Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Great Kodava Wedding

I have had a number of queries about what happens during a typical Coorg wedding. Since I can hardly count myself an expert on the subject, I turned to Google. Voila! I had all the information I needed. However, as I read it, I had a few mental yawns. So I've decided to break down the entire wedding process into little chapters and throw in some of my comments. Hopefully that will not scream "Snooze Fest" quite so much.

1. Karik Muripa / Panda Pani

Cutting vegetables for curry and erecting the marriage 'pandal' (stage)

One day before the wedding, members from the bride and groom's 'okka' (no, it’s not what you’re thinking) and villagers (where do we find these guys?) assemble for the 'karik muripa'. All the women gather together to cut vegetables in the main courtyard of the house (the women will offer to help but will really just sit around to drink and gossip as Mr Ravi caterer, of “wedding on the “falace” fame, will take over), helping the cooks prepare for the feasts that follow, while the men help to erect the 'pandal' (buggers, is that all they think about?)

2. Potti Dumbchiduva

(not potty, fool)

Packing the bride's trousseau in boxes.
After the people depart, it is time to pack the bride's trousseau. Members of her family gather in the 'nellaki nadu baade' and fill the boxes with her trousseau, which may include vessels (thank you, Prestige, for “Kitchen In A Box”), money (ha! Okay, maybe some Monopoly currency), jewelry and clothes. (Bride being prone to worry ulcers and finicky about getting things done ahead of time, this step will be done many days before the wedding day!)

3. Oorkudo Ceremony

Get together of close family, relatives (and friends looking for free food and booze).

The evening before the wedding all family members of the bride and groom get together in their respective wedding halls and have a big pre-wedding party. This is generally started off with an unlimited flow of booze and followed by dinner and dancing to the local valagakaara (folk musicians) music.

4. Rituals for the Groom

Kshoura (part of the Muhurtha)
Ritual shave for the groom (no, you pervs, not that kind of shave, although I know a certain someone who might volunteer to do that)
Early on the morning of the wedding, the groom (who I am quite certain will be heavily hung over from the previous night’s drinking session) is led to the 'kanni kombare' (the sacred room in the southwest corner of the house) where he sprinkles a little rice on the lamp that is kept there and salutes it. Next, he is led to the 'kanni kamba', the sacred pillar in the southwest corner of the inner courtyard of the house. He salutes the pillar and then proceeds to the sacred lamp kept in the 'nellaki nadu baade', sprinkles rice on it and salutes this also (didn’t know that action was called saluting!).

The barber applies milk on the groom's face (to get beautiful skin) and shaves his facial hair and a part of his forehead (if he has hair enough to spare for this). All the shaven hair is put in a plate of milk, making sure that not a single strand falls on the floor! (this is will be on sale on baazee.com the next day, so hurry!).

Bath: Ritual bath for the groom (everything is a ritual this day)
The 'kshoura' over, the bridegroom is led by his 'aruva' or bojakaara' (best man) for his bath. Three 'muthaides' (married ladies) pour water on him for his ritual bath (this is something of a fantasy come true for the groom).

The 'bojakaara' dresses the groom after his bath (shame, shame). Once he is dressed, the groom applies 'vibuthi' (sacred ash) on his forehead and chews betel leaves and areca nuts (How attractive is that?) before proceeding for his 'muhurtha' in a ceremonial walk.
A live band (mandatory in all Kodava weddings) now starts playing music to herald the arrival of the groom. The 'bojakaara' holds an umbrella covered with white cloth over the groom's head throughout the ceremonial walk to the 'muhurtha' site (just in case some well-meaning birds decide to shower him with their blessings).

5. Rituals for the Bride

Bale Iduva: Bangle wearing ceremony for the bride
In her house, the bride, dressed in a (deep red/ maroon) silk sari and long-sleeved blouse (in a bold break from tradition, brides now have three-quarter sleeves, ha!), is led by her 'bojakarthi' (Bride’s maid)'. A mat is spread on the floor and the bride and the bangle-seller sit on it. Glass bangles of various colours, such as red, green and black are slipped onto the bride's wrists by the bangle-seller. Black bangles are believed to ward off evil and have to be put on the bride's hands at this time.

