TAMIL WEDDING & CUSTOM
HINDU WEDDING RITUALS
Each time I hear the phrase “Arranged marriage”, it brings to mind the song of Apache Indian’s of the same name. He goes on to describe the girl he wants to get married to “me want gal, to look after me, to make me roti…”.
Arranged marriages, which are so the norm here in India, always seems to faze the non-Indians. One simply can’t fathom how practical strangers can be married to each other and settle down for a life together. No matter how westernised our country may have become, arranged marriages are still how a majority of the weddings in our country are carried out. The first stage is the search for horoscopes – through friends, marriage brokers as well as the horoscope matching centres, parents start procuring the horoscopes of eligible boys / girls. The horoscopes have to be matched according to various parameters. Once a horoscope matches, then the parents of that girl / boy are contacted and the horoscopes will be exchanged. If both sides find the horoscopes compatible, then the second stage begins – ‘seeing’ the girl.
After choosing a nalla naal (auspicious day), the parents of the boy visit the girl and her family and if both sides are pleased with the state of affairs, they things like how much silver, gold etc will be given by the girl’s family to the girl. then they fix the date for the engagement (nitchayadaartham). After the engagement, the boy and girl are allowed to go out – sometimes chaperoned, sometimes not, depending on the individual families. During the engagement, the rough date for the wedding is fixed.
The wedding will usually take place 3 – 4 months after the engagement.
Hindu Weddings (South Indian Brahmin) – Religious significance and practices
Marriages in South Indian Brahmin families are performed according to Vedic rites as prescribed. The rituals other than marriages such as Upanayanam, Namakarnam are normally religious functions only. In the case of marriage, however, there is a social content also. Social aspects of marriages are (a)Reception by procession of the groom (Janavasam or Mappilai ashaippu) (b)Exchange of garlands (Maalai matruthal) (c) Oonjal ( Swing on which the young to be married are made to sit and rocked gently.) (d) Nalangu (Passing coconut shape brass ball between the couple).
In the olden days marriages used to be performed on four days apart from the afternoon on the day previous to the first (Muhurtham) day and the period till afternoon of the day subsequent to the last day of the marriage. Religious rites will be performed both morning and evening of the three days subsequent to the marriage day. The intervening time are spent in social functions. Nalangu forms part of these functions. Processions of bride & bride groom separately except on the last day when the two used to sit side by side while on procession It used to be in a carriage drawn by two horses. With the advent of cars the processions were in open top cars. On the third day normally the procession used to be in a palanquin fully decorated. Nathhaswaram plays an important part in marriages, from the evening of the day before the muhurtham till the afternoon of the day before the last day. These functions enable both the brides’ and the grooms’ party to know each other better.
Normally marriages used to be conducted at the residence of the bride. Big pandal is erected in front of the house. It may cover neighbours house fronts and major portion of the street. The whole village used to be involved in the arrangements. Personal assistance for the bride’s family used to be just for the asking. This is another social aspect. With the disposal of the family members in various parts of the world and also due to lack of space in the cities and towns marriages are conducted in Kalyana Mandapams now-a-days.
The main events of the Hindu Brahmin wedding are:
The bride and grooms party less the bride assemble at a nearby temple where the groom is offered new dress befitting the occasion and then he is taken in a procession in an open car to the mandapam. This function is becoming extinct now-a-days.
The groom has to perform certain religious rites relating to bramacharya asramam and for entering grahastha asramam.
The groom is supposed to proceed on a long tour. On the way he is stopped by the bride’s father, who requests the groom to abandon his tour and accept his daughter as his wife.
