Here is a relatively long description of a super short South-Indian Brahmin Wedding 🙂
Get a cuppa tea and have a read!
Basically all the Brahmins in India perform Vedic Marriage Rites, which are similar throughout India. However, there are regional and local flavors. The marriage rituals of the South Indian Brahmins are very interesting although they are very different from the weddings seen in Bollywood movies.. There are no horses/elephants and there is no stealing of shoes.
Traditionally, South Indian weddings lasted for five days (my grand mother’s) and then reduced to three days (my father and mother), further to a day and a half (my brother) and now a super-short half a day one for me and Joe.
Generally, every family has their own priest who conducts the wedding. They are Vedic scholars – thoroughly acquainted with Vedic practices, ceremonies, prayers, rituals and the mantras (Vedic hymns). They conduct the wedding in accordance with the Vedic tenets. In Hindi, the priest is called the pandit, from which comes the word “Pundit”. The Sanskrit and Tamil words are purohit and vadhyar (also meaning teacher).
The chief priest brings a group of Brahmin priests and assigns various duties, including the chanting of Mantras. He presides over the function as the ceremonial Lord and supervises its progress. The bride and the groom, parents and close relatives are instructed by him on all their duties during the function. The chief priest (brahaspathi) represents higher Gods at the ceremony and is therefore treated with great respect ad piety. He plays the most important role in the wedding. Generous donations are given to the Brahmins as guru dakshina (offerings to the teacher).
On the wedding day, the marriage hall and wedding altar are tastefully decorated with festoons of mango leaves, flowers, plantain trees and Kolam on the floor (colorful, geometric designs on the floors with colored powders). The kolam powder is made with rice powder paste. This rice powder acts as food for ants. The nadaswaram (also called nagaswaram – a wind pipe instrument) accompanied by thavil (percussion drum) is an important part of the marriage. This ancient musical instrument of South India is highly venerated. The traditional belief is that its auspicious music heralds in tranquility and beatitude. The musicians play a variety of classical Tunes (ragas) to suit every ceremony during the marriage.
During the marriage ceremony, Priya will wear three different saris including a a nine-yard, arakku red silk saree with zari border while Joe will wear only a silk upper and lower cloth (a dhoti and an angvastram) and will be bare bodied with a white sacred thread across his torso. Priya will have a typical South Indian hairdo, with her hair plaited in a long plait and adorned with flowers. She will wear the decorations of the Sun and Moon on either side of her parting and an ornament called ‘Rakoodi’ at the crown of her head while her hair is made into a plait that is covered with flowers. The guests can wear any comfortable clothes. Usually Indian women wear sarees, or other traditional dresses while the men wear formal shirts with either dhotis/formal pants. Footwear is usually open like sandals.. and they are to be discarded while climbing to the raised altar in the hall by all.
Both the bride and the groom have ceremonial baths on the morning. Several prayers (or pujas) are performed during the ceremony, led by the chief priest, chanting the appropriate mantras. The initial prayers prepare the bride and groom for the Muhurtham, the most auspicious time to solemnize and sanctify the wedding. This time and day of the marriage are calculated by pundits from Panchangams (Hindu almanacs) based on the birth stars and ruling planets of the bride and the groom. For our wedding, this time is between 0900-1030 on July 2nd 2018.
A wedding begins with the intention to get married and this intention is turned into reality by making a vow. In preparation of this, the bride and groom will fast (keep Vratham) the night before the wedding.
0500 – 0630: Vratham (Fasting & Vow) Ceremonies for Priya and her family.
As the first step, my father (or a person who is standing-in for my father) will perform Jathakarma (natal-rites) and Namakarma (naming-rites) again for me to symbolize that this change in life changes me forever as a person. This is also an opportunity for people to change their names during a wedding. The groom’s family can request a name change for the bride at this time!! (New) Priya will then re-experience Annaprayasana (first solid food) ceremony again.
Oblations are poured into agni in tribute to the Vedic-Gods – invoking them individually. It is a solemn request to the Gods, inviting them to witness the oath taking and the marriage ceremony. After invoking each God the pundit pronounces ‘Avahayami’ (The Gods have arrived) followed by ‘Idham Asanam’ (The Gods are seated). The belief is that the Gods shall stay throughout the Wedding and shower the blessings on the couple and the congregation.
The Vratham is followed by Naandhi, – which is performed to propitiate the Ancestors of the families.
The next event is the Pallikai seeds sowing, which is a fertility rite. Pallikai are earthen pots prepared a day earlier. Pots spread at the base with hariali grass and vilvam leaves. Nine kinds of pre-soaked cereals are ceremoniously sown in these pots by sumangalis (married women). After the marriage, the sprouted seedlings are released in a river or in a lake. This ritual invokes blessings for a healthy life and progeny to the couple.
