The Tamil rite-of-passage ceremony called Valaikappu occurs in late pregnancy. To celebrate the approaching birth of the first-born child, the ritual is highlighted by the wearing of new glass bangles by the mother-to-be. The expectant mother is presented with a lot of bangles, glass ones of mostly red and green colors. The sound of these bangles is supposed to reach the womb and have good effects on the unborn child. The bangles are removed only during delivery of the baby and given to the midwife.
The Valaikappu is hosted by the mother of the father-to-be. Prayers are invoked for the well-being of the mother-to-be and the fetus. Aarti is also performed. Mostly women are in attendance for this function, although male relatives and friends are also invited. The mother of the mother-to-be presents her with silk sarees in addition to gold and silver bangles. The invitees give gifts to the mother-to-be, then everyone enjoys a big feast.
We attended this ceremony that was held for Sathya, who married Valen about one year ago. Because Valen is the oldest male child of his family, his first child is particularly important, as it is the first of the next generation. So Valen’s family threw the big gathering today for the Valaikappu ritual.
Valaikappu is one of two different kinds of ceremonies that Tamils may perform prior to the birth of a new baby. Valaikappu is held in the seventh or ninth month of pregnancy, and is good as a public function, since both men and women can attend. The other ceremony is Seemantham, performed between the fifth and eight month, and is attended only by women.
We have not yet witnessed the Seemanthan (also called Simantonnayana in North India) ceremony, but we learned something about it here: The specific materials used during Seemanthan are the quills of a porcupine, an ear of ripe paddy, and some Udumbara leaves. The deity invoked is Raka, the presiding deity of the full-moon. The meaning of the ceremony is that the pregnancy should be fruitful; the child should be endowed with sharp and penetrating intellect (like the sharp quill of the porcupine). The child should be beautiful like the full-moon. The gist of the mantra is: “I beseech the goddess Raka. May she make this ceremony blameless. May my son be endowed with sharp intellect.” Seemanthan is for women only, and features several chants in which the ladies sing, “Be a mother of heroic sons.”
Valaikappu is usually held at the mother’s house, but for this function a hall was rented since so many people were invited. We arrived early, so we could photograph the proceedings. When we arrived the women relatives were getting started setting up the ceremonial altar for the new mother-to-be.
One woman, surely a female relative, was starting to set out food items that were to be part of the ceremonial offering.
The hall has many chairs set out. Only two are occupied, both by women. At this time I am the only male present.
Valen’s mother works on the altar layout. There is a small bench on which Sathya will sit. It is covered with cloth.
Mother has made a cone of turmeric. I think this will stand as one of the presiding gods of the ceremony.
Other mothers have started to arrive with their own children. You will see black dots on the faces of small Tamil children. These are to ward off the evil eye.
Carol is asked to remove some of her bangles, to contribute them with the others that will be used in the ceremony. She didn’t have any of the right color, so she didn’t add to the bangle collection after all.
Here is Ranjith holding his infant daughter.
A few more food offerings arrive.
Mother is still at work on the altar. She is adding wicks to the oil lamps. First they must be soaked in the oil, so they will easily light.
Satyha arrives. She seems to be enjoying herself. She is dressed in a fine silk saree, with much jewelry. And she is very pregnant.
The hall is starting to fill up. Mostly with women.
Sathya sits for a moment, beside one of her relatives.
Women are busy setting out food items. More have come.
Mother is lighting the oil lamp.
Food offerings are being laid out nicely onto plates.
Sathya is being prepared for photographs. They have a professional photographer at the event (the man in the striped shirt in the photo).
Part of her costume is this fancy headdress. This is like those that are worn by brides. It made of flowers, and is pretty heavy.
Here is a close-up of the headdress.
Mother is still lighting the lamps. She is almost finished.
Getting the offerings ready is a big job!
They are about ready to be moved to the altar area. Note that among these is the ceremonial gift saree to be given to the expectant mother. After she is given this, she will go into another room and change into it for the rest of the ceremony.
Here is Valen’s mother. She stopped long enough for me to take her photo.
On the other side of the room several women are sitting, preparing gift plates for the women attending.
The offerings are being moved in front of today’s altar.
A stalk of ripe bananas is among the offerings. They stand for prosperity.
The women have set up a little production line, assembling the gifts.
Before the ceremony, people crowd around Sathya.
Here is Sathya with women relatives. They have come here today from Vellore, about 100 km, in a bus rented for the occasion.
For the ceremony Sathya had her hands dyed with henna.
The whole process takes some time, up to several hours to have the henna applied, then a one-hour wait while it dries. After this, the powder can be washed off, and the hands will be dyed for several days.
Here are her palms.
And the back of her hands.
Girls from the time they are six or eight years old start learning how to apply henna. Carol has had her hands done a few times by young girls learning how to do this.
Here are a few photos of the children present. At this age you sometimes cannot tell if the child is a boy or a girl, because they dress them all as girls until the first haircut, usually done about two years old.
The crowd of women is waiting for the ceremony to get going.
Here is Mother making last minute adjustments to the altar.
The gift plates are almost ready, too.
A special offering is placed under the bench that Sathya will use today. It has bananas, and a few other things. They are blessing Sathya with prosperity and good fortune.
Sathya and Valen are being presented with the gift saree from Sathya’s family.
Finishing touches are made to the gift plates.
They have betel leaves, flowers, bangles, bananas, and containers of vibhuti and kumkum. Traditional items.
Outside the hall there are a few monkeys looking at the goings on, watching for a chance to snatch some of the food. The attendees ended up closing these windows to avoid their monkey business.
Now is the procession featuring Sathya wearing the new saree.
She also has a giant mala around her neck. It must weigh several pounds.
She gets ready to sit on the bench. Having a nine-month-pregnant woman go through this is quite a challenge.
She is carefully seated, almost ready to start the ceremony.
In front of her are two brass pots, surely filled with something symbolic. For much of the ceremony she must cross her hands and place them atop these pots.
Then the ceremony starts. The main part of the Valaikappu consists of married women, women with children themselves, coming up to the mother-to-be. They will smudge yellow turmeric on her cheeks, dot her forehead with kumkum, and slip a few bangles on each arm.
This bangle-giving is not so easy with a pregnant woman. Often her hands are swollen from the pregnancy. This was certainly the case with Sathya.
One other part of the ritual is for the women to place kumkum on the area of the new baby, down the back of Sathya’s saree. A friend acted as an attendant with a towel to prevent the kumkum from staining the new saree.
Then this ritual gets done again and again with each of the mothers who came today.
One other part is where they sprinkle water onto her head.
And add a flower to her head as well.
Here is Carol.
…then a dot on her forehead…
…then a sprinkle of water.
Sathya poses for more pictures, wearing the giant mala.
Side view of her big belly.
Next is gifting the mother-to-be.
Valen and Sathya stand for photos.
Then there is the feast.
One special part of this feast is the inclusion of six different rice dishes. Five are on the plate now. The sixth is rice and sambar, served next.
Shortly after this ceremony, Sathya delivered a healthy baby, a boy. The next of the rites of passage occurs about two weeks after the birth. This is when the baby is named. We are invited to this, and will photograph it for you to see and share.
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To see more similar posts that you may be interested in, please look at this link: Rites of Passage for the Tamils of South India