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Iyer weddings, like other Hindu weddings, typically last about 2–3 days where it once used to last 7 days. While the main bulk of organizing a wedding falls on the bride's family's shoulders, the groom's side plays a significant role in the organization as well. It is a joyous celebration consisting of age-old traditions and religious rites admixed with lots of singing, dancing and fun-filled processions that typify the vibrant Indian culture.
Dress code is usually a well-sewn silk shirt with a veshti or a kurta for males and sarees or Madisaar for females. In the reception component of the wedding, it is not uncommon to see guests dressed in formal Western wear such as suits for males. Women still generally remain adorned with flowers and dazzle in silk sarees.
Important marriage ceremonies
Some of the rituals were in vogue considering the young age of the bride and groom in the early days. But these have been followed even now also. Examples are Nalangu, bride and groom being carried after the Kaasi yathirai,Oonjal and the bride sitting on the father's lap.
The wedding rites/rituals/celebrations start off with prayers offered to ancestors to seek their and God's blessings for the upcoming wedding. This usually takes place in the early morning hours of the first wedding day. The bride's side does the rites for the bride's side of the family while the groom side does conducts its own prayers side-by-side.
Janavasam/"maapillai azhaippu" - the procession
This is the archetypical picture of Indian celebration packed with a kaleidoscope of color, glitz, music and dancing!
The groom would be seated on a horse-drawn chariot (or in some cases, beautifully adorned cars) as he makes a procession through the roads with his entourage. The accompanying entourage dances to the rhythm rendered by the accompanying band announcing to all the upcoming matrimony .
In recent times the bride gets a piece of action as she joins the groom halfway through the procession and gets to sit alongside the groom on the chariot. They then make their way to the temple where the groom - "maapillai" - is given a new set of traditional dhoti - "veshi" and shirt - to wear for the following nischayathartham ceremony. Off late some grooms go for Western styled suits also.
The reason for this ritual is from the practice of announcing in early days to all the village people on who is the bride and groom.
The procession then makes its way back to the mandapam (wedding hall) where the nischayathartham then ensues
Nischayathartham - the engagement ceremony
After all the joyous dancing and pompous procession, the guests settle down at the mandapam to witness and bless the rites and rituals involved in the "engagement ceremony" with the background of Sanskrit mantrams chanted by the Hindu priests.
During the Nichayathartham the following details of both bride and the groom are read out for the everyone Personal: Father's name, Grand father's name, the village to which their forefather's belonged, their gothra,aliasname etc.
Muhurtham: Date&Time(Georgian and Lunar),Lagnam, Star, Address of the marriage hall etc.
The bride and groom are officially engaged in God's name and the auspicious timing for the Muhurtham - the actual wedding rites - is set in everybody's presence. Everyone present in the Nichayathaartham is asked if anyone has any concern or objection and only after everyone is okay the "Thaamboolam" plates are exchanged.
"Thaamboolam" plates containing items required for the muhurtham are exchanged by both the groom's and bride's sides (generally the senior most male) during this function.
Muhurtham - the WEDDING proper
Muhurtham refers to the actual wedding ceremony itself. It typically occurs on the second day of a 2- or 3-day wedding ceremony and occurs generally early in the morning around 7-8 am depending on the priests' decree but may be even up to 11 AM.
The muhurtham includes the "Kasi yaatrai" , "maalai maatral", "oonjal ceremony" and the actual Muhurtham itself.
Kasi yaatrai refers to an age-old Brahmin ritual where the groom "decides" to take up 'sanyaasam' (i.e. asceticism, monkhood) for spiritual pursuit. He would ultimately be 'convinced' by the bride's father to return and take up "grahastham" or family life and that the bride will assist in his subsequent spiritual pursuit. For the Kaasi Yaathirai, the bride's father would have to buy(as in general practice)an Umbrella, Hand fan, Bhagwad Gita book, Sandals.
The maapillai (groom) will then agree and garlands will be exchanged by the bride and groom (maalai maatral). The process of maalai maatral may be complicated by the groom's side carrying the groom and the bride's side cayring the bride and each side making it difficult for the other side to correctly place the garland. Basically traditional family entertainment.
They would then head to a swing (oonjal) in the mandapam. Respected womenfolk of the household will then perform short rituals with classical singing to ward off "evil eyes" as the bride and groom are seated on the oonjal.
They then proceed to the podium in the mandapam where rites of the marriage - muhurtham - are performed. The climax is when the bride is seated on her dad's lap as her dad does (kannigadhaanam) and offers his daughter to be taken care of by the groom. As the priest then chants mantrams, the groom ties a "thaali" or "thirumaangalyam" as a necklace around the bride's neck as all the guests shower their blessings (symbolized by rice grains that are distribued to all guests to shower onto the bride and groom).
This symbolizes the actual wedding and the newly-weds take their marriage vows in 7 steps (sapthapathi) as they walk 3 rounds hand-in-hand around the holy fire (agni).
Nalangu - wedding games
Nalangu is a tradition that dates back to times when marriages used to occur at a younger age (early teens). This component was incorporated to keep the mood light-hearted and fun for the newly wed young teens. It has stayed on as an integral component of South Indian weddings.
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. Other examples of games include breaking papadums over each other's heads and so on and so forth. It is an interesting component of the wedding gala.
Photos may be taken with the newly weds with the backdrop of classical music.
Typically South Indian / Carnatic musicians are called upon to provide the music entertainment as the reception goes on.
This is on the day next to the Muhurtham. In early days the groom's family would have to travel for a longtime to reach their place and so for their travel needs food would be packed and given.This is how the ritual came in to practice.