Tamil wedding

Tamil wedding includes many traditions that differ from community to community. Still basic details are the same. One of them is the time of year when the wedding is organized. According to Tamil calendar weddings are not organized in the months of Aashad (15th July to 15th Aug), Bhadrapad (15th Sep to 15th Oct) and Shunya (15th Dec to 15th Jan).

In case that the marriage is arranged parents of potential bride and groom meet to exchange horoscopes. The horoscope is usually analyzed by the family priest.

The next step includes writing of the marriage agreement. After that there is a meeting in the groom's house when priests from both sides exchange marriage agreement. The agreement is put on a plate. On the plate there are also bananas, coconuts and betel leaf.

Betel (Piper betle) plant
Betel (Piper betle) plant

The Betel (Piper betle) is an evergreen and perennial vine. Its glossy heart-shaped leaves are often chewed by people in the south of Asia. The plant is a mild stimulant.

At the meeting groom's and bride's family exchange presents. The bride usually gets a silk sari. The groom gets some clothes or money.

Few days before the wedding bride's family performs a ceremony called Paalikali Thalippu/ Karappu. With the sounds of music (Gauri Kalyanam), special clay pots are decorated with sandalwood paste and kumkum powder. Little bit of curd and nine types of grain (“nava dhaanyam”) is put in each pot.

Everything is done by five or seven married women from both families. All of these women get presents. On the first day after the wedding bride and groom throw the pots into a nearby pond. It is believed that the fish in pond will eat the grains contained in pots and bless the couple.

Kalyanaponnu or Kalyanappilla is a bathing ritual organized separately in groom's and bride's house. The ritual is usually held on friday before the wedding. Wooden seat or “peedi” is put in front of a kolam. Kolam is a traditional form of sand painting made with rice powder by female family members.

The bride is given an oil bath with til sesame oil. She gets a green sari. She wears the sari together with green and red bangles. The bride's mother gives her the dowry. After this ritual the bride stays in her house until the wedding. The groom's father pours some oil over him. The groom gets clothes and toiletries. The same as bride groom also stays in his until the wedding.

Panda Kaal Muhurtham is a ritual held on the day before wedding. Both families pray to ensure the blessing of family god. A bamboo pole symbolically represents the god.

In the morning of the day before the wedding groom and his family arrive at the wedding hall. They are welcomed with a tray which contains different offerings - flowers, paan supari, fruits and mishri. Paan supari is a betel leaf filled with chopped areca nuts and spices. Rose water is sprinkled on the groom.

The bride's brother applies a tilak made of sandalwood paste and kumkum on groom's forehead. Garlands are also put on the groom. Groom's future mother-in-law offers the groom's parents a delicacy prepared from condensed milk. On this occasion is broken to the ground. It is done to ward off evil spirits.

Naandi Shraartham is a tradition when eight or ten Brahmins are invited. They are symbols of souls of their ancestors. Families seeks blessings of the Brahmins. Brahmins get paan supari, fruits, flowers, coconuts, sweets and dhoti angavastram (traditional clothes).

Nowadays the tradition called Janavasanam is quite rare. The groom is driven in a specially decorated car. He is escorted by his family and friends to the place where the wedding will be held. Traditional wedding music is played. Upon arriving there the groom is welcomed by bride's brother who puts a garland on him.

Nicchiyadharatham is a ritual where bride's parents and the priest perform Ganesh Pooja. The groom's family gives bride a new sari. The bride sits and a tilak of chandan (sandalwood) and kumkum is applied to bride's forehead. The pallav or pallu (loose end) of her sari is filled with fruits, paan supari, turmeric, kumkum and coconut. Flower garland is tied around bride's waist. An arti (aarti) ritual is also performed for her.

Mangalasnanam or the ceremonial bath of the bride and groom is held in the morning of the wedding day. The bath is organized at favourable hour. It is believed that the bath brings good luck. The bride and groom sit on peedis (low wooden stools) around rangolis.

The couple sits between bride's parents on one side and groom's parents on the other one. The bride and the groom are anointed with turmeric, kumkum and oil. Women present at the ceremony perform aarti (arti). The bride's mother gives a 9 yard maroon coloured sari to the bride and a dhoti (vaytti or veshti in Tamil) to the groom. The sari and dhoti are worn at the wedding ceremony.

Goddess Gauri
Goddess Gauri

Gauripooja is a tradition where, after bathing and dressing up, the bride is praying to Gauriamma (Goddess Gauri). Gauri represents purity and austerity. Single girls worship her to get good husbands.

