Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Wedding (IV)

When I started writing about Kerala Iyer Wedding, I thought I had just enough material for one post. Little did I realise that I had just touched the tip of the iceberg. Many of our friends have been asking me to write the most important event of the Kerala Iyer Weddings, namely the Sadhya or the special feast which is the most important part of the wedding. As I have always said, Kerala Iyers are expert cooks and these days, even the Tamil Iyers have started hiring Kerala Iyer cooks to cater their weddings. Even in Kerala, a wedding in which the feast is prepared by Pattars, as Kerala Iyers are known among the non-Kerala Iyers, is considered the best wedding feast. The other day we were watching an old Malayalam movie, in which the groom’s father tells the bride’s father, “We cannot have a wedding lunch prepared by any one less than a pattar.”

In addition to the wedding feast, the most important item which occupies the pride of place and which is carefully scrutinized by the guests and the groom’s party, is the Chir Bakhsanam or Palaharam as it is known among the Kerala Iyers. Depending upon the custom in the bride’s family or the demand from the groom’s family, it is either Full Chir or Muzhu Chir, wherein 101 items of different types of sweets and savouries (may go upto 11 different varieties) are given to the groom’s party during the wedding or Half Chir in which 51 items of different varieties of sweets and savouries are given. In addition to this, the bride’s party has to prepare additional quantities to be distributed among their family circle. More about chir bakshanam later.

Coming to the wedding feasts, since the groom’s party arrives the morning before the wedding, the meals are spread over 3 days at the most, or 2 full days, if the groom’s party leaves on the day of wedding. At this wedding, the feast consisted of a breaksfast, lunch, evening snack and dinner on the previous day and on the wedding day and a pathiya sappadu (which in inself is a grand lunch) on the day after the marriage and packed lunch for the groom’s party to take home.

There was a 24 hrs cofee/tea stall at the venue of the wedding, so coffeeholics like hubby-dear had no problem.

Returning to the menu for various occasions, there was coffee on arrival at the wedding hall on the morning before the wedding, followed by breakfast.

Breakfast menu included

Rava Kesari
Rava Idli
Sambar vadai
Kothamalli chutney

Coffee/Tea followed
For the Lunch on the same day, we had

Thayir Pachadi
Chenai roast
Payar Thoran
Nendran Chips
Sarkkarai puratti upperi
Aamai vadai
Kadamba Sambar
Tomato Rasam
Paaladai Pradhaman
Buttermilk(ghetti Mor)
Pickles and

For the evening Tiffin, we had

Wheat Halwa
Mysore Bonda,
Pesarattu Upma
Allam Pachadi
Chutney and

In days past, the wedding meals started from this point and hence the evening tiffin on the previous day of the wedding used to be a very grand affair. Usually, the items served were two or more varieties of Rice Sevai, bonda or bajji with chuteny and 2 or more sweets, one of them usually Jehangir. I still remember my father asking us, “don’t we have to go for the evening tiffin of Rice sevai and Jehangir?” during one of the unconventional weddings of the current days, when there was only one day program for the wedding. This was when he was 80+ and we had a hard time explaining to him that the wedding program was only for one day. Finally, my sister-in-law had to make rice sevai for him in the evening.

The janavasam dinner is traditionally the most important dinner of the wedding. In the olden days, this dinner used to be a grand affair especially because it was cooked for a smaller crowd. Most of the people conduct the wedding reception also on the previous night these days, hence the dinner is much more elaborate. Usually there are North Indian, South Indian and even Chinese dishes to cater to the present day fast food addicts. Dosa counters and chat counters are a common sight. Varieties of salads are also part of the menu. In some weddings dinner is served in tastefully decorated buffet halls and to cater to those diehards who prefer to eat on a plantain leaf that is also arranged. While most of the Iyers in Tamil Nadu still prefer to have a classical music concert at the reception, other forms of music have started to become popular in other parts.

