You’ve seen the bridge and groom go around the fire each time you attended an Indian wedding. Yes, we’re talking about the seven pheras or Saptapadi, which in Sanskrit means seven steps (sapta means seven and padi means steps). While we all are familiar with this ceremony, very few of us know its significance and what it represents.
To begin with, the couple is tied together with the dupatta in a ritual called Granthi Bandhanam, which is done to keep the two united in love as they’re about to start the new phase of their lives. Agni is the Vedic God of Fire, who is the witness to all the promises made by the couple. If one is to draw a parallel to the West, each of these rounds could be compared to the vows that the bride and groom promise each other.
Things are very specific and orderly here as the priest says prayers for each specific circle around the fire. The groom holds the bride's hand and leads her for the first four, and the two switch places for the last three rounds.
According to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the seven pheras has seven vows namely:
First phera: Prayer for food and nourishment
“With God as our guide, let us take the first step to live with honour and respect. Let us walk together so we get food, stay in good health, look after each other and fulfil out our duties and responsibilities to each other, our families and our tradition.”
Second phera: Strength
“Let us be happy and enjoy life. Let us walk together so we grow together in strength,”
The couple promises each other that they will develop their mental and spiritual powers together and improve themselves.
Third phera: Prosperity
“Let us share joys and pains together. Let us walk together so we get wealth.”
The pair promise each other that they will increase their wealth and comfort by righteous and proper means.
Fourth phera: Family
“Let us not forget parents and elders. Let us walk together so we get happiness by sharing our joys and sorrows”
A promise is made to become wiser, happier and more united by loving each other and having mutual trust and respect for each other.
Fifth phera: Progeny
“Let us observe all acts of charity. Let us walk together so we have family”
The couple makes a promise that their family will be blessed with children who are morally strong, virtuous and responsible.
Sixth phera: Health
“Let us live a long and peaceful life. Let us walk together so we have joy”
The two promise to grow together and live a life where they find a common path amidst their different personalities.
Seventh phera: Promise of a life of love, friendship, and mutual trust
“Let us be friends with love and sacrifice. Let us walk together so we have a friendship”
The seventh and final round sees the couple make a vow to remain true companions, committed and faithful only to each other.
With each round, those in attendance—friends, family, etc bless the couple by throwing, flowers and rice on them. Once the seven rounds are done, the pair seek blessings from Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. It is believed that the couple has now tied themselves together for seven lifetimes. A few communities in the country have the bride touch seven beetle nuts in turn with her toe, while the groom helps her keep her balance.
Things done differently
In the southern states of the country, the couple take their seven steps facing south with the groom leading the bride by holding her pinky finger. The positions of the couples and their interchanging on a particular step varies across certain regions.
Four pheras and their significance
In Gujarati weddings, the couple goes around the fire four times. They represent dharma (righteous path), earn artha (wealth), experience kama (love), and attain moksha (liberation) respectively.
Sikh weddings, too, have four pheras. Called laavan phere, they are four hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib written by Guru Ram Das Ji with each verse describing a spiritual stage of married life. The first round reminds the couple to fulfil their marital duties, renounce bad ways, and recite god’s name. The second instructs the couple to leave all materialistic things and their ego aside and search for the real guru. The third talks about the true love that the couple has in their heart for their god. And the last speaks about how the hearts and minds of the couple find peace and joy because they find the true god and also describes the spiritual union of the couple.
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