Iyer Weddings: Customs n rituals…

December 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

Iyer Weddings: the customs and rituals.

 

I haven’t studies our Vedas and Shastras , neither do I claim knowledge of them.  I wrote this piece for the specific purpose of educating my north Indian pals who usually club all south Indians together and dub them all as Madrasis.  I hold certain beliefs and values – and I have every right to hold them – which may not be in line with the ideas or thinking of the readers or “experts”, please understand this and don’t pillory for my lack of knowledge or why I hold these beliefs/values.

 

If you are a lay Brahmin not being “wiser” to our shastras, I am certain you relish reading this.

 

Thanks.

 

Cris iyer

 

We Hindus are strong believers in our Karma; it could be explained by the modern Cause & Effect theory: you reap what you sow; the results follow your karma or actions.

 

To a large extent our destiny or fate is preordained at the time of our birth by the following factors:

 

1) The month & date of birth; the Hindu calendar has 12 months in a year; but the 365 days in a solar year is not precisely fitted, as is done in the Gregorian calendar (which is widely adopted the world over), into the 12 months. So, the Hindu calendar like the Islamic one does not contain 365 days.

 

2) The star he/she is born under.  Only 27 stars are taken into account even though there are millions in the sky.  The mismatch between the number of stars (27) and that in an average month  (30) and the fact that a year has less than 365 days results in a strange situation: the birth day (or the more apt anniversary) never falls on the same date every year as it is with the Gregorian (English)  calendar!  These 27 stars are –

 

i) Aswathi (Vishawam grand uncle’s birth star)

ii) Bharani

iii) Karthigai (mine)

iv) Rohini

v) Magiram (Shantha grand aunty’s)

vi) Thiruvathirai

vii) Punartham (Vijayam nani’s)

viii) Poosam

ix) Aayilam (Vinod’s)

x) Magam

xi) Pooram

xii)  Uthram

xiii)hastham

xiv) Chithirai

xv)     Swathi

xvi)    Vishakam

xvii) Anisham

xviii) Kettai

xix) Moolam

xx) Pooradam (Chachu grand aunty’s)

xxi) Uthradam

xxii) Thiruvonam

xxiii) Avittam (Ganesh uncle’s)

xxiv) Chadhayam

xxv) Poorattathi

xxvi) Uthrattathi

xxvii) Revathi

 

 

3) The configuration or alignment of sun, certain planets and moon at the time of one’s birth.  It therefore follows that celestial bodies exercise their influence and determine your fate, and the course of events in your life.  The time of birth is of paramount importance because the celestial bodies are eternally in orbit around the sun at mind-boggling velocity, and their positions with reference to one another keeping changing every second.

 

 

 

The details are passed on to an Astrologer, the learned one who by common consent is aware of the planetary positions and their impacts on earthlings.  He then charts out one’s horoscope based on the data supplied and the planetary alignments and gives a short recital of how one’s life is going to shape up.

 

There is solid reason why I call the tribe of astrologers charlatans and their “science” is all hocus-pocus.

 

As I said, time of birth is of essence if the surmise that alignment of Planets that could mould your fate is to be believed.  In point of fact it’s not time but place of birth that is of paramount importance for the prediction or forecasts to come true; it’s like this: you are born in say Bangalore or Patna, the alignment of the celestial objects with reference to the person’s birthplace is important for greater accuracy of forecasts.

 

Now what is time?  The Indian Standard Time (IST) is actually the time that would prevail at 73-deg. East latitude, an imaginary line that fall almost at the centre of the West-East divide of India.  Though for convenience sake the IST is made applicable to the entire India, the actual time difference in relation to sun between Calcutta or Shillong on the east and Mumbai on the west coast would be as much as one hour. In other words if the sun rise for the entire country is 6.15 a.m. IST, the time in actual fact in Calcutta or Shillong will be 6.45 a.m. and the sun would have already risen in Calcutta a goodly 30 minutes earlier! In contrast in Bombay the sun will actually be rising only at 6.45 a.m.

 

So what accuracy can one expect in the forecasts when the planetary positions at one’s birth are themselves not certain or are incorrect, given the uncertain nature of the actual time of one’s birth???

 

What shapes up our destiny or Fate is our character and outlook towards life and the efforts we put in or otherwise to make it a success, which factors are determined by the genes/DNA passed on by one’s parents, but only to a certain extent; these aspects have more to do with the environment one grows up in; the “environment” includes

 

–       the kind of lifestyle  one gets accustomed to by one’s parents’ fiscal fitness (financial soundness); the kind of food one gets to consume directly contributes to one’s faculty of intelligence and physical structure.

–        

–       One’s immediate neighbourhood; for example, the kind of people who inhabit in a slum are mostly anti-social, so those growing up there would be more prone to become thugs, ruffians or wastrels.

 

–       the kind of friends one gathers in his neighbourhood, school or college especially in one’s ADOLESCENT years; this is the MOST crucial, definitive causative factor that shapes up one’s Fate; no wonder, a man or woman is known by the company s/he keeps.   In one’s adolescent years, s/he seldom pays heed to any amount of parental remonstrations, beseeching or sagely advice.  Once you miss the bus, the die of your future – yani ki your Fate – is cast and you can never ever recover lost ground.

