(Pic courtesy : ventuno.in via Google)
Ah ha !! The kalyanam – finally !!
Before you got here, I do hope you’ve read the prequels – the bride viewing and the re-engagement posts which are super duper important, if you are to make any sense whatsoever of what’s happening in this post. Simply put, a South Indian kalyanam is a very complex process.
After all the brouhaha that the groom and the bride have had to go through the previous evening, what with getting re-engaged to the same person that you were engaged to for the past few months and doing namaskarams and prostrating before what seems like half the world gathered, it has got to be a tiresome process. Then of course, one has to have dealt with the scores of mamis who insist on reminding the bride and the groom that they are to get married the next day with inane statements like “Oh ! Nalakki Kalyanam akkum allava ?” (Oh ! So you guys are getting married tomorrow, are you not ?”) with that wondrous expression on their faces like that penny dropped just then ! Ah ! The joys !! Like I said earlier on, welcome to the Kalyanam !!
South Indian weddings, ok I need to be specific here because with the proper Malayalee weddings, it’s done and over in a jiffy – quite literally in the bat of an eyelid. During a Malayalee wedding, if you happen to as much as blink at the wrong time, you run a serious risk of missing the whole wedding because that’s how quick the knot is tied.
The Iyer weddings are the ones that are painfully long drawn out and incredibly, they always have this weird ability to start in the wee hours of the mornings. The muhurtham, as decided by one of those astrologers or vadhyars (priests) seem like some sort of a concocted conspiracy to make sure the people at the weddings are bleary eyed and sleepy enough not to comprehend the mistakes made by the priest.
The brides get decked up early in the morning with suitable help and assistance from what seems like half the world and trust me – she needs all the assistance she can get. Imagine placing a five kilo weight on your head and then being expected to change into a sari. If you find yourself sweating it out inside a bright Kancheevaram silk, not being able to lift your head more than a few millimetres because of a whole basket of flowers that have been unloaded on your head, you have indeed qualified to be a Tamil Iyer bride. Reams and reams of flowers on the head, kilo after kilo of jewellery and a bright kancheevaram draped around her demure self, the bride is ready. Well, almost !! That’s what I thought the day I was getting married. Just lifting my head proved to be a workout beyond my wild dreams.
Then walked in someone with an armload of garlands. I remember wondering if my parents had conjured up this wild idea to garland just about everybody walking into the wedding hall. Turned out they were all for me. One fat garland that looked like it weighed a ton and three of its smaller cousins which looked not so fat but were rather ominously heavy too. All four of those were draped upon my neck one after the other and as I sagged under their collective weight, one of the high priestesses proclaimed that I was ready.
It was then, right at that moment that I realized why they have so many ladies walking on both sides of the bride, pretty much like Mahatma Gandhi always used to have two women by his side. The people on the sides are accident preventions – meaning they are there to prevent the bride from keeling over from all that weight which has been piled on her neck and head. They are there to hold the bride up, glare into her eyes (if need be) and say “be a man” like Russel Peters would.
The groom, in the meanwhile, would have been tortured likewise – with scores of garlands being heaped on his neck and he would also have had the bride’s clumsy nathanaar (remember the sister in law) anoint his eyes with kajal. Let’s not even try going into the logic behind that bit of painting the groom’s eyes with kohl. It just makes them look like Bambis – makes their eyes look larger than life, I mean. Does not help too that some of the kajals make the eyes smart , in which case we have grooms looking like red-eyed Bambis or better still, make it look like the stag party the previous night was a resounding success. Am sure the men would like to assume that he’s actually been crying and bemoaning the loss of his bachelorhood. Some naathanaars take this a step further. In feeling all important, they also dot the groom’s cheek or chin or somewhere thereabouts with a big black dot. “Drishti Pottu” they’ve been known to proclaim, rather proud with their handiwork, much to the chagrin and dismay of the groom who, by then, would look like one of those oversized babies in old black and white pictures.
The groom would be whisked off for the Kashi Yathrai. Bundle in one hand and a palm leaf fan (which has nowadays been upgraded to a cheap plastic fan) in the other, he is indeed an extremely comical sight. For the most part, that look is complete with the groom looking completely bewildered, with a “deer in the headlights” look. He usually has to be nudged back to reality from the surreal world that he'd apparently visited over the past few minutes. He would actually have to walk upto the gate of the hall with another guy next to him holding an umbrella over his head. The bride’s father has to walk up to the gate too with two yellow coconuts in his hands. The idea being to tell the groom not to go off to Kashi and that the bride’s father would give him the hand of his daughter in marriage if he stays. Not just the hand though – his daughter in entirety was what I meant. I’ve always wondered about the scenario where a groom develops cold feet and opts to go off to Kashi instead of taking up the bride’s father on his offer. Well, apparently hasn’t happened or else the whole world of Tamil Iyers would have known, for sure !!
These coconuts that the bride’s father carries, as I have often noticed, have to be positioned properly. In fact, I would say they need to rehearse this because in many a wedding, it has seemed as though the bride’s father has suddenly sprouted yellow busts, of proportions that would put Pamela Anderson to shame. Not a pretty sight, trust me. Now he has to hand these coconuts over to the groom and the groom dutifully accepts these and decides to make the long walk (all of ten steps) back to the wedding hall. Vinasha kaale vipareetha buddhi is how the saying goes J. Of course, in the midst of all this, the by now infamous getti melam would be going off and on intermittently, startling people out of their early morning stupors.
