Priestly Matters

In November of 2006, I got married. To a girl who comes from a family tradition where weddings last approximately 75 seconds and 5 different kinds of payasams (Liquidy puddings for the Tamil/Malayalam-challenged) usually feature soon after. My parents’ tradition, on the other hand (Incidentally, I personally follow only one tradition – blasphemy) involves weddings that tend to look like South Indianized versions of Doordarshan’s Mahabharatha episodes. Lot’s of silk, gold and poorly pronounced Sanskrit. There’s even the verbal arrows that meet in the middle and cause fireworks.

This will be the first of my posts on what I earlier titled the Great Nair-Iyer Wedding of November 2006. This particular post will deal with the lengthy negotiations we had prior to the actual event. Specifically, the rationalization of the fact that Nair weddings feature approximately 0 priests and Iyer weddings, well, tend to teem with them.

Now my original plan was to remove all traces of ritual and religion from the wedding and keep it entirely a civil affair, but my father convinced me that priests of today are getting used to “fusion” weddings and that frankly, those tend to please the old folk in the family far more than purely civil weddings. I accepted, on one condition. I reserved the right to examine every ritual in detail, understand the symbolism and weed out the male-centric and obsolete content before the event happens. My point was that tradition and ritual need to be relevant and cognizant of changing social mores. Actually, neither do I understand tradition properly nor am I fully cognizant of social mores and anto-social yogurts. But they (My family) said OK.

I made a trip to the venerable “Giri Traders” near Kapaleeshwarar Temple and bought a copy of Vivaha, the definite guide to Vedic weddings. All rituals are explained in detail and every Sanksrit verse traditionally chanted at Hindu weddings was translated with a decent amount of clarity.

My first broad area of concern was the unholy obsession with giving birth to male kids after marriage. There were several repeated references to “Putra” (boy child) and I insisted that they be changed to “Putra evam Putri” (Little Dudes and Dudesses). The rest of this episode is presented in dialogue mode (the events are real, the dialogue is well..marginally fabricated for mythological purposes).

Priest: This is traditional. It’s a mantra. It should not be changed. The effectiveness of it will go away if we unqualified people make such changes. These were composed by wise sages in the ancient past, and must not be tampered with. Boy children are good for the family.

Me: As Limp Marie Biscuit once said, It’s my way or Ranganathan Street. If you are not willing to change it, we will find another priest.

Priest: (seeing wads of money preparing to fly away with little flapping wings) Ok. Fine. What else?

Me: What’s this whole Kanyaa Dhaanam thing?

Priest: Er. That is the entire wedding. The girl’s father gives his daughter to your family.

Me: But why? Nobody’s giving anything here. A Marriage is a meeting of 2 people who wish to live together till divorce do them part.

Priest: But that’s a western definition. In India, a marriage is a union of families.

Me: where the girl’s family settles all the bills? And gives his daughter away in the bargain?

Priest: Ok. So what do we want here?

Me: Fine. For starters, let’s not call it “Dhaanam”.

Priest: But that will change almost every mantra…

Me: Ok. Fine. Let’s mostly assume it’s just semantics and let this one slide. But the really outrageous “My daughter is now yours to do as you please” bit needs to go. And I will not have the girl’s father wash my feet. Only one person is allowed to wash my feet and that’s me.

Priest: Ok. What else?

Me: Explain to me why I am to act this Kasi Yatra charade out?

Priest: It’s customary for the boy to have second thoughts about marriage and instead undertake a symbolic trip to Kasi (The holy city of Benares that is filled with an unholy amount of cow dung) for his higher studies

Me: 1. I am not interested in studies, leave alone the “higher” type. 2. Kasi? Are you kidding me? Who goes there nowadays for higher studies?

Priest: Sigh. It’s the T word.

Me: Well..I don’t intend having second thoughts about this, so can we like skip this?

Everybody else in chorus: But it’s so much fun. Wearing dhoti, holding an umbrella and throwing tantrums about going to Kasi. Pleeeease let this one slide too

Me: Couldn’t the girl also do a yatra of her own? A Nalli yatra perhaps? Having second thoughts about the wedding and instead making an educational trip on the subject of Fenestral Bartering to Panagal Park, T Nagar?

All Ladies: Very funny.

Me: Ok ok. Ill let this one slide. Explain this “Sumangali” stuff to me

Priest: It is an honour for women to die Sumangali. Before their husbands.

Me: But why?

Priest: That is the sign of a lucky wife. For happy life. He he rhyme.

Me: Thaangamudiyala (Can’t bear it) That stuff goes. No Sumangali business. Unless you add an equal amount of Sumangala references. And oh, don’t get cheeky on this one. The verse about praying for 120 years of life for the groom and 108 for the bride. Make that both 108.

Priest: Ok. Will you be tying the thaali (mangalsutra, knot) or is that out too?

Me: Very funny. One other thing. No Gotra (Sanksrit word meaning “Cowshed” which incidentally also refers to a sub-branch of Tam-Bram lineage) change for her.

Priest: But she has to. She is coming to your family.

Me: Then change me to her family’s Gotra as well. I have told you a million times that this is not one-way traffic. If some maal is comin’ over here, some maal gotta go over there too.

Priest: Sigh. Ok. No Gotra conversion for the girl.

