Sunday, January 18, 2009

Anyway, who are Iyengars?

In my search for what my caste(still stuck with it,ah?) meant, I hit upon a very nice article by Mrs. Chander Kanta Gariyali at who published the same as An Officer's Diary (this is a reproduction)

1.Tanjavur and Migration of Brahmins to South India
1.1 The Ayyars(Iyers)
1.2 The Iyengars
1.2.1 Kaliyur Iyengars Kaliyur Astrologers (Srinivasachary Iyengar, Narayanan) Kaliyur Iyengar marriage Rituals

1.Tanjavur and Migration of Brahmins to South India

Since numerous temples were built in Tanjavur, many Brahmins were invited to migrate and settle down in Tanjavur especially in and around Kumbakonam. In Tamil Nadu normally, we see two sects of Brahmins called Ayyars and Ayyangars. Ayyars are Shaivites and Ayyangars are the worshippers of Vishnu. The Ayyangars are fewer in number compared to Ayyars and were usually confined mainly to Vaishnavite centres like Srirangam, Kancheepuram, Srivalliputur, Alwarthirunagari and so on. The reason being that Shaivism took greater roots in Tamil Nadu. It was possible to merge the concept of Shiva as Rudra with the South Indian God Ishwara in Tamil Nadu which in turn resulted in the merger of the Tamil popular deity, Lord Muruga with Kumara, the son of Shiva. Tamil Nadu has always been strong in the principle of Shiva and has its own native philosophy of Shaiva Sidhanta.

Among the Vaishnavites two sub-sects of Brahmins arose in Tamil Nadu called Vadagalai and Tengalai Ayyangars. As the words suggest the Vadagalai are supposed to be from North India and the Tengalai from South India. This segmentation significantly suggests the possible migration of some Ayyangar Brahmins from North India. Apart from these two sects there are Ayyangar Brahmins settled in Karnataka known as Mysore Ayyangars. In fact most of the Ayyangar Brahmins believe themselves to have migrated into Tamil Nadu from the other Vaishnavite center of India. (though it all seems to have happened in the past, no one knows from where or how). A very exclusive group of Indian Brahmins, the Ayyangars have strictly tried to marry within themselves for centuries in an attempt to maintain the purity of the sect. As a result Ayyangar women are some of the most beautiful found in any part of the world. For example, great beauties like Jayalalithaa, Vaijayanthimala and Hemamalini were all born into Ayyangar families. The women of the TVS family are also supposed to be very charming and good-looking.

On the other hand it is also believed that Saint Ramanuja initiated a lot of non-Brahmins as Vaishnavites and got them involved into the bhakti cult propounded by him. These people have also got eventually amalgamated with the present day Tengalai Ayyangars. The devotional poetry of Saint Ramanujam is still sung in all the Vaishnavite centers of Tamil Nadu. The Saint spent the early part of his life at Sriperumpudur and the later part at Srirangam where his body is preserved. He can be bodily seen, sitting in the lotus position, at Srirangam temple, by the devotees, even after eight hundred years of his attaining nirvana. All the Brahmins traditionally wore a cast mark on their foreheads. The Ayyars put three lines of Ash on their forehead to indicate that they were the worshippers of Shiva the Lord. He covers his body with nothing but the ash of the cremation ground to show that life is nothing but the dance of death.

The Ayyangars on the other hand wear a long red caste mark made of vermilion. There is a slight difference in the caste mark worn by the Vadagalai Ayyangars and Tengalai Ayyangars to emphasize their different identities. The mark worn by one group resembles the English alphabet ‘U’ whereas the one worn by the other group resembles the English alphabet ‘Y’. There is a famous court case, which was fought by the two sects of Ayyangars in Kancheepuram. The dispute rose over the issue if the temple elephant of the famous Varadharaja Perumal temple should wear a caste mark of Vadagalai Ayyangars or Tengalai Ayyangars during the annual temple festival. The matter perhaps went up to the Supreme Court and finally it was decided that the elephant would wear Vadagalai and Tengalai caste mark on alternate years on the day of the festival. In this manner the Vadagalai and the Tengalais have a history of competing with each other over the supremacy and precedence in matters relating to the temple functions and rituals.

1.1 The Ayyars(Iyers)

Over the last two thousand years the Brahmins have migrated, in waves, from different parts of India to South India. They came to the South not only from Varanasi and other parts of the Gangetic plains but also from Kashmir, Gujarat and Goa. Some of these waves could be closely attributed to certain political upheavals. The destruction of the temple of Somnath by Mohammad of Gazni and Mohammed of Gauri and the large-scale persecution of Brahmins in Kashmir after the Buddhist king of Kashmir became a Muslim contributed to this southward migration. The forced conversion to Islam and levying of Jajiya tax on the Hindus in the later part of the Mughal period forced many Brahmins to move to the South. Subsequently, the forced conversion of Brahmins to Christianity by the Portuguese, unsettled the Brahmins on the Konkan Coast and many of them were given refuge by the Maharajas of Travancore and Cochin in Kerala. It must be noted that one of the important reasons for the decline of the Mughal Empire has been the non-secular policy of Aurangzeb, which were totally opposite to the secular policies of his own great grandfather, Akbar the great.
The repeated raids on Somnath, the richest temple in India, by the Muslim invaders not only forced priests but other temple employees including the architects and sculptors to migrate. These migrants have greatly contributed to the temple building activity of South India. There is another theory that those Brahmins who could not get employment as priests took up the jobs of sculptors and temple architects. Some of the Sathapathis (temple sculptors) in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka still trace their ancestry to Somnath. Many of them wear sacred thread, are well versed in Sanskrit texts, specially 'Vastu and Shilpi Shastra' and observe a highly Sanskritised culture.

I visited Somnath temple in the year 1997 and met the hereditary priests of the temple. For several centuries the hereditary priests of Somnath temple had remained dispersed in Gujarat, Maharashtra and other parts of South India. A small number of them have come back to Somnath after Sardar Vallabhai Patel rebuilt the temple. Sardar Patel had taken an oath to rebuild the temple as soon as India gained freedom. Somnath is located in Junagarh, which had been ruled by the Muslim Nawabs for many centuries. It is quite possible that the invaders enjoyed the tacit support of the local Muslim rulers of Juna Garh in looting the temple. Incidentally, the Nawab of Juna Garh, where Somnath is situated, quietly escaped to Pakistan in his private plane, taking along his family and wealth, on the eve of independence.

It is interesting to note that the gold looted by Muhammad Gauri and Muhammad Gajni was later confiscated from the Afghans by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, the Lion of Punjab. He wanted to return the gold to the Somnath temple but since the temple was still very vulnerable to attacks, the priests of Somnath temple requested the maharaja to retain the gold with himself. The benevolent Maharaja then put the gold on the domes of the golden temple and installed the golden gates of Somnath around the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Apart from the forced migrations, the sustained inducement to migrate to the South was created by the great Chola and the Vijaynagar kings from the very ancient times. These kingdoms respected and encouraged scholars by giving them grants, teaching positions, employment opportunities and priesthoods in the temples. Many of these great rulers conducted 'Vedic Yajnas' on a regular basis, which needed to be performed by a large congregation of Brahmins. This further induced Brahmins to come to South India. The Chola kings also extended patronage to Vedic Astrology and Ayurvedic-Medicine and invited the great exponents of these sciences to come to Tamilnadu.

