Lethargic IITian
Musings of a 20-something lethargic IITian on India and Catholicism.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002  

Sorry for the delayed absence - been to the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor (that's about 10km from Chalakudy in Kerala) for a retreat. What can I say? The experience was amazing! For once in my life, all my doubts were put to rest - there is a God. And He loves me. Starting with my next post, I'll be giving a day-by-day description of my experience there. In the meanwhile, you can take a look at Ronnie Johnson's experience at the DRC.

But first, something pending from last time - Syro-Malabar weddings.

As I said, it was my cousin sister who was married - so everything I saw comes from the bride's POV. Of course, I hear things are a little different with the groom.

Everything begins in the morning - because, I presume, Syro-Malabar weddings are always in the morning. My mother acted as the maid-of-honour. However, in Keralite weddings, the role of the maid-of-honour is slightly different from her Western counterpart. For one thing, the maid-of-honour is usually an older sister to the bride (or someone in an equivalent position in the old joint family - such as the sister-in-law to an elder brother, or an elder cousin etc).

Once all the ladies of the family are done dressing up the bride in her traditional white saree and veil (not to mention as much gold as she can carry without collapsing!), it is time for prayer. Any elder member of the family (and by family - I mean the whole network of aunts, uncles, cousins, second-cousins etc - the joint family) can lead the prayers. My cousin sister then proceeded to read some verses of the Gospel aloud (my mother tells me that this is highly irregular for the bride, although a tradition for the groom!). This was followed by the sthuthi-koduppu (similar to when we share the peace at Mass). The bride starts with her parents and immediate family, and then goes from the eldest members of the family to the youngest.

Once all this was done, it was time for the bride to leave for church. It's customary for the wedding ceremony to be held at the local parish of the groom - as opposed to the engagement ceremony at the bride's parish. Just as my cousin was leaving the threshold, my mother crossed her path with a lit nilavilakku (ceremonial lamp). The idea is that the bride sees something auspicious just as she leaves her home (for good!).

We got to the Church, and before long, the groom had arrived. The sacrament of marriage is always administered with Mass. In this case, the wedding was held at the boy's home parish of Chetthipuzha (in Changanassery, Kottayam district). After the exchange of vows, my mother lifted the veil to expose the bride's neck, and the groom tied the thaali or mangalasutram around it. My mother then stepped back from her position - which was subsequently occupied by the groom's mother. This symbolised that the bride had left her family (and the care of her elder sisters - personified by the maid-of-honour) and was now joined with the groom's family (and under the care of his mother and sisters). Interestingly, this seems to contrast with Gen 2:24 (For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh). However, the bride leaving her family to join with the groom's is part of Indian (Hindu) tradition (remind me to speak of Hindu weddings some other day).

This was followed by the exchange of rings (which are not really as important in India as they are in the West). In India, the thaali is everything to the woman. It symbolises her wife-hood (which really appears to the primary aim of a woman's life in Indian culture). She wears it as long as her husband is alive. And if she happens to pass away before her husband, the thaali, along with the minnu (a small heart-shaped locket with a cross in the centre) is dropped into the donations box of the church where her funeral is held.

Anyway, to get back to the wedding - it was Mass as usual. After the wedding came the reception at the Parish Hall. After cutting the wedding cake, my cousin and her new husband retired to a back-room; where my cousin changed into her manthrakodi (the silk saree from which one thread is taken to make the thaali by passing it through the minnu). Once they came back on stage, my cousin sister's husband then put sindoor (saffron) along the parting of her hair - symbolising her wife-hood. This custom is part and parcel of Hindu weddings, but did not make it's way into Christian weddings until very recently (less than 5 years). This "Hindu-isation" of Christian weddings is not looked upon very favourably by the older generation (and, I must admit, myself either). This appears to be part of a homogenisation process in Indian wedding ceremonies across State and Religion following the monumental social changes of the 90s (such as the rightist BJP's rise to power, widespread popularity of Hindi movies etc). Needless to say, none of what I've written in this paragraph is (strictly) "traditional".

Anyway, once the reception is over, close family of both the bride and the groom proceed to the latter's home. The bride will usually have taken enough clothes for a week with her (more on that later). Once at the groom's house, the mother-in-law draws the sign of the cross on both the bride's and groom's foreheads with a rosary (which makes me wonder - since the rosary was presumably introduced to Kerala by the Europeans in the 17th century, what did the mother-in-law use for the 16 centuries before that?). She then hands the bride the lit nilavilakku, holding which the latter enters her new home (crossing the threshold right foot first, of course). The bride-groom are then served milk; followed by a ceremony involving the two new mothers-in-law. The bride's mother puts a gold chain around the groom's neck; the groom's mother hands the bride's mother a brand new chatta-mundu (traditional dress of Keralite Christian women; these days, the chatta is replaced with a silk saree) - a little gift in lieu of the latter's daughter. Finally, the bride's mother hands her daughter over to the groom's mother, and it is time for the bride's family to leave in a (usually) tearful farewell.

A week later, the bride and groom come to the former's house to live for a week - where they are entertained by her family. At the end of this period, she packs up all her clothes and personal items and moves to her husband's homestead forever.

The End.

posted by Kensy | 6:20 AM
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past blogs of interest
Hinduism as a religion
Pederasty and the American Church
Caste in Indian Christianity
Syro-Malabar engagements
Syro-Malabar weddings
Divine Retreat Centre
Varsha Bhosle and Ideological Relativism
Anti-Conversion Ordinance and the Church stance
Self-Righteous Rightism
The Hindutva Attack on St. Francis Xavier
Varsha Bhosle and the Church (U-turn)
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