 

Every animal on earth has 5 faculties of sense but human being (man) is endowed with a sixth one, that of intelligence by which he is able to deduce things, sift chaff from the grain and distinguish between evil and good.   Pity is, even the intelligent beings that we call ourselves keep so much faith in the mumbo-numbo called astrology and swear by our raasi (zodiac sign) for all happenings and misfortunes in our life.   Attributing our successes or failures that are caused our own deeds of omissions and commissions, to the alignment of lifeless, totally uninhabitable planets hurtling through deep space hundreds of millions of miles away from earth is preposterous in the extreme.

 

Incidentally, Indians don’t actually realize the importance of setting Standard time because India is a tropical country lying almost along the equatorial region.  The countries in the northern & southern hemisphere set the clock back or forward depending upon which part the sun is traversing: for example when the sun is in the northern hemisphere it is freezing cold down south, so the countries there put the clock by 2 or 3 hours to coincide with the actual sun rise thus saving billions of dollars which otherwise would have gone waste on electrical energy needed to keep the countries illuminated till the actual break of drawn.  This is also the reason why large countries like the USA have 3 or 4 Time Zones.

 

Again, one of the most obvious examples but rarely understood of optical illusions is the non-fact that the sun rises in the east: actually it is the earth rotating on its axis from west to east that creates the illusion.  Another not-so-well understood fact is that the earth’s tilt at an angle towards one side as it rotates on its axis and revolves in its orbital path around the sun, causes the seasons one of which gives us bountiful rains that produce the wonderful greenery that envelopes the earth, the rich flora & fauna, the plants, the water we drink, and the food we eat. But for the AMAZING handiwork of nature – the earth’s tilt, its rotation and revolution – we wouldn’t exist.  And I wouldn’t be keying in this note to a dear ol’ pal…  Do we ever pause to think of the wonders of nature?

 

I’ll get back to horoscopes tomorrow….

 

A quote for the day: “Exercise is bunk.  If you are healthy u don’t need it; if u are sick u shouldn’t take it”

 

 

The other major flaw in horoscopes…

 

The heavenly bodies that are taken into account in the charting out of horoscopes are: sun, moon, mercury, Venus, mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Rahu & Ketu, the last two entities have no existence in the solar system.  The extra-terrestrial bodies, we are told, exercise their influence on us earthlings; then why are the planets viz. Uranus, Neptune & Pluto and other myriad asteroids orbiting the sun, leave alone the countless millions of stars and their planets in the universe, left out of their calculations?  Won’t they impact our destinies, our lives?

 

One may ask if horoscopes and their making are all hogwash how do the astrologers thrive and how are the regular forecast columns in newspapers and magazines evergreen, ever popular and widely, avidly read?  The astrologers’ tribe quickly point out, when some complain of inaccuracy in the forecasts, that in stray cases of individuals the daily/weekly predictions do not prove right; they add a rider that their sun-sign (the Zodiacal sign one is born under) could be wrong and that exceptions always prove the rule.

 

A careful reading of the columns would reveal that the forecasts are cleverly worded as vague as possible and that the predictions handed out for one sun-sign would be equally applicable to those born under all other zodiacal signs as well.  The gullible believers in sun-signs and in their impacts only look for something that suits them or that has a remote resemblance to their personality, and they invariably find it in the column, and are mighty happy in the knowledge.  For some inexplicable reason, by far the most believers are women – who simply love fantasy! – who pore over the columns religiously every day, every week.

 

Mars is mangal, i.e. auspicious one, but a manglik – a girl with a mars-effect or mars-cross – or rather curse! – no-one wants to marry owing to the ill luck she is to said bear and bring.  How crazy can one get! One’s birth, when, where and what sun-sign one is born in is purely accidental; if one had that choice, one would have loved to have born a Bill Gate or, at least, an Ambani scion!

 

The spadework behind weddings tomorrow….

 

Spadework done before weddings…

 

When a boy or girl is nubile (eligible and ready for marriage), word is sent out and copies of the horoscope chart with additional information on his/her educational background, employment and other talents and outstanding abilities like her proficiency in classical music or dancing, or other extraordinary feats in other fields, are handed to friends and relatives for circulation among themselves and their acquaintances.

 

The very first criterion for choosing a boy or girl used to be to make sure the prospective boy/girl belongs to the same sub-caste as oneself.  Times are changing and not much importance to the girl/boy being of the same caste is attached now.

 

Second comes the alignment or matching of the horoscopes of the two; there are about 20 parameters for consideration of alignment and at least 10 or 12 from each side should be in perfect alignment.

 

Before the horoscopes are taken to an astrologer or an elderly man who is versatile in match-making having spent several years doing it as a free social service, the parents of the girl and boy see that the boy is at least as much qualified as the girl, if not higher, so the boy or girl does not suffer from any complex later on in life, owing to the girl being qualified higher. This is an unwritten rule invariably followed but never spoken about.

