Tuesday, September 15, 2015


If you look carefully round my home you will find maybe a hundred Ganeshas, in different mediums..he might be hidden under a leaf, behind a lamp, on the puja shelf, on my office desk, a doodle on my sketch pad, wherever. He is my ishta deivam,  my favourite among the pantheon of gods. Everything about him is lovable, his pot belly girded with a snake, the elephant head, with his flapping ears, the broken tusk….but the only thing which gives me a little shiver is his inseparable vahanam the mouse.
He is venerated  by most of us every year about this time, and we make his favourite kozhakattais and sundal in the south, the modaks in the north. Why then… (we have asked ourselves this question hundreds of times) do we buy a new Ganapathi only to sink him into the water? There is a touch of sadness, and we have asked seers and pundits who have not given us the right answer. There is only one explanation, according to me. Dust unto dust, a symbol of accepting the path we will all follow. But then, it is not the end, Ganapathi rises like the phoenix out of the ashes he was consigned to year after year when we rejoice and welcome him into our homes once again.
I have decided not to go through this practice. Every year my terracotta puliyar gifted by cousin Ganga sits decorated with flowers and jewelry and as tenderly he is placed back. What I do however, is fashion a stylised form of Ganesh in turmeric bearing a vermillion dot, which is discarded after the puja is over.

Every year I make kozhakattais, sundal, vadai, payasam, promising myself that next year I would do away with rituals knowing that Lord Ganesha will always bless me for my fervour and love for him even if I just pray to him with fruit and flowers. I know he will continue to remove obstacles from my path.  Then Ganesh Chaturti approaches, I see the twinkle in his eyes, and I fall for it, and I am perspiring over making the goodies for him….Will we Indians ever change!!!???

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


If Manu the ancient lawgiver could have forseen the effect of devising a mangalsutra as a symbol of wedded bliss, he might have revised his prescription. It is to his credit that the custom has sustained through 15 centuries according to ancient manuscripts which proclaim the origin to 6th Century A.D. In Sanksrit, mangala means “holy or auspicious” and sutra is thread.
India being a land of diversity there are are various mangalsutras.   The Lakshmi thali worn by the Telegus, the Ela Thali by the Malayalis, the kumbha thali worn by the Tamil Kshatriyas, the  diamond pendant on black beads by some North Indians, and the Maharashtrians, wear a pendant of two vati ornaments. Originally in South India only the yellow thread was worn, but given up due to impracticality and fashion trends in the chain designs.
Adi Sankara in his Soundarya Laheri  emphasised on the significance of the mangal sutra  presumably worn for the long life of the husband. Hindu women led by religious custom and social expectations would never remove the thali, even on dressy occasions when other heavy necklets were worn. Of course the other symbols of a married woman, a sumangali were the toe rings, the kumkum or bindi, and glass bangles.
The woman was shorn of all these symbols when her husband died. In the old days it was this  custom which branded a woman a widow, so no man went near her, and devoid  of these beautiful adornments she looked “less attractive”, to men who would otherwise give an unattached woman the glad eye. In some communities the head of the widow is shaved and she wears widows weeds  which loudly proclaim her status. White in India is also associated with widowhood, all of these cruel customs which need to be dispensed with.
Feminists today question the significance of the mangalsutra, and, recently spotlighted in the news was “unequal power play” between the married couple, describing the thali round the woman’s neck as merely shackles, and controlled by a man who “owned” her.  We all recall the big hooha that went on followed by debates, in the media which is quick to grab unusual stories.  Some women went to the extent of removing the thali and throwing it off in the presence of a smiling husband, and it was certainly a show of emancipation and that too in conservative South Indian society.
Society is indeed dynamic and cultural traditions were cast for certain reasons which were valid for that period of time.  One needs to bow down to the wheels of change, to a very modern society which does not recognise the need for all these symbols. Why then do we go through the rituals of marriage? Is it a drama, a spectacle endured for the benefit of a large audience?  Why stretch it to five days, including traditions which might not be really ours like mehndhi, sangeeth and so on? 
For some of us, the thali is a comfort jewel, when we as young brides  valued and honoured it.  It becomes so much a part of daily dressing that, the occasional absence when it needs to be redone, or during hospital stays, one feels lost and deprived. Not so the next gen I thought, so it surprised us no end when our Bengali daughter-in-law, so thali driven wears it all the time!! To me, it is a security symbol, and I am so conditioned to it, that bereft of this chain, I don’t feel fully dressed.
A  symbol of marriage be it a wedding ring, or a chain, or just the yellow thread, does seem important at the time of the wedding ceremony, and there are only a handful of women and men who would sign at the registrars office without a sentimental symbol of being married, irrespective of religion. caste or creed.
I have to share this about an aunt in her younger days, who would hang her thali over a peg on the coatstand every night before she went to bed, wearing it only after her bath in the morning. She did this surreptiously, covering the chain with a towel, knowing it would incite a great deal of criticism from elders in the household, not to mention having to face the horror writ large on the face of the maids! One fine day, thanks to a memory lapse she forgot to wear it.  As she was stirring her curry, she remembered, and reached the coatstand in a flash only to find  the thali  gone.
Unable to publicise her loss she went about in asking her children and her husband in whispers whether they had seen the four sovereigns thali . The immediate family was amused, as they watched her pull out the drawers in a frenzy and diving into the clothes cupboard in a futile hunt.  Aunty dare not ask the maids, knowing she would be reprimanded , and she was nervous to incur the wrath of her in-laws. Happily, her husband produced the chain, which he had safely put away, and couldn’t resist lecturing her on carelessness. On his part he couldn’t care a whit whether she wore it or not.
68 years of Independence and are our women independent or not and are they hung up on age old customs or is it plain conditioning? Would you rather not wear a thali or is it part of your skin? These are questions I would love to hear the answers to!!