Iyer Wedding Rituals
Iyer weddings are colourful celebrations and involve many customs and
ceremonies. Usually, they last for two to three days. The marriage preparations
start a day prior to the wedding when the bride's family arrives at the
marriage venue or kalyanamandapam. This is beautifully decorated with large
Maapillai Azhaippu translated means the welcoming of the groom. The bride’s
family prepares for the arrival of the groom and his family. Auspicious objects
for welcoming them are kept at the entrance. This includes 'chandan'
(sandalwood paste), 'kumkum' (vermilion), rose water, sugar candy, garlands and
a platter for the 'aarthi'. A vessel containing 'thiraattupal' which is
condensed and sweetened milk is prepared for the groom's mother.
The groom used to arrive in a beautifully decorated horse-drawn chariot but
with the advent of meodernity, this has been replaced by cars. This procession
is called Jaanavaasam. On the groom's arrival the nadashwaram is played with
great gusto. The aarthi platter consists of a lit camphor and kumkum and a
small ceremony is performed with this. This is waved around his face to ward
off the evil eye.
This is a ceremony performed prior to the marriage to obtain blessings from
departed elders. This is performed separately for the bride and groom at the
marriage venue It begins with the sacred yellow thread being tied on the wrists
of the bride and groom and at the marriage venue. This is followed by the
'palika' ceremony (sprinkling of nine varieties of grains) for the prosperity
of the couple's new life together is conducted simultaneously with the
To culminate the function, an 'aarthi' is performed.
This is a happy event where the groom is invited to the 'mandap' to sort out
any differences between the families. Everyone present is asked if anyone has
any concern or objection and once there are no objections the actual
Nischaiyartham ceremony begins.
The bride's family brings turmeric, betel leaves, nuts and clothes for the
groom. The bride's brother then honours the groom by garlanding him and as a
mark of happiness, sugar candy is distributed to all present. Once this is
completed, the groom gets into the specially decorated car. The family moves in
a procession for the kalyana mandapam.
Once the procession reaches the marriage venue, the bride is led outside by her
close friends a glimpse of her future husband Then, an 'Aarthi' is performed
and a coconut is broken to ward off evil eyes.
Then everything shifts to the medai or raised platform. Both families sit
opposite each other and then the lagna patrika or marriage contract is written
and read aloud by the 'pujari'. This includes the names of bothe the families,
the names of the bride and groom and the agreement that the marriage is to be
conducted. After this, Thamboolams' (platters of betel nuts, dry fruits, nuts,
coconuts, turmeric and 'kumkum') and gifts are exchanged. The cone shaped
parupputhengai is an important part of all these ceremonies.
Preparations for the actual wedding ceremony begin in great earnest on the day
of the wedding. Early morning on the wedding day, the bride's family sends
gifts to the groom’s family, these consist of toiletries, a mirror, a basket
filled with sweetmeats and a nadashwaram to the groom's family. The groom's
aunt brings a dish of appams which are pancakes made from rice flour and
jaggery for this occasion.
Then the priests prepare the groom by tying the traditional 'dhoti' or
'panchakatcham' on him and applying 'vibhuti' or sacred ash in three horizontal
lines on his forehead.
This is a very interesting part of the wedding where the groom embarks on a
mock pilgrimage. He is dressed in the traditional panchakatcham. He also holds
an umbrella, a fan, a walking stick, and a towel containing dal (lentils) and
rice tied to his shoulder and then sets off on a mock pilgrimage to renounce
As he steps out of the kalyana mandapam the bride's father pleads with him not
to go to Kashi, the famous pilgrimage site and marry his daughter instead. The
groom makes many objections but finally accepts and returns to the mandapam to
Once the groom agrees, the maalai mattral or exchange of garlands between the
bride and the groom takes place. This happens three times. The fragrance of the
garlands symbolizes the inner fragrance of the groom and bride and the fact
they have to adjust with each other.
The groom also chants the following mantra in Sanskrit. “My dear lady! I hold
your hands tight till we grow very old, so that we two live together without
any separation and with prosperity and progeny. You are verily the gift of Gods
unto me for the noble purpose of partnership in life. May Goddess Saraswathi
bless you with all auspiciousness and abundance of food. May Agni (fire God)
and Vayu (wind God) make you contented with unfailing love towards me.”
