Traditions & Customs - The Marriage - திருமணம் /விவாகம்
The biggest and happiest event in the life of an individual is their marriage. At the right age and at the invitation of bride's parents, marriage proposals pour in from relatives, friends and marriage brokers. Normally proposals do not start until after the Thai Pongal day in the New Year. This is because the farmers will have money after selling their paddy harvest. Marriage is held in high esteem by all our people from ancient times. Meticulous care is taken in choosing the correct partner for their offspring and research into prospective families, their children will go into, are carefully carried out. They believed in astrology and both partners' horoscopes must match flawlessly before any marriage can take place. Both parties must satisfy themselves regarding the other party. As a family centered traditional man, Jaffna Tamils can be counted on to have many traditions and ceremonial procedures associated with entire marriage process.
There were four different marriage arrangements -
- Traditional marriage or arranged marriage is old fashioned but is still common. This marriage happens between two individuals whose families are not known to each other and the parents make arrangements from the very beginning.
- Cross cousin marriage is between son and daughter of a brother and sister. But children of two sisters or two brothers cannot marry since the principals are from the same family. Since both parties are related, many investigations can be dropped and dowry can easily be negotiated.
- Intermarriage is between a brother and sister of one family with a sister and brother of another family. These can be between unrelated pair or a cross cousin pair. The advantage here is that two children are married at the same time and also dowry is easier to negotiate.
- Love marriage is rare and vehemently objected to by both parents. However it happens even with suchobjections after long negotiations by both groom and bride trying to justify their cause to their parents. The Western saying ‘the entire world loves a lover' is not true in Jaffna. Coeducation in schools in Jaffna and girls getting educated and working has now changed this vision and more love marriages happen today.
When a girl comes to the age of 16 or 17, marriage plans start to brew. At present this is postponed after she is 25 or more. If the prospective groom or bride is not known to the other family, information is sought from the family dhobi and if he cannot help, family barber is approached. The first thing to consider is the caste and social status. By the marriage of their children, the families join together in what is called ‘Sambantham' (சம்பந்தம்) where the families are equal and will sit together for meals in any gathering. Therefore, both families must be from the same caste. Besides, the social status of the families must be same.
Then comes the family background; if either family has even a single member who has a history of chronic disease, mental illness, other significant ailment, alcoholism, any trouble with police or chronic indebtedness or if the girl or the boy has unmarried sisters in which event they will be expected to contribute towards their dowry, will be looked into much detail and may have a negative impact.
The groom's profession or employment, character, conduct and whether he had any previous involvement or promises of marriage are checked. Various ingenious methods are adopted to check the groom's status. Likewise the bride's character, conduct, beauty and complexion are perused even by inquiring her past teachers at her school and neighbours! The bride's parent's ability to pay dowry is also examined. Last but not least are the horoscopes which should match flawlessly. Many things like physical fitness, sexual appetite, and faithfulness in marriage, children, prosperity, and so on are looked into.
When this basic examination has been passed, dowry is discussed through the intermediary. This depends on what the bride's parents are prepared to pay, groom's employment - doctor in Government service will attract more dowry, bride's complexion and beauty - dark girls will have to come with more dowry, and so on. In some families, even a gift for the parents of the groom is also claimed. Groom and the bride do not take part in the dowry discussion although they receive it. However it should be pointed out that not all families insisted on dowry. When some agreement has been reached on dowry, the groom and parents would like to have a look at the bride - in traditional arrangements a glimpse of the prospective bride would be given to the groom so that if he simply did not like her looks the matter can be dropped without hurting anyone. Many ingenious methods of arranging this glimpse of the unsuspecting girl were practiced and the girl too sometimes given a glimpse of the man. Sometimes arrangements are made at the bride's house for a visit by the groom and his party.
The groom's parents may have met the bride's parents a few times during the negotiations but an official reciprocal visit to confirm is a must and the first move is by the bride's parents. On an auspicious day, the bride's parents visit the groom's home to confirm their agreement and they will take with them some Palakarams, fruits and flowers as goodwill. A date for registration of marriage, ‘Ponnurkku' and wedding are fixed in consultation with the astrologer. In fixing the date for marriage various factors are considered; rainy days are avoided, fruits and vegetables are available in plenty, the bride's menstrual period is avoided and after all it must be astrologically suited. Other arrangements made by the Groom's parents are to arrange a priest to perform the ceremony, nomination of suitable auspicious day for the purchase of Thali, bride and groom wedding attire, jewellery etc. The groom's parents visit the bride's house reciprocally and to confirm their agreement and they also carry with them some Palakarams and fruits etc.
