Instagram Interludes

Last weekend, I ended up in Serangoon Road aka Little India to buy some things for my Diwali preparations and the store I wanted to go to was smack bang in the middle of the Diwali market there. Here are some photos I took with my phone of the beautiful market!

Diwali Bazar 1

Diwali Bazar 2

Diwali Bazar 3

Diwali Bazar 4

Diwali Bazar 5

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Family Stories: Family Adoptions

Following my last post, I started thinking more about what makes a woman a mum. I have also been watching this drama where a woman is forced to give up her five-year-old daughter to her sister-in-law (husband’s sister) who is childless. She has another, older daughter and is pregnant with her third child, which also happens to be a girl. Her husband had taken loans from his sister’s husband who also pressurises the couple for the adoption. The woman’s mother-in-law also forces the issue as she wants her daughter to be happy since the daughter’s mother-in-law is forcing her son to divorce her since she is childless. The only person who is on her side is the woman’s brother-in-law (husband’s brother), but he is silenced by the others in the family. At this point in the drama, the child has been handed over, but everyone is miserable. I am sure the ending will be positive, as it happens in all dramas, but this got me thinking about something that has happened in my own family.

My mum is the oldest of four girls, and when my grandmother was pregnant with her fourth child (maybe in the hope of having a boy), her sister-in-law (my grandfather’s sister) who was married, but childless offered to adopt the child if it was another girl. My aunt was born and was informally adopted by her aunt. Why informally you may ask? This was because she was betrothed at birth to a cousin who happened to have the same gotra as her aunt. Now because marriage within a gotra was prohibited, the aunt could never formally adopt her or even have her call her mum. She lived with my mum’s aunt all her life, a mere 10-minute walk from her mum’s place and used to meet her sisters often. She always knew who her parents were and used to call them mum and dad and her adopted mum and dad as aunt and uncle, but she didn’t go to the same school as her sisters and perhaps in a small way resented the hold her sisters had over her.

When she got married, it was my grandparents who gave her away and this rankled my grandaunt all her life. She was incredibly jealous of my grandmother and my mum and her sisters and would resent anytime my aunt spent with them. This went on for around 60 odd years until the grand aunt died last year.

She was a mother to my aunt in all ways that mattered but never heard her adopted daughter call her mum, while she had to hear her sister-in-law being called mum all the time. I would think the resentment she had within herself was completely justified.

Then I started thinking about my grandmother. How would she have felt, having to hand over her child to someone else, even though she was her own sister-in-law? Would she have felt pressurised by her family to give her up? Or did she do it with full consciousness?

The person who was most stressed was my aunt according to me. She was constantly under pressure between her mum and adoptive mum and had to play a balancing game all her life. It is only now, when she is past 60 and her adoptive mum has passed on, that she is planning a holiday to stay with her birth mum for a month. How sad is that! She had to always watch her thoughts, words and actions in case her adoptive mum took offence in something she said or did, especially when it related to her birth family.

This situation was something I’d lived with my whole life and was not something I really thought about till now because this was normal in my family. But watching the drama and then relating it to what happened/is happening in my own family made me see it in a different light, one that is more emphatic, I hope.

I hope sharing this family story helps you see adoptive families, especially those who have been adopted by their own family a little differently. Life is never black or white and this is one situation where the shades of grey are more prominent.

Festivals of India: Thiruvathirai

 

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Chidambaram Temple..Source

A festival unique to the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Thiruvathirai or Arudhra Darisanam is a Hindu festival celebrated on the full moon night in the Tamil month of Margazhi (approximately in December–January), which is also the longest night in the year. The Thiruvathirai vrata is one of the eight significant vratas dedicated to Lord Shiva as it is considered to be the nakshaththram of Lord Nataraj and is the longest night of the year. The word

 

Thiruvathirai or Arudhra in Tamil means “sacred big wave”, that was used when this universe was created by Lord Shiva about 132 trillion years ago. The famous Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu, celebrates this temple with great pomp and splendour and has been celebrating for more than 1500 years, as evident from literary and historical evidence in the form of stone inscriptions.

