Kancheevaram, Jhimikki…and a happy smile!
South Indian brides have always been the subject of contention regarding their jewellery. Some ridicule the tradition of the brides being decked up in gold, some are just awed by it, and many others are angered by this seeming waste of money. However, it is the centuries-old traditional and religious aspects behind each and every act that will provide the answers to such a custom.
Why, you may ask, does the bride have to wear so many ornaments? Yes, friends, there is a purpose. And so sweet a purpose that you’ll want to rush off to open your lockers, take out all that jewellery and wear it again.
Let’s take the Tamil Brahmin wedding as a case study. It is a well-known fact that no matter how modern the family may be, the marriage ceremony follows the Vedic style. Traditionally, the wedding used to be a 5-day-long affair, but modern times have seen the ceremonies being compressed to three days—which is just as hectic and fun-filled. The ceremonies start off with a fertility rite called the palligai thalikkal or sowing of nine types of cereals. But the main ritual is the vrutham or vow, where the bride, the groom and their families hold prayers and vow to go through with the ceremonies and seeks the blessings of the departed souls. Later the groom arrives at the venue in a procession and is welcomed by the bride’s family. An engagement ceremony follows. Then is the amusing Kashi yatra, where the groom decides to take up asceticism. It is up to the bride’s father then, to convince him otherwise, and get the groom to agree to marry his daughter. Now, the bride and groom exchange garlands. This is yet another heart-warming custom where the respective maternal uncles lift the bride and groom onto their shoulders, signifying sibling support to the mothers.
The bride and groom are then seated on a swing. The rocking motion of the swing signifies the rocky path ahead and gives the message that as they sit together on the rocking swing so too must they stay by each other in life. The bride’s father then seats his girl on his lap and gifts her to the groom in the Kanya Daanam ceremony. The groom ties the mangalsutra or the thali and the couple takes the saptha padi or the seven steps. Each step is a vow—of a happy life; of harmony, love and trust; for children; to care for each other; to be true companions to each other and so on. Then starts the ceremony of games—a way to familiarise the newlyweds with each other.
But in all this let’s not forget about the bridal attire and jewellery. Down south, gold is regarded as a sign of prosperity. It is even worshipped as divine. As a result ornaments are crafted for almost every part of the body—the sun and moon hair adornments and the nettichutti for the forehead; the long maanga mala which comes to rest on the navel and is believed to prevent pulmonary diseases; the divine Lakshmi haaram; the odiyaanam or hip belt; the vanki or armlet and the vala or bangles for the arms; the bell-shaped jhimikki or dangling earrings, accessorised by the mattals or chain connected from the earring to the hair and even the nose ring.
Did we forget the feet? No. For you will rarely find a South Indian woman wear gold on her feet. The divine nature that is attributed to gold forbids women from using it for their feet. So anklets and toe rings are usually made of silver. Now you see why jewellery is given so much importance? It is considered divine, it is considered pure, and to adorn a woman with gold is to give her the highest status possible.