A Tribal Wedding
Little Badaga settlements dot the Nilgiris, the mountain region in South India. Badagas were the first occupants of the region. They knew the topography of the Blue Mountains (Nil: ‘blue’, giri: ‘mountain’) like no other and were tillers of the soil. The Badaga community now numbers around 300,000 worldwide, where they are successful in many different professions, but for weddings they return to their roots.
Unlike other Indian weddings the Badaga bride and groom are both dressed in white and the sacred fire is conspicuous by its absence. The wedding procession leaves the bride’s home the previous night so as to reach the groom’s place at daybreak. An all night lamp is lit. The bride sprinkles cow dung, an antiseptic, in the front yard of her parental home and the party set out chanting the Badaga mantra, ho, ho: yea, ho, ho.
At dawn, when the bridal procession arrives at the groom’s home, his mother places a silver malai mani (a bead necklace) around the bride’s neck. She steps into her matrimonial home where the elders in the family bless her. The new bride is fed with milk and banana in a katchu gangua (a special plate). She has a symbolic bite of it, carries the plate to the front yard of the house and washes it there, signifying that she has been accepted, has herself accepted by her new family members, and will live like one of them from this day on.
Accompanied by a few female friends and relatives, she fetches fresh water from a nearby stream and brings it into her new home. During the entire process the ho, ho:yea, ho, ho mantra is chanted. Till the water comes into the house, the groom remains away. Getting back, she washes a new mat, another ritual signifying acceptance, and the groom is invited into his home, a married man. From either side of the family, elders take a seat on the floor. In front of each of them, on carpets, are placed a beetle nut (in place of the usual coconut which doesn’t grow in Nilgiris) to signify giving up the ego, and one rupee and twenty-five paise as a good luck wish. The newly wed couple washes each of the elder’s feet and offers their tributes to them. “Long may their tribes increase…!”.