Traditions & Customs -
Marriage ceremony - கலியாணவைபோகம்
The wedding is a union of not only the bride and groom but their families and friends as well. Hindu wedding traditions are based on sacred scriptures. The rites and rituals are symbolic of great underlying truth and thus should not, by our ignorance or inability to understand, be rejected as meaningless. The couple to be married prepare themselves to fulfil their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social goals of acquisition of wealth, fulfilment of their desires and salvation of the Soul.
In Jaffna the wedding ceremony traditionally takes place in the bride's home, the groom comes to the bride's house gets married to her and takes her to his home which would be the bride's married home. But today weddings take place in temples or wedding halls which have become popular due to lack of space for the excessive number of invitees!
In the bride's house a temporary shed or ‘Panthal' (பந்தல்) is erected to accommodate the guests and the interior is clad with white cloth by the family dhobi and also decorated with flowers etc. A decorative wedding seat called Manavarai (மணவறை) is also made or assembled with readymade material and this Panthal looks magnificent. At the front of the house, plantain trees with bunch of ripe fruits and tapering blossoms are erected to announce the place of the happy occasion and symbolising the success of the future generation. At the entrance of the house will be a table upon which would be a Nirai Kudam which literally means "full pot" and two oil lamps on both sides and other various auspicious items. This is regarded as a symbol of prosperity and a welcoming gesture. (See Nirai Kudam description elsewhere)
At a Hindu wedding the bride and groom will sit at a higher level than the priest and the space he sanctifies for the divine intervention and this is the only occasion this is so. This is because Hindu weddings are supposed to be heavenly. The guests sit on the floor at the same level as the priest. The bride's parents hand over their daughter to the love and care of the groom (Kannikathaanam- கன்னிகாதானம்) .The groom in turn promises the parents of the bride that he will remain forever her companion and both promise to be eternally devoted to each other. The wedding ceremony proper starts with the arrival of the groom at the wedding house.
Inviting the groom - Mappillai Azhippu - மாப்பிள்ளைஅழைப்பு
On the wedding day, at the auspicious time, the Tholan or the best man, usually the brother of the bride, with other relatives including married women and men set off to the groom's house carrying with them trays of Palakarams, fruits and coconut. The groom sits on a white cloth provided by the dhobi at the back of the house or near the well, holding in his both hands roll of betel leaves with areca nut and coins. The barber shaves the groom's face. A tray containing milk, arugam pullu and some coins is placed in front of him. Tholan and few others (normally 5 or 7 altogether) from either side place some milk and arugam pullu on his head which is covered by a white cloth provided by the dhobi again. While this is done, coconut is broken by tradition. Once this ritual is over, the groom is left alone to have his bath and wraps round him with a white Veshti provided by the dhobi who will collect those coins in the tray. The groom goes into the house and gets dressed up and the visitors are treated with a meal which will be attended by guests of both sides and the Tholan. The groom does not eat anything after he had the bath - fasting for the divine ceremony. Following the meal, a senior person places the ‘Thalaipahai' (turban or தலைப்பா) on the groom‘s head. At the same time golden studs are placed on the groom's ears (கடுக்கண்பூட்டுதல்) and this is declining as Jaffna man no longer wears ear studs. Then the groom and the Tholan prepare to leave for the bride's home for the marriage. The groom will have a ring to be given to the Tholan later. Aalathi is performed at the doorway, and the groom accompanied by the Tholan on his left and guests leave to the bride's home. The groom's entourage will have the maid or Thozhi (தோழி) who is normally a married sister of the groom and will carry in a tray the bridal dress, Koorai sari, Thali and chain, garland and flowers. Two or four other married ladies will also accompany carrying trays with various items including fruits, coconuts and various Palakarams from groom's house. If Nathaswaram and Thavil were engaged they also go along with the entourage. In olden days the groom's entourage walked to the bride's home as marriages took place within a village or went in horse drawn cart but now luxury cars are employed for this purpose.