 

Next is the economic status of both sides.  Nothing like if the status of both sides is more on less on par, so that there is no friction due to the financial disparities between the two sides. Again the unwritten rule is, the girl’s parents look for an economically stronger match or samandhi (in laws) to ensure that the future for their daughter is even brighter.  The cost of living in cities now being what it is and the needs and wants of new home-makers going through the roof, the boy’s parents these days look for an employed girl for a happier living ahead for the couple.

 

The girls’ parents, to satisfy themselves that there is no deception or exaggeration in the would-be samandhi’s claims, then independently verifies, through their contacts, the antecedents and claims of employment and more importantly the pay structure of the prospective groom.

 

Word is then sent from one side the other of the development and its willingness to proceed further.

 

On an appointed day the boy’s entourage visits the girl’s residence to have a ‘dekho or dharshan’, get a first impression – take stock – of the girl and her family, and of course, the girl of the boy; the boy and girl are allowed to have a frank chat in privacy. The boy’s party is then entertained to a treat.  The custom is now given the go-by because it is felt it is insulting to the girl and her parents if the proposal falls through for some reason or the other. This formality is now looked down upon – or taken a dim view of -, as it is akin to an “exhibition & sale”. Currently what is in vogue is, a meeting between the boy and girl themselves is arranged at a mutually convenient rendezvous and they are allowed to take a decision themselves, after all they are the parties intimately involved and they are the ones going to live together.

 

Dowry, whether in cash or kind, is neither discussed nor demanded among the educated class in keeping with the times.  It is felt the girl’s parents would do the needful – the portmanteau of jewellery, clothing and essential utensils – for their daughter.  Dowry in cash is not given or kept to the minimum because of the stigma associated with it.

 

Comes then the engagement function.

 

Wedding Engagement….

 

Till not long ago it used to be a sedate ceremony to bind both the parties to the proposed alliance of marriage between the two families; the alliance was formalized amidst the chanting of mantras and in the presence of family members and friends who double up as witnesses, too.   The ceremony over, the guests were served tea and snacks.  It was a simple affair held at the prospective groom’s home.  It marks the formalization of what was hitherto a proposal for alliance.

 

In keeping with the times – to include some pomp & show and to incorporate certain Western traditions, too – the engagement ceremony has now been turned into a glittering, literally, occasion: a swank hall is booked; a large circle of friends and relatives gather; exchange of gold rings between the bride and groom, with gold bracelets and wrist watches thrown in good measure; exchange of expensive zarried saris between the families and their near ones; followed by a sumptuous food.  All expenses are borne by the boy’s parents.

 

With the consent of all concerned the Muhurat or the auspicious day and time of the marriage is set in consultation with the trusted family astrologer.  The actual muhurat i.e. the time when the mangalsutra is tied around the bride’s neck is decided taking into account the horoscopes of both the girl & boy. The managalsutra contains two gold pendants carrying the images of Shiv Ling, strung on a gold chain or, as was the old custom, on a sacred thread dipped in haldi water, haldi is considered holy, apart from its reputed medicinal values,  and haldi is used on all auspicious occasions.  Kumkum, too, is considered sacred and is used on all such occasions.

 

 

The Engaging Engagement..

The pal kept pressing me that I attend her engagement at Pune.  And I was kind of in a Shakespearean dilemma: to go or not to go.

 

I didn’t know her family members too well, so it was awkward travelling with them by the matador, the multi-purpose vehicle, they had hired.  I wanted the biwi to join me on the trip, see, so I’ll have someone to talk to on the relatively long journey.   Will she accompany me?  Biwiaans usually look askance at their husbands’ female pals for obvious reasons (aisa na ho ki their miyas make off with the younger, more attractive babes!)  So, the first hurdle was to coax and cajole the reluctant biwi to relent.

 

I was then in the Night Shift and it would be difficult to find a replacement at the eleventh hour.

 

I surmounted the knotty problems.

 

The Mumbai-Pune 6-lane wide Expressway is a dream for Indians used to pothole ridden, narrow, bumpy roads.  Especially because we left quite early in the morning, the journey was pleasant.  Allaying my fears of being left in the cold by the almost-stranger fellow travellers, her grandma turned out to be quite a genial lady and a conversationalist, I must say!

 

The venue for the function was a restaurant – Bangarwada, quite a weird name for an eatery, more so a pub – that more looked like a resplendent hotel with an impressive old-worldly ornate facade, tastefully laid out porch, arched and carved-like doorways and windows.  It was on a serene location on the outskirts of Pune.

 

Many a time you discover the world is not as large as it looks.  The Brahmin community is not very large when compared with other castes, and their number in Kerala is very much smaller than that in the neighboring Tamil Nadu.  And of course those settled in Mumbai are even smaller.   Actually if a Brahmin Iyer were to try to research his roots, he/she would astonishingly find that his fellow-Iyers are all related through thin, widely spaced out branches.

 

I had heard that the groom’s papa hailed from Palghat, so my curiosity over his roots was aroused as I too had had my upbringing there. 

