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Kettu Kalyanam – Ancient Custom Of Proxy Weddings In Kerala

Kettu kalyanam used to be prevalent among marumakkathayam (matrilineal) families of Kerala and it was an ancient custom of proxy weddings. It was a symbolic ritual that had to be celebrated before a girl attained puberty, and was often conducted at the same time and place for all the girls in a family from three to about ten years of age.

Each family invited another designated family whose senior-most member had the right to perform such proxy marriages for their daughters. For example, only the Raja of Kodungallur had the right to conduct this ceremony for the girls of the family of Zamorin. The actual wedding takes place years later, and the bridegroom is a different person.

On the day chosen for the ritual, the ‘groom’ is received with royal honors by the eldest male member of the girl’s family. He is taken in a ceremonial procession to a specially built and elaborately decorated pandal (marquee). The girls, dressed in neinnaudukkal (traditional style) and wearing the manthrakodi (wedding garment), are accompanied to the pandal by their maternal uncles or elder brothers. Naivedyam (ritual offering) is placed before the murti of Ganapati. Each girl is given a small quantity of rice to hold and the family priest chants a prayer to Krishna (Santana Gopala Mantra). A uruli (bowl) containing water (in which lime and turmeric powder are dissolved (kuruti) is waved three times in front of each girl by the priest, symbolically driving away all inauspicious forces. The ‘groom’ then ties the mangalsutra (auspicious string) around the necks of the girls, one by one, then each girl prostrates before him and gives him a gift of coins, betel leaves and areca nut, to the accompaniment of songs. The ceremony of placing the foot of bride on an ammi-cavittal (grinding stone), prevalent in marriage ceremonies in Tamil Nadu is also performed. At the end of the rituals, the proxy groom washes his hands, probably to indicate his severance of all relationship with the girls initiated into wedlock by him.

After the ceremony, are not to go out for three days. Their beds are made up with vella and karimpadam (white and black cloth), and decorated all around with grains of rice and tiny seeds of areca nut flowers. They have an arrow and a mirror made of bell metal with them. Daily, girls give betel to the groom. Every evening there is a kaikotti-k-kali (rhythmic dancing) and nadaswaram (instrumental music). On the fourth day, the girls bathe in the family tank along with other lady members of the family and indulge in jala krida (water sports). At this time the mannan (washer man) has to recite a special song, supposedly from the Tamil epic Silappadikaram by Ilango Adigal. There is a sumptuous feasting on all four days.

This kind of marriage by proxy is no longer followed.