A very similar procedure takes place at the bride's house with three couples from the groom side in attendance. After anointing with milk and arugam pullu and the bath, the bride gets dressed in her bridal attire and jewellery. She also will fast after the bath, however there is no meal served after her bath at the bride's home.
At the Bride's house
The groom's entourage arrive at the entrance of the wedding house and are greeted by the bride's father. With tholan on his left, the groom stands where the Niraikudam is placed. The bride's father garlands the groom and welcomes him. The Tholan will wash the groom's feet by sprinkling water, from a brass pot, to his feet for which he will receive a gold ring from the groom. Two married ladies one from each side will perform the Aalathi and the groom and the tholan will receive a pottu each. The dhobi then spreads out a carpet of white cloth on which the groom and tholan will walk and the tholan escorts the groom to the wedding dais. If Nathaswaram was engaged they will stand across the way as to prevent the groom from proceeding until they receive their gift from the bride's side which is normally verty and shawl for each of the performer; this custom does not seem to exist now. This is called ‘Marichchu vasithal' (மறிச்சுவாசித்தல்). Once these formalities are over, the groom and tholan proceed to the Manavarai and sit there with the groom closer to the priest. The priest receives the trays from the ladies from groom's side and places them in the correct places on the dais. The tholan sits on the left side of the groom.
The priest starts the ceremony by doing certain rituals; express his presence and purpose - Sangkalpam (சங்கல்பம்), invoking the blessings of lord Ganesha - Vinayagar Pooja to avert any misfortunes and obstacles during the ceremony, purification of the groom - Punniyagavasanam (புண்ணியாகவாசனம்) and gives the groom to wear in his right ring finger, a kind of ring made of a variety of grass, Thetpai indicating purity of mind. Three or five married women representing the goddesses of knowledge, wealth, courage and wisdom gather nine kinds of grains ( Navathaaniam - நவதானியம்) with honey and milk and take part in ‘growing the nine grains' (அங்குரார்பணம்) ceremony. These ladies will each receive banana on a betel leaf with flowers from the priest. The significance of this is for the couple's life to flourish just like Navathaaniam growing in the pot. These three women, at the request of the priest will bring some embers from the kitchen and the priest uses this to light up the sacred fire - Homam. The priest then ties a thread dipped in turmeric in the groom's right wrist invoking the divine power to protect from any obstructions, sorrows and evil eyes during the ceremony - Kappu Kadduthal (காப்புகட்டுதல்). At this time a coconut is broken by an uncle of the groom and the music is played loud. When this is over, the groom and tholan move to a special seat by the side of the wedding platform and await the bride's arrival.
Manamakal Varukai - மணமகள்வருகை
The bride wearing a head veil and escorted by her maid - Thozhi and her family arrives at the ceremonial place and the priest performs similar rituals to purify and protect her. The Thetpai and yellow thread go in the left hand of the bride. This is because the half male and half female image of the Hindu mythology has the female on his left side and symbolises the equality of man and woman. A coconut is broken and the music is played loud at this time. The head veil is kept on until the Thali had been tied in order to protect her from evil eyes and critics.
The groom then joins the bride, sits on her left side. The main ceremony begins with Siva Parvathi pooja, Navagraha pooja - worship of nine planets represented by the nine pots with coconut each in front of the Manavarai. The priest then lights up the sacred fire - homam, invoking the deity Agni to bear witness to the marriage. The fire is lit using the embers brought in by the ladies from the kitchen and using dried mango twigs and melted ghee as fuel for the fire which will be burning until the whole procedure comes to an end.
Kannikathaanam - கன்னிகாதானம்
The priest invokes the forefathers of the bride and groom and invites them to witness the couple's union and to bestow their blessings on them. This is called Pithir Asirvatham (பிதிர்ஆசீர்வாதம்). Then the parents of the bride and groom, in a small ceremony, accept and unite with each other with respect. They offer Santhanam and Kunkumam and sprinkle rose water to each other. At marriage, the groom is regarded as Lord Siva and so he places his feet on a tray and the bride's father pours water on his feet. Such is the respect paid to the groom who is expected to reciprocate this respect all his life. This is called Varan Pooja (வரன்பூசை). The bride's father sits on her right side and the groom's father sits on his left side facing bride's father. The mothers stand close to their husbands.