It is believed that the Saraswat Brahmins from Kashmir did not settle in the Tamil country and migrated to the coast of Mangalore. The majority of Brahmins who came to Tamilnadu are generally known as the 'Ayyars'. The word Ayyar is supposed to be a corruption of Ayya (Sir), a term of respect. Ayya itself is derived from the word Ajja that is supposed to be a variation of Araya 'the noble one' in Sanskrit. The common man in Tamil Nadu believes that the Ayyars/Iyers are the Shivite Brahmins as against the Vaishnavite Iyengars. This is not entirely true. Actually, the Ayyars can be loosely defined as Samartha Brahmins, the followers of the 'Smritis (the texts) and having an association with the Tamil land. Since the geographical composition of the Tamil country has been fluctuating continuously they are spread all over South India. Compared to the Iyengars, there are many groups among the Ayyars.
The earliest group of Brahmins to come to Tamil Nadu is largely known as Gurukuls. They have been here from very ancient times and were primarily invited to be temple priests in the early Chola period. Many of them were great Vedic scholars. They conducted the coronation of the kings and acted as their spiritual advisors and Gurus. They also acted as the Gurus to the villages and the towns where the temples were located. They advised people on various matters including fixing of auspicious time for commencing important ventures. Many of them were the great exponents of Vedic Astrology and Ayurvedic Medicine.

They are supposed to be followers of Baudhyana Sutra and are divided as 'Kanchipuram', 'Tiruvalangadu' and 'Thirukazhakundram' Gurukuls. It is interesting that all the three are the names of ancient towns and temples around Kanchipuram. This clearly indicates that the earliest migration was to Kanchipuram. Kanchipuram is one of the two most ancient cities of India. The other being Varanasi (Kashi). The linkage between the Varanasi (Kashi) and Kanchi has existed from earliest times and has been facilitating the migration of priests between the North and the South. It is possible that Kanchipuram, Tiruvangadu and Tirukalikundram were the first destinations for the Gurukuls who arrived. They stayed and worked there till they were redeployed to other interior temples and towns.

One of the best known of the early Gurukuls has been Saint Shri Sundarmurthy Nayanar, the famous 7th century saint poet. He married a temple dancer in Nagapattinam. A very devout lady who was later 'deified' and a shrine was built for her in the temple. It is possible that the many early settlers married ethnic Tamil non-Brahmin women since those days women did not normally travel over such long distances.
Among the Gurukuls, those who have remained, today, in isolated small rural temples have fallen on bad times due to lack of patronage and income to small and remote temples. Some temples do not possess the means to conduct even one time Puja or light the evening lamp. In such places the possibility of earning a proper wage by the temple priest does not exist…

1.2 The Iyengars

According to many scholars the classification of Iyengars into Vadagalai and Tengalai is based on the Northern and Southern traditions. To be precise this classification was not based on migration but based on the use of language. The Vadagalai used more of Sanskrit and were mainly the followers of Sri Vedanta Deshiker, whereas the Tengalai used more of Tamil and were the followers of Saint Ramanujam, also known as the Tenth Acharya, who propagated Vaishnavism in a big way in South India. It is said that he admitted many non-Brahmins into Vaishnavism and made Vaishnavism a devotional movement. In fact, it is very interesting that among the twelve Vaishnavite Saints called Alwars only three are Brahmins.

Born at Sriperumbudur, Ramanujam spent much of his life in Kancheepuram in the service of Lord Varadharaja Perumal. It is said that Lord Perumal appeared to him in his dream and asked him to go to Srirangam and promote Vaishnavism from there. Hence, at the age of forty he went to Srirangam where he first performed the daily temple duty of Thirumanjam Kaikariyam (carrying water for the holy bath of the Lord). However, he was elevated to be the Madathipathi of Srirangam Math as per the wishes of the last Madathipathi. At Srirangam he had a lot of trouble with the Chola king, Krimikanda Chola, who was a puritan and fanatic Shaivite. He was incensed by the rapid promotion of Vaishnavism by Ramanujam and persecuted him. He wanted to blind him but somehow, the disciples of Ramanujam came to know about the plot. One of them, Kurathalwan, dressed like Ramanujam took the assault on himself while the others took Ramanujam away to Mel Kottai, (Narayan Puram) in Mysore.

Presumable, after the death of Krimikanda Chola, Ramanujam returned to Srirangam and continued his work. Born in 1017 CE, he lived for 120 years and attained Nirvana at Srirangam, where his body has been preserved in a Samadhi. In India, there is a tradition of not cremating the Saints. Their bodies are normally kept in an underground chamber (samadhi) in a sitting position. The samadhis are frequented by the devotees who continue to feel the presence of the sage and experience spiritual bliss and vibrations at the holy spot. Everyone visiting Srirangam visits the Shrine of Ramanujam. A life-size black granite idol, sitting in a lotus position, has been installed over the Samadhi, for which daily pooja is being conducted. I have visited the shrine many times and have felt a sense of bliss. People believe Ramanujam is very much around.

The temple of Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam is one of the most beautiful temple complexes in the world. It is vast and sprawling with high and beautifully ornate gopurams (towers). It is one of the few temples where the South Indian temple paintings have survived. The paintings both of the Pandyan and Nayakar periods can be seen; some of which have been recently restored by experts from the National chemical laboratory. The unique feature of the temple is a giant-size Garuda installed in front of the shrine of Ranganatha. I have never seen a Garuda of this size anywhere in the country. The Garuda is beautifully carved in wood and is exquisitely painted. Everyone, first prays to the Garuda before entering the shrine of the Lord. The Garuda is supposed to be the vehicle of the Lord and is also known to be a prime devotee of the Lord, and hence called Garudalwar.

The architecture of the Srirangam town, which is about five miles from Tiruchirapalli, is most unique and speaks volumes about the way of life of the Brahmins who lived here in the past. It is unfortunate that most of the old houses are being pulled down and replaced by less elegant structures. There are a handful of Vedic scholars still living in Srirangam. Many of them can be seen reciting Vedas in the temple in the mornings and evenings. However, the number of Vedic scholars is continuously on the decline due to lack of patronage and less interest shown by the younger generation to undertake such a strenuous course of learning which does not ensure a decent living.

The Math at Srirangam is still functioning in the tradition of Ramanujam. The present Madathipathi of the Srirangam Math is Sri Sriranga Narayana Jeer. The Madathipathi is also the custodian of the Ranganatha temple. He has the responsibility of starting and finishing the daily rituals and worship in the temple. Normally, he cannot stay out of Srirangam Math over night unless it is absolutely necessary. For this reason one can normally be fortunate to meet the Jeer and take his blessings. The present Jeer, who was earlier a temple priest in Coimbatore, is a well-read scholar. I take his blessings whenever I go to Srirangam. He is adept in all the Vedas and is an expert in performing yagas. Due to his spiritual practices he is known to be bestowed with divine powers. At times, involuntarily, he makes prophesies, which he says are revealed as per the wishes of Lord Ranganatha, and many of them come to pass.
The philosophical, devotional cult propounded by Ramanujam can be called the pre-runner of the medieval Bhakti (devotional) movements in North and South India. Following Ramanujam, a spate of Bhakti schools and saints continued to attract the masses towards the God almighty through their devotional, philosophical writings. The Bhakti cult got divided into two schools in India, namely the Nirguna and Saguna School. The Nirguna School was devoted to God without form - like in Islam and Sikhism. On the contrary the Saguna School was devoted to God in a visual form, like that of Rama, Krishna or Vishnu, clearer to the masses.

