Beautiful Commentary on Five Day Brahmin Wedding! in 1903!!

Compiled by London swaminathan

Post No.2209

Date: 2nd  October 2015

Time uploaded in London: 14-01

Excerpt from the book “South Indian Hours” by Oswald J.Couldrey, Year  of Publication 1924

The book is available at SOAS library, University of London.

Mr Adivi Bapirazu has written it in a letter to Oswald.

A unique account of a Niyogi wedding, as it was celebrated in an agraharam or Brahmin village of Krishna delta (Andhra Pradesh) in the year 1903

Picture  of a Tamil Bride

“My eldest sister’s wedding took place when I was a boy of six years. My cousin Subbamma, the daughter of my uncle, was married at the same time. My family was then in the legal state, so much praised by the lovers of the past, of the joint family. It was the first time for my father and uncle to perform any such important ceremony. My father was a good earning member, and our prosperity was then in the ascending stage. The brothers, therefore, had very grand ideas of celebrating the occasion.

Both my sister and my cousin assumed very grave demeanours. Only two days previously they had been solemnly “promoted brides”. All the ladies of the village were invited, and the brides to be were seated on a kind of low seat called “peetam”, and were presented with “harati”, or the ‘flame of prosperity’ – an honour which is accorded to the gods, as well as to the principal mortal persons concerned, at the end of every joyful ceremony. They were also given betel, and some gram. The distribution of gram by ladies among ladies is considered an auspicious and honourable formality. After this function my sisters (you have noticed that we often call our first cousins also brothers and sisters) were allowed to wear on their brows the “Kalyanam Bottu”, or scred marriage mark, a figure of Shiva’s trident made in vermilion. The “dot of modesty” was also applied to their left cheeks. My sister smiled whenever anyone addressed her as “bride” (kalyana Ponnu).

Once I went up to her and cried suddenly, “Sister, here is brother in law!” (Mappillai). My sister hastily rose and stood there, as the Hindu woman is taught to do in the presence of her husband. We all had a laugh at her expense.

bengali bride

Picture of a Bengali Bride


I rose early on the great day, hearing that the parties of the bridegrooms would be coming in an hour. I waited and waited but no party came, nor did I hear the sound of the bridegroom’s trumpet. Many relations had arrived with their families, and the front wing or “mansion” of the house was packed full of people. A big pandal or timber portico had been erected between this mansion and the back one.  All round the main building also pandals had been erected. The front was pleasantly decorated with canopies of painted cloth and festoons of ever green and other leaves. Even in the street also a big pandal had been erected.

It was five in the evening when the far off note of the crooked trumpet announced the arrival of the expected parties. “Behold, the bridegroom cometh!” Immediately there was a great commotion. Our big fort of a house was the scene of children’s cries, the laughter of maidens, woman’s explanations and odd women’s admonitions. Everyone flocked into the courtyard at the sound of a pipe, for word had been brought that the two parties had come to the other side of the canal. The country music of the band sounded nearer and nearer, and the trumpet blared forth its summons to the parties of the brides.

‘We started out with a few musicians, carrying sweet drinks for the visitors. We found them at the hospice. The two bridegrooms were sitting like two crowned young prices on two pials, one on each. My brother-in-law had a big turban, and looked imposing enough.

‘We welcomed them heartily, and requested them to come to their prepared lodging. The bands struck up and off we started, the bridegrooms in their respective palanquins. There were two parties of dancing girls. One of these parties was rather a good one.

“When the visitors had been comfortably settled in their allotted quarters, they were invited to dinner. It is a point of courtesy for each member to be separately invited, but if the head of the party is willing they may be invited in a body, and this concession was now granted. Chaffing them for not having yet acquired the tyrannous airs of the true “bridegroom’s party” (it is part of the game that the bridegroom’s party should be very much on its dignity) we brought them to the dinner.

“It was after midnight when we finished, and then almost everyone went to bed to snatch some sleep before the auspicious nuptial hour, which was at half-past four in the morning. My father, uncle, mother and aunt, with some important persons like my father’s sister, did not sleep at all.

rajasthani bride

Picture of a Rajasthani Bride


“At three O’clock the wry necked fife” awakened us from our slumbers. Again there was hubbub. The grooms were conducted in to the inner apartments, presented with the flame of prosperity (harati), and given an oil bath. They put on silken cloths and sat on the “vedikas” or marriage pials, which are only four inches high. Ancient canticles and spells (mantras) were spoken, calling a forgotten world to witness:”Anga, vanga, Kalinga, Kamboja, Kashmira, Sindhu, Barbara Yavana” ran the family catalogue of immemorial realms. The genealogies of the brides and bridegrooms were recited by their respective family chaplains (Purohit). There was a goodly throng of Brahmins present, and the hymns rose high in rich voices like a single voice.

The fathers performed the Kanyadanam, the ceremony of giving away the daughters, while the mothers poured water over their husbands’ hands, which were held just above the right hands of the bridegrooms. Then amid the din of trumpets, drums, pipes, the bridegrooms tied the knots around the necks of the brides, and put the sacred vermilion on the knots.

The wedding was performed, but the ceremony was not yet complete. The brides and the bridegrooms poured the sacred rice over each other’s heads. Then the pairs were conducted to the room of Agni, the Sacred Fire. Before Agni, the marriage vows were sealed.

