A Chettinad Wedding (Part Two)

Part One here.

In the early hours of the wedding day, it wasn’t only the bride who was being made up: two of our party sneaked off to a beauty parlour, returning just in time for us to leave for the ceremony. The road to Kothamangalam had lost its haunted appearance from the previous night. In broad daylight, it reminded me of Anakapalle and of the old lady who sold steamed peanuts in the shade of trees. True city-people that we were, we marvelled at all that was now unfamiliar to us — ponds, trees, fresh air, happy lungs.

A sea of people surged in the distance as we passed an old temple; sparkling new paint distinguished the bride’s house, where the wedding was taking place, from the rest. The bridegroom, A., was just arriving, looking straight ahead, his eyes reflecting composure and confusion all at once, even as people crowded around him and strained to catch a gloom of his turbaned resplendence. Most of the male guests sat outside the house, watching the proceedings on a screen, as A. was escorted through various rooms to the altar. The women sat inside the house, filling two rooms. I had truly never seen so many people at a wedding and could not begin to fathom the logistical challenges that having so many guests must have posed. But I reminded myself that I was in Chettinad, where the whole village seems to rally around anyone who is getting married or celebrating an event, and hospitality reaches dizzying heights.

Athangudi tile

The bride’s house was another stellar example of Chettinad architecture, bearing the distinctive features we had seen in the one we visited earlier. The pillars and the gorgeous tiles aside, we were also treated to a display of the presents for the bride: clothes, jewellery, utensils, and other articles. A man sat guard over them, watching keenly as people flowed in and out of the room.

The altar was in a corner of one of the rooms and the family packed itself around it. We found spots in an outer room and watched A. place one gold chain after another on the bride’s neck — a series of mangalasutras. (I cannot quite remember if the getti melam was played for the entire duration.) The bride was confident and radiantly happy. As the process drew to a close, chocolates were distributed in all the rooms, before the guests headed off for breakfast and a visit to the temple.

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Visiting the goddess

Breezy halls led to the sanctum sanctorum of the goddess. A few centuries old, this temple excited curiosity with its splendid architecture. The energy of prayer was in the air, as was anticipation; the pillars were blackened by the soot of oil lamps lit over and over again in propitiation of the different deities in the premises. The atmosphere was almost festive, the rustle of silks and the fragrance of jasmine carried over from the wedding venue. Outside, sellers of bamboo baskets did brisk business and goats sunned themselves on patches of grass, chewing on the paper cups that the coffee served at the wedding came in.

What is a wedding party without photos? As we arranged ourselves by a pond, S. felt a colony of ants climbing up her foot. Hopping on the other, holding her baby aloft, “Hold! Hold!” she cried out, whereupon her husband M. carefully cradled her foot in his hands. “Hold him!” she screamed in agony, thrusting the hapless baby into her husband’s hands, as we struggled to contain our laughter at the spectacle. The couple is yet to hear the end of it.

***

In the afternoon, we set off to see the weavers’ colony in Kanadukathan. It being a Sunday, the weavers were not around, but we were allowed to see their place of work. In the silent room, the voices of shoppers across the courtyard floating in occasionally, various-coloured threads on the looms caught the late sun, creating a rather dreamy setting. How lively the room must have been on a work day, with the clack of the looms and patterned fabric coming to life! Chettinad sarees are famous for their checked pattern and the tasteful use of colour, and here was a centre keeping this traditional art alive in the face of competition from machine-made textiles and power looms.

Weaving

From the weavers’ colony, we went on to the Chettinad Palace, which I have already described in Part One. Then we headed back to the hotel, rueing that the weekend was drawing to a close. However, it helped that we had saved ourselves one spot of sight-seeing for the return trip: the Tirumayam Fort.

A 17th century fort with a tank (or once a moat?), it was constructed by Setupati Vijaya Raghunatha Tevan and housed several shrines. One of the legends associated with the fort is that it served as a prison for Veerapandi Kattabomman and his brother, Oomadurai, while they fought the British. Today, it serves as a sanctuary for couples and as a repository of unsightly graffiti. At the very top, above a flight of steps which would not look out of place in Central America, were a cannon and an unrivalled view of the countryside. The breeze and the gentle sunshine put us in an aptly soporific mood, which resulted in our getting back on the road at least an hour later than we intended to, perhaps inadvertently earning the ill-will of couples who had hoped for some quiet time away from prying eyes.

The cannon up the steps
Green as far as the eye can see

All good vacations must come to an end. Truth be told, by the time we entered Tiruporur, we were getting sick of the nightmarish traffic and the incessant, out-of-tune, high-pitched singing of one of our companions, who seemed to know the lyrics to every song ever written. But how do you tell someone politely to shut up, after indirect nudges fail? All you do is grin and bear it, then spew venom on a blog you are certain she will never see, because you are a terrible person. Reader, I am one.

Let this not turn you off my blog, though, because I have things to tell you about miracles in Kathmandu — without a shred of meanness, too.

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