The major exponents of Bhakti cult in India were Guru Nanak, Eknath, Surdas, Tulsidas, Meera Bai, Rahim, Raskhan, Kabir, Ravidas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Krishna consciousness) and many more. However, a majority of them belonged to Saguna School of Bhakti. Nanak and Kabir were ardent followers of the Nirguna School. Guru Nanak eventually became the founder of Sikhism and his devotional verses written by him are chanted everyday in the Gurudwaras around the world and Kabir's immortal poetry is widely taught in the textbooks as Bhakti literature. Within the Nirguna and Saguna School there were poets and philosophers who saw God and themselves as one entity and those who saw God and themselves as two separate entities. These were known as non-dualistic and dualistic schools of Bhakti. The prominent examples of the Saguna dualistic school are saints like Surdas, Tulsidas (the writer of Ramcharitmanas), Meera Bai and Andal.

The birthplace of Andal, Srivalliputtur, is one of the famous Vaishnavite centres in Tamilnadu; others being Alwarthirunagari, Sriperumpudur, Tirukoilur, Kancheepuram, Thiruvaikuntham, Thiruvendipuram and Srimooshanam. In fact, out of the 108 Vaishnavite centres in India a large number is located in Tamilnadu. In Srivalliputtur, there is a shrine dedicated to Andal and she is given the status of a Goddess. Andal was the daughter of the priest of the Vishnu temple at Srivalliputur and was fascinated by the Lord from a very young age. Like Meera, she was wedded to the Lord and wrote the most beautiful devotional and love poetry. In her sleep she dreamt of her wedding to the Lord and has described it in her poems. It is believed that the Lord himself asked her father for her hand. She is recognised as one of the Vaishnavite Alwars (Saint poets). The poetry of the Alwars is known as Divya Prabhandams which contains nearly four thousand verses. Some of the famous Alwars are Perialwar, Bothatalwar, Tirumangaialwar etc. The poetry of Andal is also known as Nachiyar Thiru Mozhi. The love songs of Andal are sung during the Vaishnavite marriage rites.

Iyengar marriages are very elaborate and have a lot of singing associated with them. There are interesting ceremonies like the Unjal (swing) ceremony when both, the bride and the bridegroom, are made to sit on the swing and maidens sing around them. They are also made to play games with each other. This is a practice from the days when child marriages used to take place and the child bride and groom needed to become friends. Andal songs dedicated to Durga are called Thiru Pavai and are sung during the month of Marghazi. Marghazi (December - January) is the most sacred month for prayers and vritams (vows). The unmarried girls keep Katyayani Vritam for thirty days and pray to Durga for a good husband. In Thiru Pavai all the verses end with the word 'yen Pavai' (our Durga). The Shivaite parallel to Thiru Pavai is Thiruvam Pavai, the verses of which are similar to Thiru Pavai and are also dedicated to Pavai (Durga). During the sacred month of Marghazi, the devout in the temple towns of Tamil Nadu, go round the town singing Pavai songs after an early morning bath. There is total concentration on the prayers that no other distracting activity is entertained. Traditionally, during the month of Margazhi, in Tamil Nadu, no marriages are conducted, no buying or selling of property takes place, and no one changes the house. Everything is postponed till Pongal, the harvest festival.

It is believed that about three hundred years ago, a group of South Indian Brahmins took Thiru Pavai to Cambodia and Thailand and propagated Vaishvanism in that part of the world. Dr. Nagaswamy, who just returned from Cambodia, saw a version of Thiru Pavai in the Cambodian script. According to Dr. Padma Subramaniam this fact was also known to the Pramacharya of Kanchi. He urged Padma to compose a dance based on Thiru Pavai and Thiruvam Pavai and perform it in Thailand. This she did, along with her students, during the festival of India in Thailand in1995. My daughter Priyadarshini, one of her students, also accompanied her. The Raj Guru of Thailand was present at the performance. Next day he showed the dance troupe the Thai Version of Thiru Pavai and also recited it for them. Even though his pronunciation was quite Thai they could still recognise the Tamil words. After hundreds of years and many generations of being in Thailand, the Raj Guru and other priests look just like other Thai men. However, they are the descendents of the South Indian Brahmins who brought Thiru Pavai to Thailand and are proud of their heritage. The songs are written in Thai script, but the words are the same. For generations these songs have been recited by people without even knowing their meanings.

According to Dr. Padama Subramaniam, "a big swing (unjal) festival used to take place during the month of Marghazi in Thailand. It was celebrated around a huge wooden swing located in the centre of Bangkok. The ancient swing gave way about thirty years ago. The supporting pole can still be seen there. Thailand also has a dance tradition as per Bharata, author of the Natya Shastra. They call him Bharata Munni. A mask of Bharata Munni is on display at the Academy of Music and Dance in Bangkok. In fact, not only Bharatanatyam but all the dance forms in India like Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam are based on Natyashastra. Hence, Thai dance being based on Natyashastra should not come as a surprise to us".

Thiru Pavai songs are also sung, in Thailand, on the occasion of the coronation of the Thai kings. Even though the Thai kings have become Buddhists, over a period of time, they have kept their Hindu traditions and have retained the office of the Raj Guru. The coronation of the Thai kings is still conducted by the Raj Guru and the sword and crown for the king to be coronated are taken in a procession from the house of the Raj Guru. The kings belong to the Rama Dynasty and the present king is known as 'Rama the IX'.

1.2.1 Kaliyur Iyengars

In the year 1840, a group of scholarly, Tengalai Iyengar Brahmins migrated from Mannargudi in Tanjavur and came to settle down in the village of Kaliyur near Cheyyar in North Arcot District. It is said that a plague like epidemic made people leave Mannargudi. Another reason attributed for this migration is the invasion of the neighbouring South Arcot by the Muslims. Kaliyur is situated 18 km. from Kancheepuram and 3 km. from Cheyyar. The Brahmins living in Kaliyur are one of the oldest, most exclusive and homogenous groups of Iyengar Brahmins of Tamilnadu. Their origin is lost in antiquity but they might have been around at least from the time of Ramanuja. They believe themselves to be the followers of the Mudaliandavan who is supposed to be the first and the dearest disciples of Sri Ramanujam. They follow Mudaliandavan Thirumaligai and consider Mudaliandavan as their Acharya (Guru).

After their resettlement in Kaliyur, the village became a cradle of Vedic scholars, purohits and astrologers. The Brahmin families lived in the Agraharam (first row of houses built around the temple and occupied by the temple priests) and the families of the dominant community of rich and landed Arcot Mudaliars lived in a nearby locality. In fact, Brahmins first arrived in this village due to the invitation of the Mudaliars. The patronage of the Mudaliar Community has been extremely good and constant through the years and is a classical example of the 'patron client' relationship existing in India from ancient times between different communities. The Agraharam is located around the temple of 'Sri Adhi Keshava Perumal Swamy', which was also built and maintained with financial support from the Mudaliars.

