The Indian Baby Shower

by Aruna Kamath

As a child, I attended many pregnancy functions with my mother. My mom was quite a social butterfly and popular in our super-large family circles. So she made sure to be present at all our family gatherings. Whether it was a small occasion or a big one, she found no excuse to miss them. Though I wasn’t particularly fond of participating in these functions I was dragged along. But, eventually I ended up having loads of fun with my cousins who had descended in hoards.

I soon outgrew these functions. There was phase when I got busy with my college schedule and had stopped attending family gatherings, unless it was someone really close and I couldn’t afford to miss it.

Years had just flown by. And then, I found myself attending a lot my friends’ weddings, as they got married one by one. Sandhana, the first one to get married in our gang, was also the first to give us the “good news”! While she faced a lot of ribbing from us, we were excited and happy for her. We even threw a surprise baby shower party to celebrate this news. But what we all really looked forward to was the family baby shower function that was celebrated according to the Hindu custom.

Celebrating pregnancy – in true Indian style

Married into a traditional Tamilian family, Sadhana had her baby shower or “valakaappu” or bangle cenermony, as it is known in the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnakata – during her seventh month of pregnancy. This function is performed during the odd months of pregnancy, 5th, 7th or 9th and is also known by other names like ‘seemantham’ or pulikudi.

Interestingly, each region of India has its own unique way of celebrating pregnancy. In Maharashtra, it is celebrated as ‘Dohal Jevan’, while in West Bengal it is ‘Swad’. In northern parts of India it is known as ‘Godh Bharai’ – meaning filling the lap. Though there are minor regional differences, the essence of the ceremony remains the same – to bless the to-be-mom for a safe delivery and welcome her into motherhood.

Sadhana’s pregnancy function was a fun affair. It was meticulously organized on the beautiful terrace of Sadhana’s parents’ house. Her parents were to be grandparents for the first time. So it was a grand scale celebration with a massive gathering of friends, relatives, acquaintances – basically anyone and everyone, the family knew well enough to invite. Everybody had turned up in their best attire and the atmosphere was totally charged and vibrant. In fact, it was a mini wedding of sorts!

Decked in all her finery, Sadhana, looked beautiful, even as she flaunted her big bump. She was draped in a resplendent orange kanjeevaram saree that accentuated her pregnancy glow. She later told us how she had painted the town red and spent two whole weeks to get this particular shade! Well, it was worth the hunt – as compliments kept pouring in!

During the function, she was made to sit facing the east, while the babble of women who had gathered at the function, took turns to bless her. Each one applied red kumkum on her forehead, adorned her hands with red and green glass bangles and showered her with assorted gifts. By the end of the ceremony, Sadhana must’ve had at least a hundred bangles on. Old wives’ tales has it that the sound made by the glass bangles reaches the womb and creates positive vibrations. So the bangles are to remain until the baby is born! PHEW! How in the world would Sandhana manage this … especially while sleeping! Will the jangling sounds ever allow her to sleep? Probably, it was all preparing her for motherhood.

In true traditional style, the families exchanged fruits, sweets and snacks. Sadhana’s mother was an excellent cook. So she had painstakingly prepared all the goodies at home – Including the laddoos, sweet pongal and the five varieties of rice – tamarind, lemon, curd, tomato and sambhar rice. But of course, this was only for the ceremony and specially for the expectant mom. For the guests, there was a huge feast waiting.

At the end of the ceremony, there was a little game that Sadhana had to play. It predicted the gender of her baby. She was asked to pick one of the three bundles of rice tied in a white muslin cloth. The three bundles of rice before her were sweet pongal, tamarind rice and curd rice. Legend has it that if you pick the tamarind or the yogurt rice (both of which are sour), you’ll give birth to a boy and if you pick the sweet rice, it means it’s a baby girl. Back in the days where the modern-state-of-the-art ultrasound device was absent, people relied on this method to guess the baby’s gender. Sadhana picked the sweet rice and I can’t tell you how overjoyed she was! We all hoped too that it would be a bonny girl … as pretty and charming as her!

I really admired Sadhana’s patience for sitting through this whole elaborate ritual! I can’t imagine myself in this position … EVER! I guess, in a way, it also reflects your motherhood traits. I could see Sadhana doing full justice to her new role in being a loving and caring mom!

Happy mommyhood Sadhana! I hope you enjoy every moment of it!

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