Ever since I started writing about “Kerala Iyer Wedding”, many people have been asking me why I have not yet written about Sambandhi Sandai. So, here we go. Sambandhi Sandai is an event dreaded by the bride’s party and some fine entertainment that other visitors eagerly anticipate.
When I think of sambandhi sandai, my memories travel back some half a century in time to the fifties and sixties, to a society that considered demands for dowry, seeru, the way that the various rituals were conducted, etc as just and were dictated very strictly by the prospective in-laws of the bride. Such demands for dowry, seeru, etc were an integral part of any marriage and treated as important as the rituals. Many marriage proposals broke down on the issue of dowry. Also there were instances where the in-laws to be would get a goldsmith to test the quality and/or the weight of the gold or demand bills from reputed shops before the wedding functions started. Besides, there were always one or two close relatives of the groom who would have been disappointed in not having succeeded in getting their daughter or niece wedded to the groom, now seeking their revenge by having a go at the bride’s party. The interests of the latter people were only to create some mischief in the proceedings. It should also be borne in mind that those were the days when the present day event managers were absent and for the conduct of the function the bride’s parents depended heavily on the men and women folk, young and old, in the village with the attended shortcomings as well as lack of etiquette and experience. All these contributed to some friction here and there, unfortunately some were blown out of proportion resulting in verbal exchanges fanned by some unscrupulous relatives, often with their own agenda.
Sambandhi Sandai literally means a fight between the new relatives. In the Kerala Iyer weddings (actually in almost all Indian weddings), the bride’s parents are supposed to be responsible for the smooth conduct of the wedding, starting from the marriage pandal, nadaswaram, catering, entertaining the guests to bidding farewell to all the guests. The onus for the successful conduct of the wedding rested solely on the bride’s party. The bridegroom’s party are the honored guests, who need to be received at the entrance hall, made confortable, invited for each ritual of the marriage and for meals (with coconuts, plantain fruits, parippu thengai kutty as the occasion demands, accompanied by nadaswaram each time), in short, all their needs however small or big are to be met to their satisfaction. It was the bride’s party’s responsibility to see that they had no wants and were happily entertained.
In a big function like a marriage, when there are so many rituals to be completed and so many meals to be served and so many other arrangements to be made, involving so many people, young and old, it can always happen that there are one or two slip ups in any of the above. There are always people who could find fault with something or the other just to make an issue and blow it out of proportion and to humiliate the bride’s parents, as they are the event managers.
In the olden days, as the marriages were usually conducted in the bride’s residence, the guests were accomodated in a nearby house. So usually, the “sambandhi sandai” started with complaints of the inadequacies of the accomodation and other inconveneinces in the quarters allotted to them. More often than not, this came from the son-in-law of the bridegroom’s parents, as he is the most important guest of their family. Some inconvenience to their mappilai (son-in-law) was something nobody could ignore.
This continues even today, though in another form. These days, most of the weddings are arranged in wedding halls with equal number of rooms for both the bride’s and bridegroom’s parties. It often happens that the bridegroom’s party demands more rooms for their guests, leaving the bride’s party with very little room to accommodate their guests. I remember during my cousin’s daughter’s wedding, the bridegroom’s athai and athimbar (parternal aunt and uncle, who are the daughter and son-in-law of that family) demanded a separate room for them at 11.30 pm and my cousin had to actually vacate the room where his sister and family were put up and send them to a hotel about 5kms away.
Then, there were always the sandai for milk for the baby and again the VIP guests. In the olden days, the only source of milk was the neighbour who owned cows or from the nearby towns, during big occasions. There were no refrigerators to preserve the milk and hence after the guests have been served with coffee and the payasam made, the milk would be used for setting curds for the next day. Around 10 pm would come the demand for the milk and naturally there would be no milk available. A loud unleashing would follow and this was one demand that could never be fulfilled because there was no hope for procuring milk at that late hour in small places. My mother-in-law used to remember this story relating to the time of her marriage. Some guests demanded milk for a big group at 11 pm and one of her uncles decided to play a trick on the guests. He filled a big pot with water and added one glass of milk in it and gave it to the guests saying that was the only milk availbale at that hour. What followed, my astute and blessed mother-in-law could never remember. (She had many such stories up her sleeves. I only wish I had started on this blogging endeavour during her time.) It is very different today even in remote villages, where pasterurised milk is available and almost all households have refrigerators.
Other important issues during the olden days for sambandhi sandai was dowry (which has almost died out today), seer, the items for breakfast, lunch and dinner,etc. In general, issues as insignificant as who received the bridegroom’s mother at the entrance, to the size of ladoo could start a war of words. Usually, the bride’s parents would bend over backwards to pacify the “warmongers” and would even be prepared to fall at their feet and beg pardon for any unforeseen shortcomings, but the sandai reaches its full crescendo, when one of the guests from the bride’s side starts raising their voice against the shouting brigade. Usually, there is somebody on the bride’s side who do not want to give in for all their demands and the sandai becomes a real do or die and sometimes ends in a walkout by the groom’s party. There have been instances when people have walked out halfway through their dinner or halfway through the marriage functions. One can only imagine the agony of the parents of the bride, after all the care taken by them.
While I was writing this, one of my friends happened to read a preview of my post and asked me to elaborate on the scene, as she had never witnessed a sambandhi sandai.
The one sambandhi sandai I remember clearly was during a wedding in our village when I was a little girl of 9 or 10 years old.
The scene : The bridegroom’s party sitting for their evening tiffin. Bondas were being served as part of the tiffin. The boy who was serving the tiffin had reached the place where the mother of the groom was having her meal. Having come near the lady, the boy asked, “ Bonda, mami?” (i.e., “Would you like another bonda, aunty?”). The lady suddenly got up from her seat complaining in a loud voice and almost breaking down, “Look at the impropriety of the boy. Shouldn’t he know whom he is addressing. How dare he address me as ‘bonda mami’. Am I a bonda mami? Is this the way I should be insulted on my son’s wedding day? I cannot tolerate this. I am not going to have anything to do with any of the proceedings from this minute.” She went on and on and the boy who was serving bonda and all others were completely shocked at the turn of the events. It was a very common practice while serving to announce the dish he or she is serving like “bonda, mami” or “payasam, mama” and with no offence meant. Soon all the relatives of the groom surrounded the lady and some started blaming the boy and yet others started consoling the lady and in general a great commotion was created. The bride’s party was taken aback and did not know what to do. There were more rituals to be completed. The groom’s brother (who was just a boy of 20+) emerged and ordered the bride’s father, who was old enough to be his own father, to go and apologise to his mother, if he wanted his daughter’s wedding rituals to be completed. I can never forget this incident and the pain, agony and shame on the bride’s father’s face.
It is not for nothing that they say in Tamil, Veettai katti par, Kalyanam Panni Par meaning, construct a house or conduct marriage to know how difficult these tasks are.