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Traditional Tamil Wedding Ceremony Explained

For the tradition bound Tamil community marriage is an occasion for great extravagance, pomp and splendour. Tamil weddings are sacred religious ties between the families of the bride and bridegroom. They are elaborate, expensive and emotional events, which are eagerly awaited by all young girls and boys. These weddings are usually well attended by close as well as distant relatives. Some rituals may differ slightly in different communities but the most significant rituals of the marriage events remain the same.

Usually the weddings are announced on the auspicious times as predicted by the Hindu Vedic astrologers or priest. The date for the wedding is fixed after consulting the Tamil calendar. The months of Aashad (July 15th to August 15th), Bhadrapad (September 15th to October 15th) and Shunya (December 15th to January 15th) are considered inauspicious for weddings and hence, Tamilian weddings are not held in these months.

There is an event for almost everything. Adorning the bride with turmeric to cleanse her skin is celebrated as a ceremony for ladies known as “Nalangu” while painting her hands and feet beautifully and intricately with henna paste is celebrated as Mehendi.

Pre Wedding Rituals

The Proposal
This is a formal ceremony which usually takes place at the bride’s home. Receiving the blessings of the parents of the couple is of utmost importance. The proposal is an arrangement between the families of the couple and a means of bringing the families together and securing their blessings and support for the union. The groom’s family goes to the home of the bride and gifts her a tray containing coconut, fruit, betel leaf and beetle nut. During this ceremony the parents of the prospective groom formally asks for the prospective bride’s hand in marriage.

Proposal Religious Ritual
At the prospective bride’s home a apillaiyar (turmeric cone with three stemmed grass stalks and a red dot of vermilion, which symbols Lord Ganesha) is made. A priest offers prayers to Lord Ganesha (the remover of obstacles) and chants the Gayatri Mantra, he turns the coconut in the smoke of the thoobekal (pot of smoking Lobaan/saambraani- a popular Indian incense used to scent and treat) and the flame of the thaambaalim (pot of burning camphor). He then breaks the coconut in halves and sets each piece on either side of the pillaiyar. Deeparathanay (turning of camphor over the Pallaiyar) is then performed by the couple’s fathers. The father of the prospective groom requests consent from the prospective bride’s family for the marriage.

A tray consisting of betel leaf, betel nut and flowers are exchanged between the two families to denote their acceptance of the arrangement. Sometimes the father of the prospective groom may request for permission for his son to visit the prospective bride at her home and reassures the parents of the bride that their daughter would be treated with respect.

The Engagement
The trend of today is that most people combine the proposal and engagement ceremonies into one elaborate gathering. The engagement is a formal ceremony suggestive of the agreement between the families of the proposed alliance. The groom’s family presents the bride to be with 7 or 9 platters of fruit, a sari, jewellery, sweetmeats and gifts. The respective fathers of the bridal couple perform the necessary rituals which confirms the acceptance of their children’s marriage. The wedding date is also confirmed and publically announced.

The religious rituals performed for the engagement ceremony is identical to those of the proposal ceremony as well as the following rituals. The prospective parents of the groom presents a sari to the prospective bride. This sari is blessed (deeparathanay and a dot of manja and a dot of kungum are put on the sari). The priest then gives the sari to the prospect bride. She comes back adorned in the sari, which is symbolic of her acceptance of the young man and marriage proposal. For the first time the bridal couple will perform deeparathanay to the pillaiyar.

The Tamil culture has also adopted the ring ritual which is western influence, the young man puts an engagement ring on the finger of his fiancée. This completes the engagement ceremony


Nalangu and Mehendi--Beautifying the bride

At the mehendi ceremony, the bride has her hands and feet intricately patterned with a paste of henna, oil, lemon juice and tea. The application of mehendi or henna takes about four hours to complete. The bride should not wash her hands until the paste has completely dried. Female friends and relatives also apply mehendi to their hands. Mehendi signifies the strength of love in a marriage. The darker the mehndi, the stronger the love.

This ceremony is usually performed the day before the wedding day. Three trays are prepared. The first tray contains “kungum”, Turmeric paste, ground Sikah , gadumpodie, moongh dhall, three mixed oils and rosewater . The second tray holds  betelnut placed together with betel leaf and fresh flowers . The third tray contains coins and a brass container with arathi (a mixture of lime and a little tumeric powder in water which turns red). Married ladies perform this ceremony by anointing the head of the bride with a brush made with green grass dipped with the mixture of the three oils, then apply turmeric paste to the bride’s hands, legs, and face, apply “kungum” on the forehead of the bride, sprinkle gadumpodie and rosewater over her shoulders and put a flower on her head. Arathi is performed which completes the beautification and cleansing ceremony. The bride awards these ladies with little gifts (memorabilias).

Pandakal: It is traditional to seek the blessings of the family deity (usually with a Ganesha prayer) to ensure that the remover of obstacles protect the couple and the proceedings from evil. Usually, this small ritual is performed one day before the wedding.

A bamboo stick with 7 knots is smeared with tumeric/hurdee and kungum (vermillon) by nine married ladies. This Bamboo pillar is erected in the four legged “pandaal.” 7 brass pots are also set in the pandal which signifies 7 vows of marriage:
1. To share the responsibilities of home and children.
2. To develop mental, physical and spiritual strength
3. To prosper and share our worldly goods
4. To fill our hearts with great joy, peace and happiness
5. To raise strong and virtuous children
6. To remain faithful, lifelong parents
7. To cherish each other and our families in sorrow and happiness

Wedding Rituals

Mahalaxmi Puja: Prayers To The Goddess Of Wealth
The bride prays to the Goddess Maha Laxmi, and asks for guidance and blessings. The groom’s family brings the wedding clothes for the bride along with the garlands. Now a days, the above is done the night before the wedding.The bride gets dressed in the wedding garb after this ceremony and proceed to the pandaal/wedding venue.

