Typical South Indian Brahmin Wedding
September 4, 2007 by udayms
My wedding was a typical Hindu Brahmin Wedding conducted in Trivandrum, Kerala – My hometown. It started on August 23rd morning at around 7:30 am and ended on 25th afternoon at around 12:00 pm. Over these two day, I went through all the rituals and ceremonies performed in a brahmin wedding. It was fun and pretty tiring too.
I guess it would be interesting for some to read about the the key events of a Brahmin Wedding.
The marriage ceremonies begin with vratham performed separately by the bride and the groom. For the bride, it means the tying of the kappu, the holy thread on her wrists, which is meant to ward off all evil sprits. It symbolizes a kind of protective armor for the bride.
For the groom vratham begins with invocations involving the Gods Indra, Soma, Chandra and Agni. From thereon the groom prepares himself for a new chapter in his life as a householder or grihasta. The days of his bachelorhood or brahmacharya are over now. The acceptance of his is all what the vratham is about.
Janavasam & Nischaiyartham
Inviting the groom to the ‘mandap’ and sorting out any differences between both families. This is a very important aspect of the marriage where any differences between the families are sorted out. This ceremony takes place in a temple. The bride’s family brings turmeric, betel leaves, nuts and clothes for the groom. The bride’s brother then garlands the groom, and sugar candy is distributed to all present. The groom is then escorted to a decorated car and the family leaves in a procession for the ‘mandapam’.
Once the procession reaches the marriage venue, the bride is led outside by her close friends to get a glimpse of her future husband! ‘Aarthi’ is performed and a coconut broken to ward off evil. The groom is then led to the ‘medai’ (an elevated place in the ‘mandapam’ where all the ceremonies are performed). Members of both families sit opposite each other and a ‘lagna patrika’ (marriage contract) is written and read aloud by the ‘pujari’. ‘Thamboolams’ (platters of betel nuts, dry fruits, nuts, coconuts, turmeric and ‘kumkum’) and gifts are exchanged. The cone shaped ‘parupputhengai’ (a special sweetmeat) is an important part of all these ceremonies.
This is a very important part of the ceremony. Immediately after his student life, the young bachelor has two alternatives before him – Grihasta or Sanyas. Being by nature in a satwic state due to strict adherence of bachelorhood and observance of austerities, he is drawn towards asceticism. Therefore he makes his way to Kasi, complete with slippers, umbrella, a fan made of bamboo etc. On his way the bride’s father intervenes and advises him of the superiority of married life to an ascetic life. He also promises to give his daughter as companion to face the challenges of life.
Dressed in the traditional ‘panchakatcham’, holding an umbrella, a fan, a walking stick, and a towel containing ‘dal’ (lentils) and rice tied to his shoulder, the groom embarks on a mock pilgrimage. As he steps out of the ‘mandapam’, the bride’s father pleads with him not to go to ‘Kashi’ (a sacred pilgrimage site in the city of Benaras) and marry his daughter instead.
After much ado the groom accepts and returns to the ‘mandappam’ 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.
The bride and groom are lifted to the shoulders of their respective maternal uncles. This is an expression of continuing sibling support to their mothers. And in that position the two garland each other thrice for a complete union. In the shastras, the exchange of garlands symbolizes their unification, as one soul in two bodies. It is inward acceptance by each of the very fragrance in the other.
The marrying couple is seated on a swing. They rock forth and back, as women sing songs to praise the couple. The bride and groom are given a sweet concoction of milk, sugar and bananas to eat. Water and lighted lamps are circulated around the swing 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 chains of the swing 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.
Pallikai Seeds Sowing
This is a fertility rite. Pallikais are earthern pots prepared a day earlier. Pots spread at the base with hariali grass and Bael leaves (vilvam). Nine kinds of presoaked cereals are ceremoniously sown in these pots by sumangalis. After the marriage, the sprouted seedlings are released in a river or pool. This ritual invokes the blessing of the eight direction quartered guardian angels (Ashtadikh Paalaks) for a healthy life and progeny to the couple.
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. In the bride’s head, a ring made of Darbha of Kusa 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 mantras chanted at this time say:
Let this gold multiply your wealth, Let this water purify your married life, And may your prosperity increase. Offer yourself to your husband.
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.
The bride is then given an 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. A belt made of reed grass is then tied around the bride’s waist. The mantras then chant:
She standeth here, pure before the holy fire. As one blessed with boons of a good mind, a healthy body, life-long companionship of her husband (Sumangali Bhagyam) and children with long lives. She standeth as one who is avowed to stand by her husband virtuously. Be she tied with this reed grass rope to the sacrament of marriage.
