Friday, October 01, 2010

Tale as old as Tam (Brahm)

And finally- the much awaited Tam-Brahm Wedding report!
Disclaimer: The longest post of them all.

Forget Endhiran, the Great Wedding was the most happening event of the year. After all, even Rajinikant with his multiple superhuman talents, cannot compete with the spectacle of the Tam-Brahm wedding. And the wedding that this avid anthropologist had the good fortune of observing was a confluence of both the Iyengar and Iyer sects of the Brahm Fold. This fact holds enormous significance given that the popular Iyengar proverb decrees that "to Iyer is barely human; to Iyengar is divine" and that all Iyers believe the Iyengars descended from a particularly dim breed of primates that forgot to evolve half-way through the process. Given this general animosity, it is a moment of great communal harmony to see these two sects engaged in friendly nuptials rather than sanskritised slandering.The only tension that may have prevailed would be surface-tension of incredibly distended tummies following meal after gigantic meal of rich mouth watering food. I was a part of the bride's retinue- making me an honorary Iyengar (the small fact of my confirmed carnivorous tendencies will be overlooked for the period of this post)

The Tam-Brahm wedding defies language in the grandness of its scale. Rajshri Productions should seriously consider moving their scene southwards given the potent singing-dancing-dressing-marrying-matchmaking fodder that these celebrations provide.The TB wedding I attended was a small affair spanning only three days, including the mehendi, in a hall huge enough to house a medium sized district. Being a member of any marriage party involves intense well-dressedness. This is especially so if you are (a)Female (b)Representing the bride's side (c) have friends like Nose-ring Girl who'd probably skin you alive and send your hide to Prada for a customised creation if you were anything short of haute couture. Besides this, when one is invited by ones friend to a wedding, one is honor bound to uphold her comrades reputation. Especially when the friend in question is Gunther and furthermore is the sister of the bride. Consequently, the author was uncharacteristically well turned out for three whole days (of course she recuperated by being a complete slob for the next week and a half.) Though the Tams are blessedly less gold obsessed than their Mallu brethren (then again it is difficult to compete with the Mallus in this arena, as in any other :D) they do have a distressing penchant towards silk.Well-dressed in Tam-Brahm parlance usually involves several yards of silk. Kancheepuram, Mysore, China and every other Silk-country finds a foothold in the Tam-Bramh wedding hall. Once again it is the women-folk who have to bear the brunt of this unofficial ramp/madai walk. The sari-fetish is satisfied by the various rituals which ensures that one would have to change saris at least twice a day.And given that Chennai, where this drama is unfolding, is rarely anything less than sweltering this is not a good thing. It is difficult to admonish uncomfortable toddlers to not tug at their beautiful silk blouse when the admonisher herself is tempted to chuck the whole ensemble and walk around in a T-shirt three sizes too large for her and shorts of the same ilk. However the author, like the aforementioned toddlers, was quickly distracted by the brilliant pageant unfolding before her.

Wearing ones own sari is a feat in itself. And in a wedding situation of the TB kind, sari drapers are in the greatest demand. The really good ones help the bride and the small fries help everybody else. Both Nrg and moi were employed in this knotty task. This of course meant that we were the last ones to exit the dressing room, leading to misguided assumptions of an exacting sense of fashion. While this a is mildly plausible characteristic in the ever-in-vogue NRG,it is truly ridiculous in the case of the author. Be that as it may, our sari tying stint was a chance to see several aspects of human nature. For example, the amount of sleep the tie-er had is inversely proportional to the number of times the pleats fall off the tie-ee. And it only takes one cranky baby tugging at your sleeve to realise how precious a single undone pleat is. And of course one cannot forget the Murphy's Law of Sari draping which was mentioned earlier- Regardless of how many you saved and how many you pilfered, the pins will always be missing. Another version of this law manifests in the issue of flowers. No South Indian Wedding is complete without it's garden-share of flower garlands- and these are not including the ones draped around the bride and the grooms necks. The jasmine strings are crucial to the TB look.It does not help that the Murphy's Law of jasmine-pinning is that, regardless of how many hairpins you use the flowers will fall off. This is of course assuming that you actually managed to locate the hairpins. Much like safety pins, hairpins too have an amazing propensity for disappearance.

