(Pic courtesy : theweddinggurus.blogspot.com via Google)
It usually takes a few minutes for the full fledged sobs to temper down to the occasional sniffle, by which time the priest is usually in a hurry to get on with the deed. Making it sound rather ominous, am I not ? The bride and the groom would make their way back to the seats in front of the homa kundam and plonk there for more mantrams to follow. I’ve always had the feeling that the priests are somehow not happy seeing the bride and groom sitting comfortably so they decide it’s time to make them stand up yet again. The groom is then handed the 9 yard sari and the stitched up blouse and while he is busy wondering if he’s the one that’s supposed to be wearing that sari, the priest speeds his mantras forward like The Rajdhani Express and tells the groom to hand the sari over to the bride. There is, of course, a lot of fanfare during this process too – read Getti Melam !!!
There is once more the feet washing ritual – no no – I don’t mean all the mamas and mamis having to wash their feet in those dirty bathrooms that the wedding halls usually come with. I mean this ritual where a sixty plus year old gentleman (read bride’s father) washes the feet of someone less than half his age (read groom). Doesn’t help again that the groom is perched on a chair with his faher in law sitting on the floor in front of him. It is apparently done because the groom is ostensibly an avatar of Lord Vishnu and in the olden days, it was normal practice to wash a guest’s feet. In a culture like ours which places a lot of emphasis on respect and more importantly the fact that an elderly person is given a modicum of respect just on the basis of age, this is another one of those rituals that has always been a bone of contention for me. Anyways, aside of my rave and rants on this ritual, this is something that happens twice during an Iyer wedding. And before you ask, the answer is "no" – the groom’s mother does not wash the bride’s feet !!!
Feet of the bride and the groom are “washed” with milk immediately after the garlanding ceremony – in that five mamis line up to dot the groom’s feet and then the bride’s feet with droplets of milk and then promptly proceed to wipe those drops off with a small handkerchief hidden in the folds of their kancheevaram silks. Theory being that it symbolizes the bride and groom’s feet being washed with milk and wiped with silk. Cheating !!!!! They wipe with cotton handkerchieves !!! Going by the same principle, I wonder why none of the brides’ fathers have come up with the innovative idea of hosing down the groom’s feet during the feet washing ritual. I mean, just take a garden hose and hose those feet down. Or better still (I’m feeling positively evil now) why doesn’t the bride’s father get a whole array of brushes before he sits down to wash the groom’s feet ? I mean, walking around barefoot and all that – the groom’s feet are bound to be dirty. So take a good old clothes washing brush and brush away. Makes sense, don’t you think ? Scrub all those dead cells away and send the groom a debit note later, stating “charges for pedicure”. Oh well !! One can dream, right ??!!
The bride is yet again asked to change into the 9 yards sari in five minutes and the naathanaaru escorts the bride away, presumably to help her change into the 9 yards sari or just to ogle. I can’t think of any other reasons. Along the way to the room, the bride and her naathanaaru are joined by scores of other mamis. The whole troupe begins to look and sound like a gaggle of geese – I mean those big, menacing looking Canadian geese not the small, petite, demure looking ones.
Once in the room, brides often realise that to get into gear (meaning the 9 yards traditional sari), they would have to divest themselves of their sari petticoats too. This is a pretty scary thought – especially given the fact that the nine yards sari is tucked in at so many places. I have always had nightmares on this count – imagine one of those tucks slowly coming loose like nails come loose from wooden boards in movies. Little by little by little. The bride, who needs to sit down and stand up many times with that nine yard contraption on, would be fully aware of the disaster about to unfold but there’s no way she can really hitch the whole thing up like pants with a button that’s popped out. Finally, the tucked bit of cloth pops out entirely and this sets off a domino effect of some sort and in the midst of the hall, the whole 9 yard sari contraption comes off. Like I said, it is just one of those nightmares and luckily enough, it has remained that. That nightmare has not seen the daylight of reality and hopefully never will.