 

Palghat is a district situated in the middle of Kerala and is on the border with the neighboring Tamil Nadu.  It has a relatively much larger concentration of pattars (yeah, that’s how the Iyers refer to themselves in Kerala) than in other parts of the state, and they live in exclusive clusters, often referred to as Agraharams, within each village that dots the district.  There are over a dozen such clusters – it’s kind of self-contained communes that China abounds in – of row houses.  Marriages used to be preferred from people living within the clusters themselves and within the sub-castes but of different gothrams that reveal one’s lineage or bloodline – Brahmins are said to be descendants of some rishi (sage) or the other and the gothram identifies the rishi you are a descendant of.

 

Naturally, therefore, I was dying to find out whether my pal’s in-laws are from my own or nearby hamlets.

 

I did strike pay dirt: talking to the groom’s pa I discovered they belong to Kollengode village that adjoins my own, Alampallam, where we had an ancestral home.  Belying his no-nonsense, tough exterior, he turned out to have softer inner core.  We had a long chat and I was given a brief account of himself, an ex-private banker and large agriculturist who had a huge mansion and he had to sell them all for a song with the militant commies and Naxals proving a menace, and set up a new home in Pune.

 

My pal looked ravishing in a bronze colored silk saree with large zari brocade and decked up with heavy artillery with maybe over half a kilo of gold ornaments on her neck and bangles from her wrists to the crook of the elbow… She was dressed to kill her beau primarily and the guests at large.  I was reminded of the saying – a bride looks dazzling not just because she is beautiful but because she is extremely happy too.

 

The groom was suave and nattily attired in Western outfits making small talk with his clan members.

 

Coming to think of it, the grooms have a far easier time dressing themselves up for all occasions, including their own weddings: have a shave and wash, coiffeur the locks in a jiffy (a 1-minute job), don your – at the most – 3-piece suit with a neck-tie, this formal western bridal garb too is these days giving way to the hugely popular ethnic outfit, sherwani, that is at once elegant, chic, traditional and hugely er. sexy.  Even the current avant garde purveyors, pushers and peddlers of haute couture these days plump for and flaunt the sherwani – with their own little trade-mark embellishments, of course – as if the attire is their own original creation, invention or innovation.  Taking advantage of the craze for these costumes, the style-pushers charge a ransom to those with thick wads of notes.  Make hay while the sun shines or where the man is asinine enough to cough up the dough cheerfully?

 

The engagement function as such does not have religious sanctity or ritualistic rigmarole, although it does formalize the alliance proposal.  But since the priest is invited and involved, he has to make a big show of it, for after all he has to collect his fat fee (dakshina).  You see he has to make it appear that he deserves the big bucks.  So apart from the Ganesh vandana and reciting some mumbo-jumbo mantras, he reads out aloud the “agreement” between the two sides – their kuls, gothras, sect and sub-sect, the names of the bride & groom and their birth-stars, and the names of the respective parents, and the day, date and time (muhurat) fixed for the wedding – and have the respective parents sign the “document” on the dotted lines.  A copy each of the document is then handed to the parents on either side.  An MOU (yani ki Memorandum of Understanding) signed, sealed and delivered, with a difference?

 

To add some real glitter to the proceedings, my pal & her beau beaming from ear to ear exchanged diamond rings specially flown in from the US. To sparkle their lives forever?

 

That over, we guests were entertained to a sumptuous, tasty treat – indeed SOME food from a bar that trumpets itself as a watering hole for the parched, thirsty throats.

 

An hour later we were back on the matador on our return journey to Mumbai.  An hour and half to traverse the 170+ kms from Pune to reach the outskirts of Mumbai but thereafter more than an hour to cover less than 15 kms of the city roads.  That speaks volumes for the chaotic city roads.

 

So, now the LONGEST wait for the pair begins: 3 months would appear to look like infinity.  It was far easier to pass the past 25 years. 

 

The initial info. I had of her younger sibling was she was funny, crazy..

 

Far from that. I learnt during my to & fro trip when I had had freewheeling talks with her who had heard of me and my predilections, she is a nut, I mean a studious nut.  The cool Miss thought of – hold your breathe – giving a clean miss to her badi didi’s engagement ceremony in order to not miss her important classes the next day.  She is dead serious about her studies; nothing else seems to matter to her. 

 

Of course, her single-mindedness shows in the mindboggling marks she has been consistently scoring at every test, every exam.  And the 25-grand job she, still in her 4th year engg., has already pocketed.

 

She is very, very ambitious, too: stay on with the job on offer for a year, amass the money earned, go the US for an MBA.  Things have turned out a little easier for her: with the didi in the US and the prospective jijaji, a green-card holder, to boot…

 

Looks, the chhoti l’le Miss Ambitious is one up on her badi didi..  “A tigress’s litter can never turn out a kitten”, an ol’ Tamil saying.

 

Yeah, she is a lissome lass and friendly and easy to get along with.  But I am not certain she is all that keen on seeking out or making new pals.

 

Finally, a passing thought – why do parents pine for male progenies when the female offsprings prove to be so illustrious?

 

I haven’t the foggiest clue.

