Girls Coming of Age
The occasion of a girl attaining puberty is a big event. Non-Brahmins
celebrate the event as a sort of matrimonial advertisement by inviting
relations and friends. On the day of attaining puberty the girl is given
a bath by the closest kith and kin and then isolated for about a
week, during which period she is given rich food. A piece of saffron and
flowers from her hair is placed under the title of the roof of the house
at an auspicious moment. On the ninth day, the saffron and flowers are
taken out and some milk is sprinkled on them. They are then buried
and the girl is released from seclusion. She is given another bath, dressed
like a bride and welcomed in to the main portions of
the house, with 'arathi' to ward off evil spirits and evil eyes. A grand
feast follows and the participants present gifts to the girl.
Between puberty and marriage, the girl wears 'santhupottu' or
lamp black paste on her fore-head and applies collyrium
to her eye-lids. In leisured classes, she should not
see or be seen by men outside her immediate circle. There are
restrictions on the types of flowers and ornaments she can use to adorn
herself. But these days social convention and taboos are being broken
by the new generation of educated strata of society who wants to have
an uninhabited free life without the restrictions of tradition.
Boy Steps into Adulthood
The Chettiars of Chettinad perform the Karthigai
for boys and the Thiruvathirai for girls. Customs demands that each
youth should participate in this ceremony before marriage and during teen-age.
The ceremony can be held only in the month of Karthigai
on the day when Karthigai is the ruling star. Girls can have their ceremony
in the month of Margazhi on the day when Thiruvathirai is the ruling star.
The Jews are said to have a similar ceremony for their boys. There is
the day of 'Bar Mitz Vah', the traditional Jewish ritual of passage
to adult responsibilities.
The paternal and maternal relations of
the boy or the girl attend the ceremony and congratulate him or her. He
or she is smartly dressed. A shawl is put around the boy and he is required
a skull cap or turban. On a horse back, he rides to the temple. On the
same day, there will be ceremonies for several other boys from the caste
in each house of the village, stopping very briefly in front of each house
of the caste, to be blessed by the elders and greeted by admiring
friends by offering arathi to ward off evil eyes.
A marriage can be contracted only after the Karthigai
ritual has been gone through. It is an occasion to advertise eligible
boys. Parents of eligible girls take due to notice and start negotiations.
Since the ritual marks the transaction from boyhood to
manhood, the youth gets a status in the event of the death. Those who
have not gone through the Karthigai ritual are treated as children, and
their dead bodies are not cremated according to the status usually given
to a man on his death.