Current ceremonies and customs
Nair have customs and rituals which are an amalgamation of indigenous rituals and the rituals of Nambothiri Brahmins. Generally, there are local variations for such customs. However, the basic framework of many of the rituals is more or less the same.
Simplicity and brevity mark a typical Malayalee Nair wedding. Lasting barely a few minutes, a Kerala wedding is one with little rituals and far lesser religious compulsions. The Malayalee month Chingam is considered to be the most auspicious month to conduct malayalee weddings. The months of Midhunam, Karkatakam and Kanni are generally avoided. However, even during the inauspicious months, malayalee weddings do take place in Guruvayoor temple, the abode of Lord Guuvayurappan.
Presently the Nairs do not practice either of the three forms of marriages described above but perform Vivaham (Marriage) recognized by the Hindu Marriage act of 1955. It is ceremonially the shortest in comparison to its counterparts from other Indian castes and regions. The marriage ceremony among Nairs has changed considerably over the past one hundred years.
'Pennu Kanal' or meeting of the prospective bride and the groom is one of the rituals. This happens mostly in the girl's home even today. But there are many who opt to meet in a common place like a restaurant. If the ceremony is in the Bride's house, then the boy, his parents and any close relatives come and meet the bride. If both the boy and the girl likes each other and are willing to proceed with the marriage, then the rest is taken care of by the elders in the family.
Vivaha Nischayam (Betrothal)/Jathakam Koda - The first ceremony is the Vivaha Nischayam or simply Nischayam. In Kerala Hindu marriages, horoscope matching is a must. But, the horoscope should be matched before going in for a meeting between the boy and the girl. After both the families consent to the marriage, the elders of the bride and the bridegroom assemble at the bride's home and an astrologer is consulted to set an auspicious date for the wedding. Horoscopes which have been already compared and approved are exchanged during this ceremony. During the celebration, there may be a mothiram maattal (ring exchange) ceremony.
But in some other families, there will be a formal interchanging of letters between the families. For example, in Nair community marriages, the NSS Karayogam people from both the sides will assemble at the bride's house and the parents of both the bride and groom will exchange letters regarding the time and venue of the marriage in the presence of the Karayogam officials. A feast will be conducted there after.
Kalyanam (Marriage) - The marriage venue will be usually at the place of the bride. It may take place in a kalyana mandapam (a hall rented for the occasion) or in temples or in a pandal erected on the foreground of the house. The marriage proceeds through distinct ritualistic steps as described below.
Dakshina Kodukkal - Both the bride and bridegroom get the blessings of the elders by giving "Dakshina" consisting of a betel leaf, a ripe arecanut and a coin and then touching their feet. The marriage ceremony starts with this ritual that is carried out in their respective homes. Thereafter the bridegroom and party leaves for the venue of the marriage.
Varavelppu - In this ritual, the bride's family receives the groom's family at the entrance of the venue of marriage, to the tune ofnadaswarams (long wind-instruments). The groom stands on a wooden plank while the bride's younger brother washes his feet. The bride's aunts (wives of maternal uncles) perform aarti for the groom with a platter on which are arranged wicks made of twisted cotton. The groom is then escorted to the mandapam (platform constructed to perform the wedding rites) by two rows of young girls. One girl carries the changala vatta (sacred oil lamp), while another carries the ashtamangalyam (eight auspicious articles). The girls following the first two, carry the taala poli (platters of rice, turmeric, and flowers on which oil lamps lit in the broken half of a coconut are placed). With his parents on either side, the groom follows the girls around the mandapam and seats himself on the right side of the canopy, which is decorated by flowers, fabric, palm fronds, and banana stalks.
Thaali-kettu (Tying the thaali) - The bride is now escorted by her aunt or mother to the mandapam to the sound of thenadaswarams and is made to stand facing to the east, with the groom facing her. At the auspicious moment set by the astrologer for the muhurtham (the most auspicious time), the groom ties the golden 'thaali' which is strung from a yellow thread around the bride's neck and this is accompanied by a special beating of drums (Ketti melam) and the ceremonial ululating sounds made by women (Vai Kurava). Sometimes the actual tying of the knot of the Thaali thread is done by the sister of the bridegroom if needed.
The girl's father does the 'Kanyadanam' to the groom. The newly wed couple should take a round of the Manadapam. This is the end of marriage ceremony.
The bride wears the 'Manthrakodi' before leaving for her new home.
Vastradanam/Pudavakoda (Gift of cloth) - After the tying of the thaali, the groom gifts the bride a sari and a blouse on a platter. He may also give her betel leaves and areca nuts. This signifies that he will now assume the responsibility of providing for her. The groom's mother also gifts the bride with some jewelry at this time. This custom is reminiscent of the Podamuri during the sambandham ritual.
Maala maattal (Exchange of garlands) or Maala Ideel - The couple then exchange garlands accepting each other as life partners. The bride's father then places the bride's hand in the groom's, thus handing over his daughter to the groom in holy matrimony.
Madhuram Kodukkal - The bride's mother gives a glass of sweetened milk and a plantain fruit to the bridegroom and both the bridegroom and the bride share the milk and the fruit.
