Tag Archives: Bratabandha

Gori Watching Part I

During the Bratabandha weekend P and I spent two full days hanging out at his relative’s house. The first day was more of a “prep” day. Nepali friends and family members were frantically cooking; there was a group of women monopolizing the kitchen—cutting cauliflower and onion, tossing fried noodles, and peeling potatoes—while a second group was stationed in the garage making stacks of beautiful sel roti. I was the sole Caucasian guest mingling in the crowd, and although I offered to help cook, or even just chop vegetables, there were too many seasoned experts and eventually P and I found ourselves on kid duty, playing tag, “duck, duck, goose!” and “Go Fish!” (which we Nepali-fied into “Macha!”)

Confession time: I have to admit that I have grown very comfortable being the only Caucasian around. Being the resident “American” has kind of become my niche to the point where sometimes, while in a group of other Caucasian-Americans, I feel a little lost, like I’ve lost my “specialness,” my major point of identity. Perhaps that’s why I feel myself playing up the Nepali side of me in an American crowd, so I can feel different and comfortable again. Does that sound weird? Do others sometimes feel the same way?

The following day, I figured that I might meet some non-Nepali friends of the family at the Bratabandha/after party, but I was a little surprised to see other Nepali-American couplings. By day’s end there was a total of four.

Other South Asian-Western couples I’ve met online have discussed “the Gori Gaze” before. Perhaps you find yourself at a restaurant, and a few tables away you spy a South Asian-Western couple, or maybe you bump into one on an airplane or at a shopping mall. You imagine what their story is—perhaps projecting on the westerner parts of your own experience. You can’t help but size the other couple up—does she look more “into the culture” than you? Can she speak the language? Part of you wants to walk up and introduce yourself, swap phone numbers, facebook names, or give them a high five. Maybe another part of you just wants to keep to yourself.

The morning of the Bratabandha was chilly—only about 40 degrees (F), and I had packed a thin sari expecting better weather. Groups of people stood together in the garage where the head shaving was due to take place. We watched as P’s cousin razored the two Bratabandha boys down to a clean, close shave. A few moments later I noticed a white woman dressed in a warm coat and a pair of slacks—smarter than me, since I was shivering in my sari—walk up the drive way holding the hand of what I presumed to be her eight year old daughter and ten year old son. They mingled in the crowd as well, checking out the puja staging area and chatting with the women who were putting the finishing touches on the cauliflower curry dish for lunch. The woman looked about ten or fifteen years older than me, light brown hair, and fair complexion, while her kids had brown hair had a tanner skin tone. The little girl was dressed in a salwaar kameez. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were Nepali-American.

The woman moved around like she was familiar with the house and the cooking women who were local Nepali, so I was hoping she might approach me as the out-of-towner, but instead she moved into the house. A few minutes later I went inside to grab a cup of steaming chia to thaw and saw her sitting on the couch with her daughter, looking through a coffee table book about Nepal, and talking about the pictures with some authority. I lingered on the edge of the living room, hoping to catch her attention, but she didn’t acknowledge me, so at first I thought that maybe she wasn’t interested. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was put off by me being trussed up in a sari, tilari, and bindi?

I moved outside and wandered to the second puja staging area under a tent in the back yard. The pandit was preparing the wood for the small fire under the mandap, and another Nepali man was helping him make the arrangements. The white woman’s son was hanging around too, asking questions to the man, before scampering off. After a few minutes the Nepali man looked up and smiled, “You look very nice in sari. Is your husband Nepali?”

He had picked up on my wedding tilari, a clear signal that I wasn’t just a friend dressed up in a sari to watch the event. I nodded yes.

“Have you been to Nepal?” he asked.

“Yes, three times.”

“Nice.” He said, “My wife has been too. She lived there for four years.”

“Is that your wife inside?” I asked, and he indicated yes. “I wanted to talk to her, but she looked busy.”

“You should go talk to her, her name is Jenny*.”

*name changed, for privacy.

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Auspicious April First

This April Fools Day there is something to celebrate, apparently. We were invited to two events on the same day. Both program dates were chosen by pandits in Nepal due to the auspiciousness of the day– a bratabandha in Wisconsin and a pasni in Connecticut.

Those of you familiar with American geography will know that these two destinations are at least a time zone away from each other. And since the bratabandha invitation arrived first, P and I are currently sitting on a plane making our way to the state known largely for beer and cheese.

I attended P’s bratabhanda but it was more of a rag tag, simple ceremony… there weren’t any older family members around to make sure everything was done according to proper family tradition. It was still fun, just probably not as “official” as the ceremony we will attend tomorrow, or anything that would happen back in Nepal.

It’s actually going to be a double bratabandha as P’s cousin’s son will be undergoing the ritual side by side with his other cousin, who is flying in with his family from Germany for the event. Other family members are taking the opportunity to visit from Nepal as well, so there are bound to be a lot of new relatives to meet.

P’s mother instructed me to wear my best new sari and bring my tilari. It’s important for naya buharis to make a good impression. It should be fun, although I get a little nervous when I’m around a lot of P’s older relatives. I’m embarrassed I still can’t speak or understand Nepali very well, and I’m generally worried I’ll do or say something stupid– but I guess most people feel that way around new people.

