A Hindu marriage is incomplete without its plethora of rites and rituals. The most important of which is Saat Phere or ‘Saptapadi’, which involves seven rounds by bride and groom around a sacred fire amidst chanting of the Vedic mantras by priests. Although this is a well-known ritual, not many people know the origin, significance, and legal aspects concerning Saat-Phere.
1) Saptapadi – Seven Promises for Life:
The bride and groom exchange seven vows with each phera, that they claim to keep for life. The ritual of 7 pheras is performed under the guidance of a priest (pandit). After specific instructions from the priest, the bride and the groom rise up and walk around the fire seven times and with the completion of the 7th phera, the ritual of 7 pheras is said to be completed.
2) The significance of the Saat-Phere:
The marriage vows form the center of any wedding ceremony. The words are uttered by the couple as an expression of their future intentions as well as promises they wish to uphold in their married life. The vows cover the generally accepted do’s and don’ts of a successful married life, from individual roles to the promise of putting each other’s happiness first. They promise to bear the responsibility of rearing a family together and do right by their children.
3) The goal of the Wedding Vows:
Not just for the Hindus, during a Vedic wedding ceremony, but in every other culture, wedding vows outline the same goals – lifelong commitment, devotion, and mutual respect. Marriage is a bond that is everlasting and all these vows reinforce the couple’s intent to stay together through thick and thin of life, till death separate them part. The promise is to enter the union as equals, as friends rather than submitting to some age-old defined roles.
4) Mythological Origin of Saptapadi:
The Markandeya Purana states that for healthy and proper family life, people must marry. The Vedas say that in the very old days there was no system of marriage. People would get into multiple relationships and finally regret. No one was happy and there was a lot of confusion. Then a Rishi named Prajapati started the institute of marriage. After that people started to get married and slowly the society developed.
5) Legal Aspects of Seven Vows in India:
According to ‘Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955’ a marriage is deemed complete and binding once the rites and ceremonies including the saptpadi (that is, the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire). Thus, the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.
6) The Actual Seven Vows (translated from Sanskrit to English):
The actual seven vows are all about the Promise of simple things like Love, chastity and honesty when in a relationship.
7) Not All Hindu Marriages Have ‘Seven’ Pheras:
One feature that is constant in Hindu weddings is the tradition of taking pheras (rounds) around the sacred fire. While most sub-cultures take seven pheras, every Hindu wedding has at least four pheras. These pheras signify the four main aims of life: Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Gujarati and Sindhi weddings are completed after four pheras around the fire.