KNANAYA WEDDING PRODECURE
1. WEDDING CONFIRMATION
1A. PAST PRACTICE
Teenage Marriage: In the past, the accepted age for marriage was less than the current legal age for marriage. When educational and occupational chances were limited, the parents considered it their obligation to wed their children once they reached the legal marriage age or the age of puberty. If they prolonged it, the public regarded it as irresponsible and disgraceful. P.U. Lucas noted that the customary age for a groom to marry was fifteen, and the bride was thirteen. (Lucas, 1910, p. 2).
Arranged Marriage: Since teenage marriage was the practice, the parents or immediate family members of the bride and groom arranged the wedding and got the consent of the bride and groom with seeing each other. They saw each other only at the time of betrothal and wedding. The young couple trusted the judgement of their close family, knowing that they had chosen the best option for them (Lucas 1910, pp. 1-2).
Endogamous Marriage: As the parents, along with the immediate family, arranged marriages, it was easy to maintain the tradition of marriage within the same community. Endogamy was a common practice during Old Testament times (Gen 24:2-4; 28:1-5) and among the local people in Kerala. When the Knanaites migrated, there were 72 families from seven clans. The community endorsed inter-clan marriages and disapproved of marriage between close relatives.
Wedding Confirmation: The groom’s family went to the bride’s house to talk about the marriage. They discussed on how much dowry and gold ornaments would the bride’s parents give as a share for the bride. Afterwards, they had a meal and invited the bride’s family to the groom’s home. Later on, the bride’s family went to the groom’s home, and both sides determined on the date of the betrothal and marriage as well as other particulars. Thus, the wedding confirmation was formally done at the groom’s house.
1B. PRESENT PRACTICE
Marriage Age: The civil and religious laws raised the minimum age for marriage. Parents encourage children to higher education and become self-reliant before marriage. So, the wedding gets delayed more than the legal age for marriage.
Qualified Arrangement of Marriage: Once the children reach a certain level of maturity, the parents may arrange a marriage and give their children the freedom to accept or seek other options. Media-based matrimonial ads, computerized marriage services, and internet marriage bureaus are supplanting the role of wedding brokers. Parents give their consent for their children to marry the individual that they chose based on the qualities they suggested.
Endogamous Marriage: Knanaya young adults are mindful of the expectations of their family and their community in terms of their decision of partner, which includes marriage within their own community. The family’s partner selection is declining, especially among the youth who do not live in Kerala. The pursuit of further education and work in distant areas decreases the chance for young people to prioritize faith and community when selecting a life partner. Knanaya youth should understand the advantages of marrying within their own community for the sake of compatibility, faith practice, and the continuation of their community.
Pre-engagement ring: It is common for those who are born and raised in the western world to accept the practice of a man presenting a pre-engagement ring, or a promise ring, as a symbol of his pledge to wed her. The acceptance of the ring marks the start of a non-binding contract before the formal engagement in the church.
Marriage Confirmation: The families of the couple should meet at the groom’s house, or another place, to deliberate and decide upon the dates of engagement and marriage. Prayers will be offered before or after this conversation by the families. The bride’s parents offer a reasonable amount of family share, replacing the dowry that is illegal now.
Family Involvement: The wedding not only includes the bride and groom making a covenant in the church, it also bonds their families. From the time the marriage is agreed upon until the end of the marriage ceremony, the family members have particular responsibilities, involvement, and rights in the wedding-related events. These ensure that the family will continue to provide support for the couple.
2. BETROTHAL / ENGAGEMENT
2A. PAST PRACTICE
Day of Betrothal: Traditionally, Sunday was the day for the betrothal. However, since some people missed Sunday Mass because of their busy schedule with the engagement arrangements at home, the bishop prohibited doing it on Sundays. Thus, the betrothal was held on any allowable day.
Church Service: The betrothal was held at the bride’s house, in the presence of the parish priest. Eventually, the church transferred that practice to the bride’s parish (Mathew, Roma, 2000, p. 25-26). Accompanied by the parish priest, both the bride and groom’s paternal uncles entered the church and announced their decisions on betrothal, the amount of dowry, and the weight of the gold ornaments. In the presence of everyone, the priest joined their hands together and said a prayer. The family provided a donation to the church, and the couple inserted money in the offering box. Everyone went to the bride’s house for the banquet.
Giving the Dowry: The bride’s family presented a dowry when the woman returned to her husband’s home after the delivery of her first infant. This practice was changed, and bride’s share was given either prior to or following the marriage.
Two People Eating from One Leaf: The paternal uncles, who clasp hands in the church as agreement of the families for the wedding, ate food from the same plantain leaf that was used as a food plate. In addition, other male pairs also shared food from one leaf. This was to signify the equality and oneness among them. The bride’s maternal uncle catered to the guests from the groom’s side. He requested permission to serve the food and started the food service after receiving approval from the assembly.
2B. PRESENT PRACTICE
1. Families and attendees together offer prayers in the bride’s and groom’s houses before heading to the church.
2. The betrothal service at the church includes the priest asking the bride and groom for their consent to marry, as well as the clasping of hands (Kaipidutham) by the couple’s paternal uncles. The uncles accept the responsibility for wedding arrangements on behalf of the families (Polackal, ക്നാനായ സമുദായം, 2nd Ed. p. 42).
3. Prior to the meals either at home or in the banquet hall, the bride’s maternal uncle should supply water in the Kindi (traditional bronze water carrier) to the groom’s maternal uncle for hand washing and rinsing.
4. For Knanaya Jacobite weddings, the bride’s maternal uncles offer cooked chicken thigh to the groom’s maternal uncles.
5. Following the banquet, it was customary to present the groom with a portion of the bride’s inheritance at the bride’s residence. The bride and groom’s paternal uncles stand on a mat (paya) with a lit traditional lamp (koluvilakku). All gathered offers a prayer. The bride’s paternal uncle requests permission from the audience three times to give bride’s family share to the groom’s family. After getting permission, the paternal uncles of groom and bride clasp each other’s hands. The bride’s paternal uncle gives the money to the groom’s paternal uncle. They express their mutual admiration through an embrace.
