Thali: The sa­cred weapon

A TO Z INDIA - - Tradition - - P. Raja

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.

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