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Customs & Manners

MARRIAGE CUSTOMS

Marriage and morals generally go together. Kerala has evolved through the ages its own marriage customs and code of morals. Child marriage was unknown in the early days. Adult marriage was the normal rule. Widow marriage was permitted. The most popular form of marriage seems to have been the Gandharva system which facilitated the voluntary union of the male and the female. The Aryanisation of Kerala brought about some change in the institution of marriage and code of morals. Child marriage took the place of adult marriage. The life of the widows became a hard one. There was a general decline in the status of women as well as moral standards. New customs relating to marriage gradually sprang up.

The institution of polygamy and polyandry prevailed especially in the `Namboothiri', `Kshatriya' and other higher castes. There was an unusual practice connected with the institution of marriage and this in `talikettu kalyanam'. Tali (a mangalyasutram) tying was performed on a girl or batch of girls between the ages 11 and 13. It was believed that with tali tying the girl had become an eligible bride. The one who tied the tali had no special claim to matrimony with that girl. The tali was removed from the girls' neck. The essential item in real marriage was not tali tying but the presentation of cloth i.e, pudavakoda. With the spread of education the system of `talikettu kalyanam' came to an end. Marriage alliances have been governed from very early days by certain traditional restrictions. It was the accepted custom to have marriages conducted within the caste itself. Now-a-days inter-cast and intercommunal marriages are more frequently reported, though it cannot be said that such marriages are very common. There was, even now, the system of marrying the murapenu, the boy's paternal aunt's or maternal uncle's daughter. This system prevailed among the Hindus and the Muslims. The Christian community do not allow matrimonial relations between relatives.

The different communities and castes of Kerala have developed over centuries their own typical marriage ceremonies. The Hindus belonging to all castes generally compare the horoscope of the boy with that of the girl and satisfy themselves of their compatibility before the proposal for the marriage is formally agreed to. A ceremony called jatakam koda (exchange of horoscopes) or motiram maral ( exchange of rings) is sometimes conducted before the marriage is solemnized. Tali tying and presentation of cloth i.e, pudavakoda in South Kerala and pudamuri in North Kerala have become an essential part of Hindu marriages.

The Christians and Muslims have their own characteristic marriage ceremonies. The one common thing they have with Hindus is the tali tying ceremony. The tali of the Christians is a cord made out of 21 threads from the marriage cloth or mantrakodi which is also presented to the bride.

Among the Muslims, the actual ceremony is called `nikah'. The father of the bride sits face to face with the bridegroom, clasping each others hands. The musaliar, the priest, then announces the conditions of the marriage contract and the bridegroom gives his consent. The mahar, or the amount the bridegroom has agreed to pay to the bride will also then be publicly announced. The bride's father and bridegroom will repeat the same. The `nikah' is over and the assembled guests are treated to a feast. The women do not generally take part in the `nikah' but they assemble in full strength for the tali tying ceremony. The dowry system which has been prevalent among different communities in Kerala continues in some form or other even today.

BIRTH CEREMONIES

The people of Kerala belonging to all castes and communities have ceremonies to celebrate every important incident in their life and many of them survive to this day. `Namakaranam' is the naming ceremony preformed within a month of the child's birth. Annaprasanam feeding of rice - or chorunu takes place in the sixth month of the child. Vidyarambham or initiation into the letters of the alphabet is performed in the third or fourth year of the child. `Upanayanam' ,an initiation ceremony is performed by all Brahmins when the boy is invested with the holy thread.

The Christians of Kerala have several ceremonies which bear resemblance to those of the Hindus. Corresponding to namakaranam ceremony is the Baptism of the Christians. There are ceremonies connected with chorunu. Ariyiliruthu corresponds to the Vidyarambham of the Hindus.

Among the Muslims when a child is born a mullah is called and he lifts up the child and recites in its ears the the call to prayer ( Vanku). The child is given pure gold diluted in honey like a paste. (This practice is followed by most of the Keralites.) The marka kalyanam or sunnath kalyanam is performed in the 12th year when all Muslims are circumcised.

DEATH RITUALS

Each community and caste has its own peculiar ceremonies connected with death. Among the Hindus when a person approaches his last moments the 64 junior members of the family assemble and pour water or milk into his mouth. As soon as he breathes his last, the body is removed from the cot to the central courtyard. The body is washed and marks of bhasma (holy ashes) and sandal paste are applied on the forehead and the joints. In certain parts of Kerala there is the custom of sons and relatives putting rice mixed with flowers into the mouth of the dead persons. This is called 'Vaykari'. At the cremation ground it is customary that the eldest son sets fire to the dead body.

Among the Muslims when a person dies the pillow on which his body rested is removed and his old dress is changed. The corpse (mayyath) is washed in warm water and laid on the floor on the cot in mats covered with clean clothes. Rose water is sprinkled over the place. The mullah sits by the side of the corpse and recites the Quran. The body is also washed a second time before it is carried to the mosque where it is buried. When it is placed in the grave it is placed in such a way as to be on its right facing Mecca.

Among the Christians when a person approaches his last moments, he is laid on the bed facing the east. As soon as the person dies, his toes and thumbs are tied with a piece of cloth. A crucifix is placed by the Catholics at the head of the corpse between two lighted candles. The Parish priest offers prayers in the house of the deceased on behalf of the departed spirit.