Dear girls, do you remember your first period? Perhaps you can vaguely recall how you whispered into your mom’s ear and then she handed you a sanitary napkin.
The Assamese tradition of a girl entering into puberty is, however, a whole other story.
A celebration known as tuloni biya or small wedding succeeds the eleventh day after the girl’s first period. It is the welcoming of her maturity and fertility where the entire locality takes part.
Assamese rituals that are similar to a real wedding are performed along with various religious ceremonies. The girl is asked to maintain a strict diet comprising of boiled vegetables and sprouts during the initial days of her first menstruation.
The Celebrations And Rituals
For the first 4-7 days, the girl is confined to her bedroom. No man is allowed to enter the room and she isn’t allowed to be touched by anyone. On the fourth day, a ceremonial bath is performed by the girl after the application of maa halodhi or turmeric on her skin by women of the family and neighborhood as in a real wedding.
On the seventh day, the same bath is performed again and the girl wears a new traditional mekhela–sador, which is accompanied by an auspicious feast on that day and the girl is congratulated with several gifts.
In Assam, the menstruation of a Goddess is also celebrated. The reference is to the annual festival of Ambuvachi Mela. It is a celebration of Goddess Kamakhya’s annual menstruation and takes place in the month of June, every year.
It is believed that during this period, Goddess Kamakhya menstruates in order to prepare herself for her fertilizing work, so her temple remains closed for three days for devotees. There is also an entire cessation from all ploughing, sowing and other farm work during this time.
Does The Ritual Of Small Wedding, Combat Patriarchy?
The underlying motive behind the celebration of the small wedding is the announcement of the father to the society that his daughter has reached marriageable age. It is a disclosure of her newly developed sexual identity in the society. Along with that, it is also a celebration of womanhood and her fertility.
But at the same time, patriarchal conventions do co-exist, although in different measures in every traditional practice.
The girl is confined to a room in the initial days of her period considering her impure. A woman is not allowed to enter temples and perform religious rites during menstruation. These ideas remain unchallenged and continue to this day.
What these kind of ceremonies can contribute to patriarchal societies is the knowledge of the baselessness of a tabooed sexuality.
In this way, the Assamese girl learns from a very young age that her period is not something to be ashamed of.
How Have The Celebrations Changed In Modern Times?
The form of this practice has changed according to one’s convenience and choice. The event of the celebration of first menstruation is being reduced to a family affair without any big celebration, though the basic ritual may be still practiced as a mark of respect to cultural heritage.
The reasons for these changes are often seen to be lack of time and money, feeling of insecurity in disclosing the girl’s sexual status, the transformation of family structure from joint to a nuclear one, and also the fading away of the memories of the rituals in entirety.
This transformation is also emblematic of the Assamese society lying in the periphery of a larger Indian outlook. The media fails to highlight such practices that the Assamese society takes pride in and as a result, the Assamese people have themselves stopped guarding them.
Where the north Indian hegemony in soap operas has revisited festivals like Karva Chauth, the same furthers the decline of other fruitful ones.
A ceremony like the tuloni biya a.k.a small wedding is totally in league with the debates of the day, those of feminism and equality.
If properly learnt, it can serve as an example of the rightful position of a woman and her sexuality that feminist movements around the world are looking for.
Image credits: Google Images
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