Monday, February 23, 2009

Maangalya dhaaraNam – part - 7

The sacred yellow thread!


The practices connected with the kaaradayaan nOnbu give us vital clues connected with Maangalya dharanam.

The performance of the nOnbu resembles a make-over of ancient Tamil practices of Thai neeradal and Sangam worship aimed at prayer for long life for the husband.


The dish, namely kaaradai also has a AtharvaN backing. The AtharvaN remedy for escape from threat of death is a rice cake mixed with barley. But in the nOnbu, kArAmaNi (cow-gram or lObia) is used instead of barley. The probable reason again reveals a connection to a prayer for longevity. kArAmaNi is actually a type of 'Payaru' similar to 'pacchai-p-payaru' (green gram). Pacchai-p-payaru is the gram used for propitiating Vishnu. But the black color of kArAmaNi is the color for the planet Saturn whose ati-devatha is Yama!  Vishnu is Yama  himself  among  subduers. (1)


It is perhaps due to this reason, black variety of the payaru was chosen to make the rice cake. It is worthy to mention here that kArAmaNi is called as 'black payaru' in Kerala!

The  prayer to Yama by Savitthri fits very well with the nOnbu -  the choice of the nonbu lagna (when sun transits from saturn's sign) and in offering the rice cake that is recommended by AtharvaNa veda. There is one more thing left out in this list � that is the rope with which Yama pulled out the life of Satavaan!


The thaali in the form of a yellow thread has the power to counter Yama's deadly rope and authentication for this comes from AtharvaNa vEda!


The yellow thread (it used to be red thread, indicating auspiciousness of the mangal and the power of Sun for whom Mars is yoga karaka and a bosom friend) is tied with an amulet as told in Atharvana ritual. (2)


The AtharvaN verse speaks about the power of a reddish thread tied with an amulet in fighting the hostile demons that threaten the life of one. The amulet is made according regional customs and beliefs. Most probably it must have been in some form of weapon � one or many of the panchayudhas of Lord Vishnu or a white colored one like that of a pearl or moon, or a rare gem got from the waters or oceans or heavens. (3)


The mention of a gem got from oceans or waters, for the amulet reminds us of the jewel, guarded by Sita as her own life while she was in Ashoka vana. It was the ChoodamaNi, that was worn on the head!  Sita did no mind losing her jewels most of which were gifted to her by Anasuya whom she met during vana-vaas. She threw some of them down when she saw the vanaras at the time of abduction. She left the others hanging in the simshubha tree. She was not seen wearing any jewel while she was in the Ashoka vana. But she secretly guarded this choodamaNi. This choodamaNi was a special jewel which she "deliberately guarded". (4)


Such a jewel was a gem got from the waters. 'Vaari sambhavaH', saya Sita. (5)

Such a gem was got from the heavens, says Rama (6)

Such a gem which is got from the waters, from the heavens and embedded in gold is the exact way an amulet for protection from threat to life is to be made according to AtharvaNa vEda.


The way Sita kept it safe and near her body all the time (secretly tied to her saree) has all the indications of a Mangal aabharaN or an auspicious jewel that is held dear by the wife as though her husband' life is present in that. 

It was while talking to Anasuya on the glory of wifehood, that Sita did make a mention about Savithri. No wonder the Vaishnavite community at the time of its re-anointment as a distinct community added all those aspects connected with Vishnu and his avathars.


The KAradai was chosen to suit Vishnu tattwa.

The episode of Savitthri has the concurrence given by Sita. (7)  

The timing was chosen taking into account all aspects of protection.

But an amulet must be there ward off evil.


The amulet of a reddish thread has an authentication from AtharvaNa veda. But it can not be said for sure that Srivaishnavites introduced the yellow thread for the nOnbu that it later became a part of marriage ceremony! So far there is no authentication to say who introduced the yellow thread.


However we can not rule out a probability that it was first introduced by Srivasihnavite acharyas who formulated this nOnbu. Since everything connected with protection to husband's life in form of Savitthri's penance was taken care of in the nOnbu, the only missing item of Yama's rope to be repelled by a yellow thread around the neck of the wife might have been symbolically introduced. Later this could have been introduced in marriage ceremonies too.


The reasons why I am led to think in this way were that no other nOnbu or practice that is in vogue today or even said to have existed in olden days, has this feature of tying the yellow thread. All the other communities who wear the yellow thread change it (when they find it worn out) on some auspicious day. They don't follow a specific day like the Iyengars.


