Today, is Thiruvathira. Observed on the Fullmoon day of Dhanur Masa, on the day of Thiruvathira star, this is the day, Devi Parvathi joins Lord Siva, after her long penance. For a moment my mind was taken back to my childhood days. I also learned that there are also other legends about the importance of this day linking it with Kama deva, Srikrishna and the Gopikas. Thiruvathira used to be celebrated as a very important festival back in Kerala. Observing Thiruvathira vratham ( Nonbu, as it was called ) would bring long life to the husband and thereby prosperity and goodlife to the family. ( The Nonbu dishes will be dealt at a later date. ) It was a male-centric society in those days. The women folk, including little girls, would get up quite early in the morning during the whole of Dhanurmasa (which would be quite cold, in those days) and go to the nearyby tank or river and take bath. They will go in a sort of procession singing various songs. They will be singing while taking bath in the river also and go to the temple after the bath dressed in their best. Thiruvathira would be the day of fasting. No one eats rice preparations, but they would eat things made of wheat and all types of fruits. The practice of presenting bunches of bananas to the elders existed. During this season huge swings will come up in the backyards of most of the houses hung from strong branches of tall trees such as mango tree, jack fruit tree etc. Most of the houses in the villages of Kerala have such trees even today. The swings are made of ropes hung from the branch with a wooden plank for the seat or made of a well grown bamboo tree shoot, vertically split into two. While it is excitement and fun for the teens, it is quite scary to the kids below ten. The backyard of the houese will be noisy and boisterous with the excitement, shouts and laughs of the children. We were a lucky lot having a lot to eat, a lot of children to play around with and no care in the world. Very often I sit and compare the lot of kids of the present days with those of olden days. We children had a jolly time swinging and singing. We would visit all the neighbourhood houses (These swings were not part of the so called tamil brahmin culture). After lunch there was the practice of Thiruvathirakali. Women from the neighbourhood would get together in a common place and dance to the thiruvathira pattu. Today, the relocated lot like us get to see them in some TV Channel minus all the excitements and joy at some odd time of the day, very often determined by the sponsor.
We, tamil brahmins, celebrated thiruvathira, in the following way. The front yards of all the houses were cleaned and thick layer of cowdung paste was applied. We girls would then make "kolams" ( rangoli, as it is commonly called today ) with rice flour competing with the neighbours. The whole agraharam would look like a kolam competition venue. We didn't have cameras to phtograph them, nor did we know about kolam competitions. In our own way, we tried to outdo others. Once we finished our house, we would go to our friends and make more kolams in their frontyard also. By the previous evening the whole agraharam would be full of fragrance from fried rice flour and arali flower. This was the season of jamanthi flowers and most of the houses had jamanthi plants and we will get together and make gralands of jamanthi flowers and kanakambarams. And we would go to bed late at 8pm(!) all excited. By 3 in the morning our grandmother ( we fondly call her echiyamma ) would sound the call and we all would get up. It would be very cold and we would like to cling to our sheets some more, but by then our athai would have got all of us up. When amma and echiyamma got ready to go for bath, (lighting a kerosene hurricane lamp and keeping the soaps and soapnut powder and towels ready) , our athai would oil our hair and we all would march to the river nearby. At that hour there wont be enough space for all of us to take bath as the whole village would be there ready for their bath. Once back home, we would get attired in our best with big necklaces and earrings and flowers adorning our hair (athai helps us in getting ready). Amma and echiyamma would be busy preparing huge quantities of Kali and and kari. Then, we go to the Siva temple, joined by other friends on the way. We come back and then do the puja and offer kali, kari and butter.
The neivedyam was done in the following way. There would be one place for each of the female member of the family and individual kolam would be made for each one. One banana leaf was placed on each kolam. Two banans, two betelleaves and nuts, pieces of turmeric and flowers were placed at one end of the banana leaf. At the centre of the leaf, kali and butter were placed and on the side, kari was placed next to it. Each member would do her own neivedyam and then sit there and partake the prasadam then and there. One of the few occasions, when ladies would partake the food prepared before the menfolk did. We, girls also got to eat the betel leaves on that day. After the women had finished, the men folk would be served .
Today, I get up at 6 am and make kari and kali all alone and do the puja at 8.30am. We are the only one family observing it in the whole neighbourhood. Like all other urban neighbourhoods, ours is also inhabited by people brought up in different cultures, speak different languages, eat different foods and worship Gods in different forms and celebrate different festivals. I somehow managed to take it to my brothers, as they are not observing thiruvathira this year.