Saturday, January 9, 2010

Wedding in Kerala

Like the Muslims else where, a Muslim marriage in Kerala is a simple contract between the boy and the girl's father. The presence of the girl is not
essential for the marriage. The "nikkah" - the ritual of contract - needs to be made in the presence of two male witnesses and the services of the mullah (musaliar in local language), is needed for observing some of the Islamic guidelines. The groom needs to give a mehr (dower) to the girl's father while accepting his daughter as his wife. Islam does not stipulate any religious ceremony for marriage as such. Consequently, local flavor has found their way in to marriage ceremonies. Like other communities in kerala, the elders occupy the center stage and decide the future of their issue. Rather than the compatibility factor, the financial and social standings get prominence. Once the initial discussions between two families are over, girl and boy get to meet each other. If they like each other, a particular day is fixed for the conduct of the initial process, "valayidal"- the custom of giving gold ornaments to the girl. The date for the function of engagement is arrived at through mutual consultations. On this day, some male members of the bride's family will go to the groom's house, and after reciting some parts of Koran (usually the first chapter); the boy will be given some gold ornaments or cash. At some places dowry is passed. This betrothal is a contract, not bound by any law or religious custom, and can be broken, if one wishes so. On the preceding day of the marriage, sister of the groom and some female relatives proceed to the bride's house to take part in "mailanchi"(or mehendi)- a practice of applying henna on the girl's hand as part of beautifying her. On the marriage day, the groom and his entourage will reach the place of marriage (it can be held at any place. Usually it is held at marriage halls and some use the option of marrying at mosques) at the appointed time. Brother of the girl receives him there and a bouquet and garland is offered to the groom.

Then the groom is led to the place where "nikkah"- the marriage contract- will take place. After reciting some portions from the holy Koran, by the mullah, the groom and the father of the bride are made to express the oath of acceptance. Bride's father makes the statement to the effect that he marries away the girl to the prospective husband according to the Islamic way. The bridegroom then declares his acceptance of that commitment and that he has married the woman according to the terms specified. After this the groom is led to the women's section (men and women are segregated at all the functions). Here he will tie a gold chain around the neck of the bride, assisted by his sister.
After the wedding there is a big reception, given by the bride's parents to guests from both sides. After the reception bride is taken to the groom's house and later they will proceed towards the bride's house.

Christian Marriages *

Except for some variation in basic customs, Christians of kerala has wholeheartedly assimilated themselves into the fabric of Kerala society. But, still, some differences persist in the wedding rituals and they are worth exploring. Like in other religions, here too the parents select prospective partners. After extensive background checks, including financial and social standing, and several meetings later, between the parents of bride and groom, the actual players get to encounter each other. Once things are endorsed, they have to notify their individual churches to procure sanction. Once the sanction is granted, they have to undergo a marriage preparation course conducted by the church. After that, at a day of their convenience (except on Fridays), they have to present themselves before the church officer for
"manasammatham" (engagement), accompanied by friends and relatives. A prayer will be held before engagement ceremony and afterwards the vicar gives the blessing. Rings can be swapped after this, but it is not there in the general itinerary. Two male persons from both the parties have to stand witness for this ceremony. This will be recorded in the church register. After this for the next 3 successive Sundays, while the church is in congregation, this engagement will be announced. This is to inform others and to give them a chance to file objection, if they have any. Alternatively this information will be displayed at the church notice board. If some objections are noticed, church will conduct an inquiry regarding this and proper actions would be taken. There is no bar on breaking the engagement. The parents of the bride and groom, after mutual consultations, fix a date for the marriage. Normally the wedding is held at the diocese of the groom.

On the appointed day, both the bride and groom, along with their relatives and friends, will reach the marriage place before the appointed time. At the given time, both the groom and bride will enter the church, escorted by relatives and friends, and proceed towards the altar. Some of the customs of traditional kerala wedding, "thalikettu" - the process of tying the sacred thread around bride's neck, giving "mantrakodi"- the wedding sari, are incorporated into the Christian wedding. As soon as the vicar enters the altar, the process of marriage (divyabali) begins. Reciting of those portions of bible which are relevant to the marriage function will be done by the vicar as well as the congregation, accompanied by music. When this function reaches its midpoint the vicar asks the groom to tie the nuptial knot, followed by the presentation of dress.

Hindu Marriages *
FOR HINDU, Marriage is the attempted union of two different families rather than the union of two individuals. Social status,
financial security and a host of other things are take into consideration while searching for prospective matches. It is assumed that when the horoscopes foretell compatibility, things will progress smoothly. The young people get a chance to see each other. But, in most cases, what makes the marriage work is the trouble shooting done by the parents. After the prospective horoscopes are matched "nakshatra porutham" - matching of the stars by the astrologer, an auspicious day and time is fixed.


At this appointed time family members and the boy will go to the girl's house, escorted by close relatives and the "jathakams" (horoscopes) are exchanged between the father
of the boy and that of the girl.
This will be performed in front of the picture of their favorite god or goddess. Betel leaves, Betel nut, fruits, Incense sticks, Nilavilakku (traditional kerala lamp made of brass) and bhasmam (vermilion) will also be placed besides the picture of the deity. Then the girl and boy, in traditional dress, will exchange rings in presence of the gathering. Usually the engagement is held as a sacred one and is not allowed to withdraw from it.


For fixing the day of the marriage. The usual procedure for this is that on the day given by the astrologer, two to three male members of the grooms family will go to the brides house and gives the astrology slip mentioning the day, date and the exact time (muhurtam) to conduct the wedding. Normally Tuesdays and Fridays are avoided for this visit.

On the marriage day, the girl proceeds to visit the temple of her favorite deity. There an offering
"vazhipadu" is made in the name, and star, of the groom. It is called 'astothara archana'.
At the auspicious time, the relatives of the bride will receive the groom and his relatives. The brother of the girl (or the person having that position) will apply sandal paste on the forehead of the boy, and offers him the garland. Afterwards the boy will be lead to the 'mandapam' - an elevated place usually decorated by flowers.
Then the bride is led to the mandapam, just before the muhurtam, in company of 9 to 11 girls in a procession of 'thalapoli'- a custom of leading the important person to the stage by girls holding a small circular vessel, made of brass or steel, with a coconut lamp and flowers. Then the father (or other elders if he is dead) will lead her to the mandapam and seats her on the left side of the groom.
At the appointed time groom will tie the sacred thread (this is usually a gold chain, but some people prefer an yellow thread), amidst the compulsory 'nadaswarem'- a mixed band of kerala musical instruments-with the help of his sister (or of those who occupies that position). At this moment the gathering of friends and relatives will shower floral petals on the newly wedded couple. Then both of them will garland each other. He then gives her 'pudava'- the traditional sari in a silver or steel platter. Then both of them will circle the mandapam, thrice. A pujari will also be present to help them go through the rites without hitch. He will be offered some 'dakshina'- a practice of giving some token money for the guidance.

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