2C. PROCEDURES AFTER THE BETROTHAL
The betrothal celebration has been traditionally hosted by the bride’s family. Those who are present at the betrothal ceremony at the church will join at the bride’s home or at a pre-planned banquet facility for a grand meal. After the meal, both families will discuss further plans for the wedding. The bride’s paternal uncle will hand over the bride’s family contribution to the groom’s paternal uncle in the presence of a lit koluvilakku (metallic lamp).
In the past, it was customary for the bride’s maternal uncles to present dried tobacco leaves for chewing to the groom’s maternal uncles on their return trip. Since that became irrelevant now, some people have substituted it with alcohol. It is preferable to replace that with sweets.
The church executes the proceedings for the wedding, for example, the announcement of the nuptials, the completion of pre-marriage questionnaires, and the transmission of kuries (letters) between the parish priests of the bride and groom. An announcement of the coming marriage shall be proclaimed on three Sundays in a row in the churches of both the bride and the groom. If they don’t have enough time to have their wedding announcement after the betrothal, they may request that their wedding banns be done prior to the betrothal. However, they must get authorization from the Forane Vicar or any other applicable ecclesiastical authorities as mandated by the regulations of the Syro-Malabar diocese in which they inhabit. The parish priest needs certified documents confirming baptism, first communion, chrismation (confirmation), and completion of the marriage preparation course in order to complete the wedding paperwork.
3. CHANTHAM CHARTHAL (BEAUTIFICATION OF GROOM)
3A. PAST PRACTICE
The Day of Chantham Charthal: The Chantham Charthal ceremony of beautifying the groom was held at his residence the night before the wedding. This took place Saturday night, when the weddings were traditionally held on Sundays. The bishop stated that, since some organizers could not be present for Sunday Qurbana, weddings should not be held on Sundays. Therefore, the wedding ceremony was held on Monday, or any other allowed day, and the Chantham Charthal took place the day before.
Goldsmith brings thaali: The goldsmith presents the thaali for the wedding to the groom’s house prior to the beautification ceremony. This gold medal is shaped like a banyan leaf and decorated with 21 beads that appear as a cross. The goldsmith places the thaali on a betel leaf, with a layer of rice beneath on a traditional metal plate (kinnam). The goldsmith presents the thaali to the groom’s sister, who receives it with a lit koluvilakku (traditional ritualistic lamp). She presents him with a gift in appreciation of his service.
Thread for the thaali: Seven strands taken from the manthrakodi are woven together to form a single cord. It is then folded into three and twisted again to form a thicker cord containing 21 strands. Making cord from manthrakodi for the thaali was a custom taken from the Brahmins.
The Purpose of Beautification: Since the groom was a teenager, he did not shave until his marriage. He let his hair to become longer before marriage. A local barber performed the ceremonial shaving and cutting off the hair as part of the beatification. It was a reminder to the bridegroom that he had been transitioning from his teenage years into forming a family and assuming the role of a responsible husband and father.
Beautification Procedure: The programs will begin at the pandal following dinner. All attendees at the groom’s residence will congregate in the tent. Groom’s sister places a four-legged low stool (kurandi) covered with a new white cloth. The groom’s brother-in-law then guides the groom to the pedestal and helps him to sit. Then the brother-in-law takes off the groom’s jewelry to begin the adornment process. If the bride or her family members’ residences are in proximity, her family brought oil and incha (a non-chemical cleaning lather for bathing) for the groom.
The barber comes in front of the pandal and respectfully asks the audience three times permission to enter the pandal to perform his ritualistic duty. He addresses the gathering as those who are above 17 casts. “പതിനേഷമ്പരിഷ മാളോരോടു ചോദിക്കുന്നു; അന്തം ചാർത്താൻ കയറി ഇരിക്കട്ടെ.” (pathineshambarisha maalorodu chodikkunnu; chantham chaarthaan kayari erikkatte / “I ask the gentlemen who have superiority over 17 castes: May I enter to beautify the bridegroom?”) An elderly person in the audience gets permission from the people and orders the barber to enter the pandal for the ceremony. The barber then performs hair cutting, shaving, and mouth cleansing. The young men had allowed their hair to grow for up to one year before their wedding (Nellickakandathil, p. 126). The barber then requests the consent of those present to apply oil to the groom, and proceeds to do so upon approval. Women sing Chantham charth songs during the barber’s service. The barber is entitled to the remaining oil and the fresh white sheet spread on the pedestal. Upon completion of the ceremony, he collects them along with gift from the family and departs from the pandal.
After the barber’s departure, the groom’s brother-in-law accompanies the groom and his company to the bathing site. The groom’s sister will spread another white linen over the pedestal. After the bath, the groom dresses well, including a golden chain with a cross and returns to the pandal and sits on the pedestal. Then one or three people from the groom’s paternal side and his sister give ichappad (white rice pudding with brown sugar) to him in the mouth. The brother-in-law receives verbal consent from the audience and takes him into the house. The groom abstained from eating until the wedding was finished.
3B. PRESENT PRACTICE
The ceremonial Chantham Charthal is ordinarily celebrated the night before the wedding, yet people usually choose any day prior to the wedding for convenience. If the thali is purchased from a store, the goldsmith would not be included in the ceremony. As marriage is now done at a later age, there will be no full shaving or hair cutting, apart from a symbolic ritual. If there is no customary barber available, especially if the wedding is held outside of Kerala, someone else will serve in the role of barber.
1. The program shall begin following dinner at the groom’s residence or at a reception hall. All the participants will gather in the pandal or hall.
2. The Chantham Charthal begins with a prayer.
3. The bridegroom’s sister(s) set up a footstool (kurandi) covered with a white cloth and a lighted koluvilakku (traditional lamp) on stage.