Me: Explain to me why we are trying to stare at Alpha Ursae Minoris (Arundhati) in broad daylight.

Priest: It’s symbolic. One’s marriage must as fixed and steadfast as the Pole star.

Me: Sounds ok. In another 12,000 years, you have got to find another star though ;) Precession of the axes.

Priest: What?

Me: Never mind.

And so, the wedding happened. The priest’s Sanksrit pronunciation was so unclear that I had absolutely no clue what he was saying. I vaguely mumbled along, hoping that he was abiding by our detailed agreement. I tried to do my part and inserted a few random “Putra evam Putris” here and there when I imagined he was saying something that sounded approximately like “Putra”. Well, after inhaling several cubic metres of smoke and later in the evening, standing for 3 hours wearing a Sherwani, I didn’t really care any more. I got married. Families tend to want to preserve tradition. In a coffin. I, on the other hand, want to bring it out, and do jalsa with it. I had my share of fun. So did they.

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136 replies

  1. Funny how the same type of stuff happens all over the world. My Mista and I opted for a non-traditional wedding. The year before the wedding was full of all sorts of little negotiations — gives and takes to mostly please others. What we learned through the process was that the wedding was not strictly about us. We had a good time. The ceremony was over in less than 1/2 an hour then on to the eating and drinking.

  2. Clarissa,
    the interesting thing is that the bride and groom are very rarely involved in these negotiations in India.

  3. Ippa-ellaam orray-adi-a serious samaacharatthai patthi ezhutharathu-nnu dhrida sankalpama?

    Sari-en karutthuhaL ivvaaru!

    A book I recommend to every man, his dog and the anonymous millions reading blogs and forming opinions thereof is Rajbali Pandey’s ‘Hindu Samskaaras’ in two volumes.

    This was a doctoral thesis submitted to BHU on all our samskaaras from garbhadaana to the final check out-Antyeshti. Vivaaham is in there as well.

    I read it before my own marriage in the dim dark distant past to better understand the overarching purpose.

    There’s a lot that can be said about the beauty of this samskaara, but JUST ONE encapsulatory analogy would be the process by which a stone deity in a temple is imbued with all the divinity during the kumbhabhishekam that enables it to preside as a focal point for people’s devotions.

    Similarly a couple married in accordance with all the rituals (not the modern day truncated travesties) have that element of divinity imbued in them.

    It does also explain the content of the three day long events of the past (admittedly filled with some elements that are not relevant today).

    The book is now with another person who needs it far more than I do-therefore if someone finds this out of print book, sollungo please!

    Sorry-another long comment! Really-pa I better activate my blog soon.

  4. Very good post. I think you did what all of us should do (or should have done ;) ) – look into these rituals and sort out stuff which are meaningless today, prejudicial and really should not have been meaningful/acceptable then etc.

    I think most people seem to be of the feeling “I don’t know what the rituals mean, but as long as they are done, things must be ok. In fact if it used to be that way, it must be right – right?”.

  5. As the great Dawkins says:
    “Question..Question…. Question everything.”

    IMHO the biggest scam in the tambram community right now are the upanayanam ceremonies…total waste of time and money.

  6. Nice post KA (which is your first name anyway?). I personally don’t believe in ritualistic or ceremonial aspects of religion at all. And my parents were all happy to accept my qualms. That was before I decided that marriage is not going to help me at all :P
    I read somewhere that all these rituals were added to the religion by us Brahmins in as late as 12th century just to protect the caste system.

  7. The thairing of the social mores bit was crazy hehehe :)

    My aunt and uncle had similar ideas and then the priest launched into a lecture on “Idhellaam vendaam na Kalyaanaththukku bathila rendu perum ‘checks’ pannikkalaame.” It took us a whole month after the wedding to realize what he meant.

  8. Congratulations on making so much headway in the rational vs. religious negotations! I could only manage to get it done in the shortest possible time with the least amount of money and time.

  9. Great post!! So one TamBram guy managed to have his way- how the heck did you do it?? All our queries to the relevance of the rituals was silenced with “ayyuyo ipdiellam kekalama. Periyava sonna adhu nalladhukunu eduthukanum.” So we gave up way before everything started. Oh and it was soo not about us. In order of priority it was about the a) food on day 1, b) food on day 2 and c)food on day 3.
    To blasphemy- cheers!

  10. Soundar,
    Great comment :) Thank you.

    Arun,
    Thank you

    Priyank,
    Ashok is my first name, Krish is my last name, which is exactly I write it as Krish Ashok, just to confuse people ;)

    Bikerdude,
    LMAO. Like today’s movies are filled with Checks and Violins ;)

    Shvetha,
    Not entirely :) They managed to sneak in several things at the last moment and I was simply too dazed to notice.

  11. Nice one.

    I wondered briefly before my wedding about whether I should go on the warpath about any of the rituals, then decided not to bother. I’d be the husband I want to be, no matter what I committed to in Sanskrit.

    The sumangali prarthanai thing gets on my wife’s nerves, though. Her argument is: If I pray for your longevity, why the hell do I have to fall at your feet at the end of it? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Can’t say I disagree.

  12. Ramsu,
    Well put. I solved the Sumangali Praarthanai thing by giving them two choices – either skip the entire thing (it’s offensive to widows, in any case) or skip the wife falling at my feet bit. They went with option 2.

