Wedding customs among Jaffna Tamils
In the past, before the advent of European rule in Jaffna, weddings were fully based on local customs. However, later with western influence, the legal registration of marriage has become an important part of weddings. Generally, this registration ceremony is fixed before the traditional wedding. This event usually takes place in the Bride’s house. The bride wears a traditional costume. This includes silk sari and different types of gold jewellery. They also change their rings in front of the registrar in western style and put their signature on the marriage document. Relatives and close friends are invited for this ceremony and a lunch or dinner is arranged there in a traditional way to those who attend the function.
Preparation of the Venue for Wedding
In Jaffna the wedding ceremony takes place either at the bride’s house or at a Temple. In the recent past wedding halls have been constructed within many temple complexes. A few decades ago, arranging weddings at the home was regarded as more respectable. Large temporary sheds are built in front of the house to accommodate the people who attend the wedding ceremony. This interior of the sheds are clad with white cloth and decorated with flowers, garlands, tender coconut palm leaves, colored papers and other materials. A decorative wedding seat is made within this structure. This seat is generally made by assembling readymade components made out of wood, velvet cloth, other brightly colored fabrics, glass beads with glittery coatings etc.
At the entrance to the house compound plantain trees are erected on both sides with the bunch of fruits. Here, on a table Niraikudam, which literally means “full pot”, is placed with traditional lamps and other auspicious items. This “full pot” is regarded as a symbol of prosperity as well as an invitation.
“Thaali” the Nuptial Cord and the Gold Melting Ceremony “Ponnurukku”
The most important item in a Hindu marriage in Jaffna as well as in South India is a nuptial cord called Thaali. During the wedding the bridegroom tie this cord with three knots on the bride’s neck. This is the climax of the wedding ceremony and in the past ladies never remove the “Thaali” from their neck when their husband is alive and they give great respect to this thaali. In fact Thaali proper is a small pendant attached to the cord.
A few days before the wedding day, a small ceremony with a small gathering of very close relatives is held at the groom’s house. This is arranged for melting the gold for making the thaali. The Gold smith, who was commissioned to make the thaali, performs the ceremonial melting. The groom would sit in front of the gold smith during this melting process. If the gold melts and hardens to a uniform round shape piece, it is regarded as a good sign. The Gold smith will use this gold for making thaali.
Climax of the Jaffna Hindu wedding, tying the “”Thaali”, the nuptial cord on the bride’s neck.
This wedding ceremony is held in traditional style. The Bride, Bridegroom and the visitors wear traditional dresses. During the wedding ceremony one of the bride’s brother usually a younger one would act as groom’s companion. He would also wear a costume similar to the groom’s one. He goes to the bridegrooms house with his relatives and accompanies the groom to the venue of the wedding. A Hindu priest officiates the wedding ceremony. Various elements and activities of this ceremony are highly symbolic and it is not appropriate to explain everything here.
The priest would sit in front of the ceremonial wedding seat and he creates a small fire there. The ceremony takes place in front of it. When people refer to weddings they say that the the symbol of the Fire witnessed these. First the groom comes and sits on the seat. The priest performs certain rituals. After this the bride is brought to the seat by her companion usually one of the groom’s sisters. She sits on the right side of the groom. A new silk sari known as the “Koorai” is presented to the bride and she goes back and changes her dress and comes back again dressed in the “Koorai” saree. The rituals would continue and as a climax the groom ties the nuptial cord on the neck of the bride. At this point she becomes the wife of the man and switches their places so that the bride sits on the left side of the groom. As per Hindu tradition the one’s wife sit on her husband’s left side. During the wedding ceremony the traditional “Nadhaswaram” music is played.
At the end, those who attended the wedding greet the couple by spraying rice mixed with some other auspicious things on their heads. After the ceremony is over lunch or dinner is served for the guests on plantain leaves on the floor.