Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wedding Ceremonies in Circassian and Hindu Culture

Circassian wedding festivals
The Circassian people originate from the region of Circassia along the North Caucasus and along the northeast shore of the Black Sea. In Circassian society interaction between the sexes is allowed under the proper supervision. Unlike many societies marriage is not arranged by the parents, instead a young male suitor called pselhix’w, or soul-searcher is allowed to visit the house of a young woman he is interested in to get to know her better. After the suitor finds a suitable companion whom shares the same mutual feeling of love, they send a trusted delegate, usually a respected elder to meet the father and ask him for his daughter’s hand on behalf of the suitor. Marriage festivities are considered very intricate and enjoyable social events by Circassian society. Traditional Circassian Wedding’s are made up of a variety of ceremonies which would be held at three places; the house of the bride’s father, the house of the bridegroom’s father, and at the house where the bridegroom is lodged until the wedding night. The first ceremony is held at grooms fathers house, where a traditional ceremonial toast is given. 
The next ceremony called the Nisashe is a feast in honor of the guests at the house of the bride’s parents before they convey her to her new home. Many traditional songs are sung by the guests, the most common of which is the ‘Nisashe song’ known as ‘Wereide, bestow happiness on our bride!’ It is also not uncommon for an azheghafe (clown) dressed in the skin of a billy-goat to participate in the ceremonies to infuse some humor into the event.
When the wedding procession arrives at the gate of the house of the bridegroom’s father, songs are sung signaling her arrival to her new home. Once inside the yard, the ceremony of ‘removing the veil’ is then conducted. One of the masters of ceremonies would take out his dagger and with its tip lifted the veil or screen of the bride’s head-cover. The head-cover however (as opposed to the veil) is not taken off until after the ceremony by a confidant of the bride’s father. After this the master of ceremony addresses the elder females of the bridegroom’s father’s household and asks them to join him in a song-like toast blessing their new daughter-in-law.
This is followed by the ceremony of ‘Wineyishe’ also at the grooms fathers house, where the new bride is to be formally introduced to her mother-in-law and other female elders.
Since the groom is prohibited from attending these ceremonies he resides at a friend or relative’s house where with a group of friends several minor traditional songs are sung in his honor, all in isolation of the main wedding ceremonies. He remains here until the ‘Schaweyishezh’, which is when he must devise a method to sneak into his bride’s room unnoticed as she stays at his father’s house and finally consummate the marriage. This is because in Circassian society it was considered inappropriate to be seen entering the bedroom of ones new bride.

Marriage in Hindu Culture
In India, Marriage is arguably considered the most important social and religious event in a person’s life. This is because in Hinduism marriage marks the transition into the second stage of ones life cycle known as garhastya, the Householder stage. In Hindu society marriage is considered so important that the decision is rarely left to the individuals actually involved. Having one’s parents arrange a marriage is very common and to many is considered the norm.
The traditional Hindu wedding ceremony is usually performed in a sequence of different events starting with the Baraat or Swagat which is the arrival of the groom accompanied by his family and friends who singing and dance as they make their way to the wedding hall or temple. The Swagatam, which is the welcoming the Groom and his family and friends, follows this.  The groom is treated to a welcome ritual at the entrance by the bride’s mother and is then escorted to the mandap which is a temporary structure built for the wedding that consists of four pillars. Before the groom enters the mandap he is instructed by a priest to remove his shoes, it is not uncommon during many ceremonies for the Bride’s family to try and steal the shoes (for fun) while the Groom’s family protects them.  By the end of the wedding, if the shoes are stolen, the Groom must offer the new family money or gifts to retrieve them.
 The bride is then escorted to the mandap by her maternal uncles.  The bride’s father then gives his daughter to the groom in marriage, witnessed by the fire God.  The giving of the bride is called the Kanya Daan and is considered the highest form of gift that parents can offer.  The ends of Bride and Groom’s garments are tied together with betel nuts, copper coins and rice symbolizing unity and eternal bond of marriage.  The priest then kindles the fire and the couple makes nine offerings to the fire to ask for removal of darkness and any ignorance. The couple then perform the Mangal Fera which is when they walk around the fire four times which signify the last fours stages of life; Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (Monetary accomplishment), Karma (Energy and passion for life), and Moksha (liberation from everything in life).

The groom offers the bride, life long protection by giving her the Mangalsutra, a sacred necklace made with black beads with gold, then placing a red powder known as sindhoor on the crown of her forehead. The couple then feed each other traditional sweets before reciting the Saptapadi, which is a set of 7 vows. After this the priest and members of their families bless the newly wed couple.  The final ceremony or the Vidai is when the brides family wishes her the best and bid her farewell as she leaves her parent’s home to begin a new life with her husband. Sometimes the bride’s family most commonly her sister(s) try to stop the car from leaving by placing their hands on the bonnet so that their new brother-in-law asks their permission to take the bride away with him, and offers gifts as a token. Before the wedding car departs, the priest places a coconut under the front wheel and waits for it to be broken under the weight of the car.  This is to ensure a safe journey and to bless the start of their newly married life.
Both Hindu and Circassian society view marriage as a key point in an individuals life, as it marks a major transition in ones lifestyle and role in society. This is probably why in both cultures weddings are considered large joyous social events that require a lot of preparation and participation from several members of both families. The active role the parent’s play in the ceremonies depicts the level importance and respect that both societies place on the influence of ones family. This is especially evident with the bride’s parents, whom hold a significant amount of authority, and in the end make the final decision regarding their daughter’s future. However in Circassian culture the process of finding a spouse is left up to the individuals actually getting married not their parents unlike Hindu culture, which relies heavily on matchmaking through ones parents. Although Hindu weddings are far more concentrated in terms of ceremonial locations, both cultures have unique customs and traditions that take place before and after the main ceremony that hold symbolic value. 

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