Weddings are all things sacred - starting from the decision to live a life together, all the way to the jewellery adorned and artefacts used in the rituals, the Ashtamangalyam set is one such relic that represents prosperity, good fortune and is considered auspicious during such events. Predominant in almost every Kerala household, it is used during special occasions and festivals alike. The Kerala Nair community is known to use the Ashtamangalyam set extensively.
The Ashtamangalyam and its Contents
The word Ashtamangalyam can be broken into two syllables. ‘Ashta’ means the number eight, while ‘Mangalyam’ translates to a marriage or holy event. It is understood from the word that the set traditionally has eight contents carried on a large brass plate that is considered unmissable during a holy event like a wedding. The Ashtamangalyam items have varied over time but generally represent the eight good things one can see as part of a good omen that include the following:
- Nelpara: A Nelpara or para is a traditional paddy measuring unit made of brass, bronze or wood used in Kerala households. In ancient times, after a good harvest, a para filled with rice was offered to the local temple. The para used for auspicious events is called Nirapara and when filled with husked rice and coconut flowers on top, signifies abundance.
- Changala Vatta: A brass or bronze lamp, this is often used to light other larger lamps at auspicious events. The Changala Vatta is long and leaf-like. It is considered auspicious by the Malayalam Nair community as it is easy to carry around and facilitates the lighting of other lamps. The central part of the lamp has a reservoir to store oil and a Thudam (ladle) attached to a chain. The Thudam is used to pour oil.
- Kindi: One of a kind in shape, the Kindi is a type of a pitcher that is used for holding water. It’s unique shape effectively minimizes the loss of water with its small opening to pour the water out. A Kindi is often used by priests to sprinkle holy water during pujas.
- Vaal Kannadi: These are made from bronze and shaped like handheld mirrors. Early days before images of the almighty started surfacing, the vaal kannadi’s reflection was considered that of the God/Goddess. A Vaal Kannadi is a symbol of good luck, prosperity and abundance because it is considered to be the seat of the almighty.
- Kunkuma Cheppu: A small container to hold Saffron or Kumkum. This represents the longevity of marital life. This is an adoption from the Tamil culture.
- Grantham: A holy book related to Religious text.
- Kodi: A new cloth is the traditional Keralite cloth with a rich golden colour border. It symbolises a new beginning and hence considered auspicious.
- Nila Vilaku: The traditional lamp of Kerala that is lit with oil, wicks and fire. Nila means floor, vilakku translates to a lamp. Usually made of bronze or brass, this lamp is lit with 5 wicks at auspicious events.
Ashtamangalyam at Kerala Nair weddings
Most Nair ceremonies bring this auspicious set as part of the tradition. Hence it finds an important place in Nair weddings as well. Apart from being used at weddings, it is also used when the bride enters the groom's house for the first time. Since the Ashtamangalyam set for marriage directly symbolises Mangalyam, this plate is considered ideal during weddings. These days the commercial Ashtamangalyam sets include the agarbathi stand and the pooja bell.
In the Nair culture, in the yesteryears weddings were conducted at the bride’s house. At those times these eight items used to be placed on the floor of the west-facing room of the house as this direction was considered apt for a bedroom. The old Nair houses had doors on all four sides of the house. The groom used to enter the room through the eastern door accompanied by his groomsmen, while the bride entered through the Padinjatte (western door) with an aunt or an elderly woman. Both parties stood on either side of the Ashtamangalya set on the floor, facing the East (considered an auspicious direction as the Sun rises in this direction). The groomsman then handed over a Pudava or New saree to the groom who in turn handed it over to the bride. In return, the accompanying Aunt would sprinkle rice over the bride and groom’s head as a form of showering them with blessings. The bridegroom then gifted betel leaves and nuts to all the elders of the family.
Ashtamangalyam sets are not just restricted to weddings. Instead, they are used and owned by Kerala Nairs for its symbolic representation of abundance.