  13. Awesome :) Too Good. Loved your stress on equality. Though no feminist, your post warmed the cockles of my heart.

  14. Thanks Su,
    I am not a feminist either. I simply like initiating constructive debates with old people and generally persist till they start using the “I am old, and therefore right” card :)

  15. Yes, but they don’t always follow logic. Do they?

    Thanks for that peek into your life. I understand your thought processes and agree with how you tried to do things. You were absolutely right in weeding out the crap from these traditional practices. And I didn’t even know about the ‘gotra’ thing. Educational.

  16. Krish? how can it be just plain simple 5 characters? It has got to be something intimidating – Ashok Krishnamurthygopalaswamy Iyer ;) to start with.

  17. Father, after undergoing a severe nomenclatural crisis when in 1979, German immigration officials had trouble getting past his village name (Gopalasamudram), swore a solemn vow that his children would have names no more than 3 syllables in total. Thus Krish Ashok, Krish Karthik and Krish Raghav.

  18. @priyank

    We were actually thinking of Krish™ \w+ but since there were people with names like krish srikanth…we decided that enforcing the trademark would be difficult.:-D

    \w+ is standard regex for any set of n characters from a-z .

  19. You actually took the effort to understand the so-called “rituals”??!! Commendable!

    I remember our wedding…every one on the husband’s side of the family wanted to have a say in the proceedings since it was a Kannada-Iyengar union!Luckily for us,the priests on both sides turned out to be old pals and made sure that the wedding did not turn into a much-feared(by the husband and I) circus!

  20. Smitha,
    The weird thing is that if one takes a serious academic interest, the priests get all uncomfortable. The only kind of interest they are OK with is the “mumble what I mumble” blind acquiescence :)

  21. Amusing :-)

    ur last comment is absolutely true about most pandits

    and i think ur mixing up gotha (up/ birari for cowshed with gotra or vedic genetic lineage )

  22. oh lord… are you my brother-in-law anonymously posting on the web? our family went through the same thing a few years ago – although the major controversies were what order of food to serve on the leaf and what kind of rice.

    why everyone does not get married in the registrar’s office is beyond me.

  23. How dare you question the rituals like this. These rituals have been happening for a really really really long time. If you question the rituals, God will open the sky and poke your eye. Other than that it was a good post, fun and genius. But some of the rituals i really liked it, especially the games we had to play.
    “Me: Sounds ok. In another 12,000 years, you have got to find another star though ;) Precession of the axes.
    Priest: What?
    Me: Never mind.” – Loved it!

  24. Quite funny. Must have been one exasperated priest. But how did you make sure he stuck to your agreement? Would have been funnier if you would have held off payment until you cross checked the transcribed tape of his utterances.

  25. Ashok, good for you! You have a kindred soul in my brother.

  26. Oh, and congratulations on the wedding and best wishes for a long, happy and prosperous (did I leave anything out?) married life. :)

  27. Krish,
    Great post. Imagine my hubby is Irish and he was equally puzzled by the Arundhati star thing :-)

    I didn’t dare explain all the sumangali fundas to him!

  28. Were you able to spot the Arundhati star in broad daylight…ROTFLOLMAO!!Goggles from Mars, is it?? :)(And the fundae of marriages…OMIGAWD, didn’t know any of them ;))

  29. Prax,
    Thank you :) I read about the cow reference here

    Mosilager,
    Thank you. Reasonably sure I am not your BIL :) For one, my wife has no brothers.

    Patrix,
    His utterances could not have been cross-checked even by a resurrected Panini on cocaine. In fact, the great grammarian would have had trouble recognizing it as Sanskrit.

    Sujatha,
    Thank you very much.

    GG,
    Thank you. I just had an idea for integrating Irish people into vedic ceremonies. Just refer to them as O’Sharma ;)

    Kiran,
    I wasn’t. In fact, we didn’t even bother stepping outside. We did it symbolically right from the dais. And the fundae, they are not just South Indian. The basic steps/rituals are common across all Vedic Marriages in India, at least according to that book I read.

  30. hilarious!

    the insistence on putras is so bugging – i am glad you managed to insert a few putris there !! (have you seen a pre-delivery valakappu function ever? it gets worse there…)

    and – you sound pretty feminist to me! (Thats a compliment :)

  31. Apu,
    Thank you. And no. I am not a feminist. I belong to the cult of Spockian Rationalism, whose adherents are obligated to arch eyebrows and say “interesting!” whenever illogical/superstition-filled situations are encountered

  32. Didn’t know you were such a feminist (is it even a word these days?)!. Hilarious!

  33. very interesting..I like your attitude of challenging the priests and also standing up against those patriarchal rituals

  34. Wonder what the other Krishs will do when their time comes…

  35. I feel for you pal.
    You are lucky to have found a priest who, though couldn’t pronounce right, at least knew Sanskrit enough to explain what was going on.
    I remember the marathon wedding that my cousin went through. At the end of it he said “Now I know why the divorce rates in India as so low. The marriage ritual itself is so traumatizing that divorce (which is supposed to be more difficult) is unimaginable. Also, no one ever wants to go through it again, and divorce only raises that possibility again.”

