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Mar Thoma weddings are full of meaningful rituals giving expression to the deepest significance and purposes of marrying. If you do not know what they stand for, taking part in such a ceremony will become meaningless. All over the world people celebrate festivals and follow certain traditions that are rooted in their culture. So traditions are different for different societies and cultures. The ceremonies connected with them cannot be rationalized if removed from their history and no one can claim that the practice in one society is superior to others.

Kerala the homeland of Mar Thoma Christians (St.Thomas Christians) is the South western state of India. It lies between the mountains and the Arabian Sea, stretching from Kannoor to Kanyakumari. This land is also known as Chera Rajyam (Chera Kingdom) and as Malabar. People of Kerala were Dravidians who had no special religion but had their own customs and traditions. Buddhism and Jainism entered Kerala just before the beginning of Christian era. A section of the people was attracted to these religions. They were very broadminded that even after the coming of Christianity, these three sections continued to live in harmony and kept their original Dravidian customs and traditions. [1]

Long before the time of Christ, during the time of Moses and King Solomon, there was trade in spices and luxury articles between Malabar Coast and Palestine.[2] During the second exile (586 BC) some of the Jews came and settled in Kerala. They were known as Bene Israel. [3]. They continued their Jewish customs and traditions amalgamated with local customs. Even today, Mar Thoma weddings include several Jewish elements and Indian customs.

In the first century, Thomas the Apostle arrived to preach the gospel to the Jewish community. Some of the Jews and locals, including the wise men who saw Jesus as a baby at Bethlehem [4] became followers of Jesus of Nazareth. [5] They are known as Nazranis or as Mar Thoma Christians (St.Thomas Christians). This article describes their wedding customs and traditions in the past and in the present.

Wedding

The most important part of a wedding ceremony among all communities around the world is, when two individuals from two different families, come together, join their hands and walk into this world and to the future as one, with a new commitment and trust, ready to face the riches and perils of life together. All other customs are instituted basing on the need of the individual, society, community, land and government of the place where it is conducted.

Day of wedding

Marthoma weddings are usually on Thursdays. In a country where Saturday is a holiday, working people prefer to have it on Saturdays for added convenience. But two celebrations are not to be held on the same day. There will be no wedding on a Sunday because it is set apart for worship, prayer and Bible study. Also lent is a period of solemn fasting and meditation. Fridays are avoided because it reminds the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Hindus avoid weddings on Tuesdays and Fridays. Certain sections of the Saint Thomas Christians have the weddings on Sundays also.

Blessings

On the wedding day, at the respective homes of both bride and groom, the priest and close relatives gather for prayers. Because they are going to be elevated as the heads of a new family, at this time they are given a mat to stand on, and from that time onwards they are treated as VIPs.

After prayers the elders of the family and the first teacher who taught them the letters of the alphabet are given gifts (Dhakshina) and in return they give their blessings. The Dhakshina consists of a betel leaf, areca nut and tobacco. In Kerala, only people belonging to the high caste were allowed to chew betel leaf with lime, tobacco and areca nut. Now tobacco is not included because of its presumed health hazard.

Arrival at the church

Usually wedding is held in the groom’s parish. The officiating minister should be the first to arrive. Then the groom enters the church and wait for the bride’s arrival. Bride enters accompanied by her father, with her head covered, symbolizing the idea of modesty and conveys the lesson that however attractive the physical appearance may be the soul and the inner beauty is paramount. This order follows what is given in the Bible (Genesis. 1 and 2): In the beginning God, then God created man, then “creating the woman God brought her before the man.” (Genesis. 2:22).

Steps taken preceding the ceremony

  1. The groom hands over the wedding saree (Mantrakodi), ring and a chain to the officiating minister, who keeps them on a table in full view of the congregation.
  2. Bride and groom, both sign the register provided by the priest, agreeing to the wedding.
  3. Bride stands at his right hand.
  4. Behind the bride stands a married elder woman from her family, representing the family of the bride.

Wedding Ceremony

Part I. Betrothal or blessing of the ring

The ring

It is a plain gold ring without engravings or adornments. The perfect roundness of the ring symbolizes hope that the marriage will be one of simple beauty, free from strife or conflict, which might destroy its perfect "roundness." Just like a circle has no ends, the marriage also is eternal. The ring is gold indicates that the marriage is as precious as gold.

Mainly there are three aims for giving this ring at the beginning of the wedding ceremony called betrothal:

  1. Though the bride, groom and their families have agreed to the wedding, it is to be declared to and accepted by the congregation and by the community.
  2. Precautions are taken to safe guard against falsification (another person taking the place of bride or groom), and against forced marriage.
  3. The groom must prove that he is capable of earning and looking after the family.

To find whether the bride wholeheartedly agreed to the wedding, in ancient days the groom gave copper coins, from his earnings, to the bride in front of the witnesses, the congregation. If she accepted it, then the marriage would proceed. If she returned the money, it was a sign that she did not agree. As in any other transactions the coins were first given to a third person, who counted them, declared the amount to the congregation and then handed it over to the bride. The amount was equivalent to an amount that a poorest person in the congregation could give. After the seventh century coins were replaced by a gold ring.