With very little attention paid to the opinion of the bride and very little acquaintance on the part of the new couple, it is a miracle that marriages do last. It is due to marriage breakdowns are not entertained generally and the society and relatives work against this breakdown of the alliance. Wives regard it their duty to accept their husbands. The Tamil wife is indeed as patient, uncomplaining and enduring as the grinding stone which is a part of the wedding ceremony. There is a common saying that ‘wife and teacher are according to fate'- (தாரமும்குருவும்தலைவிதிப்படி). Divorce is never thought of and puts the woman in an economic crisis and pushes her as a social outcast, so she always blames fate for the unhappiness and her life goes on. So the traditional marriage continues irrespective of threats of breakdown because anything else will be letting down those who arranged it.
In this whole process of selection of the right person, the steps taken can be summarised as A B C D of marriage; A for Astrology and Age, B for beauty and complexion of the bride, C for caste, D for dowry, E for education of the groom F for Family values and G for glimpsing.
Registration of marriage - கலியாணஎழுத்து
This is the legal part of the marriage introduced after the European colonisation before which weddings took place according to local customs. The registration of marriage takes place on an auspicious day and time at the bride's residence with invited guests witnessing. At the registration ceremony the local Registrar of Marriages and a Solicitor are in attendance. The Registrar conducts the registration ceremony when both groom and bride sign the register after taking the oath and also exchange rings like in Western culture. Two witnesses will also sign the marriage certificate. At the end of that the groom and the bride are married legally and are man and wife for all purposes and intentions. The Solicitor reads the dowry contract which he had prepared earlier on the instructions of bride's parents. In some families reading of the dowry deed does not happen with the mutual agreement. The bride and the groom and two witnesses will sign this dowry document. Then the groom and bride exchange presents to each other and with the payment of fees for the Registrar and the Solicitor by the bride's parents this ceremony comes to an end following a vegetarian feast for the guests.
Ponnurkku ceremony - பொன்னுருக்கு
The Ponnurkku or gold melting ceremony is an important function conducted ceremoniously. The gold that is used to make the Thali is melted on an auspicious day at the bridegroom's house. The Thali occupies a centre position in a Hindu wedding. After all the complex preparations and various rituals, the climax of a Hindu wedding is the tying of the Thali by the groom round the bride's neck. The Thali symbolises the married status of the woman and she treasures this as its well being signifies the well being of the man who tied it and so the family. She will never dispose this by any means and this remains on her neck throughout until and unless the husband dies when this is removed for good.
Due to the importance of the Thali, the melting of gold to be used for this, is celebrated with due rites on the auspicious day nominated for this function, which is normally 5 to 7 days before the wedding, attended by the parents and elders of both parties. The groom presents the gold coin to the family goldsmith for its ritual meltdown at the auspicious time with offerings to God. Once it is melted in a clay pot, this is shown to all those present to make sure that the product is genuine gold and it is alright for the Thali to be made from it. The bride does not participate in this and the groom and bride from this time onwards do not see each other and they remain vegetarians until the wedding is over.
Ponnurkku is followed by the Kanni Kaal planting in both houses. On this day both parties start making ‘Palakarams' (பலகாரம்) symbolically. They might have prepared some of it earlier but they are supposed to start doing from this day. On the same day if a Panthal was to be erected, work starts on this too. As is with every function Ponnurkku also is followed by a meal for the guests in the groom's house.
Kanni Kaal Planting - கன்ன்னிகால்நடுதல்
On the day of the Ponnurkku, another function happens in both houses. In the garden a three to five foot long piece of MulluMurungai (முள்ளுமுருங்கை) also called KalyanaMurungai is planted and Navathaaniam (nine grains) is spread along in the hole with offerings to God. In the groom's house this happens following the Ponnurkku ceremony and in the bride's home few people from the groom's house attend the ceremony which is also followed by a vegetarian meal. The MulluMurungai and Navathaaniam are fast growing and signify fertility and prosperity and symbolise the laying of foundation for a long lasting and successful married life. After the planting is over, ladies of both houses will make Ariyatharam and this is distributed to all present. The significance of this is that sweet is traditionally given to mark a good occasion and at the conclusion of the happy event.