While in rural India, I was invited to Vaishnavi’s 19th birthday. Shekhar picked me up in his scooter at 6pm and we headed to town where Vaishnavi lives. I was staying in the outskirts of the town/city. This was my first time attending a traditional Indian style birthday celebration.
But first we stopped at the cake shop to pick up a cake and cupcakes that Shekhar had preordered and that apparently he told Vaishnavi that we, both, were bringing the cake. But Shekhar had paid for all of it. I still want to pay him my half but I haven’t been able to find out how much he paid.
This was my second Indian birthday attendance ever, but the first of its kind.
The party consisted of the blessing, the birthday ritual, the children singing, cutting and feeding the cake, and dinner and dessert.
I will elaborate.
The blessing was mom and grandmother putting bindi (the red dot between the eyes) and touching each other’s feet as a sign of respect. The mom also placed a bindi on my forehead and touched her heart afterward. I touched my heart as well. Then Vaishnavi kneeled down and touched mom’s and grandma’s feet.
The birthday ritual (which I decided to name), was bringing a silver plate which contained two lit candles, dry rice, a red mixture of ghee (clarified butter), sindoor (the same red powder used to paint bindi) and yogurt, a ring, and sweets.
The grandmother went first and while holding the plate with one hand, she placed her finger on the red mixture and then touched the “third eye” of Vaishnavi, and motioned a circle around her face with her hand. She grabbed a bit of rice, touched Vaishnavi’s “third eye”, sprinkled it on top of her head, and motioned the circle again. Then grabbed the golden ring and again touched her “third eye” with it and motioned the circle. Then, she grabbed the sweet and fed it to Vaishnavi. Finally, she grabbed the plate with both hands and motioned a circle around Vaishnavi’s face with it.
Then, her mother did the same, followed by her aunt.
Vaishnavi received a phone call when the aunt was doing the ritual; she answered and the aunt continued with the ritual ignoring that Vaishnavi was on the phone. I just thought it was interesting that Vaishnavi was on her cell phone and at the same time this old, traditional ritual was happening. I told Shekhar to come to this side and take a picture (because he was manning the camera).
Then I was asked to do it. I did an okay job.
The children who had come from nearby homes were all sitting down waiting, and when told they started clapping and singing happy birthday once in English and once again in Hindi, I believe, or maybe Marathi. Then, Vaishnavi distributed one chocolate cupcake to each of the kids, and then they all left but the celebration continued.
Vaishnavi, the birthday girl, cut the cake first, and then the grandmother did too.
Vaishnavi’s sister and brother each fed her a piece, and then Vaishnavi fed a piece to Adinath, then me, and then Shekhar.
Feeding seems to be part of the tradition.
Vaishnavi kept going back to the cake and eating another piece. I think she liked it.
Lastly, dinner and dessert were served. Yes, dinner was served after cutting the cake. It is customary to finish what you are served, but I just couldn’t (and Adinath neither). We had three desserts: a slice of cake, a plate of the traditional Indian rice pudding, and a cupcake (since there were leftovers from the kids). Even though I love sweets and chocolate, I couldn’t finish mine and I was so full at the end.
(All the photos, except for one or two, were taken by Shekhar.)
Update (Jan 12, 2014): I found out that this birthday ritual is a Maharashtrian birthday tradition called ‘aukshan’ or blessing. It is done for every birthday regardless of the person’s gender usually by an elder woman. This is a dying practice now, especially in cities.