It’s not a regular day in the household of Mr. Iyer. He is getting ready to marry off his only granddaughter, Kannamma. As he packs his suitcase to go off and stay at the mandapam for the next couple of days, he fondly remembers his own wedding.
He was a young guy – 24 years of age – too young according to his freedom-loving heart and “correct ana vayasu” by society standards. Before he could blink his eyes, his parents had selected a girl through a marriage broker, he was taken to see the girl, the well-known ponnu pathufying process, and before he could finish the kesari and bajji on his plate, the marriage date was fixed and only then did his to-be wife bring his coffee. And fast forward to two months later and he was sitting on a train on the way to the girl’s hometown where the marriage was to take place.
Today, things had changed so much. After a lot of searching online on Tamil Matrimony, Sai Shankara, and other places and giving up, Kannamma met her to-be husband at her workplace in Singapore. They both decided, then the parents met and their nichayadhartham happed without bajji or kesari. Even that was acceptable for Mr. Iyer. What he did not understand was how the nichayadhartham happened without even the boy or girl. They were watching on Skype as their parents thattu mathified in Chennai.
As they reached the mandapam located in the heart of Chennai, T Nagar, Mr. Iyer was astounded to see so many people there already. They weren’t guests or mapalai aathu side people, they were all the workers there to put together the backdrop that his granddaughter had chosen and designed for many months. He went to his room in the mandapam and tried to get some sleep as the virtham began very early the next morning.
If you wake up to the sound of thavil and nadhaswarm turning and someone screaming out loud saying “coffee venuma?” you are at a TamBharam Wedding. Mr Iyer got ready in a white kurta and a vesti and headed over to the start of the virtatham.
The viratham is a fast that happens a day before the actual wedding. The bride, the groom, and the immediate family members are expected to fast for the well being of the couple and their life together. Married woman on either side of the families pours water into a pot filled with 9 types of grains (navadhanyam) to allow it to sprout. This is done as a symbol of prosperity.
Kanamma gobbled up her idly inside her room as her friends kept watch so no one saw her eating before the viratham. She then walked onto the beautifully decorated stage and sat next to her day and got ready to begin the viratham which kick-started the festivities of the wedding. Mr Iyer was busy meeting old relatives and friends who had traveled from different countries to be there to witness this wedding. He thought of how his wedding had also been a chance for him to see many of his extended family and long lost friends. Over the years, traditions have been tweaked to make things easier but the people who loved you always seemed to put great effort into making it to a wedding.
After a huge banana leaf meal, Mr. Iyer heads up to take a nap before he needs to get ready for the next event in the evening – The nichayadhartham. This is an engagement ceremony where the priest reads the pathirikai to let everyone gathered know that the wedding is about to take place tomorrow, a confirmation in front of the extended families. The groom’s sister gift a saree to the bride as a form of welcoming her into the family and bride changes into this for the formal reading of the pathirikai.
The nichyadhartham, these days, is followed by a reception. The reception tends to be the most popularly attended event by distant relatives and friends of the bride and groom. Its an informal event and brides get to wear different outfits other than a saree. Kanamma wore a beautiful green gown. As she walked in, Mr. Iyer had tears rolling down his cheek – his princess granddaughter was all grown up and she was getting married tomorrow. It finally hit him.
The reception ended with a dance party and Mr. Iyer had joined in to groove to some of the songs. They danced till midnight before the party was shut down by the decorators who had to get the place ready in a few hours for the next day.
Mr. Iyer woke up at 5 am. For the first time in 78 years, his granddaughter was awake before him. She had woken up at 3 am to get her hair and makeup done for her wedding. It puzzled Mr. Iyer what took so long. He went to her room to peep in and saw what looked like paintbrushes and lot of colored paint. More confused than before, we walked out to get ready.
