Let’s be honest, Indian weddings are overwhelming for everyone involved -- the bride, groom, and all their guests. There are so many traditions that differ between religion and region of India, and there are tons of events to keep track of what we’ve forgotten why we do them or what they mean in the first place. Our first blog post, Indian Wedding Guide: The North Indian Hindu Ceremony, gives an overview of the North Indian (states above Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka) wedding ceremony, from the Haldi to the Vidaai. But this post will be your guide to the events you’ll most often experience at a South Indian wedding (states below Maharashtra, like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu).
The wedding is the cornerstone of the festivities filled with traditions and rituals galore. It is performed by a Sastrigal (priest) in Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindu religion.
Nalugu (Turmeric Paste):
The Nalugu, also known as Pellikuthuru, ceremony is held either the day before the wedding or the morning of the wedding. This is an auspicious occasion where guests apply yellow turmeric paste on the bride and groom, signifying purity and protection from any such illness. In other words, this is your chance to cover the bride and groom in Nalugu and get rid of the evil eye!
*In South India, this ceremony is prominent in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, and rare in Kerala and Tamil Nadu
Along with the Nalugu ceremony, some states in South India, mostly Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, perform a ritual called Mangala Snanam, which means “Auspicious Bath”. The bride and groom are taken for a purifying bath and are drenched with water; this prepares them for further wedding rituals.
We’ve all heard of pre-wedding jitters! The Kashi Yatra is a popular South Indian tradition, where the groom thinks about his higher purpose in life and pretends to leave for Kasi, a sacred place where one searches for truth, knowledge, and wisdom. He “leaves'' with a walking stick, umbrella, and snacks (typically coconuts and rice) for his journey.
The Kalyana Mandapam, covered in elaborate floral designs, serves as the wedding altar for the bride and groom. The bride and groom will perform a Malai Maatral, or garland exchange, which signifies the siblings’ and families’ acceptance and union of the newly wedded couple. This is typically a playful tradition where the bride and groom are lifted on their family member’s shoulders, and exchange (or throw!) garlands three times. After exchanging garlands, the couple is invited to sit on a swing for the oonjal ceremony, where senior ladies of the family will sing songs and bless the couple to ward off any evil spirits.
Thaali & Jeelakarra Bellam
At this point, the bride will have changed into her second wedding saree known as the 9-yard koorai saree (or another saree), and walks to the mandapam escorted by her sisters and girlfriends. A Thaali (also known as Mangalsutrai) is a symbolic yellow thread or gold necklace tied around the bride’s neck by the groom. This ritual resembles goodwill, love, and marks marital status. The groom ties a sacred yellow thread attached with gold pendants in three knots as a promise to accept the bride as his wife. In some parts of Southern India , the couple performs a Jeelakarra Bellam (cumin jaggery) ritual where they place a leaf with thick paste on each other's head, signifying inseparability.
In some South Indian states, the Talambralu is a custom that attendees look forward to the most. This ritual is not just for the bride and groom, but it’s for their entire families too! The bride and groom shower each other with Talambralu, rice mixed with turmeric, on each other’s head signifying happiness and prosperity. Don’t be surprised if you see the Mandap covered in yellow rice after this!
Kanyadanam & Saptapadi (Yedu Adugulu)
The Kanyadanam, which typically occurs in a Tamil wedding, is an emotional moment for the bride and her father. This ritual occurs when the father gives away his daughter in marriage to the groom. Saptapadi, also known as Yedu Adugulu, means ‘seven steps’ in Sanskrit, which depicts the seven promises of life. Although there are many regional differences that occur during this tradition, couples will circle around a sacred fire, that is in the center of the Mandapam, seven times with the groom leading the bride. It is customary that the couple then take the seven steps due south. To seal the deal, the groom will slip on a pair of silver mettis, or toe rings, on his new bride to symbolize their union.
Appaginthalu (Bride’s Farewell)
More common in Telugu weddings, the Appaginthalu ceremony is when the family bids farewell to their daughter. Family and relatives of the bride accompany her to the exit of the wedding venue, and her parents leading the pack hold their daughter close. This tends to be emotional. Typically, female friends and relatives of the bride will playfully stand in front of the car to try and stop the couple from leaving -- jokingly of course!
What to wear to a South Indian Wedding Ceremony
Keep in mind when you’re choosing an outfit to wear to the ceremony that you’ll be sitting for at least an hour if not two or more. South Indian Hindu weddings are often in the morning, depending on the muhurtham, or auspicious time. Although traditional wedding attire varies in South India, silk kanchipuram sarees (long elaborate silk drape wrapped around the body) and langa vonis (3-piece outfit composed of the langa (skirt), choli (blouse), and a voni (a cloth about 6-8 feet long)) are most common for women. Men typically adorn veshtis (a cotton or silk cloth draped around the waist and legs) with a silk shirt. Today, styles have mixed, so you may see some wedding guests choosing to wear a North Indian style lehenga or shervani to a South Indian wedding.
Be sure to consult with the bride, her family, or the LUKH Team who can help guide you on the best attire for the Indian wedding you are attending. Here are a few suggestions below.
While this is a glimpse into the events, rituals, and attire you’ll most often find at a South Indian Hindu wedding, every region of India has its own traditions so don’t be surprised if you take part in something else not explained here! Even though they can be long and sometimes complicated to follow, Indian weddings go back centuries and are rooted in love.
Chirag Patel, Moments Freezer Photography
Mir Anwar Studios
About the Author
Kruti Malkan is an MBA candidate at the Kellogg School of Management. Her background lies in supply chain and operations, but she has a passion for marketing. In her free time, she loves to Bollywood dance, practice yoga, and explore new fashion trends!