Christianity originated in Kerala in 52 AD. Odd, considering how most of India is predominantly Hindu, and then there is this tiny state down south where Christianity is the third most practiced religion.
The Christians here follow Syrian rites, as opposed to the Latin rites followed in the West, and hence are also called Syrian Christians. Their wedding customs are a mix and match of ancient Hindu customs and ancient Jewish customs, resulting in a beautiful series of rituals altogether.
Syrian Christian weddings follow a general pattern apart from certain specifics, which vary with denominations. There are plenty of traditions that happen over the days preceding the big day, but let’s talk about the important customs followed during the church ceremony in this post.
Joining of Hands
In front of the entire crowd gathered in the church that the groom’s family is a member of, the priest takes the right hand of the bride and places it on the groom’s right hand. After this, the priest reads few gospels relevant to the marriage while the couple stands facing the altar, holding hands. They then exchange vows and publicly commit to each other.
The priest takes a gold chain with a cross as its pendant and hovers it around the couple’s heads in the form of a crown. This is repeated three times and the couple is crowned King and Queen of their new life together. This is not common in all denominations. In certain customs, the priest simply blesses the groom and bride.
Exchange of rings is a part of every wedding irrespective of religion and caste. In Christian weddings this originated from the Old Testament when Abraham sent his servant in search of a wife for his son Isaac. With the servant he sent a ring. The church considers it as a symbol of love and faithfulness. It stands for the promise made between a man and a woman that binds them for eternity in love.
The roundness of the ring symbolizes an eternal marriage (a circle has no ends) free from anything negative. The rings used are made of precious metal like Gold or Platinum symbolizing the wedding being a precious agreement between a man and a woman.
Minnukettu (Tying the knot)
This is a Hindu custom that Syrian Christians of Kerala practice. A ‘minnu’ is a small leaf shaped pendant made of gold, with 7 tiny beads placed together on the leaf to form a cross (+), symbolizing the holy cross. Minnu is put on a thread spun with twenty one threads taken from the Manthrakodi (wedding saree). Seven threads are first taken and spun together. Two more such sets are made, and these three sets are spun together to make the final thread and minnu is put on this thread.
The minnu is tied around the bride’s neck by the groom on the day of their marriage. The knot tied is called the reef knot, which is almost impossible to unknot. This symbolizes the permanence of the marriage. A good way to remember how to tie a reef knot is: left over right and right over left. (Click on the link to see how to tie a reef knot.)
After seven days of marriage, the minnu is put on a gold chain and is expected to be worn till death. Minnu is an indication of a married woman.
Manthrakodi (Wedding Sari)
Manthrakodi or the wedding sari is a gift to the bride from the groom and his family symbolizing him as her provider. Covering the brides head with Manthrakodi is another common tradition in Kerala Christian weddings. It symbolizes the groom’s promise of being a protector of his bride for the rest of her life
In certain traditions, the manthrakodi is kept safe till the bride’s death. On the day of her funeral, she is either wrapped in her wedding saree or it is draped on her body.
Ceremonial lifting of the Veil
Veil means “to cover” or “to mask”. It is a symbol of purity, chastity, and modesty. It is a common belief that the bride-to-be attracts evil spirits and veil protects her from this. There are different kinds of veil today that symbolizes different things depending on how and when they are worn.
Lifting of the veil is an ancient tradition and it symbolizes the grooms acceptance and him taking possession of the bride as his wife.
We will be talking about the different kinds of veils in our up coming posts!
Father giving away the bride
This tradition roots back to ancient times when there were only arranged marriages. A bride belonged to her father till the day of her marriage. On that day, her father will give her away to the groom he has chosen for her. Today, this tradition symbolizes his blessings and approval of the wedding. Bride’s father gives away his daughter and the groom takes her as his wife. Traditionally during this ceremony, the priest loudly asks, “Who presents this woman for holy matrimony?” and her father responds, “I Do.”
There are more traditions followed, such as Muthukoda, Mathuram kodukal, to name a few, which are more denomination specific..