Exchange of garlands ( Malaai matruthal):
The groom accepts the proposal and he is brought to the mandapam where the bride awaits in brilliant clothes and ornaments, flowers. In addition to a big garland she will be wearing three garlands. The groom will be in two garlands besides the big one. The bride removes one of the three garlands and puts it around the neck of the groom. The groom in his turn removes one of his garlands and puts it round the bride’s neck. This is done three times. In performing this both the bride and the groom are helped by their respective maternal uncles. This function used to be full of fun and frolic in the olden days. The girl and the boys used to be young. The uncles lift them on their shoulders and it is the skill, how the garland is put around the neck of each other. Now-a-days it is enacted in a lack lustre way. The awkwardness being felt by the couple especially the bride owing to their age stands out. This may also fade away as “Janavasams” did.
The couple is made to sit on the “Oonjal” which is rocked gently. The spectators ( relatives and friends) get a chance to exhibit their talents in music. Suitable songs are sung. In the olden days these rendering used to be repeated in the nathaswaram. This doesn’t happen now, probably due to lack of time, while these go on the couple is offered milk and plantain and the ladies from both the families (particularly elders) throw coloured rice balls in four directions to ward off the evil spirits.
Kannika Dhanam :
After the couple is led to the platform where preliminary religious rites are performed, the groom is referred to by the father of the bride as “matavishnuswarupi” ie., resembling Lord Maha Vishnu- After washing his feet the groom is invited to accept the bride as ” Kannika Dhanam” In this the bride sits on the lap of her father. Her hands twined upward are placed on the upward turned hands of the groom. A coconut, betel leaves, nuts are placed on the hands of the bride. In the olden days gold coins used to be placed. (This is because any Dhanam is to accompanied by some Sambavanai in cash.) This aspect no longer exists. It is possible that this ” Sambavanai” turned into “dowry” which used to be taken in advance. ——- is not offered in kannika dhanam now-a-days. Water is poured on the brides’hands by her mother. Then the father releases his hand from that of his daughter thus placing the hand of the bride over the hands of the groom who accepts the Dhanam.
Mangalya Dharanam :
The bride is offered new clothes by the groom, after his accepting her. While the bride is away changing the dress prayer is offered to the “Tirumangalyam” before giving. It is taken around the hall to get the blessings of elders in the assembly. Now -a-days every individual touches these as their blessing. Actually the intention is the old couple has to bless the new ones to be. As soon as the bride comes with the new dress, she sits on the lap of her father. The groom has to perform some religious rites and then he ties the Mangalyam around the neck of the bride. He puts one knot. His sister standing behind the bride completes the three knots. Flowers are showered on the couple. (supposedly, for these flowers normally lands o0n the heads and shoulders of those (relatives) who stand round and covering the couple.
There is a paradox in this. Although the mangalyam as well as tying it are considered sacred no vedic mantras are recited for this. Only a sloham is recited. There is a misconception these days that this tying of the mangalyam completes the marriage. They start dispersing and in doing so they go and shake the hands of the bride and groom. This prevents very important religious functions of the marriage. Immediately after tying of the mangalyam the couple sit beside the homagundam. “Panigraharam” is then performed with the recital of mantras. this is an important function because the groom grasps the hand of the bride officially after accepting her as dhanam. In fact if one sees the invitations issued by the father of the groom the boy one will see that the invitation like anupasanam, lagya homam etc., are performed. Then Saptha Sathi is performed.
Saptha sathu :
In this function the groom lifts the right foot of the bride and helps her to stand over a stone placed on the north side of the homa kundam to the recital of mantras. Then the couple comes round the homa kundam fire. This is performed seven times. The marriage is complete only after the performance of this Saptha Sathi.
No one is expected to intervene from the tying of the magalyam and saptha sathi by shaking hands. After panigrahanam the groom performs aupasanam for the first time. This recital is one every individual is required to perform daily in the morning and evening. To enable such performance the “agni” from this homam is placed inside a mud pot in which rice husks are already placed. The fire has to be rekindled every time aupasanam is performed and after the aupasanam the fire is again placed inside the pot. This is not being done since no one (perhaps a few) performs aupasanam these days. A pot is, however, carried when the groom leaves for his home.