“Ponna koottindu vaango” would yell the priest’s assistant, making the bride sound like some sort of an innocent being led to the slaughter. The entire brigade of mamis and cousins and sisters waiting alongwith the bride would suddenly part, pretty much like the sea parted in front of Moses. The bride would stagger along the path that has suddenly opened up in front of her and would be herded to where the groom waits. Once there, the bride and the groom stand facing each other (duh !!) and the priests would yell “mama enge ?”(where is the mama). Given the fact that every other male member around is a “mama” for all practical purposes, this would lead to a mini confusion of sorts whilst people hunt for the “real mama”.
Mamas have the honour of helping the groom and the bride take off one garland (at a time) from their necks and handing it to the groom or the bride. In my case, the garlands had apparently decided to get married to each other on my neck, without my knowledge !! They had apparently decided to consummate their marriage even – given the way they were all twined on each other. Pity they had to be prised apart but they did not give up without a fight. Now that’s the spirit, I say ! My poor mama was sweating before he managed to get one errant garland off my neck, by which time I realized that my soon-to-be husband had actually grown taller. I blinked and wondered if the cooks had given me Irish coffee in the morning. Turned out that his athimbar (who was officiating for the mama) was desperately trying to lift him high up. His athimbar reminded me of one of those weightlifters who, in the heat of things, end up lifting the weights but then have no idea how to get the weights down. Imagine my plight !! I was just beginning to enjoy the scene when, a split second later, I felt myself being lifted off the ground and before I could open my mouth to scream, I realized I was all of 7-8 inches off the ground. Not fatal even if I do happen to be dropped, said common sense and that killed the scream.
Someone really needs to tell the grooms not to duck and sway during this “garland exchange” process. It is, after all, not a boxing match, is it ? Save those ducks and sways for later when the wife is really mad at you for something – cos that’s when you’re going to need it. I remember hubby’s athimbar pull him away suddenly, just as I was about to garland him and it was a good thing my reflexes were good and I managed to garland the right person else I probably would have ended up garlanding the priest standing right next to hubby. Now that would have been something !!
Once the garlanding is done and over with, the bride and the groom are made to sit on a swing which groans and creaks rather pitifully under their collective weight. In our case, we had a rather sensible swing which decided to break before we sat on it. So we had to make do with a sofa (which too groaned as we sat on it, by the way). The mami brigade came in with the coloured rice cannonballs to do the “drishti” thing. Three circles around the bride and the groom and then the mami in question suddenly turns into a Johan Santana. Clad in that nine yard sari, she swings her arm back and sends the coloured rice ball flying into oblivion. Only in this case, if people do not move fast enough, it turns into something like a paintball competition. Guests with splotches of red and orange rice stuck on them. Nice thought, that one !
Then someone suddenly realizes that the bride and the groom must be really hungry after all the acrobatics and gymnastics that they have had to perform in the process of garlanding each other and not garlanding someone else and all that. Hence they decide to feed the groom and the bride this concoction of bananas and milk. Like that was about to fill my tummy up !!! They’ve got to have had a second thought coming ! The bride and groom dutifully lap up the milk that is poured into their palms like kittens with a rather full stomach (meaning not very enthusiastically) and chomp and stomp on those banana pieces and force them down their gullet. Has no one ever thought of changing this milk and banana routine to something more interesting – like mini samosas with ketchup or mini veg kababs with spicy mint chutney or something. It would make things so much more interesting than a bowl of bananas floating in insipid milk !! Well, just a thought !! Can’t blame me for trying now, can you ?
The ubiquitous getti melam, in the meanwhile, would be going off in fits and spurts, pretty much like a flaccid heart being shocked into a rhythm every now and then. Serves its purpose and makes sure no one falls asleep or goes into one of those never ending stupors.
The bride and the groom, with the help of many a traffic directions from the helpful relatives around, would make their way back to the main “wedding area” of the hall and plonk themselves down in front of the homa kundam (the place where the holy fire has been lit). They would be barely settled in when the priest would start placing little twigs on the holy fire in an attempt to get it going. All he ends up doing, in reality, is sending smoke (lots of it) spiralling upwards and towards the hapless bride and groom and anyone else in close vicinity.
Eyes smarting, the groom would repeat the mantras that the priest would be hurling at him, by now and things would settle into a rather sleepy stupor. The bride (if it is someone like me), for lack of anything better to do, would be looking around, waiting for something funny to happen while other brides have been known to sit, eyes averted and fixed on the ground, looking all demure and shy. Suddenly, there would be a flurry of action and the bride’s father would be seen seated on a chair. The bride would be asked to sit on her father’s lap and the groom would be asked to stand in front of them (where else ???!!!). The priest’s voice would go up a few notches and he would begin to sound a bit like Luciano Pavarotti as he recites the mantras which officially symbolize the bride moving from one gotra to another – from her father’s gotra to that of her husband’s. This mantra is repeated three times and by the third time, the priest would be sounding as though he is in the throes of a crescendo or something else for that matter.
(This is the kanyadaanam part of the Iyer marriage, which is, for all vedic purposes, said to be the most important part of the wedding. I, for one, have my reservations about it because in my honest opinion, girls are not commodities to be given away. Never have been, never will be. I’ve written about this in another post and in all probability, another post solely on this topic will soon find its way onto Tiny Tidbits.)
However, not to digress, the priest’s crescendo is the cue. This is the part where the bride’s family starts crying. Especially the father and the mother and many a times I’ve been scared witless at the sight of the bride sobbing her heart out. When I was a little child, marriages had kind of taken on a scary connotation for me, precisely because of all the hoopla surrounding this part. The bride’s father, valiantly trying to hold back tears would place the bride’s hand in the groom’s hand and the bride’s mother (who, by now would be openly crying) would pour some water over the medley of all those hands put together while one of the priest’s assistants would rather helpfully hold a huge plate under the hands, to collect all that water pouring down. What happens if that plate tips over is a different story altogether.
To be continued …….