4. The groom’s brother(s)-in-law escort him to the stage and seat him on the footstool facing east or the audience.
5. The choir or all sing the “Marthoman” song.
6. The barber or the person who takes his role enters the stage and asks three times, “I ask the nobles above seventeen casts; Shall I beautify the groom?” (പതിനേഴു പരിഷയ്ക്കുമേലുള്ള മാളോരോടു ചോദിക്കുന്നു മണവാളച്ചെറുക്കനെ അന്തം ചാർത്തട്ടെ?) (pathinezhu parishaykku melulla maalorodu chodikkunnu manavaalacherukane chantham chaarthatte?) (“I ask the gentlemen who have superiority over 17 castes: May I beautify the bridegroom?”) (Chazhikatt, 2nd ed., 1961, p. 74). Upon obtaining approval from the assembly, he shaves the groom.
7. The songs during the Chantham Chaarth: (1) “Chantham Charth” (2) “Othuthirichavar” (If there is time, add the following songs) (3) “Munnam Malankara” and (4) “Innu Nee Njangale.”
8. After Chantham Charthal, the groom’s sister(s) bring oil to put on the groom’s hair, hands, and feet.
9. The barber asks three times, “Shall I apply oil?” With the assembly’s permission, he applies the oil to the groom.
10. The brother(s)-in-law escorts the groom to the bath site.
11. As the barber may own the white cloth spread on the footstool, he takes it. As an alternative, the groom’s sister spreads another new white cloth over the footstool.
12. After dressing the groom in fine clothes and a chain with a cross, the bridegroom’s brother(s)-in-law brings him on stage and sits him on the footstool.
13. The groom’s sister brings on stage “ichappad” (white rice pudding with brown sugar) kindi (traditional water container for mouth rinsing and hand washing) and kolambi (a bronze spittoon).
14. The eldest of the groom’s paternal uncles, or someone else in the paternal line whom he assigns, takes his shoulder cloth, and ties it on his head so that both ends come up. Then he asks to the assembly, “Ichappadu Kotukkatte?” (Shall I give Ichappad?) three times. He gets permission from the audience the third time.
15. To prepare for giving Ichappadu, the uncle gives water from the kindi to the groom’s mouth three times. After rinsing with water, the groom spits into the kolambi. Then, the uncle washes his own hands. He combines the rice pudding with jaggery and orally gives the ichappad three times while his left hand is placed on his right elbow. Two more paternal uncles can do the same without asking permission of the audience. Ichappadu feeding is a symbol of sumptuous and sweet life.
16. After washing the groom’s mouth again, the brother-in-law takes the groom inside the house.
Rarely, some people exhibit Kaupeenam (underwear of the past in Kerala) underneath the groom’s dress for fun. Though it reminds the dress of the past, it should be avoided. Exhibiting such out-of-date underwear is a disgrace for the Knanaya Community and for the groom and his family.
4. MYLANCHI IDEEL (HENNA BEAUTIFICATION OF BRIDE)
4A. PAST PRACTICE
The Day of Beautification: On the night before the wedding, the bride’s Mylanchi Ideel was done at her house. When the weddings took place on Sundays, this was done the previous Saturday night. Since some organizers skipped the Sunday Qurbana because they were busy with wedding preparations, the bishop banned weddings on Sundays. As a result, the marriage ceremony occurred on Monday or any other allowed day, with the beautification being done the preceding evening.
Henna Paste (Mylanchi): Henna, a plant whose white flowers have a sweet smell, has been frequently used in cosmetics and medicines. Different religions and cultures have been incorporating it with diverse meanings in their rituals, particularly marriage ceremonies. It was used in northwest Syria for brides since 2100 B.C. (https://www.ypsilibrary.org/2020/11/henna-art). Depending on the culture and situation, henna can signify good luck, prosperity, protection, fertility, wisdom, good health, and spiritual enlightenment. It was also used as a natural hair dye and for making wigs.
Henna powder was made by grinding the stems, leaves, and petals of henna and then mixed with water to create a dense paste. It will temporarily make a reddish-brown stain on the skin’s keratin when put on hands, feet, nails, or hair. Keratin is the protein on the outer layer of our skin that helps with the formation and maintenance of our nails, hair, and epidermis. Henna designs can be made to look like tattoos, however, the marks will disappear within a few days.
The Song of Songs by Solomon expresses henna as a symbol of affectionate love, highlighting its fragrance (Song 1:14; 4:13; 7:12). During the Hellenistic period, the application of henna was widespread in Palestine. Jews have been using henna to make their hands, feet, nails, and hair more attractive. It was part of the pre-wedding customs of the bride in many cultures.
Hena is known as mehndi in Hindi and Urdu. Many Indian groups celebrate a mehndi ceremony on the night prior to their wedding. It is to wish prosperity and good health in the bride’s married life. “The core significance of applying Mehndi is to utilize its natural medicinal herbal remedies, cooling the body and relieving the Bride of any stress before her big day. Henna is applied to both the hands and the feet as a means of cooling the nerve-endings of the body, preventing the nerves from tensing up” (www.linandjirsa.com/mehndi-photography-for-indian-weddings).