Arundhadhi darsanam :
The groom is to take the bride now his wife) outside the pandal/mandapam after night fall and show her arundhathi shining in the sky as a bright star. This is to show her the faithful devotion and “—barlthu surushai—” as an example.
A TAMIL PROTESTANT WEDDING
The church has to be booked as soon as a date for the wedding is fixed by paying a token sum of money. Usually the church which the bride or the groom belongs to is booked for the marriage ceremony. The Christian weddings usually take place only in the evenings and days like Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are most preferred.
Before the marriage can take place a 3 week engagement period is a must. During these 3 weeks the match between the bride and groom will be announced to the congregation. This time period is maintained so that if anybody objects to the union then they can present a written complaint to stop the marriage.
The bride is presented by her father as the groom waits at the altar to receive her. The whole service begins with the marriage ceremony where the bride and groom are first asked whether they agree to this union and then they repeat the vows. The bride and the groom each wear a lily garland sideways- with their one hand on the outside. And then the groom ties a thali around the bride’s neck- a golden cross hangs from the thali. After this they wear the garland around their neck- hanging in the front. Then the holy communion for the bride and groom is conducted where they are given the symbolic bread and wine. Then the bride and groom sign the marriage certificate with two witnesses, however the parents of either the bride or groom are not allowed to sign as witnesses, it is usually the uncles or friends. Then a certificate of marriage is issued by the pastor of the church and it is signed by the highest authority thus sanctifying the union. If requested a special service can conducted for the newly weds by the priest.
With this the marriage ceremony comes to an end and the bride and groom exit to the wedding march played on the pipe organ. It is customary that they take a ride in a car before the reception festivities begin.
The church decorations can be left to the sexton who will put the usual streamers and others. But if you are particular then you can buy all the necessary decorations, enlist the help of your all those eager relatives and deck the whole church to match your taste. The reception is conducted in the hall which is available on the premises of the church or in a hotel.
TAMIL CATHOLIC WEDDINGS
A Tamil Catholic’s pre-wedding preparations have certain things in common with that of the Hindu weddings. Much like their Hindu counterparts, parents start spreading the word around to their friends and family members that they are looking for a suitable match for their son / daughter. When they hear of a girl / boy fitting their expectations, they set up a meeting with the parents of the boy / girl to talk further.
Once the two families meet and they like each other, then they finalize the wedding talks in front of their family elders. Next, the two families register the match in their own local parish churches. At this time, they must get a certificate from their Church. This certificate contains details like the Church the family’s registered with, details of their confirmation / Holy Communion etc. Once these details have been registered, the baans are read in the two Churches. If anyone has anything to say against the match, they speak up at this time. The banns are read out for three weeks and after the third week, the wedding date is finalized. If the reading gets no objection, it signifies that the match has got the complete blessing of the Holy Church. On the wedding day, the bride and groom are decked in all their finery and are brought to the Church by their families.
The brides don’t wear the wedding gowns like their western counterparts – they wear special lace sarees or silk sarees and wear a veil and also a small crown on their head. The groom is dressed in a tuxedo. In the presence of the priest, they exchange their wedding vows. Instead of exchanging rings, the groom ties a thaali (mangalsutra) around the bride’s neck. After this, the priests reads out certain passages from the Bible.
The wedding is solemnly registered in the Church register, citing the name of the couple as well as the date. Two witnesses also sign the register, along with the bride and groom. The couple cut the wedding cake and with this, the ceremony in the Church is over. Next, the parties proceed to the reception site.
MARRIAGE – CITY STYLE
He ignored me as he scanned the invitation card and frowned at the marriage programmed according to which the reception was fixed first and wedding the next day. “Nowadays the reception is more important and attending the marriage is not compulsory. And the reception timing is given as 6p.m but we need not go that early.” I ventured. “I never go late to marriage functions. Besides, I am going to meet my childhood friend,” he announced.