The bride holds in both her hands, a betel leaf with an areca nut, a lime, banana and a gold coin. Her father then clasps her hand with both his hands. The priest announces the couple's three generations of male ancestors living or dead- Great grandfather, grandfather and father three times to the congregation. When this pronouncement is made, everyone keeps quiet and the playing of music of any kind is stopped. The mentioning of the names of the bride and groom this way resembles the announcement of the names in the western countries. Then the priest recites and invites the Thevars, Agni, Brahmin and the guests to bear witness to the union and bless the couple (தேவர்கள்சாட்சியாக, அக்கினிசாட்சியாக, பிராமணன்சாட்சியாகசபையோர்சாட்சியாக). The bride's father then prays for the prosperity of both families and to obtain Dharma, Wealth, Pleasure and Mukthi. The bridegroom then gives the consent to marriage. The bride's mother pours water on the hands of her husband holding daughters hands- (Tharai Varthal -தாரைவார்த்தல்) indicating her consent. Pouring of water also symbolises the final handing over of a gift. The bride's father then gives the daughter's hand in marriage to the groom, who by receiving her hands indicates he accepts her and will, cherish and protect her throughout his life. In turn the groom gives the coin and betel leaves to his parents signifying his acceptance and thus Kannikathaanam is over. During this period, the bride and her father will be seated but the groom stands and accepts the bride's hands from her father. At this point a coconut is broken and the Nathaswaram and Thavil are played at the loudest. Right through this ceremony the fathers of the bride and the groom will have a turban on their head. By this ceremony the bride is in the hands, love and care of the groom.
Blessings of the bridal sari (Koorai) and the bridal necklace (Asirvatham)
The tray brought by the thozhi from the groom's house containing Koorai and other outfits, the Thali and the necklace, flowers, garlands, coconut etc have been subjected to a pooja by the priest who also invokes purification by Agni. This tray is then taken round by a married couple from the groom's side to the married members of the congregation for their blessings for a healthy and successful marriage. The groom while seated presents his bride, who stands in front of him, with her bridal outfit (Koorai) and welcomes her to his family. Presentation of Koorai is a tradition required by Thesavalamai law in Yarlpanam. A coconut is broken and the music is played loud at this instance. The bride then leaves with her maid and three married women to get dressed up. While she is out, priest performs the Sambandha homam which is invoking the blessings on the most sacred symbol of marriage, Thali - Thali pooja. Refreshments in the form of Palakarams and soft drinks are served to the guests and the musicians play soft melodies. Someone from the bride's side will distribute some yellow rice and flower petals to people in and around the Manavarai for later use.
Bride arrives again
The bride had been handed over to the groom who indicated his acceptance. The bride when ready with the bridal outfit arrives at the ceremonial place and garlands the groom who will be seated, indicating her acceptance of him as her husband and sits on the dais by his right side.
The tying of the Thali - The nuptial knot
The wedding necklace which holds the Thali is made of nine strands of gold or thread. Tying of Thali is the most important of all in this wedding ceremony as is exchange of rings in Western culture. The groom stands facing west on the right side of the bride and three married women stand at the back of the bride with a small oil lamp lit. Then at the very auspicious moment called Muhurtham, and chanting of mantra by the priest, - meaning ‘I place this holy string (or chain) which will be the cause for my prosperity and long healthy life, round your neck and I bless you to live long with all happiness'-, and the music -Nathaswaram and Thavil played at very high pitch, the head veil is removed, the groom ties his knot or fixes the necklace securely round his wife's neck. At this very moment, flower petals and yellow rice shower from those standing nearby especially the parents and relatives and the priest himself in the gesture of blessing them. The oil lamp symbolises the divine witnessing the nuptial knot. A coconut is broken symbolising the sacrifice of ego. The music or Nathaswaram is played so loud at high pitch to muffle any other noise that comes from the audience. The groom also places the Kunkumam pottu on his wife's forehead indicating she is married now. The veil having been removed and the Thali tied, the bride exposes her face to the guests with the recognition that she is a married woman.
