The wedding ceremony
Abhi is a Hebbar Iyengar, Madhavi is half Iyer, half Kannadiga. Our wedding is going to be in the Iyengar tradition.
A typical Iyengar wedding is made up of the following events:
Vethalaipakku: Exchange of gifts between the bride and groom.
This is a kind of engagement ceremony where the bride and groom exchange saris, suits and gifts. The bride goes to the groom's home carrying a platter laden with two silver lamps, a coconut, fruits and flowers. After the exchange of gifts, she leaves the platter behind and goes back home.
Pandalkal: Blessing the wedding venue
An auspicious beginning to any Iyengar wedding commences with purifying the marriage 'pandol' (canopy).
The 'pandol' is made of leaves and branches of trees and it is purified by pouring milk, saffron and 'kumkum' (vermilion) on the base of the bamboo poles placed at its corners. The purification ritual is performed by a 'pujari' or any respected elder of the family who is well versed with the rituals of marriage.
Vara Puje or Janwaasam: Heralding the arrival of the groom and inviting him to the 'mantap'
On the evening prior to the wedding, the first function is 'mapillai azaizsu' (literally, heralding the arrival of the groom and his party). The groom and his family are garlanded by members of the bride's family and are served refreshments and allowed to rest before the 'varapooje' or 'janwaasam' (puja performed to honour the groom).
The groom is ceremoniously led to the marriage 'mantap' and the pujari reads aloud the 'lagna patrike', announcing to the audience the antecedents and credentials of both the families.
Nischayathartham: Commitment to be married is made and announced to all
This ceremony is performed as a commitment to the forthcoming wedding and announced to the community. Five 'sumangalis' (married ladies) pound a handful of 'urad dal' (lentils) on a dry grinding stone decorated with flowers, kumkum and turmeric. This is done symbolically to wish the couple a happy married life.
A room is filled with stainless steel cooking vessels, silverware, kitchen gadgets, linen, towels and other items the couple would need to run an efficient home. This display is called 'bidadi mane' by the Iyengars belonging to Mysore and 'sheer' by the Iyengars from Chennai. The Chennai Iyengars display the 'sheer' on the morning of the wedding day.
Nandi or Vratham: Anointing the bride and groom
This ritual is held separately in both homes and usually in the morning. It is the commencement of all marriage rituals, where the groom's hair is anointed with oil and he bathes with soap-nut powder.
The bride goes through a similar ritual in her home and after her bath, changes into a new sari, wears flowers in her hair and jewellery and is made to sit down for the 'muth aarthi'- a traditional 'aarthi' performed for her with a lighted 'diya' (lamp), 'kumkum' and flowers.
Kashiyathrai: The groom embarks on a mock pilgrimage
Just before the main wedding ceremony, the groom dresses himself as a pilgrim by wearing a 'veshti' (simple white dhoti), 'chappals' (slippers), carries an umbrella, walking stick and makes an attempt to proceed to Kashi (sacred pilgrimage site in the city of Benaras) to take 'sanyas' and lead a celibate life!
The bride's father prevails upon him to give up this line of thought and accept his daughter's hand in marriage instead. After much cajoling the groom relents and returns to the 'mantap' to be married!
Oonjal: The couple exchange garlands
The groom enters the 'mantap' discarding his pilgrim's 'avatar' (form) and is garlanded by the bride. He in turn garlands her and then the couple is seated on a decorated 'jhula' or swing. 'Aarthi' is performed for them and the bride's father washes the groom's feet.
Piddishuttal: The couple is protected from 'dhrishti' (evil eye)
While the bride and groom are seated on the decorated swing, rice dipped in turmeric and 'kumkum' are showered on them to drive away evil. After this they enter the marriage 'mantap'.
Kanyadaanam: Giving away the bride
The bride is seated in her father's lap all through the 'kanyadaan' ceremony. The couple together holds a coconut dipped in turmeric and the bride's mother pours water onto the coconut. All through the 'kanyadaan', the 'vollagam' (clarinet like instrument) is played accompanied by the 'tabla' (Indian drum).
Mangalaya Dharanam: The groom ties the sacred 'taali' on the bride
The sacred 'taali' (a small inscribed gold ornament, strung on a yellow thread) is kept on a silver platter along with a piece of jaggery, rice, a coconut and a heavy nine yard Kanjeevaram sari which is given by the groom's mother to the bride. This platter is taken around to all the guests for their blessings.
The bride changes in to the nine-yard sari, wearing it in the 'katche seera' style and returns to the 'mantap'. Amongst Vedic chants, the groom ties the first knot of the 'taali' around the bride's neck and his sisters tie the other two knots.
Akshathai: The couple is blessed with the showering of coloured rice
All the elders present at the wedding are given coloured rice, which they shower on the couple after the 'mangalaya dharane'. The bride's mother gives the groom a 'paan' or betel leaf to proclaim her support of the marriage. The groom slips silver toe-rings on his bride symbolizing that henceforth he will look after and protect her.
Homam: Lighting of the sacred fire
The 'pujari' lights the sacred fire in honour of the nine planets and the gathering keeps the fire ignited by pouring 'ghee' (clarified butter) into it. The fire is not allowed to go off till all the ceremonies are completed.
Saptapadi: Seven steps around the sacred fire
The groom's 'shalu' (shawl) is tied to the bride's sari 'pallav' and the couple takes the seven steps around the fire, repeating their seven marital vows.
Nagoli Vasthra: The bride's family welcomes the son-in-law into the family
The bride's family, who present him with a suitcase, new clothes, and a diamond ring, gives the groom a ceremonial welcome.
Gruhapravesham: The bride is welcomed into her marital home
On the bride's arrival, an 'aarthi' is performed for her at the doorstep by her mother-in-law and she takes her first step into her new home by tipping over a small heap of rice with her right foot. She must ensure that the rice spills as far as possible, bringing prosperity into her new home! She is then taken to the family 'puja' room where she prostrates before the deity and is given a silver or gold coin which she puts into a silver pot filled with water.
Sambandhi Virandhu: Both families exchange gifts
To celebrate the successful completion of the wedding the families of the bride and groom exchange lavish gifts. These gifts can range from jewellery, clothes or electronic items - depending on how much each family is willing to spend.
Reception: Post wedding celebrations
The reception is not mandatory for the Tamil Iyengar community, though many families do opt for it these days. Friends and relatives are invited to meet the newly-weds and the families' host a grand dinner in a hotel or marriage hall.