The next step is the Kaappu (armour) ceremony. It means the tying of the kaappu, a holy thread on the wrists, which is meant to ward off all evil spirits. Once the Sacred yellow thread is tied on the wrists of the bride and groom, they are not permitted to leave the marriage venue.
0630-0730: Brief lull for people to get some coffee and breakfast, while it is time to get the and groom wrapped in and it is dress change no. 1 for the bride! Note: Breakfast and coffee will be served in the floor above the ceremonial hall.
The groom has had a ceremonial bath in the morning. The ‘Vadhyar’ (priest) will then tie the traditional ‘dhoti’ or ‘Panja Kacham’ for the groom and apply ‘vibhuti’ or sacred ash in three horizontal lines on his forehead. The groom is now ready to get married. Joe will also get the sacred thread given to him to initiate him into Brahmacharya (the life of a student).
0730-0740: The Kasi-Yatra (Journey to Kasi/Varanasi, a center of learning)
This is a very important part of the ceremony. Immediately after his student life, the young bachelor has two alternatives before him – Grihasta (married life as a householder) or Sanyasam (an ascetic life).
Dressed in the traditional ‘panchakatcham’, holding an umbrella, a fan made of bamboo, a walking stick and a towel containing ‘dal’ (lentils) and rice tied to his shoulder, the groom embarks on a mock pilgrimage, intended to pursue Sanyasam. At this point, his friends and family also prepare to go along with him.
As he steps out of the ‘mandapam’, the bride’s father and brother intervene and plead with him not to go to ‘Kasi’ (a sacred pilgrimage site) and advise him of the superiority of married life to an ascetic life and also promises to give his daughter as companion to face the challenges of life.
After much ado, the groom accepts and returns to the ‘mandapam’ intending to get married. The umbrella is to remain with the groom, to remind him in the future of this advice. As promised his wife stands by him in his life, so too will the walking stick.
0740-0750: Maalai mattruthal (Exchange of garlands)
On entering the ‘mandapam’ the groom discards his walking stick and is garlanded by the bride. The bride and groom are lifted to the shoulders of their respective maternal uncles/cousins/friends. This is an expression of continuing sibling/friends support to the couple and the two families. The bride and the groom garland each other thrice for a complete union. Usually at this point, the friends/cousins try to make this process challenging by trying to move the bride/groom away from one another a bit. In the Shastraas, the exchange of garlands symbolizes their unification, as one soul in two bodies. It is the inward acceptance by each of the very fragrance in the other.
0750-0830: Oonjal (the Swing)
The couple is then made to sit on a decorated Oonjal. The chains of the oonjal is made to swing to signify the eternal karmic link with the Almighty. The to and fro motion represents the undulating sea-waves of life. Yet in mind and body they shall move in harmony – steady and stable. Further it also ward off the effect of “evil eyes” (evil thoughts or curses) on the couple.
The women folk (both from the bride and groom’s families) smear their feet with a little milk, ‘kumkum’ and ‘chandan’ (sandalwood paste). A pot of water and a lamp set inside a measure containing rice are carried by the bride’s mother and other elderly ladies around the oonjal and the couple is given a mixture of bananas, milk and sugar. This is also accompanied by singing to
Water and lighted lamps are circulated around the oonjal in order to guard against demons and ghosts. Colored globules of cooked rice are waved in a circular motion and thrown away to propitiate the evil spirits (the ritual of Podi Suttruvadhu). After the traditional ‘aarthi’ the bride and groom are escorted into the hall for the next ceremony.
0830-0900: Another small break in the event schedule, when people with jet-lags can refill with coffee, a first/second breakfast and conversations. Meet new people and get to know how they are related to Priya and Joe!
0900-1030: The Muhurtham (auspicious time)
Even after the recommencing of ceremonies at 0900, usually the jovial catch-ups of the guests continues till dress change no. 2 for the bride has happened.
Upon their return into the hall, the bride is escorted to her room while the groom sits at the altar and performs puja to request the blessings of the gods.
~0930: Kanyadhaanam (Giving away the bride):
The bride is made to sit on her father’s lap and is given away as a gift by him to the bridegroom. On the bride’s head, a ring made of Darbha grass is placed. And over it is placed a yoke. The gold Mangal Sutra or Thali is placed on the aperture of the yoke. And water is poured though the aperture. 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 abilities. With all that she shall guard the Dharma, Wealth and Love”
The bridegroom returns his assurance to the bride’s father saying three times that he shall remain forever her companion in joy and sorrow, in this life and life after.
The symbolism of the yoke is drawn out of ancient rural life where the only mode of transport for households was the bullock cart. It is supposed to signify that just as a bullock cart cannot run with just one bull, the marriage needs both the bride and groom. Both of them have to face their responsibilities together.
~0940-0955: Koorai pudavai:
The bride is then given a symbolic auspicious ablution. A new sari, exclusive for the occasion, called the koorai is chosen. The colour of the koorai is ‘arraku’ i.e. red, the colour associated with Shakti. This sari is draped around the bride by the sister of the bridegroom, signifying her welcome to the bride.