Thanksgiving vedic hymns follow, to the celestial caretakers of her childhood, the dieties of Soma, Gandharva and Agni. Having attained nubility, the girl is now free to be given over to the care of the human — her man.
The vedic concept underlying this ritual is figuratively that in her infancy Soma givers her the coolness of the moon. In the next stage of life the Gandharvas gave her playfulness and beauty. And when she becomes a maiden Agni gave her passions. The father of the bride while offering his daughter chants:
I offer ye my daughter: A maiden virtuous, good natured, very wise, decked with ornaments to the best of my abilities. With all that she shall guard thy Dharma, Wealth and Love
The bridegroom returns his assurance to the bride’s father saying three times that he shall remain for ever her companion in joy and sorrow, in this life and life after.
The bride ties a string fastened to a piece of turmeric around the wrist of the bridegroom to bind themselves by a religious vow. It is only after tying the kankanam that the bridegroom gets the right to touch the bride. A little later, the bridegroom ties a kankanam to the bride’s wrist.
The tying of the Mangal Sutra or Thali takes place at exactly the pre-determined auspicious hour. The bride is seated over a sheaf of grain-layden hay looking eastward while the bridegroom faces westward. The bridegroom puts the gold Mangal Sutra around the neck of the bride. 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. At the same time as the mangal sutra a turmeric thread is also put around the bride’s neck. To this three knots are tied. The first one by the bridegroom. The other two knots are tied by the groom’s sister to make the bride a part of their family. The vedic hymn recited by the bridegroom when he ties the knot is:
I pray to the Almighty that I be blessed with a long life. I tie this knot around your neck. Oh Soubhagyawati, may providence bestow on you a fulfilling life of a Sumangali for a hundred years to come!
This means holding hands. The groom holds the hand of the bride. The mantras say:
The Devas have offered you to me in order that I may live the life of a Grihasta. We shall not part from each other even when we grow old.
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 ceremonly. And only when they walk these seven steps together (i.e. perform the saptha padhi) is the marriage complete. With each step they take a vow. The belief is that when one walks seven steps with another, one becomes the other’s friend. The mantras said at this time mean:
Ye who have walked with me, become my companion, whereby I acquire your friendship. We shall remain together – Inseparable. Let us make a vow together. We shall love, share the same food, share our strengths, thesame tastes. We shall be of one mind. We shall observe the vows together. I shall be the Sama and you the Rig. I shall be the upper world and you the earth. I shall be the sukhilam and you the holder. Together we shall live, beget children and other riches. Come thou, o sweet worded girl.
Gifts are exchanged between the families of the bride and groom. Any gift not accompanied by a token gesture of a coin of small denomination that represents the stored value of human effort is considered incomplete; thus respecting the value of human effort through which wealth is acquired. Also no gift shall be taken without a return gesture, which merits the gift received. Pala Dhanam as ordained by the scriptures is thus an action signifying mutual arrangements between the families, to be based on the principle of equality and respect for each other irrespective of one’s economic stature in life. The return gesture by the family of the groom could never equal to the gift of the bride given to the groom. Hence, the same coin given to the groom’s family is returned to the bride’s family an acknowledgment of the priceless gift received.
A crucial part of the wedding is the homage paid by the couple to Agni, the God of Fire. They couple goes around the fire, and feed it with ghee and twigs of nine types of holy trees as sacrificial fuel. The fumes that arise possess medicinal, curative and cleansing effects on the bodies of the couple. 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.
Treading 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 and Dhruva 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 the Vashishta Maharishi and exemplified as the ideal wife – the embodiment of chastity. 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.
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.
Taking with her fire from the Laaja Homam, the bride takes leave of her home and enters the new home of her in-laws. The vedic hymns recited at this time sound like the mother’s advice to her daughter:
Be the queen of your husband’s home. May your husband glorify your virtues! Conduct yourself in such a way that you win your mother-in-law’s love. And be in the good books of your sister-in-law.
The evening of the marriage day is the time to relax and play. The newly wed wife calls her husband for play, inviting him through a song. Much to the merriment of all gathered, there follows a series of playful games. The bride anointing the groom’s feet with colour paste, fanning him, showing him a mirror, breaking papads over each other’s head. Wrenching the betel pack from each other’s hands. Rolling the coconut from one to another as in playing ball and so on. During these events women sing songs, making fun of the bride, the groom and the in-laws.
These events bring out the qualities of the bride and the groom’s sporting spirit, kindness, co-operative nature thus surfacing the hidden traits for the other to note, thus bringing about better understanding and compatibility.
The consummation of the marriage at night fixed for an auspicious time for a happy, ever-lasting married life that is full of understanding and care. Two souls united in a sacred act of fulfillment, to bring forth progeny as nature’s best creation.
[ Source: Original article on the internet by Padma Vaidyanath ]