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Weddings down south are very different from those up north of India. Tamil people represent the major identity of South Indian communities and are known for their stress on simple living and great education. Typical Tamil weddings are more about sticking to the age old customs and traditions than a lavish affair. For the Tamilians, the spiritual symbolism of a wedding is paramount rather than all the pomp and show. Sure, Tamil weddings are filled with lots of fun and light moments as well as they are a big event with distant relatives in attendance, but there for sure will not be any compromise on the actual ceremony. Tamil weddings, also known as Kalyanam, take place during the day of all months of the Tamilian calendar except Aashad, Bhadrapad and Shunya. It may be expansive if one follows the traditional wedding rituals to a tee, since there are many wedding rituals, without which the marriage will most definitely be deemed incomplete. The important Tamil wedding rituals are given below.
NakshatraPorutham – Matching of horoscope are given utmost importance in a Tamil wedding. Horoscopes or nakshatrams are matched following Vedic guidelines based on twelve points or Poruthams like Nadi, Yoni, Rasi, Gana etc. The matching of horoscope determines a lot of factors for the impending wedding like the wedding date, precise moment for the wedding or muhurtha and other rituals as well.
Marriage Agreement– The marriage agreement is drafted next by the priests on both sides once the marriage is fixed. A meeting is arranged at the groom’s house where the two sides exchange the marriage agreements by putting it on a platter containing a bunch of bananas, betel leaves, betel nuts and a coconut. Gifts are also exchanged between the families.
Panda Kaal Muhurtham – This ritual is observed by the bride’s and the groom’s sides together. The two families visit a temple or may organize a special puja at one of the homes, and pray to the Almighty so that the wedding may happen without any obstacles. This is generally done on the day before the wedding.
Sumangali Prarthanai – This is a special puja directed towards the Sumangalis or married women who take part during various rituals of the wedding. Generally these women are close relatives and family friends. The women, generally grouped in odd numbers like three or five or seven, gets decked up in traditional nine-yard Madisar sarees. After completion of the puja, the bride seeks blessings from each Sumangali and gives her some special gift like a saree or jewelry. They are also treated with special lunch.
Pallikal Thellichal – Earthenware pots are decorated with vermillion and sandalwood paste by five or seven married women of the family or both the bride and the groom’s families. Inside each pot, nine different types of grains or navadhaanyam are placed along with a bit of curd. A Kolam or traditional south Indian sand art designs that are believed to be bringer of good luck, is prepared at a special spot within the house.
Vrutham – This ritual takes place at the groom’s place on the early mornings of the day befor the wedding. The day signifies transition of the groom from the Bachelorhood or Brahmacharya phase of life to Domestic or Garhasthaya phase. He seeks permission from his guru, usually his father to proceed to this phase. A sacred thread, colored yellow with turmeric is tied around the groom’s wrists. In a similar ceremony or puja, a yellow thread is also tied around the bride’s wrists. This thread is said to protect the bride and the groom from evil energy.
Naandi Shraddham – The groom’s family arrives at the bride’s place or the venue of the wedding on the morning of the day before. The bride’s family welcomes them with tray full of favors like sweets, betel leaves, betel nuts and fruits. The groom is especially welcome with a shower of rose water. A garland is put around the groom’s neck and a spot of sandalwood and vermillion paste is applied on his forehead. The bride and his family members are fed sweets prepared by the bride’s mother. After the welcome is done, ten Brahmins are invited over who take part in a ritual that offers appeasement to the families’ departed ancestors. The Brahmins are treated to traditional Tamil vegetarian lunch and are given traditional two piece garments (veshtiangavastram) along with betel leaves, betel nuts, coconut, fruits and sweets. The Brahmins bless the couple and wish them a prosperous life ahead.
Nishchayathram – This is the formal engagement ceremony in case of a Tamil wedding. The ritual begins with a puja to lord Ganesh at the bride’s home. The groom’s family arrives at the bride’s house. They gift a beautiful saree to the seated bride and also some jewelry. They then apply a spot of sandalwood paste and vermillion on the bride’s forehead. The sumangalis from both sides come and fill up the free end of the bride’s saree with rice, fruits, coconut, flower, turmeric, betel nut and betel leaves. An arti of the bride is performed while a floral garland is tied around her waist. The bride’s family also performs a similar ritual and gift new clothes to the groom. The bride and the groom then change into these new clothes. If the rituals permit, the couple may exchange rings after they have changed.