 

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Main Statue of Lord Natraj at Chidambaram Temple…Source 

The festival celebrates Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance of Natraj. The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva represents five activities – Creation, Protection, Destruction, Embodiment and Release. In essence, it represents the continuous cycle of creation and destruction. This cosmic dance takes place in every particle and is the source of all energy. Arudra Darshan celebrates this ecstatic dance of Lord Shiva. Arudhra or Thiruvathirai signifies the golden red flame and Shiva performs the dance in the form this red-flamed light. Lord Shiva is supposed to be incarnated in the form of Lord Nataraja during the Arudra Darshan day.

 

Lord Shiva never took birth and therefore there is no nakshaththram dedicated to celebrate his birthday. It was mentioned in the Hindu mythology that once Lord Vishnu was resting on the great serpent and Adhi seesha felt that He was in some deep thinking. On asking Lord Vishnu told Adhi seesha that he was remembering the dance of Lord Shiva. This answer invoked the desire in Adhi seesha to witness this great dance. He asked Lord Vishnu how this desire could be fulfilled. Lord Vishnu then urged him to do rigorous ‘tapasya’ at Chidambaram’. Adhi seesha followed his advice and devotedly prayed to Lord Shiva for a very long time. At the same there, a muni and devotee of Lord Shiva known as Viyaagra Paadha also lived in that same place. He worshipped to Lord Shiva to obtain the legs of a tiger in order to pluck flowers at the dawn, without being touched by the bees for offering to the God. He also observed ‘tapas’ to see His great ‘Nataraj’ dance. Finally, Lord Shiva was pleased with their prayers and devotion and he showed his ‘Nataraj’ dance in Chidambaram on the day of Thiruvaadhirai. From then onwards the ‘Nataraaja’ image of Shiva is worshipped here with great fervour on this day.

 

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Temple processions during Thiruvathurai….Source

Tamil hymns of Maanikavasagar’s Thiruvasagam (particularly the hymns Thiruvempavai and Thiruppalliezhuchi) are chanted in temples instead of Sanskrit mantras. On the very day of Thiruvathirai, the idols of Nataraja (Lord Shiva) and his consort Shivagami (Parvati) are taken out of the temple premises for a grand procession. It is one of the major events in almost all the Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu.

 

In Tamil homes, during Tiruvathirai, a special dish called Thiruvadhirai Kali is made. The kali is made with rice, jaggery, moong dal, coconut, cardamom and ghee. The kali is usually eaten with a special curry called Thiruvathirai ezhlu curry koottu which is made out of seven vegetables, that is cooked and served on this day. The vegetables used for this kootu include pumpkin, ash gourd, raw bananas, field beans, sweet potatoes, colocasia, potatoes, eggplants etc.

 

 

Sumangali Pooja Part 2

Please read Part 1 before continuing to read Part 2

Before the sumangalis come, the house is decorated with rice flour rangolis and the lamps are lit in the home altar. Two separate big silver lamps called kuthu villaku are also kept ready to be lit just before the function starts.

When the sumangalies come, we welcome them and give them haldi and kumkum as well flowers to keep in their hair. Then the lady of the family (aka me) lights the big kuthu villakkus. We kept each lamp next to an altar, one each for a sumangali and the young girl. The altar was made using a small low stool (called palagai in Tamil) which has some rangoli done on it. On this is kept the nine-yard saree (which has been made madi in the morning) and the pavadai (for the sumangali and the kanya) and then a mirror is kept behind it in such a way your reflection is seen. This is so that any sumangalis or kanyas of the family who are dead, but who are present in the house at the time of the function can see themselves. We also decorate the mirror with a comb, haldi kumkum, flowers and some gold ornaments like chains, bangles etc. A small pooja is then performed and the entire family (including men if present) offer prayers to the ancestral women of the family and seek their blessings.

We then invite the sumangalis and the kanyas to sit down to eat on plantain leaves. Two leaves, one on top of the other lightly apart, is also kept for the God (called Swami Elai) which in some families, one member of the family would then eat. Before the women sit down (they have to first stand in front of their leaves), the lady organising this function will call the names of all sumangalis in the family. If no names can be found (like in our case), we just call for all known and unknown sumangalis of the family to come and partake the meal. The invited sumangalis and kanyas are actually eating on behalf of the departed souls.

While serving, the food served has to be served to the swami elai first and then to the others in a clockwise direction. In my place, what we did was everyone helped in serving the dishes and then just before the rice was served, the sumangalis sat down to eat. After the rice is served, all the women and girls will have to be given a drop of water from a silver cup called Panchpatram which is a small silver cup with a spoon which men usually use for their gayatri mantram and sandhyavandhanam after they have their sacred thread on.

