What I learnt at a traditional wedding in Coorg

29th Dec 2018

There’s no better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve than to be out on the road, unaware of what turn tomorrow is going to take. With a strong belief in this epiphanic thought, I headed out to discover Kodagu (or Coorg), the land of coffee. I must assert that it’s unfair to ignore all the other beauteous wonders that Coorg presents, but really, the coffee plantations were a perennial feature across the district and never ceased to impress.

My travels in Coorg started in a small town called Ponnampet to attend the wedding of a couple I’d never met. I was often dragged to weddings in my childhood, but I’d read somewhere that a Kodava wedding can feel like a cultural roller coaster for first-time attendees and wished to experience the ceremonies first hand. The wedding was a two-day affair and stood out for its unique processions, the absence of a priest and complete disregard for customary Hindu wedding rituals (pheras et al). The eve of the wedding involved drinking in abundance along with high-intensity dancing, but there was no sign of a DJ behind a console, rather an entourage of double-headed-drum players, trumpeters and flautists. There were separate food and bar counters for men and women, which I chose to oblige as organisational convenience. Kodavas love pork, and this was highlighted very well at the wedding. Pork was served for breakfast, lunch and dinner; with idlis, dosas, rice and rotis.

The day of the wedding started with the bridegroom and his family walking through the gates of the town’s community centre—marriages in this town are a rather simple affair—while the bride’s side waited inside. The groom was decked in traditional attire—a white shirt with matching trousers, a white overcoat called a kupya and a golden-hued turban. His outfit was complemented by a sash, a dagger and a small sword. Male relatives of the couple were dressed in similar fashion, just that they sported black kupyas. The bride stole the show with her gorgeous silk saree draped backwards. All other women wore their sarees in the same manner, a distinct style special to Coorg. The crowd gathered in the open area leading to the entrance of the hall for the first ceremony, Baale Birud. Nine banana stems set on metal stands occupied the space, and the maternal uncles of the groom sliced each of these with their swords. After each stroke of the sword, the groom’s female relatives displayed their dance moves to celebrate the valour and skilful swordsmanship of the family. The second ceremony was soberer, with the elders of the community bestowing their blessings upon the happy couple, who sat on a grand stage inside the hall. Food and liquor ensued thereon, and with my belly full and my liver unresponsive, I napped in my room for a few hours before the final ceremony.

Ganga Puje was the last ritual of the wedding, and had the bride pull out water from a well into two pots and walk back to the wedding hall. The only interruption was by the groom’s family, who danced around the bride, preventing her from moving ahead. This went on for about three hours, and the bride had to patiently hold the pots over her head all this while to prove that she was ready to be part of her new family. The night ended with one final round of wholesome pork dishes, a medley of drinks and joyous dancing.

I was particularly impressed by the role of the women in the wedding. Women ushered the guests, played host, manned the bars, overlooked proceedings and made sure everyone was enjoying themselves. It might sound burdening, but it was indeed awe inspiring. The wedding had given me a glimpse into the life of a local, made me aware of my closeted preference for vegetarian food and treated me to fascinating rituals words could never do justice to. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep, excited to explore what else Coorg had to offer once dusk turned to dawn.

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