The Knanaite’s meaning of Henna Ceremony: The henna song (Mylaanji Paattu) gives the Christian symbolism of the henna ceremony:
അന്നന്നു കന്നിമാർ മംഗല്യം വാഴുവാൻ
പച്ചിലമയിലാഞ്ചി കൊണ്ടു പൊതിയേണം
കയ്യാലെ കായും പറിച്ചൊരു കാരണം
കൈപ്പുടം തന്നിൽ പൊതിയുന്നു മയിലാഞ്ചി
Annannu kannimaar mangalyam vaazhuvaan
Pachila-mayilaanji kondu pothiyenam
Kayyaale kaayum parichoru kaaranam
Kaipputam thannil pothiyunnu mayilaanji
കാലാൽ നടന്നു കനിതിന്ന കാരണം
കാൽനഖം തന്നിൽ പൊതിയുന്നു മയിലാഞ്ചി
അസ്ഥിമേൽ മണ്ണു പൊതിഞ്ഞൊരു കാരണം
കൈപ്പുടം തന്നിൽ പൊതിയുന്നു മയിലാഞ്ചി
Kaalaal nadannu kanithinna kaaranam
Kaalnakham thannil pothiyunnu mayilaanji
Asthimel mannu pothinjoru kaaranam
Kaipputam thannil pothiyunnu mayilaanji
The meaning is: The maidens will be decorated with green henna paste, in order to bring them joy. Hands are smeared with henna paste because of plucking the fruit with them. Since Eve walked up to the forbidden tree with her legs, henna paste is applied on toenails. The henna paste is spread over the hands since the bone was covered with soil.
The henna ceremony is more than a simple beautification; its rituals and songs give it a deeper meaning. It reminds the creation of Eve from the rib of Adam (Gen 2:21-22), and the original sin by eating the forbidden fruit. Since Eve grabbed the fruit with her hands and ate it as she walked, the henna is a sign of forgiveness and applies to the hands and toes. This song concludes with a request for God’s blessings on the couple.
എന്നേയ്ക്കും നീതി കൊടുക്കണം നായക.
Enneykkum neethi kodukkanam naayaka.
Meaning: Lord, as you did justice, do fairness to the children forever.
കുരുന്നു പിള്ളേർക്കരുൾ തരിക
Kurunnu pillerkkarul tharika
Meaning: God and Lord Jesus, give blessing to the little children.
Thus, Mylanchi Ideel is a domestic spiritual practice that is used to enhance the bride, both spiritually and physically. This prepares her to leave her family and home, accept her husband and his family, and take on the duties of a wife and mother.
Beautification Procedure in the Past: The program started at the pandal (temporary shed at the front yard of the house) after dinner. All those present at the bride’s home gathered in the pandal. The bride’s sister(s) arranged two four-legged stools (kurandikal) and laid a fresh white cloth over them. The elder sister led the bride, who had already bathed and adorned herself with jewelry, and seated her on one stool. Her paternal grandmother was seated by her side on the other pedestal. The ladies began their singing with the song of Mar Thomman and Mailanchi. During this time, the grandmother adorned the bride’s palms and nails with henna paste and bound them together with henna. Following three requests for permission, and acceptance from the audience, three seniors placed ichappad (white rice pudding with jaggery) in her mouth. Upon obtaining the approval of the audience, the sister accompanied the bride into the house. From this time until the wedding ceremony at the church, the bride refrained from eating.
4B. PRESENT PRACTICE
1. Dinner will be served at the pandal in front of the bride’s house or at a banquet hall, and then the program will begin. All participants will assemble in the pavilion or auditorium.
2. The henna ceremony begins with a prayer service.
3. The elder sister(s) of the bride will place two footstools (footstools) covered with a white cloth and a lit koluvilakku (traditional lamp) on the stage.
4. The older sister accompanies the bride to the stage and directs her to face eastward or toward the audience while seated on the footstool.
5. The bride’s paternal grandmother or aunt will occupy the other pedestal beside her.
6. The bride’s sister places the green henna paste near the bride.
7. The choir will sing Mar Thomman and Mailanchi songs.
8. During the Mailanchi (henna) song, the grandmother applies henna on the bride’s palms and holds them together.
9. Upon the singing of “Annannu Kannimar Mangalyam-vazhuvan”, the grandmother applies henna to the feet and nails of the bride. The choir can also sing other traditional songs.
10. One sister brings on stage “ichappad” (white rice pudding with jaggery), kindi with water (traditional water container for mouth and feet washing), and kolambi (a bronze spittoon).
11. The eldest of the bride’s paternal uncles, or someone else in the paternal line whom he appoints, takes his shoulder cloth, and ties it on his head so that both ends come up. Then he asks three times to the assembly, “Ichappadu kodukkatte?” (Shall I give ichappad?). He gets approval from the audience for the third time.
12. To prepare for giving Ichappad, the uncle gives water from the kindi to the bride’s mouth. After mouth washing, she spits into the kolambi. This only happens once. The uncle then washes his hands. He mixes the rice pudding with jaggery and gives the ichappad three times while holding his left hand on the elbow. Two more paternal uncles can do the same without asking permission of the audience.
13. The last person who gives Ichappad helps the bride to wash her mouth as before.
14. The sister guides the bride into the house.
5. GOING TO CHURCH FOR THE WEDDING
5A. PAST PRACTICE
The invited guests have meals at the house of the bride and groom. The bride and groom attire themselves with clothing and jewelry at their own residences for the journey to the church to solemnize their marriage. Following this, they honor their teacher and receive blessings from their relatives and parents. This reminds us of the blessings the family of Rebecca gave her when she journeyed with the servant of Abraham to become the wife of Isaac (Gens 24:60) and the kiss of Raguel and Edna to their daughter Sarah and her husband Tobias (Tob 10:11-12). The family then accompanies the bride and groom from their houses to the church while playing instrumental music.
5B. PRESENT PRACTICE
1. A prayer service will be held at the homes of both the bride and the groom prior to going to the church. (See page …).
2. A Koluvilakku will be lit to honor Jesus Christ.
3. The groom (bride) will then honor the elders such as grandparents and uncles by expressing praise of Jesus (sthuthi). This is to receive the blessing from the elders to assume additional responsibilities in their lives as they form a new family.
4. The parents should be the last to receive sthuthi from the bride or groom.
5. Remember to carry essential items like thaali with thread, manthrakodi, rosary, desakuri (letter from the parish priest if the wedding is in another church) while going to the church. The string for tying the thaali should be made of seven threads pulled out from the Manthrakodi.
