Wedding card collection reflect changing profile of Tamil weddings

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Chennai: A unique collection of invitation cards for mostly Hindu weddings from the early 1940s unveils a fascinating story of how Tamil society evolved over six long decades.

The cards show how marriages were once mostly simple social events, conducted mostly at the bride’s home or at a temple. The invitations were printed barely a week or so before the event. This is in contrast to the lavish and ostentatious affairs weddings now are.

The collection was the brainchild of the late M. Velaiya, who worked for the Railway Mail Service and who had made it a point to carefully preserve every wedding invitation he got from 1943 to 2000.

Each of the 475 cards has been neatly pasted on brown paper and carefully bound in four volumes.

“This collection was my father’s passion,” V. Karthikeyan, a retired central government official here, told IANS. “I doubt if there is another collection like this in India.”

Most cards in the early 1940s were a simple one-page affair, mainly because of the paper shortage caused by World War II. They were mostly in Tamil.

By the mid-1940s, Velaiya began getting bilingual cards – in Tamil and English.

From the late 1950s, with the advent of Dravidian parties in the then Madras state, the Tamil language in the cards began to shed its Sanskrit influence.

The first invitation Velaiya received printed exclusively in English was of a September 11, 1972, wedding involving a groom who worked for the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Many cards in the 1940s and 1950s carried photographs of Hindu gods and goddesses, showing how deeply religious people were in that era.

From 1955, the conventional Tamil wedding invitations were in yellow and pink – a style preserved even now.

The marriage venues began to increasingly shift to wedding halls and hotels from the 1970s and 1980s.

“Marriages some decades ago had none of the vulgar display of wealth we see today,” Karthikeyan explained. “Now people go out of their way to make them more pompous than necessary.”

A majority of the invitations in the collection related to Velaiya’s Thondaimandala Mudaliar community whose members, like Brahmins, were an educated lot.

Velaiya’s own invitation card – he got married on September 9, 1945 – is part of the collection. Velaiya passed away in 2010 in Chennai.

“My father would preserve every invitation he got. Once he had accumulated a few, he would put them in his album,” said Karthikeyan, his own wedding invitation figuring in one of the bound volumes.

The collection has proved to be a major hit in Velaiya’s community.

“Sometimes friends who have lost their own wedding invitation cards but find it with us beg for it,” Karthikeyan said.

“As far as possible, I tell people, out of respect for my father, to let the card be in the collection. But they can scan it.”

Why did Velaiya stop collecting the invitations from 2000?

Karthikeyan has a simple answer: “That was the year when my daughter got married. The card I got printed for her was costly, and oversized for his album.

“That was not to his liking. From that day, he never preserved any other wedding invitation.”

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