Kashi Yatra is a tradition when the groom is pretending to go to the city of Varanasi (Benares, Kashi) in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to become God's devotee and spend the rest of his life in prayer. He carries a walking stick and some essentials to show that he is not interested in getting married.

Bride's father then tries everything to change his mind, accept his daughter as wife and fulfil his duties as head of new household. The groom returns to the pandal where the bride is waiting for him. Pandal is a temporary or permanent structure where certain religious rituals are held.

Pada Pooja is what follows after Kashi Yatra. The groom is sitting. His mother washes his feet in water, chandan and kumkum. The washing is done in a brass vessel. She then calls the bride. The bride is accompanied by her maternal uncle.

At traditional Tamil wedding bride and groom exchange garlands three times. This ceremony includes elements of humour. The brides sometimes pulls away when the groom tries to put garland on her.

Tamil wedding (photo by Bernard Gagnon)
Tamil wedding

After exchanging of garlands there is a tradition called Oonjal. The bride and groom are sitting on a swing. People prepare small balls of cooked rice. They are coloured yellow and red with turmeric and kumkum and later just a little dipped in milk. Some milk is sprinkled on the bride's and groom's feet.

Several married women from bride's family are holding these rice balls and walk around the couple three times in clockwise direction and anti-clockwise direction. Then they throw the balls in four directions to ward off the evil spirits.

A mixture of banana and milk is given to the couple. The older women holding alternately, a lamp and a water urn, walk around the couple three or four times. During all of these rituals traditional Oonjal Pattu songs are sung.

Kanyadaanam is a ceremony where the corner of the bride's sari is tied to a scarf. The scarf is then worn by the groom. Special thread is blessed with religious incantations. The thread is then used to tie the right hands of bride and groom. This is a symbol of new eternal unity.

The couple prays for the Gods to give them blessing. The bride's father welcomes the groom when he comes to the mandapa. Mandapa (mantapa or mandapam) is kind of hall or pavilion used in India for different rituals. The sacred fire is lit there. It is a place where the wedding ceremony is held.

The bride's mother applies kajal on the groom's eyes. Kajal or kohl is a mixture of soot and other ingredients used in parts of Asia and Africa to darken the eyelids and as mascara for the eyelashes. The bride's father washes the feet of his son-in-law. Through this ritual the father expresses belief that the groom is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and that the groom is going to take good care of his daughter.

The bride sits on her father's lap. She holds a coconut. They offer it to the groom. At the same time the bride's mother pours water over the coconut. This is a symbolic act of giving the bride away. The groom's parents give the bride a nine yard sari.

Mangalsutra
Mangalsutra

Such a sari is worn during tying the mangalsutra. Managalsutra is a symbol of Hindu marriage. It includes a gold ornament strung from a yellow thread, a string of black beads or a gold chain. Mangalsutra has similar meaning as ring in western weddings.

Muhurtum is what follows. The bride, with help of her female relatives, dresses a nine yard sari. When done she returns to the mandapa. A sack of paddy is put on the floor. Bride's father sits on the sack. The bride sits on his lap. This sack is a symbol of good luck and both material and spiritual abundance.

Tamil bride
Tamil bride (photo by Ben Piven)

The bride touches the yoke of a plough with her forehead. This act is an expression of hope that the couple will always walk together and “pull the plough of life”. The priest and relatives bless the mangalsutra or sacred thread. They give it to the groom who ties it with two knots around the neck of the bride. The third knot is tied by the groom's sister. These three knots symbolically represents the marriage of the mind, spirit and body.

Melam
Melam

Everything is accompanied by the melam. Melam are different percussion instruments used in states of Tamilnadu, Kerala and other parts of South India.

Saptapadi (“seven steps”) includes the most important part of the wedding. The groom holding bride's left hand in his right one walks with her around the sacred fire seven times. Each time the bride starts to circle around the fire she touches her feet to a grinding stone.

This act symbolically shows her hope that her marriage is going to be firm, steady as the stone. When walking the groom recites a Vedic verse (mantra).

The wedding ceremony ends with Saptapadi. What follows is the wedding lunch organized by the groom's father.

Period after the wedding is rich in traditions. Sammandhi Mariyathai is the traditional exchanging of clothes and other presents between bride's and groom's family.

Paaladaanam is a ritual where the bride and groom lay face down in front of the elder members of the family and seek their blessing. They give them fruits and a token rupee.

Grihapravesham is an act of escorting the bride to her new home. There she is welcomed with an aarti (arti) ritual. During this ritual light from wicks is offered to one or more Gods.

Maruvidu Varudal is a visit of the couple to their parents. It occurs at least three days after the wedding. The couple gets clothes and jewellery.