Sunday, May 4, 2008

Celebrating Puberty

When my phone rang in the middle of the night last Friday, I woke up startled wondering who on earth was calling at such an odd hour. 'This better be important', I muttered to myself as I picked up the phone and heard my cousin from India announce that her daughter has 'come of age' and that they are having a 'Sadangu'. Half asleep, angry to be woken up and surprised that she called at all, this piece of news overwhelmed me! I froze, struggling to find the right thing to say; thankfully, my wife nudged me and whispered 'congratulations'. I muttered the same and handed the phone to her, heaving a sigh of relief.

Congratulations? Is that what you say? Actually, did I need to know this? Did anyone except the parents need to know this? And does it have to be celebrated through an elaborate ritual with guests? While Hinduism is loaded with rituals, this particular practice of celebrating a girl's puberty is distinctly Dravidian and as far as I know this is only observed by non-Brahmin Tamils.  Traditionally, when girls were married off as soon as they hit puberty, the celebrations served the purpose of letting everyone in the community know that the girl is available for marriage. But, does this still hold relevance? While puberty is an important milestone for a girl and deserves celebration, it should be a personal and private affair. Instead of announcing the news to the whole world, take the girl shopping, take a vacation, send her out with her friends - anything to make her feel special, not embarrassed.

As for my daughter, I would be happy and proud when she transitions from a little girl to a young lady, but I sure won't be calling up anybody in the middle of the night!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I am an assamese hindu and I was surprised to find that like the assamese non-brahmins, the tamil non-brahmins also celebrate a girl's puberty. In Assam it's called "tulani biya." The celebration is almost like any other marriage. A banana plant symbolises the would be groom. The girl is given gold ornaments and silk mekhela sador (assamese traditional dress) by her parents and relatives. It's a seven days function done only by the ladies, close male members help in carrying out the function.

    This function is only celebrated among non-tribals and mostly by the non-mongolian assamese. Assam must surely had some dravidian connection long connection in the past.