Luckily we have two Hindu temples within a 40 minute drive of our apartment. The one that we usually attend for Teej, Tihar, Dashain and other festivals is a larger South Indian temple that is a little farther away. You can usually pick out the Nepalis in the crowd of other South Asians, but most if not all the priests are Indian. However Bratabandha (correct me if I’m wrong) is more of a Nepali tradition that isn’t necessarily practiced by (many) Indian groups, so I figured I had to track down a Nepali priest. Voila… that’s how I discovered the second smaller Hindu temple… complete with a Nepali priest, born and raised in Kathmandu! Also, lucky for us, he was willing to get all of the materials needed for the ceremony—phew, I wasn’t sure how I was going to find janai thread, and all of the other items necessary for the event, particularly since this was the first Bratabandha I had ever attended.
We also didn’t have a lot of time to get everything organized, so it wasn’t going to be a very fancy Bratabandha. I felt a bit guilty for P, since Bratabandha is suppose to be this big deal in your life, but P didn’t seem to mind much, he just wanted to do it and “check it off the list.”
A friend of ours accompanied us to the temple to meet with the priest to help set up everything a few days before the event. The priest did not speak English, and was probably a bit confused as to why I was hanging around these two Nepali guys. He showed us around the temple, explained how the ceremony would proceed, and told P that since he didn’t have the bright yellow tunics (see Bratabandha Part I), that P would most likely be in his underwear but could bring a shawl if he wanted. The priest indicated that the ceremony was suppose to take place in the morning, but P explained that his younger brother was coming from several hours bus-ride away, and wouldn’t be in town until the afternoon. The priest gazed intensely into his astrology book and declared, “aha! I have just found one additional time for the ceremony… after sunset but before dark.” I guess everything is negotiable.
The priest asked if our friend, D, was going to be P’s “guru” since our friend was from the Brahmin caste. The priest explained that he couldn’t be the guru of someone that he did not know well and couldn’t verify how “pure” of a lifestyle they lead and would lead in the future (did I catch him suspiciously looking over at me, or was I just being paranoid?) D agreed to be the guru, we paid the priest to get the rest of the materials, and upon returning home we sent emails out to some of our close friends to come and attend the ceremony.
Over the next few days there was a big debate about whether or not P should shave his head. His parents said that he was in America, things were less strict in America, and it probably wouldn’t be a big deal if he didn’t shave his head. However some of our friends declared that P absolutely had to shave his head… it was one of the centerpieces of the ceremony… how could you not? Ultimately the decision came down to the priest. He said that he would not shave P’s head unless P brought a barber to the temple to do this. I volunteered to shave it, but that was vetoed, and finally it was decided that we wouldn’t worry about the head shaving and hope that we weren’t worse for wear.
At the temple, the day of the ceremony, P was draped in a big white blanket that he was calling a shawl because he was embarrassed to sit in front of all his friends in his underwear. Normally a Bratabandha can last most of the day, but we did an abbreviated ceremony that lasted only about two hours. The priest read out quite a few mantras and had P touch various objects to his forehead. Ironically, the priest decided to help out the foreigners in the room by translating everything from Nepali into Hindi (even though 60% of the room was Nepali, there was one Indian, and the rest were American, European, Canadian or Thai). At the point where P was suppose to shave his head, his brother, U, donned a pair of scissors and symbolically cut off some hair.
Next our friend D, P’s new “guru,” came forward and the two hid under a shawl so that the priest could whisper secret mantras to D, who in turn would teach them to P. Unfortunately the two were overcome by giggles sitting under the shawl together, P in his underwear, D having an older Nepali priest whispering Vedic verses in his ear, that eventually the priest had to scold them to get them to stop.
For the next piece of the ceremony, we had to get another volunteer from the crowd to pretend to be P’s paternal uncle (or “mama”). Our friend N stood up for the job… and had to help P symbolically go around the room and beg for money. This is suppose to symbolize the ascetic lifestyle. Then the mama is suppose to chase the Bratabandha candidate… as little kids this is usually quite fun… if the kid can outrun the mama then the mama has to give the kid a prize. Although we tried to urge them on, P decided not to run, and N quickly caught him.
At this point, the priest presented P with his janai thread, and P was able to change, but had to wear different clothes then when he arrived (he wore a
fashionable kurta to the event, but afterwards changed into his regular American clothes). P finished up with a puja and we all headed back to our apartment for a post-Bratabandha party.
So now P is set to go for whenever we finally get married. My hope is that by summer 2011 we will be ready to go.
Check out Bratabhanda Part I HERE.