6. Carry the lighted lamp (koluvilakku) up to the yard or car while going out from the house to the church. It symbolizes Jesus on the journey.
6. WEDDING AT THE CHURCH
6A. PAST PRACTICE
Church of Wedding: The blessing of the marriage, modeled after the Biblical tradition of Tobias, was conducted at the bride’s parish church. At a later time, this practice was changed, and the wedding took place either in the bride’s or groom’s church.
To the church: The groom’s sister used to bring the thaali, manthrakodi, and rosary with 153 Hail Mary beads (for 15 decades) along with appavum kaarikayum (two types of food) to the church before the wedding with instrumental music accompaniment. She paid for the expenses related to this food preparation. This was known as “aayani etukkuka.” She donated twenty-one of these food items to the church as an offering.
Despite the bride’s earlier arrival at the church, she waited outside until the groom entered first. Both were dressed in white for the wedding liturgy. The bride adorned a white veil, remembering how Rebekah did when she first met Isaac (Gen 24:65). It symbolized the religious devotion of the bride.
Wedding Liturgy: If one of the couple was from another parish, that person’s representative gave the clearance letter from their parish priest to the vicar of the parish where the wedding was held. The priest then entered the church and held the hands of the couple as part of the marriage ritual, as with Raguel marrying his daughter Sarah and Tobias (Tob 7:12). The priest then blessed and handed over the rosary and manthrakodi (dress blessed with prayer) to the bride. While the bride sits kneeling, the priest placed the manthrakodi on her lap. This is to remember Eleazar, Abraham’s servant, who gave presents to Rebekah when her father Bethuel allowed her to wed Isaac. “Then he brought out objects of silver and gold and clothing and presented them to Rebekah; he also gave costly presents to her brother and mother” (Gen 24:53). The rosary should be a reminder of the instruction Rafael provided to Tobias about praying to banish the demon from their married life (Tob 6:18).
After receiving consent from the couple, the priest requests they join their right hands as a symbol of their nuptial agreement. At this moment, the priest extends the left end of his urara and places the bride’s right hand on top of it facing upward, followed by the groom’s right hand, facing downward, on top of hers. The priest then places the right end of his urara above the hands of the couple and blesses them with the prayer, starting, “May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be with you.” Urara is a lengthy, slim cloth worn around the neck, signifying the power and authority of the priesthood. When the couple’s hands are enveloped in the urara, it symbolizes the sanctified union that the priest can give. When the hands of the couple are united by the urara, it is a representation of the holy bond that the priest has the authority to bless.
To signify the union of marriage, the priest blessed the kumbala thaali (mangalasutra) with 21 beads in a cross shape. The groom and bride kneeled down (Chazhikatt, 2nd ed., 1961, p. 74) while the groom tied the thaali around the bride’s neck. Thaali has been a widespread practice on the Indian subcontinent. It marks the woman’s marital status. According to P.U. Lukas, the couples also exchanged rings after tying the thaali (Purathana Paattukal, 1910, p.8). That was discontinued.
There is a traditional belief that Joseph and Mary exchanged wedding rings while kneeling (P.U. Lukas, 1910, p. 8). Following this, the couples assumed a kneeling position during the wedding ceremony. In the past, there was no Holy Qurbana immediately after the wedding. So, the priest blessed the couple and sang the barumariam song after the wedding ceremony. When the Holy Qurbana was added to the wedding, the final benediction and barumariam song were delayed until the conclusion of the Holy Qurbana.
Aayani Food for Women: Immediately following the wedding, the groom’s sister presented two types of food – appavum kaarikayum and aayani – to all the female guests. She had brought these items to the church prior to the wedding. She did not give that to men. It was widely believed that St. Joseph’s sister offered two types of food at the Temple of Jerusalem when Joseph married Mary. It was in gratitude of the miraculous blooming of Joseph’s stick that he had submitted to the Temple for the selection of a groom for Mary.
Food for the Couple: Out of the 21 pieces of food that the groom’s sister offered to the church, the priest gave pieces to the newlywed couple. Then the bride’s mother served food to the couple. This was in remembrance of Edna, the mother-in-law of Tobiah and mother of Sarah, who served them food immediately after their wedding (Tob 7:14). That marked the end of the couple’s fasting since the Ichappad of the previous night.
From Church to Home: The couples changed their dress, offered money in the church, gave gift to priests, and received a blessing from priests to leave home. Decorated umbrellas and musical performances accompanied the couple and the guests as they returned home to celebrate the wedding. The bride’s maternal uncle held a special type of umbrella known as a “thazhakkuda” in front of the procession as they left the church. This was one of the many royal privileges given to Thomas of Kinai by King Cheraman Perumal. As the people exited the church, they proclaimed “Nada nadayooo, nada, nada, nada” three times. They repeated the nadavili as they approached the house and reached at the entrance of the pandal.
6B. PRESENT PRACTICE
1. Whoever arrives first, whether the bride or the groom’s party, can enter the church and offer prayers without having to wait for the other.
2. If either the bride or groom is from a different parish, they must provide a letter from their parish priest to the vicar of the parish where the wedding will be held.
3. It is an important honor for the parents of the bridegroom or bride to accompany their son or daughter to the altar. If the wedding is taking place outside of Kerala, the local customs will be respected during the wedding procession.
4. The bride stands on the left side of the groom. It was believed in olden times that a man would guard his partner by clasping her with his left hand and using his right hand to combat any adversaries.
5. Besides the thaali with thread and manthrakodi, a pair of rosaries are presented to the bride and groom. The cord for the thaali is made from seven strands drawn from the manthrakodi and folded into three and entwined to form one cord. Like the thaali, three stand for the loving unity of the Holy Trinity and seven for the sacraments.
