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Wedding

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A wedding (āvāhamaṅgala or vivāha) is a ceremony marking the marriage of two people. The word vivāha literally means ‘to carry away.’ The first Buddhists adopted the wedding ceremony current at the time. However, wanting to distinguish their weddings from Brahmanical ones, they left out the ritual requiring the bride and groom to circumambulate the sacred fire (aggihutta) seven times. They also had the elders of both families officiate, rather than a brahman. Astrology was often used to determine an auspicious time for the wedding, although the early Buddhists ridicule this practice (Ja.I,258).

The groom usually went in procession to the bride’s house, bedecked in garlands and accompanied by music and dancing, although sometimes it was the bride who went (A.II,61). The essential feature of the ceremony was when the father of the bride took her left hand and with a pot in his right hand poured water over her hands, a ritual marking the giving away of the bride to the groom (A.IV,210; Ja.III,286). In Sanskrit literature this ceremony is called ‘The Giving of the Hand’ (Pāṅipradāna). This would be followed by a blessing from the parents and elders. In the Jātaka the Bodhisattva gives this wedding benediction: ‘May your friendship with your beloved wife never decay.’ (Ajeyyaṃ esā tava hotu mettī bhariyāya kaccāna piyāya saddhiṃ, Ja.VI,323).

With some sympathy, the Buddha described the discomfort of the newly-wedded bride. ‘When a young wife is led to her husband’s home, either by day or night, for a while she feels great timidity and shyness in the presence of her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, her husband and even towards the servants and slaves.’ (A.I,78). In ancient India the bride’s family sometimes paid a dowry (dāyajja) and at other times they gave her a dower (nahānamūla), although such customs seem to have been practised mainly by the wealthy. The Buddha made no comment on such practices. Some features of the ancient ceremony still prevail in Theravadin countries, although mixed with local customs. According to the Buddha, monks and nuns should not get involved in ‘the giving or taking in marriage’ and thus they have never been wedding celebrants (D.I,11). See Faithfulness.

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