 

Retain this piece recapitulating the essence of a typical Iyer wedding – the associated pomp and colour.  Read it once in a while as it would help you relive loved one’s recent marriage, and savor the moments again and again.  And fanatasize on what to expect during your impending marriage.  I wrote this piece a few years ago.

 

The wedding…..

 

I’ll begin from the very beginning..

 

In the afternoon about 2.30 a day before the wedding the groom’s entourage arrives at the venue and is accorded a warm, formal welcome by the bride’s kith & kin to the accompaniment of nadaswaram, a wind-blown musical instrument that is a bigger version of shehnai; you find use of this instrument at all our South Indian religious, auspicious functions and ceremonies.  The reception includes a traditional welcome to the groom by two married women – sumangalis (women whose husbands are alive) – with a bowl of kumkum water, to ward off any evil eye that some jealous one might cast on the groom; this ritual is followed 3 times, that is, every time the groom returns to the venue after a brief exit.

 

The groom’s party is ushered into their special guestrooms.   They relax for a while, and are later entertained to an evening, tasty treat.

 

Around 6.30 in the evening, there is a small ceremony akin to that of “engagement” and where the groom is a presented with a new set of bridal ware, usually a 3-piece suit or the latest trend, sherwani-achkan, made famous by the late Nehru.

 

In the evening the groom nattily attired, bleached, coiffured and suitably groomed at a parlor, looking his best and beaming from ear to ear with excitement & expectations of the morrow and in a flower-bedecked vehicle along with all guests makes his way to a nearby temple for prayers. This cavalcade, known as “Jaanavas” down South, is akin to the Baaraat in the north – the groom on a horseback and an entire group of guests dancing to the tunes of the marriage brass band, the instrument-players in their colorful liveries, and the procession lit by chandelier-type wick/gas lamps carried by uniformed men on their shoulders – vending its way to the marriage venue. Yeah, I am reminded, I am reminded: gals in their teens fantasize about a prince-charming on horse-back coming to sweep them of their feet; maybe this – the baaraat and the groom astride a horse – is their dream coming true!

 

There is a feast in the night for the relatives and close friends. In view of the ever-escalating costs – already astronomical – of marriages, all expenses being borne by the girls’ parents, the night dinner is now-a-days done away with and in its place is held the wedding reception followed by Buffet Dinner, a lavish affair costing upwards of Rs.200 a plate, for all invitees. The reception hitherto used to be on the wedding-day evening.

 

The morning of D-day…

 

The day begins with a Ganesh Homam – or havan; havan is fire lit on cowdung cake and rice-husk; and fire or Agni represents the Lord of Fire, the most important one of the Pancha Boothas or the Five Super Natural Ones viz. Wind, Fire, Water, Sky & the Earth; we please Him by offering ghee into the fire amidst chanting of vedic mantras; the Lord Agni (Fire) is said to witness our ceremonies when we perform the havan.  Hindu marriages are hardly ever registered, yet they have legal sanctity when performed before the Lord of Fire represented by the havan and witnessed by the guests present.

 

Usually all our auspicious occasions begin with a Ganesh Vandana; the Lord is also known as Vignaharta or Obstacle-remover; we propitiate Him and invoke His blessings so that the occasion passes off smoothly without any hitch whatsoever.

 

The marriage rituals take all of 3 hours and include:

 

- the groom’s make-believe attempt to take off to Kashi (Varanasi) leaving

  everything behind and the pa-in-law, with the promise of offering his

  daughter’s hand in marriage to him and assurance of ever-lasting bliss

  and harmony in her company, making him abort his attempt at flight. (One xxfeels the groom should rather have carried out his threat and made off to xxKashi, for it would have avoided facing the music for the rest of his life!)

 

- the groom and bride gently moving back & forth in a portable swing (jhoola)

  to the sweet strains of a lullaby sung by a married lady in praise of Lord

  Ram, the Purushottam or the most ideal of all men, and with

  women-relatives blessing them.

 

- Exchange of garlands between the bride and groom who are lifted up, for

  a brief while, by their respective maternal uncles when the garlands are

  being exchanged.

 

-  the 7 rounds (saath pheras) around the fire – that seal the marriage;

 

- the groom holding the bride’s left foot and making her step on a

  grinding stone, the allusion being that her patience to bear

  adversities in the married life ahead should be as rock hard as the one she xxsteps on.

 

- the father, literally with tears welling his eyes, formally giving away

  his daughter, whom he had brought up with so much love and care

  till then, to the groom – the rite is called kanya-dhan;

 

- The shastri or the vadhyar – as the priests are called – letting the bride       xxsee in the sky the star, Arundhati, who embodies all the virtues

  that one can possibly think of in a wife and who is the wife of sage

  Vasishta, the Brahma Rishi, the sage of sages, or the most revered of

  all rishis.    It’s assumed that she would be inspired by the sight of the star  xxand would imbibe the finer qualities of the sage’s wife.  (Don’t ask the silly       xxquestion, how can anyone see any star in broad daylight? The rite should be xxcarried out in the night, but the shastri is in a tearing hurry to get over the xxrituals and collect his huge dakshina – fees!!)

 

- and culminates in the groom tying the mangalsutra around the bride’s

  neck, helped in by his sisters, which is their privilege and prerogative

  and for which they get a handsome consideration too.

