Iyers are a sub-sect among Brahmins with Tamil as their mother tongue. They are the followers of the Advaita philosophy propounded by famous Hindu saint Shri Sankaracharya. They are found mainly in Tamil Nadu. Like other Brahmins they are also classified on their patrilineal descent and the Veda they follow. Today they are found in all south Indian states. In Tamil Nadu they are concentrated along the Cauvery delta districts of Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Tirucharapalli.
There are sub-sects among the Iyers, some of them are mentioned below:
The rituals that take place in a traditional Iyer wedding are:
Vrutham: A custom which takes place before the wedding day. This is done in the early hours of the day, in this custom a sacred yellow thread is tied to the wrists of bride and groom. Later nine varieties of grains are sprayed on the bride and groom to bless them with prosperity. At the end “Aarti” is performed.
Maapilai Azhappu: The groom arrives to the wedding venue in a vehicle along with his family and friends. He is then taken to a temple where he is presented with new clothes
Engagement (Nischayathartham): The bride’s family gifts the groom with new clothes along with turmeric, betel leaves which is a custom. The bride’s brother later garlands the groom. Later, a sugar candy is given to all guests. An ‘aarti’ is performed and a coconut broken to ward off evil eyes.
Kashi Yatra: The groom is given the traditional “Panchakatcham”. He holds an umbrella, walking stick and a piece of cloth tied around his neck to renounce worldly pleasures and go for Kashi Yatra. As he steps out, the father of bride stops him and asks him not to renounce the worldly pleasures and reasons him the superiorities of family life. The groom accepts and returns to the mandapam to get married. The umbrella remains with the groom to remind of his promise.
Maalai Matral: This is a really enjoyable event in an Iyer marriage; this is a custom where garlands are exchanged between the bride and groom. The bride and groom are lifted on their shoulders by their maternal uncles to signify maternal support to their families. Both sides try to dodge the attempt of garlanding each other, which makes it exciting to watch.
Oonjal: The couple are later made to sit on the Oonjal (swing). The oscillating motion in the swing denotes that the couple should stay united in the ups and downs in their lives.
Sowing Palligai Seeds: This is done to invoke the blessings of the “Ashtadikpalakas” (lords of eight directions) for a healthy life and beget good children.
Other important customs observed in an Iyer marriage are: Kannika Dhanam, Kankana Dhaaranam, Mangalyadharanam, Saptapadi, Paladhanam, Pradhana Homam, Sighting the Arundhati and Dhruva star, Laaja Homam, Nalangu, Jayadhi Homam, Pravesa Homam, Sesha Homam, Thamboola Charvanam, Mangala aarti, Shanthi Muhurtham, Wedding reception and Kattu saatham.
An Iyer wedding features many customs which have deeper meanings and done with an intention to increase the understanding between the couple. Of late, Iyer matrimonial event have undergone drastic changes, the traditions and customs have reduced drastically due to time constraints. The present generation Iyers have settled in different parts of India and abroad. The traditional way of looking for bride/groom from marriage brokers and family referrals has ended, due to nuclear families and settlement of Iyers in different parts of the country. The emergence of Iyer matrimonial portals has helped them to find their partners of choice. These portals have made marriages very easy by having advanced search options and other preferential criterion to the members to choose their life partners.