Syro- Malabar Church with its headquarters in Cochin is the second or third largest Rite in the Catholic Church. It is also the largest denomination among the different factions of the original pre-Portuguese Malabar Church.
There is a great deal of similarity in the matrimonial customs among the various Christian segments in Kerala. Some of the procedures are even common to those practiced by the Hindus. But regional, cultural and status-wise variations do exist.
Though the number of love marriages is rapidly increasing, arranged marriages are still common. The avenues for this are mainly matrimonial advertisements, marriage bureaus, relatives and common friends. Both sides make enquiries about the other and if compatibility is indicated on critical factors, the boy and the girl meet, may be several times.
If they like each other, Kalyana nischayam is held. It is sometimes called Kalyana Urapeer and means formally fixing the marriage. In the past, only a few senior men from both sides used to attend such meetings, at the boy’s place. But now ladies also take part.
The next important step is Manasammatham or betrothal conducted by the bride’s side. This is a big event though it has no Canonical or legal value. The boy and girl declare to the priest in the parish church that they are willing to marry each other according to the laws of the Church. The boy puts a ring on the girl’s finger. The priest blesses them. Then they sign a register. It is witnessed by one person from each side and countersigned the priest.
But before the betrothal takes place, the boy and the girl have to attend separately a two day stay in Marriage Preparation Course at an approved facility. This is a very good system. Various important aspects of family life are explained to those who are about to get married. It can be of great help.
In my family, Parayil, the priest used to come to the house and conduct the Manasammatham function. I think we were the only ones who were permitted this rare privilege. But after many generations it was stopped about ten years back by Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, the then Head of the Syro-Malabar Church.
After the betrothal, the bans are notified at the parish churches of the boy and the girl. If any one has sufficient valid reason that the notified marriage should not take place he is obliged to report the matter to the parish priest. But if there is no objection, the parish priest issues the required certification to his counterpart at the church where the function is to take place.
On the wedding eve there are evening parties at the boy’s and girl’s places. This is known as Mathuram Vekkal meaning ‘giving sweet’. Close relatives and friends would be present. The sweet used to be either a conical savoury called ayani churut or grated coconut mixed with honey and a bit of salt kept on the side of the plate. These days mostly cakes are used. In the case of the bride her sister and husband, and for the boy his sister and husband usually performs this.
There used to be a practice of the bride’s eldest maternal uncle taking her around the house after Madhuram Vekkal in the light of a koluvilakku in what is called ‘bidding goodbye to the paternal home’. One purpose of this was to give the tenants and workers who would not be attending the wedding an opportunity to see the bridal ornaments. Now this is rarely done.
Usually, the boy’s side conducts the marriage. Before proceeding to the church the boy and the girl pay respects to their elders and take their blessings. Formerly weddings used to be held only on Monday and Thursday mornings. Now it can be on any day. But on Sundays weddings or betrothals can be blessed only after 12 noon. This is because the Catechism classes are held in the morning.
After the actual function is over, the bride and the bridegroom, one witness from each side and the priest sign the Wedding Register. (These days the couple go through the civil marriage registration as well.) After that there would be another Madhuram Vekkal wherever the reception is held. That would be followed by lunch, tea party or dinner.
Reproduced below are some photographs of a wedding held last August.
The boy placing the engagement ring on the girl's finger
at St. Martin de Pores Church, Olavipe
Our tharavad Thekkanattu Parayil where the betrothal function was held
When the boy and the girl reach the house from the church they
are escorted with ceremonial umbrellas from the gatehouse to the
Lunch goes on in the background. View from the outhouse (below)
where refreshments were served.
Requirements for Madhuram Vekkal on wedding eve. On the left is kindi
(water container with a sprout) and kolambi (spittoon). The bronze bowl in front with
flower petals contains a tiny lamp.
The madhuram - grated coconut with honey and salt.
The girl washing hands before taking Madhuram.
The priest lighting nilavilakku before the matrimonial services start at Edapally Church.
The requirements for the ceremony. The essentials are banyan leaf shaped thali (it is not clearly seen here but is on the red thread and will be later shifted to the gold chain) Manthrakodi (a saree which is equivalent to Pudava in Hindu custom) and rings to be exchanged.
The bridegroom ties the thali. The woman is to wear it for the rest of her life.
Mantrakodi is placed on the bride's head.
Swearing by the Holy Bible.
The boy's sister would take the Manthrakodi, fold it and place it
on the girl's left arm
The couple cutting the wedding cake at Le Maredien, Cochin
where the luncheon party was held.
A smile from the bride, my youngest daughter. The trend these days is that the bride
does not wear too much jewellery. The contrast is shown in a photo
from the web given below.
All photographs except the last one are by Chackochen of Thycattusserry.