Tamilians form 6% of the Indian Population with about 72 million people living in Tamil Nadu. The Tamils trace their origin to the ancient past. They have a saying - "Kal thonri, man thonra kalathey - Mun Thonriya Mutha Kudi Engal Thamizh Kudi" - which when translated says that the Tamils have originated long before the sand and stones appeared on earth. History says that one of the dominant successful Hindu Kingdoms of India is the Cholans who ruled from the year 235 BC to well over 1500 years. The Chola kingdom spread from the Mekong Valley to Madurai at their peak. Tamils have ventured in trade over vast distances covering most of the Asia, imbibing many practices from afar.
Tamilnadu consists of a number of communities. Whatever be the community, a priest is called upon to conduct the wedding rituals. Although one would notice variation in the wedding rituals among the various communities, the basic guidelines remain the same. Tamil weddings are well attended by close and distant relatives and friends. Usually Tamil weddings are conducted in 'Kalyana Mandapams' or marriage halls decorated with flowers and lights.
Once the alliance is fixed after matching of the boy and girl horoscopes a date for the wedding is fixed in consultation with the 'panchangam' or Hindu almanac. As per the Tamil almanac, the months of Aadi, Purattasi and Marghazhi are considered inauspicious for weddings. The bride's birth star is usually used to fix an appropriate date and time for the wedding
Pre wedding rituals
Panda Kaal: The blessings of the family deity are invoked to conduct the wedding in a peaceful manner. In certain communities like the Mudaliar and Chettiar in Tamilnadu, the Ganesha puja is performed while erecting the pandal for the marriage. A bamboo with an odd number of eyes is smeared with haldi and kumkum by nine married ladies and this is erected for the four legged pandal.
Nalangu: Here the bride is made to be seated on a wooden plank on the dais. A banana leaf filled with uncooked rice is spread beneath this plank. The married women apply sandal paste, kumkum and sprinkle rose water on the bride and also perform the aarti for the bride.
Welcoming the Groom: The groom's family arrives at the wedding hall in the morning, a day prior to the wedding. They are welcomed with flower, paan, fruits and sugar. Rose water is sprinkled on the groom. A tilak is applied on his forehead by the bride's brother and the bride's mother offers him a sweet dish prepared from condensed milk. An aarti is taken and coconut broken to the ground to ward off evil spirits.
Vratham: This ritual is performed a day prior to the wedding by the family of the bride as well as the groom. Vedic hymns are recited and the blessings of the ancestors are invoked. Following this is the ceremony of 'Palikai Tellichal' in which the married ladies from the groom's family participate. Clay pots are filled with grains. The married women from both the sides sprinkle water on the pots filled with nine varieties of grains. Traditional songs are sung. When the grains sprout the next day after the wedding they are immersed in a river or a pond where fishes may feed on the grains and bless the newly weds.
Naandi: This is a traditional ceremony when the Brahmins are honored with sweets and gifts.
Jaanavaasam: This is a custom that is in practice for several generations. The groom gets dressed in a suit gifted for this occasion by the bride's family. He is seated in a decorated car and is escorted to the venue of the wedding by a large procession full of family and friends.
Nicchiyadhartham: The groom's family gifts a saree to the bride. She wears this saree and with kumkum and sandal paste applied to her forehead and an aarti is performed for her with her saree pallav filled with fruits and betel nut, turmeric, coconut and kumkum with a garland around her waist.
Lagna Pathirigai: The Vaadyar reads the wedding invitation 'lagna pathirigai' which contains information regarding the muhurtam and the venue of the wedding along with the date. An elaborate dinner follows.
Tamil wedding rituals
Mangala snaanam and Kasi Yatra: The bride and the groom have an auspicious holy bath 'snaanam' on the day of the wedding in their respective homes. Oil and tilak of haldi kumkum is applied before the bath is given.
The groom pretends he is leaving for Kasi for a pilgrimage. The girl's father stops him and persuades him to return and wed his daughter. In some Tamil communities a Padapuja is performed by the groom when he washes the parents' feet before proceeding on the mock Kasi yatra. The bride performs a Mahalakshmi Puja invoking the goddess of wealth and then performs the Padapuja for her parents.
A Manai Pongal is cooked in a clay pot by the groom's parents while the bride and the groom get dressed. On their return the eldest sumangalis greets them with garlands and the couple enters the pandal after offering prayers before the deities.
Oonjal: Garlands are now exchanged between the bride and the groom and amidst fun and frolic and the bride and groom are seated next to each other on a swing.
Kanyadaanam: The bride is seated in her father's lap with coconut in her hands. The bride and her father offer coconut to the groom. The bride's mother pours water over the coconut symbolizing the giving away of their daughter. A nine-yard saree is presented to the bride by the groom's family for her to wear at the time of tying the Mangalsutra.
Muhurtham: The bride wears the nine yard saree with the help of her sister in law. The bride's father sits on a sack of paddy and the bride in turn sits on her father's lap. Paddy symbolically represents abundance and good fortune. The Mangalsutra is sent around for the family members, relatives and friends to touch and bless the couple. The sacred thread is now handed over to the bridegroom which he ties around the neck of the bride. The groom ties two knots and the third one is tied by the groom's eldest sister. The three knots denote the union of mind, spirit and body.
In certain other Tamil weddings the 'mangalyam' is made out of gold in the shape of a tiger tooth. Legend has it that in ancient times the groom killed a tiger and pulled out its tooth and tied it around the bride's neck thereby proving his valor. Nadeswaram plays in the background and 'Melam' follows and the couple is blessed with the showering of rice dipped in turmeric and flowers presented to them at the ceremony.
Saptapadi: The bride and the groom go around the holy fire seven times. In every round the bride touches her feet to the grindstone firming up the union of the couple forever.
Post Wedding rituals
Sammandhi Mariyathai: The two families of the bride and the groom exchange clothes and gifts during this ceremony.
Laaja Homam: This is a traditional ritual in which the bride's brother offers the popped rice to Agni seeking the blessings of the sacred fire signifying the power and light of God.
Grihapravesham: Once the wedding rituals are over the bride is escorted by the groom to the new house. She is welcomed in the groom's home by a traditional Aarti and lunch is served.
Reception: This is an occasion for friends of families and business colleagues to wish the newly weds.
The Tamil wedding feast
The wedding lunch is served on special banana leaf and positioning of the items in the elaborate menu follows a particular order. Thair pachadi, pickle and salt, lentil salad, vadai, sweet pachadi, appalam and Lassi follow. A couple of vegetable curries also follow. Steamed rice is heaped and hot ghee is poured over it. Sambar, morkuzhambu and rasam are the traditional gravies. Traditional sweets such as payasam, badam kheer or mysore pak find place in the traditional wedding feast