“The whole village for the five days’ feast or morning and evening meals. Just before the dinnertime there must be a second call, and everyone has to wait for everyone who has promised to come, and all these together have to wait for the bridegroom’s party. So did we. After each meal betel was distributed. There was singing of songs and poems on divine subjects, and all chanted in chorus the dinner time cry, ‘Narayana’, or ‘Govindda’ or ‘Harahara’. There were many kinds of prepared foods, and the “big bellied Brahmins” were in their own element. Ghee (clarified butter) was extravagantly expended. The bridegroom’ parties always came with pipe and drum, and went in the same way. When anybody of either party went to the others’ lodging he was given betel and sprinkled with rose water, and his scarf smeared with attars.

kashmiri bride

Picture of a Kashmiri Bride


“The third day was than on which presents were given to the Brahmins according to their merit. Lists were prepared, and the Brahmins went bustling to the visitors’ chaplains (Purohit/priest) with recommendations from our own chaplain. All the first class people, those that had the Veda by heart, or had read Vyakaranam (Grammar) and so on, were presented with cloths and fruits. All the others were given money according to their degree, two rupees or one, or a half or a quarter. Five hundred people or more were honoured in this way. Little boys claimed full wages. Some of the Brahmins began to quarrel and claimed that their merit should have been allowed to weigh more. All these were put into a closed hall with a single door, where stood the donors, with some auxiliaries.

“Here, sirs, is Brahma Sri Venkata Shastri Garu of Viravasaram!” cries our self-important chaplain. “He is a very great Pundit, honoured in Urlam”. The visitors’ chaplains merely nod their heads. “Very well; Give him one”. A bright silver coin is thrust into the Shastri’s hand, and he is whisked away out of the gate, protesting all the while, “No, no, I won’t take one; it is an insult; you may have it back!” – but at the same time thrusting the rupee into his waist with a peculiar movement. All the people here who wear no shirt have a special method of trusting money into their waistcloth, where it is very secure.

“That night the dancing girls performed some dramas in the old-fashioned way. Their ordinary dances were given every day.


Picture of a Bharatanatyam dancer

FOURTH DAY: Grand Procession

On the evening of the fourth day, there was a big assembly (sabha) at which there was presented what is called a Hari-katha, a recital of the story of some sacred personage, illustrated with songs, poems and dancing. There was a great lamp in one corner, and the two dancing parties. It was a very grand assembly in our house. Camphor pills and the incense sticks were distributed among the guests, after the usual sprinkling with rose water and smearing of attar.

Everyday there had been processions, but the procession on the fourth night was the grandest of many torches of castor oil, so many torches of dried coconut and so many torches of kerosene oil; rows on rows, clusters upon clusters. There were strings of paper lamps, twinkling red, blue, yellow, green and orange; there were big toy trees made of pith, and great fans of Palmyra; there was a blaze of fireworks, the roar of the drums, the squeal of the each and every house the procession stopped, so that people might see the bride and the bridegroom seated in the palanquin together whenever the procession stopped in front of a house, there the dancing girls danced and sang their:

“Give me one kiss, O my lord, only one kiss, if you please.

I know the cause of my lord’s anger.

For he has fallen into the clutches of the vile Chitra…..”


Picture of Indian Dances


“At four o’ clock on the morning of the fifth day the last sacrifice was offered to Agni and the couples put off the state of sanctitude, or ‘diksha’. While they are in ‘diksha’ they must remain in the same clothes, they may not bathe, nor eat betel, nor may their heads be touched with razors or scissors; and so on.

The last ceremonies of the wedding were done on this day. Each pair was made to sit on a cot, and they were made to carry on a mock conversation, couched as though they were already well advanced in life and had children.

“Here, dear, take this child, for I have to fetch water from the well.”

“yes, but do you now take this crying boy, for I have to look after my fields, or my business.”

“Now I have to cook the meals, who will take this child?”

“Here am I, sister-in-law”, cried the sisters of the bridegrooms, and they had the sandalwood dolls for themselves.

“Then the two brides were lifted by two stout Brahmins and the bridegrooms were by two others. The dancing girls stood in rows with plates full of coloured flour. The strain of the music was changed to a dancing measure, and the brides took handful of the flour and threw it on the faces of the bridegrooms, who did likewise.  One mischievous bridegroom threw some flour at one of the dancing girls. Meanwhile the Brahmins who carried the brides and bridegrooms were dancing in a fantastic way, and when the young couples were throwing the coloured floor at each other a general melee of flour throwing began among us for sport. Then was there running, hiding, and all sorts of fun, and even the women were not spared. There was a general atmosphere of heart easing laughter.

“Later in the fifth day, however, everything is gloomy. The joy of the festival vanishes. The mother was crying in a corner, because her daughter was to be taken away. After the business of the flour throwing the parting ceremony took place, which was rather pathetic. We exchanged parting gifts, which mostly consisted of cloths, and the visitors took leave of us.  I followed the party as far as the big canal. When I found that they would not take me with them, do you know what I did? I fell to a crying and rolled on the ground there, and continued to do so till I was found by a banyan friend of my father and taken home.”