Friday, July 24, 2009


Continued from previous post .. . . .
The bride waiting at the pandal welcomes the bridegroom with a garland, and he in his turn, garlands the bride.

Exchanging garlands at daughter Raji's
brother-in-law Chandran's wedding, 1976

In those days, since both the bride and the groom were children, the maternal uncles came forward to lift them on their shoulders. Sitting on the shoulders, the bride and the groom exchanged garland three times. This way everybody present could see them well and proper exchanging garlands. The uncles had more fun ducking and withdrawing to make it difficult for them to garland each other.

After getting down from the uncle’s shoulders, they were asked to hold hands and led to a flower decorated oonjal (swing). Here the priest got a chance to show off his musical prowess by singing the first oonjal song, and making way for the ladies to continue the singing.

Oonjal at Viji's wedding,1974

After each song, the nadaswaram player played the song faithfully on his instrument. This usually used to go on for half an hour or so. After this the couple was fed with banana pieces soaked in milk by the elderly Sumangali women. This was followed by the 'pachapdi sutthal' to ward off all evil eyes. The rice balls used for this are made with cooked rice mixed with turmeric powder and lime, giving it a red colour.

The most important part of the wedding is the ‘kanniga danam’ – giving away the bride. The bride’s father sat on a small bale of hay, with his daughter on his lap. She held betel leaves, a coconut and betel nuts in her cupped palms. The priests from both sides recited the lineage of the bride and the groom for three generations – the great grandfather, grandfather and father, along with the gothram thrice. This is a very touching moment, with the nadaswaram falling silent as well as the people. This was the moment when the bride entered the bridegroom’s gothram. The bride was then given away by her parents to the groom to be under his care, to the chanting of mantras.

Next came the presenting of the 'koorai pudavai', the traditional nine yard saree, the main wedding saree to the bride by the groom.

Giving the koorai pudavai at
Raji's brother-in-law Sivasu's wedding, 1972

While she went in to change into her new saree with the help of the groom's sister and other ladies, the bridegroom was seated on the same bale of hay (today the chair has taken its place), and the bride’s father washed his feet with the water being poured by her mother.

Babuji and I wash the groom's feet
at daughter Gowri's wedding, 1986

This was how the guest was received traditionally into the house by the host. The bride entered wearing the new saree with her sister-in-law, looking beautiful and looking forward to a happy life She was seated again on her father’s lap, who now sat on the bale of hay. While the priests chanted mantrams, the bridegroom placed a small yoke on her head, symbolizing that they would have to work together for the success of the marriage. And after this the bridegroom tied the mangalasutra, or thirumangalyam threaded on yellow thread, round her neck. The first two knots were tied by him and the third knot by his sister.

The nadaswaram then went into what is called 'getti melam', playing rapid notes at a high pitch, and the thavil playing loudly to a vigorous beat, while flowers were showered onto the new couple. Sugar and candy sugar were distributed to everyone to celebrate. Members of the bridegroom’s family were given thamboolam with coconut.

Now the bridegroom held the bride’s right hand with his right hand, took the marriage vows, praying to Agni, God of fire, and other gods to bless them with long life and prosperity.

Sapthapathi at daughter Viji's wedding, 1974

The bridegroom now held the right big toe of the bride and thus walked seven steps all the while chanting the mantram which said she had become his friend and companion, and would remain together for life. This is known as the 'sapthapathi', the actual point at which they are truly wedded.

Offering pori at daughter Raji's wedding , 1967

Next, the couple sat in front of the holy fire, while the priest chanted mantras which the groom repeated. The bride’s brother helped him to offer ‘pori’ (puffed rice) to the homam, signifying that the brother would take care of the bride, if the need arose.

‘Odhi idal’, is an important occasion giving gifts to the wedding couple by the various aunts and uncles on both sides. The priests invoking the blessings of the gods, handed over the gifts to the bride or the groom, naming the giver and the amount, for usually the gifts were in cash. Coins of Rupee one and two denominations were gifted, because they were minted in pure silver. Nobody wanted their names to be left out. Even today this system is carried out in families who follow tradition completely.

After that it was time for ‘aseervadam’, blessings, with the chanting of the mantrams, all elders showered yellow rice on the couple, praying for their long life together.

