When you talk about Indian weddings, you’ll be glad to know that you can attend not one or two but several marriage ceremonies that are distinct from each other. Thanks to the country’s multicultural society! And one name that stands out when it comes to a rich cultural display during weddings then it has to be Tamil weddings.
Tamil Hindu weddings are known for their vibrant and elegant rituals. The floral riot, bright colors, the sweet sound of traditional musical instruments and a host of other rituals, make this matrimony nothing short of a funfair. Tamil weddings extensively display rituals based on the oldest sacred texts of Vedas and Puranas. They may be age-old customs but they are still relevant in our modern times and are a window to the rich cultural heritage of the Tamils. However, the rituals may vary between different communities in many ways.
The weddings are usually held at temples, banquet halls, or sometimes outdoors. The guest list may go well over 250 people and you can expect large gatherings of close friends and family. The wedding ceremonies are mostly organized during the early morning hours and it typically lasts for about an-hour-and-a-half or so. And, depending on the time of the wedding, a traditional feast is served.
Let’s find out about the rituals that make Tamil weddings stand out / that make Tamil weddings a stunning affair.
Each of the sacred rituals has its own importance.
In Tamil weddings, Nichayathartham refers to the engagement ceremony. The families of the bride and the groom formally announce the forthcoming wedding on this day. It is the groom’s side who organizes this event in which the muhurtham or the auspicious wedding date, marriage agreements, possible venue and other arrangements are decided. The bride and the groom exchange wedding rings while both the families exchange gifts.
Panda Kaal Muhurtham
The families of both sides perform the Panda Kaal Muhurtham to worship the kula devata (ancestral deity) before the wedding. This ceremony is either performed at a temple or at home where a special puja is held to seek the deity’s blessings for the marriage to be a smooth marriage. It is usually observed a day before the wedding. Married women apply turmeric to bamboo or a casuarina pole, which is then placed beside the house door. The pole is considered to invoke the deities so that the prayers of the family are granted.
In Indian culture, it is essential to seek blessings of the older family members before any major or important events. Similarly in Sumangali Prarthanai, the bride-to-be offers prayers to the Sumangalis (women who are blessed with a prosperous married life) in her family and seek their blessings for a prosperous and blissful married life.
Pallickal Thellichal symbolizes the auspicious beginning of a new family. In this pre-wedding custom, women from the bride’s family decorate seven-nine odd earthen pots with sandalwood paste and then fill them with different types of grains and curd. They nurture the pots until the grains sprout. These pots are later immersed in the water, by the bride and the groom after the wedding, to feed the fishes. This auspicious ritual is done to seek blessings from nature for the couple’s good future.
Mangala Snaanam - A Purifying Bath
Like any other Hindu marriage custom, Mangala Snaanam is an integral part of Tamil wedding rituals. A mixture of the paste of haldi (turmeric), kumkum (vermillion) and oil are anointed on the soon-to-be couple before the sacred bath. Both the bride and the groom perform this ritual at their respective homes at the break of dawn. Early morning bath is considered to refresh the couple’s bodies by relieving stress and initiating positive energy for an extensive wedding process.
This is a ritual done by the bride only. Once the bride gets ready after the purifying bath, she worships the idol of Goddess Gauri who is a symbol of purity, austerity and virtue. She prays for a happy married life ahead.
Mapillai Varavepu - The groom’s arrival
The wedding function starts with the arrival of the groom and his entourage of family, friends and relatives. The brother of the bride receives the groom with a warm welcome. Married women from the bride’s family perform the ‘Aarathi’. Lastly, the bride’s father greets him with respect and escorts him to the wedding mandap.
This is one intriguing and fun custom in Tamil weddings. As the groom reaches the wedding venue, he plays the part of pretending to renounce all worldly pleasures and starts to walk away for Kashi yatra (pilgrimage to Kashi) to devote himself to god. At this moment, the brother of the bride intervenes and persuades him back to the wedding hall to marry his sister. In return for his service, the groom’s family gifts a gold ring to the bride’s brother.