Lagna Pathirikai – The ritual involves announcement of the wedding and offering verbal invitation to the wedding. The family priests after consulting the couple’s horoscopes come up with the most auspicious moment of carrying out the wedding which they formally draft in the lagnapatrikai. The lagnapatrikai is supposed to clearly outline the names of the family members, the bride and the groom’s, the marriage date and the precise marriage time. This time of the wedding or the Lagna is announced in front of all the family members of both the bride’s and the groom’s side. The lagnapatrikai is examines and signed by the heads of the two families. Following this gifts are exchanged between the two families.
Traditionally, the Tamil groom wears a two piece garment known as Veshti and Angavastram. Both of these are preferably made of puttu or silk. Veshti refers to the lower part of the garment which the groom wears either like a dhoti or simply by draping it as a lungi. He may wear a simple white shirt or Salvai over it and the angavastram is draped around his neck. He also wears a special headwear known as Thalaip on his head which is sort of like a turban. Nowadays grooms are also partial to Sherwani, Kurtas and other Indo-western outfits like Vests and Jackets. Tamil groom may wear jewelry like gold chains and real or clip on earrings made of gold or diamond.
The Tamil Bride presents a stunning picture of bridal beauty and elegance. Draped in beautiful and traditional Kajeevaram Silk sarees in bright hues paired with gorgeous-looking jewelry, a Tamil Bride is one of the most celebrated icons of the Indian culture. In case of Brahmin brides, the Kanjeevaram sarees are generally 9-yards long while in case of non-Brahmins it is 6-yards. The saree is worn in the traditional Madisar style. The bride’s wedding trousseau has to contain more than one of these traditional sarees to be worn at different occasions throughout the course of the celebrations. She wears a separate saree for during the wedding, after the wedding and for the marriage registration ceremony or reception. The sarees are of bright colors with contrasting borders that have gold threads woven into lush designs. She wears her hair in an elaborate plait and bun combination around which flowers are draped in white and orange colors. The Tamil bride wears a lot of jewelry, especially gold ones that are primarily family heirlooms passed through generations. She wears special gold and precious stone set jewelry known as Jadainagam in the shape of a cobra over her plaits, which is believed to be symbolic of the bride’s fertility. The ornaments they wear around their waist known as Oddiyanam,are made of solid gold with temple designs and is used to keep the saree borders and garlands in place. On her hair, along with the traditional tamilmangtika made of gold, stones and pearls, the Tamil bride also wears special ornaments known as Nethi on both sides of the central hair parting. She generally wears a number of necklaces in multiple layers around her neck, gold bangles, and diamond nosepins.
Wedding Day Rituals
MangalaSnanam – The wedding day begins at the crack of dawn. The Mangalasnanam ritual is observed separately by the bride and the groom’s sides. A paste of turmeric, sandalwood and kumkum is prepared by the Sumangalis or married women. They take turns in applying oil to the bride/groom’s hair and massaging the paste on their face, hands and feet. After the ritual, the bride/groom takes a purifying bath in holy water to cleanse their body and soul. They then proceed to get ready for the wedding ceremony.
Gauri Puja – This is a ritual that is performed by the bride only. An idol of the Goddess Gauri, who represents purity, austerity and virtue, is placed on a plate containing rice and kumkum. After the bride has been dressed up, she offers her prayers and performs a short puja to the Gauri idol wishing for a happily married life ahead.
Kashi Yathra – The groom’s party arrive at the wedding venue and the groom grabs and umbrella, walking sticks and some food items to go off to Varanasi or Kashi, renouncing all worldly attachments to pursue religious studies. The father of the bride then intercepts him outside the wedding hall and makes him see the virtues of the domestic life as opposed to hermit one. The father of the bride then promises the groom to give his daughter to him in marriage. The groom accepts this proposal and returns to the wedding venue to get married. The umbrella is to be kept with the groom throughout the wedding to remind him of the decision and his duties thereby.
