Yes, you read it right. This blog is titled The Puberty Ceremony. All my Tamil friends will know exactly what I am going to be talking about; but for my non-Tamil friends, let me explain.
In the Tamil culture, when a girl has her first period, it is celebrated greatly. All the relatives are informed of it, regardless of whether they are male or female. Families come over to the house to meet the girl. She is presented with gifts. She is given special types of food. She wears a saree for the first time. The priest is also called to the house to conduct rituals to bless the girl with happiness and fertility.
Why?!…I hear you thinking. Well this whole ritual or celebration, whichever you want to call it, dates back centuries ago. According to the Tamil culture, the purpose of the ‘puberty ceremony’ was for the girl’s family to show to the rest of the community that their daughter was now ready for marriage: her period marks her fertility and her ability to produce children, which was considered the main role of the girl/woman in marriage centuries ago. Now, however, social views have changed so much that every young girl and boy questions the purpose of such a ceremony, which according to them holds very little value and has very little meaning.
Yes, my parents held a puberty ceremony for me as well. Retrospectively, I can be certain that it was a very awkward experience indeed. First part of the ceremony involved me wearing a ‘pattu’ skirt and blouse (traditional Tamil attire, girls wear for cultural/religious occasions); I had to sit down holding betel leaves in both my hands, whilst aunts and uncles stylishly dabbed some cold milk and grass on my head – reasons for which I honestly do not know. Then I was asked to sit in bath tub filled with dirty water; one by one, my aunts and uncles stood in a queue and took it in turns to pour some of this dirty water onto my head – reasons for which, again, I do not know. After this, I was asked to get changed into a half saree and sit in front of a priest whilst he chanted a series of mantras about being blessed with good health and fertility. The final part of the ceremony involved me standing in front of 150 or so family members whilst aunties came in pairs and ‘blessed’ me with trays of various food items – again, reasons for which I still do not know.
What I find most baffling is that there is so much to these rituals, and I can be certain that each element of it is very significant. However, whenever I asked my parents or my aunts and uncles, they seem to have no clue, hence I do not have any idea either. So here comes my first question, why conduct such rituals or get children to sit through such rituals when the parents know very little themselves. What I find even more entertaining is the fact ‘puberty ceremonies’ nowadays, are so grand and elaborate; some families take months of planning and spend heap loads of money for a ceremony which they do not fully understand the real meaning of themselves.
So at a time when I was feeling very sceptical about the purpose of such ceremonies, my friend posted a Buzzfeed article onto our Whatsapp group about how ‘period parties’ are actually becoming a thing amongst loads of families from different cultural groups. It made me look at such celebrations with a very different angle. The reasons for such popularity is apparently because it enables a girl to feel proud of menstruation. Since reading that I came to realise that I am not against the idea of a puberty ceremony; especially in this day and age, because it actually encourages girls to be more open about their periods and gives them more freedom in that sense. It also enables boys to be just as aware about these important issues associated with the woman’s body, which is crucial.
What does however frustrate me is when such rituals are conducted to prove a point to other families by using the excuse of ‘Oh it’s a huge part of our culture’. Well, if it is such a huge part of our culture, why is it that 10 years on, since my own ceremony, I still have no clue about the true meaning behind all those rituals?
Food for thought!