Mar Thoma Church and other Syrian Christians in Kerala, still follows this ancient custom. The ring is passed on to the officiating minister, who representing the church receives it, blesses it and hands it over to the bride in the presence of the congregation. [6] Earlier the priest was required to examine the ring and also to announce the value of the ring. To fit into the western customs, these days, the priest gives another ring to the groom also. The bride wears her wedding ring till the end of her life. This ring is not an ornament it is part of her life.

Ring on the Right hand - Wedding ring is a gift given by the groom to the bride. In India it is considered bad manners and showing disrespect to give or receive a gift by the left hand. So a wedding ring is received by the right hand and worn on the ring finger on the right hand.

Part II - Marriage and blessing of the crown

Blessings - Having agreed by the bride, the ceremony proceeds to the marriage of the couple. For this the congregation gives their blessings to the couple.

Joining hands. – This is the most important part of the marriage. In front of the congregation, the Minister joins the right hands of the bride and the groom. While holding hands, they listen to a reading from the Gospels. From now on they are husband and wife.

Crowning. The couple is now crowned as the king and queen of a new Christian home. A golden chain with a pendent cross is used to crown them. The Minister elevates the chain in the form of a real crown over the head of the groom, three times followed by chanting. With the same crown a similar crowning of the bride follows.

Just like the crown passed from one king to the next king, this chain is passed from one generation to the next. For seven days the groom and the bride are treated like king and queen. During that period, relatives and friends invite them for virunnu chore. (meals for special guests).

Pendant (Minnu)

Then the husband presents a gold pendant known as minnu to his wife. The Minister blesses the minnu and then holds the thread with the minnu, for the groom to tie it around the neck of the bride. By this they declare that they are tied together for life.

Banyan tree spreads out to cover a wide area and provides shelter and comfort to others. It represents eternal life and symbolizes unity. A minnu is in the shape of a banyan tree leaf. Thus the minnu represents a long and happy married life, a safe and comfortable place for children to grow up and a family that cares for the needs of the community.

Hindus also use the minnu known as thali. Christians use a cross on one side of the thali. It is tied with a thread spun with twenty-one threads from the wedding saree. For this first seven threads are spun together, then three such threads spun together to make the final one. After seven days the minnu is put on a gold chain and then the thread is removed. A married Christian lady always wears her minnu, as a sign that she is married. She wears it till the death of her husband. But most of them wear it till the end of their life. Minnu is not an ornament it is part of her life.

Wedding Saree. (Manthrakodi)

This is an occasion for the groom to show that he is committed to clothe and protect his wife. The Minister opens and hands over the wedding saree to the groom, who covers her head and body with the saree. After the wedding ceremony, the bride changes her old dress and wears the mantrakodi for all the remaining ceremonies. Saint Thomas Christian women will keep this mantrakodi till the end of her life and at the time of her demise, her body is dressed in her mantrakodi.

Reception by the new family

With the tying of Pendant and giving of wedding saree, the bride is accepted into the family of the groom. As a symbol, the lady who was standing just behind the bride moves away and a married lady from the groom’s side takes over her place.

The revelry

In early centuries, the bride & groom used to go under a canopy from the church to the reception at the home of the groom. Later, the canopy was replaced by a Muthukuda (colourful umbrella), and later by an ordinary umbrella. It was the privilege of the bride’s younger brother to hold the umbrella for the couple. Now they all go in a car.

When the couple and the guests were seated, in the panthal (hall) the bride’s old friends, young unmarried girls, gather around the couple singing a prothalamion. After printing became popular, an address mangalapatram (an address) was printed and given to the couple. Later this was replaced by presents in cash or kind.

Welcome to the Grooms family

Holding her right hand, the groom leads the bride to his home and the groom’s mother will be waiting at the door with a lighted lamp welcoming the new "lamp of the house." The bride places her right leg first and enters the house. At this time the mother-in-law presents a gold chain to her daughter-in-law. A sumptuous feast follows this ceremony.

Kacha koduppu

This is a very private but an important tradition, in which only the immediate family members of the couple take part. It is the duty of a son to provide clothing to his mother. So the groom gives a kachamuri (ladies double loin cloth, now a saree) to the bride’s mother who is his new mother and she in turn gives a ring to him. Then they hug. From that moment the bride’s mother become the groom’s mother also and calls each other accordingly.

After all these meaningful customs, the couple moves on to begin their life together.

See also

References

  1. Sreedhara Menon A, (1999). A Survey of Kerala History. (Malayalam) Page 174.
  2. Bible; I Kings. 9:26-28; 10:11,22; 2 Chro: 8:18; 9:21.
  3. N.M.Mathew, Malankara Mar Thoma Sabha Charitram. Vol. I (Malayalam) Page 25, 32, 33
  4. The Bible. Matthew Chapter 2.
  5. Bowler, Gerry. (2000). The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Page 139.
  6. Mar Thoma Church, liturgy for the Holy Matrimony. Page 37, 38

Further reading

  • Pothen, S.G. (1963), The Syrian Christians of Kerala. Asia Publishing House, London.
  • Mathew, N.M. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1.(2006), Volume III (2008) Pub. E.J.Institute, Thiruvalla
  • Mar Thoma Church, (2000) Liturgy for the Holy Matrimony. Mar Thoma Publication Board.

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