Vanniyakula Kshatriya or Vanniar is one of the major communities in Tamil Nadu. The name Vanniar originated from the Tamil word Vanni denoting agni or fire in Sanskrit. The community includes around 92 sub-castes. Vanniar, Vanniyakula Kshatriya, Naicker, Nayagar, Padayachi are prominent among them. They are one among the various castes, who are communally well-organized, politically well supported and well-versed.
Though Vanniars live in all the places of the state they are more populated in Erode, Kanchipuram, Dharmapuri, Vellore, Salem, Thiruvannamalai, Tiruchi, Villupuram, Thanjavur, Cuddalore, Namakkal, Krishnagiri, Perambalur, Ariyalur, and Nagapattinam districts.
Young women and men in the community are simple, hard-working and robust built. In the earlier past, the community was active in warfare activities and some among them even have ruled smaller kingdoms as kings. A sizeable percentage of them are still engaged in agriculture for the income. In the last 10 to 20 years most of the younger women and men have started joining professional courses of study and joined various job streams.
During the earlier years some of the Vanniar families had moved to countries such as Mauritius, South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Fiji and Malaysia as labourers seeking greener pastures. The well-educated among them have settled in European countries, the UK and the USA.
In the last 10 to 15 years some of them have made their mark as teachers, doctors, high court judges and even IAS/IPS officers. Barring a microscopic minority, normally most of them are non-vegetarians.
For most of the Vanniar families the family deity is Sree Angala Parameswari Amman. The 350 year old Mannaarswamy and PachaiammanTemple a village deity temple in Salem is also worshipped by majority of the community. They worship gods such as Vinayakar, Murugar, Venkitachalapathy, Iyyanar, Guru, Saptha Rishis, Illaya Muni, Semuni, Vamuni Saptha Mathas, and Karthiyayini Devi. Though they believe and worship all gods, for most of them the family deity is Sree Angala Parameswari Amman.
Vanniar community normally fixes the marriages using the word of mouth services of relatives and friends. Social functions organized within the community are also used to make marriage proposals. Presently the community uses both conventional and modern methods in arranging the marriages.
During olden days the community used to follow elaborate wedding rituals and conduct the marriage for over three days. Currently due to time constraints marriages are almost completed within a day or two. The marriages are performed either as self-respect marriages or conducted by Tamil Oduvars or performed by Brahmin priests. Common rituals followed in Vanniar marriages are listed below.
Nichiyathartham or the Engagement
On completing the horoscope matching both the bride and groom families will meet and discuss the details about conducting of the marriage. An auspicious date will be fixed to conduct the Nichiyathartham or Parisam Poduthal function. The function will be normally held at the bride’s house or at a marriage hall.
On the pre-fixed day of Nichiyathartham the groom’ family with all the relatives will arrive to the bride’s house or the hall fixed for the purpose. As a procedure the groom’s family will carry betel, areca nut, flowers, fruits, saffron, sandalwood powder, coconut, turmeric along with a new sari and glass-beads threaded in a string. The bride’s family will welcome the family of the groom and receive the seer items. The items will be arranged systematically in plates. The parisam money or jewels and the Mulaipal Kuli (Milk money) to honour the mother for breastfeeding the bride will be kept in separate plates. The parism money will be received by the father of the bride. At the end of the function both the families will have a grand feast arranged by the bride’s family.
After the feast, the bride will have a bath again and wear the new sari given to her by the groom’s family. For makeup she will use the sandalwood powder, saffron, jewellery and flowers. Finally she will wear the string of beads brought by the groom’s family around her neck. To denote the completion of Nichiyathartham betel and nut will be distributed all the guests attended the function.
During olden days the Parisam Money and other presents were carried in a decorated palanquin and taken around the village of the bride. At the completion of Nischayathartham the bride will touch the bow and sword owned and brought in by the groom. The groom used to wear the dress of the king or warrior, sit over a horse and drive it to the home of the bride to attend the function.
