Grindstone and Toe Rings – Tamil Hindu Weddings

The more I read about Tamil Hindu weddings, the more I want to read.

Such a drive is furthered by ardent readers of my blog who open up very interesting discussions after having read my posts.

One which really inspired me to write this piece was based on a discussion I had with one of my readers after they had read my ‘Time to Tie the Knot’ blog post, for which I collaborated with London’s Western Jewellers.

The question which they had posed to me was what my knowledge and understanding was of the Ammi Mithithal tradition in Tamil Hindu Weddings. My mum educated me briefly about this over the past few years but this was a mere starting point. I decided to do more reading around the area. The reason for being so keen is because I want to know the significance of it. This is part of my culture and religion, and so I should be willing to learn about it rather than just follow the instructions the priest gives me on the day of wedding (which still remains a myth in my life right now for those inquisitive ones amongst you all!).

What does Ammi Mithithal mean?

This quite literally means placing one’s foot on a grindstone. In a Tamil Hindu wedding ceremony, this takes place during the Saptapathi ritual, where the bride and groom take seven steps around the Agni (central fire) where each step denotes a promise made by both the bride and groom – Sapthapathi will be explored in further depth in my future blogs!

What does Ammi Mithithal involve?

After taking their steps around Agni, the couple reach the grindstone. The groom holds the bride’s right big toe and helps her tread and place her right foot on the grindstone. As the bride mounts the stone, it symbolises how she and the marriage should be rock firm, and undisturbed by difficulties of life.

Interestingly, this particular ritual symbolises numerous other things including the fact that by touching the bride’s feet, the groom acts with more humility and respect for his bride. This I found particularly interesting because many are always made to believe that Tamil Hindu weddings are centred around and dominated by the groom when it comes to the symbolisms. This ritual connotes the complete opposite. It actually shows how women are just as righteous as men in marriage, as is always depicted in the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi.

Straight after the bride mounts the Ammi, a Metti (toe ring), is presented on both her second toes; this is the only visible jewellery worn by the bride after marriage which denotes she is married. (If you followed my previous blog about the Thali, you would remember that the Thali should actually be hidden underneath the woman’s clothing!).

These Mettis are made of silver and not gold, because of the significance gold holds in the Tamil culture and Hindu religion. Therefore there is a common practice that gold should not be worn as a form of accessory for anything below the waist. However, traditions are changing with more gold and diamond based Mettis coming to the fore.

My mum and I have numerous conversations about wedding rituals and the significance behind each stage of the Tamil Hindu Wedding ceremony. Interestingly she told me that historically men were the ones to wore the Metti post-marriage. This was because in ancient society, people walked bare feet and women were supposed to look down and walk, hence when she saw a man’s feet adorned with a Metti per foot, she would know straightaway that he was married. Do you not think it is interesting how things have changed so much now!?

Traditions are continuously changing and who knows what the Tamil Hindu Wedding rituals will look like 100 years down the line? All I know for now is that understanding what we practice and doing so properly is where the real joy and culture lies.

I started off this blog educating myself and hopefully all of you. I will continue doing so because there is no end point to educating oneself about one’s own culture, religion and traditions…so keep supporting folks!

Time To Tie The Knot

Please do not get shocked. I am not getting married and will not be getting married anytime soon! However I am a Tamil girl, which means that in the future I am bound to get married.

Over the past three to four years I have been involved in the wedding industry. Initially I started off helping out with wedding exhibitions and fashion shows but now, as most of you know, I have started my own venture into establishing Wedding Choreography as an entity of its own, combining my passion for dance with that of my love for weddings!

As I have been working with couples and families with regards to their weddings’ or their relatives’ weddings, I have become deeply involved and more interested in the traditions which lie embedded in these weddings. One which is key for all Tamil weddings is the tying of the sacred Thali (described below).

I wanted to find out more about the Thali and its importance. I think knowledge is vital; it may not be useful for the here and now, but one day it will prove to be our biggest weapon and for that reason I let my inquisitive mind wonder. This led to me contacting one of the most popular and one of my favourite Tamil jewellers in London, Western Jewellers – I say favourite because ever since I became aware of the world, they have been the go-to place for my family. Additionally, what inspired me to write this and contact Western Jewellers in particular was the fact that I saw their work online and was stunned by the creative and stunning work in the realm of Thalis. With over 20 years of experience in the field of gold jewellery and Thalis, who else could I have asked to educate me about it. What I revered greatly was how cultural and traditional ideals were always core to their unique pieces.

Therefore, I decided to pose a series of questions to Western Jewellers about the Thali and their experiences of making them. I have learnt so much and I hope you will find this just as educational as I have done.

(For your information, I was not paid by anyone to write this piece. I have done it of my own accord because I love my Tamil culture and tradition; I wanted to know more about it and wanted to be involved in writing something which would educate and inform others as well).

What is a Thali and what is its significance?

“A Thali is a spiritual ornament for marriage that marks love, respect and dignity. It is a bridal pendent presented to the wife by her husband during an auspicious time on their wedding day. Every Thali needs a Kodi, which is woven gold thread that holds the Thali. Together, the ‘Thali Kodi’ makes an auspicious gold thread which holds religious symbolism in Hindu and Christian culture.”