6. As the groom ties the thaali around the bride’s neck, his sister aids in adjusting her veil and hair.
7. The priest who blesses the marriage will light the Nilavilakku (traditional lamp) followed by the couple.
8. It is now common practice for the couple to exchange rings after tying the thaali.
9. The groom, with the help of the priest, wraps the manthrakodi on the head and shoulders of the bride. This is a sign of the husband’s commitment to preserving his wife, who was formerly taken care of by her father. It also is his first gift of affection for his wife and her humble submission to his loving care and protection.
10. It is recommended that the couple kneel while tying the thaali, exchanging rings, giving manthrakodi, and pledging by touching the gospel.
11. The priests will sing together the Syriac song “Barumariam” after the wedding.
12. Immediately after the wedding, the couple will pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary at her shrine or statue and provide an offering.
13. After the church service, the couple will pay homage to the priests with sthuthi, receive their blessings, and present them with gifts.
14. The bride will wear the manthrakodi at the wedding reception.
7. WEDDING CEREMONY AT THE BANQUET HALL
7A. PAST PRACTICE
Procession from the church: The wedding procession from the church to the house was a solemn one. Instrumental melodies (Panchavadyam and Conch) were played while the couple proceeded, with men chanting “Nadavili” and women singing devotional songs.
The maternal uncles of the couples have a key role in the wedding reception. When the procession reached the house, the maternal uncles of the newlyweds carried them to the front of the pandal and let them stand facing north. During the past, the couples’ travel from the church to home was on elephant or palanquin, which were privileges of the high caste people, including the Syrian Christians. Since that tradition faded, the uncles carried the couples to represent it and to express their affection for the newlyweds.
Nellum Neerum (Paddy grains and Water): The groom’s mother held a plate with seven paddy grains and a blessed palm leaf submerged in water in one hand, along with a lit koluvilakku (traditional brass lamp) in the other. She gave the lamp to the bride’s mother to hold, and after dipping her hand in the water with paddy grains on the plate, she made the sign of the cross three times on the bride and groom’s foreheads. Lukas offers two different explanations for this ritual. This was to remind the couple the transition of their protection from parents to their mutual protection. Another meaning he gives is the best wishes for them to live in prosperity in their new family life (P.U. Lukas, 1910, p. 10-11). The usage of koluvilakku is known as “pakalvilakku” (daytime lamp) which was a privilege Cheraman Perumal gave to Thomas of Kinai. It was also used for the feast processions of churches. The lamp represented Jesus, who introduced himself as the lamp of the world.
Couples Sitting on Manarkolam: Upon completing the Nellum Neerum, the couple entered the pandal and sat upon a wedding pedestal covered with wool and white linen, representing the hardships and blessings of their married life. This seating is called “Manarkolam.” The bride was seated to the left of the groom. This indicated how God seated Adam and Eve in the paradise with elevated rank and rights (P.U. Lucas, p. 12). The pandal was illuminated with lamps. Betel and tobacco were given to the men for chewing, while the women surrounded the couple in two groups to perform traditional songs.
Vazhoo Pidikkal (laying hands for blessing): The bride’s mother asked permission three times to give her blessings to the couple, saying, “Shall I lay hands to bless the groom and bride?” After getting the audience’s permission, she turned to the couple and blessed them with outstretched hands. The mother of the bride extended her hands in a cross formation during the Vazhoo song, with her right hand resting on the groom’s head and her left hand on the bride’s head as a sign of blessing them. Jacob gave his grandchildren blessings in this way. “Then Joseph took the two, Ephraim with his right hand, to Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand, to Israel’s right, and brought them up to him. But Israel, crossing his hands, put out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, although he was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, although he was the firstborn. Then he blessed them” (Gen 48:13-15). When the song referred to milk and fruit, the bride’s mother provided a combination of the two from the same cup. She did not ask permission before providing milk and fruit.
Paanan Song: The Paanans are an ancient group of people who earned their livelihood by performing at the residences and palaces of the privileged. They performed at the residences and nuptials of the Knanaites. Their song to the Knanaya listeners recounted the tale of Thomas of Kinai and his heroic actions for King Cheraman Perumal, as well as the royal privileges he had won for the community.
Concluding Ceremony: The female members of the bride and groom’s families would surround the couple and sing traditional songs. When the song “Ponnanintheedum” has ended, the bride and groom shall proceed to the bridal chamber or manavara, with the permission of all in attendance. All who are present can partake in the food in the pandal and the newlyweds have food in the chamber. Venpalchor made of white rice cooked in coconut milk will be served at the start of the wedding banquet. That was the adaptation of a food item of the ancestors in Mesopotamia.
Illappanam (Clan money): Following the wedding festivities, the couple will depart for the bride’s home. As part of the ritual, they will light the koluvilakku (metal lamp), offer prayers, and gain the approval of the parents and elders via a declaration of praise to Jesus (Sthuthi Chollal). The groom’s father will then give the bride a financial gift referred to as “Illappanam.” The Knanaites who migrated were 72 families belonging to seven clans. Inter-clan marriages were encouraged to prevent consanguineous unions. The groom’s father pays a fee for the bride to transition from her clan to his. The money was donated to the church or given to charitable causes. According to the book of Genesis 24:53, the Jews had a tradition of the groom’s family giving money to the bride’s family.
Chamber Door Opening: On Wednesday or the third day after the wedding, the bride’s mother would bring specific food and desserts to the groom’s residence. The couple entered the wedding chamber with the company of elders and companions. Once the door is shut, the mother will knock to open it and promise the groom household items and ornaments. That pleading to open the door with pledges of gifts is clear from the Adachuthura song: “kindi tharaam, montha tharaam, kandirickaan vilaku tharaam. Finally, the groom will open the door. Then all will come out of the chamber and enter the pandal where songs for applying oil (Enna Paattu) and for bath (Kulippattu) will be sung. After their bath, the couple will don new attire and share the meal with the others. The men used to dance “Margam Kali”, a circle dance which retells the missionary service of St. Thomas the Apostle.
