Centuries ago, a Kodava bridegroom had to walk long distances from his okka (patrilineal clan home) through dense forests, to the house of his bride and back. The trip was fraught with danger. Being attacked by wildlife and rivals was common. The bridegroom as well as the males in his party had to be well equipped to deal with this. Consequently, weaponry formed a critical part of the bridegroom’s attire.
The present day attire of a Kodava bridegroom reflects this aspect of the martial tradition of the Kodavas. Knives and a pointed staff were and still are an intrinsic part of the bridegroom’s attire. Wearing a long white coat called a kupsa, the bridegroom has a richly embroidered red brocade silk sash called a chale tied around his waist. His headgear is complemented with a red silk scarf and he wears a thick band of gold or silver on one wrist.
Tucked into the front of the sash is a curved knife known as the peechekathi, which is sheathed in a beautifully ornamented case. The sheath of the peechekathi is made from silver, ivory, teak or ebony elaborately embellished with patterns of gold and silver. The sheath is attached to a silver chain with a thick silver tassel, which hooks to the back of the sash and has a small silver disc at this end. From the disc hang a number of delicately crafted miniature objects: a gun, the Kodava war knife, an ear-pick, tweezers and a toothpick. Solely representative of the practical and the martial, these objects fortunately are not used in public.
Typically, peechekathis are handed down from generation to generation and are considered to be family heirlooms.
A heavy thodang or a metal clasp of bronze or silver is fixed to the back of the bridegroom’s waist. This holds the odi kathi, the large Kodava war knife. In addition to this, the bridegroom carries a waist high wooden staff called the gejje thande made from a special type of wood, decorated with bands of silver and small bells. The end of the staff ends in a lethally pointed metal bit, which also doubles up as a weapon.
A unique and less widely known feature of the thande is that it can stand as proxy for the bridegroom, in case he cannot be physically present for the wedding. This is a custom that has come down through the ages and is reflective of the martial lineage of the Kodavas. A man could suddenly be called away to fight in a battle, in which case the thande would be carried by the bojakara (best man) to the bride’s home, so that the ceremonies could proceed.
The bojakara is normally a closely related male who mentors and assists the bridegroom throughout the period of the wedding. This is normally a two-day affair and takes place with various ceremonies happening simultaneously at the bride and bridegroom’s respective okkas, before the final murtha or auspicious ceremony where the couple is blessed together by the assembled gathering of family, clan members and members of other clans.
If you are invited to a Kodava wedding, besides the resplendent array of dazzling silk sarees worn by the women, be prepared for the men in black. Attired in black kupsas with chales and peechekathis, they provide a striking contrast to the sole wearer of the white kupsa–the bridegroom at his martial best.
As with other Indian communities, a Kodava wedding reflects the unique and distinctive cultural values of the Kodava community.