Pada Puja – After the groom arrives at the wedding mandap, the parents of the bride washes his feet with holy water, sandalwood, milk, and kumkum. His feet are then wiped dry with flower petals.
MaalaiMaatral – The bride is then brought into the wedding mandap and the couple exchange flower garlands as a first step of the wedding. The ritual is repeated three times and sometimes amid much playfulness where the bride/groom tries to evade garlanding by the other.
Oonjal – Oonjal refers to a swing. During this ceremony, the couple is made to sit on a swing which is rocked gently. The women of the family surround the swing and sing Oonjal Pattu songs. The elders of the family come one by one and feed the couple milk and banana and bless them. Women from both the families carry colored rice balls around the couple seated in the swing in both clockwise and anticlockwise directions three times before throwing the balls in four cardinal directions to ward off evil energy. Older women also go around the couple holding an earthen lamp and pot filled with water three times in clockwise direction. The gentle rocking motion of the swing represents the turbulent situation that life may present to them.
Kanyadanam – The bride and groom is then asked to step off the swing. The end of the bride’s saree is tied to the end of groom’s angavastram. The bride’s mother then applies kajal on the groom’s eyes and the bride’s father washes his feet. Through this ritual the groom is viewed as representative of Lord Vishnu. The groom is then seated on the floor at his designated spot. The father of the bride sits facing the groom. The bride is seated on her father’s lap and a coconut is placed on her hands. The bride’s father then supports his daughter’s hands and offers the coconut to the groom together. The mother of the bride pours holy water over the coconut. Thus through this formal ceremony, the bride’s parents give her to the groom and requests him to take care of their daughter for the rest of their life. The bride and the groom’s hands are tied with a sacred thread to seal their union.
Muhurtham – After completion of the Kanyadanam ritual, the groom’s parents presents the bride with a nine yard silk saree symbolizing their acceptance of the bride into their family. The saree is draped around the bride’s shoulders while the groom applies vermillion to her hair parting. The bride then goes to change into the saree gifted to her by her in-laws. When she returns to the mandapam, a grass ring is placed on her head, over which the yoke of a plough is placed and a belt made of reed grass is placed around her waist. Water is poured over the yoke. This ritual is symbolic reminder of the fact that the bride and the groom together have to overcome the challenges of life. The Thaali is blessed by the priest and the groom ties the Thaali, or south Indian equivalent of a mangalsutra, around the bride’s neck. The first two knots of the Thaali is put in by the groom while the third and the final one is put in by the groom’s sister.
Saptapadi – The bride and the groom holds each other’s hands and go around the sacred fire seven times. Vedic mantras are chanted by the pries which outlines the seven sacred vows of a marriage. This ritual marks the symbolic beginning of the couple’s journey as husband and wife. Next the groom holds the bride’s left toe as she steps over a grindstone. This symbolically represents the solidity of their union.
Reception – The wedding is followed by a formal reception in the evening where the guests are treated with a lavish vegetarian spread. The newlyweds are seated on thronelike chairs on top of a stage where they can meet and greet all the guests.
Sammandhi Maryathai – The two families then exchange gifts and the bride prepares to leave her paternal home. She is bid an emotional goodbye by her parents and relatives after they have prayed to the family deity.
Paaladaanam – Before departing, the bride and the groom lie face down and seek the blessings of the elders. The groom then escorts the bride to his home.
Grihapravesham– When the bride reaches the groom’s home, she is given a warm and celebratory welcome. The mother-in-law performs a small arti and escorts her inside the house where she is led to seek the blessings of the family deity first.
Valeyadal – This ritual refers to the formal introduction of the bride to the members of the groom’s family who offers her gifts. Several of the post-wedding games are played to break the ice between the bride and the groom.
Maruvidu Varudal – Three days after the wedding, the couple visits the bride’s paternal home. They are welcomed with much enthusiasm and feed a delicious lunch. The bride’s parents gives the couple gifts of clothes as well as jewelry. This ritual marks the end of all formal wedding celebrations.