This is for the benefit of all those who have the time and inclination to read and get a hang of Iyer wedding rituals.
Most of us desis, esp. the Iyers, observe rituals blindly without question and getting a hang of what transpires, more so because the mantras that the priests (pundits/shastris) chant are in the ancient Sanskrit language that isn’t spoken anywhere in India and few understand.
Things are a little better in the current generation because many of the caterers (contractors who take care of A to Z of weddings) give printed leaflet about the vedic rituals and what they signify for the benefit of the guests/invitees..
South Indian wedding: The tradition and the rationale.. with particular reference to the Iyers…
Basically the tenets of the Hindu Marriage, its conduct, procedures and styles are explicitly laid down in the Vedas. Due to regional cultural influences, pleasant variations have crept in without altering the fundamentals. The Hindu wedding is a balanced blending of religious, moral, cultural and joy, making it a memorable event. The vedic rituals solemnizes the marriage while indoctrinating specifies duties of the couple through life..
The Hindu wedding ceremony has a number of rituals and customs most of which are often labeled as superstitious or time-wasting. It is believed to be nothing but rituals. A ritual begins as a creative rational action to express a sentiment or an idea – like the lighting of a lamp to dispel darkness at twilight or the folding of hands into a “Namaste” to greet an elder. As more and more people in succeeding generations repeat the action, it becomes a convention, then a ritual. A ritual is thus an action on which time has set its seal of approval and sanctity.
As you enter a wedding hall or the gold old pandal you see..
Full grown plaintain trees tied to both the gateposts: eternal trees of evergreen bounty for endless generations.
Festoons overhead mango leaves, and screwpine petals that never fade! Infinite radiance,.
Notes of the nadaswaram, the South Indian Shehnai – passage to sound.
Kolam or rangoli designs at the doorsteps – an artistic welcome.
At the threshold of the hall, sprinklings of rose water, offerings of flower, sandal paste, sugar candy!
The evening previous to the marriage day..
Ushering in of the bridegroom..
On the evening prior to the wedding day, the bridegroom is to be brought in a procession from a temple in flower decorated vehicle. He is escorted by the bride’s parents, and welcome at the marriage mandap which is the bride’s abode. Nadaswaram band leads the procession along the streets, in the flower decorated vehicle, jam-packed with children..
This is a social function, called Jaanavasam in South India and Baraat in North India.
Through such a parade, public approval is sought of the groom, chosen by the family.
After reaching the marriage hall, there is a formal ceremony of betrothal.
On the wedding day.,
The preliminary invocations – Ganapati Puja.
As in any function, Ganapathi, and the God of initiation is invoked, first to keep away all impediments.
Naandi Devata puja..
There are several presiding deities – the Naandi Devatas. To propitiate them, a leaf-laden branch of the papal tree is installed, and an ablution with milk is performed by five sumangalis. This puja is followed by a presentation of a dhothi, and a saree to the couple.
This is performed to propitiate the nine astral planets that rule over man’s destinies.
The marriage ceremonies begin with the vratham performed separately by the bride and the groom. For the bride, it means the tying of the KAPPU. The Holy thread on her wrist which is meant to ward of off all evil spirits. It symbolizes a kind of protective armour for the bride. For the groom, the vratham begins with invocations – involving the various Gods – Indra, Soma, Chandra, Agni. From there on, the groom prepares himself for a new chapter in his life as a householder or Grihasta. The days of his bachelorhood or brahmacharya are now over and the vow to uphold three values is vratham.
This is a very important part of the ceremony. Immediately after his student life the young bachelor has two alternatives before him – Married life (Grihasta) or asceticism (Sanyas). Being by nature escapist, he prefers the ascetic life in the tribulations of married life. He therefore “makes his way” to Kasi (Varanasi), complete with slippers, umbrella, bamboo fan etc. On his way, the bride’s father intervenes and advises him of the superiority of married life to ascetic life. He also promises to give him his daughter as companion to face the challenge of life. The umbrella is to remind him in the future of this advice.
‘Vaaku nichaya muhurtham’
At the marriage hall, the bride’s father and the bridegroom’s father facing each other, solemnize the final betrothal ceremony, the vedic priests chanting the relevant hymns in which the names of the bride, the bridegroom, as well as the names of their three generations of ancestors are cited in the presence of friends, relatives and guests.