~0945-1030: Mangalya dharanam:
The tying of the Mangal Sutra or Thali takes place at exactly the pre-determined auspicious hour, known as MUHURTHAM. The bride is seated on the lap of her father, looking eastward while the bridegroom faces westward. The bridegroom ties “Thiru Mangalyam” (special Gold ornament ties in yellow thread) around the neck of the bride. Three knots are tied; The first one by the bridegroom. As he does so, the Nadaswaram is played loud and fast so as to muffle any inauspicious sounds at the critical hour. This is called Getti Melam. Sumangali ladies sing auspicious songs. The groom then recites a pledge/blessing as he ties the first knot around the bride’s neck.
The full form of this pledge-blessing is:
“Māngalyam tantunānena mama jeevana hetunāh ||
Kanthe badhnāmi subhage twam jeeva saradā satam”
This is what it means:
Māngalyam tantunānena = (this) auspicious & sacred thread
mama jeevana hetunāh = (shall be) the foundation of my life
Kanthe badhnāmi = (am) tying around (your) throat
subhage = O, the source of all spiritual riches (addressing the bride)
twam jeeva = may you live…
saradā satam = for hundred seasons (years)
“O my bride, the source of all my spiritual riches, I tie this auspicious thread around your throat, which (shall be) the foundation and source of my life (hence forth). I bless that you may live for hundred years. (And by this, I am blessed too as I pledge to be your partner in life)”
The other two knots are tied by the groom’s sister (naathanaar) to make the bride a part of their family and new society. When the bridegroom ties the knot all elders throw “akshadai” (rice mixed with turmeric) on the couple.
Panigrahanam (Adoption of the bride into the groom’s family) and Sapta-padhi (seven-steps):
After Mangalyadharanam, the groom lowers his right hand and catches Bride’s right hand with all the fingers together representing the acceptance of the bride into the groom’s family. Holding the bride’s hand the bridegroom walks seven steps around the holy fire with her. This is the most important part of the marriage ceremony. And only when they walk these seven steps together (i.e. perform the saptha-pathi) is the marriage complete. With each step they take a vow. The belief is that when one walks seven steps with another, one become’s the other’s friend.
Usually at this time, the ‘main’ part of the wedding is solemnized and many guests will already start heading to the banquet. Considering that this is a Monday wedding, many of them might be hoping to get back to work for the second half of the day!
A crucial part of the wedding is the homage paid by the couple to Agni, the God of Fire. The couple goes around the fire, and feed it with ghee and twigs of nine types of holy trees as sacrificial fuel. Agni, the mightiest power in the cosmos, the sacred purifier, the all-round benefactor is deemed as a witness to the sacred marriage. Hence the term ‘Agni Saakshi’ or witness by fire.
This comprises the bride’s own offering into the sacrificial fire. As an expression of sibling support to her marriage her brother helps her. He gives her a handful of puffed rice grains which she hands to the bridegroom, who on her behalf, feeds it to the fire. Through this food offering, the bride seeks a long life for her husband and for propagation of her family. Participation of the bride’s brother indicates the continuance of links between the two families even after marriage. The couple circles the fire three times. The feeding of puffed rice to the fire is also repeated thrice.
Ammi Midhithal (stepping on the grindstone):
Holding the bride’s left toe the bridegroom helps her to tread on a grindstone kept on the right side of a fire. The mantras chanted say: “Mount on this stone, and let thy mind be rock firm, unperturbed by the trials and tribulations of life.” This ritual is symbolic of the solid rock foundation for the union.
Arundhati Paarthal (Viewing the pole star):
Next the groom shows the bride the star Arundhati (from the Saptha Rishi or Great Bear constellation) as also Dhruva or the pole star. Arundhati is the wife of Vashishta Maharishi and exemplified as the ideal wife – the embodiment of charity. Dhruva is the one who attained immortality through single-minded devotion and perseverance. This is symbolic of the fact that such virtues are to be emulated throughout marital life.
Akshadai (rice grains) and Ashirvadham (blessings):
Rice grains colored with turmeric and saffron are showered on the couple by elders and invitees as benediction (Aasirvadam). The couple fall at the feet of parents and elders.
Grahapravesham (Establishing the new household):
Certain mantras are recited for the safe passage of bride & groom’s house to establish a new household. These have no significance in marriages conducted in marriage halls in cities. The function is symbolically done in the room allotted to the groom and his family members. The bride is escorted with the groom to this room when the groom’s mother (Linda) and sister (Anna) will take aarti for the couple and invite them in.
1140-ish: The bride and groom then have a dress change (no. 3 for the bride and no. 1 for the groom) and then can go have the wedding feast lunch with the guests.
After a filling feast, the guests are given a thampoolam (akin to a favor in western wedding) containing coconut, sweets, turmeric and beetle-nut leaves.
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