Tamil Nadu is a state in the southern part of India and its indigenous people are known as Tamils. However people of Tamilian ethnicity can be found in many other places like the north-eastern part of the neighboring country Sri Lanka, Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and in different parts of Europe and USA where different generations may have migrated at different times. Though Hindu Tamil wedding traditions incorporate regional and caste differences, most of them have certain common customs.
Tamil pre-wedding rituals
Tamil weddings place great importance on horoscopes. After the horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom have been analyzed and found to be mutually compatible, the wedding date is fixed once again in consultation with the family priest. On the day before the wedding, each family offers prayers to the family deity and ancestors in order to invoke their blessings for the marriage as well as to remove any obstacles. This is known as the Panda Kaal Muhurtham. A pre-wedding custom more rooted in folklore is the Pallikai Thellichal in which clay pots are filled with grains and sprinkled with water by married women of the family. On the day after the wedding when the grains sprout, these pots are immersed in a pond so that the fish in the pond may feed on the grains and bless the newly-weds abundantly.
Various other rituals are performed before the wedding day like the Naandi or the feeding of the Brahmins, the Nicchiyadharatham or the invocation of Lord Ganesh who is known to remove obstacles as well as the reading of Lagna Pathirigai where the priest formally reads out the wedding invitation which contains information about the lineage of the groom, bride, the day, the auspicious moment or muhurtam and venue of the wedding. This is followed by an elaborate dinner.
Tamil wedding rituals
The actual wedding rituals of the Tamils can be said to begin with the Mangal Snanam or the ritual bath undertaken by the groom and bride in their own houses as a mark of purification. Before the bath they are anointed with sesame oil, turmeric or haldi and kumkum since these objects are thought to be both cleansing and beautifying. After the ritual bath the bride’s family may lead her to Gauri Pooja wherein she prays to Goddess Gauri, thought to protect the virtue of unmarried girls and bless the marital bond.
Next follows an interesting custom the Kaashi Yatra which adds an element of fun and drama to the usually somber wedding rituals. After the mangala snaanam, the groom pretends to leave for Kashi, a pilgrimage center, to devote himself to God and a life of prayer. He carries things like a walking stick or an umbrella to imply that he is not interested in getting married and becoming a householder. The girl's father intervenes and requests him to accept his daughter as his life partner. He exhorts him to fulfill his responsibilities as a householder and thus follow the duties of a man as laid down in the holy scriptures. The groom relents and returns to the wedding hall where he is received by the bride.
This is followed by an exchange of flower garlands between the bride and groom. After that, the two are made to sit on a swing while the married women of both families perform a ceremony called the Oonjal. According to this small balls of cooked rice are colored with turmeric and kumkum, dipped in milk, then taken round thrice in clockwise as well as anticlockwise direction around the couple and then thrown away in the four directions. This ritual is believed to scare away evil spirits who may be lurking around. The newlyweds are then fed a mixture of banana and milk with which they break the fast on their wedding day.
The next important step of a Tamil wedding is the Kanyadaan which literally means the “giving away of the bride”. After the groom arrives at the mandapam or place where the sacred fire is lit and the wedding rituals are to be carried out, he is ceremonially welcomed by his new in-laws. The bride's mother applies kajal in the groom's eyes while the bride's father washes his son-in-law's feet. This gesture is believed to convey that the groom is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the hope that he will support and take good care of their daughter. The bride sits on her father's lap with a coconut in her hands. The father and bride offer the coconut to the groom while the bride's mother pours water over the coconut thus symbolizing the 'Kanyadaan’. The groom's parents gift the bride a nine-yard sari to be worn for next ritual. This is the tying the mangalsutra or the sacred thread around the neck of the bride by the groom.
Then follows the Saptapadi 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. The bride begins each round by touching her feet to a grinding stone as a way of symbolizing her hope that their union may be as firm and steadfast as the grinding stone. At this point the groom and bride are considered to be married. Thus families of the newly-weds exchange clothes and other gifts as part of a customs known as Sammandhi Mariyathai. This is followed by Laaja Homam where the groom accepts puffed rice from the bride's brother and offers it to the sacred fire or Agni. The end of the actual wedding ceremony is signified by Paaladaanam wherein the bride and groom seek the blessings of the senior members of the family by prostrating in front of them.
The most significant of the post-wedding rituals is the arrival of the bride at the groom’s house and is known as grihapravesh. Modern Tamil weddings include a wedding reception at this point where guests not part of the immediate family and thus who have not attended the wedding are invited to wish the new couple.