Iyers are a subsect of South Indian Brahmins and generally speak Tamil. Iyer weddings are known as kalyaanam or thirumanam in Tamil. For specific details about vedic rituals described below, see Vedic wedding.
Iyer weddings, like many other Hindu weddings, typically last about 2–3 days. Traditionally, the family of the bride is responsible for organizing and planning the wedding.
Dress code is usually bare-chested with a veshti for males and sarees or Madisaar for females. In the reception component of the wedding, it is not uncommon to see guests dressed in formal Western wear such as suits for males. Women still generally remain adorned with flowers and silk sarees.
- 1 Vrutham
- 2 Janavasam/"maapillai azhaippu" - The Procession
- 3 Nischayathartham - The Engagement Ceremony
- 4 Kashi Yatra
- 5 Maalai Maatral
- 6 Oonjal
- 7 Palligai Seeds Sowing
- 8 Kannika Dhanam
- 9 Kankana Dhaaranam
- 10 Mangalyadharanam
- 11 Sapthapadi
- 12 Pala Dhanam
- 13 Pradhana Homam
- 14 Treading on the Grindstone
- 15 Arundhathi and Dhruva Star
- 16 Laaja Homam
- 17 Nalangu
- 18 Jayadhi Homam
- 19 Pravesa Homam
- 20 Sesha Homam
- 21 Thamboola Charvanam
- 22 Mangala Arathi
- 23 Shanthi Muhurtham
- 24 Wedding reception
- 25 Kattu Saatham
The wedding rituals formally begin with prayers offered to ancestors to seek their and God's blessings for the upcoming wedding. This usually takes place in the early morning hours of the day before the wedding day. A sacred yellow thread it tied on the wrists of the bride and the groom. This is followed by the 'palika' ceremony, where nine varieties of grains are sprinkled on the bride and groom, to bless them with prosperity. At the end of the function, an 'aarthi' ceremony is performed.
The groom arrives to the wedding venue in a decorated carriage or vehicle. Family and friends of the groom form a procession to the wedding site, often dancing and singing along the route.
In more modern weddings, the bride may join the groom halfway through the procession. They then make their way to the temple where the groom - "maapillai" - is given a new set of traditional dhoti - "veshti" and shirt - to wear for the following nischayathartham ceremony. Western style suits are also becoming common as the groom's formal wear.
The procession then makes its way back to the mandapam (wedding hall) where the nischayathartham begins.
Nischayathartham - The Engagement Ceremony
The bride's family brings turmeric, betel leaves, nuts and clothes for the groom. The bride's brother then honours the groom by placing a flower garland around his neck. As a symbol of happiness, sugar candy is distributed to all guests. Then, an 'Aarthi' is performed, and a coconut is broken, a ritual believed to ward off evil eyes.
On the "medai" or raised platform, both families sit opposite to each other and the "lagna patrika," or marriage contract is written and read aloud by the 'priest or sastrigal'. The document includes the names of both the families, the names of the bride and groom and the agreement that the marriage is to be conducted and it is signed by both bride's and groom's parents. After this, Thamboolams' (platters of betel nuts, dry fruits, nuts, coconuts, turmeric and 'kumkum') and gifts are exchanged. The cone shaped "parupputhengai" is an important part of all these ceremonies.
The groom is dressed in the traditional “Panchakatcham” veshti. He also holds an umbrella, a fan, a walking stick, and a towel containing dhal and rice tied to his shoulder. He then sets off on a mock pilgrimage to pursue further religious studies, and renounce worldly pursuits. As he steps out of the wedding hall, the bride's father intervenes and advocates for the superiority of married life to an ascetic life. He also promises to give his daughter as companion to face the challenges of life. The groom accepts and returns to the mandapam to get married. The umbrella is to remain with the groom, to remind him in the future of this advice.
Once the groom agrees, the "Maalai Maatral: or exchange of garlands between the bride and the groom, takes place. The bride and groom are lifted to the shoulders of their respective maternal uncles. This is an expression of continuing sibling support to their mothers. The bride and groom attempt to garland each other three times, with both sides trying to dodge each attempt. In the shastras, the exchange of garlands symbolizes their unification, as one soul in two bodies.
