The transition from childhood to adulthood in any culture is a reason to celebrate, although different cultures may do so in ways they deem fit according to their beliefs and value systems. The cultural beliefs and practices of our society are what makes us unique and what give us an identity.
The starting of a girl’s menstruation marks her change from a child to a young woman, and is an important transition. The gender roles of traditional Indian women are always open to debate, and while some liberals may question the real purpose of the coming of age prayer, the prayer is generations old and is still practised somehow modified in Durban. When a Tamil speaking Hindu girl starts her menstruation, there is a special prayer performed to celebrate the occasion. It is called the Manjal Neerattu Vizha or Turmeric Bathing Ceremony that is held after nine days from the start of the girl’s first period. The celebration therefore lasts nine days and in Durban the prayer is sometimes held at households.
The Starting Of Menstruation
In Durban once the Tamil girl commences her menstruation generally during her teenage period, she is immediately secluded for a week until her turmeric bathing. She has to start a fast with only vegetable dishes. A priest is consulted on the onset to predict according to astrology using the time and date of the start of her menstruation whether it was a good or bad time, if it would bring her fortune or misfortune. If it is bad timing, she would have to do additional prayers. She is to remain at home and is not allowed any contact with males. There is a belief that if she makes eye contact or move around with males during this time she will get pimples on her face. This is a period where she is considered to be impure.
The Tumeric Cleansing Ritual
The final part is the Manjal Neerattu Vizha, a lavish public function, where both male and female friends are invited. In Durban, it is normally held in the yard of the household. The girl is made to sit on a bench with another young girl that has not reached puberty next to her for company and to receive the gifts as women have turns in congratulating the young woman. The women then have turns to rub turmeric on her face, turn a coin 3 times in front of her face and place a red dot over her forehead to ward off evil eyes. The men are allowed to attend the function and present her with gifts but do not partake in the turmeric cleansing. The girl’s maternal uncles referred to as her mama are supposed to give her gifts of money or jewellery. The girl’s grandparents are supposed to give her the first sari, which is traditionally an Indian attire worn by Indian women as a drape over their bodies. The girl wears the sari for the first time on this day. This ceremony resembles to the marriage ceremony and is said to be a way of telling the community there is a young woman who is ready to marry in the household.
By: Yoveshnie Pillay