After the groom arrives at the mandap, the mother of the bride washes the groom’s pada (feet) with water, sandalwood and vermilion. After which, the bride is brought to the mandap. (This custom of feet washing the feet may differ among different Tamil communities.)
As part of this ritual, the bride and the groom exchange floral garlands as the first step of the wedding. This process is repeated thrice and often playfully the bride and the groom try to evade garlanding by the other.
Oonjal in Tamil means a swing. In this ritual, the couple is made to sit on a swing which is rocked gently. Women of both the families surround the swing rocking them gently and sing traditional songs. The rocking motion of the swing represents the turbulent times that life may shower upon them. The elder members of the family feed them milk and banana and bless them. Married women carry rice balls around the couple and then throw them in all directions to ward off evil energy.
Next follows the heartwarming ritual. The father hands over his daughter to her new husband. The bride has to sit on her father’s lap during, both facing the groom. A coconut is placed on the bride’s hands. The father then supports her hands and together they offer the coconut to the groom. Meanwhile the bride’s mother pours holy water over the coconut. The father seeks a promise from the groom that he’ll take care of his daughter for the rest of his life. Thus, the parents have performed their duties of ‘kanyadaan’. A sacred thread is tied to the hands of the bride and the groom to seal their union.
After the Kanyadaan ritual, here, the groom’s parents give the bride a nine yard silk saree symbolizing their acceptance of the bride into their family. The groom then applies the sindoor to her hair parting. Now the bride has to change to the new saree gifted by her in-laws and return to the mandap for the groom to tie the thaali (South Indian equivalent of the mangalsutra) around her neck.
Now follows the Saptapadi or the seven sacred rounds around the holy fire. Each step has a significance and the priest chants the Vedic mantras that outlines the vows of the marriage. Next the groom holds the left toe of the bride and helps her step over a grindstone. This symbolizes the solidity of their union. The husband then puts tiny ringlets on her second toe.
Once the wedding is over, a formal reception follows in the evening. Typically, a lavish vegetarian spread is served to the guests. Everything from rice and curries, idlis and dosas, Tamil sweets and more mouth-watering dishes can be seen on the menu. The newlyweds are seated like royals on a stage where all the guests can go and greet them.
Next follows the exchange of gifts by both the families. Later, the bride prepares to leave for her new home. She bids emotional adieu to her paternal family.
Before departing, the newlywed couple seeks the blessing of the elders in the family.
Upon arrival at the groom’s home, the mother-in-law of the bride welcomes the couple with an aarti. She then leads the bride to first seek blessings of the house deity.
This ritual refers to the formal introduction of the bride to the new members of her extended family. The groom’s family offer her gifts. Several ice-breaking fun games are played between the bride and the groom during this ritual.
This ritual comes three days after the wedding when the couple visits the bride’s paternal home. The bride’s family gives a warm welcome to the couple and treats them to a delicious meal. They also present the newlyweds with clothes and jewelry. With this ritual all formal celebrations come to an end.
A Tamil bride is usually draped in a fine Kanjeevaram silk saree in bright hues paired with gorgeous gold jewelry. Often the color of the saree is preferred in a red tone with broad golden borders. The bride has her hair in an elaborate braid and bun combinations around which flowers are arranged to complement the style. The bride also has to wear two different sarees on different occasions during the course of the wedding. You will notice the bride wearing a different sarees when she enters the mandap and changing to another one right before the groom ties the mangalsutra. The first saree which she enters the wedding hall is called a manavarai saree while the second saree is called koorai.
Traditionally a groom wears a two-piece garment known as Veshti and Angavastram. Both of these are preferably made of silk. Nowadays, grooms also prefer donning sherwani, kurtas and other Indo-western outfits like vests and blazers. The groom also wears a special turban called thalappas to complete his look on the wedding day.
Yes, a Tamil wedding is full of meaningful rituals and customs. A great reason to attend one for sure.