27 November, 2013

The TamBrahm Series - Part 7 - Valaikaapu and Seemantham Part 1

I had done a whole series of satirical posts on TamBrahm weddings and customs.  Here are the links to those :

(Image courtesy : suga-namasivayam.blogspot.com via Google)
Thought the TamBrahm saga had ended with just the wedding posts and the Shanti Muhurtham, did you ?  Well, we TamBrahms have a lot more in store.  I mean, trust a TamBrahm to make someone’s day, huh ? 
Well, moving on ….. like I’ve said in one of my earlier posts, the Shanti Muhurtham takes the “tired out of their minds” bride and groom to the flowered valleys of Kashmir and back.  I can just about imagine the extent to which the flower business depends on these Shanti Muhurthams.  Now, tired or not, the bride and the groom will be expected to work their magic and produce progeny to carry on the “family name”.  Fortunately, they are indeed given nine months to bring forth the said infant. 
Once the bride gets pregnant, she will have a whole horde of well-wishers, giving her rather helpful pointers on how to get through pregnancy, all happy and healthy.  There will be aunties who insist on giving the mother-to-be remedies for morning sickness even if the bride does not have the said symptoms.  There might have been times when, just to escape that look of incredulity and from having to explain a lack of morning sickness, many a mother-to-be has indeed thrown up from sheer frustration. 
During the 6th month, or better still, the 8th month, TamBrahms have two important functions – the Valai Kappu (where the mother-to-be’s arms are stacked with glass bangles) and the Seemantham (a mini wedding of sorts, where prayers are said and a homam done).  The prayers said during the Seemantham are said to create positive vibrations which the foetal brain is believed to absorb and record.  That is what the ancient shastras say.  Don’t know if this is true though.   I am yet to ask Macadamia if she remembers the positive vibrations from my seemantham !
The ValaiKappu (the bangle ceremony) is the only function amongst the TamBrahms where a black saree is bought.  I don’t mean to say that sarees for all the other TamBrahm functions are borrowed !  As per tradition, the colour black is avoided for any given function.  No – that does not mean all the women and men in the TamBrahm community dye their black hair, blonde or get highlights done every time there is a function in the offing.  Now that would be some sight.  Hair Salons would then virtually subsist on the TamBrahm community.  What I mean is that black clothes are supposed to be avoided for anything auspicious, traditionally speaking.  Personally though, I’ve never been able to understand this aversion towards black clothes or the avoidance of black clothes.  Questions raised during my childhood are yet to be met with a satisfactory answer.  So, there !
ValaiKaappu is essentially a ladies’ function.  One does find a few mamas around during the function like mustard seeds in a huge pot of sambar but essentially, ladies rule the roost.  When ladies rule the roost, things are bound to get rather raucous.  ValaiKaappu is no different.  The tradition here is that the mother-to-be has to have her arms stacked with glass bangles and all the elderly female relatives have to have a turn, stacking bangles on the mother to be’s arms.  Some expectant mothers' arms have been known to actually stretch, to accommodate the bangles that are heaped upon her.  Such is the power of TamBrahm mamis !
Now why the mother to be is asked to sit on the floor, is beyond me.  Probably is some sort of yoga posture, designed to alleviate the usual back aches and bloated feet problems that most ladies have, at that stage of their pregnancy.  How does it alleviate it ?  Simple !  Sitting on the floor is so uncomfortable then, that the mother to be simply forgets the rest of her physical problems for that short span of time.  She also, rather helpfully, has to get up multiple number of times and sit back down multiple number of times.  Sheer joy, that one !
Usually, the bangles bought would be a couple of sizes smaller than the poor mother-to-be's hands and the mamis would then bring out their magic wares in the form of a huge tub of soap water or a large tub of Vaseline.  Contrary to what you might be thinking with an increasing sense of horror, they do not make the expectant mothers drink the soap water.  The expectant mother is asked to dip her hands in that pot of soap water and the soap is supposed to help the bangles slide on.   Dream on ! During my ValaiKappu, soap water simply did not do the trick and the mamis in question could not find Vaseline.  Some bright soul decided to take things a step further and she came back with a large bottle of Vicks Vaporub (which is essentially Vaseline based).  There I was at the end of it all, bedecked in my gorgeous new black saree, arms laden with bangles that jingled if I as much as inhaled and exhaled, smelling like a vat of eucalyptus and menthol !   No wonder Macadamia hates Vicks and Mentholatum !!  She had her fill right then !!!
