I have just arrived home after two weeks away in the gorgeous country of Sri Lanka. While there, amongst many adventures and delicious meals, I learned of the way the Sri Lankan people celebrate the time of menstruation for a girl when she first becomes a woman.
I was going through a wonderful tour at a spice garden when I met Manju. He was showing us around and was also a student at the local Ayurvedic college. After the tour we dropped him back to his home and went in for a cup of tea and a meal of hoppers (the local pancake type dish often served with chilli paste or curry). While we were sharing a meal, it somehow came up in conversation that he had two daughters and that they would be doing ceremonies for them when it came to their first bleed.
I sat there in amazement as these two men, Manju and my fabulous driver Channa, both opened up and told me of the Rite of Passage that all girls go through during this time. It was so wonderful to hear the respect and pride they had of their customs and ceremonies and their willingness to openly share it with me. They went into explicit detail for me as I asked questions and probed with undivided attention to their stories and honoring that is involved for their women.
This is what they told me:
1. The first thing that happens is the girl tells her mum what is happening. She is now having her first bleed.
2. She is taken to a special hut or room where only women are allowed to go. She has other family with her, either an aunt, sister, cousin etc who will stay with her the whole time for this sacred process. If she has to leave this place, (to go to the bathroom etc) she has a white cloth wrapped over her face so that the men will not see her. This is important as it is a time of transition and she is becoming a women.
3. An astrologer is contacted and advised about the best time for her for a celebration. This would be in the following weeks and will be specific in time and date for the girl to be embraced into her womanhood.
4. On the day that she is allowed out of the room before the ceremony, a special pot is bought into the room. In this pot herbs are prepared and boiled. These include saffron, jasmin, sandalwood powder, jungle jasmin amongst others. The water is warmed and is then poured over her head in cleansing.
5. After this, a new white cloth is wrapped around her face and head so she cannot see, and people cannot see her. The pot is crashed to the ground in ceremonial way to ensure it is never to be used again.
6. She is dressed in white clothing that has never been worn before and she is bought into the home.
7. On a special table in the home there is an array of ceremonial items. These include a Kandian Oil lamp, rice, spices, flour and betal leaves all spread around the lamp.
8. At this point the white cloth is removed from the face of the girl. The family and friends that have come to be part of the celebration all sing out to her words that translate to “Big Girl” in honor of her transition and rite of passage. There is lots of clapping and they do a special type of clap which claps out the candles on the table so they go out.
9. Seven betal leaves are handed to the girl. She then passes, with both hands, one of the leaves to the mother who then blesses her and gives her gifts of jewellery. She then passes, with two hands, one of the leaves to her father, who also blesses her and gifts her jewellery or fabric etc.
10. The final leaves are then passed, one at a time and with both hands, to the remaining guests who also bless and give gifts to her. This can include other sisters, aunts, cousins etc who are present.
11. Finally there is a big feast and celebration before her final event of the evening which is to visit the local temple for prayers and blessings.
It was an honor to hear the way this time in a girls life is celebrated. I was a bit jealous that here in Australia this time is so often disregarded and suppressed. I loved the mens passion and interest in honoring these transitions and respecting such a sacred time. I also loved their willingness to talk about it and share it with me. Thank you Channa and Manju!
copyright © 2012 Fiona House