  36. Diviya,
    I.am.not.a.feminist. As I stated in an earlier comment, I am a Spockian Rationalist.

    imemoir,
    Thank you.

    Semantic overload,
    Nice blog, by the way

  37. Heh! Reminds me of my own marriage and the heated debates I had on some rituals. In my case it was an overload of Bengali and UP traditions. And to top it all, our dads had some heated debates of their own: some UP rituals required the use of coins and money, which my dad thought symbolized dowry and stuff of that nature and expressly forbid leading to a stalemate that took some time to break. All this stuff is fun though, if you didn’t take it too seriously.

  38. A fresh change to read about. We all get somewhat quagmired in our quest to please each and everyone during marriage. It s refreshing to know that it bugs atleast some males to see our societies our anamolies.
    Most of us pick what suits to us and leave the rest. I think biggest change we can bring anywhere is our own personal life.. Thats where we got most dogmatic and double sided.
    Great going ..keep up..I see one lucky daughter coming your way in few years time. Your wife is definitely lucky..
    Cheers,
    Zeya

  39. enjoyed reading that.

    me tambram, married gujju ben. After few pleadings for a no-ritual wedding, the families had their way. Atleast we didn’t try to build a matrix of rituals from 2 lands. And i didn’t miss the smoke. :)

  40. One question – isn’t the pole star called Dhruv? Arundathi as far as I know is a star that hugs the last star in the Great Bear/Dipper. She’s supposed to have been the wife of some rishi (the 7th star in the Great Bear) who became a star for being such a ‘pativrata’ or something like that. And the bride looks at Arundathi as a reminder that she has to be a total slave to her hubby dearest.

  41. “I am not a feminist”

    Sigh! I have heard this so many times that I feel like just pulling every last strand of hair on my head. Feminists are not people with two horns and a satanic tail. What you are saying is that you are not like the caricature of feminism that you have heard at many places.

    The fact that you care about equality between you and your wife makes you a feminist. Feminism is not about bra-burning of the past. Its about realizing that your wife (or mom, or sister, or colleague) is as much an individual as you are. Its about realizing that a woman is defined beyond her relationships… she is an individual first, a wife/sister/mother later.

    And yes, you don’t have to agree with everything from “feminist brigade” to be a feminist yourself.

  42. superb post! I am glad you actually thought about the rituals and their significance – me, I was too dazed to think of anything – never mind the putra-putri bit – as for my husband he was dazeder because we had a Tambram wedding and he doesn’t understand a word of Tam! the vadiyaars had a blast with him!

    ehm, about the *nor am I fully cognizant of social mores and anti-social yogurts bit – romba kadi. look forward to the rest of your posts on the wedding…

    Charu

    http://indsight.org/blog

  43. Very nice post. Reminds me of my wedding where my husband (who is swiss) took all the marriage vows in sanskrit and now happily says that he didnt understand a word of what he said and so he is free to be exactly what he likes to be. The wife dying before the husband bit really went over his head even though I tried very hard to explain (I myself wasnt very convinced though I do realise that being a widow is hard even today). By the time we came to the arundhathi part, he was so fed up that he was anyhow seeing stars in broad daylight. Fortunately we had a rather trunkated ceremony, the vadiyar recognising the futility of making my husband repeat the sanksrit words.

  44. Arundhati is not the pole star, Dhruva is.

  45. And don’t even start me on the “Sumangali prarthanai” bit. Did you know that women who have had first-born sons are given preference in the pecking order? Then come women with girls. Women with *shudder* no children are not invited.

  46. I agree. Sumangali Prarthanai is so freaking bogus!

  47. Anon,
    You are right. Dhruva is the polestar. My priest misinformed me, but shame on me for not checking wikipedia :)

    The next Anon, Arunk
    I politely asked why my grandmothers (both widows) aren’t allowed to participate. I got glares that could have melted tungsten, and my grandmothers didn’t really mind, so I let it slide.

  48. ashok – me too. In fact for a long time, I didn’t know what it was. When I found out, I was sort of disgusted – but didn’t have the balls to do anything about it :)

  49. hilarious. enjoyed it. ofcourse, priest’ism (if thats a word) is classified by the govt as a mecantile activity. mumbling sanskrit is a (sustainable) competitive advantage.

  50. Hawkeye,
    Thanks. Sustainable competitive advantage. :) LOL. Gives me a few ideas for a post on vaadhyaars. I will need to make a visit to South mada street and conduct a few interviews though.

  51. well its all futile. i did some 25 years of education and when i entered the work force, i understood that 99% of what i read was of no use to me, directly or indirectly. i ended up getting “educated” on things i didn’t (a) understand (b) need (c) disagreed. just because my parents asked me to do and everybody else seemed to be doing it.

    all because education was mercantile and a few people who called themselves ‘teachers’ could earn a few bucks. compared to that the small money i spent on the vadhyaars was negligible.

    at least u thought that ‘priestly matters’ was futile. i didnt even know that while getting educated. i guess nobody ever knows. there is always a possibility that 400 years from now, some one will write a blog as to why krish ashok didn’t get the obvious :-)

  52. Dear all,

    Enjoyed the views and debate immensely.

