The preliminary part of the marriage ceremonies consists of the Vagdanam (Betrothal) or oral giving away of the bride to the bridegroom. In early times, the selection of the bride and the bridegroom was mutual either for love or other considerations, and in the majority of cases love formed the dominant factor.
When parental control over children became more rigid, the formal consent of the parents became necessary. Even in the Rigvedic times the bridegroom’s friends approached the bride’s father, to whom the formal proposal was made, as was done in the case of Surya by the Asvins on behalf of Soma. (The Rig Veda x.85.9, 15,33)
If the bride’s father approved the selection, the marriage was settled. The Grhyasutragenerally do not begin with the betrothal ceremonies, so we have no information as to how they were performed. One tradition is recorded in the Narada-Smrti. Here betrothal is called Kanyavarana.
According to it, not only the friends of the bridegroom, but the bridegroom himself with friends went to the father of the bride for the formal settlement of the marriage. “Within the month of marriage, on an auspicious day, the Kanyavarana ceremony should be performed.
The bridegroom, well-dressed and well-adorned, with music and chanting of sacred verses, should go to the bride’s home with a loving heart. Then the bride’s father should give his consent happily. The bridegroom, having propitiated Sachi, should worship the well-adorned bride and pray for good luck, health and progeny.”
How is it performed?
It seems that in the mediaeval times the custom of the bridegroom himself approaching the bride’s father was dropped and he was substituted by his father, who, with a party, went to the bride’s father for the oral reception of the bride on behalf of his son. The description of this ceremony as given by Gadadhara is as follows:
At an auspicious time according to astrology, two, four or eight gentlemen, putting on agreeable robe with the father of the bride-groom, having seen the Sakuna bird should go to the house of the bride’s father and request him, “Give your daughter to my son.” The bride’s father having consulted his wife etc. should say.
“On this auspicious moment I give this girl, born in such and such Gotra, daughter of such and such person and namely so and so”. After this he should recite the verse, “This girl has been orally given by me for progeny and accepted by you. Be happy in inspecting the girl, having made up your mind.”
The father of the bride-groom should reply, “The girl has been orally given by you for progeny and accepted by me for progeny. Be happy in seeing the bridegroom, having made up your mind.”
After the proposal was accepted the father of the bridegroom worshipped the girl with rice, clothes, flowers etc. according to his family custom. The ceremony ended with the blessings of the Brahmans.
This custom is still alive in the Deccan region in the form of formally seeing the girl and settling the marriage. In Northern India, however, the Purdah system and the supremacy of dowry have abolished this useful custom. Here, in the majority of cases, betrothal consists in fixing the sum to be paid by the bride’s father and presenting the Sacred Thread, money and some fruits to the bridegroom which is called Vararaksa or Phaladana. By this ceremony the guardian of the bridegroom is supposed to be morally tied down to the proposal.
The custom of Vara-varana has become more important than that of Kanya-varana. According to Chandesvara “The brother of the bride and Brahamans should go to the house of the bridegroom and offer him Upavita, fruits, flower, clothes etc., at the occasion of Vara-varana.
उपनीतं फलं पुष्पं वासांसि विविधानि च ।
देयं वराय वरणे कन्याभ्रात्रा द्विजेन च ।।
In the opinion of Gadadhara this ceremony should take place one day before the marriage, but generally it is performed many days before it.