Indian weddings are not restricted to just the auspicious matrimony day. Celebrations and rituals start days in advance eventually leading to the grand pre-agreed date and time for the blessed union to take place.
The wedding rituals for Tamil Mudaliyar community include customs that are symbolic with deeper meanings and include a range of these to signify belief systems. One such is the Manai Pongal ceremony that takes place on the day of the wedding upon the arrival of the bride and groom at the venue.
Significance of Manai Pongal Ritual in Tamil Mudaliyar Weddings
The word ‘Pongal’ is derived from ‘pongu,’ which has two meanings: swelling up and cooking. The swelling denotes the rise of wealth and good fortune in the family. In culinary terms pongu also translates to cooking and in this instance, it represents the milk that is boiled to which rice and other condiments are mixed.
The couple are ushered into their respective dressing areas where they prepare themselves to don their wedding attire and dress up. Tradition has it that this time is used by the parents of the groom to cook rice in the five or seven clay pots kept to perform this task. Family members surround them while the Manaivi or the wife of the house along with her husband prepare the rice over three stones.
The key here is that the number of pots laid out must be odd in number. While Hinduism gives importance to all numbers, most rituals or auspicious moments require the use of odd numbers. This is particularly applicable when giving donations or the tradition of giving charity - the numbers are preferred odd. Legend says that since nature prefers odd given the number of plants, number of days in a week, etc, Hinduism loves odd numbers too.
Once the rice is cooked, the groom’s parents offer them to deities who are believed to have made a symbolic presence at the marriage altar. This is followed by the eldest sumangali (married woman whose husband is alive) greeting the couple-to-be with floral garlands to escort them to the Kalyana pandal or Mandap. The marriage ritual of Manai Pongal represents the act of gratitude to the heavenly blessings through the offering while seeking abundance for the future couple and family.