All cultures have rites of passage which are ritual events that mark a person’s transition from one status to another. In sociological terms, a rite of passage means a milestone in an individual’s life and generally relates to a change in social status. In India, we have many ceremonies connected with birth, puberty, marriage, pregnancy, death and so on, depending on the region and the community to which one belongs. The topic of our February 2014 cover is one such ceremony, Sashtiapthapoorthi which is quite peculiar to Tamil Nadu and which is seen as a rite of passage for a couple when the man completes his 60th year of life.
While I must confess that I am still unfamiliar with many of these customs, the bhimaratha santhi ceremony of one of our neighbours which I was invited to last year opened my eyes to the significance of this particular tradition. Though in many ways we can compare these customs to the silver and golden wedding anniversaries in western culture, a deeper look into this tradition reveals a much more significant message.
Sashtiapthapoorthi, which in colloquial parlance is known as ‘arupatham kalyanam’ is also a celebration of the successful marital life of the couple and therefore sets up the couple as a role model for the younger generation. In these traditions, we can still see the reflection of the values of respect and gratitude to elders which are deeply ingrained in Indian society even in the 21st century.