World Elephant Day

I have always loved have been fascinated by elephants and when I heard there is a day dedicated to them, I knew this was a post I had to write since today is World Elephant Day.

The largest existing land animal, three living species of elephants are currently recognised: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, whereas Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs. The distinctive features of all elephants include a long proboscis called a trunk, tusks, large ear flaps, massive legs, and tough but sensitive skin. The trunk is used for breathing, bringing food and water to the mouth, and grasping objects. Tusks, which are derived from the incisor teeth, serve both as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. The large ear flaps assist in maintaining a constant body temperature as well as in communication. The pillar-like legs carry their great weight.

Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible. They are considered to be keystone species, due to their impact on their environments. Elephants have a fission-fusion society, in which multiple family groups come together to socialise. Females or cows tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The groups, which do not include bulls, are usually led by the oldest cow, known as the matriarch. Males or bulls leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild and communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound, using infrasound and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans and they appear to have self-awareness and appear to show empathy for dying and dead family members.

African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered and African forest elephants as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN. One conservationist has stated that both African and Asian elephants face extinction within twelve years. The current population estimates are about 400,000 for African elephants and 40,000 for Asian elephants, although it has been argued that these numbers are much too high. The WWF reports that Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the past three generations. An estimated 35,000 African elephants are still killed every year for their tusks, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

World Elephant Day is an annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants. Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, an initiative of HM Queen Siriki. Since then, World Elephant Day is recognised and celebrated by over 100 wildlife organizations and many individuals across the globe. This provides citizens, policy-makers, politicians, and governments a way to create and support conservation solutions that will make the world a safe place for elephants, wildlife, and habitat for future generations to cherish. The foundation uses a neutral approach that allows and facilitates everyone to conduct campaigns that demand cooperation across borders and political lines. The day is a rallying call for people to support organisations working to stop the illegal poaching and trade of elephant ivory and other wildlife products, protect wild elephant habitat, and provide sanctuaries and alternative habitats for domestic elephants to live freely.

The goal of World Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants.

The demand for ivory, which is highest in China leads to the illegal poaching of both African and Asian elephants. With the street value for ivory now exceeding that of gold, African elephants face a poaching epidemic. Elephants are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts, with the illegal wildlife trade putting elephants increasingly in danger because it is perceived to be a low-risk and high-profit endeavour. The loss of habitat due to deforestation increases in mining, and agricultural activities has become problematic, especially for Asian elephants. The fragmentation of habitat also creates isolation which makes breeding more difficult and allows poachers to find the elephants and set traps more easily. Asian elephants have lost nearly 30-40% of their habitat, making it incredibly difficult to maintain their offspring and themselves. Human-elephant conflict is a significant concern, as human populations increase and forest cover decreases, forcing elephants into proximity to human settlements. Incidents include crop damage and economic losses, as well as both elephant and human casualties. A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment and captivity can be a serious threat with Asian elephants often illegally captured in the wild and trafficked into the lucrative tourism industry. A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment.

Elephants have a vital role to play in shaping ecosystems and are considered a keystone species for the role they play. They trample forests and dense grasslands, supporting the growth of smaller species. They also travel vast distances, dispersing seeds in their dung, and supporting vegetation growth. Some research suggests that elephants could disperse seeds up to 65km, which helps to maintain the genetic diversity of many tree species and prevent local inbreeding. Therefore, elephants are critical to the integrity of the African savanna ecosystems.

So on this day, use your voice to spread the word about these gentle giants and support organisations and solutions to better care for them so they can move away from the critical and endangered lists. And before I go, here are some videos of the cutest baby elepants. Watch and smile!

What makes one a Singaporean

Yesterday was Singapore’s 57th National Day and as I was wondering what to write about the day, I started thinking about what makes one a Singaporean? Birth is one of course, but why do those who consciously become one do it? I know why I did it and you can read my story and journey here and here. While I was undergoing my process, I came across many who didn’t have any connection to the country and probably became a citizen only because of the privileges accorded by the red Singapore passport was far superior to their own birth country. They were not interested in the language of the country and by that I mean not making an effort to integrate and speak English which is the working language and one that brings together all the races, not interested in learning about the history and not even interested in its people.

