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Potent Tools of Life

Rejoicing during births, marriages, birthdays and other sundry ocassions adds spice to life

If we are ever ready to do something, it is to celebrate. In fact in Indian astrology, there is a certain combination of stars and planets which is described as bringing vastralabha or benefit of good clothes. While this may seem funny in the present day context, in olden times, new clothes symbolized celebrations. They were bought by the family on festive occasions or gifted by another family on a happy occasion of theirs. So vastralabha indicated prosperity of the entire family and happy days of celebration and fun ahead. Celebrations and the need to share the joy of the moment are among man’s oldest sources of happiness.

Some celebrations are common to people across the world. The manner in which these occasions are celebrated may, however, differ even from region to region, let alone culture to culture.

The moment one hears that a child is to be born, the mother is fussed over. On the fifth month, a function is celebrated by the would-be-father’s parents. On the seventh month, a function is celebrated by the would-be-mother’s parents for the well-being of their daughter and grandchild. Once the child is born, generally on the eleventh day and in some societies even earlier, a function is held called the namakaranam. On this day, the child’s horoscope is cast and the name given. The name is whispered into the baby’s ear and also written on a bed of wheat by the maternal uncle.

By the time, the child turns one — sometimes even in the eighth month — a function called annaprasam is held. On this day, the child is fed rice for the first time. The first birthday is itself a cause for celebration.

The first day of learning is celebrated too by praying to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. In South India, the child is fed with sarkarai pongal or sweet rice before being sent to school.

The entry into adolescence is marked by two ceremonies. Young boys who belong to the Brahmin community go through a thread ceremony or upanayanam. When girls attain puberty, it is cause for celebration.

Marriage is a lavish affair in India. A marriage is never seen only as a matter concerning the bride and the groom. It is a meeting of two families. Though modern trends have restricted the definition of a family to a nuclear family, even now in villages and traditional families, the ambit of a family includes parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins. So the process of getting to know the two sides of the families during marriage is a long one. Arrangement has been made for this by spreading a wedding ceremony over five or seven days.

A marriage function is very enjoyable. There is constant supply of good food. And there are fine clothes and jewels to wear.

The sixtieth birthday is an important landmark in a man’s life. Naturally in those days when life expectancy was as low as 32 years, to reach the age of sixty was an achievement. Astrologically, it was the time when Saturn and Jupiter came back to the places that they occupied in the natal chart. Therefore it is celebrated almost like another wedding!

The eightieth birthday is an even more lavish celebration. Though today things have changed, earlier only a man’s birthday was celebrated. The woman’s aging was an inevitable process accepted as naturally as the day that follows the night. This is because in the traditional Indian psyche, the Indian male is so important and it is in his longevity that rests the future of his wife. In fact, a woman who is married is referred to as sumangali. A sumangali prathinai is a ritual that precedes every festival or auspicious occasion — this function is a thanksgiving to the Almighty for the husband’s well-being and prayer for his long life.

One can mention death too in the same strain as one mentions festivities organized at wedding time and other happy occasions, it is because death itself is viewed as liberation of the soul. On the thirteenth day, a mini-wedding is conducted. Till the twelfth day after death the rituals relate to appeasing the spirits and praying that the departed soul rest in peace. On the thirteenth day, there are no rituals. New clothes are bought and a lavish feast is laid out more so if the death is of an old person who has lived his or her life fully. This feast indicates that the bad times are over and once again the family is set on the route to happiness and long life.

In addition to all this one very potent tool of worship in India is fasting. On ekadasi or the moonless night, people fast and so do they on festivals like Shivaratri. They may also have their longings and desires, and to seek fulfillment, they fast and pray to the deity. Each day of the week has a certain significance and people fast on the day that is relevant to the wish they are praying for.

If fasting is the ultimate in restraint, good food is typical of celebrations in India. If you just take a peep at all the kitchens across the country, you will find a range of delicacies, which have some symbolism, both in terms of health and taste, and typify a certain celebration. Music too is an integral part of all celebrations. Perking you up with the many festivals Indians have indeed learnt the art of celebration.