It is believed that the Brahmins, carried the idol of Adhi Keshava all the way from Mannargudi on their head to Kaliyur and reinstalled it in the newly built temple of Adhi Keshava Perumal. It is not a practice to abandon Gods even in adverse circumstances. The idol, four feet tall, is in a standing position and is made of granite. It is believed that in ancient times there was a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali at that spot. That is why the village is called 'Kaliyur' the home of Goddess Kali. The Kali temple might have been abandoned centuries ago with the decline of the cult of Mother Goddess in Tamil Nadu. This has been the case with the temple of Nataraja in Chidambaram also. The prime site of Nataraja temple also originally belonged to a Kali temple. After establishing the temple of Nataraja in the important location in the heart of the town the Kali was moved to an insignificant shrine at the outskirts of the Chidambaram town. Kali can still be seen there and is worshipped as the Tillai Kali (Kali of Chidambaram). It is significant that the rising suppression of the female sex has historically been manifested with simultaneous suppression of the female deities.

After moving to Kaliyur the Brahmins engaged in agriculture apart from performing the temple related activities. Due to this reason they are also called the Mannar Mudumbai families. These families are very religious, orthodox and are considered to be an authority on Vaishnavism. Unlike other South Indians who carry the name of village and the name of the father as their initials; the Kaliyur Brahmins use the initials K. M. meaning Kaliyur Manner. It is a definite attempt to retain their Mannargudi identity. The priests from Kaliyur have been much in demand in other Vaishnavite temples. They have been dominating the scene in Tirupati hill since 1940s. In 1950s, they monopolised the Paracharat (cooking service to the Lord) at Tirupati and have been taking the contracts for making ladoos, vadai and other offerings to the lord. Kaliyur is also closely connected with the Ramar Sannadhi (shrine of Lord Rama) and the temple of Shree Govindaraja at the foothills of the Tirupati temple. Only the Brahmins from Kaliyur were chosen to carry the offerings from the Lord of Seven Hills at Tirumalai to the temple of Govindaraja at foothills. The priests walked bare-footed all the way down the hill carrying the offerings on their head.

In 1960, when the Tirupati temples were first launched in USA, the Kaliyur Brahmins like Sri. K.M. Manavalan Iyengar, Arvamudhan Iyengar and Chakravartiyar were chosen to start the first temple at Pittsburgh, by the Tirupati Devasthanam.

Kaliyur has been a great centre of Vedic Astrology. The Brahmins of Kaliyur have been uniformly well versed in astrology and are keepers of the most ancient astrological knowledge in the world. Almost all of them have been treated like the religious leaders and the astrological guides from time immemorial. Many Kaliyur Brahmin families have been practicing astrology for more than seven generations in an unbroken tradition since they first arrived in 1840. However, the knowledge, which they brought to Kaliyur, must date back to many centuries before, perhaps, to the time of Bhaskar Bhat and other great astrological luminaries.

Kaliyur has been very closely linked to Kancheepuram from the very inception. Every year during the month of January, July and December, the idol of Lord Keshava Perumal is taken in a procession to the Iyengar Kulam, a lake at the outskirts of Kancheepuram. About forty people start the procession and many more join them en-route to Kancheepuram. The procession travels on foot for the entire stretch of 18 km. The idol of the Lord is carried only by the Harijans of Kaliyur who have the preferential right to carry the Lord. It is to be remembered that Acharya Ramanujam was one of the earliest religious leaders in the country to integrate the Harijans into the Vaishnavite fold.

After arriving at Iyengar Kulam, the Lord is given a ceremonial bath in the kulam and then taken back to Kaliyur. This ritual was started to create an opportunity to interact with the Iyengar Brahmins of Kancheepuram and other neighbouring villages to get to know them. Most of the marriages and alliances were settled between the Iyengar families during this interaction. This custom has been copied from Lord Varadharaja going to ‘Padai Seevaram’ on the day of Chithirai Poornima at Tirupati. This ritual is also known as ‘Parvettam’ (forest hunting). For small endogamous families, living in isolation, it was necessary to create situations to exchange information about the boys and girls of marriageable age in order to make suitable marriage alliances.

Today out of twenty houses in Kaliyur Agraharam (the Brahmin street), only six or seven houses are occupied and the remaining are kept locked. However, every year during the month of April, on the day of Chittirai Revathi, the birth star of Lord Vishnu, Kaliyur Iyengars from all over the world gather in the village to celebrate the annual festival. They have also created a trust called ‘Kaliyur Thenacharya Trust’ for the maintenance of the temple and its activities.

Till 1960, there were about twenty families of renowned astrologers living in Kalilyur. Today most of them have moved to Tirupathi, Kancheepuram, Nasrathpet, Thiruneermalai and other temple towns. The Kaliyur priests are posted in a system of circulation and rotation to serve in these temples. This system is adopted to break the monotony of the work as well as to show equal treatment to all. The allocation of duties was earlier done by the Jeer of the Kaliyur Mutt. Now the ‘Association of the Priests’ does it. Kaliyur is also linked with Sholinganallur Narasimha Temple which is mainly managed by the Tengalai Iyengars. Sholinganallur is famous for its Girivalam (walk around the holy hill).

Every Sunday during the sacred month of Karthigai, a large number of devotees perform the Girivalam. Sholinganallur is also famous as a centre for psychotherapy for women suffering from mental disorders. The patient after taking an early morning bath in the lake called ‘Takan kulam’, walk to the temple of Anjaneya, ‘the Monkey God’. Around a small pond, they lie on the rocks in wet clothes. This is believed to be the most effective therapy for the victims of mental illness, witchcraft, and for the people possessed by evil spirits. Kaliyur Astrologers (Srinivasachary Iyengar, Narayanan)

Since 1840, Kaliyur has been the home of the finest Vedic Astrology. Today Kaliyur Astrologers are known for their extraordinary and dynamic approach to the subject of astrology, which was initiated by Pandit Kaliyur Srinivasacharya. He was responsible for spreading the fame of Kaliyur far and wide. Kaliyur Srinivasachary was born in the year 1908 to Shri Kaliyur Kuppuswamy Iyengar and Shrimati Lakshmi also from the same village. He came from a family, which had practiced astrology for six generations.

Kaliyur Srinivasachary Iyengar [Contents]

Srinivasachary, had his early education at the village school and did not learn any astrology at all. He could not apply his mind to the subject due to adverse family circumstances. His story is full of twists and turns. Originally belonging to a great family of astrologers and landlords the family fell on bad times due to litigating nature of his maternal grandfather with whom they were living. A very egoistic man, he would indulge in litigation, at the spur of the moment. Eventually, he lost all the family wealth in lawsuits and was declared a pauper. By the time Srinivasachary was sixteen, he had lost his father and the family had hardly anything to eat. Eldest of half a dozen children, he was chased out of the house by his mother, every time he came home, to go and make a living outside. She herself made eating plates out of leaves and sold the day's labour for four annas (twenty-five paisa) to feed the family.

