Seven Circles Around A Fire

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 31
Occupation: Optometrist
Residence: Bangalore, India
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/21/2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada

Item:

“In a Hindu wedding,  a non-negotiable component is the saat phere, or seven rounds around the sacred fire. What happens is that the bride’s dupatta (scarf) is tied to the end of the man’s scarf, symbolizing their bond, and they walk together around the fire seven times while the priest prays for their union and blesses them. It is so emblematic of a marriage that people who elope consider themselves married, without an official ceremony, if they have walked around a fire seven times. I think the religious significance in Hinduism is that people who get married are supposed to stay together for seven lifetimes.”

Context:

The informant told me what sparked his interest in this tradition – “I had seen this happen in so many Bollywood movies that I was very intrigued as to what it actually meant. So when I was getting married a few years ago – no, actually more like seven…no pun intended, ha ha – I made the mistake of telling my mother that I didn’t want to spend so much time in circling the fire so agonizingly slowly seven times. I…really shouldn’t have said that. Amma was so scandalized that she didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, at which point I was driven to find out what was so special about this tradition. So I did.”

Analysis:

This wedding tradition has deep roots in the Hindu faith – the ‘tying of the knot’ between the bride’s and groom’s scarves symbolizes their bond and the seven circles around the sacred fire are emblematic of, as the informant said, the belief that two people who are married will be reincarnated as literal soulmates for the next seven lives. This is reflective of the deeply-entrenched Hindu principle of the rebirth of the aatma, or soul, into several lifetimes. In addition to this, the number seven has particular significance in Hinduism and folk religious practices, playing out not only in the tradition of weddings, but also in astrology – the Saptarishi (Pleiades) constellation, meaning seven rishis or saints – as well as in proverbial phrases, such as “Seven steps with a stranger and you become friends. Seven more, and you are indebted to one another.”