Christianity | Judaism | Hinduism | Islam
Christianity says when you meet someone of
the opposite sex and emotions are engaged,
you must use your common sense to decide
whether you want to spend the rest of your
life with them. The Church believes marriage
is something ordained and invented by God,
and not by human beings. As we are all created
in God's image, to be married is an
instinct in all of us (if only someone would
tell those eligible bachelors out there!).
'The idea of having some sort of ethereal
someone out there who connects with your
inner soul is nonsense, 'says Bishop Frank
Retief, presiding bishop of the Church of
England in South Africa. 'We believe God
gave us minds to think, faculties to make
judgments, and emotions with which to feel, '
'God created man and woman in the
Garden of Eden, and brought the two to
each other, 'Retief says. Eve was created
from Adam's rib, which is symbolically
under the arm. According to Christian
thought, the rib is near the heart, so that
Adam would love her. 'The woman was a
creation of such beauty, 'Retief goes on,
'that when Adam saw her, he said, "this is
now bone of my bones and flesh of my
flesh", which is an ancient primitive way of
saying "wow!" '
Marriage counselling is compulsory
Before Christian marriages. Retief explains,
'Some couples today come from dysfunctional
homes, and many have had previous
relationships and come with baggage.' The
lessons explain what it means to be a
Christian within a marriage and refresher
classes are offered to keep you on track.
Retief explains that Christians are not
prudes, and believe that 'sex is the most
wonderful and joyous gift God has given us
as part of a relationship with the opposite
sex. It's the culmination of intimacy and
should be exercised freely, often and with
great joy within marriage.'
Sharing the same spirituality helps to
keep the marriage together, as it means you
probably share the same value system when
it comes to life priorities, raising kids and
handling money. Christianity believes
marriage is wonderful and should bring
joy into people's lives. Your wedding day
should reflect the joy and seriousness of a
How it's done:
Different churches have their own
methods, and this is an abridged
version, but usually the service begins
with an explanation of what marriage
is. The minister reminds the assembled
congregation that the marriage is taking place in
front of two witnesses: God and the congregation.
The bride and groom are given a final chance to
change their minds. They make a statement of
intent about how they want to treat each other
for the rest of their lives. Then they exchange vows
and rings (symbolising eternity) and pledge, 'Till
death do us part.' Prayers are said and the couple
are pronounced husband and wife. They seal the
union with a kiss, and are introduced to the
'Judaism holds the idea that a man and a woman are one
soul split in half 40 days before conception, 'says Tova Goldstein,
wife of Rabbi Goldstein. The kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) says God
sends your soul mate across your path various times during your life to
give you the opportunity to find each other. Judaism believes we each
have individual potential, as well as potential as a couple.
Equality is very important – wives are not expected to be passive,
submissive, or lose their individuality. There are no rules about being a
good wife; only that compromise is essential (as any psychologist will
tell you)and that the woman is responsible for bringing spirituality
into the home.
'The wedding day is considered serious as well as fun,' says Tova.
'We compare it to the high holy day of Yom Kippur [the Day of
Atonement].' On both these days, Jews believe that the gates of heaven
open, and they have the opportunity to have their sins forgiven. So, no
matter how wild your past may have been, you can start afresh.
According to Judaism, men and women aren't allowed even a little
peck on the cheek before they're hitched. So it's customary for the
bride and groom to walk out hand in hand after the ceremony and
share their first moments of physical contact alone in a separate room.
Before a Jewish woman weds, she's expected to attend marriage
lessons. 'We teach family purity laws, many taken from the kabbalah,
which play a big role in how we view marriage, 'Tova says. For instance,
when a woman has her period, no sexual contact is allowed during the
bleeding and for seven days after that. 'Research shows that many couples
who divorce have become sexually bored with each other. This way,
the passion and excitement are kept alive, 'says Tova. During this time of
abstinence, couples learn to communicate in other ways (like talking!).
Eventually, when the physical part of the relationship cools down (and
yes, Tiger, it may even happen to you!),a deeper level of bonding exists.