Bringing special pots for the marriage
During the olden days Vanniar’s performed extensive rituals during the marriage and conducted it for three days. The bride was taken on a procession to the house of bridegroom either on the first of the marriage or a day earlier to it. Women from the potter caste will accompany the bride by carrying the pots specially prepared for the marriage.
Decorating the Marriage Dais:
The marriage dais will be extensively decorated; the handle of a plough or milk-post will be kept close to it. A Mortar-Pestle (ammikallu), a large mud pot, a pot with a light inside (Kuda vilakku) and an ornamental light also will be placed close by.
Vanniars from North Arcot district will normally use the Vanni tree (Prosopis spicigera) stick as the first pole to support the constructed dais. They worship the tree for success over enemies, to forgive them from the committed sins and to grant them their wishes. They consider that the Vanni tree represent the holy tree was used by Kshatriya Pandava Kings to keep their arms hidden, during their exile period.
Both the groom and the bride will undergo the nalangu ceremony separately. They will be seated over a wooden plank and five women chosen for the purpose will smear oil by using grass stem and apply green gram paste over it. They will perform arati using red coloured water made of turmeric water mixed with lime. Arati is performed to symbolically ward off all the evils. Then both of them will be led to take bath. As a form of ritual five small sized cakes are positioned over their head, shoulders and knees and other places when they take bath.
Preparing for the marriage
Both the groom and the bride will be seated over a wooden plank and undergo the nalangu ceremony separately. Five women chosen for the ceremony will smear oil by using grass stem and apply green gram paste over it. They will perform arati using red coloured water made of turmeric water mixed with lime. Arati is performed to symbolically ward off all the evils. Then both of them led to take bath. As a form of ritual five small sized cakes are placed over their head, shoulders and knees and other places, when they take bath.
The priest chosen to conduct the marriage will tie the sacred yellow thread known as Kanganam around the wrists of the groom. The groom in turn will tie it around the wrists of the bride before the commencement of the marriage.
The marriage will become complete with the tying of Thali a sacred thread around the neck of the bride by the groom. Before tying the thali is kept in a plate along with coconut, betel and nut. It will be taken to all the elders present in the hall to receive their blessings. At the chosen auspicious muhurtham time the groom will tie the thali around the neck of the bride, among the holy sounds such as the chanting of holy verses by the prohit, blowing of conch and playing of the flute. The sister of the groom will hold a Kamakshi Vilakku representing goddess Kamatchi of Kanchipuram known as wife of lord Shiva to receive her blessings during the occasion. The elders present at the hall will bless the couple showering atchathai (rice coloured with turmeric).
Tying of Pattam
After the completion of thali tying or knotting ceremony, the couple will swap their seats and their clothes will be tied together. Then their close relatives will tie the gold or silver plate called pattam around their foreheads. For the bride the pattam will be in shape of papal tree leaf and for the groom it will be in the shape of a vaishnavati namam. . The pattam will be tied by the maternal uncles of bride and the groom.
Ammi Midithal and Arunthathi parthal (stepping over Mortar-Pestle and viewing of the Arunthathi star) will normally mark the completion of a Hindu marriage. In the Vanniar marriage the bride and the groom will go around the milk-post and the dais. After completing three rounds the groom will lift and keep the left foot and the right foot in order over the Ammi and bejewel the finger next to thumb with a jewellery known as Metti.
Arundhathi Parthal is also an important feature associated with the Vanniar marriages. Arunthathi, the wife of a sage is known for her virtue and purity and has become a celestial star. Priest who conducts the marriage will show the place, where the star will normally appear and explain its significance.
Mock Ploughing Ceremony
The marriage will come to an end in the evening with a mock ploughing ceremony participated by the couple. After the removal of the Kanganam tied in the morning, the groom will carry a small plough and the bride will follow him with a kanji pot to the outdoor. The groom will mockingly use the plough to plough-up a small area of land and sow some seedlings. He will then offer betel and nut to a small pillayar made of cow-dong to mark the purity of the marriage ceremonies. After some time the groom will sit in a corner acting as if fatigued by the work. The bride will offer him Kanji made of rice porridge that she has brought with her and her brother will mockingly prevent him from taking it.
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