Weekend: To Have and to Hold; for Thousands of Years People Have Fallen in Love and Dedicated Their Lives to Each Other. Wedding Ceremonies within Many Cultures and Religions Have Existed for Just as Long. Kirsten Jensen Takes a Closer Look at the Rituals, Traditions and Ethics of the Big Event, the Meaning of Marriage within Different Faiths - and, over the Page, She Is a Special Guest at a Hindu Wedding

Article excerpt

Byline: Kirsten Jensen

HINDUISM

The Hindu temple in Heathfield Road, Handsworth, was established in 1967 and was the first of its kind in the West Midlands. As you enter it you notice the relaxed atmosphere, the smell of incense and sound of Indian music.

There is an array of colours from the red carpet to the exotic religious features and altars.

'Hinduism has existed since human beings came into existence and there have always been many rituals for the wedding ceremony,' says M P Sharma, who is the general secretary of the Hindu temple, Shiri Geeta Bhawan.

'When the girl is around 16 or 18, her family starts to look around for a suitable boy,' explains Anand V Chandan, a trustee of the temple.

'The first thing they look for is that the family of the boy must have good standards. If the family is good, they will visit the temple, do good deeds and do charitable work,' he says.

'The families meet first and afterwards the boy and girl get a chance of talking to each other.'

He stresses the families do not influence the children - the parents will tell the children that they think the two of them will be compatible, but it is up to the couple to decide if they want to get married. If they chose not to proceed, the parents look for another suitable partner.

Deep philosophical beliefs lie behind the idea of a Hindu marriage.

'First, the boy and girl are two entities and the two families are separate entities. But once they are married, they merge. It is not only the boy and girl who are getting married, it is two families getting married,' explains Mr Chandan.

The religious ceremony is based on cultural ideas of the role of men and women. It emphasises the man is the provider and the woman stays at home and takes care of the family.

But Mr Chandan points out it is now recognised that times have changed. 'Economically, the girl is no longer dependent on the boy and the girls are allowed to work nowadays.'

The Hindu marriage is also about taking responsibility and serving society.

'In Hinduism, you do not serve God by restricting to the four walls of your own home. You have to go beyond. Service of human beings is also service of God,' says M P Sharma.

'In olden days you could not marry a non-Hindu person because you could not marry people from another caste, but these days it is acceptable in some parts of society,' says Anand V Chandan.

In Hinduism, there originally was no divorce. 'Marriage is forever and moral values are a very important aspect for Hindu married people,' says M P Sharma.

Times have changed and couples do separate but their families usually try to mediate.

'People cannot live together before they get married. If a couple walks around hand in hand they cannot enter the temple because the society does not accept any physical contact between the man and woman before they get married,' he says. 'They can meet in the boy's or the girl's house with the family around. Parents can leave them alone in a room so they can talk and get to know each other, but they cannot touch each other.

'The courtship in the English marriage is getting to know each other. After the courtship, they get married. But in our religion the courtship starts after the marriage.'

JUDAISM

Birmingham Progressive Synagogue was founded in 1935, and it has been licensed to hold marriages since 1959. The synagogue is designed in a simple style, the altarpiece being the only decorative feature.

But when a wedding ceremony takes place, the synagogue has another important decoration: the chuppah. It is a beautifully woven canopy which is placed on four poles and the service takes place under it.

The exchanging of rings is very important in the Jewish ceremony. 'In Jewish tradition, the wedding has to be quite plain so the ring is just a plain band,' says rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi. …