    Questioning symbolism and rebelling against its illogicality (set against current mores) is what leads to progress. The hope is some of us will progress along the path beyond cribbing, and pioneer better practices (hopefully without founding another fanatical following, as has occurred historically).
    Seemingly most participants are ‘young’ (relative to me, see below). In the best traditions of equity, I am sure Ashok and his myriad followers will question, and in their lives change, some of the following practices (without the interference of the pesky elders / money-grabbing priests, but you will face other protagonists to contend with..)
    1. Celebration of birth days or other anniversaries: merely because our planet revolves around our sun at a defined rate of time, should the earthlings waste humungous effort in such errant nonsense? Stup your (or child’s) next celebration / mourning…
    2. Employees being paid a given wage for a given period: Rationally this must be related to contribution / output. Employees who know they have had an esay time, return your pay and perks pronoto…
    3. Public Holidays: Why is Rangan / Ramani off on Xmas and Rahman on Deepavali? Rebel, and get back to work…
    4. Sick leave: Stress leave, spouse just arrived leave, malingering… what rationale for your cosnumurer funding your feigned illhealth?
    5. Dawkins’ blindspot: Religion abounds in unsubstantiated superstition, and is rightly attacked. Sadly, most other activities do too. In science they are known as axioms taken as selfevident truths (even pre Jefferson). Scientists explain that they are still on a search for answers and will find them eventually… rather like the priests saying that the rationale for the rituals questioned is still ‘work in progress’… What is sauce for the religious goose must be… for the scientific / secular gander?
    6. Fancy Dress competition: Bet almost all of us have worn funny dresses at convocations, attend work in uncomfortable (ties in Chennai!)and costly attire, and attend formal occasions in ridiculous postures (think Court rooms overflowing with dead horse hair on less lively heads). Rebel ye, who rebel against panchakacham and 9 yard madichar!

    Rebelling and tongue in cheek is not a oneway street, but a multilane overpass. Intellectual integrity demands equitable approaches (not ‘my superstition is faith but yours is irrational’).

    I hope I have fomented enough rebelllion to make the society better? You have nothing to lose but life as is…

    Ramani
    (born 19 May 1948)

  53. Ramani mama(mami?)

    Unga aLavu vayassum vivekamum enakku illai enraalum en karutthukkaL ivvaaru.

    I agree with you about Intellectual integrity.

    The one thing I find objectionable about most of the posts is that everyone is willing to ridicule our traditions without trying to understand the meaning and symbolism inherent.

    A rough analogy would be to skim through, say, the Manusmrti like a novel, look for the contentious bits, take it out of context and say that Manu was sexist and racist.

    Our religion, tradition and culture is part of us-we are never going to forsake it, even if we do question it.

    The best way to channel that questioning is to begin a contemporary version of ‘Deivatthin kural’-the pathbreaking series by the Paramacharyaar.

    If I am not mistaken, that series appearing in the Kalki answered the questions (not dissimilar to today) that your generation had.

  54. Dear Soundar (and all others),
    My intent was not to object to / decry the tenor of the arguments. I am comfortable with (and would encourage) such enquiry, so people reach their own conclusions in time (as Gautama and Mohammed did, in the context of the prevailing social mores)). After all, if the ultra-religious glorify leaving things as they are, all religious leaders who challenged the status quo must be cast aside, becuase that is what they all did! If (insert your favourite here) could initiate a new movement in the past, why should we preclude such an event in future – one of these bloggers could be the next Sankara, Nietsche or Aurobindo or EV Ramaswami!
    My issue is with the rational enquirer NOT applying the same rigour to our later day superstitions : Asok righly quizzed his priest on the eve of his wedding. Did he do so with his boss if /when expected to wear inappropriate attire on his recruitment, or his vice chancellor on the funny hat at his convocation or quiz his wife when they were planning a birth day bash for their child? Rhetorical questions, but they highlight that societies and individuals go with the flow when it suits them (I need the job; I worked for the degree; hell, it is our little baby!) and can be suitably path-breaking / brave when not much is at stake (after all, only parents who love you regardless; the old priest needs the money…)
    I ask for intellectual integrity. If this means some (all?) traditions must be reviewed and many cast aside, so be it. Do not go for the merely vulnerable…
    An aside: most participants seemed to assume that ‘marriage’ as an institution is worthwhile, as most seem to have married (with sceptical minds). A persuasive Ayn Rand could argue against this ‘social evil’. Will our rationalists be prepared to put their set views aside and if convinced, dissolve their marriages and carry on without this irrational label (live together in a monogamous, polygamous or non relationship)? Or, as is likely, is marriage the new ‘do not ask, just do it’ ritual? “Your superstition is just that, mine is conviction” – bah humbug!
    My take on religion: like most quests (scientific or secular) this is an instance of our innate seeking, no more. God (if it exists) does not need us to worship it, give it accommodation or food. But not unlike raising a glass of wine in toast (how silly, rationally?) humanity seems to have evolved ways of ritualising this quest regardless of the subject. This will go on.
    Merry thinking, my friends!
    Venkatramani, Senthamangalam Ganesan
    (mama – as you could see!)
    PS: I must apologise for the various typos in my previous message. In the hurry to get things off my chest, I had regressed to incipient dyslexia!

  55. Soundar,Ramani :) Wonderfully deliberated. And spellings absolutely do not matter, even if our puritan english teachers tell us they do. I do, for a fact, question my bosses on dress code and tend to wear what I please, but you have it right when you say that rationalists often rail against strawmen arguments, such as blatantly irrelevant parts of our religion. But there is another dimension.

