2016-06-30
The moment finally arrived this past fall: my boyfriend of four years and I decided to take the plunge into wedded bliss. Great, we thought. We'll pick a date and plan the perfect wedding. We had agreed to have a traditional South Indian wedding in keeping with my ethnic heritage, and we were entranced by the deeply symbolic steps around the sacred fire, the henna, the sweet saffron-flavored delicacies, and the endless yards of colored silks. As we set about making this dream a reality, we ran headlong into one major obstacle. It wasn't that we couldn't find the right hue of pink taffeta for the bridesmaids' gowns, or the most elegant ice sculpture, or even the best Beatles cover band. Rather, our dilemma was more fundamental: we had to find an auspicious date on which to marry. Being Indian, my family consults the panchangam, or calendar, to determine an auspicious date for just about everything: a housewarming, the purchase of a new car, the best date to travel to India. Why curse an undertaking, the logic goes, when you can, with not too much effort, avoid those days when the planets aren't aligned in your favor? An event as momentous as a marriage, therefore, had to be held on an auspicious date. Being German, and atheist, my fiancé consults calendars to figure out on what day of the week his birthday falls. Despite my upbringing, I'm much the same; after all, how many New York City lawyers can get away with telling their clients that they can't attend to them that day because the
stars aren't in order? We both began to squirm a bit. Sure, we wanted an Indian wedding, but could we--two wisecracking, somewhat logical, totally earthbound young professionals--abandon dates that otherwise would be perfectly convenient and likely to have sunny skies because of astrology? I tentatively broached the subject to my mother, who declared--a bit theatrically--that she couldn't in good conscience allow us to marry on an inauspicious date. Why bother with an Indian wedding at all, she asked sorrowfully, if we were prepared to ignore such an important part of it? OK, OK, we said. Logic and practicality aside, who wants to choose a date that anyone, priest or otherwise, says is destined to result in doom? Marriage is hard enough without the stars conspiring against you. So we embarked upon the quest to find a suitable date. The Tamil panchangam used by South Indians, like my family, is a solar calendar which can vary slightly every year. The Sanskrit word panchangam means five limbs; each limb represents a different element that must be considered when attempting to find an auspicious date. These are the solar day, which is essentially the day of the week; the lunar day; the alignment of the planets and the 27 constellations of stars; the half day; and the 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 within
an auspicious date, one must avoid certain hours. To add more layers to the puzzle, one also has to consider the month and the engaged couple's horoscopes. Three of the twelve months of the year are deemed inauspicious for marriages every year: Markhazi (December 15-January 15), Aadi (July 16-August 17), and Puruttasi (September 17th-October 17th), so those were immediately ruled out. Our horoscopes, determined by our dates and times of birth, had to fit in as well; certain alignments of the planets aren't considered auspicious for people of certain signs. Frustratingly, it became clear almost immediately that the complex nature of the calendar and the elements involved in settling upon a date meant that we couldn't do it ourselves; every date we considered had to be communicated to a Hindu priest, who would consult his books and calendars and let us know where the stars fell. The waiting period between our phone calls to the priest and his replies were fraught with tension. We remembered with dread an article we'd read online about Hindus postponing their weddings en masse in Toronto because priests were declaring whole six-month periods off limits and pictured our greying selves getting married years hence. Nevertheless, given that neither of us read Tamil, we had no choice but to surrender to these wizards of Vedic astrology, who can interpret the calendar with astonishing specificity, supplying on request auspicious dates for having lunch with a client, solving a business quandary, and talking to your children about their grades.

We began with the solar day: certain days of every week are inauspicious, namely Tuesdays, and, inconveniently for us and our friends from abroad, Saturdays. Tuesday, known as Mangalawara, is the day of the mischievous god Mars, while, Saturday, known as Saniwara, is the day of the god Saturn, an angry god who causes things to go wrong.

We grimaced, but determined to be good sports, thought that we could live with no Saturdays. But that wasn't all; there were still four more limbs to be considered. Next came the lunar nights, or tithis; every month is divided into 30 tithis. The fortnight between the new moon (amavasya) and the full moon (purnima) is considered 'shukla,' or bright, while the fortnight after the full moon, when the moon is waning, is considered 'krishna,' or dark. We could thus only be married when the moon was waxing. Finally, there were also the Nakshatra (the alignment of the planets with any of 27 star clusters, or constellations; each combination could result in different properties for the day), the Yoga (the angle of the earth with respect to the sun and the moon), and the Karana (the two half-days that make up each lunar day) to consider. After the priest had considered each of the five limbs, most of the fall of 2004 was ruled out completely. No Sunday in August, September, or October was deemed suitable for us. The first available date was November 28th, not coincidentally my parents' and my cousin's wedding anniversary. Picturing our fine silks being darkened by the inevitable rains of late fall in New York, we decided against it. So we looked to the spring of 2005 as our next best option, but faced yet another obstacle: the calendar for 2005 hadn't been written yet, 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 five limbs, which our priest read and finally approved of--in fact, quite enthusiastically. As it turns out, May 22, 2005 is an extremely auspicious date, and is especially good with our own horoscopes.

Now that we have an auspicious date, we can go forward with the stuff that other couples do: find a place, pick our attendants, hire a band, and finally, get married. Even if it's not until 2005, at least we'll know that the stars are stacked in our favor.

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