He was young and raw and did not possess any skills, which would get him employment. At that time, a lawyer, called Kuppuswamy took pity on him. Kuppuswamy, who belonged to the same village, had assisted the Diwan of Jodhpur in the matter of settling some disputed property belonging to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. The Diwan had asked Kuppuswamy to ask for a favour in return from the Maharaja. As luck would have it Kuppuswamy decided to redeem the favour from the Maharaja by asking him to give a job to the young Srinivasachary. He gave a letter to that effect, along with the train fare to reach Jodhpur, to Srinivasachary.

Apart from being astrologers, the Kaliyur Iyengars also worked as cooks in the temples and prepared Prasadam for the Gods. Hence Kuppuswamy decided to recommend the unskilled Srinivasachary for the post of a cook. However, destiny had planned it otherwise. But in the train Srinivasachary started crying bitterly at the prospect of becoming a cook. His father had been a great theoretical astrologer and had left a manuscript of the original astrological pramanas (proof) written by him. Srinivasachary had remembered to carry this manuscript in his bag. While leaving home, he had also picked up another book belonging to his paternal grandfather titled 'Jyotish Chandrika' (the light of astrology). He started reading these books on the train and in this way his astrological learning started during his long journey to Jodhpur in the year 1924.

After reaching Jodhpur he went to the palace to see the Diwan. As providence would have, the Diwan was in meditation at that time. Without opening his eyes and reading the letter from Kuppuswamy he asked Srinivasachary what he would like to do. Srinivasachary was feeling ashamed to say that he wanted to be a cook, so he quickly said he would like to be a 'Pujari' (a temple priest). The kind Diwan, still under the spell of meditation, gave instructions to post him as a Pujari in one of the many royal shrines. In this way, due to divine intervention, he escaped becoming a cook and instead became a temple priest.

This proved a turning point in his life and he started learning astrology in right earnest. Slowly, the people around started seeking his opinion on their horoscopes and asked him to read their palms. In this manner, by the word of mouth, his fame started spreading. The Maharaja made him the royal astrologer and soon he was invited by the high and mighty from other royal families outside Jodhpur. He was made the palace astrologer by the Maharaja of Indore and the Maharana of Mewar. He proved to be a rare spiritual leader and eminent astrologer by his outstanding personality and the unique approach to the subject.

At this juncture he took leave of the royal family for three months to try his astrological skills with the common man. He toured the whole of North India, sitting under the trees and attracting clients. With the grace of God, wherever he went, his predictions came true and his fame kept growing. In one place, a local Don wanted him to come to his house and read horoscopes of his family members. Srinivasachary refused to go and sent word that the family should come and see him. Eventually, the Don swallowed his pride and landed up where Srinivasachary was sitting under a tree. He threw roughly a horoscope before him to interpret. Srinivasachary merely glanced at the horoscope and said; " I do not read the horoscopes of the dead". This made the Don very angry, but later he realised his mistake. He had mistakenly brought the horoscope of his dead daughter, and not the one alive, to be shown. This incident made Srinivasachary even more famous with the common men of the area and they thronged to meet him. After spending three months successfully as a touring astrologer he developed confidence about making a living on the basis of his astrological knowledge without the patronage of the Maharaja. He went back to Jodhpur to take formal leave of the royal family and returned to Kaliyur with the wealth earned so far…

After taking leave of the royal family of Jodhpur, Srinivasachary went back to his ancestral village, Kaliyur, where he had undergone a lot of poverty and humiliation. In spite of toiling day and night, for keeping a family of eight members together, his mother had incurred a lot of debts. As soon as he arrived in the village he paid off all the family debts and built a house for his mother at a cost of seven hundred rupees.

After discharging these obligations he went to the city of Madras to set up a tiny astrological practice. He started, humbly, under a staircase in Mint Street, sharing the space with a raw advocate, who eventually became a successful lawyer. Later he moved his office to a better place, as his practice improved. His practice progressed well due to his authority over the subject, his mastery of the Sanskrit language and his exposition of the slokas and pramanas, which impressed everyone. He gave bewitching talks on the subject of astrology and held his audience spellbound. Being impressed by his knowledge, the founder of ‘The Hindu’ a leading English newspaper in Madras, Shri Kasturi Iyengar, patronised him by giving him free advertising space in his newspaper. It helped him a great deal and attracted most of the VIPs in Madras Presidency to consult him. His clients included film stars like Dilip Kumar and Waheeda Rehman.

The known atheist and non-believers of his time like Silverton Srinivasa Shastri, EVR Ramaswamy (Periyar) and VARA were all astonished with the accuracy of his predictions and acknowledged his mastery of the subject. The writers like Jayakanthan and Kalki Sadashivam also conceded to his superiority in the field of astrology. He never went to the house of a client. Once when Dilip Kumar wanted him to come to the studio where he was shooting. Srinivasachary sent word to him that the seeker should come to the source, and the source should not go to the seeker. After that day Dilip Kumar always came to consult him at his little office. One day the Maharaja of Mysore and the then Governor of Madras, His Highness Maharaja Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Bahadur invited him to come to the Raj Bhavan for astrological consultations. Srinivasachary informed His Excellency, the Governor, that he will come to the Raj Bhavan as the subject of His Excellency and pay his respects to him but he could not come there as an astrologer. Hearing this, within minutes, the Governor arrived at this humble abode.

At the age of twenty-one, Sinivasachary married Ranganayaki, the daughter of the priest of Thiru Neermalai Temple, an ancient shrine, situated near Pallavaram. Ranganayaki was a devout Hindu. She was seven when some astrologer had predicted that she will die soon, so she should marry a Brahmachari at the earliest. Due to this rumour she was not able to find a suitable match. Srinivasachary happened to see her horoscope by chance and found it to be very promising. He immediately offered to marry her. He also paid bride price of five hundred rupees to her father, to obtain her hand in marriage, as per the Iyengar custom those days. It is very interesting that till recently Iyengars did not accept any dowry, instead made a token offering of ‘bride price’ to the father of the bride. (However, in recent times the custom of dowry has also crept into the Iyengar community in India. I would like the present generation to know how honourably their ancestors behaved. However, while discarding the custom of dowry it should be ensured that the girls are given full access to their inheritance as provided by the law).

Ranganayaki, the wife of Srinivasachary, was very affectionate and a loving woman even though she was unlettered. In fact she learnt to sign her name only at the age of fifty. She was a strict disciplinary and very religious and followed all the rules of orthodoxy. She always cooked with firewood and did not agree to switch over to a gas stove. She never accepted the use of the stainless steel utensils in her kitchen and cooked and served in traditional brassware and clay pots. During the last days of his life Srinivasachary took her daily to the Marina beach. On such occasions she never sat next to her husband in the car. She would sit on the front seat of the car and he in the back seat. She always carried a kuja (traditional brass water container) from home for drinking water, while on such expeditions. She was very spiritual and all those who came to visit them always took her blessings by touching her feet.

In this manner, living with a loyal and devout companion, Srinivasachary continued to practice astrology, gloriously, till he attained Nirvana and reached the lotus feet of his Achraya in 1983. His greatest contribution has been passing on the sum total of his knowledge to his sons. Three of them took to the practice of astrology after him. One of them, Kaliyur Narayanan has become an internationally renowned astrologer for his extraordinary knowledge and treatment of the subject.

