Wedding Traditions: Temple Elephant and Movie-style Hoardings

One of the reasons we took a car from Chennai airport instead of taking the vastly more comfortable train was to make it to Devakottai for the wife's cousin's wedding. Weddings in this part of the country happen in the brides' ancestral home, so the wedding is going to be at the same place where our wedding was a dozen years ago. It's been interesting to get an outside view of a wedding that is extremely like what ours was.

One of my father-in-law's friends had come for the wedding. About a half-hour before the ceremony, he wanted to know when the priests were coming. "There are no priests," I told him, "the wedding will be conducted by elders in both families". According to legend, it dates back several centuries to the Chola period. The mercantile community was becoming powerful and wealthy, thanks to developing far-flung trade routes all along South-east Asia. The priests said that Hindus who crossed the ocean were to be considered impure and outside the caste system. The merchants retaliated by setting up their own temples (those temples still exist, and still have priests who are not Brahmins). And dating from that period of competition between Chettiars and Brahmins, no Brahmin priests officiate at Chettinad weddings.

The differences have since been patched up and most Chettiars consider themselves Hindus in good standing. But the separate temples still exist and are still supported by the descendants of those original renegade merchants. My wife's family donated and pays for the upkeep of an elephant at such a temple. So, weddings in their family are attended by the temple elephant.

The kids got "kissed" by the elephant yesterday and thought that was extremely cool. But just as I was getting a warm feeling about all the neat traditions of a Chettinad wedding, I saw the hoarding on the left. Apparently, it's the in thing these days to have a movie-poster style hoarding of the wedding couple. Maybe a hundred years ago, having a temple elephant visit a wedding was considered tacky ... I can easily imagine a secular blogger a century ago offended by the creeping in of religion into one of the few events in religion-drenched India that is completely secular.

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