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Heritage: Unique blend of cultures

The traditions of a Chetti wedding are a showcase of how the community has adopted and adapted local customs, writes Mahen Bala

LAST month, in a spectacular weekend of colour, music and tradition, an authentic Chetti wedding took place in Kampung Chetti, Malacca.

Not to be confused with the Chettiahs, Chetties were originally Indian traders from Tamil Nadu who settled in Malacca during the Malacca Sultanate. Over the centuries, intermarriage between Indians and locals, and the adaptation of local customs had resulted in a unique blend of cultures, just like the Chinese Peranakan.

Sithambaram Pillay with his parents S. Thuraisingam Pillay and Gowri Tan Eng Neo. The Chetti dress bears similarities to the Chinese Peranakan dress.

The bride arrives at the temple.

Once the couple has been blessed, mandi mandi turns into a free-for-all water festival for everyone.

The Chetties dance the joget lambak and entertained by a traditional Dondang Sayang troupe.

Henna paste is rolled into balls to create small dots around the bride’s feet.

New clothes and jewellery for the bride to wear on the wedding day are presented on a silver tray after the thali blessing ceremony.

The thali is collected from the goldsmith and brought home where the family’s male elders bless the thali. The groom, Sithambaram Pillay, dressed in traditional Chetti attire looks on as his father performs the rites.

The thali is tied. They are now man and wife.

The kalyana murungai is covered with turmeric paste by married women of the family.

Most Chetties don’t speak pure Tamil. Instead they converse in a unique patois of Bahasa Malaysia inflected with Tamil. About 200 Chetti from some 30 families live within Kampung Chetti in Gajah Behrang, Malacca.

On Nov 22, T. Sithambaram Pillay, or Jeeva to his friends, married Chong You Wen, now Priyanka, in the style of a very traditional Chetti wedding at the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple (Dato Chachar), as it would have been conducted in years long gone by.

As dictated by tradition, many ceremonies and rituals were arranged in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Here, with much input from Jeeva the bridegroom, the sequence of events:

Buang Suara A representative of the groom visits the family of the bride to ask for her hand in marriage. Locally, this would be referred to as merisik (spying).

Upacara Masuk India A customary traditional prayer held for non-Hindus as the Chetti Malacca Community are all

Saivites. Shaivism is one of the largest and oldest sects of Hinduism, centred on the worship of Lord Shiva as the supreme being. The ceremony is conducted by a Hindu priest in the presence of both families. The non-Hindu party then seeks the blessings of both families as a symbol of being reborn into a new life.

Sandanggu A ceremony traditionally reserved for a Hindu girl who has just reached puberty. She is covered with turmeric paste in a ritual called lumur kunyit and then bathed clean as a symbol of purification. After the ceremony, she is dressed in a long kebaya, batik and her hair bun is pinned with a cucuk sanggul, as a sign that she is now a woman. The ceremony is usually carried out by a Hindu priest with five married women who bless the bride by waving their hand in circular motion with a sprinkle of rose water, dried cow dung, a pot of water, rice, a batu giling, rice again, putu piring, bread and finally, an oil lamp. At the end of the ceremony, the bride gets a bite of putu with brown sugar.

Tukar Cincin The official engagement, or parasam. In a procession to the bride’s house, complete with bunga mangga and kompang, the groom’s entourage carries seven trays containing, in a prescribed arrangement, an old coconut covered with turmeric powder, bananas, sirih pinang (betel nut), rose water, bunga rampai (potpourri), rock sugar, dates, sweets, a saree, bangles, talcum powder, jasmine flowers and fruit.

At the bride’s house, the groom is welcomed with the acceptance of the trays. The bride puts on the saree presented on the sixth tray. During the ceremony, dowry (duit tetek) is given to the bride’s mother, and gold jewellery is presented to the family for the bride. The ceremony is conducted by a Hindu priest and ends when the bride and groom exchange rings. The newly-engaged couple then seeks the blessing of the elders from both families. The entire Chetti community attends.

Hantar Sirih Kuil The days leading up to the wedding. In the old days, a pair of sirih pinang was the invitation. These days, three silver trays bearing flowers, rose water, flower garlands, fruit, an old coconut, the invitation card and sirih pinang are presented to the committee at the Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple to be blessed with an archanai (offering) made in the name of the groom. After that, wedding invitations are distributed in-person to temple trustees and the management committee of the Chetti Malacca community and then to the families.

Naik Tiang A ceremony where a branch of the kalyana murunga, translated as “wedding tree”, is planted in front of the house before any other preparation is made.

Sembahyang Thali The wedding thali is bathed in milk and blessed by family members, along with the wedding clothes. A thali, or mangalasutram, is a necklace given by the groom to the bride carrying the same significance as a wedding ring. Once prayers are completed, married women of the family help with the berinai — the couple get their fingertips and toes covered with freshly made henna paste.

Hari Kahwin The bride and the groom march from their respective homes to the temple, accompanied by their families. The procession is lively with musicians, kompang and bunga manggar. From the temple, the newly-weds join family, relatives and friends for a feast before being escorted back to the groom’s house.

Mandi Mandi An event full of fun and laughter held on the morning after the wedding. Family members and later the entire village take turns to bathe the couple with air bunga.

The wedding festivities included joget dancing and delightful dondang sayang performances. To quote a line from the dondang sayang performance: “Ini bukan Cina, ini bukan India, inilah Chetti Melaka.”

Mahen Bala is a filmmaker who documented this Chetti wedding for the Malaysian Heritage and History Club

Tags: culture, heritage
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