So what makes one a Singaporean?

The first thing that comes to my mind would probably be words like obedient, hardworking and kiasu. These are words which probably describe a nation in which a competitive citizenry is obsessed with being number one in all that it does. A word that probably describes the Singaporean core perfectly is kiasu. A word that is Hokkien in origin, kaisu means being afraid to lose out and is Singapore in a nutshell. We need to win and be the first in everything, coming second is the equivalent of losing. This also translates to parents being tiger mums and dads who want their children only to get As in school and the only careers worth exploring are as bankers, doctors and lawyers.

The Singapore accent and Singlish are other Singaporean identifiers. When we travel, especially in the region, hearing the accent and Singlish being spoken takes you back home immediately and makes a connection in a foreign land.

Singaporeans are also very dedicated, especially when it comes to getting their favourite meal at the hawker centre or the latest Happy Meal toy, the biggest discount or the latest trend. We can stand in a line for hours just to reach the thing we want.

We are complain kings and queens and that’s probably a national hobby. With smartphone usage at a high, we love taking photos of those who we feel are breaking rules and post them on social media to complain. We blow stuff completely out of proportion just for the sake of our daily dosage of entertainment. Then after we’re done, we move on to the next better topic. But woe toward others, especially foreigners who complain about us or our nation. Then we get together to bash them up.

Singapore is a very safe place. As a woman, I can walk around the country even late at night, something I can’t think of doing in India. When we are out and want to save our seat or chope it as it we call it, we use our belongings to save the seat. So anything from a packet of tissue to an umbrella or even our office name tag or laptop can be left on the table and nobody will dare to dream to pick it up. It may be annoying to get your food and see empty tables, but all filled with tissue packets, but we put up with it and get on with life.

We are also a wonderful blend of old and new as well as traditional and modern. Old heritage buildings lie cheek in jowl with modern glass skyscrapers and it’s not unusual to see people wearing the latest fashions walking alongside those in a traditional kebaya or saree.

And of course, no post about Singapore can end without a note about Singlish and the fact that we can speak an entire sentence incorporating all four of Singapore’s languages. Our need for speed in everything and being first also means we speak so fast that outsiders need a translator when listening to us.

But all said and done, Singapore has its imperfections, but no country is perfect. We have to accept the good and the bad and make it even better together. So let’s get together and be grateful to this little red dot. Happy Birthday, Singapore! May you continue to prosper.

And as I always share, here’s this year’s National Day song. Enjoy…

Festivals of India: Aadi Perukku

Today is Aadi Perukku or Aadi 18, a little-known festival celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu. Also known as Aadi 18, Aadi Perukku is the monsoon festival celebrated in the month Aadi monsoon festival and celebrated on the 18th day of the Tamil month of Adi, which should be sometime between mid-July to mid-August. The festival pays tribute to water’s life-sustaining properties. Nature worship in the form of Amman deities is organised to shower Nature’s bountiful grace on human beings and to bless mankind with peace, prosperity and happiness.

Aadi is a month of fervour and observances dedicated to the Goddesses related to water and other natural forces where prayers and pujas are offered to propitiate the powerful goddess to seek their protection from the inauspicious aspects that are often associated with the month. No weddings or other similar functions are celebrated during this month. It is during this time that the monsoon peaks on the west coast and the rivers of Tamil Nadu, shrunken in the summer heat, get replenished, often to near full levels. The month of Aadi is the fourth month of the year with the first day of the month, usually falling on 16 July, celebrated as Aadi Pandigai or Aadi Perukku, and an important festival to most Tamils, especially newly-weds.

In India the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, Cauvery, Narmada and Godavari are considered sacred. Just like the earth gives us food, water is considered a sacred necessity to meet the needs of individuals. People began to worship water in the form of wells, tanks and rivers. It is common among people to throw fruits, flowers and saffron cloths when the rivers and lakes are in spate purely based on the belief that these rivers are the species of female deities. Similarly, every temple has sacred wells and tanks, and the water in these resources is considered pure.