Kaliyur Narayanan [Contents]
Contemporary heir to the astrological heritage of Kaliyur

• Kaliyur Narayanan is the contemporary heir to the astrological heritage of Kaliyur. His family has practiced astrology for seven generations and produced a number of astrological luminaries like:
• Kaliyur Alwar Iyengar - The great grandfather of Narayanan, born in the year 1890, he was an advisor to the Landlords and the British officers. He was also a preacher of astrological knowledge.
• Kaliyur Kuppana Iyengar - The grandfather of Narayanan, was very knowledgeable and a learned astrologer but very shy and reserved and hence did not measure up to his father’s stature.
• Kaliyur Alwar Iyengar - Junior - Uncle of Narayanan, he was an authority on Ayurveda (medicine) and Astrology. He was also known as the medical astrologer. He moved to Mylapore, in Madras, where he became very well known and still lives there at the age of hundred and one.
• Kaliyur Govindachary Iyengar - Uncle of Narayanan, he was a magician, an astrologer and a violinist. He was a powerful social personality of Chengalpet, where he was practicing till he passed away in 1980.
• Kaliyur Srinivasachary - Father of Narayanan. He conquered North India and was the palace astrologer to the Maharajas of Jodhpur, Indore and Mewar. He practiced astrology in Madras till 1983.
• Kaliyur Arvamudha Iyengar - Younger brother of Srinivasachary and the uncle of Narayanan. He carried astrology to Hydrabad and other parts of India. He was the family astrologer to the Nizams of Hydrabad, Dr Chenna Reddy and to the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh

It is amazing that Kaliyur Narayanan, the son of Kaliyur Srinivasachary had all but given up the idea of becoming an astrologer. Instead he became a successful marketing executive who traveled widely. A born wanderer he once ventured on a world tour on a motorcycle. He travelled around the globe, on a shoe-string budget, hitch-hiking most of the time. Educated in Chennai, at Loyola College, where he hob-nobbed with non-conformists and Marxists like Arthur Pais and N. Ram (who was underground those days). Being their associate he also became a socialist and an atheist. Those days Arthur Pais wrote regularly against churches and was very critical of Arch Bishop Arullappa. The whole group in Loyola was atheist. They really felt that astrology, religion, occult were stupid and did not believe in any of these. However, destiny had some other plans for Narayanan. As Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the former philosopher, president of India once wrote that fate chooses and not we. Most of the things around us happen due to forces beyond our control. It was the same with Narayanan who says it in his own words:

"I did not want to disturb and spoil the image created by my father who was an exceptionally powerful and dynamic exponent of astrology and had a great stature. I wanted to be far from it. I was in awe of him and never felt equal to the task. Moreover, I did not believe in astrology and thought it was a humbug. In fact, I assisted my father in his office work for four years and many times I tried to send away his clients by telling them that astrology was rubbish and a hoax. But more I told them not to come to consult my father, more they wanted to see him. They often scolded me by telling, “Your father is a great man and you don’t know him”.

Whatever Narayanan thought about himself, others felt differently. One day while he was watching a performance in Krishna Gana Sabha he found himself seated next to the leading writer, Shri Subramanium of All India Radio, who was greatly interested in astrology. He started a dialogue on astrology with Narayanan. Like - what is astrology? How does it work? Is it a solacing science? Narayanan seemed to have told him that it was not a solacing science. Using it in that manner will be misusing it. It will neither make the astrologer nor his client happy. It should be instead used as a guiding science. At the end of the conversation Subramanium was so impressed that he started persuading Narayanan to join his father’s profession. At the same time, the poet Tamilvannan of Kalakannadu magazine of Kumudam group, also wrote a first page article saying that ‘son goes the father’s way and described him as the ‘Pole star of astrology’. Tamilvannan thus became the first person to predict the future of Narayanan. At that time Narayanan was a successful business executive and a journalist. His father, the great Srinivasachary had also predicted that Narayanan will become an astrologer. At that time Narayanan was a successful business executive and had no intentions of doing anything else. He had been forewarned by his father saying, wherever you run to - you will be back here. Literary circles in which Narayanan moved as a journalist also brought a lot of pressure on him to take to astrology, but still he was unable to come out of his inhibitions. According to Narayanan eventually the transformation did occur as was fated:

My friend Arthur Pais, now in New York Times, was writing very well. Somehow, I developed a complex that I won’t shine in journalism. I was not interviewing people and I was not writing well. However, I did well as a marketing executive. But then suddenly my father died and that changed everything. It happened in 1983 when I was posted in Bangalore. In grief, I resigned from my job. My boss did not want me to leave, so he posted me in Madras. In spite of that I felt restless and resigned within six months and started my life as an astrologer. Our family had been astrologers for seven generations and after my father’s death there was a vacuum. Two of my brothers did practice astrology but did not possess good communication skills, so a lot of emotional pressure was brought on me by numerous people to start from where my father had left. Interestingly, when I started I did not even know how to cast a horoscope. I was totally ignorant. Kaliyur Iyengar marriage Rituals

Part 1 [Iyengar Marriage Rituals]

The marriage rituals of the South Indian Brahmins are very interesting. Basically all the Brahmins in India perform Vedic Marriage Rites, which are similar throughout India. However, there are regional and local flavours. Kashmiri Pandit marriages are very elaborate and used to last a month with a lot of singing and rejoicing. Shorter versions of Vedic rites are used in marriages conducted for other communities by the Brahmin priests. One of the most interesting marriages observed by me was the marriage of my niece Gauri Parimoo (a half Kashmiri and Half Gujrati girl) to Krishnan, an Iyengar young man. The marriage took place in Delhi as per the Iyengar rites.

During the marriage ceremony normally the girl wears a nine-yard, arakku red silk saree with zari border and the groom wears only a silk upper and lower cloth (a dhoti and an angvastram) and is bare bodied but adorned with a gold sacred thread. However, Gauri to begin with wore a red bandini Gujrati saree and later changed into a nine-yard Iyengar Madisar.

Among Iyengas the first ritual in the process of marriage is celebration of the Nischayartham (settling the marriage). There are basically two types of Nischayarthams. The first one is a legal contract to conduct the marriage between the two individuals, entered into by the elders of the family. It is a written document, which specifies all the terms and conditions of marriage including the dowry and the tentative date, time and place of marriage.
The second Nischayartham, which is indeed religious, may take place on the day of the marriage, prior to the Muhurtham. It is in the form of a promise made by both the parents concerned, to conduct the marriage, under the will of God, with their entire mind and spirit. This ritual is also known as the ‘Poorvanga Subha’ or the ‘Raising the Curtain’.

After this the parent who is going to carry out the Kanika Dhaanam (giving away his daughter) undertakes the Sankalapa mantras. He vouches religiously with prayers and slokas that he will be willing to give his daughter as Kanika Dhaanam. Since the Brahmins have a right to give and receive dhaanams, the bridegroom’s father ensures the promise by giving a token amount as compensation for receiving the girl. In the case of Iyengars, instead of the girl’s father giving a dowry, it is the groom's father who gives a monetary compensation.

It is said that this custom has been prevalent even from the time of the legendary marriage of Lord Ventatesha to Goddess Padmavathy. The Lord of Tirupati had to borrow money from Kubera, the god of wealth, to pay the monetary compensation to the father of Goddess Padmavathy. Incidentally, Lord Venkatesha is yet to pay-off his debt to Kubera. The girl’s family gives her gifts of household objects like utensils, cots, bed linen and other requirements, not intended as a dowry but to facilitate starting a home. Hence the custom of dowry, as understood today, did not find place in the Iyengar customs.