At R’s wedding, the reception was slated for the evening on the wedding day. However, we had an elaborate dinner in the evening after the Nischyathartham, which had

Sweet Pachadi
Thayir Pachadi
Potato Karakkari
Cabbage and Peas Curry
Paal payasam
Aamai vadai
Murungai, chinna vengaya sambar
Lemon Rasam
Ghettimor and

The wedding morning breakfast consisted of,

Kasi Halwa,
Idli – Molagaipodi
Ghee Pongal
Medhuvadai and

For the grand wedding lunch, we had,

Sweet Pachadi
Thayir Pachadi
Beans Usili
Vazhakkai Podi potta kari
Mixed veg. Kootu
Khose Malli – 2 types
Aamai vadai
Kadamba Sambar
Vendai Morkozhambu
Idichu Pizhinja Payasam
Nendran chips
Mysore Rasam
Ghetti Mor and

We had a snack of
Pineapple kesari
Mixture and
just before Nalangu.

The evening reception was followed by a grand dinner with a big spread,

The menu was:
Chana Masala
Veg. Pulao
Sweet Pachadi
Thayir Pachadi
Sambar Satham
Kothamalli satham
White rice
Pineapple Rasam
Paal Payasam
Vatral Kuzhambu
Thayir Satham
Pickle and
Ice cream.

The day after the wedding, no breakfast was arranged. Instead there was a sumptuous brunch. This was supposed to be a Pathiya Sappadu, a light brunch, but in itself it was a very elaborate brunch.

The brunch had:
Manathakali Keerai Thayir Pachadi
Urulai Podimas
Chembu roast
Thakkali Poritha Kootu
Gulab jamun
Semiya Payasam
Milagu Kuzhambu
Jeera rasam
Ghetti mor and

The sadhya wound up with packed lunch for the groom’s party, which included,

Idli, Molagai podi
Thayir satham and
Puliyotharai and vadam.

Having described the menu for various occasions for the wedding, I have decided to post the recipes of some of the items served (some I have already posted earlier), in the immediate future.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Wedding (III)

After the feast, after everyone has rested a little we make time for some fun and frolic: Nalangu. This involves no vedic hymns. It is basically an occasion for everyone to relax and show their talent in singing along with some playful activities between the bride and groom in which everyone participates. Nalangu is an occasion for relatives from both sides to mix and get acquainted. The nalangu normally lasts an hour or so. The ladies on both sides take turns in singing and teasing the bride and the groom. It also provides them an opportunity to exhibit their literary skills, music compositions skills and to humouruosly point out the shortfalls on either side in the conduct of the marriage etc. Both parties tease each other through the medium of music. In fact, some ladies specialise in composing such songs and train the youngsters to sing them. The bride is also required to sing a few songs during the festivities. In the olden days it was a practice to teach the girls a few songs, whether they had the aptitude for music or not. It is these occasions that used to enliven the marriages in the past.

The bride invites the groom for the function with a song, which used to be called Pathyam. In the olden days someone from the groom’s party would sing another song in acceptance of the invitation. The bride and groom then sit facing each other and all others sit around them. The bride then applies nalangu (a paste made of turmeric and kumkum} on the grooms feet, combs his hair and shows him the mirror. When he is satisfied with his looks, she breaks roasted papads over his head much to the amusement of one and all. The groom then does the same things to the bride. Relatives on both sides help the groom and the bride to avoid the papads falling on their heads. After this they start rolling a coconut between them, (first they roll a ball made of flowers and then a coconut made of brass and then a real coconut) to the accompaniment of songs from the gathering. Usually it is one song from the brides side followed by another song from the groom’s side. In the olden days, this time was also used by the groom’s party to criticise the wedding arrangements, etc., through songs, which would be aptly answered by the bride’s party and in retaliation they would find fault with groom’s party and so on.

At the end of it, groom and bride are made to test their strengh by wrenching the coconut from each other’s hand, etc. Both are given three chances. While the bride is allowed to hold the coconut with both her hands and groom is made to wrench it with one hand, the groom is allowed to hold the coconut with one hand and the bride is allowed to wrench with both hands.

These days, the evening is set apart for the reception and dinner. Many people arrange the reception the previous evening. In the olden days, there was another loukika function called Thozi Pongal in the evening, which was the time for the bride to visit her friends’ houses and bid them farewell. This ritual is only for the bride. Her uncle and all other friends and relatives usually accompanied the bride as she went to each of her friends’ houses (only to the front porch, where she would be received and an aarti done to her with a red solution made of turmeric and lime and this solution is poured on to the dhothi of the uncle). My mother says that when she was married, she was taken to her friends houses atop an elephant.