The couple are made to sit on the "Oonjal" or swing which is rocked gently. The swing's oscillating motion is a message to the couple that they must stay strong together during the challenges and joys of life. Relatives and friends sing auspicious songs, blessing the couple. They are offered milk and bananas and the ladies from both the families throw coloured rice balls in four directions to ward off evil spirits. This ritual also signifies support of that family and friends during the couple's married life.
Palligai Seeds Sowing
This is a fertility rite. Palligai are earthen pots prepared a day earlier. Pots spread at the base with hariali grass and Bael leaves (vilvam). Nine kinds of presoaked cereals are ceremoniously sown in these pots. After the marriage, the sprouted seedlings are released in a river or pool. This ritual invokes the blessing of the eight direction quartered guardian angels (Ashtadikh Paalaks) for a healthy life and progeny to the couple.
The bride sits on the lap of her father. Her hands are lifted upward and placed on the upward turned hands of the groom. Auspicious items like a coconut, betel leaves, and nuts are placed on the hands of the bride.
On the bride’s head, a ring made of Darbha of Kusa grass is placed. And over it is placed a yoke. The gold Mangal Sutra or Thali is placed on the aperture of the yoke, and water is poured though the aperture.
The symbolism of the yoke is drawn out of ancient rural life where the only mode of transport for households was the bullock cart. It is supposed to signify that just as a bullock cart cannot run with just one bull; the marriage needs both the bride and groom. Both of them have to face their responsibilities together.
The Vedic concept underlying this ritual is figuratively that in her infancy Soma givers her coolness of the moon. In the next stage of life the Gandharvas gave her playfulness and beauty. And when she becomes a maiden Agni gave her passions.
A new sari, exclusive for the occasion, called the koorai is chosen. The colour of the koorai is ‘Arraku’ i.e. red, the colour associated with Shakti. This sari is draped around the bride by the sister of the bridegroom, signifying her welcome to the bride. A belt made of reed grass is then tied around the bride’s waist. Thanksgiving Vedic hymns follow, to the celestial caretakers of her childhood, the deities of Soma, Gandharva and Agni. Having attained nubility, the girl is now free to be given over to the care of the human—her man.
The bridegroom returns his assurance to the bride’s father saying three times that he shall remain forever her companion in joy and sorrow, in this life and life after.
The bride ties a string fastened to a piece of turmeric around the wrist of the bridegroom to bind themselves by a religious vow. It is only after tying the kankanam that the bridegroom gets the right to touch the bride. A little later, the bridegroom ties a kankanam to the bride’s wrist.
The tying of the Mangal Sutra or Thali takes place at exactly the pre-determined auspicious hour. The bride is seated over a sheaf of grain-layden hay looking eastward on the lap of her father while the bridegroom faces westward. The bridegroom puts the gold Mangal Sutra around the neck of the bride. As he does so the Nadaswaram is played loud and fast so as to muffle any inauspicious sounds at the critical hour. This is called “Getti Melam”. At the same time as the Mangal Sutra a turmeric thread is also put around the bride’s neck. To this three knots are tied. The first knot is tied by the bridegroom. The other two knots are tied by the groom’s sister to make the bride a part of their family. The three knots symbolize Brahma, Vishnu and Rudhra.
The bride and groom take seven steps around the sacred fire. The groom walks with the bride to the right side of the sacred fire while holding his wife's right hand. He stops, bends down and holds the right toe of his wife with his right hand and helps her take seven steps around the fire. At the beginning of each step, he recites a Vedic mantra seeking the blessings of Maha Vishnu. As these seven mantras are being chanted, he asks Maha Vishnu to follow in the footsteps of his wife and bless her with food, strength, piety, progeny, wealth, comfort and health.
Gifts are exchanged between the families of the bride and groom. No gift shall be taken without a return gesture, which merits the gift received. Pala Dhanam as ordained by the scriptures is thus an action signifying mutual arrangements between the families, to be based on the principle of equality and respect for each other irrespective of one’s economic stature in life. The return gesture by the family of the groom could never equal to the gift of the bride given to the groom. Hence, the same coin given to the groom’s family is returned to the bride’s family an acknowledgment of the priceless gift received.
