My Presence at a Traditional Syrian Roman Catholic Wedding in God’s Own Country!

Mangaluru: Before going further into details about the wedding, I want our readers to know, Why is Kerala called God’s own country ? Okay, according to sources, Kerala is called God’s own country for three reasons. #1. According to Hindu mythology, Kerala was created by Lord Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu by throwing his axe across the sea to create new land for his devotees to live peacefully. So, Kerala is God’s own creation, hence it is called God’s own country! #2 Every nook and corner in Kerala you will see Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian Churches; and unlike many other parts of India, people live happily without communal riots and great religious tolerance. Hence it is God’s own country full of worship places! #3 Nestled between the pristine waters of the Arabian sea on the west and the lush Western Ghat mountains on the east, its intense network of rivers and lagoons, thick forests, exotic wildlife, tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters and a long shoreline of serene beaches make it a traveler’s paradise. God’s own country!

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Moving on to my article- Of all the Malayalee Christian weddings, the catholic ceremony must be the most solemn wedding ceremony; there is no frivolity or excess of music that take away the auspiciousness of the occasion. According to sources, The Roman Catholic Church in Kerala was established by the Portuguese Bishop Alexis De Menezes in the latter part of the fifteenth century. The Roman Catholic Church of Kerala was the dominant church from about 1500 AD to around 1650 AD. The Portuguese attempted to bring under the influence of the Roman Catholic church the Syrian church too. This led to the formation of the “Synod of Udaymperur” in 1599. In the political history of India, the Portuguese control and influence in India declined by the 17th century with the arrival of the British in India. As a consequence, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church too diminished in Kerala. Today, the Catholic sect in Kerala accounts for more than 12% of the whole of the population of Kerala.

The wedding customs of Catholics are at the outset, very similar to the practices of other sects, with certain minor differences. The wedding is usually fixed by the elders of the houses. Once a suitable boy has been found for a girl and vice versa, happens the aachaarakalyanam, which is an event in which elders from the girl’s family, usually males go to the groom’s home to fix the date for the wedding. In other Christian sects like Marthomites, the reverse of this custom is followed. The next big event in the build up for the wedding is the betrothal or manassammatham. The bride and the groom along with their family members assemble at the bride’s church for the same. The priest confirms whether the wedding is acceptable to the concerned parties in the presence of two witnesses. Traditionally, ring exchange was not a part of this ceremony, but gradually, it has become the main event at the betrothal. A feast, almost as grand as the wedding feast follows.

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Okay, I had the privilege to grace the wedding of my friend, Subin’s ( who works in Mangaluru ) brother Jose Alwin, son of Mr Baby V M and Mrs. Lissamma Baby, residing in Muvattupuzha-Ernakulam, who tied the wedding knot with Chinnu Kuruvilla, daughter of Mrs Jollymma Kuruvilla and Late Kuruvilla Joseph from Tharayil-Manimala. So I along with my friends, Dr Kiran Shetty (Medical Superintendent, Fr Mullers Hospital-Thumbay, Deepak Hegde-a financier and Bharath Shetty- a hotelier attended the wedding reception- and Subin had provided us with a fabulous accommodation in a Boat House, with a fantastic and picturesque scenery surrounding it. The wedding reception was quite glittering and pomp, with a sumptuous lunch buffet comprising of traditional Kerala cuisine.

Syrian Catholics are one of the prominent catholic in Kerala. They follow or consider the pope of Rome as their spiritual head. I learnt that once everything is okay with the marriage arrangements, then bride’s party without bride will visit the groom’s house, officially with all the close relatives. This is to fix the marriage and in Malayalam, it is said as Orappeeru. In the presence of both the relatives of bride and groom, the dates of betrothal and marriage will be decided. Even though dowry is not legal, it had now taken a new form – gifts. After the lunch at groom’s house, the bride’s party will leave. Before leaving, they are given black tea as a custom. It is one of the customs that is followed in Syrian catholic families before send off.

Before the betrothal, both the bride and groom are supposed to attend the pre-marriage course conducted by the archdiocese. Usually the classes are for three days. Since nowadays, bride and groom, being working, the classes are conducted on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Bride and groom are to stay at some convention center/pastoral centers for the classes along with many other couples, who want to get married. Counseling and other classes are given for them by the priests and educated people in how to live a family life. The pre-marriage courses are compulsory for the Catholics to marry. During pre-marriage courses mostly bride and groom, get more opportunity to understand better. At the end of the courses a certificate is given with a validity of 6 months and the same is needed for the marriage through church.

