A traditional Tamil wedding in Salem: Traditional Indian wedding
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While vacationing in Chennai this past summer, I received the unexpected but delightful news that Motito would be the ring bearer in his Aunt Appu’s wedding in Salem in April. This was going to be his first experience as a member of a wedding entourage, and he was quite chuffed about being chosen for the honor.
Faster that you could say “kalyana,” we were off to men’s ethnic wear specialist Manyavar to pick out a sherwani that would highlight my boy’s dashing good looks. 🙂 He gamely tried on three coats: in orange, light brown, and turquoise. My heart pined for the line brown number but it was a size too small and made his belly protrude unattractively. Our next-best choice, a turquoise sherwani churidar set, wasn’t too bad, either.
The wedding was going to take place in Salem, the home town of the bride’s family. To get there, my son, father-in-law, and I went on a six-hour road trip that included a visit to my father-in-law’s childhood friend from a nearby town. We reached our hotel, the Park Plaza, at around 1PM, and had lunch at the hotel’s Tangerine restaurant, before proceeding to meet the bride’s home where we participated in the wedding-eve rituals.
One custom was to give the bride a purifying bath where we poured water on her head and applied turmeric on her face and arms. Next was a special puja (prayers) at the village temple. In the evening, we gathered at the marriage hall for another ceremony to welcome the groom and his entourage. My son and I had to leave before the ritual was over, because Motito was feeling tired and sleepy (We had started off from Chennai early that morning for the six-hour drive to Salem). Upon reaching our hotel, we showered, changed into our pajamas and were out like a light instantly.
We overslept a bit but made it in time for the big day. I can’t tell you how I glowed with pride at seeing my son take his place on the mandap and fulfill his duties as the ring bearer. I couldn’t help getting misty eyed at the sight of the bride, my husband’s niece, all grown up and gorgeous in her lovely wedding saree. I remembered the first time I met Appu, 11 years ago, when I was introduced to the family. She was an bright and amiable 13-year-old and boys were the farthest from her mind. Now she is about to embark on a new chapter in her life as an adult woman. How time flies!
In most Asian countries, weddings are grand, traditional celebrations of love and commitment between two individuals, as well as a seal of union between their respective families. And nowhere are weddings more traditional and elaborate than they are in India. Pre- and post-wedding ceremonies extend the celebration into a week-long extravaganza filled with blessings, Bollywood (music) and bling.
Tamil wedding customs vary from community to community, but common elements bind the varied wedding traditions in the vast subcontinent. Astrologers are consulted to determine the most auspicious date for the big event. Poojas, or special prayers, are offered to the Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed God who is the remover of obstacles. Pre-wedding rituals are performed in both the bride’s and the groom’s houses. During the wedding ceremony itself, the bride and the groom are seated side by side in front of holy fire, or agni, while the priest recites mantras from the Holy Scriptures. Some of the highlights of Tamil wedding ceremonies are: the couple exchange. garlands three times, the groom ties the Mangal Sutra (sacred thread) around his bride’s neck as symbol of their eternal bond, family and friends shower the couple with rice colored in turmeric and saffron as a benediction. The ceremony culminates with the ritual of the Saptapadi (seven steps), wherein the bride and groom walk seven steps around the holy fire while making the following seven vows to each other *:
With God as our guide, let us take
The first step to nourish each other
The second step to grow together in strength
The third step to preserve our wealth
The fourth step to share our joys and sorrows
The fifth step to care for our children
The sixth step to be together forever
The seventh step to remain lifelong friends, the perfect halves to make a perfect whole”
After the seventh step, the groom says to his bride: ”With seven steps we become friends. Let me reach your friendship. Let me not be severed from your friendship. Let your friendship not be severed from me.”
(*English translation of wedding vows are taken from the book “Hinduism: A Critical Review,” by Diptanu Dey)