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Arranged Marriages in India

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About Iyers.

Iyers -- like all other Brahmins -- trace their paternal ancestors to one of eight rishis or sages. Accordingly they classify themselves into eight gotras, based upon the ancestor rishi. The term Iyer derives from the term Ayya used by the people of the Tamil regions to denote a respected person and are seen as representatives of Vedic Culture. The term is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word 'Arya' which means a 'noble person'.

Iyers have many sub-sects among them, such as Vadama, Brihatcharanam, Vathima, Sholiyar or Chozhiar and Ashtasahasram. Each sub-sect is further subdivided according to the village or region of origin. Iyers do not have a single origin, as they have come to Tamil lands at different periods of time, for different reasons and from different parts of India, even though it has become common for them to intermarry in modern times. They also maintain a similar culture regardless of specific origin, due to cultural interaction for more than a millennium. It is possible that males of some sub-sects have intermarried with Dravidian castes, outside the Brahmin fold. The children of such marriages have generally acquired the caste of the mother.

Iyers follow one of the four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Veda that an Iyer follows forms an important part of his identity, another being the gotra that he belongs to. The gotra is the name of the rishi who founded the clan one is born into. A woman belongs to gotra of her father until marriage, and then during kanyadaan changes to that of her husband.

There was formerly a lot of disunity among Iyer sub-sects over numerous issues. Such divisions and disagreements reduced with the adoption of Adi Shankaracharya as a teacher, by most Iyers. In later times, when many Vaishnava sects proclaimed themselves Iyengars, the word Iyer was used to usually refer to either Smarthas or to Saivaites. Contemporary Iyers are mostly smarthas and follow Adi Shankara's teachings.

Though initially divided into distinct groups, they have slowly evolved into a single community with similar culture and habits, the members of which take pride in being called Iyers. They have preserved their unique common identity, even after migrating to other places.

For example, a few centuries back, some of them migrated and settled down in various parts of Kerala. They integrated themselves into their new homeland and built up an identity of their own. The people of Tamil Nadu easily identified them as Palakkad Tamil Brahmins or Palakkad Iyers while the Malayalam-speaking people of Kerala referred to them as Pattars (often as a very derogatory form). The term Kerala Iyers is also popular because of their presence all over Kerala. They are known as Palakkad Iyers only because many of them settled down in the Palakkad district of Kerala which is close to Tamil Nadu. Palakkad was a part of Madras state till 1956.

The mother tongue of all Iyers is Tamil but the form of Tamil that a common Palakkad Iyer speaks is influenced by Malayalam vocabulary and grammar to some extent. Their slang is highly influenced by Sanskrit as well. This might have resulted partially due to the absence of sufficient number of Tamil language schools in Kerala, where Iyers are a linguistic minority group.

Iyers place great importance in learning and knowledge and unsurprisingly they are scholars in many languages including Tamil, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Hindi, English, Kannada and Telugu.

Rituals, ceremonies and festivals

The Iyer rituals comprise rites as described in Hindu scriptures such as Apastamba Sutra attributed to Apastamba.

The most important rites are the shodasa samskaras or the 17 essential Saṃskāra.

Although many rites and rituals that were practiced in ancient times are no longer followed, some traditions are continued to this day.

Iyers are initiated into rituals at the time of birth. In ancient times Iyers performed rituals when the baby was being separated from mother's umbilical cord. However, this practice is no longer observed. At the time of birth, a horoscope is made for the child based on the position of the stars. Then Iyers undergo the naming ceremony. The child's first birthday is the most important, and it is when both Iyer boys and girls have their ears pierced.

After his seventh birthday, a male child is eligible for the thread ceremony known as Upanayanam. From that day on, he becomes an official member of his caste, and is known as a twice-born. The individual had to perform daily fire worship, and perform prayers without fail. Though such practices are not followed in modern times by a majority of Iyers, all Iyer boys undergo the sacred thread ceremony at some point in time before their marriage. Many Iyers continue to follow the daily worship of the sun and the goddess Gayatri. This daily worship is also known as sandhyavandanam. This worship is necessary to be performed at dawn, mid-day, and dusk. Besides this, all twice-born Iyers need to perform annual ceremonies such as Upakarma, when they replace their sacred threads with new ones.

Iyer marriage

A typical Iyer marriage consists of Sumangali Prarthanai, Naandi, Nischayadhaartham and Mangalyadharanam. This is a highly ritualistic affair and finally the bridegroom and the bride walk around the sacred fire seven times to complete the marriage. The main ritualistic events of an Iyer marriage include Vratam, Kasi Yatra, Oonjal (Swing), Kanyadanam, Mangalyadharanam, Paanigrahanam and Saptapathi. This is usually followed by Nalangu, which is a casual and informal event.

The more important events in a Hindu marriage are broadly as follows:

Marriage ceremonies typically are conducted over two days. On both days, proceedings begin with prayers to Lord Ganesha - with a propitiation to ensure that all goes well and full blessing of the God is available.

Day one primarily is a formality and is referred to as Nichiyathaartham. The Lagna Patrika, a document indicating the names, parentage and family tree details of the Bride and the timing and place of marriage, duly signed by the parents of both the Bride and the Groom, is read out and signed by the two sets of parents. By reading, it is deemed that both families are bound to the union. In reality, this ceremony would have been conducted much earlier..

On Day One it is a customary practice to visit a nearby temple, offer prayers

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