Saturday 27 March 2010

Coming of age Brahmin style - Bråtå ghårå

Wednesday was the Sri Ram Navami festival here in Orissa. It is a Hindu celebration of the birth of Lord Rama. Our office was closed for Sri Rama Navami. I'd been looking forward to a lazy day to catch up on washing clothes, washing the floor, sleeping, reading, learning oriya and all the other things I have to crame into my day off. But instead my colleague Mr Padhi invited me to his home village to attend a family celebration taking place on this auspicious day. The Upanayana is also a Hindu celebration, restricted traditionally to the Brahmin caste and it essentially represents a young boy's coming of age, a second birth. I suppose its akin to Jew's Bar Mitzvah, a Catholic's Confirmation and the like. In Oriya it is called the Bråtå ghårå.

The celebration took place in the village of Therubali about 45 minutes by road outside of Rayagada. Getting there meant going part way by bike, then bus, and coming back by bus. Buses here are not like bsues at home. My bus was an old jeep like vehicle into which 4 people were squashed in the front seat, another 4 in the middle and perhaps 10-12 in the back, with another few hanging on the side rails. I got a seat! n fact people were moved out to enable me to sit. I add this is normally done for women, the young mean get moved, but even elderly women are expected to sit atop the windowless door frame, half inside - half outside the bus. I had not qualms about making sure I was safely inside the bus! Although getting out becomes the hard part. These buses run effectively like the "Collectivos" in Mexico, they go effective set routes, you pay a fare, in my case all of 10 rupees, and get off where you want along the route. Most villages have a known stop, how one knows where it is is a mystery to me, except that there will be people hanging around, but how they are distinguishable from people generally hanging around is another unfathomable question. Any way I safely made it there and back.

The celebration itself was held in an open sided building within the grounds of Laxmi Narayan Temple in Therubali

Men who have completed the Upanayana ceremony wear the Sacred Thread, in Oriya the poita. This is a band of 4 hoops of string worn over the left shoulderand wrapped around the body The foor loops represent the four states of experience for a man's soul - waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and knowledge of the absolute.

The ceremony takes all day! With breaks for refreshment, water, food. I was amazed at the quiet patience of the young boy to sit and stand throughout the ceremony as you will see in the video. I can't imagine many teenagers in the UK putting up with this sort of thing, including the man handling - or should I say woman handling - he had to endure in one session as he is plastered with tumeric paste, and then later as he had to stand and recieve onto his plate handfuls of food, first touched to his head and chest then placed on the plate, then gifts/offerings of money - only 50-200 rupees per person which likewise had to be touched to him before being handed over to the family member playing accountant for the ceremony. I was amazed to see not just the money being put safely into a bag, which is common at Indian ceremonies, but also each amount being entered into a journal against a peron's name.

As usual there is much waling and noise at these ceremonies, much chanting by the brahmin priests. In adddition everyone eats good food - two types of rice, tomato khajure, aloo and potolo, drumstick curry, dahl and other things I didn't know. It is a big family occassion when everyone meets all the relatives from all over who have come to attend the festivities. It was great to be invited to see this ceremony, although I confess I fel a bit like the spinster aunt at the wedding sometimes, and the centre of attention for all the children, young boys and everyone who had any English to ask who I was and why I was there taking pictures. My Oriya held up for a few conversations and then failed me as things got complicated, people spoke more normally and I got tired with the 45C degree heat.

I finally made it back home that evening, exhausted but glad I had survived the bus journey and pleased I had experienced another aspect of Indian culture.

Brata Ghara Part 1

Brata Ghara Part 2


  1. Sheila - I just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying all of your posts sharing what you learn from the culture around you. Formal celebrations like this to the intimate moment watching a mom caring for her kids. Wonderful - I read them all, even if I don't have time to comment.

  2. Molly, thanks it is good to know folks are reading my ramblings, otherwise I would never know whether I am boring everyone silly :) Sorry I'm not stopping by your too often but I can only normally use internet at work so I have to ration my time. Today I'm up in Koraput with fellow Volunteer and borrowing her home connection - it been a lovely break of a weekend away, nice to have folks around me and to have great conversation, not to mention temperatures some 8 degrees C cooler, 2000metre higher makes so much of a difference - the post after this one gives a weather site which you can view in C or F, I'm afraid I can no longer think what the equivalent F is, but tomorrow I shall be back in 46 C, 114F!