Thali: The sacred weapon

Thali is Lord Brahma. Thali is Lord Shiva. That is to say Thali is both creator and destroyer. When tied to a girl’s neck, thali promotes her to wifehood and when removed from her neck it demotes her to widowhood.

Thali simply means a pendant. Suspended from a strong yellow string and tied to the bride’s neck on the auspicious hour of the marriage day, the thali is a symbol – an insignia that proclaims to the world that the wearer is married. She is someone’s property to be respected thereafter and not to be ogled at anymore.

Thali is the guardian of the wearer; a sort of fence as the Tamil saying goes. To every woman thali is precious, as precious as her loving husband. Temple goers invariably touch their thali with the Kumkum offered by poojaris as prasad.

Married women who value their thali perform ‘Sumangali pooja’ for strengthening the life span of their thali. When they prostrate before elders to receive their blessings and good wishes, they are blessed with the words ‘Theerka Sumangali Bhava’, meaning ‘Let you lead a long married life’, which only tells indirectly ‘Let your husband be hale and hearty forever so as to make you happy’.

Tamil society had not heard of the thali culture for centuries. Sangam literature remains dumb to the word ‘thali’ and no poet makes any reference to it till the finish of the 10th century. It was only during the 11th century a religious poet named Katchiyappa Sivachariar made a passing reference to ‘Potrali’ (meaning thali made of gold) in his Kanthapuranam, a book of poems on Lord Murugan. The eminent poet Seikizhar of Periyapuranam fame sang in detail of the custom of tying thali round the bride’s neck. Kamban, the great cham of Tamil literature, in his epic Kambaramayanam had devoted several verses to glorify thali. Both Seikizhar and Kamban belonged to the 12th century. And the thali came into vogue.

As the Tamil society began to divide itself in the name of gods, thali too began to take different shapes. The followers of Shiva have three horizontal lines on their thali and the followers of Vishnu have three vertical lines. The introduction of caste system further divided the Tamils and each caste began to have its own design for the making of thali. The best-known example is the twin thali worn by the brahmin ladies.

Be it what it may, thali belongs to the Tamil culture and society. Even today in spite of cultural invasions from different unwanted quarters, thali has not lost its value and significance. No marriage is complete without this half-a-sovereign of gold and every married Tamil woman takes very great pride in allowing the thali to adorn her neck.

P. Raja

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