A crucial part of the wedding is the homage paid by the couple to Agni, the God of Fire. They couple goes around the fire, and feed it with ghee and twigs of nine types of holy trees as sacrificial fuel. The fumes that arise possess medicinal, curative and cleansing effects on the bodies of the couple. Agni, the mightiest power in the cosmos, the sacred purifier, and the all-round benefactor is deemed as a witness to the sacred marriage. Hence the term ‘Agni Saakshi’ or witness by fire.
Treading on the Grindstone
Holding the bride’s left toe the bridegroom helps her to tread on a grindstone kept on the right side of a fire. This ritual is symbolic of the solid rock foundation for the union.
Arundhathi and Dhruva Star
Once the Sapthapadi is completed, the groom gently places the bride's foot on a grinding stone near the fire and slips silver rings or “Mettis” on her toes. The couple is then shown the Dhruva Nakshatra or Pole Star, the one who attained immortality through single-minded devotion and perseverance and also the “Arundhathi Nakshatra”, as the ideal wife - the embodiment of charity and virtue. This is symbolic of the fact that such virtues are to be emulated throughout marital life.
This comprises the bride’s own offering into the sacrificial fire. As an expression of sibling support to her marriage her brother helps her. He gives her a handful of puffed rice grains which she hands to the bridegroom, to this, the groom adds a drop of ghee and feeds it to the fire on her behalf and recites five Vedic mantras. After each mantra, the parched rice is thrown into the sacred fire as an offering to Agni. Through this food offering, the bride seeks a long life for her husband and for propagation of her family. Participation of the bride’s brother indicates the continuance of links between the two families even after marriage. The couple circles the fire three times. The feeding of puffed rice to the fire is also repeated thrice.
The Nalangu starts with the bride and bridegroom being seated opposite each other. They apply turmeric on each other’s feet. The bride also takes yellow rice and waves it around her husband’s head and throws it away. This is repeated three times and the same is done by the husband. This is believed to ward off evil eyes.
This is followed by wedding games that bring in a light-hearted element into the wedding day and relieve the stress. Traditional games include the newly-weds putting their hands into a small bowl to find a small object with the person finding the object first the winner. Another game consists of breaking papadams (pappads) over each other's heads. They also roll a coconut towards each other like a ball. During this time, women sing songs, making fun of the bride, the groom and the in-laws.
This is performed to propitiate the Gandharvas and other deities. The Gandharvas are the soft natured celestial beings generally associated with the finer sentiments of life, that are so necessary for a fulfilling married life. The benefits of doing this are that they increase knowledge and Brahminical “sathvic” qualities. This is followed by another three prayers called “Vyahrithi homam”, “Swishtakrith homam” and “Prajapathi homam”. Once this is done, the fire from the homam is preserved in a new mud pot and is taken by the bride to her husband’s home.
This is done to solemnize the bride’s entry into the husband’s home. The sacrificial fire is brought along by the bride signifying that through her, new lives would be brought forth into this world; same as the fact that fire brings forth new fires.
Fire oblation with the residual ghee, a little of which is sprinkled on the bride’s head four times. The leftover ghee is considered sacred, the whole of which was offered to Agni. ‘Sesha’ means leftover. The idea of sprinkling this residual ghee on the bride’s head signifies strength to be drawn from the four Vedas; which is left over from one Yuga or era to another. This is a blessing for healthy offspring. The groom ties a thread around the bride's hip. This ceremony used to be performed just before the nuptials in the earlier days but these days it is a part of the marriage ceremony itself.
The bride’s brother gives the ceremonial first betel to the couple to chew. Betel leaf is supposed to have aphrodisiacal properties and to be eaten only after marriage. Other gifts are also given to bless the couple with long lives and children.
A solution of lime and turmeric powder is prepared on a plate, circled around before the couple and thrown away to ward off evil. This is also done a number of times during the wedding ceremony.
The consummation of the marriage at night fixed for an auspicious time for a happy, ever-lasting married life that is full of understanding and care. Two souls united in a sacred act of fulfillment, to bring forth progeny as nature's best creation.
Photos may be taken with the newly weds with the backdrop of classical music.
Typically South Indian / Carnatic musicians are called upon to provide the music entertainment as the reception goes on.
This is on the day next to the Muhurtham. In early days the groom's family would have to travel for a long time to reach their place and so for their travel needs food would be packed and given. This is how the ritual came into practice.