The only other popular nOnbu, namely Varalakshmi nOnbu also features the use of yellow thread. But it is tied in the wrist as KankaN! This seems to have a similarity to the naadi-koota connection of the kankaN ceremony in the weddings of almost all the other communities of India. Even Tamils of olden days wore kankaN. In contrast, the thaali seems to have come with savithri lore as a counter to Yama's rajju,  the rope!




This is one way of looking at the origin of Mangalya dharanam.

But there is another probability also for the introduction of yellow thread.

This has Kerala connection historically and astrologically.

We can not ignore the Kerala influence in 'kaaradai' and yellow thread of the Kaaradayaan nOnbu!

The kaaraamani that gives its name to the dish is originally known as 'karuppu payaru' in the present day Kerala.

The astrological implications also have Kerala origin only.

The Nambhoothri Brhmins who are now confined to Kerala have played a vital role in the society that stretched from Bay of Bengal to Arabian sea and upto the Sahya parvada in the Northwestern regions in the period between 13thcentury AD to 16th century AD.

To understand their role we have to see the conditions that prevailed in those times. 


Two instances left an indelible mark in the society in those times.

The Kannagi episode became a lore in the entire Tamil lands for centuries.

Kannagi's story was woven around all the 3 Tamil lands of  Chera, Chozha and Pandyas �

particularly in the Chera land in today's kerala,

to which  the writer of this work, IlangovadigaL belonged. 

The temple for her was built in that land and

she came to be called as "Mangala Devi"!!

The one who could not live a happy and an auspicious life �

in spite of all the carefully drafted Vedic austerities

meant for a happy and auspicious married life �

became a legend whose life could  have become a debating issue in all spheres �

including among the Vediks who conducted the marriage rituals.

What went wrong with her marriage?

Didn't we fix the muhurtha properly?

Didn't we do the propitiations properly?

And so on.


A few centuries later such debates were heard not too far from Kannagi's land.

A similar mishap � of the type of the mishap that Kanangi suffered

happened in the other end of  the sahya � malay ranges of the western ghats.

It happened in the family of a highly revered astrologer

who was defeated by Destiny in his attempts to protect his daughter

from marriage-misfortunes.


He was the famous astrologer, Bhaskara II

whose time and history is authentically known from the  inscriptions

 in the Bhavani temple, in  Patan in the sahya parvatha in Maharashtra

and from the writings of Fyzi, the Persian translator his work, 'Lilavathi'.

In his book of Lilavathi in Persian written in 1587,

the writer Fyzi has narrated the incident that made Bhaskara II

coin the name of his daughter, Lilavathi,  to his wonderful book on Arithmetic.


Lilavati was the name of Bhaskaracharya's daughter.

From casting her horoscope, he discovered that the auspicious time for her wedding would be a particular hour on a certain day.

 From Fyzi's account, Bhaskara  placed a cup with a small hole at the bottom of the vessel filled with water, arranged in a way that the cup would sink at the beginning of the propitious hour. When everything was ready and the cup was placed in the vessel, Lilavati suddenly out of curiosity bent over the vessel and a pearl from her dress fell into the cup and blocked the hole in it. The lucky hour passed without the cup sinking.  By another account it is known that the vivaha was delayed due to this and Lilavathy became a young widow soon after. Bhaskaracharya believed that the way to console his dejected daughter, who now would never get married, was to write a manual of mathematics in her name!


(The timing or Muhurtha was an important deciding factor in the success or failure of any venture. The Vedanga Jyothisha developed for each veda was originally about fixing the right time for a given task. Failures and mis-fortunes are anyway there like the darkness following the day light. People in those days were not worried about whether a task or act would fail. Instead they thought about those timings which can make any task a success. That is why, a lot of emphasis on Muhurtha and fixing the right time. But in this age of Kali, if a misfortune is to happen, it will happen deceiving whatever intelligence we have in tackling it. Such intelligence is almost nil in today's condition.)


Bhaskara's  defeat in the hands of destiny resulted in a spurt in Jyothisha �related activities. We get to know from the inscription that his grandson Chungadeva set up a Research centre dedicated to solve astrological problems and devise ways to protect human beings from calamities. His centre received patronage from the kings and attracted knowledge from all directions.