 

A wedding is like a fantasy dreamed for years, coming true for a girl and hence is the most important day in her life.   The occasion presents opportunities galore for the bride to don a variety of expensive costumes in the form of dazzling zaried silk sarees and glittering gold & diamond bridal jewellery.  No wonder, a bride looks radiant, not just because she is beautiful but because she is happiest as well.

 

Funnily, not many – they don’t care either – know the meanings of the vedic mantras, which are recited in Sanskrit. The male guests simply sit through the drivel of rituals, chatting away with their rarely-met, long-forgotten or long-lost relatives, old friends and acquaintances, and wait for the chief objective of their visit: the heavenly feast!  And the women come in hordes to flaunt their expensive, heavily brocaded zaried saris and glittering diamond & gold ornaments, in a vain bid to show off to the world, “hum kisise kum nahin”!

 

Lastly, but the most important, the most exciting one – the bachelor boys dream about it right from the days of their adolescence and the girls with excitement tinged with trepidation – the nuptials, a euphemism for the First Night.  It used to be customary to hold it at groom’s home, away from the hustle and bustle of activities at bride’s residence. It is usually the married ladies’ prerogative to decorate the room with jasmine, roses and incense sticks, their heady fragrance creating an ethereal romantic atmosphere and ambience to make the first encounter memorable for a lifetime…  Now it is conducted in a starred hotel (what’s a few thousand when you spend lakhs on the wedding?), the event calling for the expertise of people in the hospitality business who know best how and where to decorate the room and put the couple in the “right” mood….

 

The shastri used to come, to conclude the rituals, and explain to the couple the nuances of marital life (no, not to tell them about the birds and bees, but the crafty, old-war-horse does make some sly comments!)

 

Till the last generation or so when the bride used to be young and unwary, the ticklish job of telling the hows and whats of nuptials to the bride lay with their mothers.  The hapless mothers usually squirmed at the very thought and all they could muster to tell their daughters as they were being led to the nuptial room were, “Be co-operative, and for heavens’ sake, don’t SCREAM”.

 

Times have indeed changed; books on the subject are available aplenty and married sahelis are there to pitch in with their confidential advice on what to wear (including, hold your breathe, the lingerie!), what to ‘expect’, how to put on an innocent, coy look, and how to conduct oneself!

 

A Tale of two weddings.

 

I attended 2 weddings, one Saturday evening and the other on Sunday (yesterday) evening.

 

About the first…

 

The boy’s family is next door neighbors to my in-law’s (wife’s) home at Andheri.  The boy is employed in the Gulf while the girl’s parents, both employed, live in Rifle Range in Ghatkopar.

 

The wedding was one of the 3 grandest weddings in my memory – the biggest of them all was one in a Marwadi family whose head is in the diamond cutting, polishing and export business – and the third was Prakash Kolekar’s, the chap who was working in Plant-17 Purchase and whose father is an ex-Dy. Police Commissioner with astronomical, unaccounted income and wealth, naturally: the pa was a high-ranking police official and the beta in the PURCHASE dept of a well-known company.

 

T’s was held in an opulent Gujarati wedding hall, in Chembur, with a stunning facade, entrance and interiors.  Crowds overflowed the hall and dining area: the girl’s mother is a teacher in the North Bombay South Indian School and had a large circle of friends, colleagues from the teaching fraternity and pupils’ parents; and Sriram Nagar where the boy’s parents live is a huge colony of Kerala Brahmins, and the entire residents there came by a special bus and descended in the hall. That would give u an idea of the crowds, with the womenfolk all in their shining, zarried silk saris, bridal finery, and heavy gold and diamond jewellery glittering from all over their bodies. The bride was wearing a dazzling outfit, not a sari in the right sense – must have cost upwards of Rs.25,000

 

The dinner was lavishly laid out with the menu containing more than 4 dozen dishes including dozen or more desserts (sweets) and exotic cuisines of the Oriental varieties like Chinese and Thai.  No-one could even taste so many varieties, but then they were all there… A plate could have easily cost Rs.500.  My estimate is that the reception cum dinner could have cost the girl’s parents upwards of Rs.5 lakhs, and then there was the marriage the next day: consider the breakfast, the traditional feast at lunch time, the evening tiffin and the return feast organized by the boy’s parents in the night for friends and relatives. The hall rental was Rs.40,000 per day and it was booked for two days. So the total expenditure would have exceeded Rs.15, 00,000 at a conservative estimate.

 

Indeed the Madrasi (Tamil and Kerala) Iyers have arrived and they rival the Gujarati weddings for ostentations.

 

I am fully aware that the wedding day (for the various reasons one need not spell out) is the happiest in the life of a man or woman.  But should we spend – or rather throw away or waste – SO MUCH in celebrating weddings?  I am not certain.  Maybe this is their way of displaying or showing off their newfound wealth to the world.

 

The Iyers – the ubiquitous Madarasi typists and stenos one then found in all offices – who settled in Sriram Nagar and in Matunga, one could say, belonged to the first generation to make Mumbai their home. The subsequent generations have done remarkably well for themselves, some in business and most others in high-ranking posts.

