An emotional time, weddings can bring a tear to anyone’s eyes. Unlike traditional North Indian weddings, there is no dedicated time for the bride’s farewells (bidaai). Instead, there are quiet tears shed by the bride’s family, unseen by all but the bride herself.
However, the Iyengar wedding on the whole is a fun-filled event. From the start, there are enough activities that generally involve the participation and blessings of the entire family to keep the whole house abuzz.
The homes of the bride and the groom mark the start of the wedding period with a ‘pandalkal’, which is a blessing that is made to celebrate the wedding-homes. The feet of the bride and the groom are washed and turmeric & vermillion pastes are applied, indicating that they have been purified.
The actual wedding ceremonies, usually held around the same at or just after sunrise, are started off by the ‘nischadartham’ or a dedication to the marriage. Iyengar weddings are typically filled with small games that form a big part of the ritual itself. The age-old ‘kashiyatram’ is one such game, where the groom pretends to run away from the wedding to Kashi, and the bride’s father has to convince him to come back.
The bride and groom then exchange garlands, in order to create the ‘sambandham’ or bond. This is followed by the ‘oonjal’ ceremony, where the bride and the groom are seated on a swing. The couple’s feet are washed with milk, by the older married women from the bride’s side.
The ‘kanyadhaanam’ follows, where the bride’s well-being is handed over to the groom and his family. Unique only to Tamil Brahmin weddings, the bride is seated on her father’s lap as the ‘mangalayadharanam’ happens, where the groom ties three knots on the sacred thread around the bride’s neck. The groom’s sister ties the second and the third along with the groom, indicating that she guarantees the happiness and well-being of the bride.
The ‘sapthapadi’ or seven steps indicates that the wedding is almost complete. The groom slips a toe-ring on the bride, and holds on to her right hand, and the second toe of her right foot. He proceeds to help her take seven steps around the fire, indicating that he is with her every step of the way. The chants that accompany each step are appeals to Lord Vishnu to be with the couple every step of their lives.
The wedding is followed by a traditional game of coconut rolling, the object of which is to be the one holding all the coconuts. The bride and the groom are seated opposite each other with the coconuts between them. The couple continues to roll the coconuts back and forth. When the priest gives the signal, they are expected to stop rolling the coconuts and make a grab at them. The one holding all the coconuts is the ‘winner’.
As one leaves the wedding venue, filled with the traditional banana-leaf meal, faint strains of Carnatic music still follow.