Aadi Perukku is a unique South Indian and especially a Tamil festival celebrated on the 18th day of the Tamil month of Adi. The festival coincides with the annual freshness of rivers and pays tribute to water’s life-sustaining properties. It is celebrated near river basins, water tanks, lakes and wells of Tamil Nadu when the water level rises significantly heralding the onset of the monsoon.

Aadi Perukku, also called Padinettam Perukku where Padinettu signifies eighteen, and Perukku denotes rising is a unique occasion dedicated to all the perennial river basins of Tamil Nadu and major lakes water source areas and is intended to celebrate the water rising levels due to the onset of monsoon, which is expected to occur invariably on the 18th day of the solar month, Aadi which corresponds to the 2 or 3 August every year. This festival is observed predominately by women in Tamil Nadu as a water ritual, to honour nature.

The association of this ritual with fertility, sex and reproduction is both natural and human. This water ritual practice is performed on the banks of Rivers, which is described as a rice-cultivation tract. The history of this ritual practice dates back to the ancient period and was patronised by the Kings and royal households. Aadi is the month for sowing, rooting and planting of seeds and vegetation since it is peak monsoon time when rain is showered in abundance.

Apart from people flocking to waterfalls for pre-monsoon and monsoon festivals, people living on the banks of rivers and other water sources offer pujas to the water goddess and river gods so that when nurseries are raised in the fields subsequently and sustained by the northeast monsoon, the crops will be ready for harvest during the Thai Pongal celebration in 5 months in mid-January.

The most visible manifestations of the month of Aadi are the huge kolams or rangolis that are painstakingly patterned early each morning in front of houses. They are usually bordered with red and across the front doorway at the top are strung mango leaves. The first of the month is marked with a special puja, followed by a feast with payasam prepared with coconut milk, boli and vadai.

Aadi Perukku is a day of offerings and prayers to these rivers, which mean so much to the lives and prosperity of the people. The day is an occasion for rejoicing particularly for those living on the banks of all the main rivers, their branches and tributaries. The festival of Aadi Perukku is mainly observed by families living on the banks of the Cauvery River. On this auspicious day, relatives and friends collectively pray for the intermittent supply of water that would ultimately result in a good harvest. The devotees take a dip in the holy water. After the bath, they wear new clothes and perform some rituals at the bathing ghats along the Cauvery River. This is followed by abhishekham or the bathing of the Goddess Kaveri or Kaveri Amman.

A special lamp is prepared using jaggery and rice flour. The lamp is placed on the mango leaves, to which a yellow thread, turmeric and flowers are also added. The lamp is lit by the women and together with its accompaniments is floated in the river. Different forms of rice dishes are prepared and offered to the Goddess. Some of the commonly prepared rice dishes that vary in ingredients, colours or flavours include coconut rice, sweet Pongal, curd rice, lemon rice and tamarind rice. The devotees also worship the sacred river Mother Cauvery with rice offerings, Akshata and flowers. After completing the puja, the devotees eat the feast along the banks of the river with their families. The entire event turns out to be like a picnic on the banks of the Cauvery River.

Young girls observe this auspicious puja together with married women. It is a popular belief that maiden girls who make the offerings of Kaapparisi, a sweet dish made from jaggery and hand-crushed rice, Karugamani which are black coloured beads and Kaadholai which are earrings carved out of palm leaves shall be rewarded with good husbands. Young women play and dance to the tunes of folk songs on the occasion of Aadi Perukku. In some Tamil communities, the sons-in-law are invited on the day of Aadi Perukku and gifted new clothes. There is also a ritual in some districts of Tamil Nadu, wherein the newlyweds spend a month before Aadi Perukku at their parents’ home. Then on the day of Aadi Perukku, a gold coin is added to their Thali or Mangalsutra and they return with their husbands.