We come to know from Bhaskara's work Siddhantha shiromani which he wrote when he was 36, (Lilavathi is the first part of this 4-part book. We can guess how young she must have been when she was widowed) that he was born in the year 1114 AD. So any new spurt to astrological remedies for matrimonial mishaps as initiated by Chungadeva would have begun after the 12th  century!


In the south of this region, already the life of Kannagi had become legend among the masses.

The north of Vindhyas was still facing the heat of invasions during this period between 13th to 15th century. But the south particularly in this stretch of the western ghats, there was relative peace. People had shuttled in this region and it is not a surprise that a majority of famous astrological writers in the post 12th  century AD had appeared in this stretch from Kerala to North Karnataka. Almost all the astrological texts that we have today originated in this area,  written mostly by Brahmins and Nambhothiris who were engaged in vaideekam. The only exception is Mantareshwara whose book "Phala deepika" is a standard text today for most astrologers. He lived in Thirunelveli of today. But he too was a Nambhoothiri!


A notable feature in their writings is the elaborate rules for vivaha poruttham. The Bala vivahaadhi yogas and vaidhavya yogas (widowhood) were discussed in their books. The dangers from Mangal dosha and Mandhi were widely written by these writers, particularly the Keralite ones. They were no longer ready to pin their hopes only on Muhurthas as was done in Vedic period. They wanted to analyze the horoscope thoroughly and formulate remedies.


They even gave region specific rules and remedies. For example we come across the mention of noon (abhijit muhurtha) as the right time for marriage in a work called Muhurtha DarpaN. But it is also said that this is applicable to regions in the West and in Kalinga. Similarly the  muhurtha for wedding is recommended at the time of sun set and after sunset in Go-dhooLika muhurtha. Again this is not applicable to all regions. A number of do's and dont's were given by these astrologers.


These astrologers were generally experts in Vedas. Atharvana veda gives them all clues on how to go about defeating destiny.

The result was the birth of the concept of amulet to ensure auspiciousness.

Auspiciousness at all times is needed to be ensured. So they looked at the probable areas of problems and devised their methods accordingly. 

These rituals that were once used in general, for protection from diseases and death, gained a specific relevance in protecting the spouse.


So there is as strong possibility to think that astrologers of this part of the country formulated and initiated the custom of Mangalya sutra in the wake of increasing incidence of premature death of the husband.


In those days Vediks themselves were astrologers as they had to learn it as part of shad-angas ( 6 vedangas).


No ritual other than those followed from time immemorial could have entered marriage ceremony without being initiated by the Vediks who also happened to be astrologers.


Smooth transition to newer methods in marriage could not have happened without their concurrence.

That is why we do not have a specific time that can be identified as a time when reformist kind  of rituals were incorporated into marriage ceremony. All that we can say is this was a later addition. Some Vediks in some parts of this land in South, most probably in Kerala could have started this. Slowly it could have spread among others.


Origin in Kerala?


We have indicators to Kerala only, as this was a land of astrologers who also happened to be Maandriks or adepts in Atharvan practices.  The Nambhoothris and Bhattadris were expert astrologers and Vediks as well. There is practice (reported until recently) among a sect of Kerala Nambhoothris, whereby the father ties the Mangal sutra to his daughter before she is taken to marriage mantap. It is like the Vedic ritual of tying the sacred thread in the wrist before the bride and groom are taken to the marriage mantap. This was done in Ram-Sita marriage. Similarly, the tying of the Mangal sutra is done by the father who also happened to be a priest in those days, as a ritual of caution to protect his daughter from misfortunes in marriage.


This seems to have become 'Kettu kalyanam' (8) whereby the girls in younger age, before they reached puberty were made to undergo the Mangalya dharanam- mostly done by Nambhoothiris (as they were the officiating priests). But there was no marriage connection. It was like a marriage on paper. Later the girl can marry anyone ( called Sambhandam which is the actual marriage) and start a family. But her so called Mangalya dosham is left with the Mangalya dharanam with the nambhoothiri. If the Nambhoothiri dies sometime later, she follows a ritualistic mourning for a stipulated number of days but will continue life a s an auspicious woman with her husband whom she actually married later through Sambhandam.


When seen from this perspective, this Kettu kalyanam looks like a drastic measure taken up by astrologer �cum- priest who wanted to save a girl from the misfortune of widow hood.  This practice is said to continue in some parts of Kearla even today � but without knowing this rationale. However in today's life style, this rationale no longer exists and Kettu kalyanam can be forgotten for ever. But this is one issue that lends credence to the rationale of when and how Mangalya dharanam ritual could have entered into marriage ceremony.


