They say ‘Marriages are made in heaven’, but surely the underwriters are all on earth. Whether it’s a transition from local simple traditions to the modern grandeur or acceptance of marriage equality, or even new age community fusion weddings, marriages have undergone a huge evolution in the last few decades, and so have the ins and outs of the wedding ceremonies.
One such beautiful amalgam is what I’m writing about here, the ‘Syrian Christian weddings of ererala’. Sounds like the title of an Alistair MacLean book, but there’s more to it. When one thinks of a Christian wedding, the first images that come to mind are a white flowing gown, bridesmaids, flower girls and rehearsal dinners. It’s a pretty picture. One would think that it’s hard to make it prettier. But that’s exactly how the Syrian Christian weddings in the southernmost tip of India, Kerala have evolved to.
Syrian Christians in Kerala trace their ancestry to the 1st century AD when the first settlers migrated from current day Syria to the coast of Kerala. Since then, they’ve grown along with the land they now call their home. And so have their customs. Over time, a distinct culture has shaped itself which is strongly local and Indian, yet has a mix of influences from their foreign roots. Therefore, the hallmarks of conventional Indian weddings, the golden jewelry, the colorful pre- and post-events, the music, all form part of the modern Syrian Christian weddings. Or as a good Malayalee would call it, it is the metaphorical Avial.
The wedding ceremonies begin with a formal betrothal, known as ‘Urappeeru’. Alright, scratch that! The ceremonies obviously begin far ahead with an elaborate talent-hunt involving various custodians and stakeholders, also known as matchmaking! Our generation though, is making sure that we take matters in our own hands, hosting and judging our own hunts. Once this is done, back to the ceremonies, where the ‘Urapperu’ involves both sets of families exchanging gifts and the couple exchange rings and promises.
Next up, is the ‘Mailanchi’ at the bride’s place, where the bride is fêted. Yes, it’s a very Malayalee spin on DDLJ. At the same time, the groom’s end is at work, giving him a shave and a ceremonial bath. Considering how sanctified facial hair is in Malayalee men, this definitely is a ceremony with a lot of fun and banter. You’d struggle to find Latin Christian equivalents of these ceremonies, so this is all from generations of desi conditioning. Another ceremony, the ‘Madhuram vekkal’ is an evening of dance and music on the wedding eve. Think Sangeet, with a Mallu Improv twist to it.
The wedding day arrives, as with every wedding day these days, with the bride being up early to get her clothes and makeup done. For a day that’s so sacred, Indian weddings really do require one to be up at some ungodly hours!
Prayers are offered at both homes, and then the posse struts off to the church. Although some traditionalists stick to a white dhoti and a shirt, most millennial grooms usually fit themselves into a dapper suit. The bride is at her white pristine best, usually in a flowing gown or a brocade saree, and flanked by a bevy of flower girls and bridesmaids in pastel colors. The groom ties the sacred pendant ‘taali’ around the bride’s neck. And then gifts a ‘manthrakodi’- gorgeous silk saree, to the bride, which the priest drapes over the bride, with the couple then exchanging vows. The priest proclaims them man and wife, as they hold hands. Yes, you can take your ‘You may now kiss the bride’ elsewhere. This is more ‘You may now shake hands with the bride!’ #indianculture.
The merriment ends with a formal reception. It’s the perfect place for photo-ops with a party-like atmosphere. The groom and the bride are often in traditional Indian attire, with lehengas, sarees, and sherwanis flowing around. The wedding cake occupies pride of place and so does the first dance. There’s usually a live band playing and drinks are rhyme a dozen. Music and drinks! You really can’t go wrong in a Kerala wedding with those two covered. Friends and family usually get to the dance floor and let their hair down.
And so ends a canvas of events that bring together the best of Christian traditions with Hindu-Indian customs. If life were a concert, a Syrian Christian wedding would be its own Jazz-rock encore. A mix of two ancient forms, with modernity bubbling to the surface.