[Written on 10th March 2013. I have been waiting for the photos!]
Abimanyu is two and a half years old, and it has been decided that today will be the day when he has his first haircut and also when his ears are pierced. This is part of a religious ceremony – a rite of passage. It is the closest Sunday to the dark moon, so combines auspiciousness with practicality since most people can take some time off on a Sunday.
Thirupathi has been organising things for weeks. He’s expecting 100 to 150 people for lunch, which will be goat curry – a goat plays an important part in the ceremony. But this morning just after dawn a few of us were at the temple close by to the cottage which is dedicated to Sadaiyandy, a God peculiar to south India and Sri Lanka whom you won’t find mentioned in the Hindu pantheon. [More of Sadaiyandy in a future blog].
After sweeping the area around the shrine, which is beautifully situated in a sacred grove by the lake, a short puja was done after which the goat was bathed and marked with pink spots. It was a splendid white animal with a black head. This was then removed by the local man who specialises in such things, and was placed in front of the shrine to Karuppusamy, the god who is also the “security guard” of the temple. The left front lower leg was cut off and placed in its mouth. This is very old magic and harkens back to the worship of the Dravidian gods who were adopted by the Hindus but whose form of worship has not changed a great deal.
Then it was Abimanyu’s turn to be centre stage. He was blessed by the priest then seated comfortably on the lap of a friend while his head was shaved by the local barber (who cuts my hair too – an excellent workman). A little whimpering was soon shushed and after 10 minutes or so Abi was totally bald for the first time in his life. Possibly also the last, unless he makes a vow in adulthood to donate his hair to a temple. He was then bathed to wash away all the bits of hair, and then his head covered in turmeric paste which had also been blessed.
The final part of the ceremony was when Abi was taken into the sanctum, seated in the lap of one of his uncles on the steps to the altar, and had his ears pierced and a pair of small gold earrings fitted. The first ear was a surprise and he reacted predictably (there was no anaesthetic). The second, alas, was not a surprise. But Abi was a really brave boy and with so many people praising him soon got over the shock.
I was privileged to be the uncle.