    Marriage seems to be the only way 2 people of the opposite gender can live together in India without being subjected to unnecessary social scrutiny. I guess it’s a question of what I can do to change a few small things around me and what is completely outside my control and sphere of influence, like the institution of marriage. Gautamas and Mohammeds are one in a billion – the kind that make a sea change in the ideologies/mores of billions of people.

    You are right about religion. But ritual must also be a personal decision, and not a priest’s “Just do it, because that’s the way it’s always been done”. But Ramani’s points are very intriguing indeed. Why the convocation funny hat, but not dhotis at IT companies? Anybody upto the challenge to respond to that?

  56. Super pongo!
    “Nalli yatra”.. LOL.. nalla velai Nalli yatra pogalai unga Nair.. Appadiye

    Chennai silks, Pothy’s, Kumaran, Saravana ellam round vittutu vandirundaa yenna aaradu?

  57. re. the social evil bit, there is one more thing – two people living within a more formal framework like marriage tend to give it that much more time and patience and chance. It is easy to walk away from an undefined “relationship”, much tougher when it has a name. ditto for the “oora kooti kalyanam” – I believe that both the people involved think several times before deciding to walk away from such a marriage.

    and what is wrong with rituals anyway – as long as they are harmless? If people enjoy rising a glass in toast, then why not? If trousers are more practical, then why a dhoti?

  58. now how the heck did I miss this post?!!!!

    you should’ve been to my wedding.. amalgamation of two religions, leave alone regions and languages.. much fun it was.. :-)

    and I agree with that inhaling smoke bit.. my mascara started running midway and my aunt had to hold a kerchief to barricade the flow.. and avert much damage to the makeup (it was multi-layered like onions, so no harm done actually)

  59. Marriage as a social institution works for some. We all know of instances where it traps people into an untenable stutaion (divorce in India, even essential ones, is traumatic). If it works for you as an individual or group / society, ok. But once you decide to attack ‘holy cows’, you cannot posit that some are not holier than others.
    Harmless rituals vs harmful: interesting; how many medicos would have argued (as my son in law did / does) that the smoke from homams is no less harmful than that from burning dung in the slums, mantras and sagely intervention notwithstanding. How many people (priests included) with acute eye disease (glaucoma, retinal degeneration) ‘faith’fully self-mutilate? any more justified than the female circumcision that some of us decry, because it is some one else’s superstition?
    Changing things incrementally is a great step forward. Not sure though that it is always that altruistic or simple. I for one did (do) not have the intestinal fortitude to rail against the work dress code… – acquiescence over-riding the inner rebel?
    Those who remember ‘the Kal Undaipavan Kathai’ will know sometimes the desire for change will in a series of steps lead you in a circle to the starting point. Philosophy (not necessarily religious) suggests equianimity as a palliative: “this too shall pass..”
    The world seems in as safe hands as it ever was!
    Ramani

  60. Nice blog. You tried to understand rituals and change them. This is the best part of Hindu wedding–You can change every bit of ritual. From all the comments you can gather that different castes and regions have different rituals. Its time we should have modern version of Rituals. Basic point is that the marriage should take place in presence of Gods,Nav Griha and eternal Fire, parents and relative. Only Sapt padi with promises from groom to take care, protect,provide and keep his bride happy is essential. You can throw away everything else from the rituals.–PK

  61. Our Vedic marriage priests said I could ask them anything about any of the rituals, and they will explain. One of the things I asked about is worth sharing:

    In our marraiges, a string of threaded flowers is tied around the head of the bride and groom. The flowers run across the forehead, and down both sides of your face. It is one of the most irritating things about our marriage rituals. So I enquired about it.

    The reason for this practice: during olden days, child marriages were the norm. At that time, with hundreds of children prancing about during a marriage, it was difficult to identify who’s the groom and bride. Hence the custom and the ritual to adorn them with flowers around their head.

    No jokes.

  62. Mahendra,
    That was enlightening. You should read charukesi’s excellent post titled Rambling about rituals.

  63. (Pleasurable sigh) This was a good read.

    Thank you :)

  64. kudos to you for not allowing the bride’s father to wash your feet. questioning the relevance of meaningless customs and having the guts to choose not to follow them is a brave decision. especially in the face of disapproving family elders :) *doffs hat*
    may i take the liberty of saying that your future daughter in law will be very lucky to have a FIL like you. ooops…son in law :)

  65. Deepa,
    (Relieved sigh) Thank you :)

    Aqua,
    Thank you.

  66. that was a good post to read through. got to pass this message to many more “3 day, kaasi yatra” to be wedded ,brahmin guys in chennai !

  67. i didn’t have a wedding so i can’t really say. But having been through the entire Ramavanasamudram, Tirunelveli clan of cousins and aunts and uncles getting married apart from the unsavoury rituals, most of the “acts” like lifting the tubby NRI groom and chubby “ponnu” after kasi yatrayatra, ” cajoling them and pelting them with deadly rice bombs during “kannoonjal”, “nalangu” games, girl sitting on her appa’s lap etc were all easier when the bride and groom were children. these came from child marriage ( imagine Kris.A, all of 7 ,running around and his mama had to frog march him and lift him up and get his 4 year old bride (ponnu”) to garland him and then plonk them both on an oonjal, lest he flee to play bambaram with his lads near the tamaraparani). so it gets so iffy when such child marriage practises are still followed on 30 year olds …I like attending weddings, the prized couple are mouthing the clap trap and i get dress up and eye the young chappies and drink the payasam….anyone getting married in chennai?would love to come by…it’s been so long….

