Coming of Age

How my faith honors the mothers of tomorrow

When I reached puberty, my mother gave me a necklace to honor the occasion. Being young and naive, I questioned not. At the time, I did not know--nor was I interested in knowing--that what had just occurred was an abbreviated form of a ceremony called the

ritu kala samskara.

A few years later, after talking to a Jewish friend about her Bat Mitzvah, I wondered why Hinduism did not have an equivalent ceremony to acknowledge this important stage of a young woman's development. When I asked my mother about this, she explained that the ritu kala was indeed just such a ceremony.

When I Googled "ritu kala, " the results were far from satisfactory. Realizing that the Internet world could never give me the information I was seeking, I asked my grandmother about it. She said that, like the coming-of-age society balls of the Victorian Era in England, this samskara (sacrament) was supposed to commemorate a girl's formal initiation into adult society. Yet unlike those secular and social parties of England, it was also supposed to signify an important point in the spiritual development of a girl.

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In the not-so-distant past, Indian parents would often arrange for their daughter's marriage to occur a few years before she reached puberty. (Before 1951, the average marriage age for girls in India was 13.) After marriage, she would remain in her parent's home until puberty, learning of the household duties she would perform later as a mother and a wife. After puberty, she would move into the house of her in-laws, serve her husband and live the life for which she had been prepared. Hence, the ritu kala not only recognized a young girl's important physical and emotional transformations, it also indicated her readiness to take on a woman's responsibilities, often including starting a family of her own.

Unlike most Hindu celebrations, only women are present at the ritu kala. During the ceremony, the girl is presented with her first sari while all the ladies present gather near, sing songs of praise and shower her with gifts. In some communities, green-colored presents are given to invite fertility.

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