After the thozhi pongal there used to be one more swing-related function for both the bride and groom followed by some more vedic rituals and homam.The most important function of the evening was spotting the Arundhathi and Dhruva stars. The priest points the stars to the couple and the groom in turn points the star Arundhathi to the bride and askes her, “did you see the Arundhathi?” symbolizing his request to her to be as faithful and loving as Arundhathi and the bride points the Dhruva star to the groom and asks him “did you see Dhruva?” requesting him to be as devoted as Dhruva.

Aashirvadham which literally means blessings, follows. The priest chants hymns blessing the couple with a long and happy married life filled with lots of riches and children and throws colored rice (Akshathai) on them which is caught by the groom in his spread out upper cloth, called uthareeyam. Aarati is performed to ward off any evil eye cast on them. After this the akshathai is collected into a bowl and the bride and groom perform namaskarams to all the elders from both the families and take their blessings.

With the Aarati the auspicious rituals come to a close, much to the relief of the bride’s father, who is a “man reborn” by now.

Usually the groom’s party take leave the next morning. There is the custom of sending packed food with them, which is known as Kattusatham. This must have originated in the olden days, when people had to travel long distance by walk or bullock cart for long hours. The packed lunch was given so that they could rest in between and have some refreshments. One wonders why this practice should be kept alive in the current “jet age”.

The Wedding (II)

The wedding day has so many rituals packed in the morning and if the Muhurtham (solemnisation of the wedding) is very early, then the activities need to be started real early, sometimes at 3.30 am itself. Thankfully, for R’s wedding, the Muhurtham was not very early and having done the vratham etc. the previous day itself, the morning was quite relaxed. Normally the bridegroom’s party arrives at the bride’s house only in the afternoon of the previous day and therefore all the rituals are done on the marriage day only. These days both parties arrive at the Mantapam towards afternoon of the previous day, the event managers arrive in the morning and make the necessary arrangements. In the present wedding as already mentioned earlier both the parties had arrived at the Mantapam in the morning of the previous day and therefore had performed the Vratam.

The first ritual on the day of the wedding is Mangala Snanam for the bride and groom, for which, the toiletries like, bathing oil, soap, shampoo, shaving soap, brush, etc., need to be taken to the groom. After this, both the bride and groom get ready after the ritual bath.

At this point, the groom, suddenly decides to give up all the earthly pleasures to go to Kasi, in pursuit of spiritual knowldege. For this, he is attired in formal panchakacham and walks away with a walking stick, a handfan, an umbrella, a veda pustaka and some groceries for the journey. The uncle of the groom holds the umbrella for him. Usually, he walks upto the nearest temple, by which time, the bride’s father meets him and promises to give his daughter in marriage and requests him to give up the Kasi yatra. He is then ushered to the venue of the marriage where the bride is waiting with a garland in hand, ready to receive him at the front door. They both are supposed to meet for the first time. These days, they are made to sit together on the previous day itself / even at the engagement ceremony. Some parents make a vain attempt to avoid their sitting together before the wedding rituals are completed (there are instances where the receptions are postponed to the muhurtham day just to achieve this end); I am yet to meet a parent who has been successful in this attempt.

After this, the bride and groom exchange the garlands, helped by their respective uncles. This is the time for lots of fun and frolic, intended mainly to relieve the bride of the tension in entering a new phase of life with a stranger. (This was the custom in the olden days, these days the bride and groom meet and discuss about their compatibility and then take the decision).

The bride and groom sit in a swing and the ladies present sing songs. The swing represents the ups and downs of life. The bride and groom are given “milk and plantain” by elderly ladies. This has many explanations. The most important being that as the bride and groom are supposed to observe a fast on this important day until the solemnisation of the wedding, the milk and plantain are supposed to give them some nourishment. Another explanation is that, just like milk and plantain combines well without losing their respective identities, the groom and the bride also should be united in all their thinking and decisions, but at the same time maintain their identities.

This done, the evil eye is exorcised by coloured rice balls in red and yellow colors. The bride and the groom are then, taken to the vivaha Mantapam or the venue of the marriage.

After the initial vedic rituals, the bride is given away as dhana (offering) by the bride’s parents to the groom to the accompaniment of vedic chantings. The groom then offers the traditional dress to the bride. Meanwhile the Mangalya or the bridal necklace is passed around the congregation for their blessings. The bride wears the new 9 yards saree and sits on her father’s lap. The groom ties the Mangalya sewn in a yellow thread around the bride’s neck with a knot. The groom’s sister ties two more knots, symbolizing the harmony in the family.