The mantras say: “O God Varuna, Be she harmless to my brother and sister! Oh Brihaspati! May she think no evil to her husband! Oh Lord Indra! Bless her to be a good guardian of her children! Oh Surya! Bless her with all wealth!!”
Exchange of garlands..
The bride and the groom are lifted to the shoulders of their respective maternal uncles and in the position to garland each other thrice for a complete union. A garland worn by a person, should not be used by another, ordain our shastras. Here, the exchange of garlands symbolize their unification – as one soul in two bodies. It is the inward acceptance of holy union.
‘Onchal’ – Swing, ride and singing of laali..
Then the couple are seated on a swing (oonchal), they rock forth and back, as the ladies around sing laali songs to praise the couple. The chains of the swing signify the eternal cosmic link with Almighty above, the to-and-fro motion represent the undulating sea-waves of life; yet, in mind and body they shall move in harmony unperturbed, steady and stable.
‘Paalikai’ seeds sowing..
This is a fertility rite. Paalikais are earthen pots prepared a day earlier – pots spread at the base with hoarily grass and bael leaves (vilvam): nine kinks of pre-soaked cereals are ceremonially sown in these pots by sumangalis. After the marriage, the sprouted seeding released in a river or pool. This ritual invokes the blessings of the eight guardants and their guardian angels, for a healthy life and progeny.
The feet of the bridegroom is washed in milk and wiped off with silk.
Water and lighted lamps are circulated around the swing in order to guard the couple against evil.
Coloured globulets of cooked rice circumambulated and thrown over – to propitiate compassionate souls.
The bride is made to sit on her father’s lap and is given away as gift by him, to the bridegroom.
On the girl’s head, a ring made with kusa, the sacred grass called darbha, is placed and over it is plaed a yoke; the Gold Mangal Sutra (or Thaali) is placed right on the aperture of the yoke, and water is poured through the aperture. The mantras changed at this time say..
“|Let this gold multiply your wealth! Let this water purify your married life, and may your prosperity increase. Offer yourself to your husband!”
The bride then is given an auspicious benediction, and an exclusive new koorai saree draped around her, this is done by the sister of the bridegroom.
To the bride in her new saree, a belt made of reed-grass is tied around the waist. The mantras chant..
“She standeth here, pure before the holy fire, as one’s blessed with boons of a good mind, a healthy body, life-long companionship of her husband (sumangali bhagyam) and children with long life. She standeth as one who is avowed to stand by her husband virtuously. Be tied with this red-grass rope, to the sacrament of marriage!”
Thanksgiving vedic hymns follow to the celestial caretakers of her childhood: the deities of soma, gandharva and agni. Having attained nobility, the girl is now free to be given over to the care of the human – her man.
The Vedic concept underlying this ritual figuratively this; that in her infant sage, soma had given her coolness of the moon, and strength; in the next stage, Gandharva had given her bodily beauty, and lastly Agni gave her the passions.
The father of the bride, while offering his daughter chants:
“I offer you my daughter, a maiden virtuous, good-natured, very wise, decked with ornaments to the best of my ability; that she shall guard the dharma, wealth and love!”
The bridegrooms assurance
Thus offering his daughter, her father gets a word of assurance three times that the bridegroom shall remain forever her companion in joy and sorrow – in this life and beyond.
The bride ties a string fastened to a piece of turmeric around the wrist of the bridegroom to bind themselves by a religious vow. It is only after tying the Kankanam that the bridegroom gets the right to touch the bride. A little later, the bridegroom ties a Kankanam on the bride’s wrist.
Next, timed to exact auspicious hpur, is the tying of the mangala sutra (thaali). The bride is seated over a sheaf of grains-laden hay, looking eastward,, and the bridegroom facing westward, ties the old Mangala sutra around the neck of the bride. As he does so, the Nadaswaram drums are beaten loud and fast, so as to muffle any inauspicious sound at the hour.
This is called Getty Melam. As it sounds, the sumangali ladies sing “gouri Kalyaname’ vaibhogamay!”
The inherent eternal qualities of Prakriti – satva, rajas and tamas, three strings woven into one or three qualities mixed into one or three strata pressed together- matrix of the universe permeating all things.
Three knots are tied – the first one by the bridegroom, the other two knots, by his sister to make the bride a part of the family. The vedic hymn recited by the bridegroom.
This means ‘holding hands’. The groom holds the hand of the bride. The mantras say: The devas have offered you to me in order that I may live the life a householder (grihasta), we shall not part from each other even after we grow infirm due to age!