Now the tricky part begins once the bangles are on the mother-to-be’s arms (not wrists – nah – there are way more than that !).  She is not supposed to take these off until the time she goes into labour.  Now that is helpful !  Very helpful ! Ob-Gyn’s in India have two sets of staff attending to women in labour.  One, is the medical team which takes care of the medical needs and the other is the bangle team – whose sole purpose of existence is to take off all those glass bangles without breaking any of them, while the lady is in labour.  This process would rather helpfully be aided by the fact that the last month or so or pregnancy, usually results in a lot of water retention.  Bloated arms, small bangles and getting those bangles off the arms of a woman who is beginning to realize and redefine the very concept of pain, has to be an ethereal experience !  
Not to digress …. Once the ValaiKaapu function is done and over with, the Seemantham usually follows in a few hours time.  The ‘mother to be’ now faces a rather monumental challenge.   Remember the madisaar – the 9 yards sari that she wore at her wedding, then hoped and prayed fervently that the knots would not come off and bring the whole contraption down in the wedding hall ?  Well, she has to get her pregnant self into that very same 9 yards sari, pretty much the same way she did, when her stomach was all flat. 
If getting into a madisaar on a flat stomach was difficult, imagine getting into it 8 months pregnant.  For me, it simply wasn’t enough.  The length of the sari, I mean !! My tummy, during my first pregnancy, was huge.  When I say huge, trust me, it is an understatement.  Those 9 yards were simply not enough.  During my 8th month of pregnancy, had I gone swimming with a pod of whales, trust me, the whales would not have noticed anything different.  I would have been, unequivocally accepted as a part of their pod.  Such was my state and I had to be swathed in 9 yards of silk.  There I was, waiting to be trussed up like a chicken and the mamis were at their wits end.  No amount of geometry or physics was working and neither were their mathematical equations.  They had also not given any thought to how I was going to get into my blouse.  That blouse would have been a tight enough fit, as it was.  Arms laden with glass bangles did not make it any easier, trust me.  The situation was pretty much akin to having an oven large enough for a five pound turkey, with a ten pound turkey on hand, to fit it into.  Bad analogy, I know !  But it does fit the situation.
They somehow managed – don’t ask me how – because I did not know and at that point of time, I simply did not care.  Once the mother-to-be is somehow trussed into those 9 yards of silk and into a blouse which threatens to split at the seams from any given direction, it is a wonder that women do not end up giving birth to the baby then and there – given how “tight” the clothing situation is then !
If you are breathing easy by now, thinking the poor woman’s troubles are over, you are one of those extraordinary optimists that see rainbows everywhere on a stormy day.  Pregnant ladies usually need the washroom more number of times during the last trimester of pregnancy than they do at other times.  Now, trussed in the madisaar, a trip to the washroom is like an act from Cirque de Soleil, even on normal days.  When the situation reads - a lady in her eighth month of pregnancy, in a madisaar, needing to use the washroom – it turns into a display of acrobatics and contortionism at its very best, at a time when agility is probably at its lowest. 
These are a few of those times when the only song that runs through the head is Annie Lennox, looking woefully at the camera, asking “Whaaaaaaiiiiiiyyyyy ?  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?”
On that note,  we leave the mother-to-be, trying desperately to figure out how to use the washroom since she is all wrapped up in 9 yards of silk.  Now with all that noise, excitement, not to mention how tightly her madisaar is tied in multiple places, her joys would be further compounded  with the baby playing football with her bladder that threatens to overflow at any given second.  
On that rather delicately balanced situation ends Edition 1 of the ValaiKaapu and Seemantham. 
Edition 2 to follow soon ……

4 voice(s) said so:

Jam said...

Being a TamBrahm myself, could completely relate to the humor in this particular post, am now hopping off to read the rest of your satirical series, and who knows you might have just inspired me to write a series, albeit from a TamBrahm guy's perspective :D

Gauri said...

Hi Jam

Thanks for stopping by :-). Would love to hear stories from a TamBrahm guy's perspective.
Do keep reading.
Cheers !

Girl001 said...

I came across this page while googling seemantham and valaikappu. I would have to face it shortly and wanted to find out as much as I could beforehand.

Just one question : is the 9 yard sari a must? Can't you just make do with a normal one?

Gauri said...

Girl001... 1st of all Congrats!

Sorry, just stumbled upon your comments.

If you ask me, 9 yard sari is not a must but depends on your family members and the presiding priest.

Good Luck and God Bless!!!