Sadly the event we are missing is R and S’s son‘s pasni or first rice feeding ceremony. I had really been looking forward to this event, and even told R to try and avoid April 1st so that we would be around, but S’s family pandit in Nepal declared that the 1st was the best day and R was powerless to reschedule. They will have a pasni party in the summer when S’s family visits from Nepal, and the ever tech-oriented S is planning to live-stream the pasni online, so hopefully we can tune in for a little while. At least I can look forward to that, although I’m still disappointed.

So may your April Fools Day not only be filled with practical jokes but much auspiciousness as well.

Bratabandha Part II

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.

P and the priest start the Bratabandha ceremony

P and the priest start the Bratabandha ceremony

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.

P's brother U symbolically cuts his hair instead of shaving...

P's brother U symbolically cuts his hair instead of shaving...

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.

The "Guru" whispering secret mantras, amidst giggles

The "Guru" whispering secret mantras, amidst giggles

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.

P circles the fire near the end of his ceremony

P circles the fire near the end of his ceremony

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

Final puja

Final puja

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.

Bratabandha Part I

Up until March of last year, the bane of my existence was a Nepali ritual called Bratabandha. What, pray-tell, is a Bratabandha? Well it is a special ceremony that many young Nepali boys have to go through before they are considered “men” and are able to marry—something like a coming-of-age Hindu Bar Mitzvah of sorts.

Little boys line up for a Bratabandha procession

Little boys line up for a Bratabandha procession

Many of our male friends had this ceremony done as little boys—usually around thirteen years old. It is one of those things that (most people) just want to get out of the way. The older you are, it can be more embarrassing as well, because part of the ceremony involves wearing a thin tunic of fabric that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. It is also tougher as you get older, and your interest in marriage becomes more imminent, because the timing of this particular event is quite tricky.

The timing of the ceremony is based on your star chart, and I’ve been told that picking an auspicious time for your Bratabandha is astrologically even more important than picking the correct time for your wedding! In addition you cannot undergo a Bratabandha if a close member of your family has died in the past year, if it is during the month of your birth, if the month or year isn’t particularly auspicious, or—as I like to joke, if your next-door neighbor’s dog sneezes. Sometimes these blocks of inauspicious timing stretch for very long periods—weeks, months, even years!

I had heard a bit about this ceremony when I first started dating P, and after being together for only a few months he went home during a January break from school. I encouraged him to do it while he was home, not because I thought he needed the ceremony done immediately, but because I figured it would be nice to do it with his family, and get it over with. That’s when I learned about the “no Bratabandha during your birth month” rule. Okay, cool, no big deal, it’s not like we were planning to run down the aisle anytime soon.

The next time P went home was during the summer a few years later- and my persistence in completing the ceremony had kicked up a notch. That’s when I learned the “no Bratabandha during inauspicious months” rule. I remember reading his email about that in an internet café in South Africa and letting out a mournful, “nooooooo” much to the shock of one of my colleagues… and I couldn’t really articulate why I was upset about this, since the average person doesn’t really know what Bratabandha is anyway. Sigh, “okay, no big deal,” I thought, “he’ll go home again sometime soon.” Then while preparing for the epic family visit of 2008 we decided to conduct the ceremony while they were in town. Grrr… the “no Bratabandha when a family member passes away” rule.

Boy after his head is shaved at the ceremony

Boy after his head is shaved at the ceremony

As time continued to tick away, I started bugging P more frequently about getting this pesky ritual done and over with. Two of my elder-but-close-in-age cousins got engaged, and then married, and questions started to fly in my family about when our turn would come. “Well…” I’d try to explain, “you see, P has to do this thing, where he ritualistically shaves his head, and a Hindu priests does some special prayers… but it has to be during an auspicious month…” by that time I would see the glazed over look on my relatives face, and I’d have to conclude with, “at some point in the future, don’t worry.”

Eventually his parents informed us (after a visit to the family astrologer) that if he didn’t complete his Bratabandha by a certain date in March of 2009 he would enter a 2 year inauspicious period. 2 years! That is a long time to wait, especially after dating for six! It became a running joke amongst our friends, “C will be more relieved than P once the Bratabandha is complete!”

Boy receives his sacred janai thread, the most important part of the ceremony, a thread he is suppose to wear everyday for the rest of his life

Boy receives his sacred janai thread, something he is suppose to wear everyday for the rest of his life

Alas, I think P’s dad set a bad example. He didn’t do his Bratabandha until the day before his wedding… and since Bratabandha includes shaving your head he was bald for the wedding. I started listing off the reasons why we had to get the ceremony over and done with, and why it was ridiculous to wait… a) I don’t want a bald husband in my wedding photos, b) what if the next-door neighbor’s dog sneezes the night before? I am not rescheduling a wedding someday! and c) do you want to be the only 30+ year old at a Bratabandha ceremony sitting around with all the little boys??

P acquiesced and  “Operation Bratabandha” was officially in full swing.

Pictures for this blog are from DayLife, more can be seen here.