Two ladies now took arathi to signify that the muhurtham was over. The bride and groom went around performing namaskaram (obeisance seeking blessings) to all senior relatives individually, one by one, unlike today , when it is usual a sabha namaskaram, a single one for all.

More to come. . .

Friday, July 10, 2009


Continued from previous post

The wedding day started with the nadaswaram music, waking up everyone, not only the wedding families, but everyone in the whole locality.

The wedding day, an important day in everyone’s life, meant for my mother, an eight year old girl, getting up very early in the morning, long before dawn. She was woken up and taken to the river, along with her friends, all eight or nine year old ones for a ceremonial bath. A few elderly women relatives who accompanied the young girls carried with them all that was needed to dress up the bride at the river bank itself. She was given a new chittadai ( a long piece of cloth like a short sari to wrap round the body with one end over the shoulder), decked with ornaments, had her hair plaited and decorated with gold decoration and fresh flowers. The bride, along with her friends also dressed in their finery, were taken to the temple.

After offering prayers, they walked back home led by the nadaswaram players. On the way back she was made to stop in front of every house, where she was welcomed with aarathi by the elderly housewives and given thamboolam. On reaching home, they were treated to a breakfast of pongal, (preparation of rice and pasi paruppu (Moong dal) tempered with salt, pepper, curry leaves and ginger. This was known as 'Thozhi Pongal'.

I remember enjoying this at my sister Sarada’s wedding. We were then living in Trivandrum city, away from the river. So we just bathed at home, went to the nearby temple and offered prayers, and walked back home. On the way we were stopped at a few houses, and my sister was welcomed with aarathi and thamboolam. Slowly this ritual became obsolete.

Vritham at daughter Raji's wedding (1967)

The bridegroom on his part had to perform the vritham on the wedding morning – the process of changing from a bachelor to a householder (grihasthan). In those days the bridegroom’s party included their own family priest. This priest would conduct the vritham, which was performed in the same house where the bridegroom’s party was staying.

'Kaappu kattal' for Jaya at the wedding
of Raji's brother-in-law

At the same time the ‘kappu kattal’ ceremony for the bride was done at the pandal, by her parents. After doing a pooja to Lord Vigneswara and other gods, praying for the long life of the bride and the groom, the father, helped by the mother, ties the ‘kaappu’, a yellow sacred thread blessed by the pooja, round the right wrist of the bride.

'Paligai' ritual at grandson Sriram's wedding (2002)

At both these functions aritual called the ‘paligai thelikarathu’ was also performed. Soaked whole grains – nava danyam – were placed in small palm sized earthen pots. During the vritham and the kaappu kattal, one of the rites was five sumangalis (from both set of families) were asked to drops of water with milk and honey added using the darba grass in all the five pots. This rite was done on all four days of the wedding. On the fifth day, sprouts shot up from the grains – these were taken in procession by the same five ladies to the river and allowed to float away. Later on in cities, where there are no rivers close by, the sprouts were thrown into the wells.

'Kasi Yathirai' at son Bala's wedding (1977)

The vratham over, and the boy ready for grihasthrasmam, waited to get married. Seeing no chance of an early marriage, he decided to become a sanyasi and set forth on a journey by foot to Kasi, armed with an umbrella, a palm leaf fan, a walking stick and a copy of the Upanishads( all supplied by the bride’s parents). A pair of footwear was added to this later. The bride’s father stopped him on the way and promised him his daughter in marriage. The kasi yathirai was abandoned, and old relatives of the bridegroom took possession of the fan, umbrella and walking stick. He was brought back to the pandal where the bride was waiting.

This ceremony is still conducted at weddings.

More to come. .

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Continued from last post

At the recent wedding of my grand nephew Ramesh
- the couple in the decorated car

Writing about Mappillai Azhaippu and Nichiya thartham reminds me of two or three incidents that happened at our family weddings.