After Poorvanga Shuba the Muhurtham, which is the main ritual, takes place. The time within which the chief ritual has to be completed is called one Muhurath Kala, which is about three and three fourth Nazahigai (one and a half-hour). This time factor is very important for Mantra Shastra and for the principles of Yaga. The full effect of the Vedas and Mantras shall be valid only for this Muhurtha period.

Kashi Yatra

Before the Muhurtham takes place there is another ritual which some call ‘Kashi Yatra’. Initially, the groom is in a state of renouncing the world. He is taking Vanaprastha and proceeding to Kashi (Varanasi) as no one has offered him a girl in marriage. At this stage he is intercepted by the prospective bride’s father who promises him the hand of his daughter. He also gives him some gifts and then escorts him with fanfare to the celebrations. At the venue of the celebrations, he is ceremonially welcomed and this is known as the Mapillai Azhaippu (the bridegroom reception). The bride’s father also washes the feet of the groom with milk and honey. At this point the bridegroom is treated as the very form of Lord Vishnu

Part2 [Iyengar Marriage Rituals]


On the previous day of a marriage or on the same day the Jaanavasam or the bridegroom’s reception takes place. The bridegroom is taken around the streets of the town in an open luxury car in a procession. In the olden days he was taken around in a chariot. The procession is preceded by the musicians playing sacred music and followed by women wearing splendid silk sarees, decked with flowers and jewelry, carrying trays full of the gifts. They carry clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, fruits, nuts and sugar candy in large trays for the bride. In this fashion they arrive at the venue of the marriage and are received by the bride’s people with much fanfare.
The most important part of the wedding ceremony is the 'Thiru Mangalaya Dhanam’. The Mangalaya Dhaanam takes place only after the bride and groom recite several mantras assuring each other of sustained loyalty to one another, mentally, physically and spiritually, throughout their lives. While other dhaanams are given by hand and accompanied with water, the Kanika dhaanam is made by placing the girl on the lap of the father. Prior to this, the girl’s maternal uncle (mama) who is known as the ‘Murai Maapillai’ (the customary bridegroom) has to garland the bride and the groom to show that he has given his full consent to their marriage.

This is done because traditionally the mother’s brother had the preferential right to marry the girl. The marriage with the maternal uncle is not only common, but is very much in vogue even today in South India in many communities. Hence, it is necessary to ensure that the man who has a preferential right to marry the girl has forsaken it willingly. In small coherent communities this type of endogamous exogamy became quite essential to find the grooms within the community, who at the same time, do not belong to the same gotra. In fact, nowadays marriages with close relatives are becoming quite rare due to medical and genetic reasons.

The maternal uncle had apparently some disadvantages. Sometimes there could be a great deal of age difference between the bride and her maternal uncle. The pair may not always be emotionally and educationally compatible. On the other hand these marriages had many advantages especially from the point of view of the girl. The biggest advantage was that the maternal grandmother became the mother-in-law. In which circumstances the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship would be much better than it used to be in other Indian communities. The trauma of transition, which an Indian bride faces, was largely avoided. The adjustment to the new joint family was easier. The question of ill-treating the girl by her own maternal grandmother would be almost out of question. The future of the girl would be safer and secure. The family wealth could stay within the family. The marriages would still take place even if the two families were not economically equal, since they were deemed socially equal. This custom has also been absorbed by the other Tamil communities. The fact that many Tamil women address their husbands as ‘mama’ indicates that marriage with the maternal uncle would have been extremely popular.
It is interesting that amongst my own community of Kashmir Pundits, where marriages with maternal uncle or for that matter any relative is unheard of. It is the maternal uncle who carries the bride and brings her to the marriage pandal. To my mind it is a vestige of an ancient custom when perhaps such marriages would have taken place among Kashmiri Pandits also. The reason why the maternal uncle carries the girl to the mandapam is to show the entire gathering that she is like a child to him. He publicly displays that she is too young for him to marry her and brings her voluntarily to be given away to another suitable groom.

Maangalya Dharanam

After the maternal uncle gives his public approval to the union, the Mangalaya Dharanam takes place. The thread of marriage is tied around the neck of the girl after it is blessed by the Acharya, the priests, elders and the assembled guests. The Mangalyam is a piece of turmeric tied to a yellow thread, which is tied around the neck of the bride by the groom to signify that the ritual of marriage is complete. Thirumangalyam is tied with three knots. The first knot is tied by the bridegroom. The second knot is tied by his sister and the third knot is tied by the mother of the bride. It is also to ensure that there are at least two witnesses to the marriage. This is followed by the ‘Paanigrahanam’, which is considered to be most auspicious for ensuring a safe and full-married life. After this the ‘Sambhavanai’ or the blessings, takes place. First of all the blessings are invoked from the ‘Acharya’ the guru. A bowl of rice is put in the madi (lap) of the bride as a blessing to say 'let her be fertile and her household be plentiful'. It is followed by blessings by the maternal uncle and other relatives. Each one of them gives a gift of money along with a betel leaf to the bride.

Part3 [Iyengar Marriage Rituals]

There are many interesting rituals, which take place during the Iyengar weddings. I have mentioned some of them here:


Metti is the silver toe ring worn traditionally by married women. It is one more outer symbol to signify that the woman is married apart from the 'Thali' the thread of marriage. During the ritual the groom's younger brother has to sit on the ground and put the silver mettis on the toes of the bride. I think the younger brother here is like Lakshmana was to Sita. While putting Metti, he almost bows to his sister-in-law and literally touches her feet. Thereby showing that he will respect and obey his sister-in-law. At the same time the brother of the bride puts a ring on the finger of the groom. This occasion is also used to introduce both the brother of the groom and the brother of the bride to each other to come close and to become friends.


This would remind one of Radha and Krishna on the swing or Goddess Lakshmi and Narayan on the swing. In fact, the bride and groom are almost treated like the god and the goddess and made to sit on the swing while the brides maids and the female relatives sing beautiful love songs around them. While sitting on the Unjal their feet is washed with milk and they are protected, from the evil eye, by circling a handful of coloured rice around their head and then throwing away ( the ritual of Podi Suttruvadhu). The Unjal also presents the beautiful couple together. It is hoped that they will unite and enjoy life together and life would be as smooth for them as swinging joyfully in a swing. This ritual is also meant to waive away the differences if any and to bring them together for a peaceful and happy life.

Arundati Partal

During the entire wedding ceremony there are a number of activities where attempt is made to develop an understanding between the couple and impart in them out traditional values. Arundati Partal (watching the Arundati Star). is one such ritual, which takes place before the mangalya dharanam. During the course of this ritual the groom takes the girl out in the open and shows her the 'Arundati' star on the horizon. Arundati was the wife of sage Vashista who became immortal as a star due to her devotion to her husband. Arundati shines in the sky near the sixth star in the collection 'Great Bear' (Sapta Rishi). The groom, while showing the star to the bride, requests her to be as ardent and as loving to him as Arundati.was to her husband.

