In a similar manner as the chuppah, Hindu weddings are celebrated under a canopy. The colorful ceremony takes place inside a mandap, which can be very elaborate.
The canopy of the mandap represents the cosmos and nine poles represent the planets. According to ancient Vedic beliefs, eight of the poles represent the guardians of the eight quarters of the universe. The center pole signifies marriage.
As with other wedding traditions, who sits where in the mandap is spelled out. Bride, groom, bride’s priest, groom’s priest, bride’s parents, groom’s parents all have special seats facing in prescribed points of the compass: north, south, east, and west.
Yes, there is a separate priest for the bride and for the groom. And yes, the fire is real—in the havan kund—a sort of bowl, for the ceremony. The fire serves to provide energy for the wedding, as a witness to the wedding, and signifies purity and sacrifice in life.
There are dozens of items, each with special meaning, that are placed in the mandap for the ceremony. Some items to look for are: the coconut which will be broken in the ceremony, the figure of Ganesh (deity of auspiciousness, the figure with an elephant’s trunk), four plates, four bowls, and six spoons, a bowl containing water, colored rice, puffed rice and ghee (butter) to offer to the fire, red thread to tie around the bride and groom’s wrists, a beige silk shawl, a plate of sweets, garlands of flowers, and gold jewelry for the bride.
The wedding is at once serious, ceremonial and full of joy.