At 6 p.m., we were at the marriage venue, only to find that they were still unfolding the chairs. As we helped ourselves, my great uncle soundly cursed the marriage party for their hopeless punctuality. Around 7 p.m. both the marriage parties arrived . My uncle was greeted warmly by his friend and his wife for a brief while. After that they vanished from the scene to spend the rest of the evening with the would-be -couple. Around the same time, in one corner of the reception hall one small stage was created in five minutes and a music party started testing the mikes. The orchestra leader wished us loudly and spoke eloquently about his troupe and about the wonderful time we were going to have. ” Is he a man or a woman? Why does he have such long hair and rings in his ears?” My uncle enquired disgustedly. I explained to him that this was the latest fashion trend for singers in orchestras. That was the last piece of quiet conversation we had. Thereafter, we our voices were drowned in a noise called “music”. It appeared as though the orchestra had descended with the sole aim of making the gathering deaf for the rest of their life.
“What’s that long queue towards the stage?” My uncle asked me with great difficulty, shouting his question into my ears.
“That’s the queue for wishing the couple and giving the gift. Shall we join the line?” I shouted back into his ears.
“No! I won’t! Let them call me.” He seemed to have become displeased by the inattention being paid to him by his friend. His friend was all busy sharing the video-limelight with his son. Some men were roaming around aimlessly. Several jewel-bedecked women were walking along pretending to be very busy but in reality enjoying the display of their jewels and sarees. No one took notice of us. Finally, when the music gave us brief respite, I convinced him that it was the order of the day in this city not to expect to be called personally to the reception-stage. He cursed for sometime and finally relented after some more persuasion. As we neared the couple, a teenage-girl behind the bride-groom literally dragged the gift packet and put it on a table and then we were made to stand along with the couple in front of the video and shake hands. It all happened in a trice and by the time we came down the stage, my uncle was fuming.
“What sort of marriage is this? No courtesy at all. Neither the groom nor my friend enquired about my arrival, where I am staying. Let me thrash it out with him, when he comes for inviting me for dinner” “Uncle! Nobody is going to invite us for dinner. We have to find our way to the dinning hall ourselves “. My uncle was aghast.
“Then I won’t take any marriage dinner.” Between micro-seconds of the breaks of music, I explained a little more on the latest trends of marriage in the city and the futility of searching for a hotel at that hour. He relented stating that he would settle all the scores with his friend leisurely. In the dinning hall, my uncle faced some more not-so-pleasant scenes. We missed three rounds as he insisted on waiting outside. Finally like all others, we stood inside the dinning hall behind those who were already eating quickly occupying their seats, as they started getting-up. Then we sat there still inspecting the left-overs and the leaves. For a few minutes there was some lull and the action started again. The next round of dinner being served at cyclonic speed. I could do nothing but watch uncle in sympathy. He simply could not keep pace with the servers who were fast disappearing. “Why are they serving samples of all items?” He enquired.
” They are not samples. That’s how dinner is served here”
As usual we were promptly ejected out of our seats as we came to our last item. By the time we came out, uncle was all heat and steam . He directly headed for his friend and burst-out.
“That’s it. I am bloody- well not going to turn-up for the marriage tomorrow”
The music of the orchestra was not relenting. I really don’t know what his friend had heard, but I could barely hear him reply.
“Oh! Thank you, thank you so much. It’s all my pleasure.”
Courtesy ‘Eve’s Touch’
BRIDAL MAKE UP
Marriage, one of the most special occassions in a woman’s life, naturally imparts a special glow to the bride, who will definitely want to look her best on that day. While friends and relatives used to help the bride to dress up today there is wide choice of professionals for taking care of every aspect of her appearance, from special bridal outfits to make-up and hairdo.
