It’s been years since I attended a tambram wedding, so when I got an opportunity to attend, it was too tempting to refuse given my curiosity to study the evolution of this phenomenon over the years. Any effort to find a marriage hall among the melee of the street vendors amidst a crowded alleyway in West Mambalam (in Chennai) on a Saturday evening is the next easiest thing after the proverbial needle in a haystack. A broken down auto rickshaw in the subway, a stubborn buffalo in the middle of the road, the carefree old women who cross the road as though it is the backyard of their houses and a TASMAC shop by the side were only that much more helpful.
We dropped anchor in front of what looked like a dungeon but for a few tube lights and a white arch with glittery red letters that depict who weds whom and the “Chamchung kaipesi kadai” (Samsung mobile phone shop in Tamil) opposite to it as the landmark. The creativity of whoever conceived a marriage hall in that locale is laudable. The narrow way opened itself to a two storey building with the ground floor being the dining outfit and the first floor a split air conditioned auditorium.
Before we realised anything we were in front of kasi halwa, a white and yellow (lime) sevai (tambram noodles), two different chutneys (sauces), bonda and a cup of coffee. They quickly disappeared as fast as they appeared as we moved into the auditorium to the glitz and glamour of the attendees and the hosts. The ladies were busy adjusting their pallus and pleats and the length of the necklaces to accentuate the openings of their designer tops and blouses. The young girls were displaying the dazzling zari of pattu pavadais (silk gowns) . The men were mere shadows of their opposite gender quietly curtseying to whoever the spouse introduced them to or furtively glancing the openings of the designer tops.
The nischayam (engagement) and the exchanges of suits and boots were quickly rounded up and the suited and booted groom with decked up bride were receiving the guests and smiling for the kodak moments with each of them. Girlfriends of yesteryears are all now mamis with multiple tires around waistlines. The music troop was busy balancing the sounds of the deafening orchestra that drowned the out of place voice of the vocalist who was singing more to himself in the middle of cacophony. The nadaswaram was upping the ante of this group with their untimely interludes. The loud shrills of a young girl frustrated by the friction caused by the overdone zari of her dress was an unexpected accompaniment. The fusion of the rumali roti, chole, bhirinji (pulav rice), bisibela, rasam and curd rice with a few sweet meats was quite representative of the heterogenous crowd that assembled there. Outside the dining hall, there were cut fruits and molten vanilla ice cream that resembled the idli maavu (batter) than ice cream, so much so, the ice cream spade that is used to carve it out was left there unattended like an adopted child in a pedigreed family.
The next day morning breakfast was heavy with idlis, pongal bereft of ghee, oothappam, vadai, sambar, white and kara (red) chutney, sakkarai pongal and coffee. After loading ourselves with the week’s quota of sugars we headed to the kasi yatrai and oonjal. The functions are now entirely hijacked by the photographers and videographers and the priest and the hapless elders just play along to their whims and fancies. An air conditioned hall closed with homam smoke and other toxic emissions by the biological beings within and around it, the discordant notes played by the nadaswaram and the rampant rumblings of the ghetti melam of thavil, in the pandemonium there with all the ingredients in the breakfast are a perfect recipe for a migraine. So before they all could conspire such an effect on me I slowly sneaked out to catch some fresh air.
“Aangirasa, Barhaspathya, Bharadwaja, thrayaarsheya…” the rishis and the clan were being invoked; “….mahadeva sharmanaha naptre..” the pedigree was being read out; “….mahavishnu swaroopaya…” the kanyadanam (the handover of the bride) was going on. The sister-in-law of the bride takes charge of the situation and leads the bride with her arakku pudavai (red solemnising saree) to don her in the traditional madisaar way and brings her back for the mangalsutra. “Kanyam kanaka sampannam, kanakaabharana bhooshitaam daasyami vishnave tubhyam brahmaloka jigeeshaya”. “I present you with my virgin daughter enriched by gold and adorned by golden jewels and ornaments (whether negotiated or by my own volition) to you O Vishnu who is in front of me as the bridegroom, in return for a seat in Bhramaloka”. The burden is handed over duly. Tears flow and flowers throw. Hands shake and legs ache. Fruit cocktails are served which are more froth and less fluids. A frail hand touches my shoulder as I turn back.
“Aren’t you Kishore? Don’t you remember me? N S Subramanya Iyer’s house in Karamanai?”….the old man was trying his best to impress me with his credentials. His eyes which are now deep into the sockets were twinkling at the find of a treasure. I was trying my best to recollect the exact location of his house and my memories associated with it. I could then vaguely remember the pride in which those eyes used to watch me as I recite the kramam in sri rudram on pradosham days. For no apparent reason tears were flowing down the old man’s eyes as I kept holding his hands. A wedding is also a time travel into the past and an unravel of its glory for many.
The lunch was too early after such a heavy breakfast. It was once again a fusion of savuth indyun ishtyle. There were kosambaris and also different pachadis and panchamruthams. The kaaLan was without its characteristic sourness and pepper. The usili was more of paruppu (dal) and less of beans. The solid ingredients in the payasam had nicely sedimented down to display their refusal to combine with the liquid. The fluttering drapery of the dining table shamelessly exposed a stray oothappam from the morning, lying beneath it on the floor like a lonely full moon on a starless firmament. We quickly finished the rituals of the feast and tried to catch the washbasin before it starts to overflow due to the blocked drains. A sweet pan and the return favour bag were to be grabbed on the way out as we once again stood out for a few kodak moments with the tired and contended young couple. Wishing them all the very best we slowly withdrew from the scene and into our car for an early siesta
Marriages of tambrams have hardly evolved except for the fusion in the food and music and the designer tops of the ladies. The rest of the travails remain the same, with an exception of an occasional frail hand on the shoulder and the eyes that reminisce the olden days and melt down. The buffalo and the old ladies had long gone, so was that auto rickshaw that was towed to the nearest mechanic shop and the TASMAC shop closed from the long and punishing sales that lasted very late into the night and the crowds who relished that hard fought potion were still in their deep slumber induced by it. The return trip was relatively smooth and relaxingly lonely in overloaded car burdened by the additional loads in the bellies of its passengers.
Image courtesy: http://www.momentville.com/AparnaAndSundar2011/tam_bram_wedding_rituals
the above link is also a good guide about the rituals for starters