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Thirandukalyanam In Kerala Is Seen As A ‘Progressive’ Celebration Of Menstruation, But Is It Really?

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Thirandukalyanam is a four-to-five days’ ceremony to celebrate menarche. It is a ceremony to announce a girl has hit puberty. Compared to earlier days, it has undergone a significant change. Earlier, this ceremony was practised to a great extent by the Nair community. To some extent, it was also prevalent among other caste groups of Kerala, although the duration and the way it was performed varied/varies within the communities. Over a period of time, the ceremony has become the thing of the past. Neither it is celebrated with grand festivities nor by a lot of people in Kerala. Although, it is still celebrated in other parts of southern India.

I grew up in a South Indian household, I have not been to any, nor did I have this ceremony for myself. I remember inquiring my mother around the ceremony, but she found it absurd to celebrate. The ceremony is to “celebrate” menarche, some believe, it is to announce in the neighbourhood that the girl has attained puberty and is “eligible” to marry.

Significance

The meaning of ‘kalyanam’ in Malayalam is marriage. In the past, it was essential to conduct this ceremony so as to marry one’s daughter in the coming future. The girl, after her thirandukalayam ceremony, was considered to be eligible for marriage. This event was considered to be sacred, and a family had to meet a lot of expenditure. It is said, a lot of people in the past used to put all their savings for the ceremony.

For representation only

Therefore, this ceremony was mostly celebrated by people with money. Different people have different narratives and significance around the same.

The Nair community, being a matrilineal society, celebrated the menarche of the women because, in the matrilineal society, it is believed, the line of the family is traced by the women.

In other words, a woman is considered to be the one who would take forward the lineage of the family. Therefore, a girl’s first period ensured fertility and procreating a generation of the family.

The first three to four days (the duration of the ceremony varies from family to family), the girl is kept in isolation. Only the female relatives of the family can interact with the women during this period.

The girl is given food on a separate plate, and she has to stay away from the male gaze. In addition, she is not allowed to touch anything. During the isolation, the girl has to follow a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, jaggery, and rice. On the fourth day, she has to take a dip in a temple’s pond. On the same day, the whole neighbourhood is invited, and the girl is decorated as a bride. The girl is gifted saree, gold, powder, or cash. Mostly, the gifts are similar to the gifts of any bride.

Conclusion

A lot of people see it as a “progressive” ceremony and a celebration of menarche. The ceremony is seen as a celebration of the “essence” of womanhood. I do believe that periods should be normalized as it is a natural process, and the celebration of menarche would help to fight the stigma, discrimination, myth, and taboos around menstruation but it comes with its problems. The connotation of the celebration of menstruation with the idea of marriage, womanhood, and fertility is problematic. It reaffirms the old age myth that the assigned sex determines the gender of the person. Also, it reaffirms that a woman’s marriage and fertility are an important part of “womanhood”.

Over a period of time, a lot of people do not organize this ceremony; they rejected the celebration because they find it a private and personal affair which should not be discussed in the open. Besides, the celebration fails to fight the taboo attached to periods. Women are still considered “impure” or “polluted” during her time of periods during the ceremony too. It restates the old age taboo of association of “impurity” and “polluted” with periods.

Featured image is “Three Nayar Girls of Travancore” by Ramaswami Naidu, oil on canvas, 1872, Kerala.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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