be given a chance to formulate their own "promises" that they would like to make to each other.

  3. Nice posting. Do you know about these Sanskrit books?

  4. Thanks a lot for your comment dear sfauthor !! This date is not from any Sanskrit book. Part of it is my inference and understadning and part is from Wikipedia (as I have mentioned).

  5. So finally we know what all the Panditji says and does and what it means. Though I must say I find it very mechanical (ok many weddings to conduct) but they also run like trains (which is sad considering it is something so important for the two people). Another thing id like to know is which one sees often is time and again one puts different things into the fire, whats all that for? And what about the fact that earlier marriage ceremonies lasted for hours now they end quicker comparatively...whats important and missing!Have you noticed that throwing Rice grains on the couple is also in many religions like fire.
    It was very interesting reading this, its the most important thing and gets overlooked in all the revelery.

  6. Really very informative post. Very few people think on these things so deeply. Perhaps your Feedburner subscription is not working properly, because I did not got its information on my inbox.

  7. Much Needed as I'm in similar situation of yours. Very Informative ! I'm sure i would have just repeated what Panditji would have told without knowing the meaning , but now i know it , Thanks to you :-))

  8. Hi Niharika..!

    Good post keep it Up..!
    one more star to your good work..!

  9. Pretty Informative one.But whats ur opinion abt Live-in Relation??????

  10. I do believe that people have the right to do what they want as long as they do not hurt/harm someone else.Though I strongly stand against a couple in a live-in relationship having a baby !! because in that case they are causing harm to the baby, a major harm by risking his/her entire life and not providing a secure environment.

  11. Here through Blog Adda.
    This was informative :) I like the idea of couples writing down their own vows and also saying them in a language they understand. Most of the time even the pandits explain them very vaguely...

    I also wonder what is the exact meaning of Varmala and Kanyadaan...

  12. Ok thats a great idea too ! Yes, couples should be allowed to recite vows in their own language. Varmala is only symbol indicating that the boy and the girl have selected each other (as I mentioned in the post). Kanya-daan is giving away of one's daughter to the groom.

  13. hi..thanks for such a good post

  14. very informative the best part is those who hve had late night marriges ....generally in hindu's...n havent been able to understand the vows....can really understand it here n those unmarried can be b ready 4 it....i think its a credible write up niharika!! no1 thinks deeply...nice

  15. kafi acha likha hai . very informative , unke liye bhi jo ye samjhte hain ki unko sabhi riti revazo ke bare me achi tarah se pata hai or unke liye bhi jo sirf sath-phere ka naam suna hai per basic nahi pata or chahungi ki log sirf padhe hi nahi in sabko real life me bhi inko yaad rakh kar apni life me aane wale ego ko chod kar acchi life spend kare or inko hamesha yaad rakhe.!!!!!

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