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RITUALS

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 auspicious kolams.

Maapillai Azhaippu
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The groom used to arrive in a beautifully decorated horse-drawn chariot but with the advent of meodernity, this has been replaced by cars.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.

Vratham
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 'vratham'.

To culminate the function, an 'aarthi' is performed.

Nischaiyartham
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.

Wedding Arrangements
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.

Kashi Yatra
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 the world.

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 get married!

Maalai Maatral
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.”

Oonjal :
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.

Muhurtham
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)

Kannika Dhanam
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.

Mangalyadharanam:
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.

Sapthapadi
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 other.

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 adversity.
May you stand as a rock under testing circumstances. Let not unfriendly people shake you from the determined goal of your life."

Arundhathi Parthal
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.

Laja Homam
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 present.

Sesha Homam
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.

Thamboola Charvanam
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.

Nalangu
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.

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