Women are the ones who say aye, and nay, about sex. Sex isn't seen
as a serious exercise to be undertaken only for procreation. It's got to
be fun. There are warped misconceptions out thereabout religious
Jews 'doing it' through a hole in the sheet, but Tova is adamant that
God wants us to have a passionate and adventurous sex life.
The Hebrew word for love is 'ahava', the root of which is 'hav',
meaning 'give'. So the root of love is giving, and the more you give,
the more you love.
What does it all mean?:
Bedekking – the groom walks into the room and puts a veil over the bride.
Chuppah – the cloth structure under which the couple get married, which
represents the home they will create together.
The bride walks around the groom seven times – seven represents the
Sabbath day and the circle represents completion and creation.
Seven blessings are recited wishing the couple happiness.
The breaking of the glass is to remind Jews of the destruction of the temple.
'Hindus believe marriage is a connection between two souls
and that there's one person out there for you, 'says Harshad
Master, a student of Hinduism. In the Hindu view, marriage makes
spiritual growth possible, and is not just a contract but a sacrament,
which is something much deeper. Of the 16 sanskaras (sacraments) in
Hinduism, that of marriage (Vivah Sanskara) is the most important –
the strongest social bond formed between a man and a woman.
Hinduism says that the second of four milestone life stages begins
when a man and a woman marry and start a household. It's considered
the only way to continue the family and repay debts to the
ancestors, and marriage is the first step towards attaining perinbam
(liberation from worldly bondage – the ultimate aim of every soul).
The Vedaas (ancient religious texts) say that mutual trust, give and
take, and loyalty are essentials for a happy married life. The husband
is considered to be the wife's highest deity, and she must ensure that
he's happy. Hindu wives are considered to be queens of their homes,
are regarded as equals, and should be treated with intense love and
respect. Women exercise authority over their husbands through their
love, tenderness, affection, grace, beauty, selfless service, fidelity and
purity (quite a lot to live up to then).
As far as sex goes, the man must ensure that his lady gets pleasure
(they did write the Kamasutra after all!) but for certain days each
month, sex is forbidden.
The scriptures say that both husband and wife must be happy and
fulfilled. Mutual fidelity is considered to be one of the highest laws
regarding marriage –but it's the responsibility of the wife to make
sure that her husband finds her attractive. Basically, the woman is considered
to be the backbone of the nation and it's up to her to sustain
religion, national strength, peace and prosperity. But then, you already
knew that –didn't you?
What's up before the big day?
A Hindu wedding must be celebrated on a grand scale and
made as memorable as possible. There are many pre- and
post-wedding rites, customs and traditions, coupled with
singing, dancing and feasting, all of which are symbolic.
The embellishment ritual is about making sure the
bride looks so gorgeous, the groom will be over-whelmed
by her beauty!
It's an incredibly elaborate
process. Flowers are plaited into her hair, and a chaddar
(veil) is the finishing touch. The dress, usually from India,
is a cream or red sari. The body, considered the house
of the inner soul, is prepared as an abode of God so that
Shakti, the female energy, can awaken the creative
power in Shiva– the man. By being adorned, the bride
is prepared as a representation of Lakshmi, the goddess
of wealth (prosperity).
Rites of passion
Mehendi –One of the bride's friends applies
hennapaste to the bride's hands, palms and feet.
Maroh or mandhawa is the nuptial canopy,
erected according to the rules laid down in the
scriptures. It's built with bamboo poles, sacred
kusha grass (a symbol of purity) and covered
with different flowers, mango leaves and sweet-smelling
The Chowka is the sacred space where the major
ceremonies are performed. It's painted with rice,
flour or coloured powders in ritual designs.
Pokhra –Before the wedding, the bride and groom
have separate baths in sneh-jal (love water).
Tilak –Made of sandal-paste, or sacred ash, it's
applied between the groom's eyebrows, in front of
the Third Eye, to symbolise he's ready for marriage.
How it's done:
The groom is welcomed at the entrance to the
hall with mantras, blessings and tilak, and led to
the stage to be given gifts by the bride's parents.