Next is Panigrahanam, which is the actual “muhurtham” they say though for all practical purposes, Mangalaya dharanam is considered as the muhurtham.

This is followed by the Sapthapadhi, in which the groom and the bride take 7 steps together, symbolizing life long friendship and togetherness. The groom actually holds the right foot of the bride and helps her walk the 7 steps, at the same time holding her right hand. The 7 th step of the bride is placed on a stone (Ammi – which was used for grinding in the olden days and hence this ritual is also known as ammi mithikkal) and the groom tells her, “be firm as a rock in your decisions and also in your resolve in life.” The Sapthapadhi is the most important ritual of an Indian wedding.

The Sapthapadhi is followed by Udhwaha Homam and Laja Homam. If the groom’s sister ties the two knots of the Mangalyam, it is the bride’s brother who offers the laja (puffed rice) to the hands of the bride and groom, who then offers the rice to Agni, the Fire God.

More homams follow and the whole congregation blesses the couple along with the vedic pundits, and with the singing of Mangalam by elderly ladies the morning functions come to a finale.

Then follows the grand lunch, after which guests take a little nap before the evening functions.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Wedding (I)

R’s wedding was a grand affair as always with South Indian weddings. The proceedings of the actual wedding ceremony started on the previous morning. (The preparations have started months in advance, in fact, as my husband says from the day R was born). In the olden days (when my parents and in-laws got married), the marriage functions lasted 4 days. As the years have gone by, owing to the constraints of time and space, the functions are now conducted over two days. The main reason is the unavailability of marriage halls and the high rents for them. There are halls charging rent up to Rs 1 lakh per day, the reasonable ones being about Rs. 30000 to 50000.

The marriage was to take place in a famous marriage hall with separate rooms for the bride’s and groom’s party and spacious hall for the ceremonies with an attached kitchen and dining hall. The entire hall and the rooms were air-conditioned.

Early in the morning by about 5.30 am the bride’s parents arrived with some immediate family members, to make sure that the hall was ready and the marriage contractor had made all arrangements. Preparations for the breakfast had begun. The bride and other members of the family arrived by 6.30 am followed by other guests. The bride was received with nadaswaram at the entrance of the hall.

The bridegroom’s party arrived by 7.30 am, they were received at the entrance by the parents of the bride and other elders with trays laden with fruits, coconuts, flowers, betel leaves and nuts, to the obligatory nadaswaram recital. Aarti of the groom was done by the prospective mother-in-law and the bridegroom was garlanded by the bride’s brother. The bride’s brother and bridegroom’s sister occupy special positions in Tamil Iyer marriages. The paternal aunts and the maternal uncles and their wives also have to play important roles.

The first ritual is Vigneswara Pooja, seeking the Blessings of the Lord for the successful accomplishment of the ceremony without impediment, followed by Punyaha Vachanam, followed by Pandakkal puja. This is sanctifying the pole of the tent to be raised in front of the hall (in the olden days, the marriages were conducted in large tents, put up in front of the house) for the smooth conclusion of the function.

Vratham follows which is a resolution taken by the parents of the bride and groom, separately, to conduct the marriage of their daughter/son with the blessings of the Almighty and the elders present. A “yellow thread” sanctified by vedic mantras is tied on the wrist of both the bride and groom by their respective fathers to symbolize the resolution, which is knows as Kangan dharan. There is a belief that after the kangan dharan, nothing can stop the marriage function. There is also a popular saying, “Kanganam kattindu erukkan,” to indicate how determined a person is about something.

If the jathaka karma and namakarana have not been performed for the girl as per vedic rites earlier in their lives, they are performed now.

There is a ritual of sowing nine varieties of seeds by 5 sumangalis in five small earthen bowls filled with soil which are watered for 3 days, by which time the seeds would have sprouted, which indicates good progeny for the family. The sprouts are then immersed in running water or a well.

Nandi was performed by the groom’s father, seeking the blessings of the ancestors for the smooth conduct of the ceremony.

This almost concluded the morning ceremonies.

All this time, the guests are busy catching up with friends and relatives and generally making a lot of noise.