The wedding commences with the bride and groom walking down the aisle together with their families following. The priest and the bridal couple performing a prayer to worship the Lord Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles). Navagraha pooja is performed for the nine planets to bless the bridal couple. The Vatham ritual is performed separately by the bride and groom.  The priest ties the Kappu (holy thread) on the grooms hand, and then the groom ties the Kappu (holy thread) on her wrists which wards off evil and provides a protective shield for them both. Vatham for groom means invocations/prayers to the Gods Indra, Soma, Chanda and Agni. The bride sits on the right of the groom which signifies that they are separate entities not yet united by marriage.

Kanyadaanam: The is an emotional ritual performed by the bride’s parents. The father of the bride welcomes the groom when he comes to the mandapam (decorated canopy/place where the wedding rituals are carried out). The mandapam houses the sacred fire around which the wedding ceremonies is conducted. The mother of the bride applies kajal to the groom’s eyes. The bride’s father washes his son-in-law’s feet. Through this gesture the father expresses that his son-in-law an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and believes that he will support, protect and care for his daughter. The bride then sits on her father’s lap with a coconut in her hands. The father and bride offer the coconut to the groom while the bride’s mother pours water over the coconut thus symbolising the ‘giving away of their daughter.’ The groom’s parents gift the bride a sari.

Reading of Lagna Pathirigai: The priest formally reads out the wedding invitation. Details on 3 generations of the lineage of the bride and groom and other information on the muhurtam and venue is announced.

Yegyim/Hawan (offerings to the sacred fire): The priest or bhramin lights the fire in the yegyo (brass pot) and sings the Namasivaya Vazhga and Thiru Agavan(Mantras). The bridal couple throws in the havan samagri(offerings) into the fire as the priest recites the sacred mantras.

Mangalya Dharanam /Tying of the Thali : This ritual takes place at exactly the pre-determined auspicious hour. The bride is seated and is faced eastward while the groom faces westward. The Thali is dipped in tumeric and kungum. It is a gold thread, three feet long, that is threaded through the eye of the thali-gold pendant and knotted on both sides) is placed on a tray with betel leaf and betle nut, coconut, banana and tumeric paste. It is then blessed by the congregation and the priest sprinkles kungum on the thali and blesses it with deeparathanay. It is then given to the groom to adorn the bride.

The bridegroom ties the thali around the neck of the bride. Three knots are tied to the thread. The three knots symbolise the marriage of the mind, spirit and body. The bridegroom ties the first knot and the groom’s sister ties the other two knots which signifying the bride becoming a part of the groom’s family. The knots are covered with tumeric, kungum and vibhuthi and blessed with deeparathanay.

Nadaswaram music (flute) is played in order to protect the couple from inauspiciousness at the significant moment. The sacred Thali / Mangalsutra symbolizes marriage and that the groom occupies the whole of the brides being through her heart as it hangs around her neck and rests on her chest. The bride now sits on the left of the groom.

Applying Kungum dot: The dot adorns the middle of the forehead signifies the third eye which is symbolic of spiritual enlightment. The groom puts his arm around the bride to put the red dot on her forehead which must always adorn her as it signifies her married status.

Exchange of Garlands: The garlands which are made of fresh flowers signify a pure offering to God. The bride and groom garlands each other with flowers. This signifies mutual acceptance. The bridal couple garlands each other three times which is symbolic of their unification as one soul in two bodies. In the first two exchanges of the garlands, the groom places his maalay (garland) over the bride first. In the final exchange, they garland each other simultaneously. This is the equivalent of saying, “I take you to be my lawfully wedded spouse.”

The priest then pours (fried rice) into the grooms cupped hands, which falls through his hands into the brides cupped hands which are under his. She throws the rice into the fire. This rice symbolises prosperity, is an offering to God for blessings of health, happiness and prosperity.
The groom then slips the toe rings over the second toe of each of the brides feet. Like the kungum on the forehead, the toe rings indicate her married status and must always be worn.

The groom leads the bride around the holy objects in the pandaal a second time. The pori (fried rice) procedures are repeated. The groom takes the bride to the ammikal (grinding stone) and puts her right foot on it so she will derive its strength. The groom leads the bride around the holy objects in the pandaal a third time.

Saptapadi: The groom takes the bride by her right hand in his left hand and leads her around the sacred fire seven times. The bride touches her feet to a grinding stone each time she encircles the sacred fire with her husband. This signifies her hope that their union may be as firm and steadfast as the grinding stone.

Post Wedding Rituals

Sammandhi Mariyathai: The families of the newly-weds exchange clothes and other gifts befitting their status during this ceremony.

Laaja Homam: The groom accepts popped rice from the bride’s brother and offers it to the sacred fire or Agni. The blessings of Agni are sought as fire stands for the divine power and light of God.

Paaladaanam: The bride and groom seek the blessings of the senior members of the family by prostrating in front of them. They also offer them a gift of fruits and a token coin.

Grihapravesham: The wedding rituals over, the bride is escorted to the groom’s house. If he lives far from the venue, she is taken to the home of his nearest relative. She is welcomed into her new home with an aarati.

Reception: After the series of religious ceremonies, the evening reception marks a tone of informality with the guests meeting the couple and conveying their best wishes to their families.

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