 

And about the second.

 

This too was held in Chembur, at the Chembur Gymkhana.  It was a comparatively sedate affair, though there were veg and non-veg food and hard drinks flowing…  The wedding area, the terrace of the Gymkhana, being relatively smaller was overcrowded: since the invitation card mentioned no gifts or bouquets u can very well surmise that everyone and the entire pariwar would attend in strength.

 

They are Kannadigas and the girl lives in our building.  She is a computer engineer working for Reliance, and the boy is equally qualified and well settled.  I know the girl pretty well – she is pretty to look at too – and we used to exchange e-mails till recently.

 

The girl’s pa, now suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was a small-time cook once upon a time and they have had to suffer penury and poverty along the way.  Look at the turn of events over a period of a couple of decades: the daughter is a computer engineer with a renowned company while the son is employed in Singapore with the daughter-in-law working for the Singapore Airlines as a flight crew member (airhostess).

 

We – the biwi, of course, she is a must wherever I go, and I – reached back home last night only around 11.30.  Since she is a working lady we hardly get time to go out together, so weddings are a god-send for us; u see she can do away with a day’s cooking and the subsequent drudgery of dish-washing…

 

Economics of our weddings…

 

Costs of South Indian weddings are going through the roof and are beyond the financial capacity of common, ordinary folks.  Even in the olden days, one often heard the maxim; “even a king with 5 daughters would turn a pauper”.

 

The major items of expenditure are:

 

I – Food and Beverages.

 

  Food is served at:

 

  1) The afternoon the day before the wedding: Heavy Refreshments

     (a costly sweet dish, 2 savories (unlimited) and coffee) for the

     groom’ entourage and bride’s family and close relatives total

     numbering 75.

 

  2) Night full-course supper for 100-125

 

  Wedding day:

 

  1) Morning heavy breakfast (sweet, 2 savories (unlimited), coffee for

     About 150 guests (most people come early for the wedding).

 

  2) Full-scale feast for about 150-175 guests at noon

 

  3) Afternoon refreshments for about 75 guests

 

  4) Evening/night buffet for anything upwards of 250 guests

 

  Coffee/tea is always on call, any time throughout the wedding. Cool

  drink is served in the morning.

 

  5) Parting gift packets (containing coconut, a sweet dish + pan)

     that are handed to every leaving head of family.

 

II – Charges for cooks numbering 20-25 people – very high Rs.30000+

 

III – Guru dakshina for the shastri/vadhyar/priest.  There will be 2 main

      shastris and 7/8 disciples. The cost comes to a cool Rs.25000+

 

IV – Hall charges – very high.  For instance, the charges for the hall

     booked for my nephew’s forthcoming wedding are a whopping Rs.1.5

     lacs!  Of course everyone cannot afford it.

 

V – Incidentals like flowers, betel leaves & nuts, coconuts, ghee the list

    is endless…

 

VI Dowries in kind like bridal jewellery: even a very modest 20 sovereign (which is    xxthe common unit of measure for gold in the South and is equivalent to 8 gms.

    gold cost Rs.1 lakh; utensils; Sheer consisting of an originally

    agreed upon number of sweets and savory items (which the grooms’

    parents use for distribution among their friends and relatives, who

    demand it at least as crumbs when the groom & his slurp the cream

    parents), the “sheer” can be loosely termed as tributes to the

    groom; and some amount in cash too to defray the groom’s expenses.

    Now you know why parents usually crave for a male offspring and keep

    “trying” till they have one!

 

VII Expensive saris (the reception sari alone costs 10000+) to the bride

    and to close relatives and clothing material to all the relatives and

    the shastris.

 

The total tab will be anything upwards of Rs.3.5-4 lakhs.

 

The bill that includes the contractor’s hefty margin, gets relatively high because the bride’s parents no longer want to take the trouble – the saying used to be “try building a house, try marrying off a daughter” to bring home the perils of undertaking either. In our villages the marriages used to be, and still are, a co-operative endeavor with neighbors/friends pitching in with their physical assistance that avoided padding by others and kept the overheads & costs low; this is not the case in towns and cities where everyone is as busy as a bee with his own work.

 

There arrives the Marriage Contractor/Caterer who takes care of everything: u tell him the venue – sometimes he arranges for the hall, too – and the number of guests expected at each occasion, and he gives you a consolidated bill covering all items of expenses except the jewellery, saris/clothing and utensils.  You, the bride’s parent, pick up the tab and enjoy the pomp and frills usually associated with South Indian brahmin weddings without crumpling your freshly laundered and ironed clothes, just as the groom’s parent or guests would do: the contractor delivers on a silver platter, a made-to-order wedding worked out to the minutest detail.

 

Indeed the once lowly-rated cooks graduated themselves to caterers and have now leapfrogged to become the biggest money-spinning and high- profile Wedding Contractors.

 

The entire cost is borne by the bride’s father, most often willingly, delightfully. The reasons why:

 

- there is an unstated undercurrent of prestige: he doesn’t want to be seen

  anything lower than his contemporary. And more importantly, he genuinely

  wishes to see his daughter happy on the HAPPIEST DAY of her life,

  whatever the costs.