  68. Arundhati is the star Alcor, companion to Mizar – the second last star in the Great Dipper. Incidentally Alcor means ‘the Test’ as it is a test of eyesight being a faint binary companion to a star reasonably visible to the naked eye.

    As far as I know, Gopalasamudram is a street in Mannargudi. They have a temple tank called Haridra-nadi. Rum place, this Mannargudi.

    Last but not the least, there are many kinds of marriages valid under Indian Law including eloping with a non minor bride, exchanging clothes and other presents, exchanging garlands, cohabiting with the bride with parental consent etc etc. I hope I’m not giving you ideas :)

  69. Just stumbled upon this blog. But truly enjoyed reading it !
    Not totally similar, but I found it something I missed out in my marriage,
    when we had tried to take care of plenty of other things.
    We recently got married in Arya Samaj, where in we have followed a different
    style for marriage (It was a simple marriage, but we donated money saved from marriage to various NGOs)

    read on http://pulzinponderland.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/a-glimpse-into-our-marriage-photos-included/) for more details.

    We tried to break almost all the traditions, and not that I didnt think of upgrading hindu marriage ceremony, in fact
    I even thought of understanding all the mantras and remove what’s not applicable today from the Arya Samaj Marriage ceremony.
    But somehow time did not permit everything. Good to see that someone did actually take care of this thing!!

  70. This is absolute synchronicity. I am getting married in 2 weeks and have been killing myself over these pre wedding negotiations. Try as I did, rituals are just piling on……. I was getting mega frustrated until I accidently happened on your blog… It was first real laugh I have had in weeks!

    My take on the wedding rituals is that when the persons performing it are so flawed and greedy, what sanctity do the rituals have. Also as you said, rituals should evolve and be in line with the lives we live. Needless to say as the woman, I am much more worked up than my hapless “ould be”.

    But great post!

  71. I have a question- Did your invitation say Chi. KA and Sow. Nair? Because that in itself is an inequality! Its not like you are not lucky or she doesnt want to live long!

  72. I’ve tried questioning too. But the whole ‘problem’ is that you are dealing with people who have been living their lives according to these ‘rules’ for over 50 years or so.

    They have grown too ‘into’ the system that its difficult to get them out. Secondly, my mom, for one, gets unhappy when I make a fuss of sorts.

    So I simply sit in these rituals to allow the crap to happen, just so she is atleast happy.

    I however know for sure that my kids would have every room to realize the bullshit of hinduism-crap.

  73. This is one of your top posts.
    Though a long time follower of your blog, I went through this post only now because a friend of mine has fallen in love with a Nair girl and I deduced you must have blogged about your nuptials. I’m forwarding this to him.
    I should say your wife is a very lucky woman to have a fair-minded rationalist like you as her husband!
    Does your wife’s name now have your name attached to the end? I have decided that when I marry, my spouse’s name must remain what it was pre-wedlock.

  74. Awesome post, after my own heart! Desigirl directed me here, in response to my post on a similar subject http://dipalitaneja.blogspot.com/2008/04/father-of-bride-second-post-on-shaadi.html

  75. Came here from Dipali’s (above) blog. Its great to see a guy saying this!!

  76. Always procedures, rituals are questioned or argued. But, the fact is even for a small school assembling there is some format/ordering of events. I believe its the nature of life, we all no matter however we argue follow some format or the other even in day to day life, although they may not make all the sense.

    I like most of your blogs, sometimes they are like vandutaya imisai arasan types. This is one of them, edo arundati pakka sonna mela pathutu poga vendiyadu dana. No matter whatever kashtam(custom) you follow, they are always eventful and joyous. So dont spoil things by scrutanizing so much Mr Pulikesi.

  77. I am a college student who will probably be “donated” to another family in less than 10 years..
    you have to come and save me yeah?

  78. incredible!! though an ardent fan of your posts I read this only now and kind of relived my own wedding word by word. incidentally, I managed to do away the gothram reformatting. and defragged the 3-day circus to a 2-day one. & ditto for -after inhaling several cubic metres of smoke and later in the evening, standing for 3 hours wearing a Sherwani, I didn’t really care any more

    hehe ‘dudesses’ – surukkama sonnaa.. sirichu sirichu sulukku vizhunthiduchi. And thanks for the link to charukesi’s elegant ‘rambling about rituals’

  79. great piece of writing. witty and articulate!

    mouli

  80. Nice post – but am disappointed you let the Kasi yatra and Thali business slide. Should have stuck to your guns. I had a simple principle – I will get up and walk if there is any funny business (FB). FB included Kasi yatra, sumangali stuff, father washing groom’s feet, et al. Instead of a Thali, I designed my own black beads and coral necklace (without the actually thalis) and wore that while giving the traditional get up a miss too (wore a simple sari with simple jewelery). The priest acquiesced saying – these NRI couples are like that only. It worked – the whole shebang was done in an hour and everyone happily went to lunch, which is naturally what they were waiting for. It can be done. One just needs a little gumption.
    Ps. another thing that needs to go along with this stuff – the raja-rani chairs at the reception.

