Nadar life cycle ceremonies may be divided into four
general categories: Birth ceremonies, Initiation ceremonies, Marriage
ceremonies and Death ceremonies. They mark the main stages in a Nadar's life.
The celebration of each ceremony indicates a new status in the community for
Among the Nadars, a number of rituals are performed before and after the birth
of a child. They begin when a woman is taken to her parents' home for her
confinement and end when she returns to her husband's house after the birth of
the baby. These ceremonies are little affected in-spite of modernization. Such
functions bond the matrilineal and patrilineal kinships and is continued even
among the most urbanized of the Nadars. Another ritual called the "Seventh
Month ceremony" is held for the pregnant girl. She is adorned with glass
bangles on that day and those would be broken off only on the labor day as a
Another ceremony in which the child's ears were pierced and was given gold
earrings to protect it from diseases was held after the child completes six
months or more. But now this function has been regarded as old-fashioned and
has fallen into disuse. The child's first shaving of the head has also been
equally neglected of late.
In contrast to the Nadar birth ceremonies, initiation rites involving Nadar
boys have completely disappeared. Hindu boys have to go through the process of
wearing the scared thread when they were 12 years or still younger. And then
there was the annual renewal of the sacred thread. Christian boys are permitted
into the church associations only after they are baptized. This process may
take place immediately after birth and can be postponed till 12 years or more.
After 15 years both boys and girls have to confirm their faith in the Christian
association when a function is held depicting the first taking of bread and
wine as Jesus himself.
The puberty ceremony for girls appear to be now less common than once it was,
especially among the urban, wealthy and educated families. It is now performed
in rural areas only. It was a way of telling the public that the girl was now
ready to be married. Since Nadar girls now tend to get married several years
after attaining puberty and since many of them feel something a bit of
embarrassing of making a public display of a girl's attaining puberty the
function is not held nowadays. Other reasons include the geographical
disposition of the Nadars and their inability to attend such less important
In earlier days the two preferred marriages for a Nadar man are to his elder
sister's daughter or to his cross -cousin. Alliances were mostly confined to
families of same status. Rich families married into their kins to protect their
wealth. Another expectation was that marriage within the family would ensure
better care for the ageing parents. The traditional preferred form of family
among the Nadars is the joint or extended family. Here two or more married men
who are closely related as son and father or sons live in one household with
their wives and children and who all share a common kitchen and a common purse.
Among the Nadars of today, the marriage network has started expanding.
Contemporary middle and upper middle class are going afar in search of suitable
alliances for their children. In their efforts to achieve upward mobility and
protect their interests, the Nadars have made certain adaptations to their
kinship system and marriage practices. Other changes appear to be unintentional
consequences of social and geographical mobility.
Nadar marriage rituals embrace the betrothal, the night before the wedding and
the wedding itself. The betrothal is usually celebrated one to three months
before the wedding. But nowadays because of the geographical distribution of
the populace it is held on the night before marriage itself. Some are now
performing the betrothal on the night before to do away with the need for an
extra feast and making it unnecessary for guests to make two separate trips.
Usually the groom's family goes to the house of the bride where the function is
held. The amount of dowry and the amount of gold jewelry to be given as gift to
the girl by her parents are settled during the betrothal day. The date and
place of the wedding are also set.
The Nadar groom earlier used to dress in a dhoti and sport the sacred thread.
But nowadays they are in suits and shoes . The Nadars spend considerable amount
of their savings for the marriage of their children. Lavish weddings are common
among the wealthiest families. The central part of the ritual is the tying of
the "thali", which the groom puts around the brides' neck. It happens in a
"Kalyana mandapam" or a temple in case of the Hindu Nadars and in churches in
case of the Christians. The Christians also exchange rings and Bibles during
the betrothal ceremonies.
The week following the marriage " Sampanthi Virunthu" is held where the bride's
family and the groom's family have dinner at each others place. After a month
or so the newly-weds fly off to their place of work and start up their own
Death ceremonies which existed during the early 19th century survives even
today in the remote villages and rural areas. The local association is informed
when a Nadar dies. The clerk of the association then informs the relatives and
notifies the barber whose duty is to conduct the ritual.
In case of Hindus, the corpse is bathed, dressed and then taken in a palanquin
in an upright chair-like position. The bodies of widows are usually laid down
flat. The chief mourner under the guidance of the local barber performs the
ritual. Nadar women do not accompany the male mourners to the river to obtain
the purification water and also to the cemetery area.
Earlier the chief mourner
used to shave his head .But nowadays such explicit showing of grief has been
put down. Blowing of conches along the funeral procession is also done in case
of the Hindu Nadars. Then on the third day another ritual is held. If the dead
was a man, then the widow is asked to remove all her jewelry especially the
thali into a pot of milk which was then used to wash the cemetery of the
deceased . But these days such practices are slowly declining. Most Nadar
widows just display a smaller proportion of their jewels and wear light colored