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The next thing after the marriage fixing is that of Betrothal. Betrothal is done by the bride’s party, at bride’s parish church. Betrothal took place at Holy Magi Forane Church-Manimala. Betrothal is giving permission in public. Both the bride and groom accept their willingness to marry in front of the church and their relatives and friends. Betrothal is usually done as a small marriage function itself. The groom and party reach the bride’s parish along with the letter from their parish priest. Since this is the function conducted by the bride’s party, they take it or conduct it with all possible way to make it look and feel great. There will be a small function at church in which both bride and groom is asked their permission or acceptance to marry. After the lunch, the groom’s party will reach brides home and where the groom is given an amount to buy dress by bride’s brother. Again any gift given as amount or property is handed over by bride’s uncle to groom’s uncle. Later as usual, black tea is served as a sign of sendoff to the team / groom’s party.

Once the betrothal is over, before the marriage, the marriage acceptance is announced to the public/parish members of both bride and groom during Sunday mass. This needs to be done on three consecutive Sundays as a rule of thumb. But if there is any urgency, there is rule to bypass this custom. This is done so as to ensure that there is nobody opposing this decision. Like say if bride and groom is /had any prior marriage which is not legally removed, can be noticed to the concerned person or authority or to the church itself, if there is any objection. Mostly the gold and clothes for the marriage is purchased in the presence of both the parties. Gold is purchased by the bride’s party. The mathrakoodi (marriage Saree) is purchased by the groom and party. Also another Saree known as second Saree is also purchased by the groom. Mathrakoodi– the Saree given as a sign of marriage. This custom came as part of the custom followed in Hindu marriages- known as pudavakodu – means give the Saree.

27-20160206-kerala-roman-catholic-wedding-026The bridegroom ties ‘Minnu’ (Thali) around Bride’s neck

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The bridegroom places the blessed “Manthrakoodi’ on Bride’s head

Again the wedding ring to exchange during the marriage is purchased and the name is embossed in the ring. The next important thing is the thali or minnu- made of gold. it is purchased by the groom along with a chain for the bride. The chains length should be up to the heart of the bride when worn in her neck. This is will be given to the bride at the time of marriage. Similar way, the bride’s party also will buy a chain for the groom. The thali threaded using seven threads in mathrakodi and the wedding rings and the chain and the rosary is placed in a tray in front of the table.

Night before the marriage, at the brides and grooms house, the sweet ceremony was conducted. The bride /groom was placed in a special seat and then the prayers were done and the uncle of the bride/groom will ask the group of close relatives, whether he shall give the bride/groom the sweet, It will be asked three times and then sweet is given to the bride/groom. This function was actually a get together of all relatives and friends before the marriage.

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Marriage was conducted by the groom’s party, at groom’s parish, which was the historic church-St Mary’s Forane Church-Arakuzha-Muvattupuzha- Prior to going to the Church, in the morning the bride and groom got ready and do the prayer and get blessings from the elders. “Praise to be to Jesus Christ” is what was said to them. After that, they were led to the church. The bride and party are to reach the church first. Once the bride reaches the church, the groom and party started from their house. Once they arrived at the Church compound, both bride and groom entered the church along with their parents. Little flower girls carrying flower baskets walk ahead to the altar followed by the bride, groom and their family members. Different baskets containing fruits, flowers etc are carried into the church. This is a symbol of prosperity and well being.

The marriage was solemnized with the holy mass, and blessed in the middle of the holy mass, by the priest. The bride and groom present themselves before the altar. Their family members stand behind them followed by the rest of the guests. Before the ceremony begins, the bride and groom together light the lamp placed in front of the altar. The priest then reads out verses from the Bible, which are sometimes chosen by the bride and groom beforehand. He also speaks much about the relevance and importance of marriages, their sanctity and so on, linking it to many contemporary issues.

After this is the minnukettu. The Thali is blessed and the bride kneels down in front of the groom, facing the altar, while the groom helped on by the priest ties the minnu (Thali) around the bride’s neck. The ring exchange happens after the minnukettu. Then as a custom, the manthrakoodi is also blessed and the groom, make it wear by the bride on her head. Later both the bride and the groom exchange rings. Once the marriage is over they take oath of marriage, in the name of holy bible. Unlike Catholic nuptials at church are short and sweet, but Syrian wedding ceremony at the Church lasts for about two hours, with the priest offering many prayers. While saying the prayers, the priest doesn’t look at the faithful, instead looks at the alter and offers prayers.