  81. Very interesting arguments with the priest. But i guess you won once you convinced your parents and in-laws about it as that i presume is the more difficult task. Priests do it for money – so they can be twisted around.

    From ages i have been visualizing hardcore arguments during my marriage(still bachelor). Will know in couple of years if i can push the way you have did.

    Congrats !!

  82. You may have had fun with a lot of rituals.
    Concept of Gotra change may seem parochial to you.Gotra was the only identifier of patrilineal lineage and whether you accept it or not. The Y Chromozone is the only part that passes from one generation to another relatively unmodified. It is well know that all of us are humans. If father belongs to gotra a and mother gotra b, so what is the big deal. We dont consider b to be inferior to a.It is to demarcate the ancestoral charactistics of the family. By changing from b to a, the lady is not making any sacrifice because even her mother did not belong to b.so technically speaking if we look at it that way there is no loss in female dignity by a gotra change . If everything is to be seen in such an egoistic manner, then children of parents should neither follow the customs of mother nor that of father. if for example a child adopts the food habits of mother, more likely, then its a question of partiality too. grow up man.
    Ashok: Relatively unmodified?

  83. I’m 22 and frankly overwhelmed at all these tam-brahm marriage waali rituals :| Yes I have a long way to go and as of now only the paiyan is ready. My first reason for derision is that my avar(n)’s star is exactly the seventh from mine (7 avadhu porutham). That is strike one for marriage match-making, not even worthy of looking for any other compatibilities between the two horoscopes. But I wonder how we ever fell in love in the first place if our stars up there tell us that we aren’t a good match. We’ve been at it for 5 years now and going strong!

  84. I feel sheepish about having turned a blind eye to all the sexist and lopsided prayers and references at my wedding this year. An Iyer Iyengar wedding. And considering how stupefyingly important rituals, homams, priests et al are to both groups of people, we thought it best to leave it to the parents to decide on the specifics – just as long as they got us married off. As my mother says, appam thinnanamaa, kuzhi ennanamaa? (Literally, do you want to eat the appams or count the number of appams the appam-vessel could accomodate at a time? More simply, fuss over the means or focus on the end?)

    Kudos to you for even trying to get the vaadhyars and mantrams to sync with the times! :-)

  85. @krishashok
    It takes a lot of courage to bring about changes in tambrahm families:-)
    In my marriage invitation we rephrased the sentence that said ‘ kanya dhanam seidhu kodupadhaaga” to ” il vazhkai thunaviyaga thirumanam seithu kodukiren.”
    That small change made me feel like a ‘woman’ marrying the man she loves and who will
    not be given off just like that by her father:-)

    @neelavanam

  86. Just Came across your post………. 5 years after your initiation…. I am in the same situation…. Nair-Iyengar confluence……. :-) I have been thru the same discussions/arguments with my folks and things haven’t changed………. Await the Nichyathartham, Muhurtham and the various prarthanais… :-)

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  89. Re: Rajbali Pandey & Samaskaras, different Brahman communities have different modalities, e.g. in Bengal, you have Raghunandana, & some of the Grihyasutras combined. Quite complicated, i.e. mess. Vivaha, udvaha, kushundikA, multi-partite Vaidika marriage. Then, the Vaishnavas, e.g. Ayyangars, and other Vaishnavas in Bengal, each have different paddhatis, as do Shaivas in Kashmir, in TN. Nothing is simple in India! Lokachara, & deshachara count for a lot everywhere. So what Pandeya is writing is a geenralization. If you read the 10 Dharmashastras and the respective Grihyasutras, you are also left in a bind. We have had to cover all of these things, in order to become even a quasi-functional purohita, and therefore feel deep distress at modern young people not realizing all the ins and outs of the context of the marriage ceremony. We can also throw in the RgVedic marriage to add a further layer of complexity. problem is, people do not want to spend time, and do their homework. Christians sometimes take as long as a month or two to take lessons in pre-marital counselling and studies in the marriage ceremony, especially among the Methodists. Not so among the Sanatanis. There are many purohitas who would be delighted to enter deep into this most sacred of all samskaras, and explain how this is the foundation of all spiritual sadhana.

    Certainly, in Shakta Bengal, the bride is the ABSOLUTE embodiment of DEITY, and is to be seen as such. SVAKIYA KEVALA JNEYA SARVA DOSHA VIVARJITA. Am happy to elaborate on this as necessary. Kerala too is the home of a deep Shakta tradition, as is TN, although the latter is muddled by its own assumptions of cleverness or superiority which has a long, poignant and piquant history, including that at the holy SriChidambaram [Krish Ashok mentions Kamala Haasan, which is also very poignant in a way].

  90. However rational (questioning everything) we ( born after 1980 and above) want to be, our true responsibility should be to let things go as our parents like it to be. We should exhibit our maturity by listening to them at least up to marriage. None of these rituals are going to cause harm to us if not any good. Most of the times we showcase our ego and ignorance in the name of rational thinking. We always have the freedom to follow or not follow; pass or not pass on our traditions to our kids.

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