Mulaipari or the sprouting or germination of nine grains or navadhanyam in baskets or clay mud pots is a very important ritual which takes place at almost every village Goddess celebration. In its most original form, it is an exclusively women’s ritual and is of great importance to the whole village. The participants of the processions carry earthen pots with grown grains from nine different types of grains inside on their heads and walk towards a river where the contents are dissolved. Before the procession starts, special songs and dances like Kummi Pattu and Kummi are performed. The original meaning of the ritual performance is a request to the village Goddess for rain and the fertility of the land, to secure a rich harvest. The women are involved in large groups significantly implying the fertility of women also ensures the continuity of the human race with peace and harmony through empowered women.

All the year’s major festivals are packed into the six months that follow, culminating with Thai Pongal in mid- January, giving meaning to the Tamil saying, Aadi Azhaikkum, Thai Thudaikkum which means

Tamil Brahmin or Iyer Wedding Rituals

A wedding is the union of two people, and every culture and religion has different rituals which signify this union. The rituals and ceremonies surrounding marriage in most cultures are associated primarily with fecundity and validate the importance of marriage for the continuation of a clan, people, or society. They also assert a familial or communal sanction of the mutual choice and an understanding of the difficulties and sacrifices involved in making what is considered, in most cases, to be a lifelong commitment to and responsibility for the welfare of spouse and children. Marriage ceremonies include symbolic rites, often sanctified by a religious order, which are thought to confer good fortune on the couple. Because economic considerations play an essential role in the success of child-rearing, the offering of gifts, both real and symbolic, to the married couple is a significant part of the marriage ritual.

In India, the variety of communities and religions ensure that weddings are a glitzy affair with Hindu weddings being highly elaborate affairs, involving several prescribed rituals and in most cases, the date of the ceremony is determined by careful astrological calculations. Indian weddings are known for their grandeur and vibrance. Tamil Brahmin weddings, especially hold a special place because of their meaningful rituals and ceremonies that bring two families together. The community I belong to also has traditions and ceremonies that are unique to us and here is a small attempt to demystify them.

Tambram or Tamil Brahmin is a phrase used to refer to the Brahmins who trace their origin to Tamil Nadu. This is separate from the Palakkad Brahmins who trace their origin to the Palakkad district in Kerala and who were the brahmins who fled Tamil Nadu during Muslim invasions and were given refuge by the then King of Palakkad. While the traditional tambram wedding does not have the typical North Indian ceremonies like Mehendi and Sangeet, today’s wedding traditions have incorporated them and the result is a beautiful fusion of wedding traditions.

Tamil Brahmin wedding rituals are based on the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The spiritual symbolism of each ritual remains the most important and though the wedding may seem simple without much pomp, it is religious and very personal. A traditional Iyer wedding is an amalgamation of Vaidika ceremonies which are rituals as per the Vedic scriptures and various other rituals. While the core marriage rituals are Vedic, these are accompanied by a lot of other rituals that are loukika in nature, or not prescribed in the Vedas or the Puranas but are in practice due to popular acceptance over time. These loukika rituals may not be uniformly followed by all brahmin Iyers with customs and practices followed by individual families different.

Decades back, the wedding used to be a four or five-day affair and I remember my grandmothers telling me about their weddings when the whole village came together for a week to celebrate it. But today’s weddings are usually a day and a half, with many only having two half-day ceremonies and merging the previous evening’s ceremony with the reception to save time and money. The following ceremonies are followed by most of the brahmins, but some families may omit certain rituals and others have something slightly different.

Before the actual wedding date, there are pre-wedding rituals that are done after which the wedding takes place.

Nischyadaartham: In most Iyer weddings, the matching of the horoscopes of the bride and the groom is an important step. Once the marriage is fixed, the nischayadaartham or engagement ceremony is held on an auspicious day. Following a pooja invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesha to remove all obstacles, an exchange of coconut and thamboola or betel leaves and areca nuts is done in the presence of elderly members of both families. This ritual is also known as vaang nischaya or committing by word. The reading of the lagna patrika giving details about the date, day, time or the muhurtham and place of the wedding along with family details of the bride and the groom, is then signed by representatives of both the families, usually the fathers. This makes the engagement a written and signed contract and is a later addition to the nischyadaartham and has now become a part of this ceremony, over time.

