The moment finally arrived this past fall: my boyfriend of four years and Idecided to take the plunge intowedded bliss. Great, we thought. We'll pick a date and plan the perfectwedding. We had agreed to have atraditional South Indian wedding in keeping with my ethnic heritage, and wewere entranced by the deeplysymbolic steps around the sacred fire, the henna, the sweet saffron-flavoreddelicacies, and the endless yardsof colored silks.As we set about making this dream a reality, we ran headlong into one majorobstacle. It wasn't that wecouldn't find the right hue of pink taffeta for the bridesmaids' gowns, orthe most elegant ice sculpture, oreven the best Beatles cover band. Rather, our dilemma was more fundamental:we had to find an auspicious dateon which to marry.Being Indian, my family consults the panchangam, or calendar, to determinean auspicious date for just abouteverything: a housewarming, the purchase of a new car, the best date totravel to India. Why curse anundertaking, the logic goes, when you can, with not too much effort, avoidthose days when the planets aren'taligned in your favor? An event as momentous as a marriage, therefore, hadto be held on an auspicious date.Being German, and atheist, my fiancé consults calendars to figure out onwhat day of the week his birthdayfalls. Despite my upbringing, I'm much the same; after all, how many NewYork City lawyers can get away withtelling their clients that they can't attend to them that day because thestars aren't in order? We bothbegan to squirm a bit. Sure, we wanted an Indian wedding, but could we--twowisecracking, somewhat logical,totally earthbound young professionals--abandon dates that otherwise wouldbe perfectly convenient and likelyto have sunny skies because of astrology? I tentatively broached thesubject to my mother, who declared--abit theatrically--that she couldn't in good conscience allow us to marry onan inauspicious date. Why botherwith an Indian wedding at all, she asked sorrowfully, if we were prepared toignore such an important part ofit?
OK, OK, we said. Logic and practicality aside, who wants to choose a datethat anyone, priest or otherwise,says is destined to result in doom? Marriage is hard enough without thestars conspiring against you. So weembarked upon the quest to find a suitable date.The Tamil panchangam used by South Indians, like my family, is a solarcalendar which can vary slightly everyyear. The Sanskrit word panchangam means five limbs; each limb represents adifferent element that must beconsidered when attempting to find an auspicious date. These are the solarday, which is essentially the dayof the week; the lunar day; the alignment of the planets and the 27constellations of stars; the half day; andthe relationship of the angle of the earth to the sun and the moon.Moreover, each day has certain hours,which are roughly the same every day, that are inauspicious. So even withinan auspicious date, one must avoidcertain hours.To add more layers to the puzzle, one also has to consider the month and theengaged couple's horoscopes.Three of the twelve months of the year are deemed inauspicious for marriagesevery year: Markhazi (December15-January 15), Aadi (July 16-August 17), and Puruttasi (September17th-October 17th), so those wereimmediately ruled out. Our horoscopes, determined by our dates and times ofbirth, had to fit in as well;certain alignments of the planets aren't considered auspicious for people ofcertain signs.Frustratingly, it became clear almost immediately that the complex nature ofthe calendar and the elementsinvolved in settling upon a date meant that we couldn't do it ourselves;every date we considered had to becommunicated to a Hindu priest, who would consult his books and calendarsand let us know where the starsfell. The waiting period between our phone calls to the priest and hisreplies were fraught with tension. Weremembered with dread an article we'd read online about Hindus postponingtheir weddings en masse in Torontobecause priests were declaring whole six-month periods off limits andpictured our greying selves gettingmarried years hence. Nevertheless, given that neither of us read Tamil, wehad no choice but to surrender tothese wizards of Vedic astrology, who can interpret the calendar withastonishing specificity, supplying onrequest auspicious dates for having lunch with a client, solving a businessquandary, and talking to yourchildren about their grades.
We began with the solar day: certain days of every week are inauspicious,namely Tuesdays, and, inconvenientlyfor us and our friends from abroad, Saturdays. Tuesday, known asMangalawara, is the day of the mischievousgod Mars, while, Saturday, known as Saniwara, is the day of the god Saturn,an angry god who causes things togo wrong.We grimaced, but determined to be good sports, thought that we could livewith no Saturdays. But that wasn'tall; there were still four more limbs to be considered. Next came the lunarnights, or tithis; every month isdivided into 30 tithis. The fortnight between the new moon (amavasya) andthe full moon (purnima) isconsidered 'shukla,' or bright, while the fortnight after the full moon,when the moon is waning, isconsidered 'krishna,' or dark. We could thus only be married when the moonwas waxing.Finally, there were also the Nakshatra (the alignment of the planets withany of 27 star clusters, orconstellations; each combination could result in different properties forthe day), the Yoga (the angle of theearth with respect to the sun and the moon), and the Karana (the twohalf-days that make up each lunar day) toconsider.After the priest had considered each of the five limbs, most of the fall of2004 was ruled out completely. NoSunday in August, September, or October was deemed suitable for us. Thefirst available date was November28th, not coincidentally my parents' and my cousin's wedding anniversary.Picturing our fine silks beingdarkened by the inevitable rains of late fall in New York, we decidedagainst it. So we looked to the springof 2005 as our next best option, but faced yet another obstacle: thecalendar for 2005 hadn't been writtenyet, so the priest couldn't sign off on a day.In the end, our problem was solved by the Internet. We found an online Vedic almanac that would, when any date was entered, give us the fivelimbs, which our priest read andfinally approved of--in fact, quite enthusiastically. As it turns out, May22, 2005 is an extremelyauspicious date, and is especially good with our own horoscopes.
Now that we have an auspicious date, we can go forward with the stuff thatother couples do: find a place,pick our attendants, hire a band, and finally, get married. Even if it's notuntil 2005, at least we'll knowthat the stars are stacked in our favor.