Rich Tamil Wedding Rituals That Make The Occasion Memorable Forever!
Tamil weddings are elaborate and vibrant affairs. The floral riot, rich colours, the sweet sound of nadaswaram and a host of rituals, make them nothing less than a fun-fare. Authentic Tamil weddings are a throwback of the rituals described in details by the sears in the Vedas. Though they age-old customs, the philosophical and scientific logic behind each makes them relevant in our times too. Also, the rituals vary for the Brahmin (Iyer) and Non-Brahmin communities in many ways. To be honest, without these long-established rituals, a Tamil wedding would be incomplete! So, let us take a look at some common traditional Tamil wedding rituals and customs to help in wedding planning.
The families of the bride and groom perform some of the sacred rituals before the wedding. Each one has an importance of its own.
Nichayathartham refers to the Tamil engagement ceremony. The purpose of this ceremony is to officiate and announce the impending wedding to family and friends. Traditionally, it is organised by the groom’s family during which marriage agreements, wedding muhurtham date, possibly venue etc are decided. In this ceremony, the bride and groom exchange wedding rings. Both the families also exchange goodies and gifts.
Families of the both, the bride as well as the groom, perform this Tamil wedding ritual. It is custom for the families to worship the ancestral deity (kula devata) to seek blessings before the wedding. They may either visit a temple or may organize a special puja at home and offer prayers for a smooth marriage process. The families generally observe the ritual on the day before the wedding. The bride and groom are not supposed to see each other during this ceremony. Married ladies apply turmeric paste on a bamboo or casuarina pole which placed beside the door of the house. The pole is considered to invoke deities so that the prayers offered by the family are granted.
In Sanskrit, Sumangali refers to a married woman whose husband is still alive. Among Hindus, only a sumangali can perform certain auspicious ceremonies. She personifies prosperity, wealth and luck of the family. During sumangali prarthanai, the bride-to-be offers prayers to ancestral Sumangalis in the family and seeks their blessings for a harmonious and prosperous marital life. It is symbolic to invite five or seven (odd numbered) married women within the families. They are considered the embodiment of the deceased Sumangalis. Traditionally, the married women wear a nine-yards saree or Madisar for this pooja. During the pooja, the sumangalis are worshipped and treated with an authentic South Indian feast. Though the idea of the ritual is the same, there may be some variations in the procedure between the Brahmin and non-Brahmin Tamil families.
In this pre-wedding ritual, women from the bride’s family fill earthen pots with nine types of grains along with curd. They nurture and water them till the grains sprout. Pallikai Thellichal symbolises the auspicious beginning of a new family. After the wedding, the bride and groom immerse the pot in water to feed the fishes. This custom seeks blessing from the nature itself for its abundance and ability to support life in different ways.
The families of the bride and the groom pray to their ancestors. The ritual requires appeasing the Nandi deities with clean pipal tree leaf. Finally, the bride and groom are gifted with a new set of clothes. The family invite Brahmins for a meal and also offer them gifts, sweets, fruits, clothes etc to please them. As a gratitude, the brahmins bless the couple in return.
Wedding Day Rituals
Tamil weddings are held early in the morning and the ceremonies may last for about an hour or so.
This ritual takes place at the dawn of the wedding day in both, the bride and groom’s houses respectively. Women smear turmeric paste, kumkum and sesame oil on the bride and the groom as they are considered to cleanse the skin and enhance the beauty before they take the purifying bath.
After the purifying bath, the bride does a Gauri Pooja wherein she prays to Goddess Gauri who is considered to protect the virtue of unmarried girls and bless the marital bond. This is the only ritual which is done by the bride alone on her wedding day.
The wedding function starts with the arrival of the groom and his entourage of family, relatives and friends. The brides younger brother welcomes the groom. Women from the bride’s family greet the groom with “Aarti”. Lastly, the father of the welcomes the groom with respect and escorts him to the wedding mandap.
Kashi Yatra is, in fact, an interesting and fun custom. The groom pretends to leave for a pilgrimage to Kashi to devote himself to God. He starts to walk away with a walking stick or an umbrella to imply he intends to take the long journey to Kashi. At this point, the bride’s brother intervenes and woos the groom back to the wedding hall. In return, the groom’s family gifts bride’s brother a gold ring.
Different Tamil communities follow this custom differently. In certain communities, the mother of the bride washes the groom’s pada (feet) with water, sandal paste and kumkum. Among the Mudaliars, the bride and groom wash their parent’s feet respectively at their homes to seek their blessings.
The next important step is the Kanyathanam which literally means “giving away of the bride”. The bride’s father hands over all responsibility of his daughter to the groom and the groom, in turn, accept her and assures her parents take care of her. In this heartwarming ritual, the bride sits on her father’s lap with a coconut in her hands. It symbolises a father letting his small daughter who played in his lap as a child. The father and bride offer the coconut to the groom while the bride’s mother pours water over the coconut thus symbolizing the ‘Kanyadaan’.
Next follows Sapthapathi or the seven steps where the groom takes the bride’s right hand in his left hand and leads her around the sacred fire seven times. Each step has a significance and the priest recites Vedic verses that bond the groom and bride with a promise to share a life together.
This is the most important ritual throughout the wedding process. The groom gives the bride the Koorai/wedding saree. The bride leaves the mandap to wear the Koorai. In the meanwhile, the wedding guests bless the Thali (sacred thread). After the bride returns wearing the Koorai, the bride and groom exchange garland and groom ties the sacred thread around the neck of the bride. At this point, everyone consent to the wedding with showering akshartha (rice, turmeric, flower) on the couple. The joyous occasion is celebrated with traditional wedding song to the beat of drums and music of nadaswaram. The bride and groom are thereby, pronounced husband and wife.
The bride has to place her feet on an ammi/grinding stone round after encircling the bridal platform thrice. It symbolises that the bride wishes that their marital life is as strong and steady as the grinding stone. As soon as she completes this step, her husband puts a metti/ tiny ringlets on her second toe and shows her the Arundhati/Alcor star. In Hindu culture, Arundhati, the wife of sage Vasishta is highly spoken about for her loyalty and devotion to her husband. By asking the bride to look at the Arundhati star, the husband wishes his wife to take up the good virtues of Arundhati.
The ritual actually marks the end of the wedding ceremony where the newlyweds seek the blessings of the elders in the family.
The most significant of the post-wedding rituals is the entry of the bride at the groom’s house for the first time as his spouse. The groom’s mother welcomes the couple by performing a small aarti.
These are some of the most common Tamil wedding rituals. However different communities may have some different or additional ceremonies.
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Also published on Medium.