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.