by Meenakshi Bhattacharjee
Rice University, Houston TX.
The first Hindu festival in the new calendar year 2019 is just around the corner. The festival of Makar Sankranti will be celebrated on January 15. Makar Sankranti is the day when the sun enters the Makara or Capricorn constellation. It is the only Hindu festival that is decided upon the position of the Sun; other festivals follow the lunar calendar. The women of the household prepare special food items like Tilgul and Tilvadi during this day. Another important tradition associated with Makar Sakranti is the Haldi Kumkum ceremony. Women invite other women and perform a small ceremony of applying haldi, kumkum to them and offering sweets. It is a social gathering which wishes for the well-being and long lives of the husbands
Although the Haldi Kumkum ceremony is primarily held in the western and southern part of India but today its celebrated all over India and the world where Indians are. It is observed by the married women who invite their friends, relatives, neighbors to meet and greet. After applying the haldi and kumkum on forehead, a perfume is also applied on their forearms, rose-water is sprinkled over them and sweets are offered to them. Flowers and coconut are also presented to the guests sometimes. The hostess gives out small gifts to her guests and offers tilgul along with light snacks. The period of Makar Sankranti is considered favorable for spiritual practice and any gift given during this period is equivalent to offering and receiving the grace of the Divine on both sides.
History and Significance of Haldi Kumkum Ceremony
The practice of Haldi Kumkum is said to have emerged during the Peshwa rule. While the men were busy fighting battles, the women did not get a chance to leave the house. So the ladies of the royal families would invite their married friends and shower them with expensive gifts like saris or jewelry. It was a time for women to enjoy and be free for a while, get together with their friends and have merriment over snacks.
The women would apply haldi and kumkum and pray for well-being of their husbands. The haldi kumkum ceremony gave them an opportunity to do what every woman loves – dress up, go out, meet other women and bond with them over choice delicacies (kairi panha and vatli dal in this case) and even come away with a little gift; which could be used either in the kitchen or for personal adornment. And they got to do this not once but several times over, depending on how many friends and relatives one could invite and be invited in their turn.
The festivities begin from Sankranti and continue well into February, so this would have been a busy, happy period in the lives of many women then.
It is said that gifting anything around the time of Makar Sankranti is auspicious and next to receiving the grace from the Divine. The practice of organising a Haldi Kumkum continues today and each of the women while she attends another invites the hostess to her house for the ceremony. Flavored milk, sweets and Tilgul is commonly offered to the women guests.
Haldi Kumkum is now more of a social gathering among women and their friends. It is time they visit each other’s’ houses and have some fun and merriment. The women of today are known to get the entire ceremony catered, if the number of invitees is large enough. It is now a social outing, and provides yet another opportunity for ladies to dress up, go out, meet friends and exchange presents and can be added to the long list of festivals which are accused of becoming too ‘commercial’. There are now haldi kumkum planners who offer to manage the whole show – right from food, to entertainment and buying suitable gifts that would be tasteful and exclusive. It certainly offers a wide scope of areas for women entrepreneurs to explore, innovate and come up with an attractive package of services for the working woman/socialite/newly-wed that are looking to host a memorable haldi kumkum ceremony.
The spoiler here is that it is also restricted to married women. All the offerings given during this ceremony – vermilion, flowers, rice, coconut- symbolise matrimonial bliss. Young single girls are allowed, on the condition that they accompany a ‘suhaagan’. The women who deck themselves out in honor of this occasion will pray for the long lives of their husbands or for the deity to bless them with a good husband.
Caught up as we are in the daily grind of routine life, the men may not go to battle but the daily commute can be bad enough and now the working women do it too – do we really need this tradition; in a calendar already loaded with several festivals; each with their own duration, rites and rituals?
I think we do. And the first, most important reason is that it’s a woman-centric festival. All that’s needed is to make it more inclusive, so that it is no longer the domain or privilege of married women.
Another reason would be, as mentioned earlier, that it’s an excellent business opportunity for enterprising women. There are things that only women know, for example: the answer to the question – what do women want? But seriously, who better than a woman to entrust with the task of picking out presents for other women, fixing a menu and decorating the house?
And finally, traditions, customs, rituals, they all give us roots; a sense of belonging and an identity. They can be fun too, provided they don’t rule our lives or weigh us down with a sense of societal obligation.
So, pull out those gorgeous saris and accessories, ladies. And have a wonderful Haldi Kumkum! And a very Happy New Year-2019 to all my readers.