What are the different types of Thali? What do each of these types represent?

“There are numerous types of Thalis available for various communities however the most common Thalis we make are the Kombu, Amman and Christian Thalis.

“The Kombu Thali is made when the Bride and Groom’s astrological charts match. If you notice carefully the Kombu Thali is in the shape of the groom himself. For this reason, during the Ponurukkal (an occasion when the gold used to make the Thali is melted), the groom will be present to sign to the gods that he will love, look after and cherish his bride till the end. Then during the Wedding ceremony, the Bride and Groom unite when the Thali is tied across her neck by the Groom showcasing that he will guard her for the rest of her life.

“The Amman Thali is used by Tamil Hindus in the instance that the Bride and Groom’s astrological charts do not match or have not been looked into. This is particularly seen in, what Tamils call, ‘love marriages. Amman is the symbol which is seen on the Thali.

“The Christian Thali has the same quality as the Kombu and Amman Thali, but differentiate its shape and symbols. Most of the Christian Thalis will have the three precious symbols which are: The Bible, the Holy Dove, the Holy Cross.”

Can you tell me a bit about the ‘Ponnurukkal’ ceremony?

“An auspicious day and time is selected by a family astrologer or priest for a gold melting ceremony otherwise known as the ‘Ponnurukkal’ ceremony or ‘Ponnurukku’. This takes place before the main wedding day. The ‘Ponnurukku’ is conducted by the groom’s family and is witnessed by family and friends at home. The bride-to-be is not present. According to Tamil traditions, the Thali is handcrafted by a gold smith that is happily married with a united family.

“The ‘Ponnurukku’ begins with the breaking of a coconut, followed by a embedding a gold coin in milk. The symbolic moment is when the gold coin is melted. It is thought that the rounder the coin is shaped, the better it is for the couple. The guests are then asked to bless the melted gold. A tree is then planted in the garden of the groom’s home to symbolise the couple’s life together. Vegetarian food is then served to the guests to mark the start of wedding celebrations. From this day, the couple are traditionally not meant to see each other until their wedding day.”

What is the most creative/interesting Thali you have made and why?

“The most creative Thali made at Western Jewellers was a white gold Thali. We were the first to design a white gold Thali in the world. It goes without say that it was challenging to make but was definitely worth it. We had to train Italian gold smiths – the masters of white gold – to make the Thali Kodi to perfection.

“This year at Western Jewellers, we decided to bring ancient traditions of the gold melting ceremony and Thali making from start to finish in the comfort of your own home. This took approximately 6-7 hours of hand craftsmanship but also allowed family and friends to witness the making from start to finish.”

I just wanted to add here that if you have been up-to-date with their recent work, they have created the world’s first rose gold thali a few weeks ago!

How much do the younger generation know about Thalis, if anything? Why is this the case?

“Here at Western Jewellers, we have been handcrafting Thali Kodis for over 20 years therefore have seen the Sri Lankan Tamil community still observing many ancient traditions during their matrimonial ceremonies which are to be followed by the Bride and Groom. The younger generations continually show an active interest to understand the symbolism behind the Thali. We have also found mixed religion marriages are more open to keeping the sacred Thali as a symbolic bridal Gold thread.

“As we live in a westernised society, we have seen many customers modifying their Thali Kodis with diamonds or gems to keep up with current trends. We thoroughly enjoy welcoming the younger generation to explain the ancient traditions followed thousands of years ago by their ancestors but also are intrigued to making more creative Thalis in the years to come.”

What are your thoughts about the ‘Manjal Kayiru’ (a yellow thread) instead of the Thali Kodi (gold chain)?

“The ‘Manjal kayiru’ is more for the south India Community. At Western Jewellers, we have created a similar Thali chain called the South Style.

“The ‘Manjal Kayiru’ was mainly used in the olden days to tie the three knots, whereas in the past 100 years there has been a rise in the screw-based Kodis. The South Indian Community uses the ‘Manjal Kayiru’ for the first year of their marriage after which they will change it into a gold chain.”

So…how interesting was that?! I have learnt so much and I hope you all feel that much more thrilled and informed after having read this.

I personally did some reading before and after reading these responses from Western Jewellers, and also had a chat with mum about what she knew about the Thali. In addition to everything mentioned above, one point which she told me about was how the Thali, when worn, should be tucked inside and should not meet another Thali. There are two reasons for this. The first is the belief that when the gold from the Thali touches the woman’s skin, it is meant to be very beneficial for her health. Secondly, there is a common belief that when one Thali meets another, apparently one has the possibility to cast an evil eye on the other; at the end of the day we are talking about religious jewellery and religious beliefs. To what extent this is correct, I do not know, and I will take more time to find out. For the time being, however, the main learning point for me is that the Thali has to be taken care of all year round and thought has to be put into why and how it is worn.

I believe in making the Thali significant to oneself, but one should never lose sight of the traditions and values which are behind it. It is not a fashion statement; it is a symbol of religion, culture, tradition and love.

Of course, if you want more information about Thalis and are looking for people to make your Thalis, do not hesitate to contact Western Jewellers. I would like obviously like to thank the team for agreeing to be a part of my infinite journey blog and for working with me to get this write up done.