Sadya (feast) - After the blessings, the whole party is invited to take part in a strictly vegetarian feast. Rice and other dishes and curries like Parippu with ghee, Sambhar, Kaalan, Moru, Avial, two or three Thorans, Inchikkari, Naranga Uppilittathu, Kadumanga, Nellikka Achar, Nenthrakkai Upperi, Chena Upperi, Chembu Upperi, Sharkara Puratti, Valiya Pappadam, Cheriya Pappadam and sweet dishes like Ada Prathaman, Palada Prathaman, Semiya Payasam, Payattu (Parippu) Prathaman, and Palppayasam are served on Banana Leaf according to a well-set schedule.
Kudi Veppu (Entering the bridegrooms house) - This ritual involves the first entry of the newly wed in to the bridegroom's house. The groom's mother and elder female relatives perform aarti with an oil lamp (which rests on a platter heaped with rice mixed with turmeric) and receive them at the entrance. Both bride and groom enter the house, right foot forward. The bride carries the lit oil lamp that her mother-in-law gives her after arthi, symbolizing prosperity.
Adukkala Kaanal (Seeing of the Kitchen) /Nallavaathil - This is the official visit of the bride's parents and relatives to the house of the bridegroom after the marriage on a mutually decided date. Some gifts are exchanged during this customary visit and there will be a grand feast. As the name of the custom suggests, the girl's parents see and get satisfied with the environment of the new house into which their daughter is married. The custom is to see her daughter's new house and the environment. This is the concluding custom related to the marriage ceremony of Nairs.
There may be difference in the above customs with changes in the area and the community. Different communities will have different rituals for marriage. The ritual described above is of Nair Marriage.
Seemantham (also known as Pulikudi or Garbhamthozhikkal) denotes the preparation for childbirth and is performed between the fifth and seventh months of pregnancy. On an auspicious day, after being massaged with homemade ayurvedic oil, the woman has a customary bath with the help of the elderly women in the family. After this, the family deity is worshipped, invoking all theparadevatas and a concoction of herbal medicines prepared in the traditional way, is given to the woman. The woman is dressed in new clothes and jewelry used for such occasions. Among some Nairs of Malabar two local ritualistic additions called ariyidal andGarbha Prashnam are performed. In the ariyidal the seated pregnant lady is given rice and appams in her lap. In the Garbha Prashnam, an astrologer prescribes ritualistic remedies (if needed) for the protection of the mother and child as well as for smooth child birth in the event of any astrological obstacles. Afterwards, the pregnant lady visits four temples, including her own ancestral temple and prays to the deities for a healthy child and for a smooth delivery. After this she begins to observe Pula or birth pollution, which extends up to 15 days after childbirth. The family then holds a feast for all the relatives. Medicines and routines are prescribed for the woman, which are to be followed till childbirth.
Feeding Thenum Vayampum to the newborn
Just after the birth, the new born baby is fed a little bit of a concoction made of Honey and Vayampu (A herbal medicine known in Sanskrit as Vacha and in Latin as Acorus Calamus) into which some gold from a clean and pure golden ornament or ring is added by rubbing on a stone. This is given to the baby with the help of a piece of cotton dipped into the concoction.
Irupathi Ettu Kettu/Aranjanam Kettal/Palu Kodukkal
This ceremony is performed on the 28thth day after birth of the child, as this is the first time the nakshatram (star) of the child repeats according to the Malayalam calendar. During the ceremony, charadu (thread), one in black cotton and the other a chain in gold are intertwined and tied around the waist of the child. This thread is called 'Aranjanam'. The child's eyes are lined with mayye orkanmashi (Kohl). A black spot is placed on one cheek or asymmetrically on the forehead, to ward off the evil eyes. A mixture of ghee (melted and clarified butter) and honey is given to the infant as a base for its various foods in the future. This is similar to theJaathakarmam ceremony of the Namboothiris. The naming is done usually by the grand father of the child. The baby is taken on to the lap and a betel leaf is placed over the left ear of the baby and the name is called three times secretly into the right ear. Thereafter the name is publicly announced. Then other immediate relatives also call the name to the ear of the baby likewise in turn. In certain areas, the child's horoscope is usually made in between the birth and the Irupethi Ettu, so that a name based on an ideal first letter prescribed by the horoscope can be used to name the child. This name-giving ceremony is similar to the Naamakaranam ceremony of the Namboothiris. In some instances, piercing of the lower lobes of the ears for both boys and girls (Karnavedham) is also done on the same day. Otherwise, it is done separately on an auspicious day. Unlike the Namboothiris who perform Jaathakarmam andNamakaranam as separate rituals, Nairs mostly tend to perform them together on the Irupathi Ettu Kettu day.
Choroonu is the ritual of feeding rice to the child for the first time. Rice is the staple food in a Nair household, which is why the first intake of purified rice is celebrated on an auspicious day. After manthrams are chanted to request Agni (the God of fire) to purify the food, a mixture of melted ghee and honey, followed by boiled rice is served to the child. This ceremony is performed during the 6thmonth or after the 7th month of birth.
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