The mandap in Hindu weddings is the central element of the wedding decorations. It’s considered the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the wedding rituals with only a select number of people like the bride, groom, their families and the officiating priests underneath its canopy.
For Hindus, the concept of a mandap came into existence because they believed that any sacred ritual had to be done within the four walls of their homes. This probably was a sign of prosperity back in the time when open grounds were not hygienic for holy rituals. It’s 2017 and weddings are no longer confined to four walls. Grand weddings are done in public wedding venue halls, open grounds and beaches (as proven by the increasingly fashionable trend of destination weddings).
Well, beach or otherwise, wedding mandaps are undeniably the centre of the wedding decorations. Yet, we don’t have complete answers to the question, ‘What is the significance of the mandap in a marriage?’ Let’s explore the Hindu Vedas to understand the mandap design and the meaning behind it.
What is the Mandap or Manavarai?
The mandap or ‘manavarai’ as it is known in South India, is simply a temporary four-poster structure with a canopy that forms the sacred space for traditional Hindu weddings. Traditionally, the manavarai is designed using organic pillars made of wood, bamboo, sugarcane or young banana stems. Stacks of pots are placed near the pillars and the top of the manavarai is covered in a red or gold canopy.
Is there a meaning behind the mandap design?
Hindu Vedic traditions seldom give us any rituals without meanings. Even the mandap design and décor are rich in meanings. Here are some facts about the wedding manavarai and its components that you might not know.
1. Stepping into the next stage of Life
The four pillars symbolize the four stages of life as per the Hindu Vedas – Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. Indeed, it is under this mandap that the groom steps out of his ‘Brahmacharya’ and becomes a Grihastha (a householder).
Furthermore, the pillars also signify the four important aspects of a human life – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha – that the husband and wife swear to uphold in their life together. Other interpretations say that the pillars represent the parents of the couple and the walls of the home where the newly married couple will start their life afresh.
2. Praying to the five elements
Some people believe that the mandap is the Universe under which the man and woman decide to enter marital life. At the four corners of the mandap there are stacks of pots called ‘Chori’ which are brightly decorated with velvet cloth, embroidery and stones. These symbolise the four elements – Earth, Water, Fire and Air. The fifth element – Space – is represented by the ‘gopuram‘ or canopy on top.
3. Remembering Nature’s bounty
It’s common to conjure up the colors of red and gold (yellow) when we recall a traditional Hindu wedding. The wedding mandap was decked in these celebratory colors for the prosperity of the bride and groom. There are splashes of red and yellow from the flower garlands and thorans, silks, turmeric and kumkum and the staple green from the banana leaves, betel leaves and mango leaves. The manavarai was designed to remind the bride and groom and their family members of the happiness in nature’s bounty.
4. Balancing the mind, body and soul
A brass or silver (depending on the class and social status of the families in ancient times) pot called Kalasha is placed in front of the bride and groom. The kalasha is said to represent the human body. It is filled with holy water, presumably from Ganga or Cauvery or any other holy river. According to the Hindus, this is to denote that the soul that occupies the human body is ‘pure’.
The kalasha is topped with a coconut that represents the head or mind of a human and is decorated with five mango leaves which represented…you guessed it! The mango leaves represent the five senses. This kalasha is now placed on a plantain leaf covered with raw rice or paddy – a symbol of prosperity, fertility and wealth.
The ‘poorana kumbam’ signifies a balance of the body, mind, soul and the five senses in the bride and groom. This was very crucial in arranged marriages since the entire institution was centred around producing healthy progeny of sound body and mind.
5. Bowing to the Holy fire
The holy fire is the witness – ‘saakshi’ – to the marriage. Vedas tell us that Agni stands for purity and spirituality. Ancient Hindus respected and revered the sacred fire. So, Agni is always invoked at the beginning of any auspicious event.
The Vivaah-homa is raised by burning fragrant herbs, ghee, raw rice and millets. All the wedding rituals like the vows, mangalyam, saat pheras and saptapadi happen before the Agni Kund. The rituals undertaken in front of the sacred fire are believed to follow Dharma. The promises made with Agni as the saakshi bind the man and woman in their matrimonial and societal duties.
6. Beginning a new life with abundance
The wedding manavarai overflows with fruits, flowers, silks and gold laid out on plates called the Thamboolam. This tradition of displaying opulence has remained unchanged from ancient times. Weddings were considered the union of two families and it makes sense that they would try to exhibit and outperform one another’s show of wealth. This display of wealth reassures the newlywed of all the blessings they have from both the families and the couple get to begin their married life in abundance.
It’s imperative for every couple to understand the sastra behind the mandap design because there are highly significant meanings behind every object and ritual. Mandap décor has been revolutionized to fit our modern times. That is awesome! Want something even better?? Ask your manavarai decorators to construct your wedding manavarai based on our Vedic sastra and give it a modern twist. Now, that would be an enriching experience, wouldn’t it?
Vivahhika is a leading bespoke wedding decorations company that has been creating dream weddings since 2011. We are based in Coimbatore and Chennai and our clients are from all over South India. If you have a wedding coming up and would like us to partner with you, then click here. Let’s talk.