Vilakku Thodeel: On the fourth day of the wedding ceremony, all will assemble at the Pandal and the couple will take part in a ritual circling a lit lamp symbolizing Jesus Christ. This hanging metal lamp (thookkuvilakku) will have nine flames illuminated. Those who dance around the lamp will touch it and draw a cross on their foreheads praying for a joyful married life of the couple (Choondal, “Christian Folklore,” p. 43).
Though the wedding takes place in the church, the celebrations at home lasted for a week with roles for many family members. It helps to build up the family unity and prominence of lay involvement in the marriage.
7B. PRESENT PRACTICE
The marriage procession from the church starts with the first “Nada vili,” an ancient privilege for the Syrian Christians now mainly practiced by the Knanaya Community. Bridegroom’s maternal uncles will lead the first nada vili at the foot of the cross in front of the church. The bride’s maternal uncles will lead the second Nada Vili on the way near the house or at the entrance of the pandal. The final one will be a combined Nada Vili by both parties at the entrance of the pandal.
People now opt for vehicles for the passage from the church to the banquet hall if it is distant from the church. Therefore, they adjust the procession, the utilization of thazhakkuda, and the placement of nadavili accordingly.
Banquet hall setup: According to Knanaya custom, the seats occupied by the couple (Manarkolam) must have woolen fabric (Karimbadam) and a white linen drape over it, signifying the power of purity and life’s blessings to overcome difficulties. The koluvilakku should be placed in proximity to the couple’s seats.
Nadavili: The second “Nadavili” will be held at the entrance of the banquet hall and the third within the hall. The male relatives of the groom and the bride both take part in it.
Vaykurava (Ululation): The lady participants will make a whistling sound (kurava) that was also a privilege the community had received from King Cheraman Perumal. A cheering practice is common amongst women in Mesopotamia and India. This is not currently in use, but could be reinstated.
Thazhakkuda Exchange: The bride’s maternal uncle hands the thazhakkuda over to the groom’s maternal uncle. Both uncles will have the turban with their shoulder cloth while handing over the Thazhakkuda. The maternal uncles of the couple have a dominant role in the wedding reception.
Carrying the couples near the stage: Upon reaching the banquet hall, the maternal uncles of the newlyweds will carry them to the front of the stage and position them to the north or toward the stage. As the couples have grown into adults, it is no longer necessary to carry them, although some may do it to honor the tradition.
Nellum Neerum (Rice and Water): The groom’s mother brings a plate with seven grains of rice and a piece of blessed palm leaf socked in water. Regardless of the location of the wedding, it is the right of the groom’s mother to do the “Nellum Neerum”. She passes the bowl to the bride’s mother to keep during the ceremony, who will remain at her right side. The bridegroom’s sister must be standing on the left of the groom’s mother and carry the illuminated lamp (koluvilakku). The bridegroom’s mother presses on the forehead of the couple with the palm leaf, making the sign of the cross three times. She must submerge the leaf in the water with each repetition.
Leading couple on stage: After the Nellum Neerum ceremony, the groom’s maternal uncles will escort the newlyweds to their seats (Manarkolam). The groom should be seated to the right and the bride to the left of him.
Vazhoo Pidutham: The bride’s mother requests permission from the crowd three times to bless the couple, inquiring “Vazhoo Pidikkatte?” (Shall I bless?). After gaining the assembly’s approval for the third time, she blesses them. She stands on a pedestal in front of the couple. She then places her right hand on the groom’s head and her left hand on the bride’s head in a crossed formation, with the right hand above the left.
The choir sings the “Vazhoo-pattu” (blessing song). Its content is a heartfelt blessing of the mother who raised the bride. The mother prays for a prolonged life for her daughter with her partner and offspring, to share and relish the land, to multiply it through its seeds, to get wealth, to achieve prosperity, to be renowned, and to get parental benedictions.
Milk and Fruit (Paalum Pazhavum): After the blessing, the bride’s mother assists the couple in cleansing their mouths with water from the kindi and spitting it into the kolambi. During the “vazhoo vattakkali” song starting, “Aalaha naayan thunayale chollunnu, the bride’s mother gives milk and fruit to the groom and then to the bride from the same bowl. A cup containing a combination of sliced banana and milk is used for this. Milk symbolizes innocence in life, and fruit stands for a sacrificial offering. (Vellian, Crown, Veil, Cross, p. 37).
Drinking from the same cup is a symbolic gesture of their unity from then onward. That echoes the advice of Paul: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5:31). Sharing the cup of milk with fruit slices is a substitute for the Jewish custom of couples drinking wine from the same cup. It is symbolic of sharing the joys and hardships of life together. Unlike other customs, there is no need to seek approval for that. The mother should be the one to hold the bowl when the couple receive the sweets from it. Since giving “milk and fruit” (madhuram kodukkal) is the traditional giving of sweet, the cutting of cake and drinking tender coconut juice are irrelevant.
Kacha Thazhukal (Cloth Caressing): After singing “Ponnanintheedum,” the groom’s paternal uncle (or the eldest member of the groom’s family) takes the kacha (several yards of white cloth for women to wear or sari) and gives it to the groom who holds it on his outstretched arms. The bride’s maternal uncle ties the shoulder cloth on his head and asks, “Kacha Thazhukatte?” (Shall I caress with the cloth?) three times and gets permission from the assembly. He then proceeds with the ceremony without taking off the headgear. The uncle approaches the groom, lifts the gift, lowers it down onto the bridegroom’s arms and strokes his thighs with both hands and repeats it thrice. He then takes the cloth and gives it to the outstretched arms of the bride and repeats the same. Self-massaging of the thigh should be avoided. Some recipients will give gifts to the bride or groom as gold rings or bracelet. If the mother (Amma Paathi) and grandmother (Ammoomma Paathi) are performing the same activity, they do not need to seek permission from the assembly.