In the room, things would be moving at a rather frenzied pace, with the senior mamis folding and unfolding and pleating the nine yards sari and what have you. If things are like they were in my case, the senior mamis in charge of this sari draping operation would be more nervous than the bride herself and would end up draping the sari on the bride perfectly but the wrong side out. Meaning, all that shiny kancheevaram gold threads would be on the inside with the plain woven side on the outside. Darn !! Take the sari off and drape it all over again !! Not too many choices there – other than the fact that the bride throws the towel in and says she will just get married in a pair of jeans and a tee. I was prepared for this “divesting the petticoat” thing, though. I remember calmly stepping out of the petticoat much to the horror of some of the mamis around. “Aiyyo konjum naanam maanam ellam venam kittaya” (Aiyyo – you should have some semblance of shame) she retorted just as the petticoat dramatically slipped off. For all that talk of naanam and maanam, she did not avert her eyes and then realized that all along, I had a pair of shorts under the petticoat. Ha ! Forearmed is good !! Not forewarning the Canadian geese mamis is even better !!! That look on their faces is quite akin to people choking on a fishbone – that moment of realization when the penny drops, the eyes widen, the mouth opens and stays open in an O shape and they look sufficiently shocked into silence – absolutely priceless, methinks.
Once the bride is all trussed up in the nine yard sari, those dumbbell like garlands go back on the neck and the picture is complete. Now, not only is free movement of the neck and head virtually impossible but this extends to the rest of the body as well. Remember those innumerable tucks of the nine yard sari into various corners of your body which need to stay tucked !! (I didn’t know my body had as many corners until I was garbed in my wedding madisaar. See, everything has a bright side to it. One just fails to see it when it is so blindingly bright !!)
The bride is ushered in by the whole gaggle of geese that had gone in for the sari changing process and very nimbly and cautiously sits down in the nine yard contraption called the madisaar. Sadistic bunch that the priests are, the moment the brides sit down, they are asked to stand up and do a namaskaram to no one in particular. Wonder if this was one of those ancient gym routines – bone strengthening, fat reducing and what have you. Namaskaram done and the bride and groom sit down yet again while the priest tries to desperately revive the flames in the agni kundam.
A few young girls (who most people in the hall would be eyeing like one would eye cattle at a fair and thinking that they would be a perfect match for someone’s far off relative) would be walking around the hall offering everybody flowers. Yes, the men too. No, not to wear on their heads. I’m talking of flowers which are showered on the bridal couple as they (quite literally) tie themselves up in knots .... oops .... I mean tie the knot. A couple of those mamis that resemble Canadian geese (formidable is what I’m trying to say) would be walking around with a plate with the bride’s mangalsutra on it. It is taken around to elders in the hall for their blessings. Now why this mangalsutra has to be on a yellow thread has always been beyond me. It stays yellow for a couple of days and assuming that the bride is the kind that bathes everyday, it starts to turn various shades of many different colours. It takes Fifty Shades of Grey in helping the bride decide. I mean, the thread turns into a dirty, mottled sort of grey over a couple of months to spur the brides into action in deciding that it is about time they divest themselves of the erstwhile yellow thread and get the mangalsutra transferred onto a chain. Why would it not have been just put around their necks on a chain is well, beyond me.
A sudden flurry of activity ensues as the priest realizes that he’s pretty much holding up the entire process and to someone who has not been to a Iyer wedding, it must indeed seem strange. Moments of inactivity and suddenly people rising from all over the hall pretty much like the Mexican wave. In the midst of all this, the bride would have ended up on a chair that makes its presence felt throughout the ceremony. Sometimes she is asked to sit on her father’s lap but if the priests are like the ones who officiated our wedding, they decide that the bride is old enough to sit on a chair by herself. I mean. if she is old enough to get married, surely she’s old enough to sit on a chair by herself right ?? Gah ! Kidding !!
By now, the area immediately surrounding the said chair on which the bride is seated would have and should have (otherwise there is something seriously amiss) begun to resemble a scrum at the Rugby Sevens. Numerous mamas and mamis would be hunched around the chair in a circle, necks straining until they remind one of the baby emus at Singapore Zoo. Once again while the priest yells mantras at the rather befuddled looking groom, the nathanaar (God ! She’s everywhere !!) takes her spot behind the bride and in unison about fifty fingers seem to fly up in the air to shouts of Getti Melam, Getti Melam.
As the Getti Melam gets its act together and screeches like animals being led to the slaughter, the groom is instructed to place the mangalsutra on the bride’s neck and tie just one knot. The two following knots are to be tied by who else but the nathanaar !! In my case, my nathaanaar was the one most nervous and the video clearly shows her hands shaking and in a fit of nervousness she tied my mangalsutra thread somehow around two garlands and for the rest of the ceremony, I pretty much walked around with my head held high – not in the figurative sense, more so in the literal sense because the mangalsutra was that high up on my neck !!! I empathised a great deal with horses who are lassoed !!