Bath: Ritual bath for the bride
A lady from the 'aruva's' family or the 'bojakarthi' leads the bride for her ritual bath and three 'muthaides' pour water over her (too bad no men doing that).

Dress: The 'bojakarthi' helps dress the bride
After her bath, the bride's 'bojakarthi' helps her dress for the wedding ceremony (complete with silver shackles on feet and metal spikes driven through head). Once she is ready, the bride applies 'vibhuthi' (sacred ash) on her forehead, chews betel leaves and areca nuts (who is game for a spitting competition now?), before being led to the 'muhurtha' site in a ceremonial walk (by beauteous maidens, ripe for matrimony, holding lamps).
As in the bridegroom's case, the 'bojakarthi' holds an umbrella covered with a white cloth over the bride's head throughout the ceremonial walk (Again, same birds deal).

6. The Muhurtha Ceremony

Separate Muhurthas for the bride and groom.

Women come forward and bless the groom/bride before the men can do so. The mother is the first to bless the groom/bride followed by two 'muthaides'(them again!). These three ladies usually give gold coins as gifts (gold coins are welcome from everyone else also).
The special mode of blessing and presenting gifts at this time is as follows: a little rice is taken from the plates placed on either side of the groom/bride and if the Kodava (Coorg) guests coming to the wedding are older than the person who is welcoming them, the latter honors them by touching their feet and seeking their blessings. It is customary to offer guests water to wash their feet (and to drink so they get filled up before they hit the bar. The guests also bring cash for the bride/groom, and loads of it).

7. The Wedding Procession

The groom proceeds to the bride's home. The groom then touches the feet of all the elders, seeking their blessings (bend it!) before proceeding on his journey. Very close friends and relatives of the groom only go with the groom to the bride’s place (lucky for him, the bride is in the same place so he can save on petrol costs)

8. Kodiyaal or Koru Arapuvavu

Announcement of the arrival of the groom's procession (Ma, that boy is here. I think he needs to use the toilet again.)

On reaching the plantain stumps, three men from the groom's party go to the bride's house to inform her family of the arrival of the groom's procession.
The bride's family offers these three men refreshments (yeah, for sure they will be a thirsty lot) and then a chosen few from the bride's family along with the wedding band accompanies them to the spot where the plantain stumps are staked, to welcome the groom's procession.

9. Baale Birud

Cutting the plantain stumps

On the path leading to the venue of the 'muhurtha' in the wedding house, nine or more (always multiples of three) plantain tree stumps, each measuring approximately a yard in length, are fixed vertically to small wooden stakes driven into the ground.
The guest who is going to perform the 'baale birud' calls out to the gods and prays with the people who may be accompanying him. During the prayers all turbans and headgear are removed as a mark of respect.
After the prayers the guest cuts the three plantain stumps with the 'odi kathi' (knife). Before cutting them he walks around the stumps thrice, gently tapping the the top, with the 'odi kathi'. Then he cuts the stumps one by one, each with a single stroke, and then dances to the beat of the music (huh, hero).

10. Welcoming the Groom

"Come into my parlour", said the spider to the fly...
After the ceremonial cutting of the plantain stumps, the bride's family offers a traditional welcome to the groom. A young girl washes the feet of the groom and his 'bojakaara' with water. (The groom is trying to organize a foot massage at that same time, while the bride is coaching her young niece to demand money and lots of it for pedicure services).
The bride's family then showers him with blessings by sprinkling rice (or hurling rocks) on his head as he enters the bride's house. He and his 'bojakaara' are then led to the central hall of the house and are seated there.