The menu is fairly traditional and so I prepared Paruppu payasam, sweet mango pachadi, grated cucumber pachadi, raw banana curry, beans curry, ash gourd kootu, snake gourd kootu, bitter gourd pitla, mor kozambu, Mysore rasam, plain white rice, urad dal vadai, boli, panagam, neer mor (like a thin buttermilk) and a chutney made with curry leaves. My mother-in-law made the pitla at her home and also the dough for the vadai and boli which we then made in my home. A mix of sukku podi (dry ginger) and jaggery also will be kept, which is given to all after eating to enhance digestion.

Once the food is served, the lady organising the function willl do neivedhyam and show karpooram to the pudavai ilai and all the people from the host’s family will put flowers on the pudavai ilai and do namaskarams to that. Generally while putting flowers elders will tell us to pray for a wish to happen and then do it. It is strongly believed that the wishes made during this time will be fulfilled.

Once the lunch is over, the lady of the house has to clean the leaves used for eating. Then the women are given pan to eat and also asked to apply the specially prepared turmeric and mehendi and also given flowera again. We also offer them haldi kumkum again and give them the saree/blouse/pavadai. This is actually optional, but since this was the first time I was doing this, we decided to buy sarees for all plus pavadais for the little girls. I also gave them some money to make up for the lack of providing them with the oil, soap, shampoo that morning.

After this, the four of us (BB, GG, S & me) bowed down to the women and did namaskar to them and they blessed us with akshadai (rice made yellow with some turmeric which is very auspicious). They also blessed BB for his poonal and then left. We then sat down to eat.

By the time everyone went home and I was able to put my feet up, I was up on my feet for almost 12 straight hours! I was super exhausted that day.

I hope with this post, I’ve been able to shed some light on the customs of our community. This post is also a reminder for me if I have to do this another time on this function and also for BB & GG in the future. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below….

Sumangali Pooja Part 1

So last weekend, I did the Sumangali Prarthanai which is usually done by a married woman in each family or clan when there is a major ceremony happening in a family like weddings or thread ceremonies. Some families (like my mum) also do this on an annual basis.

The Sumangali Pooja is a typical brahmin function, I can’t say I have seen other communities doing this. In our community, this pooja is done to invoke to seeking the blessings of the ancestral women of the family who enjoyed a long and prosperous family life and left this world as sumangalis (those who died before their husbands) and any young unmarried girls in the family. Every family will differ slightly in the way they do this function, but by and large, the procedure should be more or less similar. Unlike most other functions or religious poojas, this function is a 100% ladies function. The men in the family are only for decorative or helpful purposes and have no real role to play. Usually, the oldest woman present will take the mantle of the master of ceremonies and lead the function as she will be the most knowledgeable of all present.

Usually, these days people have around 5 Sumangalis and 2 young girls, though you can have any odd number like 3, 5, 7, 9 or even 11 and 13! You can invite both married women from within your family or outside for the function. The day before the function, all the invited sumangalis are given sesame oil, shikhakai, and turmeric and henna in advance or in the early hours of the day of pooja. The tradition is they have to apply mehendi and take oil bath and also apply turmeric while taking a bath which is considered very auspicious. They will come home the next day by taking oil bath and wear a 9 yards saree which has been made madi (means they have to wash and dry it separately without touching other clothes or even with their hands). These days, especially in places like Singapore, where a saree is getting rarer, people may not be comfortable wearing a nine-yard saree, so sometimes, they wear a normal six-yard saree or even other clothes, come to the host’s house and then change into the nine-yard saree.

Generally, if a daughter is getting married on the girl’s side they will do it compulsorily before the wedding and keep the daughter who is going to get married as one of the pondugal. But in the boy’s house also they do the sumangali prarthanai but they can either do it before the wedding with their family members or they can either do it once the daughter in law comes into the house. This function should also be done only once a year by a family. So in our case, since I just did the function, if S’ cousin gets married anytime in the next one year, his mum (S’ aunt) can’t do it before the wedding, as it’s usually done. The ideal day of the week for this function is a Friday, but these days with people working and children in school during the week, Fridays are not practical so most people do it on a Sunday. The inauspicious time of Rahu Kaal is also to be taken into account when choosing the time. On Sundays the Rahu kaal is in the afternoon, so this function which ends at lunch is perfect to be done on a Sunday.