The day of the wedding starts with the Kasi Yartrai. This is the ceremony where the guy (pretends to) leave for Kasi for further learning. The bride’s father convinces the groom to marry his daughter and not go off to kasi. The groom agrees and then the bride is brought in for the malai matral. It is common to see friends of the groom teasing him to use this opportunity to run away before he gets pulled into the ‘dangers’ of marriage.
Once the guy realizes there is no escape route, he comes back to the mandapam where the most fun part of any tambrahm wedding happens. The Malai Matral ceremony begins by the groom and bride exchanging garlands post which they are each lifted by their respective families as they try to garland each other mid-air. It’s a game where the person lifted the highest wins as it becomes difficult for the other one to place a garland over their neck. Mr Iyer watched as his grand daughter tried to reach up and garland the 6 feet tall groom who was now lifted high up into the air.
The malai matral is followed by the oonjal ceremony. The bride and the groom sit on a beautifully decorated swing – a symbolic representation of the highs and lows they will face in life. All the married women of the family feed them bananas and milk as the other family members sing popular songs. No Tamil brahmin wedding happens without Kurai Ondrum Illai being sung in high volume during the oonjal. Mr Iyer also joined in singing songs with the rest of his extended family. Colourful rice balls are then thrown in all the four directions as a way to ward of any evil spirits. Everyone tries to escape being hit by these balls as they start flying in all directions.
The ceremony ends as a few women from both families circumambulate the couple thrice with lamps. The groom is then asked to hold the girl’s hand for the first time and walk her to the dais where the marriage will take place.
Once on the dais, the Kanyadhanam happens. This is where the father gives away the bride to the groom. She is made to sit on her dad’s lap and then receives her wedding silk (the 9-yard saree) from the groom. The bride is taken in to change into her madisar for the first time in her life. Kannama chose to wear a yellow madisar with a bright red border, as she walked out in the madisar, Mr. Iyer found himself tearing up. She looked beautiful, just like her grandmother.
The girl then sits on her dad’s lap for the second time and the thali, which would be blessed by all the older people in the family, is ready to be tied on her neck. The groom takes the thali and ties it around the girl’s neck – he is to make 2 knots and the groom’s sister makes the 3rd knot significant of how the new family is part of their marriage as well. Everyone in the mandapam showers the couple with flowers and turmeric rice as the couple tied the knot. Mr Iyer prayed for a long-lasting love between the couple as he put his akshathai on his granddaughter and her husband.
The marriage rituals continue after the thali however most guests do not care to watch and head straight for lunch. The ceremony that takes place after the thali tying is called the saptapathi or the 7 steps. The bride and the groom take 7 steps around the sacred fire which signifies the 7 vows that they make to each other. Mr Iyer waited for the ceremonies to be over and then went to give Kannama and her husband a gift that he had been saving up for a long time to buy. He gave them both diamond rings and hugged his granddaughter. Kannama and her husband touched the feet of their grandfather as a sign of respect and to get his blessings.
The wedding lunch is a very significant part of the wedding. May times the main motivator to wake up early and go attend a tambrahm wedding is the food. A typical menu on the wedding day has about 20+ items at least. Served on a banana leaf, the first item usually served is sweet. After the wedding feast, most distant relatives leave while the close family stays on for the evening function.
After a nice nap, Mr. Iyer got ready for his most favorite part of the wedding – the Nalangu. This is an informal ceremony where the bride and the groom play games with each other and there is usually an ankthakshari competition between the bride’s side and the groom’s side. The nalangu happens as filter coffee and snacks are served. The nalangu concludes all the wedding ceremonies.
Mr. Iyer retired for the night and thought about how months of planning and excitement for this day had gone by so quickly. He went to sleep thinking about how his wife, who would have enjoyed these ceremonies if she was here. A wedding in India is never just about the bride and the groom, it’s about their families, traditions, food, and a lot of cultures. Over the years so many things about the way weddings happen have changed, but the emotions connected with it still seem to run as deep.[Sassy_Social_Share type=”floating”]