Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tying the knot

One of the main thrills of coming to India was the opportunity to get close to and understand another culture and, as a result, the last couple of days have been a highlight, if not the highlight, of my time here so far. Two of the boys who live in my household were up for their Threading Ceremony – Upanayanam – the Hindu equivalent of Christian confirmation but just for boys and only for the Brahmin caste. The preparations had started days before with the construction of bamboo scaffolding on my roof terrace to support the awning over the "dining hall" and slowly the walls in the courtyard were painted with the names of the boys – Lokhi and Rinko; the stage was built, covered with red mud and decorated with floor paintings and people started to arrive from far and wide. Yesterday morning it all kicked off and I was woken at 7am by the loud clanging of pots – the cooking had begun - and on opening my windows, I discovered an army of cooks, six gas burners had appeared and were warming huge cauldrons of food and there were mountains of vegetables in the process of being chopped up – and this was only for the lunch on the first day. One of the great things about the whole occasion was that it was a truly family affair – with women playing as big a part as the men albeit at different times. Mothers, aunts and grandmas started off the proceedings with a puja and then, preceded by the band, they made their way to the local temple with their offerings – coconuts, bananas and the like. On their return, mother and son stepped onto the stage where they were both daubed in an orange paste made from turmeric by various female relatives amongst much teasing and hilarity. Meanwhile, up on the roof terrace the cooking continued apace – there were now around 100 people to serve for supper. Preparations were also being made for the next day and I went to bed last night accompanied by a 4-foot cauldron of fried fish heads which had been put inside for safe-keeping!

This morning, mother and father joined their respective sons for a service that preceded the head-shaving. This seemed to be an extremely laid back affair – they stopped for a banana milkshake mid-flow and the priest thought nothing of answering his mobile phone during the ritual – "Sorry dear can't talk – in the middle of performing a Threading Ceremony". At head-shaving time, however, the family disappeaed and left the boys to the mercy of the barber and the photographers. Rinko seemed to take the cut-throat razor in his stride but Lokhi looked far from thrilled about losing his hair despite the auspicious occasion. Suitably bald, the boys were now back on stage for the main event – this time only accompanied by their fathers. The sacred thread is folded three times – each strand representing the goddesses of mind, word and deed - and is worn for the rest of their life - replaced once a year in separate ceremony. There were a few more rituals that followed but by this time I'd lost the thread so to speak. The final ceremony, however, brought the women back onto centre stage with offerings to the newly formed "saints" who took on the role of beggars. Following this we, by now around 500 of us, retired upstairs for lunch. I think it was a rare privilege to be part of such an occasion which, despite the numbers, felt very private and intimate at times. To see more pictures click here.


viksdes said...

hi susie, have been reading your blogs for sometime now.Your description of the ceremony brought back some memories of my own. Hope your enjoying life in Bhawanipatna and do keep an Indian it is always great to see India from an expats perspective.

Shiva said...

Hi, why there is no update for quite some time. I am keen follower of your blog and really happy to understand your perspectives and feel your experiences.

Susie Price said...

Sorry there have been no updates recently. I have had a month's holiday in the UK but arrived back in Bhawanipatna today so will be putting up some new posts soon.