Kodava weddings are one of a kind
By Amrita Mukherjee
In ancient times, it would seem, the Kodava marriage festivities had a peculiarly communal character. On some great day a family would call together the whole grama, that is, all the families of one of the rice valleys, to a feast. The youths would have their ears pierced by the carpenters for earrings, and the maidens have rice strewn upon their heads. This was in those days called the marriage feast. The whole community feasted together, and the young people were now at liberty to go in search of husbands and wives.
With times, majority of the customs and rituals have undergone changes owing to cultural influences from neighbouring communities but the distinct flavor of the Kodava culture still stays intact.
According to traditional Kodava customs, men have seven kinds of Mangalas (usually, a marriage ceremony, literally, an auspicious event) -
1. Kanni Mangala – Marriage to a maiden
2. Kudavali Mangala – Marriage to a widow or divorcee
3. Kuttik Nippad or Okka Paraje – Performed to prevent extinction of the bride’s okka
4. Paccadak Nadapad or Makka Paraje – Again, performed to prevent extinction of the bride’s okka
5. Nari Mangala – Performed to honour one who has killed a tiger
6. Kemi Kutti Mangala – Ear-piercing ceremony
7. Baalek Mangala – Symbolic marriage to a plantain (banana) stump
Women have five kinds of Mangalas -
1. Kanni Mangala
2. Kuttik Nippad
3. Paccadak Nadapad
4. Nari Mangala
5. Paitandek Alapad – Performed to honour a women who has ten living children
Though women are part of the Kudavali Mangala, traditionally they do not have any muhurta (auspicious time) in the same.
There are a few other mangalas which are no longer performed, like, Kodi Mangala (parents celebrating their love for their child), Mane Mangala (performed to honour a man who has built a house for his family), Pole Kanda Mangala (performed to celebrate a girl attaining puberty), Kuliyime Mangala (performed to celebrate the first pregancy of a woman). Another mangala which was purely symbolic in nature was performed on the corpse of a bachelor to raise his status to that of a married man.
Rituals leading to a Kanni Mangala, may or may not involve horoscope matching and an astrologer. There is an old saying in Kodagu which says, “If minds agree, the stars agree”. So, unlike other Hindu communities, horoscopes are not paid heed to as much. Once a boy’s family hears of a suitable girl, a family member and the family’s aruva go to the girl’s family to seek her hand in marriage. This is known as Ponn Pareyuva. Aruvas (one who knows; man of experience) hold an important office among the Kodavas. They act as representatives, counselors, and guardians of families and individuals, on the great occasions of life. A particular friend of a neighbouring Kodava house becomes its Aruva, and a member of this house is naturally the Aruva of the other.
If the girl’s family agrees, a day for the engagement ceremony is fixed. This ceremony is known as Kuri Maduva. On the day of Kuri Maduva, three men – traditionally, a man from the boy’s okka, his aruva and another, go to the girl’s house. The girl’s family invites their own aruva and other family members and friends for the ceremony. In some cases, an astrologer is sought to find an auspicious day and time for the murta, which is written on a piece of paper called the lagna patrike.
Next are the Karik Muripa, Punda Pani and Oor Kuduva celebrations. Traditionally, these ceremonies took place separately in both the bride’s and the groom’s ancestral homes. But now since it is common to have a dampathi muhurta, which is a common muhurta for both the bride and groom celebrated at the same location, Karik Muripa is also celebrated at the same place. On the day of Karik Muripa, the preparations for the wedding take place, like chopping vegetables for the feast and so on. Punda Pani refers to the erecting of the pandal, which mainly consists of banana stumps. Oor Kuduva literally means gathering of the villagers, this dates back to the times when the entire village used to come together to help the bride’s and groom’s families to prepare for the marriage. Though the times have changed, it is still common to see the youth of the families helping out with most of the work pertaining to the wedding. Oor Kuduva is the day for all cousins and friends of the family to get together and usually is a joyous sight for an onlooker. The excitement and the slight tinge of naughtiness amongst the youth are warm and welcoming.
On the day of the wedding, the groom’s family and friends arrive at the venue; the men flaunting the traditional Kodava kupya and the women draped in Kodava styled saris. It is a great joy to see how a small community like the Kodavas has so fiercely held on to their age old and distinct customs and their traditional attire is a reflection of the love for their distinguished culture.
On arrival, the groom’s family performs a ritual of cutting banana stumps which is symbolic of the obstacles they had to conquer to win the bride’s hand in marriage. The martial nature of the Kodava clan has percolated to most of the rituals that we see today.
Once the groom’s family and friends enter the wedding hall, an elder from the girl’s family tells both the bride and groom about the journey they are about to embark upon and the hardships and joys to come. The elder then asks them both to take a moment to thank and pray to their ancestors and Goddess Kaveri.
Unlike other Hindu communities, a Kodava marriage ceremony is very simple and revolves around the values and wisdom passed down through the generations since time immemorial. The wedding commences with the bride’s mother adorning the bride with a gold necklace called pathaak, which is followed by an exchange of garlands by the bride and groom.
The garland exchange binds the bride and groom in matrimonial bonds and is followed by a blessing ceremony where family and friends from both sides take turns to congratulate the bride and groom with gifts and well wishes.
From here on start the most entertaining and joyous of events. Once the blessing ceremony is over, the bride and groom head for the wedding feast, but they are not let off that easily. One of the men from the bride’s wedding party stops and tells the groom that he was the one who should have been the bride’s choice and hence the groom would not be allowed to take her away so easily. The groom then has to make a peace offering to the concerned gentleman, which can be in the form of liquor or money. If the offering is found acceptable, it is passed on to the bride as a symbol of well wishes and acceptance of her choice to be with the groom. This dramatized ritual is as fun for the onlookers as it is for the participants.
Following the wedding feast, another interesting set of events take place. Now it is the groom’s side of the wedding party to have some fun. The bride, as a symbol of taking her first steps into her husband’s family, has to carry a pail of water on her head accompanied by two unmarried girls from the groom’s family to the mantap or the kitchen, depending upon the location of the wedding. This ceremony is called Neer Edpa or Ganga Puja as commonly known. Neer Edpa literally means fetching water, which in earlier days used to be from a nearby well as all wells were believed to carry water from the River Kaveri. The bride now is stopped by the groom’s family from entering the mantap or the kitchen to symbolize the hardships that she may face in a married life. The bride in turn patiently waits with the pail of water on her head to depict her commitment and will to overcome any obstacles that she may face. During this period of waiting, it is time for the youth of both the families to dance to the rhythmic beats of Valaga, traditional Kodava music, and drink and be merry.
After the Ganga Puja, another round of wedding feasts ensues. Once the dinner is over, the groom leaves with the bride for his house, accompanied by his family.
Such is the tale of a Kodava wedding, simple and elegant, values and culture embodied with merriment. It is an altogether different and joyous experience to be part of a Kodava wedding and it leaves a lasting impression on one’s mind.