Once the marriage ceremony got over, then bride and groom did offerings to the church and later were led to the grand feast of marriage. Before entering the reception hall, the bride got attired in a glittering saree and puts on the Mathrakoodi. Then both the bride and the groom accompanied by family members and relatives walk together into the hall- Where they together lit the lamp and also cut the cake and shared among themselves and family members. Later they are given, traditional tender coconut water. Every one feasts on the sumptuous food comprising of Chicken chilly fry, Kalan, Meen Vattichathu, Avial, Thoran, Pachadi, Beef Chops, Mutton Stew, Appam, Rice, Coin Parota, and variety of desserts. Instead of cocktails, various fruit juices were served like Watermelon, Orange, Ginger lime, Mint lime and Pineapple lime.

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Later after the feast, everybody gathered at groom’s home, where groom’s mother welcomed both bride and groom, by blessing them and giving them the blessed rosary as a gift or memory of their marriage. Then at home, both bride and groom were given sweetened milk and sweets. Then came the handing over of bride to the groom’s mother. The bride’s mother came forward and handed over bride to groom’s mother. Also the bride’s mother puts a gold chain around groom’s neck. The groom then gifts a Saree back to the bride’s mother. Later as usual black tea was served and the bride’s party left groom’s room, leaving the bride at groom’s house.

The day next to marriage, in the morning, both bride and groom have to join for the holy mass at groom’s parish church. Then starts the ceremony – “virunnu” or visits. Both Bride and groom will be invited by the relatives of both groom and bride’s relatives, in the coming days. Bride and groom will visit every relative’s house and they will be treated specially on that occasion, with mouthwatering dishes. This process will last for months, as there will be so many invitations, for newly wedded couples.

After three days, the bride’s father will come and invite the couple, back to their home and along with that there is a custom, saying Adukkala Kanal – Seeing the kitchen. In which the bride’s father will bring in with some furniture’s or home appliances for the groom’s house, which will be later be used by the bride itself. The bride and groom will visit the bride’s home, once invited. And thus the marriage ceremony comes to an end.

This is how marriage takes place in Syrian Roman Catholic tradition in Kerala. Thanks to Shirley Thomas for some inputs in drafting this article. Unlike Mangalorean catholic weddings where the reception is very much social with cocktails and dance, a Syrian Catholic wedding ends in a simple note without any party or revelry. Short and sweet, the Syrian Catholic weddings are kind of religious and traditional. The traditions or customs followed is somewhat similar to other Hindu or Muslim customs followed during their marriages. There are many other customs, that are to come followed by a marriage.

Although I have attended marriage ceremonies of various faith and communities like- Mexican wedding, Italian wedding, Russian/Ukrainian wedding, Polish wedding, Hindu wedding, Gujarathi wedding, Marathi wedding, German wedding, American Wedding and many others- It was indeed quite a memorable experience in gracing a Syrian Roman Catholic Wedding. Wishing Jose Alwin and Chinnu Kuruvilla a Happy Married Life!

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4 Comments

  1. Hey Alfie.. I like your set of threads! If ONLY you were to sport a 10 gallon hat, you’d have looked like Clint Eastwood! 🙂 Cheers man!

  2. There you buddy with one of your yet another unique article showing us the different cultures and traditions happening around us-hope you had a nice time at the wedding and in God’s Own Country.

    Thank you mangalorean.com and alfy douza for highlighting thgis unique wedding and tradition.

  3. Very interesting article about Kerala and the details of the Syrian Catholic marriage. I have attended Christian marriages of different denominations like the Catholic-Orthodox-Marthoma-CSI-Evangelical-Pentecostal-Brethren etc; the Episcopal Churches are having the marriage functions so closely identical.

    Putting the saree by the groom over the head of the bridge groom which is called ” mantrakodi” mantra=magic kodi=clothing. We can read in the Bible at the old Testament time the grooms putting the long clothing upon the bridegrooms; but presumably, the name mantrakodi came from the Hindu religion.

    Another thing of tying the necklace with a cross, that was involved from the Hindu religion. Thus for the Christians of Kerala, they have taken many Hindu traditions; likewise in Kerala, the Hindus were somewhat influenced by the Christian religion in their diet and social life due to their education in the Christian schools and colleges, also through living side by side with the Christians mainly in the Central part of Kerala. It is my earnest and diligent prayer every day that the State of Kerala, my birthplace may keep the age old religious harmony which is shining very bright among the rest of the States of India.

    As the author has stated at the first part of the article, I was greatly delighted to see the religious harmony of Kerala surprising the rest of India. When the Christians conduct Christmas, the Hindus and Muslims were active participants, never witnessed religious frictions; but everybody took the religious functions of different religions with reverence. I am bitterly opposed to the north Indian export of religious-mixed politics landing in Kerala to destroy the peace and harmony of Kerala.

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