But moving on from these hairy issues, we go to the next item of the dressing process. The bride, in all her brideness, must constantly be accessorised to complementary perfection. Which means that everyone in the dressing room must have some rudimentary knowledge of where exactly her belongings are. The subtleties of bridal accessories are mind-boggling. The dark brown bangles are different from the deep maroon bangles and the blue bangles must be replaced with the aqua bangles so that they go with the nth sari she will wear for the n-nth ceremony. In the background the minor characters barter jewelery between each other and help insert thick stemmed ear-rings into narrow ear-holes. Inadvertent swearing by either party is inevitable and highly embarrassing given that almost half of the population consists of the older generation or the younger generation. The last thing you need is the precocious, previously undetected six year old to walk up to the very prominent sixty year old loudly asking "Paati what is "!@#$" ? Akka just said that *angelic smile* ". There goes all your good-will and your friend stares daggers at you. Oops.

So now that the ladies and gents are decked out in their silks and clinking jewelery they proceed to the mandappam in the wake of the bride. The first day is more or less uneventful. Meaning there is only the nishcayathaarthum or engagement and a homam or pooja and another set of rituals and the interminable volley of photographs. The couple's starry-eyed look can be attributed to not just love but also continuous camera-flashes. While the bride and groom smile maniacally at the ever-ready cameras the others saunter over to the dining hall and proceed to gorge. The TB wedding feast is a tribute to the versatility of vegetarianism. Course after course of delicacies pile up on your palate until your digestive system cries out for mercy. Three days of this and you start developing a serious food aversion (thankfully and obviously short-lived of course). Breakfast consists of pongal, upma, idli,dosa,masala-dosa and just to make your stomach burst vadas and several un-named delicious savories and sweets and lots of ghee. Lunch is enriched with a variety of saadams,plain rice, poriyals, rasams, vadaams, diabetes/cholesterol inducing sweets and of course more ghee. Let's not forget tiffin which offers more vadas, dosas, idlis, complementary chutneys, savories and ghee. Dinner involves still more saadams, rice, curries and inevitably more GHEE. Squeeze us out and you could start an Amul Butter Co.

Meanwhile the couple continue to be fried under the glaring rays of effulgent photo-lights, their faces baked to form a unflinching 1000 watt smile. We the spectators mill around the dais sending them sympathetic glances while blessing our stars we aren't in the same position. While they are not being showered with blessings and beacons of dehydrating light the couple also have to be subjected to the garlanding. This is a phenomenon unique to the TB wedding as far as the author can say. Both families bring out a continuous stream of garlands blessed by different temples. The bride and the groom are draped with these offerings and then of course are obliged to pose for a photo with the same. It is all well and good when the garlands are of a normal or at least a manageable size. It is a whole new story when the happy couple are faced with a particularly large flowery confection. The poor bride and groom had just ridden themselves of a larger than common appendage and were nursing the kinks in their vertebrae, when a new procession of priests entered the mandapam and commenced yelling several unintelligible sanksrit shlokas which presumably blessed the couple with long life and happiness. All of this the bride and groom accepted with smiling equanimity, but then say saw what came after-wards. Borne by three people on either side were two gargantuan garlands that probably weighed a ton each. The Groom's eyes bulged, the bride mouthed an involuntary 'Oh my God!'. Both buckled visibly as the garlands were hoisted onto their necks. The bride and groom were then forced to stand Atlas-like while the photographers clicked away lazily. Marriage is a weighty affair.

