Rituals are an integral part of the Hindu marriage system. Tying the mangalsutra, saptapadi or seven vows and tying of the knot, are the tiny rituals that hold the marriage together. The most important of them all are the seven vows or saat vachan.
Hindu marriage is solemnised with the ‘God of Fire’ as its witness (agni sakshi). For the seven vows, the bridegroom encircles the holy fire seven times. It is amazing to witness, if one intensely thinks about it — how significant the blessings of deities and spoken words are in the most important relationship of one’s life? The couple leads the rest of their lives living by these spoken words, and living up to them, each day. Afterall, they are more than just words.
What is a promise? A declaration or assurance that someone would do something. A pledge. A commitment. I promise you! Promise is an affirmative future intent to abide by one’s words. Though there is no rule book to follow for a successful married life, the Vedic Hindu marriage system tries to assimilate some shared guidelines for the ease of understanding of the young couple who are all set to enter the new phase together, forever. If violated, there is no constitutional provision or court of law, wherein one can challenge these spoken eternal vows. But they truly are the backbone to a better understanding of matrimony. The onus of violating this promise is on both the partners and so is its success. A couple’s commitment towards each other goes beyond the spoken words and certifications. Once the mangalsutra ceremony is concluded, the bride and the groom are apprised of their duties and responsibilities in the married life. The nature of duties – inexhaustible – extends from partners to immediate family members, relatives to social circle. The Hindu way of life, tried to sum up the promises in a few vows, countable on fingers. The aim of these vows is to promote a healthy and happy marital relationship.
The oath is to be taken by both the spouses, as marriage is not a 50-50 partnership — it’s a 100 percent partnership. Both partners make separate vows. The priest reads the vows one by one and the individual accepts them by saying, “I agree to do so”, after each vow.
Vows by the Husband:
I will consider my wife to be the better half. I will look after her just as I look after myself.
Accepting her as in-charge of the home, I shall plan things in consultation with her.
I will never express dissatisfaction about any shortcomings in my wife. If there are any, I will explain them to her lovingly. I will support her in overcoming them.
I will have faith in my wife. I will never look at any other woman with wrong intent, nor have an illicit relationship.
I will be affectionate and treat my wife like a friend.
I will bring home my entire income to my wife. The household expenses will be incurred with her consent. I will always make an effort to ensure her comfort and happiness.
I will not find fault or criticise my wife before others. We will sort our differences and mistakes in privacy by ourselves.
I will have a courteous and tolerant attitude towards my wife. I will always follow a compromising policy.
If my wife is unwell, or is unable to fulfil some responsibility, or through some misunderstanding behaves wrongly, I will never withdraw support or refuse to fulfil my responsibilities towards her.
I will always do my best to encourage my wife to find self-fulfilment. I will always behave in a kind and loving manner toward her.
Vows by the Wife:
I will merge my personality with that of my husband, and truly become the better half. We will begin a new life together.
I will always treat my husband’s relatives with courtesy, respect and generosity, and spare no efforts to keep them happy and content.
I will work hard to perform the household work and support my husband. I will never be lazy.
With complete faith in my husband, I will live just as he desires. I will always be faithful to him.
I will always speak pleasantly, be service-minded, and have an attitude of contentment. I will never sulk, grumble or be jealous.
I will be frugal in running my household and will try to avoid wastefulness.
I will never be indifferent towards my husband and will treat him like God.
If there are any differences with my husband, I will resolve them peacefully and not present them in a derogatory manner.
I will keep my husband content with humility and service.
Even if my husband is indifferent towards me, without any consideration I will faithfully fulfil my responsibilities.
Over the course of time, the rituals evolved, mostly for good. The earlier vows, majorly pro-groom, were modified to equally honour the individuality of the bride. Vows practised today are much more liberal in nature. To shorten the elaborate wedding ceremony, the vows were reduced to a total of seven. Mostly couples chant mantras after the pandit without understanding the real meaning.
The first vow is the prayer to the Lord — the provider.
“Om esha ekapadi bhava iti prathaman,” the groom says.
“Dhanam dhanyam pade vadet,” the bride complies.
The groom takes the lead by promising that he will provide for the happiness and the welfare of the wife and the children that they bear and she shall provide him with food and help whenever needed. In response the bride promises to shoulder all responsibilities equally and manage household.
In the second vow, the couple pleads to the Almighty to provide them with mental, spiritual and emotional well-being.
“Om oorje jara dastayaha,” the groom says.
“Kutumbum rakshayishyammi sa aravindharam,” the bride replies.
The groom says that, together they will protect their home and children while the bride agrees to be his strength but demands an undivided attention and eternal love.
The third vow is a promise made together for wealth and prosperity so the couple can lead a comfortable life.
“Om rayas santu joradastayaha,” the groom says.
“Rava bhakti as vadedvachacha,” the bride assures.
The groom pledges to take care of his children and educate them. The bride responses by assuring her loyalty towards her husband, putting all other men in her life as secondary.
The fourth vow is for families; to stand by them through the thick and thin.
“Om mayo bhavyas jaradastaya ha,” the groom says.
“Lalayami cha pade vadet,” the bride respondes.
The groom declares to the bride that she has brought sacredness to his life and completed him. The bride in return says that she will shower him with love from head to toe and will try to please him in every way possible.
The fifth vow lays importance on the loyalty and dependency on each other.
“Om prajabhyaha santu jaradastayaha,” the groom says.
“Arte arba sapade vadet,” the bride replies.
The groom declares that the bride is his best friend and staunchest well-wisher. He then blesses the bride and thanks her for enriching his life. The bride replies by saying that she will cherish him for life. His joys and sorrows are now her joys and sorrows. She promises to trust and honour him, and strive to fulfil all his wishes.
The sixth vow, is an opportunity for the groom to express his gratitude to be able to find her.
“Rutubhyah shat padi bhava,” the groom says.
“Yajna hom shashthe vacho vadet,” the bride promises.
“Now when you have taken six steps with me, you have filled my heart with immense happiness. Would you do the kindness of filling my heart with happiness like this at all times?” asks the groom. To this the bride promises to be by his side, for all her life.
While taking the seventh and the last vow, the couple pleads for a long-lasting relationship enriched with love.
“Om sakhi jaradastayahga,” the groom says.
“Attramshe sakshino vadet pade,” the bride confirms.
The groom declares that ‘we are now husband and wife, and will stay together for an eternity’. To this the bride confirms, that with God being the witness, she is now his wife and both will honour and cherish each other forever.
After the pheras, the bride sits to the left of the groom. This signifies that the bride is now the Goddess Lakshmi, holding rightful position in the home, next to his better-half Lord Vishnu – the groom. Both then enter a blissful journey wherein they try to keep up to their promise.