A Nair Wedding
Recently, when I called on Suseela Bayi, granddaughter of the famed author C.V. Raman Pillai, she narrated several interesting anecdotes about her ancestors. Sitting in the hall of the famed 'Rosscote Bungalow', adorned with portraits of her ancestors she recalled the details of her parent's wedding. "My mother Gowrikutty being the eldest of C. V. Raman Pillai's daughters, the wedding was planned on a grand scale," she said. "My father wore a fine suit and gave a ring to the bride, which was unheard of in those days." Suseela’s father, Aiyappan Raman Pillai, alias, A.R. Pillai (b.1879-d.1938) was an Indian expatriate who, while stranded in Germany during WWI, worked for India's freedom. Before venturing to Germany, a young A.R. Pillai had made a name as a merchant in Trivandrum. He worked as a journalist, writer and book publisher in Germany. Pillai was a grand-nephew of Punnakkal Easwara Pillai Vicharippukar, a famed Kathakali artiste and a prominent courtier of Uthram Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the Rajah of Travancore.
|B. Gowrikutty, alias Gowri Amma (b.1892), on her wedding day, 1904 (aged 12, according to Suseela Bayi) & Punnakkal A.R. Pillai, c.1904, photographed soon after the wedding. Image courtesy: Late Sri Rosscote Krishna Pillai.|
A detailed report of the wedding ceremony at the Rosscote Bungalow came in ‘The Madras Weekly Mail,’ 1904.
A Nair Marriage
The Cloth Giving Ceremony
From a Correspondent, Trevandrum, 24th August
"The public of Trevandrum were invited by Mr C.V. Raman Pillay, Superintendent of the Travancore Government Press, to witness the cloth giving ceremony - a Malayalam Sambadham marriage - by which Mr A.R. Pillay, one of the most enterprising merchants of the town, married Mr. Raman Pillay’s daughter Miss. Gavari Cooty (Gowrikutty). The ceremony took place at 8:15 o'clock last night, and among those present were the Diwan, Mr. Nanaswamy Rao, Mr. Raja Ram Rao, Mr. A.J. Vieyra, Dr. Poonen, Mr. Justice and Mrs. Hunt, Mr. Keshava Pillay, Mr justice Govinda Pillay, and very many others well known in Trevandrum.
Two spacious and artistically decorated pavilions formed an annexe to the main building, where the actual ceremony took place, and were used for the accommodation of European and Indian visitors. Such marriage ceremonies must take place in the house proper, and in a typical Nair house of the old fashion, there would ordinarily be plenty of room. Many Indian gentlemen have given up their style of house architecture and adopted the European bungalow style of residence. In the main room of Mr Raman Pillay’s house, at its southern end were seated many of the Indian and European visitors. At the northern end of the room facing the east a red cloth was spread on the ground on which was placed a white cloth, and on top of that a coloured (purple) cloth on which, just a few moments before the auspicious time, 8:15, the bridegroom sat down cross-legged. Before the bridegroom came in a young man read portions of the Ramayanam allowed relative to the marriage of Rama and Seeta.
Before the bridegroom was a figure of geometrical patterns drawn with rice flour like a chess board, and the signification of which I could get no one to explain. It probably had some astrological significance. On the right and left of the bridegroom stood two primitive brass lamps with coconut oil and five or six wicks which were in marked contrast to the brilliant Western chandelier overhead. On the right of the bridegroom, too, stood a para of clean paddy raised up in a cone, and in the mixed of which was a spring of coconut blossom. The para of paddy stood on sand spread on a plantain leaf. The paddy, etcetera, were significant of prosperity and plenty - a kind of cornucopia. By the side of the para was a subverted brass teapot like utensil of some size. Why it was overturned this deponent cannot say, but the utensil itself, and the coloured cloth over the white, on which the bridegroom sat, indicated that both the bride and groom were persons of consequence. Only Tambis and Chembagaramans and one or two other castes are permitted these privileges. Lower castes must use only a white cloth, and no brass vessel of the kind is permitted to appear on such occasions.
Just opposite to the bridegroom sat a Brahmin on a board for the receipt of the usual Deshnai. At the auspicious time the native music sounded, and the clothes to be presented on the occasion were handed by the Brahmin to the bridegroom. A moment later, the bride, a comely maiden of sixteen, dressed in a cream coloured cloth, heavily braided with gold, and wearing handsome jewels, stepped in from a side door and made obeisance to her intended, bowing with both hands folded. The bridegroom then leant forward and placed the cloth in her hands. Making obeisance a second time she turned to the Brahmin and did the same, and lastly bowed to the company and rapidly withdrew.
In the meantime the Nair ladies inside the house kept up the ululation called the Norava cry. The ceremony over, the guests strolled off to their respective pavilions, where they were treated in different styles. In the European pavilion cake (from M. D'Angelis) was handed round and wine. As soon as the glasses were charged the bride, leaning on the arm of her husband, and accompanied by her father, entered and seated themselves, and Mr Justice Hunt, by special request, said a few words congratulation the young couple and wishing them all happiness. The bridegroom responded in a few words and the guests were then rose watered and garlanded, the sandal paste also being handed round to be touched. In the Indian pavilion the Indian guests were treated in Indian fashion.
It may be observed that it is only very lately that Europeans have been invited to such functions. There were several departures from the time-honoured custom in the giving of a ring with the cloth; in the bridegroom being dressed in a white suit with a collar and wearing a cap, instead of in his national costume of two plain clothes, and in the bride's dressing up with jacket and jewels instead of in the more primitive garments usually worn and in the wearing of the hair. It was altogether a most interesting function."
Sharat Sunder Rajeev