Monday, June 23, 2008
Hindu Rituals at Baby Birthday Party
Last weekend we were invited to a birthday party for a one-year-old baby at our residence hotel. It was a lot of fun and really interesting. I’m not sure the birthday girl knew what was going on but she definitely knew she was the center of attention. She grinned from ear to ear whenever she saw one of the many still or video cameras.
The guests were mostly young families of India American software engineers who have recently been relocated from places like Sunnyvale, San Jose, and Sacramento by companies like Intel, Cisco, and IBM. Before that they had acquired advanced degrees at such universities as Michigan, Cal Berkeley, and Louisiana State. Many had done their undergraduate work at prestigious Indian universities like IIT, reputed to be even more selective than Harvard.
The conversation was about cashing out of houses in California with the tough real estate market there, waiting for sea freight to arrive in India, and struggling to get houses and apartments up graded and furnished while they reside in temporary housing here at the Halcyon. The big shock is that an equivalent house to what they sold would cost more than the California selling price (sometimes over a million U.S. dollars) in Whitefield’s luxury sub divisions like Palm Meadows or Ozone. (See my blog post, “Bangalore Lifestyles” from May 29, 2008 for photos of Ozone: http://maryaltier.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html)
Much of the party was familiar, with face painting, games for children of all ages (and even one for the adults,) decorations, party favors and a piñata! These are all things you would be likely to see at many kids’ party in California. The young woman hennaing hands offered we women a special treat. I got one of my hands painted beautifully, and it remains vivid today.
The most interesting thing was a ritual that the baby’s grandmother and some of the other women performed. As one of the women sang a traditional song, the baby’s grandmother, who was holding a flame, moved the smoke toward the child, being held by her mother. Then many of the guests took their turn performing the same motion, one by one.
The grandmother also laid out some hand made sweets and held the baby’s feet over them as though the child were walking on them. I looked on line to see if these were traditional South Indian rituals and found the following account by a father about his son’s traditional birthday celebrations, which sounded very similar to what I had seen:
“My mother would conduct a little ceremony called the aarti, which requires the birthday boy to sit on a chair or a low stool while she holds an oil lamp before him. He would cup his hands at a safe distance over the flames to receive its warmth and energy and then join them in salute to the flame. Fire, as you might know, is symbolic of the sacred sun for Hindus, which in turn represents life. Therefore, Hindus do not snuff out the flame but keep it alive to symbolize longevity….. She would then complete the ceremony by wishing him life's sweetness with a piece of candy popped into his mouth.”
As I watched this baby being transferred from guest to guest, I realized that her family and friends adore this child. I had seen this same love projected by families in every strata of Indian society. Those who can’t afford a party like this one still find ways to make children feel valued and appreciated.
Here are some other photos I have taken of children with loving family members during my stay in South India.