My sister Sarada got married in 1936. I was just nine years old, but I still remember the commotion raised by one incident on the day of the nichiyathartham. Though I did not understand the reason at that time, later on I got to know the details.
Sarada and me in the early 1950s in Delhi

A young child, not even two years old, had gone missing. His father was my mother’s cousin. I still remember the baby, such a beautiful healthy boy. Whenever we visited them or they came over, we used to play with the baby never letting him down from our arms. The baby could not be found anywhere and the whole locality joined with the police to look for the boy. But all in vain. There were whispered rumours that an old lady with a baby was found in Palayam area. Another rumour mentioned that there was a baby crying in a lonely area – all false and misleading.

Despite this, the wedding went on as planned, while the search was going on. In the evening during the Mapillai azhaippu procession, a woman was spotted with a baby in her lap at a shop’s doorway. Upon close observation, it became evident that the baby was the missing child. The woman refused to part with the baby, saying that since the baby’s ears were not pierced she was trying to pierce them. And what she was using was a dressmaker’s pin. It took a lot of cajoling and pressure from my brother and his friends to remove the baby safely from her. The parents’ relief knew no bounds, and all were thankful to God that no harm had come to the baby.

The woman who took the baby turned out to be another cousin of my mother and the baby’s father. She was generally known as Prandhu (Mad) Ponnamma. She used to undergo bouts of madness during certain days, a week or ten days at a time (possibly to do with the phases of the moon).Otherwise she was a perfectly normal woman, with a family of her own. She had also come to the wedding, and had probably in a moment of madness taken the baby away.

Whenever someone did or said something silly, the general teasing in our family was that surely there was some relationship to Prandhu Ponnamma.

In 1941 when Babuji’s father’s cousin got married, Babuji and other youngsters in the family decided to tease the bride and have some fun, for they felt the bride was too hoity toity. During the mappillai azhaippu procession, the bride was also in the car along with the bridegroom – a custom followed in many families. The bride was getting annoyed for she found a young woman sitting in the front seat, talking non-stop to the bridegroom, sometimes even getting familiar like touching his hand or slapping his wrist, which added to her irritation. (In those days, I must mention, boys and girls did not mix freely and kept their distance from one another). In a flash of temper, she had the car stopped, got down and started walking back. The bridegroom and the young girl also got down from the car, laughing and enjoying the bride’s show of temper, followed her and caught up with her. They tried to pacify her - but it took a while, and a lot of patience, for them to make the bride understand that the young girl was one of his male cousins, dressed as a girl in jest, just to tease her. After that she got back into the car with the groom, and the procession started again. And that cousin was none other than Babuji.

Me,(left) Babuji (centre) and Viswam (right, partially seen)
behind the couple at Viswanthan's wedding.

With this incident in mind, I played a similar trick when Babuji’s brother Viswanathan got married in 1952. Babuji’s parents, especially Ammaji , was very thrilled at the idea, and gave me her full support. So on the eve of the wedding I put my plan into action. One of Babuji’s cousins Viswam , a young twelve or thirteen year old boy, was very handsome and slim. I took him into my confidence and told him about my plan. He readily agreed and promised me that he would do his best. With the help of a few women and a lot of pins, hair pins, false hair pieces and falsies, and make up, there emerged a beautiful willowy girl, dressed in a red printed georgette sari, with a matching blouse. His natural shyness added to the charm. Our idea was to introduce ‘Vishi’ to the bride and her people during the nichyathartham ceremony.

Accordingly, ‘Vishi’ entered the pandal during the ceremony and went straight to the groom and sat down next to him. Everyone was taken by her beauty and her audacity. Women started whispering, and Ammaji joined in. She, put the whole blame on me for her son getting friendly with such girls, for Viswanathan was then staying with us in New Delhi, where he was working. We made everyone believe that ‘Vishi’ who was introduced as an employee of AIR, had become friendly with Viswanathan during lunch hours, for their offices were close by. The bride’s face was a study of suppressed anger. After a while Viswam got bored with the game, and he went straight to the bride’s father and took leave of him with folded hands, addressing him as ‘Mama’. The ‘Mama’ also, fully taken in, requested her to stay for dinner and take the thamboolam.

Once we were back from the pandal, we all had a good laugh, and congratulated Viswam on his performance.

Even after so many years, when I started writing this, I cannot forget the appreciation and admiration I got from everyone, including my mother and Moorthy who also attended the wedding.

More in my next. . .