The act of positioning the hand below the thigh was an ancient tradition during the Old Testament period to signify a commitment. Abraham did that when he asked his senior servant to find a spouse for Isaac from his own relatives (Gen 24:2-4). When Jacob was about to die, he asked his son Joseph, “If it pleases you, put your hand under my thigh as a sign of your enduring fidelity to me; do not bury me in Egypt” (Gen 47:29). This symbolic act was associated with the Hebrew concept of direct descendants or children issuing from their father’s thigh (Gen 46:26; Ex 1:5).
Garlanding the Couple with the Gold Chain: A contemporary custom is the joint garlanding of a gold chain to the groom by the bride’s mother, while the same is done to the bride by his own mother, at the manarkolam. As we have done previously, we must postpone this to a later period, as low-income individuals are unable to afford such expenses in addition to other wedding costs.
The Songs for Wedding Reception: The traditional songs for the wedding reception are Mar Thomman, Vazhoo Paattu, Vazhoo Vattakkali, and Ponnanintheedum (മാർത്തോമ്മാൻ, വാഴൂപ്പാട്ട്, വാഴു വട്ടക്കളി, പൊന്നണിന്തീടും). Depending on the availability of time, the choir can sing Othu Thirichavar, Munnam Malankara, and Innu Nee Njangale (ഒത്തുതിരിച്ചവർ, മുന്നം മലങ്കര, ഇന്നു നീ ഞങ്ങളെ).
Food Service: The couple now exits the stage (Manarkolam). The groom’s maternal uncle offers water to the bride’s maternal uncle for hand-washing using a kindi and kolambi. For Knanaya Jacobite weddings, it is customary for the bridegroom’s maternal uncles to give baked chicken thigh to the bride’s maternal uncles. Knanaya Catholics have now adopted this practice. This is discouraged in the Catholic weddings (Poothrukayil, p.1). Everyone will now receive food.
Vazhi Pukala (Snack for Journey): In the past, using tobacco was a common habit. As a gesture of goodwill, the groom’s maternal uncles offered dried tobacco leaves for chewing to the bride’s maternal uncles on their return journey. As the popularity of tobacco has decreased, some individuals have substituted it with alcohol. Presenting and receiving alcohol and celebrating it is a dishonorable action that should be avoided. If we choose to maintain the gift giving tradition, it would be more suitable to have a range of desserts or fruit instead of alcohol.
8 ILLAPPANAM (CLAN MONEY)
When the couple journeys to the bride’s home, the groom’s father gives a monetary gift to the bride. The Knanaya community was first composed of seventy-two families, which were part of seven clans. Marriage between families of different clans from the community was the usual practice to prevent marriage between close kin (P.U. Lukas, 1910, p. 20). The clan money is the continuation of the ancient practice of giving money by the groom’s father to the bride’s family for the transition from her clan to the groom’s clan (Gen 34:12). That money was donated to the church or used for charity.
After the wedding, the couple went to the bride’s home and only returns to the groom’s home on the fourth day. In the past, there were certain customs that are no longer applicable because the bride and groom are adults, they choose to go on a honeymoon; they live outside of Kerala, or they are independent of their parents.
9. SENDING OFF FOR CHILDBIRTH (Peettinu Vidal)
As part of the Knanaya tradition, the family of the pregnant woman looks after her from the seventh month of her pregnancy until a few months after the childbirth. This includes a unique ritual referred to as “Peettinu Videel.” On a set day, the woman’s mother or maternal aunt and her nearest relatives will come to the couple’s residence. The family will prepare a meal with a special item called Pidy. It is a ball-shaped food made from rice flour and coconut milk and cooked in boiled water. Chicken curry is served with Pidy. Before beginning the journey, the family will have a prayer at home and the pregnant woman will bid farewell to her husband’s parents with sthuthi chollal. The return of the mother and child after a few months is a solemn and jubilant occasion.
10. EIGHT-DAY FAST (Ettu Nombu)
The Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Eastern Church have a custom of fasting for eight days, beginning on September first and ending on September eighth, to prepare for the feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Prayer and fasting with a single meal a day, and refraining from eating meat, fish, eggs, milk, and oil, is obligatory.
In the Knanaya tradition, the ladies who married after the prior eight-day fast will go back to their home and attend regular Mass and special prayers in their original parish with other women. Practice of fasting, abstinence, and interceding to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her mother Anna, are for a child in good health to arrive soon.
11. PONNUM VAYAMBUM (Gold and Weed)
It is customary for Hindus to give their newborn baby a mixture of water obtained by rubbing gold jewelry on stone and the juice of the vayambu (a weed). It is an Ayurvedic form of preventive care. Gold is said to have the potential to enhance memory and strengthen immunity. Therefore, monarchs prepared dishes in golden vessels. Minute quantity of gold mixture was given to prevent childhood diseases. It also helps to improve memory, attention span, concentration, and learning ability (https://www.thehealthsite.com/parenting/).
Knanaites would take a Palm Sunday leaf and dip it in water and brush it over the infants’ lips, while speaking the name of Jesus into their ear. This was also a preventative action to guard the child from spiritual wickedness (Karukaparambil, p. 92).
12. PRESENTING INFANT IN THE CHURCH
According to the Mosaic Law, there was a period of ceremonial uncleanliness for women who gave birth to children (Lev 12:2; 2:4). The mother who had a baby boy underwent 40 days of purification, whereas the mother of a baby girl had to go through 80 days. A cleansing sacrifice was given forty or eighty days after the birth of a child, at the Nicanor Gate to the east of the Court of Women in the Temple. Therefore, Mary’s cleansing ritual and Jesús’s presentation in the Temple occurred 40 days after his birth.
Following the Jewish tradition of presenting children in the Temple, Knanaya families took their children to the parish church with the mother on the 40th day for males and 56th day for females. The priest offered his prayers over them and blessed them with holy water.
The Knanayology Foundation (Knanaya Global Foundation NFP), a non-profit organization registered in IL, USA, hosts Knanayology and undertakes other projects on Knanaya Community .