Day two was the more 'happening' day, To begin with, the day began when the night was still in its toddler state. Two 'o' clock saw the hall buzzing with activity and the bride already shackled under heavy headgear and multiple make-up artists. M.S' Suprabhatam dallied with the annoyed cries of unwillingly awakened babies and overgrown babies. The general chaos was furthered by the fact that there was only one bathroom for more than twenty people. The Sari drapers ran helter-skelter searching for pins and grabbing pleats while the dressing room congregation collectively cursed the grooms-representative who hurried and harried us through out. Finally the bride,physical exertion and minimal sleep notwithstanding, emerged glowing like the sun in the east and proceeded to the mandappan to take part in the delightful Kasi Yatra. The Kasi Yatra is a ritual derived from the shaivite myth revolving around Shiva and Parvati's marriage. Apparently the missus kept the groom waiting and a rudimentary knowledge of Hindu mythology will remind you that patience was not Shiva's strong point. Thankfully he was not inclined to burn everything to cinders and simply decided to huff away to Kasi. The bride's father noticed the absent groom, hurried after the stomping deity, mollified his ruffled sensibilities, got the groom back to the venue and all's well that ends well. The modern re-enactment involves the veshti-clad groom striding a few steps towards the direction of Kasi, a large umbrella/ walking-stick and fan in hand as props, and the bride's father or oldest uncle brings him back to the mandapam. There have been cases where the brides father actually fails to notice the groom walking away and the hapless groom is left wondering whether his in-laws were trying to get rid of him. In this case the situation was humorous simply because of the uncanny resemblance to the myth. The Bride was late to the mandapam and kept her ready-to-depart groom waiting impatiently, umberella-a-tapping. Several jokes and comments later the bride and groom are taken to the longish swing which is the venue for the quaint Oonjal ceremony which basically involved them swinging while being fed milk (why this lactose obsession???!!!) and family members sing for them. The author personally feels this harks back to the days of child-marriage where by this time both kids would be cranky, hungry and sleepy so a little milk and some humming would go a long way in assuring that the next item of the program runs hassle free. And this would be the madisar initiation.The future mother-in-law drapes the bride in 9 yards of torture whose method is shrouded in madness and mystique and which is guaranteed to be unflattering even if you have the figure of a model. It is a tribute to this particular bride's beauty that she could make even this monster sari look good.

In the time that it takes to roll the bride into the madisar, everybody else goes to have breakfast.Food is of course the venue for gossip and fashion tips. It was especially refreshing to be a part of this wedding because the author was not family, not brahmin and therefore NOT MATCH-MADE! Ah the happiness of it all. Besides this the author are also saved from being accosted by unknown uncles, aunts,uncles of aunts etc. demanding that she recognise them on the basis of a short-lived acquaintance during her gaga-googoo years. Meanwhile the Bride is saried and lead to the mandapam for the pinnacle of all the activities- the muhurtam. The author being short and the crowd being large could not record everything that happened. It suffices to say that the knot was finally tied and everyone shed a tear or a dozen for the overwhelming sentiness of it all. Ah love... sigh. Of course time had passed in the process and everyone goes for lunch and somebody remembers to offer the couple some water before they faint from exhaustion. Another homam and several photos and handshakes later, the bride changes her sari yet again, has lunch and goes for the funnest part of the wedding program-the Nalanggu.

The Nalanggu (another throw back to the days of child marriage) is a collection of games that guarantee loud comments lots of laughter and general bonhomie. The bride and groom are pitted against each other in mini-competitions of coconut rolling, pappadum smashing, garlanding (while being carried by the brothers of the respective parties) and more. And of course whoever wins apparently gets the upper hand in the marriage as well. The Nalanggu is also the perfect time for out-of-station friends to go and buy the wedding gift. Which is what the author was doing and hence ended up missing all the fun. Ah well... something's got to give. But on the flip side this also allowed for a rendezvous with the inimitable and evercharming Posh-Git The silver lining,ladies and gentlemen!

Post Nalanggu everybody gets to rest a little. Which really means there is time for the bride to dress and change into yet another sari for the evening function-but this time she is unhurried. The wedding reception is dedicated to photos.The bride and groom probably suffered from sunspots in their eyes for at least two weeks following this event. It is during this function that the author had the good fortune of meeting the surprisingly sane Crazybugga as well as enjoying the musical talents of Nithyshree who was sadly greatly ignored by the thronging crowd more interested in gossiping, getting photographed and heading for the dining hall. I guess some things are common regardless of what kind of wedding you are attending. At long last the wedding comes to a close and the bride- who changes into yet another, less grand(?) sari- heads off to the new home. And the friends, sister and mother gather together hit by the sudden realisation that she has actually gone. That she is now a wife and that things are suddenly so different.

But such is life, change comes on swift,harried chaotic wings.And it's beauty lies in its uncontrolled flurries that sweep us away in its bewildering turns. After all what is life without drama and excitement to colour it. And all's well that ends well.