Rites of Passage for the Tamils of South India

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A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person’s progress from one status to another throughout his or her life. In Tamil culture these start before the birth of the baby, and extend past a person’s death.

The Cycle of Life

The Tamils celebrate before and after the baby is born, when the infant grows into a child, when the child comes of age, when the young adult marries, when they die, and after they die. In all of these celebrations the individual is held in the heart of the family. The family is your root and your strength. For the Tamil to leave and be outside the framework of the family is most difficult, but this does happen as children now move to a big city or overseas to work. If you understand about their family, You will understand Tamils more deeply through understanding their rites of passage. In the West, we have largely lost these celebrations. I think we are the poorer for this loss.

From everyculture.com:

Tamil superstitions shape life for pregnant women. They are not supposed to cross a river or climb a hill during pregnancy. During the fifth or seventh month of their pregnancy, women receive bangles or bracelets from their husband’s families. After the baby is born, naming and hair-shaving ceremonies are performed.

Customs marking the coming of age of children vary. When a girl reaches puberty, Tamils celebrate with a feast.

Tamil tradition requires people to avoid saying that a person is dead. Instead, the person is said to have reached the world of Lord Shiva, to have attained a position in heaven, or to have reached the world of the dead. Tamils cremate or bury the dead, with burial being more common among lower castes. The body is prepared for the funeral by being washed, perfumed, and dressed in new clothes. Families observe the anniversary of a death by gathering together, giving gifts to priests, and feeding the poor.

There are differences in the way that a Tamil Brahmin family will celebrate these life stages. For example, they have additional milestones, like the start of formal schooling or the wearing of the sacred thread, which are celebrated. Their rituals are also more formal, with prescribed offerings and chanting, etc.

Tamil families are strong, and in them everybody knows their place, and that they are loved. Many would say that the strength of the family is what drives Tamil culture. These rites of passage are one element in this. In America, where we come from, these rites are not as universally present, and I think we are at a loss due to their lack, and that the family and family member suffers from their absence. This is one reason that I find these rites so interesting and valuable.

We have been privileged to be invited to attend a number of these ceremonies, most of which I think were for lower caste Tamils, not Brahmins. Several are for Westerners treated as Hindu. I have photographed these and made postings on this site. This page provides an easy-to-use guide to all these postings. I hope this will make them more useful and accessible to our readers.

Pregnancy

A special ceremony is held, either in the fifth, seventh, or ninth month of pregnancy.

Bangle Ceremony

Valaikappu: Bangle Ceremony for an Expectant Mother

Birth

About two weeks after the birth of a new baby, a celebration is held to welcome the baby into the family and to give it its new name.

Baby naming ceremony

Tamil Baby Naming–The Thottil Ceremony

Early Childhood

Boys at around two have their first haircut.

Boy’s first haircut

Mottai Addithal – A Tamil Boy’s First Haircut A boy in Tiruvannamalai

Mottai Addithal, First Haircut - Family Puja at Nadananthal Village

Girls at about three years of age have their ears pierced, and will always wear earrings thereafter.

Ear piercing ceremony

Kadhani Vizha – Tamil Ear Piercing Ceremony

Coming of Age

The Upanayanam (Sacred Thread Ceremony) is what makes a Brahmin boy into a Brahmin. This has most ancient roots, as old, I think, as Hinduism itself, certainly older then 3500 years.  

Boy being given sacred thread by father

Boy being given sacred thread by father

When a young woman has her first menstrual period, she is celebrated and welcomed into womanhood.

Public coming of age ceremony

Tamil Coming of Age – Manjal Neerattu Vizha shows a public function for the girl.

, a private function in the family home.

Private coming of age ceremony

Marriage

The Tamil marriage is perhaps the most important of all the rites of passage. Usually the families will have spent months (or years) to find the right partners for their children. The weddings are elaborate and filled with symbolism.

Village marriage ceremony

South Indian Village Wedding

Wedding in Tiruvannamalai of a Western woman and Indian man

Western woman marries Indian man

Old Age

Grandson making fire offering - 70th birthday

Grandson making fire offering – 70th birthday

 

Death

Immediately after death, usually within 24 hours, the body will be cleaned, decorated, and cremated.

Funeral and Cremation

Going to crematorium

Going to crematorium

South Indian Funeral Traditional village woman
Sarasvati’s Mahasamadhi and Cremation
Interment of A Ramana into Samadhi This is how Hindu Saints are buried. 

Disposal of the Ashes

After the cremation, the ashes are gathered and disposed of, usually in water.

Placing ashes in a river

Taking Sarasvati’s Ashes to the River

After the Funeral

About two weeks after the funeral, another big event takes place. This event is timed so that family members who were not able to attend the cremation can come.

Procession to Shradha ceremony

A Kariyam, a Tamil Death Ceremony 
South Indian Village Shradha
A. Ramana Shradha Celebration after the death of a Hindu Saint

One Year after the Funeral

One year after the funeral, there is another special ritual, celebrating the deceased.

One year after death pooja

One-Year Ceremony after Sarasvati’s Mahasamadhi

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Related Posts

To see other posts that you may be interested in, follow this link: Festivals, Celebrations and Rites in Tiruvannamalai.

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3 Responses to “Rites of Passage for the Tamils of South India”

  1. Victor Syrmis Says:

    I’m interested if there are any “rites of passage” ceremonies at age 6 7 or 8 or are these ages part of another ceremonial rite and what title would these younger participants have if they are not central to the ceremony? Thanks. Research material….

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      For Brahmins there is a ‘?String ceremony’[ where they get their Brahmin string that they wear all there life. For other castes, no there are not.l

  2. 3rd trimester Says:

    3rd trimester…

    Rites of Passage for the Tamils of South India « Living in the Embrace of Arunachala…

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