Sumangali Prarthanai: Sumangali Prarthanai is a prayer done by the married women invoking the blessings of female ancestors, who would have passed away as sumangalis, aka who died before their husbands. Sumangalis, who are invited, are supposed to represent the ancestral sumangalis and are worshipped and fed as per the customs and practices prevalent in individual families. Along with the sumangalis, a kanya or a young girl who has still not attained meranche is also worshipped and partakes in the feast. Usually, the sumangali prarthanai in the bride’s family is done before the wedding so that the daughter, who will be getting married, can be a part of the ceremony and receive blessings. In the case of the groom, it is done immediately after the wedding so that the new daughter-in-law can participate as a sumangali in this ritual. This ritual is usually done before any auspicious event in the family and I had done this before BB’s thread ceremony. Also, it can only be done once a year by a family as a whole, so for multiple weddings or other such ceremonies, only the first one will be counted.

Pongi Podal: The bride and the groom are invited by their respective aunts, which will be the mother’s brothers’ wives or maamis and the father’s sisters or athais and treated to a traditional feast including Pongal and other favourite dishes. This feast is prepared by elders of the family to celebrate and bless the bride and the groom, who will then go on to form a family of their own.

Yatra Daanam: The groom and his family travel to the bride’s place of residence or the venue of the wedding after praying to Lord Ganesha and giving daana or alms to Brahmins to ward off evils. It is also considered auspicious to break a coconut before commencing the trip.

Other than these pre-wedding functions, other smaller functions also take place in the homes of the bride and groom which include praying to kula-devatas or family deities, erecting a panda kaal or a bamboo pole with plantain-covered decorations outside their homes after special prayers for the smooth conduct of the wedding and the applying of mehendi or henna for the bride and other ladies of both the families with the groom also applying some henna symbolically.

Now let’s go to the main ceremonies, which are included in the two-day event

Receiving the groom’s party: In country-side weddings in the olden times, the groom’s party used to be welcomed at the boundary of the bride’s village with the nadaswaram being played. I remember a wedding we went to when I was about six where the bride was my father’s maternal cousin and the bride was his paternal cousin. We initially stayed in a smaller town before going to the village where the wedding was to be held. Almost at the village, my grandfather wondered about the same thing, about whether there would a welcome committee at the entrance of the village since we were the groom’s party at that point. Today, the groom’s party is ceremonially received at the entrance of the wedding venue by the bride’s parents and relatives with coconuts, flowers and a thamboola with two decorated conical structures called paruppu thengai kutti which is made out of jaggery, lentils and coconut.

Vratham: This is a Vedic ritual that involves the groom taking permission from his father who is his first Guru to end his Brahmacharya Vratha or bachelor life and get married to lead the life of a Grihastha. Both the bride and the groom are made to perform certain samskaras or philosophies and a sacred string of protection called Kaapu or raksha is tied to the wrists of the bride and the groom after the chanting of Vedic mantras to protect them from all evil spirits.

The Sprinkling of Paligai: This ritual originally involved planting a row of trees by the families of the bride and the groom. Over time, the actual planting of trees has given way to germinated seeds of nine kinds of pre-soaked grains being sowed in five clay pots each for the bride and the groom’s side. These seeds are sowed into these clay pots along with the sprinkling of milk mixed with water by married women from both families with prayers for a long and happy married life for the couple and blessings for their progeny.

Janavasam: This is when the groom is brought to the mandapam or the wedding hall in a grand procession accompanied by nadaswaram and sometimes the bursting of crackers. In the days gone by, this was a chance for the entire village to see the groom and his family and if anyone had any objections to the groom or his family, they had a chance to let the bride’s family know before the wedding. The rituals done during the nischyadaartham are repeated here and the bride’s brother presents clothes and jewellery to the groom and the groom’s sister does likewise to the bride. Both are then taken to a nearby temple to obtain blessings.