Holding the bride’s hand, the bridegroom walks seven steps with her. This is the most important part of the marriage ceremony, and only when they walk 7 steps together (i.e. perform Saptha padhi) is the marriage complete legally – the belief is that when one walks 7 steps together, one becomes the other’s friend. The mantras recited then, mean: “Ye who have walks seven steps with me, become my companion, whereby I acquire your friendship. We shall remain together, inseparable. Let us make a vow together we shall share love, share the same food, share the strength, the same tastes. We shall be of one mind, we shall observe the vows together. I shall be the Sama, yu the RIG; I shall be the Upper World, you the Earth; I shall be the Sukhilam, you the Holder – together we shall live, beget children, and other riches, come thou, O sweet-minded girl!”
A crucial part of the wedding is the homage paid by the couple to Agni, the Fire-Good. They circle around the fire, and feed it with ghee, and twigs of nine types of trees, as sacrificial fuel. |The fumes that arise are supposed to possess medicinal, curative and cleansing effects on the bodies of the couple.
Agni, the mightiest power in the Cosmos, the sacred purifier, the all-round benefactor, is deemed as a witness to the marriage (agni saakshi)
Threading on the grindstone..
Holding the bride left foot toe, the bridegroom helps her tread on a grindstone kept on the right side of the fire. The mantras say..
Mount up this stone. Let thy mind be rock-firm, unperturbed, by the trials and tribulations of life.
Showing her the ‘Arundhati” star
Next he shows the star Arundhati (of the saptharishi constellation), as also duruva, the polestar. Arundhati, the wife of Vasishta Maharishi, is exemplified as an ideal wife, the embodiment of chastity.
Dhruv is the one who attained immortality through single-minded devotion and perseverance – virtues to be emulated through married life.
This shall comprise the bride’s own offering to the sacrificial fire. As she is forbidden to do it herself, her brother help[s her. He gives her a handful of parched rice grains which she hands to the bridegroom who on her behalf, feeds it into the fire. Through this food offering, the bride seeks a long life for her husband and propagation of the family. Participation of the bride’s family members indicates the continuance of links between the two families, after marriage. The cou-le circle around the fire, three times, and the feeding of the fire with parched rice, is repeated thrice.
Showering of ‘akshadhai’
Akshadai i.e. rice-grains coated with turmeric and saffron are showered on the cou-le, by elders and invitees, as benediction.
Taking with the fire from the Lajja Homam, the bride takes leaves of her home, and enters the new home of her in-laws. The vedic hymns now sound like the mother’s words of advice to her daughter: “Be the queen of your husband’s home. May your husband glorify your virtues; conduct yourself in such a way that you win your mother-in-law’s love, and be in the good books of your sisters-in-law”
The evening of the marriage day is time to relax and play. The newlywed wife calls her husband for play, inviting him through a song, much to the merriment of one and all all gathered. There follows a list of playful items: the bride annoynting the groom’s feet with colour paste; fanning him, showing him a mirror, breaking papads over each others head; wrenching the betel pack from each others hands, rolling the coconut from one to another as in ballplay; and so on. During these items, the ladies sing songs poking fun at the bride, groom and the in-laws.
These events bring out many qualities of the bride and the groom – sporting spirit, kindness, strength, co-operative nature, etc.
The night time homam – the Jayaathi homam is performed to propitiate Gandharvas and other deities.
Pravesha homam is done to solemnize the bride’s entry into the husband’s home. The sacrificial fire is brought along by the bride.
Sesha Homam is fire oblation with the residual ghee, a little of which is sprinkled on the bride’s head four times. This function should be performed only after 6.30 p.m. in the day of muhurtham.
Thaamboolam and baladhanam: The girl’s brother gives the ceremonial first betel to the couple to chew. Certain other gifts mare made to bless the couple with children and long life.
A solution of cumcum and turmeric powder, and in colour, is prepared on a plate, and circled around and thrown away to ward off evil eye. This is done a number of times during the entire wedding ceremony.
(A general comment… most of the hymns/mantras were composed and the rituals formed hundreds of years ago, when people, with their limited knowledge, considered God or Godly anything that they couldn’t comprehend – that’s how or why Sun, Moon, Agni, Vayu and many planets came to be worshiped by many as Gods… Of course, this is my personal view.. You can have your own…)