A couple of major advantages of opting for professional attention are their working to a plan and attention to detail. Each bride is dressed and made up according to her taste and preference in line with which a detailed plan is laid out. Gone are the days when make-up consisted only of rose powder, kajal and bindi. No longer also are routine sets of make-up and hairstyles used anymore. They are chosen carefully taking into consideration a bride’s face structure and suitability. With rising awareness about make-up, different concepts of beauty and individuality, women of today know what they want.
First the make-up is completed and only then is the hairstyle decided. Mrs. Krishna, owner of Shy’s Nest beauty parlour, on V K Iyer Road , Mandevelli says, “After putting on the make-up we decide the best suited hairstyle. This way we give the make-up the time needed to set (ice cubes are rubbed over the face to help the make-up set) and also we will be able to choose the correct hairstyle according to the way she looks.”
The face is first thoroughly cleaned and then a concealer applied in areas where the skin colour is patchy or not uniform. It is mainly used to conceal dark circles and other blemishes in the skin. Pancake is then applied next to the skin texture giving the face a uniform base on which the next layer of make-up can be built upon. According to the skin tone, the correct shade of foundation is smoothed over. It should beapplied in such a way that it blends in with the skin colour. The concealer, pancake, and the foundation are applied both on the face and neck. Next the eyeliner, the mascara and the eye shadow are applied and then compact and translucent powder added to hide the shine, as touch-up. The lips are outlined with a lip liner and then filled out with lipstick. To give the bride a special glow, light touches of ‘glitters’ are added over the eyebrows, cheekbones and the chin.
Mrs. Krishna lists some absolute no-no’s in bridal makeup, “Eye shadow colours must suit the skin colour, so daring colours like blue and green must not be used. They tend to give a weird look to the face. Maroons and browns are the best lipstick shades for our skin types, therefore pinks should be avoided, as they clash with our dusky skin colour”. She says that gold tones are the best for our skin types, they highlight the face and make the bride look luminous and attractive. The make-up will last for 4 hours and the bride is advised to blot out the beads of sweat and not rub or wipe it, because then the make-up will be removed from that spot, and the original skin colour will show as a patch.
Hairstyles range from the simple French braid to the complex buns and rolls. Readymade hair switches are also available for elaborate hairstyles. Pearls, rhinestones, flower buds, golden lace, satin ribbons, jewelled hair bands, are used for decorating the hairstyle. The hair ornaments differ from beautician to beautician. As Mrs. Krishna says, “we choose the hairstyle according to the hair type and the bone structure of the face. For example, some brides still insist on wearing a long plait which may not suit them. So I arrange her hair in a more suitable way, but if she still insists on a plait, then I do it for her.”
It is better that the bride has a trial session with the beautician before hand. This will help her to select the correct make-up and hairstyles, saving time. Usually bridal make-up is a whole package consisting of make-up, hairstyle and tying the sari, both in the Gujarathi style and the regular way. The entire process can take anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hrs. Many of the beauticians also come to the marriage hall and dress up the bride. Apart from beauty parlours many women also operate from their houses. In these cases, you should definitely check the credibility of the person and also examine the brand of cosmetics she uses. “All the products of the same brand must be used, only then they will blend in perfectly. Another advantage is that in case of an allergic reaction, we will know which brand to avoid. If we use products of different brands, then it becomes difficult to recognise the cause of the reaction,” says Mrs. Krishna.
THE STORY OF THE SAREE
The Indian Saree (a.k.a. Sari, Seere, Sadi) boasts of oldest existence in the sartorial world. It is more than 5000 years old! It is mentioned in Vedas, the oldest existing (surviving) literature (3000 B.C.) Patterns of dress change throughout the world now and then but, the Sari has survived because it is the main wear of rural India. 75% of the population (now a billion as per official estimate) wear versatile sari. We can certainly call this cloth versatile because it could be worn as shorts, trousers, flowing gown-like or convenient skirt-wise–all without a single stitch! Saree (original–Chira in Sanskrit, cloth) is of varied length. From 5 yards to 9.5 yards tied loosely, folded and pleated, it could be turned into working dress or party-wear with manual skill. For day today dress of middle class women, 5-6 yard sari is comfortable to manage household chores. Working class tucks the same length above the ankles and if they have to work in water or fields, they would tuck the front pleats between the legs to the back, and tie the upper portion round the waist. This left them free movement of hands and legs.