The wedded couple now exchange garlands and the wife now sits on the left of the groom. Once the most important part of tying the Thali is over the music played is mainly soft melodies. Then the ceremony proceeds with exchange of garlands -Malai Mattal three times, indicating the commencement of family life in which two hearts are united. Then the groom presents his wife with things like turmeric, Kunkumam, perfume, flowers, comb and mirror. They look at their faces in the mirror. Both bride and groom feed each other with bananas and milk three times indicating their life together should be as sweet as the fruit and milk. This is done behind an improvised curtain. The couple then view a cow - symbol of wealth and they hold hands with the promise of staying together till death.
They go round the sacred fire when the seven steps - Sapta Padi (ஏழுஅடிநடத்தல்) are undertaken. This part of the ceremony implies ‘As we walk the seven steps together we become friends and partners, earn the seven kinds of wealth in life and share our joys and miseries, commitment, moral support and strength, chastity, happiness of parenthood, cherishment and respect and love'. They are accompanied by the Tholan and Thozhi and go round the ceremonial place to pay their respect to Agni and each time they go round different rituals take place.
Placing of the brides foot on the grinding stone( Ammi mithithal) - அம்மிமிதித்தல்: After the seven steps, the groom places the right foot of the bride on a grinding stone which symbolises chastity as the solid foundation of their married life. At this time groom also places the silver toe ring on the bride's second toe. The toe ring - Metti (மெட்டி)) will only be worn by married women.
Contest for the ring:The couple have to try and take a ring from a pot of yellow coloured water - turmeric water. Lots of giggles are provoked while both hands and fingers play in the privacy of the pot. This also believed to predict the sex of the first baby! They do this three times and this simply implies that they should give in to each other in life.
Viewing Arunthathi: The star Arunthathi the wife of sage Vasistar is well known for her chastity and was placed in the sky to be a model for all and viewing of this star is a must during the wedding ceremony. The couple are led by the priest to the north of the house where this star Arunthathi can be seen close to the Northern star - Thuruva star- and performs a pooja and the couple prays. At this time the priest also asks the bride to say her husband's name for the first and last time. The wife in Hindu culture never mentions her husband's name.
The couple will also at the end of each round offer puffed rice to Lord Agni to bless them with wealth. At the end of the seventh round, the couple offer grains, honey, fruits and milk to the Gods through Agni
Blessings or Asirvatham -ஆசீர்வாதம்
The couple gets blessed with flower petals and rice coloured with turmeric powder by the priests and chanting mantra for their happiness, prosperity, healthy and happy married life. Then the parents of either side bless them followed by the guests at the wedding. They are blessed using Arukarisi (அறுகரிசி) - which is a mixture of raw red rice mixed with turmeric and Arugam pullu. Due to the large number of guests nowadays, blessing by the guest take place later after the priest completes his duties.
The ceremony concludes with the removal of the Thetpai and the yellow cord from the couple's hands and placing them on betel leaves with the priest's tThetchanai, an offering for his services, and handing over to the priests. Rice and vegetables are also given to them. Then an Aalathi is performed to the couple and the guests are invited for a vegetarian feast. In these days the couple wait at the Manavarai for a photo shoot session with their relations and friends.
As the guests proceed to have their meal, the couple takes part in what is called Poothkalam (பூதாக்கலம்) where the groom and bride eat off a same plantain leaf and feed each other.
After the wedding
The groom takes his newly wedded wife to his home where she sets her right foot first and enters the house which would be her home hereafter. An Aalathi is performed and the groom's mother usually gives her daughter in law a present in the form of some jewellery. Then they both have their first meal there.
On the third day, the couple return to the bride's home (called Naalaam chadangu - நாலாம்சடங்கு) and a few relatives are invited to have dinner at this house on that occasion and with this all celebrations come to an end.