Iyengar Marriage Rituals – Part Four

After taking the blessings, the couple must visit the family deity with a garland and worship the family gods. Following which the girl is taken to the house of the groom. An aarti is performed, with turmeric and limewater, for the couple, at the entrance of the house to ward off the evil eye. On her first entrance, into the house, the girl is seated on a bag of rice. This is done again perhaps to signify the prosperity, as she is supposed to be the very form of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth.

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Her sister-in-law, the sister of the groom, gives her a mild repast of plantains and milk. She is also asked to light a lamp in the family shrine and worship the Tulsi (basal) plant, grown in the yard, after which she returns to her mother’s house. Marriages do not take place during the month of Margazhi, as it is called Peedu maasam or Punya maasam and the entire month is devoted to prayers and the worship of God to gain spiritual benefit. 

In the olden days the nuptials were kept much later, some time even after several years, till the young bride attained puberty. Even today a special time and muhurtham is fixed for the nuptials. The nuptials are held in the groom’s house. Before the bride and the groom enter the nuptial chamber they are pronounced with the slokas. These slokas are meant to explain the holiness of the union, the purpose and method of the union and to ensure the birth of an ‘atma putra’. The atma putra is a son born out of a spiritual union, as against a kama putra who is born out of a carnal union.

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During the marriage of Gauri and Krishnan all these customs were observed fully with much fanfare and without missing their significance. The marriage took place in Delhi at Shankar Vidhya Kendra, Vasant Vihar, in the presence of a sizeable Iyengar community of Delhi and was conducted by half-a-dozen Iyengar priests. Beautiful Iyengar women, in their colourful Kancheepuram silk sarees and flashing diamonds, filled the courtyard of the Vidhya Kendra, which is a modern building. We Kashmiris matched them well with our beauty and grace. It was very interesting to see how Gauri’s father, a famous Art historian and Nehru Fellow, Dr. Ratan Parimoo, a proper Kashmiri Pandit, was repeating the mantras in Tamil after the Iyengar priests. Everyone was trying to maintain the sanctity of the sacred rites. 

Krishnan has four doting sisters and several aunts and all of them are well-trained in Carnatic music. Hence, we had them breaking into a chorus at an interval of every few minutes. They sang melodious songs at the commencement of every single ritual and for every step of the ceremony appropriate with the occasion. All the ceremonies – like the bride and groom entering the hall, sitting in the mandapam, being seated on the swing or playing games with each other, were conducted with appropriate singing. The best part was that they sang for both sides, for the boys’ party as well as the girl’s party.

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It is interesting to note that the sacred singing called ‘henze’ goes on throughout the rituals during the Kashmiri Pandit weddings too. A group of elderly women sit on a side of the mandapam and sing non-stop as each ritual is carried out; so we could very much appreciate what the Iyengar women were doing. The only difference that I could see was that the Kashmiri ritualistic singing is more like repetitive chanting, while the Iyengar singing is more rhythmic and musical. 

Gauri had a typical South Indian hairdo, with her hair plaited in a long plait and adorned with flowers. She wore a South Indian gold headgear with the decorations of the Sun and Moon on either side of her parting and an ornament called ‘Rakoodi’ on the bun behind. Contrary to that, a Kashmiri bride wears a gold embroidered cap and her hair is made into two plaits that are covered with gold ribbons (gota) and tied in silk Kunjalams. In fact, the brides wear Kunjalams all over India to tie their plaits. Gauri first wore a green-red Gujarati Bandhini saree from the side of her Gujarati mama and then changed into a nine-yard Iyengar saree (madisar), while Krishnan wore a panchakachham and was bare-bodied throughout – which is unheard of in Kashmiri weddings. It being a cold place the bridegrooms generally wear a warm overcoat, (achkan), trousers and a turban. Hence, a bare-bodied, bare-headed bridegroom was quite a matter of curiosity to the Kashmiri clan. 

Before I conclude I must tell you that Gauri and Krishnan met at the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. He was in the Department of Engineering and she was in the Faculty of Fine Arts where she was studying Bharat Natyam and the History of Art. They met quite unexpectedly. The Department of Dance, under the leadership of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, was coming to Madras to perform at Kalakshetra and at the Chidambaram Natayanjali Festival. Prof. Chandrasekhar had invited Krishnan, who was well trained in Carnatic music to accompany them on their South India Tour. During the tour Krishnan sang and Gauri danced, and before the tour ended their romance was all over the place. Their marriage took place with the consent of both the families and in deference to the wishes of his family, the Parimoos agreed to have an Iyengar wedding.

Today they both live and work in Singapore. He as a senior executive in a hardware multinational and she as a curator in the Asian Civilisations Museum. The daughter of the renowned artist couple, Dr. Ratan Parimoo and Naina Dalal, Gauri herself has a doctorate in the History of Art. She is currently putting together a ‘Gallery of South Asia’ for the Museum with special focus on south India. It is the greatest contribution a Kashmiri girl can make to the culture of her husband. If you make a trip in Singapore, do not forget to visit the South Asia gallery, in the museum, and pay a tribute to the woman who is behind it.