Kasi Yatrai: A very unique ritual amongst the brahmins, in this ritual, the groom carries a bamboo fan, an umbrella, a walking stick, and a grantha or a book of learning like the Bhagavad Gita, wears new slippers, and sets out to go to Kashi or Varanasi for further learning. He is stopped by the bride’s father who requests him to stop travelling for learning and offers to give his daughter in marriage to him so that he can return to be a Grihastha. The groom agrees and returns to the marriage hall for further rituals.

Maalai Matral and Oonjal: After the groom agrees to get married, the bride arrives and garlands are exchanged between the bride and the groom amid cheering by family members. The bride and groom exchange garlands under the guidance of their respective maternal uncles, an important figure in the hierarchy of a Hindu Family.  In the Indian tradition, a garland worn by an individual is generally not worn by another. By making an exception to the rule, the unification of two souls and oneness of the couple brought together by matrimony are highlighted. The bride and groom are carried by their uncles and brothers and each group tries to move away from the garland. Finally, the garlands are exchanged thrice and then the groom leads the bride by holding her hand to a decorated oonjal or swing. The swing symbolises the vicissitudes of life that the couple is expected to face and cope with, in perfect harmony. While they are seated on the swing, married ladies from both families symbolically wash the couple’s feet with milk by sprinkling some milk on their feet and wiping that with the edge of their sarees. At this point in the wedding, the bride and groom are the epitomes of Lord Vishu and his consort, Goddess Lakshmi. The women then wave coloured rice balls around them and throw these balls in all four directions to ward off evil and propitiate the planets and gods representing the directions. The bride and the groom are given a mixture of milk with pieces of bananas. Women of both families sing songs for this occasion. The Oonjal is followed by the vara poojai wherein the bride’s father welcomes the groom and washes his feet with water and the groom begins the marriage rituals with a prayer to Lord Ganesha. The Gothras of the bride and the groom are announced loudly by the priest along with their lineage up to three generations.

Kanya Daanam: The bride sits on the lap of her father, who holds a thamboola or betel leaves and areca nut in his palms. She then places her palms holding a coconut on her father’s palms. As the groom receives the bride’s hand from her father, the bride’s mother pours water over her daughter’s hand, which is made to fall on the ground like a dhaara or stream. This ceremony is called dhaarai vaarthu kodukkal in Tamil. The mantras chanted by the bride’s father symbolise the groom as a personification of Lord Vishnu and Gothra or the lineage of the bride is changed to that of the groom. This can be the equivalent of the western tradition of the father giving away his daughter in marriage. In some families, they also change the name of the bride to symbolise a new beginning. While for most people, it is just symbolic, in some families, the bride will henceforth only be called by her new name.

Maanglya Dhaaranam: The groom gives the ‘koorai podavai’ – a traditional nine-yard saree to the bride that she is supposed to wear to begin her life as the missus. The groom’s sister and other ladies of his family take the bride away to help her drape the ‘koorai podavai’ for the ‘maanglya dhaaranam’. The bride’s father then, once again, washes the feet of the groom and gives him a mixture of curd, honey and ghee. The maangalya or the mangalasutra are twin pieces of gold that is one each from the bride and the groom’s side and is placed on a yellow sacred string. Once the bride is ready in the nine-yard saree, she comes back and sits on the lap of her father and is showered with gifts and blessings. This happens before the couple tie the knot where the priest places a yoke denoting harmony and coordination on the head of the bride upon a sacred grass and the gold mangalyam or the wedding chain. Water is poured amidst the chanting of hymns, praying for her happiness and prosperity. The mangalsutra is tied around the bride’s neck in three knots, the first tied by the groom and the other two knots are tied by the groom’s sister. If the groom does not have a sister, a cousin does the honours. This signifies that the bride is welcomed by the groom’s family with the groom’s sister a representative for her family. This ceremony is performed amidst the chanting of mantras and a crescendo of nadaswaram, ketti melam, akshadhai showers of turmeric smeared rice and flower petals by the family members and friends to bless the couple. I was sobbing during this ritual as it finally hit me that I would be leaving my parents and moving out. I remember S trying to wipe my tears and do the rituals at the same time.

