The Bihey (marriage) seasons in Nepal typically run from mid-November to mid-December, from January to mid-March, and mid-April to mid-June. Despite the influence of modernity, Nepali marriages or weddings still adhere to the traditionally abided rituals, which shape most of our major life events, and are influenced by the alignment of heavenly bodies like stars, planets, moon, etc. Marriages being one of the major events of life also hold fast to astrological and ritual aspects of the Hindu religion.
Nepali Hindu marriages are accompanied by various bidhis. This means it consists of different ordinances or ceremonies within one marriage. And within that, Nepali marriages also have a great deal of significance of materials like vermillion mixture, dry fruits, suparis, paan, yoghurt and rice and so on.
The first ceremony to start off the marriage is that of fixing an auspicious date or subha sahit. This depends on the alignment of celestial bodies associated with the bride and the groom. Cross checking of the gotras (ancestral lineages), and matching of Kundalis (birth charts) are done in the process of fixing an auspicious date in order to avoid coinciding same gotras of bride and groom. Marriages within the same gotras up to five and six generations are considered to be unholy and unhealthy.
After deciding on the date, the Kura Chinne (engagement) ceremony is conducted. A Brahmin or Purohit arranges a meeting of the families of the bride and the groom, at the house of the bride. Paan (betel), and Supari (areca nuts) are accepted by the bride's father which is presented by the groom’s side while putting forward the marriage proposal.
On the wedding day, the janti (procession) consisting of the groom’s family members, relatives and friends, sets out for the bride’s home. On the other end, the bride's family simultaneously prepares for the welcome of the procession. The bride’s house, the marriage venue, is decorated with bright twinkling lights and colorful papers cut in different shapes. Masala poka, which is a package mixture of dry fruits and sweets are given to those who set out as part of the Janti, first from the groom’s side when they first head out, then again from the bride’s side when they leave the bride’s house.
The marriage ceremony itself kicks off with Swayamvar, which literally means ‘choosing the groom by the bride’. In the past, the bride had the right to choose one among the many suitors and not just give in to her parents’ choice as so often happens these days. The swayamvar ceremony begins with the bride circling the groom thrice while letting water drip down from an ankhara (traditional water vessel) as she goes around. The priest applies red tika, a mixture of red vermilion, yoghurt and rice, to the forehead of the bride and the groom. Then, the bride, and the groom, exchange garlands made of doobo (a certain type of grass which does not dry thus indicating the relationship will never break or dry), and rings as the crowd from both sides burst into cheers.
The bride and groom are then led to a mandap or canopy for lengthy rituals. Vedic hymns and prayers invoke blessings of all Hindu Gods and the support of every element under the sun that will have a role in the conjugal life of the couple. The five basic elements of earth, air, fire, water and sky are highlighted time and again. Fire is considered as a witness to holy matrimony as it purifies their union and protects them from harm in the future. By circling the holy fire seven times the couple pay due respect to the seven great sages who, in mythology, are thought to be the progenitors of human beings on earth.
As a farewell ceremony, Kanyadaan is performed, where the bride is formally handed over to the groom by her father. The groom applies sindoor (vermilion) to the bride’s siudo (the partition of hair at the top of her forehead) with a holy cloth. The groom then ties tilhari or mangalsutra (a necklace of beads and gold) around the bride’s neck. Under Hindu tradition, the sindoor and tilhari are the signs of a married woman. Finally, the priests pronounce them husband and wife.
After Kanyadaan, the bride and groom depart to the groom’s place. The janti accompanies them in this journey back as well. At the groom’s house, bhitryaune (a welcoming ceremony for the bride) is performed. The groom’s family, usually sisters and cousins, welcome the couple doing arati where wicks soaked in camphor or oil and incense are lighted and circled around them. This is believed to keep away evil spirits and usher in good fortune. As the bride enters the house, she steps in seven small piles of paddy or rice which is believed to bring positive energies inside the house. Then, pathi bharne is performed by the bride along with the groom’s mother. This is the filling of paddy or rice in a pathi (container), symbolizing the contribution of the women of the household in the prosperity of the family. This marks the end of the marriage ceremony.
Along with these deeply-rooted traditional rituals and beliefs, Nepali marriages are also filled with gift-giving and sumptuous feasts. The groom’s family and the bride’s family organize separate feasts for their respective relatives and friends. The celebrations usually take place over a week along with the various religious ceremonies. Close relatives are involved in various decision processes and also offer special gifts and blessings to not only the married couple, but also to the entire family.
These basic ceremonies are performed with numerous variations among the different ethnicities throughout Nepal. Some have more ceremonies while some have less. But all of them share more or less the same set of values.