 

- South Indian families have realized the importance and advantages of

  small families and the 2-kid family among the current generation is

  slowly reducing to a 1-kid norm. (The Muslims too should take a leaf out

  of the current trend, damn the religious diktats, which were handed down

  centuries ago when the population was 1/1000th of what it is today and

  the human needs were so few, so frugal)

 

- The South Indians are often educated and comparatively better off with

  steady-income jobs, that make building a comfortable nest-egg (savings’

  kitty) a lot easier.

 

- Saving habit is in their blood; the minute a girl is born the father

  thinks of her future and, ably assisted by the mother, start buying gold

  jewellery, a major item of expenditure.  And South Indian educated class

  does not play duck & drakes with their money: hardly any draining

  hobbies or vices like drinking, gambling, womanizing or frequenting expensive

  restaurants. “Save for tomorrow” is their credo.

 

- In many cases the girl’s mother – and many a time, the girl herself -

  supplements the family income.

 

Conclusions..

 

What distinguishes man from other lesser forms of intelligence is his inquiring, searching and analytical mind; in short, an independent, thinking mind that does not accept things at face value and always looks for concrete proof and clinching evidence, that can sift chaff from grain, that keep asking itself, “if something is so, why it is so; if something is not so, why it is not so” and looking for answers either way, that when the need arises or when there is an emergency, it applies itself and comes out with breath-taking inventions and discoveries and that prods and pushes man beyond his perceived outer limits and do things till then thought to be humanly impossible, with stunning results.  Two prime examples: 1) the vaccine that completely eradicated from the face of earth the small-pox, the scourge that devoured more human beings than any other disease in the history of mankind, 2) the wonder anti-biotic that check-mated the Great Plague, the Black Death, that decimated more than half the population of Europe in the 17th & 18th century.  And the millennia and centuries stand witness to this outstanding quality of human mind.

 

Yet, when faced with religion and its, or rather its practitioners’, obscurantist views and acts, he stands virtually naked, powerless, and submits himself meekly to its/their dictates.

 

As Carl Marx, the founder and greatest votary of Communism, said religion is the opiate (intoxicant like liquor or drugs that stupefy one’s senses) of the masses en bloc.  We shout from our rooftops that change is the only constant thing but seldom change our religion-related views even when conclusively proved wrong or harmful to the entire human race.

 

Religious tenets as those found in the Bible, the Koran or the Gita were all lofty ideals, written by idealists for ideal people and for ideal situations and especially for an era they were living in; IDEALS ARE HARDLY EVER PRACTICABLE because they do not take into account the ground realities; they are not like mathematical formulae or scientific formulations that can be tested and proved under all conditions and for all time to come – even pet & passionately held scientific theories change as science develops and marches on.  The population in the world then was negligible, maybe 1/10000th of what it is today, so substantially lesser problems; the science and technology, if at all they can be termed so, as those obtaining then were not even rudimentary; the “communications” meant bullock-carts, pigeon-post or runners, several of them in chain en route, who carried mails and messages; technology remained that of wheel-making for bullock-carts; people in one village did not even get to know the happening in the adjoining hamlets, leave alone at far-out places.  Their knowledge being absolutely primitive they considered Super Natural what they could not understand or decipher.  So Sun, Moon and other planets they knew little about became Super Natural Beings and Gods fit enough to be worshipped: Sun and fire worshipping; Mars (Mangal in Hindi) hardly brought mangal and happiness and a manglik girl became an accursed one; Saturn (Shani) portended ill-luck and worse, so people were exhorted to take measures to propitiate Shani and counter his effects; Jupiter (Guru) became the personification of goodness; Mercury (Bhudh or Brihaspati), the one closest to the sun, hence hottest of all planets, is credited with wisdom and knowledge; Vinus (Shukr) came to be associated with beauty though the planet we now learn to be one of the most inhospitable with extreme temperatures and an atmosphere – dense carbon-dioxide – that can never sustain any living things.  In fact all celestial bodies are inhospitable for humans or for that matter any other living organisms, yet we – our religions – still call them Gods who are actually supposed to be our Protectors.

 

Look at the incongruencies in the Hindu rituals:

 

The planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were not taken into account in casting horoscopes not because they are not believed to be exercising their influence but because their very existence was not known when astrology came into being as a science!

 

Hindu and Islamic calendars never kept pace as science developed and the orbital paths of sun and planets were precisely charted and measured.  The calendars are woefully outdated, yet we consider them sacrosanct because they are ancient and hence the belief it cannot be wrong.  In contrast the Gregorian calendar kept changing (thanks to the scientific temperament of the Christians) and became the world standard.

 

If astrology is an incontrovertible science and as a natural corollary, ditto horoscope, how do people kick the bucket young (pass away) when their horoscope assures them of at least 3-scores+10 (70)? How do carefully-horoscope-matched married women & men become young widows, widowers or divorcees?

 

So I end this piece with the national slogan, “Satyam Eva Jayate”, let truth alone triumph

 

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