National Geographic : 1965 Jan
o bounteous Indra, make this bride blest in her sons and fortunate! RIG-VEDA Gowned in saffron for dedica tion, the bride walks to a reli gious service on the wedding day. Her sister-in-law, the Maharani of Jaisalmer (left), wears a Rajasthani dress of five colors. Gay flags flutter beyond the window. An impressive heritage im bues Rajput princesses. Tradi tionally adept in swordplay, they have led armies and di rected governments. Rather than face dishonor, women have thrown themselves on burning pyres. Religious Raj puts practiced suttee-widow burning-until the mid-19th century, long after the British outlawed it. "A husband must be constantly worshiped as a god," say the Laws of Manu, and the faithful wife wished to follow her lord in death. Sacred fire burns under the wedding mandap,or tent (right). Priests prepare uncooked rice, barley, and sesame. Each step in the preliminaries must be faithfully followed. To the orthodox Hindu, marriage is a holy, indissoluble union of families as well as individuals. For good luck, the Maharani paints the bride's hand with henna. If the color remains bright, Hindus believe, her husband's love will endure.