Tesavalamai embodies customs and practices developed under the Tamil rulers of the Kingdom of Jaffna and reflects the social history of the Tamils of that region. A special feature of this code was the fusion of two social systems: the matriarchal, a system prevailing in Kerala, and patriarchal, a system prevailing in the East Coast of India, earlier known as Coromandel.
Tesavalamai, contains practices regarding marriage and inheritance and right of property or devolution of property through the female line. According to it, sambandam or marriage is forbidden between close relations except cross cousins, namely children of a brother with children of a sister. Marriage may be conducted without a priest but the customary rites and ceremonies should be observed for it to be valid. The Hindu rite of omam (fire ceremony) may be dropped but the tying of a necklace called tall is essential to the validity of marriage. A wedding saree called koorai is also given to the bride. When a Hindu priest is present, he could either perform the omam ceremony or he may merely conduct a rite called Pillaiyar ceremony. If the parties are too poor to afford a (gold) necklace, just a piece of cord may be sufficient; if the parties cannot afford the services of a priest, Vannan (washerman) and Ampaddan (barber) in addition to their relations should be present.
The property devolves on the females of a family from generation to generation. When a married woman dies intestate, her property goes to her children or the children of her sister. The husband may give the property of his wife to his children as dowry. Tesavalamai not only “conserves the right of women” and allows them to have “separate property, a portion of the acquired property ” but also prohibits husbands from disposing of their property.
Among the many rites, ceremonies, customs and practices the Tamils of Jaffna cherish, one may mention those surrounding the three major events of puberty, marriage and death.