His father-in-law symbolically offers the bride-groom
a cow as a present and the groom
presents the bride with gifts of clothing and jewellery,
acknowledging his lifelong duty to provide
her with life's necessities.
The groom stands facing east, while the bride
stands to the right of her hubby-to-be and faces
north. The bride's parents give her away in a
ceremony called Kanya-Danamand the sacred fire
ceremony (Homa) is performed with solemn
vows and joining of hands (fire is a symbol of
energy, family life and unity).
During the stone-stepping ceremony, the
bride's mother counsels her daughter.In spite of
the difficulties facing them, the couple are enjoined
to remain steadfast and true to each other.
The 'seven steps' ritual legalises the marriage,
establishing an indissoluble bond. One end of the
groom's scarf is tied to the bride's dress to
symbolise the union. The bride and groom garland
each other, then the priest sprinkles water on their
foreheads. Looking at or visualising the sun, they
pray for power to lead a creative, useful and meaningful
life. Meditating on the pole star, which is
stationary, represents steadfastness in fulfilling their
vows. Finally, the couple feed a morsel of food
to each other, an expression of mutual love and
affection. The ceremony ends with benedictions.
According to the Koran, the objectives of marriage (aside
from reproduction) are love, mercy, mutual respect,
justice, emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Islam
maintains that marriage is beneficial in many ways. First and foremost,
it's regarded as a way to acquire spiritual perfection.
A legal agreement rather than a sacrament, marriage is also a
religious duty. 'We do believe in predestination,' says religious official
Sheik Mohamed Moerat, 'but we were also given the mind and
intellect to choose between right and wrong. Some Muslim groups
have arranged marriages, 'says Moerat, 'but in fact, the prophets say a
male must actually see the bride before he marries her and vice versa
– with clothes on!' he jokes.
Eligibility for marriage is measured by a concept called rushd –
the 'capability of sensible conduct' or maturity. Piety and religiousness
are the most important aspects when choosing a spouse. But good
nature, compatibility, family background, physical and mental
health are also considered important. The groom is expected to offer
mahr (a gift to the bride),which can be cash or non-material (like
teaching) to symbolise his ability and willingness to provide for his
wife and family.
The main rule governing Muslim marriages, Moerat says, is that
of respect. 'Then comes humbleness, obedience, rites and all the
responsibilities that go with being married.'
Sex is completely forbidden before marriage, but after that
you're on your own. Islam recognises 'the natural human inclination
towards sex and desire, and allows sexual gratification within
the confines of a marriage'.
The Muslim term for marriage,
'nikah', literally means sexual intercourse. Natural sexual instincts
must not be repressed. Sex during menstruation is forbidden, but
the only other law surrounding intercourse is that there must be
mutual understanding between the couple. The key words are
mutual pleasure and satisfaction.
Polygamy is accepted under extreme circumstances, for
instance ifa wife can't bear children. But four wives is the limit!
Moerat says, 'Polygamy is to safeguard women, not to create
widows and orphans.' In most cases, the husband would
need to get his wife's permission to marry again.
How it's done:
The marriage is normally officiated by an imam and
'a sermon is recited with passages from the holy
Koran and the prophets, usually about married life,'
Sheik Moerat says.
The bride does not attend her own wedding –
in fact, she doesn't have to do anything! A proposer
and an accepter (a male representative of the
bride's family) lead the ceremony. If she has no male
relative, she can appoint a priest. Both the bride and
groom enter into the contract of their own free will
and accept it as a lifetime bond. The bride has the
exclusive right to stipulate her own conditions in
Tradition and ritual:
Muslim traditions vary greatly from country to
country, but these are some pre-wedding rituals:
The mangni or engagement ceremony is an
exchange of rings.
Manjha is a ceremony during which the bride is
anointed with paste at her house a day or two
before the wedding. The paste, made of turmeric,
sandalwood and chameli oil, is provided by the
In another ceremony, henna is applied to the
hands and feet of the bride-to-be. A symbolic
token, in the form of a spot, is also applied to the
groom. After the henna ceremony, the bride does
not leave her house until the wedding.