Alll the mamas and mamis shower the bridal couple with flowers. The ones in the couple of rows at the front do manage to hit their intended targets but for the others, it is pretty much a question of which bottom their flowers hit. There is a wall of mamas and mamis standing at the front and they get their rather generous bottoms showered with flowers by the people sitting behind. Pretty sight, no ?
Just as the bride and the groom are marvelling at feeling like a hero and heroine in a movie, with the heavens showering flowers on them from all sides and the getti melam playing like the New York Philarmonic Orchestra, there would be a flurry of hands that appear through the crowd, making the whole thing seem like a scene from The Nightmare on Elm Street. No bodies, only disjointed hands being thrust at you. As if getting married was not scary enough, now there’s a whole host of scrawny, bony hands without bodies to contend with.
People would be shaking hands with just about everybody around saying “kalyanam ayacchu allava ?” (They’re married, isn’t it ?) or some such inane comment. Of course, they’re married !! What do you think all this ruckus over the past twenty four hours has been about, dude ? To the bride’s parents it would be “Mappillai Vandacha ?” (quite literally translated, it means “Has your son-in-law come ?” What in the world sort of question is that ? More so, pray tell me, is it not a tad too soon for that question ? Right there, in front of so many people ??!! Also, how in the name of God will the bride’s parents know the answer to that question ?) Aiyyo !! The Horrors !! The groom’s parents would be subjected to the “Mattuponnu vandacha ?” which means “ has your daughter in law come ?” My Dear Lord in Heaven – I shall say no more !!
Once all these questions about who has come and how and where they came subside (wrong choice of word there, I know), the bridal couple would be seated in front of the agni kundam again and the priest would be seen beckoning the by-now-infamous nathanaar again. She descends upon the bride with something hidden in her palms. The toe rings !! Now begins some more fun. How these toe rings are bought is a saga in itself. Basically, the person who buys them has no clue of the size of the bride’s toe. Not surprisingly, getting the bride’s toe through those rings is like getting an egg through the narrow mouth of a bottle. Atleast with a bottle, one can use fire. Common sense suggests that one cannot set a bride’s foot on fire to get a toe ring onto her toe. Priests to the rescue !! Like James Bond rescuing a damsel in distress the priest uses a piece of turmeric and a struggle ensues – between the priest and the turmeric and the toe ring. Somehow, after an inordinately long struggle, the toe rings go on. The groom’s parents should also buy a pedicure voucher when they shop for toe rihgs. After all that trauma to her toe, the bride is sure to need a pedi !!
The bridal couple stand up yet again and it is time for the Saptapadi. The groom is asked to stand and hold the bride’s right hand in his right hand. He then has to bend and hold the bride’s big toe with his left hand. Some weird Yogasana this looks like. But dudes, this is another reason for the grooms to hit the gym months before they get married. Semi clothed as they are, it definitely makes things less embarrassing if they’ve been working out months prior to the wedding. Just in case people start to get ideas and start rushing off to the nearest outlet of Triumph or Wacoal thinking the groom needs “extra support”, you know.
This is the clue for all the mamis in the hall to start whispering to each other “Adho – pondati odu kaala pidichaachu avan. Paavam Rukmini – ini aval chonnathai onnum kekka maatan avan.” (See he’s touching his wife’s feet. Now he’s not going to listen to his mom anymore.) Paavam Rukmini meaning Poor Rukmini is the MIL a.k.a the groom’s mom. Oxymorons galore, that one !!
Some more time in front of the agni kundam and the wedding ceremony is deemed complete. The bride and the groom are handed a bowl of akshathai (yellow rice) and are asked to do namaskarams to the elders left in the hall. Worry not, there won’t be too many people left in the hall. Most people would already have made a beeline to the eating hall where the wedding saddhi would be on in full swing. More about the kalyanam saddhi in the final episode of this series coming up soon. Kalyana Saddhi, Nalangu and of course, the Shanti Muhurtham.
Ending this edition with a question - who in the name of God named it Shanti Muhurtham ? Of all the things, the best they could come up with was Shanti Muhurtham ???!!!
Stay tuned - series finale coming up soon :-).