11. Muhurtha

Preparations for the Muhurtha for the bride and groom

Before the bride or groom arrives at the 'muhurtha' site, the 'aruva's' wife lights the sacred lamp in the 'nellaki nadu baade'. She then spreads two or three mats, facing in a North-South direction, at the 'muhurtha' site. The washer man covers these mats with a carpet. In the center of this carpet the 'aruva's' wife places a 'mukkali' (low stool) and covers it with red cloth. Two other 'mukkalis' are placed on either side of the one in the center. A silver or bell-metal plate containing rice is placed on each of these and a 'kindi' (small metal pot with a spout) full of milk (or vodka, according to the choice of the bride/groom) is placed on top of the rice on one of the 'mukkalis'. Two tall brass pedestal lamps are lit and placed on either side of the 'muhurtha' site.
The bride/groom along with the 'bojakaara'/ 'bojakarthi' walk thrice around the 'mukkali' kept in the center. Before sitting on the stool the bride/groom, stands behind the 'mukkali', sprinkles rice on it three times and salutes (??) it by touching it with both hands and raising them to his/her forehead and then steps over it with the right foot (Bride’s nightmare: tripping at this point).

12. Dampathi Muhurtha

Combined Muhurtha for the bride and groom

The bride and groom are seated together under the canopy for the 'Dampathi Muhurtha'. The groom is seated first, to the bride's right. All the rituals observed here are identical to the ones observed in the earlier separate 'muhurthas' (you know, this is where guests come over and hand over their generous gifts, money and useless casseroles). After the 'Dampathi Muhurtha' is over, the groom showers rice on the bride's head, offers her milk in the 'kindi' and gives her the 'cheela pana' (a small bag made from red silk containing at least one gold, one silver and one copper coin) (and there better be more considering this bride needs to survive inflationary conditions in an emerging economy). This signifies that he is sharing his wealth with his bride (who is now giddy with glee – what is his is hers and what is hers is hers it seems). The couple then exchanges garlands.

13. Batte Thadpa

Blocking the path

It is time for the wedding procession to return to the groom's house with the bride. The bride's cousin, who could have married her by tradition, however blocks her path at the threshold and after much hilarity 'releases' her after her husband gives the cousin a gold coin! (Gone are the days where a gold coin will suffice, people get really demanding now and ask for a bottle of scotch and cash.)

14. The Wedding Feast

The Kodavas (Coorgs) are renowned for the smorgasbord of sumptuous dishes they serve at their weddings. Many kinds of meat dishes are served (and several different preparations of each type of meat) including pork, lamb and chicken (courtesy Mr Ravi Caterer of “wedding on the falace” fame).

15. Neer Edpa / Ganga Puja

Bride fetches water from a river or well (or stainless steel barrel)

This ceremony symbolizes the bride's becoming a part of the groom's family and helping in household chores (the groom can only hope at this point). The entire ritual also tests the stamina (and whether she visits the gym to actually work out) of the newly wed bride!
She is then led to the well or river for the 'Ganga Puja' (worship of the sacred river, Ganga) accompanied by the wedding band. Four small pots are kept ready beside the well. The bride draws water from the well and pours it into each of these pots. She then places two pots of water on her head, one on top of the other, on a small circular cushion. Two other ladies (beauteous maidens ripe for matrimony) from the groom's family carry each of the other two pots of water on similar cushions and walk with the bride, one in the front (preferably one who can push and shove) and one at the rear.
This procession is now ready to return to the pandal accompanied by the wedding band playing a slow beat. The bride is supposed to take very small steps ('mangalth mott' or wedding step) to the beat of the music. (Drunken) Members of the groom's family dance in front of her, not allowing her to proceed, thus blocking her path! (This could go on for hours and the bride has been warned that she will be standing with the pot on her head for at least 4 hours. Once this is done, the fun is over, folks, go home.)

16. Kombarek Kootavu

The groom is led to the bridal chamber (no guests get to see any of this so use your imagination)

Either the 'bojakaara' or the 'aruva' leads the groom to the bridal chamber (chamber!!? is this …..) where the bride is seated with her veil covering her face (and her mother’s orders to “act demure” ringing in her ears). Before he can proceed to the chamber, the (eager beaver) groom is led to the 'nellaki nadu baade' where he sprinkles rice on the sacred lamp and salutes it (what is with the saluting?). On entering the chamber, the groom lifts the veil from his bride's face (the tee-hee-shy-is-coming scene) and she touches his (damn smelly) feet (note to groom: get camera shots from all angles for this since this will be the first and last time this happens, it will be a reversal of roles hereon) seeking his blessings. It is now that the groom presents his bride with an ornament, usually a gold wedding band (Bride giddy with glee again. The groom is now officially done for life!)