One Saree. Many Incarnations
A nine yard Saree used to be a connoisseurs pleasure with Saree embellishments, embroidery and gold designing. At the same time it was as safe a dress as trousers. It was worn in the similar way as working Saree. But, some pleats covered the ankles as well. A gold silver or cloth belt was fastened which kept pallu, (upper cover) pleats and folds in tact. Jhansi’s Queen Laxmibai, Belawadi Mallamma and Kittur Chennamma fought enemy troops on horseback, wearing Saree this way. Tight tucking of the front pleats in the back was called Veeragacche or soldier’s tuck.
Generally the climate of Indian subcontinent is warm and humid. Saree and its male counterpart dhoti was most suited for this land. Earlier there was hardly any difference between Saree and dhoti because men also liked to flaunt colorful Sarees with brocaded borders (see: Sarees for Men!). They could perhaps be interchanged in needy times. Only the upper portion of the Saree-length which covers the chest, left shoulder and at times head, is missing in Saree for men.
Styles in wearing Saree vary from region to region. Gujarat style and Bengali style are different. So are Mangalorean, Kannadiga, Kodava, Tamilian, Malayali, etc. The Saree is worn in at least 10 to 15 styles throughout the India, though the ways of wearing above used to be common. In Maharashtra and North Karnataka region, wearing a nine yard Saree (without a petticoat — long underskirt –which was superfluous) was in vogue till 20th century. My mother who was a good swimmer, used to wear a nine yard Saree tightly and swam in river Kali or Arabian sea along with my father. Wearing swimming costume could just not be dreamt of. But the versatile Saree was good enough to move through the waves.
Some people think that Indian Saree is influenced by Greek or Roman toga which we see on ancient statues. This is not correct. Saree is essentially Indian and designed to suit local conditions. Cotton was cultivated in India centuries before Alexander the Great landed on the borders of India and Indian cloth (chira or Saree) was a wonder to Greek eyes. In fact, Herodotus and other ancient western historians thought there were cloth-growing trees in India!
Raja Raviverma, the distinguished painter of 19th century, toured the entire sub-continent in search of the ideal female-wear. He wanted the best dress for the various goddesses he was asked and commissioned to paint. He selected the a yard Saree which drapes the body beautifully at the same time exhibiting contours of female anatomy–bust, waist, hips. Most of the female deities he painted are in this style.
Woman Wearing SareeFrom a Wall Painting in Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh14th Century A.D. An old or worn-out Saree is equally utilitarian. Grandmothers used to stitch quilts folding soft and worn-out Sarees and putting bright new cloth on cover, for children which kept them warm. Worn-out thicker Sarees were used as bed covers or blankets in the cradle (as the babies wetted it frequently). For village women, folds of Sarees serve as pouches, bags and haversack to carry grocery and at times babies as well. Some used to make a stand-by cradle out of Saree length for the baby. Tying the ends to a nearby tree. White Sarees could be turned into towels, napkins, diapers etc., even after they are worn out.
Dhoti is an abridged version of the Saree sans pallu (the throw of the Saree). Many Hero-stones (memorials for dead heroes) show the dhoti worn like breeches or shorts with Veeragachche; dagger and other weapons were tucked in dhoti folds.
With globalization, the dress of Indians is also getting westernized. But being most utilitarian, and multi-purpose Saree is still reigning in rural India and for all rituals and ceremonials it shines supreme to this day. Colorful Sarees are worn as pugrees, turbans and tribals haunt invariably women’s Sarees in dances. Yakshagana dancers wear Saree designed clothes.