I had some exciting mail a month back, which was rare on two counts: I usually don’t get mail, and certainly never the exciting kind. But there it was — in a white and gold envelope, stamped with my name — a lovely wedding invitation. A batchmate from college was getting hitched, and I would be travelling all the way to Kerala to watch him do so!
While I had attended several weddings in my life, this would be my first ‘Big Fat Malayalee Nair Wedding’. But I hear big and fat isn’t their style. A Malayalee Nair wedding lasts a few hours, and the rituals only a few minutes! Weren’t most Indian weddings week-long affairs, with rituals continuing till wee hours of the morning? Well, we’d find out.
The day dawned bright and sunny at the wedding venue — Vasundhara Sarovar Resort, where most of the guests were staying, was sprawling, lush green, and on the edge of a lake lined with palm trees. I fell in love. And so did everyone else. I could already hear a couple of women discussing how the resort was ‘just the place’ for a wedding.
The groom and his baraat (including me) arrived by ferry (horses were too passé, you see!). I must mention at this juncture that the groom is Punjabi — so a little fanfare wasn’t unexpected. Two rows of smiling young women welcomed us on the banks of the lake, in their traditional white and gold saris, carrying brass lamps and thalams (plates). On the periphery, a traditional sinkari melam (a classical percussion ensemble) by an all woman band, produced a heady symphony — drums, cymbals and trumpets. We began walking towards the mandapa, where the main ritual would happen. Only to be waylaid by an elephant! So much for the baraat by boat being dramatic — the resort had organised an elephant to welcome us! A mammoth gesture, in more ways than one.
The first of many mini rituals involved a young boy washing the groom’s feet. I later found out he’s the bride’s brother, and the act was a symbolic gesture to welcome the groom. Meanwhile the bride, in all her wedding finery was led to the mandapa by her parents — she was a vision in gold, clad in an elegant gold sari, with beautiful white flowers pinned to her hair.
The mandapa was a raised platform at the amphitheatre, decorated with only natural materials: trunks of banana trees stood at four corners, and trails of marigolds hung from a roof made with palm leaves. The bride, bridegroom and a few family members seated themselves around it, and the bride’s grandfather began the ceremony. Here’s another fun fact about the Malayalee weddings: the whole ceremony happens without a priest and is usually conducted by an elder of the family.
The ritual began with the groom tying a gold thali (necklace) around the bride’s neck (thalikettu). The pair solemnised by the bride’s grandfather, walked around the mandapa thrice and in record time, were pronounced married.
“So simple and elegant —why aren’t all weddings like this?” I heard someone say. I agreed…why weren’t all weddings like this — short, sweet and hassle-free? Blessings and wishes poured in from all sides and the elders clamoured to feed spoonfuls of sweet milk and banana mixture to the newly weds. — “It’s tradition,” another guest informed me, as the aunt of the bride tried to shove another spoon of the sweet mixture down her throat. A tradition I’d gladly avoid, I found myself thinking!
It wasn’t long before lunch was served and everyone enthusiastically made their way to the dining area. Long white tables lined with plantain leaves — our “plates” for the day. The traditional feast or sadya is perhaps everyone’s favourite part of the wedding. A variety of colourful curries, gravies, poppadoms and chutneys surrounded a steaming hot mound of boiled rice. Everyone around me chattered loudly but I took one look at my “plate” and realised there wasn’t any time to waste — I began eating and promptly lost myself in sadya heaven.
baraat : a groom’s wedding procession in North India
thalam : plate
sinkari melam : a classical percussion concert or ensemble
mandapa : a semi enclosed pergola usually for ceremonies
thali : necklace
thalikettu : tying of the knot
sadya : feast
poppadum : a thin, round fried Indian snack, also called papad