(to be continued)




(1) Bhagawad Gita  (10-29)

(2)  Atharvan veda III, 9. Against vishkandha and kava (hostile demons).

1. Of karsapha and visapha heaven is the father and earth the mother. As, ye gods, ye have brought on (the trouble), thus do ye again remove it!
2. Without fastening the), (the protecting plants?) held fast, thus it has been arranged by Manu. The vishkandha do I render impotent, like one who gelds cattle.
3. A talisman tied to a reddish thread the active (seers) then do fasten on: may the fastenings render impotent the eager, fiery kava!
4. And since, O ye eager (demons), ye walk like gods by the wile of the Asuras, the fastening (of the amulet) is destructive to the kava, as the ape to the dog.
5. I revile thee, the kava, unto misfortune, (and) shall work harm for thee. Accompanied with curses ye shall go out like swift chariots!
6. A hundred and one vishkandha are spread out along the earth; for these at the beginning they brought out thee, the amulet, that destroys vishkandha.


(3) IV, 10. The pearl and its shell as an amulet bestowing long life and prosperity.

1. Born of the wind, the atmosphere, the lightning, and the light, may this pearl shell, born of gold, protect us from straits!
2. With the shell which was born in the sea, at the head of bright substances, we slay the Rakshas and conquer the Atrins (devouring demons).
3. With the shell (we conquer) disease and poverty; with the shell, too, the Sav. The shell is our universal remedy; the pearl shall protect us from straits!
4. Born in the heavens, born in the sea, brought on from the river (Sindhu), this shell, born of gold, is our life-prolonging amulet.
5. The amulet, born from the sea, a sun, born from Vritra (the cloud), shall on all sides protect us from the missiles of the gods and the Asuras!
6. Thou art one of the golden substances, thou art born from Soma (the moon). Thou art sightly on the chariot, thou art brilliant on the quiver. [May it prolong our lives!]
7. The bone of the gods turned into pearl; that, animated, dwells in the waters. That do I fasten upon thee unto life, lustre, strength, longevity, unto a life lasting a hundred autumns, May the (amulet) of pearl protect thee.


(4) Valmiki Ramayana � 5-65- 21

ayam ca asmai pradaatavyam yatnaat suparirakShitam |
bruvataa vacanaani evam sugriivasya upashR^iNvataH || 5-65-21

21. sugriivasya= (while) Sugreeva; upashR^iNvataH= is hearing; bruvataa= and while you are telling; vachanaani= the words; evam= in this way; ayam cha= (let) this jewel; suparikShitaH yatnaat= well-guarded deliberately; pradaatavyaH ayam cha= be given; asmai= to this Rama.

"While Sugreeva is hearing nearby and while you are telling the words in this way, let this jewel, which is deliberately well-guarded, be given to Rama."


(5) Valmiki Ramayana � 5-65- 23

eSha niryaatitaH shriimaan mayaa te vaari sambhavaH || 5-65-23
etam dR^iShTvaa pramodiShye vyasane tvaam iva anagha |

23. eSaH shriimaan= this beautiful jewel; vaari sambhavaH= which has its origin in sea-water; niryaatitaH= has been sent; te= to you; dR^iSTvaa= seeing; etam= this vyasahe= in my grief; pramodiShye= I am feeling happy; tvaaniiva= as though I am seeing you.

"This beautiful jewel, which has its origin in sea-water, has been sent to you. Seeing this in my grief, I am feeling always happy as though I am seeing you."


(6) Valmiki Ramayana � 5-66- 5


 ayam hi jala sambhuuto maNiH pravara puujitaH |
yaj~ne parama tuShTena dattaH shakreNa dhiimataa || 5-66-5

5. ayam maNiH= this jewel; jala sambhuutaH= which was born in water; sajjana puujitaH= and recommended by the good; dattaH= had been presented (to him); dhiimataa shakreNa= by the intelligent Indra the lord of celestials; parama tuShTena= who was highly pleased; yaJNe= in Yajna sacrificial rite.

"The jewel, which was found in the waters and recommended by the good, had been presented to him earlier by the intelligent Indra the lord of celestials, who was highly pleased in Yajna, a sacrificial rite (intended to propitiate him)."


(7) Valmiki Ramayana  (2-118-10)










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