The Oonjal ceremony is characteristic of an Iyer marriage. The couple is made
to sit on the "Oonjal" or swing which is rocked gently. The swing's motion to
and fro is a message to the couple that they must stay strong together in life
during both upward and downward movements in life. Relatives and friends sing
auspicious songs blessing the couple. They are offered milk and bananas and the
ladies from both the families especially elders throw coloured rice balls in
four directions to keep away evil spirits.
The Muhurtham refers to the auspicious timing of the actual wedding ceremony
itself. This is based on astrology. Usually, the auspicious time is set early
in the morning (5 am till around 7-8 am)
This ceremony is the giving away of the bride to the groom by the bride’s
father. The groom is invited to accept the bride as Kannika Dhanam. The bride
sits on the lap of her father. Her hands are lifted upward and placed on the
upward turned hands of the groom. Auspicious items like a coconut, betel
leaves, nuts are placed on the hands of the bride.
The groom ties the sacred 'taali' on the bride as she is seated on the lap of
her father. The groom holds this in his hands and recites a religious verse.
Then he ties the Mangalyam around the neck of the bride, he makes the first
knot and two others are completed by his sister. The three knots symbolize
Brahma, Vishnu and Rudhra. Flowers are showered on the couple as a blessing.
This is the ritual where the couple walk around the sacred fire. The groom
walks with the bride to the right side of the sacred fire while holding his
wife's right hand. He stops, bends down and holds the right toe of his wife
with his right hand and helps her take seven steps around the fire. At the
beginning of each step, he recites a Vedic mantra seeking the blessings of Maha
Vishnu. As these seven mantras are being chanted, he asks Maha Vishnu to follow
in the footsteps of his wife and bless her with food, strength, piety, progeny,
wealth, comfort and health.
Some of the verses chanted by the groom are translated as follows.
"May the Lord Vishnu follow and guard you at every step for the sake of
abundance of food, good health, strength, happy life and performance of
auspicious functions in company with me.
You have now become my life companion.
We will never get separated. We will never lack in love and affection for each
We will always think, speak and act in perfect harmony.
You are "Rik" and I am "Sama." You are mother earth; I am father heaven.
You are speech and I am the mind." The stepping on the grinding stone
signifies, Climb this stone to seek firmness and fortitude against any
May you stand as a rock under testing circumstances. Let not unfriendly people
shake you from the determined goal of your life."
Once the Sapthapadi is completed, the groom gently places the bride's foot on a
grinding stone near the fire and slips silver rings or mettis on her toes. The
couple is then shown the Dhruva Nakshatra or Pole Star a symbol of permanence
and also the 'Arundhati Nakshatra, a symbol of purity and virtue.
This is an offering by the bride to the sacred fire. The bride cups her hands
and the brothers of the bride fill it with parched rice. To this, the groom
adds a drop of ghee to and recites five Vedic mantras. After each mantra, the
parched rice is thrown into the sacred fire as an offering to Agni. As this
happens, the wife prays for long life for her husband and for a marriage filled
with peace and harmony. After this ritual the couple are blessed by all
This is a blessing for healthy offspring. The groom ties a thread around the
bride's hip. This ceremony used to be performed just before the nuptials in the
earlier days but these days it is a part of the marriage ceremony itself.
The bride’s brother gives the ceremonial first betel to the couple to chew and
this is considered auspicious. The betel leaf is believed to have aphrodisiacal
properties and to be eaten only after marriage.
The Nalangu starts with the bride and bridegroom being seated opposite each
other. They apply turmeric on each other’s feet. The bride also takes yellow
rice and waves it around her husband’s head and throws it away. This is
repeated three times and the same is done by the husband. This is believed to
ward off evil eyes.
This is followed by wedding games that bring in a light-hearted element into
the wedding day and relieve the stress. Traditional games include the
newly-weds putting their hands into a small bowl to find a small object with
the person finding the object first the winner. Another game consists of
breaking papadams (pappads) over each other's heads. They also roll a coconut
towards each other like a ball. During this time, women sing songs, making fun
of the bride, the groom and the in-laws.