Although most of the wedding rituals are twisted forms of some family tradition, there are some whose existence can be traced from historical times. Varmala is one of them. It has great historical significance since this is exactly how princesses used to choose their husbands during their swayamvar. (Remember how Draupadi chose Arjun as her husband during the epic swayamvar?) The tradition of exchanging flower garlands has been going on for thousands of years! Even though we’ve moved on from swayamvars, couples still exchange varmalas during the wedding as a depiction of accepting each other as better halves, for life and beyond. In some states, people still prefer to call it Jaimala!
Most people prefer Varmalas made of fresh flowers. The best combination for the same is that of roses, jasmine and marigold. People have also started using garlands made of artificial flowers. Artificial flowers have a longer shelf life and they don’t spoil the clothes during the ceremony.
The groom is first worshiped (symbolically) upon his arrival, after which the ceremony of Varmala takes place. Normally the bride puts the varmala around her husband-to-be first, after which the groom follows the suit. It denotes the beginning of the wedding ceremony.
The fun part is when all the groomsmen trouble the bride by making it difficult for her to put the flower garland on the grooms neck first since it is believed that whoever lowers their head first to accept the garland remains the dominated one in the relationship. It begins with the groom dodging the bride’s attempts at placing the varmala.
As the game gets competitive, you get to witness extremely funny moments where the groomsmen tease the bride by picking the groom up on their shoulders. Of course, the men on the bride’s side do not lag behind. They pick her up, almost as a reflex, to bring them both to the same eye level again. The bride then keeps trying to place the varmala on his neck, sometimes as if she’s throwing it to score a basket!
All in all, the Varmala ceremony is a great depiction of the love, respect and acceptance that the couple share with each other. In olden days, and even now in arranged marriages – the Varmala is the first ice-breaker between Husband & Wife. They accept each other as their better halfs for the rest of their lives by illustrating their ‘I do’ through the ceremony!