In the ancient era, it was believed by the Romans that the vein in the fourth finger in our left hand directly runs to one’s heart and was therefore called ‘vena amoris’ or the beautiful ‘vein of love’. Subsequently, this finger came to be known as ‘ring finger’ as many couples exchanged rings and wore them in this finger to mark the unification grounded on love.
As cultures evolved this became a ritual in many parts of the world. In India, this ritual is called “Sagai” and is the second of many ceremonies held during a wedding. This custom is followed across most religions and is often called Mangni, Kurmai or Shagun. However, the core meaning of the custom remains the same.
Sagai, The Ceremony To Be Engaged
Sagai is the ‘ceremony to be engaged’ which marks the official asking of bride’s hand for marriage. An auspicious date for Sagai is required. These tithi dates are called ‘Shubh Sagai Muhuratam Din’. In this ceremony the bride and groom-to-be exchange rings to symbolize the union of two souls and both the families. A priest performs the ‘Sagai Puja’. He performs ‘Pratishtha’, that is both the rings are blessed at the Ring Ceremony by the Priest, both families, near, dear and friends. Sagai can take place months or weeks prior to the wedding. The bride’s family visits the groom’s family bearing gifts (often called shagun) for the ceremony. Sagai is the ‘first major event before marriage’.
Both the bride and the groom dress in traditional attire and are required to cover their heads. The bride covers her head with a chunri/pallu (head gear) and the groom with a pagdi or handkerchief. The family members shower flowers on the couple and bless them. Traditional songs are sung by the older women and dances are performed and everyone is fed with sweets.
Nowadays the Tilak ceremony also takes place along with the engagement. The bride’s father places tilak or tikka on groom’s forehead and presents him with gifts and shagun which includes a silver tray, some rice seeds, a coconut, and some cash. The groom’s family, on the other hand, presents a very ornate chunri to the bride which she wears throughout the rest of the ceremony. Then she is presented with seven baskets of dry fruits, some jewelry, and gifts. A small dot of henna is applied on her hands and the ceremony is concluded with the bride and groom sharing the same sweet. It is believed that sharing the same bite of food strengthens the bond and increases love, thus the couple shares the sweet.
The tilak ceremony is followed by the ritual of Sagai. The evening culminates with the bride and groom dancing with the rest of the family.