Ammi Midhithal

Since the bride and the groom are to begin their life as householders, there is an introduction of the concept during the marriage rituals by the ritual of ammi midhithal. Ammi is the grinding stone, which is a basic kitchen implement in every Tamil household. In the days before mixies and grinders the Ammi was a most important part of idli, dosa, vada, chutney-eating Tamil households. When a house used to be built, the Ammi was one of the first things to be installed as one could not imagine entering a house without an Ammi. During the ritual the boy places the foot of the girl on the grinding stone and requests her to maintain the reputation of the house and the family. We also can say that she puts her foot firmly in the kitchen.
Thengai Urutal

In the ritual of 'Thengai Urutal' a coconut covered with turmeric is thrown at each other by the bride and the groom. While doing so the women from the both sides of the family sing songs asserting the superiority of their families. One is reminded of a Qawali-like situation where there is a competition of wits. This is done just as a joyful intervention and to familarise the families with the strengths and weaknesses of each other.


During Nalangu, two happily married women, carry a tray filled with water with turmeric and the lime which makes the water turn red. The feet of the bride and groom are washed with this water, while the women sing and praise the qualities of the girl. These two women are given gifts and money wrapped in the betel leaf.
Panthu Villayatu

A ball ade of flowers is rolled by the groom towards the bride which is returned by the bride while women continue to sing. This is also to familarise the boy and the groom with each other. This is a practice from the time of child marriage when the boy and girl were made to know each other by playing games.

Part4 [Iyengar Marriage Rituals]

After taking the blessings, the couple must visit the family deity with a garland and worship the family gods. Following which the girl is taken to the house of the groom. An aarti is performed, with turmeric and limewater, for the couple, at the entrance of the house to ward off the evil eye. On her first entrance, into the house, the girl is seated on a bag of rice. This is done again perhaps to signify the prosperity, as she is supposed to be the very form of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth.

Her sister-in-law, the sister of the groom, gives her a mild repast of plantains and milk. She is also asked to light a lamp in the family shrine and worship the Tulsi (basal) plant, grown in the yard, after which she returns to her mother’s house. Marriages do not take place during the month of Margazhi, as it is called Peedu maasam or Punya maasam and the entire month is devoted to prayers and the worship of God to gain spiritual benefit.

In the olden days the nuptials were kept much later, some time even after several years, till the young bride attained puberty. Even today a special time and muhurtham is fixed for the nuptials. The nuptials are held in the groom’s house. Before the bride and the groom enter the nuptial chamber they are pronounced with the slokas. These slokas are meant to explain the holiness of the union, the purpose and method of the union and to ensure the birth of an ‘atma putra’. The atma putra is a son born out of a spiritual union, as against a kama putra who is born out of a carnal union.
During the marriage of Gauri and Krishnan all these customs were observed fully with much fanfare and without missing their significance. The marriage took place in Delhi at Shankar Vidhya Kendra, Vasant Vihar, in the presence of a sizeable Iyengar community of Delhi and was conducted by half-a-dozen Iyengar priests. Beautiful Iyengar women, in their colourful Kancheepuram silk sarees and flashing diamonds, filled the courtyard of the Vidhya Kendra, which is a modern building. We Kashmiris matched them well with our beauty and grace. It was very interesting to see how Gauri’s father, a famous Art historian and Nehru Fellow, Dr. Ratan Parimoo, a proper Kashmiri Pandit, was repeating the mantras in Tamil after the Iyengar priests. Everyone was trying to maintain the sanctity of the sacred rites.

Krishnan has four doting sisters and several aunts and all of them are well-trained in Carnatic music. Hence, we had them breaking into a chorus at an interval of every few minutes. They sang melodious songs at the commencement of every single ritual and for every step of the ceremony appropriate with the occasion. All the ceremonies - like the bride and groom entering the hall, sitting in the mandapam, being seated on the swing or playing games with each other, were conducted with appropriate singing. The best part was that they sang for both sides, for the boys’ party as well as the girl’s party.

It is interesting to note that the sacred singing called ‘henze’ goes on throughout the rituals during the Kashmiri Pandit weddings too. A group of elderly women sit on a side of the mandapam and sing non-stop as each ritual is carried out; so we could very much appreciate what the Iyengar women were doing. The only difference that I could see was that the Kashmiri ritualistic singing is more like repetitive chanting, while the Iyengar singing is more rhythmic and musical.

Gauri had a typical South Indian hairdo, with her hair plaited in a long plait and adorned with flowers. She wore a South Indian gold headgear with the decorations of the Sun and Moon on either side of her parting and an ornament called ‘Rakoodi’ on the bun behind. Contrary to that, a Kashmiri bride wears a gold embroidered cap and her hair is made into two plaits that are covered with gold ribbons (gota) and tied in silk Kunjalams. In fact, the brides wear Kunjalams all over India to tie their plaits. Gauri first wore a green-red Gujarati Bandhini saree from the side of her Gujarati mama and then changed into a nine-yard Iyengar saree (madisar), while Krishnan wore a panchakachham and was bare-bodied throughout - which is unheard of in Kashmiri weddings. It being a cold place the bridegrooms generally wear a warm overcoat, (achkan), trousers and a turban. Hence, a bare-bodied, bare-headed bridegroom was quite a matter of curiosity to the Kashmiri clan.

Before I conclude I must tell you that Gauri and Krishnan met at the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. He was in the Department of Engineering and she was in the Faculty of Fine Arts where she was studying Bharat Natyam and the History of Art. They met quite unexpectedly. The Department of Dance, under the leadership of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, was coming to Madras to perform at Kalakshetra and at the Chidambaram Natayanjali Festival. Prof. Chandrasekhar had invited Krishnan, who was well trained in Carnatic music to accompany them on their South India Tour. During the tour Krishnan sang and Gauri danced, and before the tour ended their romance was all over the place. Their marriage took place with the consent of both the families and in deference to the wishes of his family, the Parimoos agreed to have an Iyengar wedding.

Today they both live and work in Singapore. He as a senior executive in a hardware multinational and she as a curator in the Asian Civilisations Museum. The daughter of the renowned artist couple, Dr. Ratan Parimoo and Naina Dalal, Gauri herself has a doctorate in the History of Art. She is currently putting together a ‘Gallery of South Asia’ for the Museum with special focus on South India. It is the greatest contribution a Kashmiri girl can make to the culture of her husband. If you make a trip in Singapore, do not forget to visit the South Asia gallery, in the museum, and pay a tribute to the woman who is behind it.


  1. awesome man... I'm actually from Kazhiyur. But can I know the source for the information you've posted?

  2. Appreciate your effort in collecting and framing this extensive thesis and information. One thing to add is that, Iyyengars had their representation of their philosophies in their head which is sand aka "thiruman". Sand is supposed to be the first manifestation on earth, so as vishnu, the god of all manifestations.
    Kudos again!

  3. Hi Pradeep,

    I hail from Kaliyur Village and Grandson of K.M. Manavala Iyangar.
    The blog and information posted is very good. But where did you get this information from ?

  4. I am researching the influence of the Tamils on Brahmin ceremonies in Thailand. Your adding this to your blog is most insightful and useful to me and I thank you for the post.
    Willard Van De Bogart

  5. Excellent insightful article. God bless the author and his family

  6. Excellent insightful article. God bless the author and his family