Paanigrahanam and Sapta Padhi: The groom holds the hand of the bride amidst chanting of hymns conveying that the Gods have ordained that they live as man and wife without parting and that the groom leads the life of a householder. The Sapta Padhi or seven steps is vital for the completion of the marriage. The groom takes the right foot of the bride and makes her take seven steps with prayers for her happiness, well-being and prosperity. The chants indicate that each step signifies the essentials of a harmonious life including, food, strength, wealth and prosperity, love and affection, progeny, opportune time and lasting friendship. The bride and the groom circle the Agni and on reaching the ammi kal or grinding stone the groom takes the toe of the bride’s right leg and places it on the stone. This signifies that the bride’s mind should be rock-like, unperturbed by the trials and tribulations of life. When they return to sit in front of the fire, the bride’s brother puts two handfuls of puffed rice in her hands, which is then offered to the Agni by the bride and groom with a small quantity of ghee. This entire ritual is repeated thrice.

Arundhati Nakshatra: Another interesting ritual is when the bride and groom are asked to take a look at the two-star constellation of Arundhati and Vasishtha, part of the bigger Saptarishi or Big Dipper constellation. In this special constellation, the two stars, Arundhati and Vasishtha move in tandem while revolving around each other, just like how a married couple should be. Now the funny thing is that brahmin weddings take place in the morning, and this ritual will come around the end of the wedding rituals, so around or before lunchtime. And one cannot see the stars at this time of the day, so all couples just look confusedly when the priest points to where the stars should be and nod their heads when asked if they saw them.

At the time of completion of chanting of mantras, the groom unties the darbha rope tied around the bride. This is followed by blessings showered upon the newly-married couple by all the elders of both families.

The first visit of the bride to the groom’s place and of the groom to the bride’s place is marked with female relatives giving them paalum pazhamum or a mixture of milk with bananas. A nalangu ritual may be held either at the wedding venue or the groom’s residence, wherein the bride and the groom are made to play some fun games that are more of an ice-breaker between the bride and the groom and also between the bride and her new family. This was relevant in the days when the bride used to be very young and was played so she gets used to the groom. It’s a fun ritual, but not relevant in today’s time, which is why I decided not to have it at my wedding.

For some families, this would be the end of the wedding function, while for others, there would be a reception in the evening where friends and colleagues would also be invited.

The bride then leaves for her marital home, where she will be welcomed with an aarti to ward off all evil and asked to kick a small cup of rice before she enters the home. This is to symbolise the prosperity she will bring with her.

I hope through this post, you got a small idea of how a Tamil brahmin or specifically an Iyer wedding takes place. This post will also help me explain to GG & BB their traditions as they grow older and may want to learn more. Writing this also brought back so many memories, and I relived my wedding which was amazing!

Poem: Ode to a Saree

The saree is a timeless traditional Indian garment which is more or less worn across the country. Each region and state has their speciality and that’s what makes this garment unique. Multiple people will be wearing the same thing, but none of them will be the same. I love to wear sarees, but living outside India, I don’t have as many opportunities to wear them as much as I like. So here’s an ode to that six yards of grace and elegance.

Ode to the Saree

Six yards of pure joy and elegance
Graceful and flowing, full of brilliance
A symbol of a garment’s unwavering importance
Encapsulating the true Indian woman’s essence

Unstitched and long flowing, in multitudes of colours and fabrics
There is saree accounting for all tastes and pocket economics
The saree has stayed its course over centuries
Even today, every Indian woman has many of these beauties

There is a saree that represents every state and region that is a masterpiece
Craftsmen have spent years perfecting their skills and expertise
With embroidery, sequins, motifs, gold borders and intricate pallus
Many sarees have stories to tell, but only if you are not too obtuse

From the Kashida of Kashmir to the Muga of Assam
From Gujarat’s Patola to Tamil Nadu’s Kanjivaram
The saree is even today essential in every bride’s trousseau
The outfit guaranteed to bring out that very special glow

Modest and sexy, feminine and demure
It’s all in the drape you see, that special allure
Timeless in fashion, ancient, yet contemporary
No wonder the saree is a style statement always in trend