One thing you observe in south Indian weddings is the rich brocaded silk sarees and elaborate jewellery worn by the women. One can see the latest designs both in sarees and jewellery there. One can also easily identify the immediate family members of the both the bride and groom by the richness of the sarees worn by the women. There is a practice of presenting the immediate family members with silk sarees/dhothies. In R’s wedding, the groom’s parents had selected sarees of the same pattern for the cousins of the groom. They had selected one combination for the daughters of the family and another combination for the daughter-in-law. They deserve to be complimented for the time and effort spent in planning and selecting the sarees and even clothes for the children in the family. On the wedding day, one could see even a one-year-old girl having the same color of silk pavadai, as her 5-year-old cousin. They need to be applauded for getting the blouse materials to all persons concerned well in time so that they could make and wear them for the wedding. These days, usually owing to the different tastes of the youngsters, we don’t see such uniformity in selection of the dresses.

Lunch followed. After a brief rest and relaxation, there was a program of Radha Kalyanam – a bhajan by a professional group. The acoustics of the hall was not at all supporting the bhajan and nobody could make out the words of the songs.

The evening programs started around 6.30 pm, with Janavasam and Nischayathartham. The groom is usually taken on a procession to the nearest temple. This was an elaborate function in the olden days when the groom was taken in a procession that included members from both parties around the village. In later years, in towns and by the rich, the groom was made to sit in an open car and taken around. Here he went up to the gate of the hall, where there is an idol of Lord Vigneswara. This was followed by the Nischayathartham, when both the parties once again reaffirmed their contract to get their daughter/son married to each other. Both the bride and groom are presented with gifts from the parents of each other. The bride was given a rich silk saree and some jewellery by the groom’s parents and the groom was presentd with a suit by the bride’s father.

Elaborate dinner followed and all the guests retired to their respective rooms.

Usually this is the time the bride’s party gets busy with making kolams or rangoli for the next day’s marriage and getting other things ready. These days, the marriage contractor takes care of everything including the kolams and flowers and garlands.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chennai trip

We are back after our visit to Chennai. We had a very hectic but very enjoyable trip. The weather especially was very pleasant. Though we had an A/C room, we had to switch off the A/C at times.

The main purpose of the visit was attending the marriage of R, the daughter of a very close friend, K. As usual with all south Indian marriages, the marriage was a grand affair. We met many old friends and acquaintances after a very long time, some after about 35 years. But not many had difficulty in recognising us. We had met many people during the wedding of the parents of the bride. This made the function more special as this was the first in the series of marriages of the second generation, whose parents’ marriage also we had attended. We had a lot to catch up with people starting from the parents’ marriage.

This took me back to the trip we took to attend K’s wedding at Palani, the hill temple town in Tamil Nadu. We had to travel by bus as there was no direct train from Bangalore in that route those days(over 30 years ago). We had travelled with our one year old child and the bus tire burst twice on the way, leaving us stranded on the road for hours together on both occasions. With no hotels or coffee shops in sight, we had to walk some 2 kms to get some coffee and milk for our child. Finally, we reached Palani at 6.30 pm instead of 6.30am.

During this wedding, I also met P, the beautiful cousin of R, who was a 2 year old naughty child during K’s wedding. She is the mother of 2 little kids now and doesn’t look a day older than 20. I reminded her of the interesting incident that took place during K’s wedding. As I said earlier, our elder son was one year old then and somebody commented to this 2 year old, how smart the little boy was. It was too much of a blow to the ego of the 2 year old and she came running as if to hug the boy, but to our utter consternation bit his ear. I had a tough time consoling him.

At that time our younger child was already on his way and this made my astute and blessed mother-in-law to take vow that she would get the first mundan of the child to be born at Palani (What if he had turned out to be a she? – Ed). For various reasons, we couldn’t manage a trip to Palani for the next four years. Our younger son had long curly hair when he went to nursery school. Though most people trim the hair of the boys before the first mundan which has to be performed after the age of 2, strictly speaking no scissors should touch the hair before the vedic ritual of choulam (mundan). Hence we had not trimmed his hair at all until the ceremony. Once his teacher sent him home with a note, “Please cut your daughter’s hair”.

As usual, I have digressed from R’s wedding to her parents’ wedding. More about R’s wedding later.

During our Chennai trip, we also visited our 92 years old chithappa, my brother, my mother, my cousins, did some shopping at the famous Ranganathan street and Usman Road and visited our (handsome and charming) son’s India Office.