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Thread ceremony for Thane girl

Thread ceremony for Thane girl

Author: Bella Jaisinghani
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 29, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Mumbai/Thread-ceremony-for-Thane-girl/articleshow/4591371.cms

A family in Thane revisited a long-forgotten Vedic practice on Thursday when they put their eight-year-old daughter through the thread ceremony, ordinarily considered a male rite of passage, at the hands of the city's famed women priests. Her father, Amod Ketkar, a 40-year-old employee of the Bombay High Court, says he was merely following a family tradition-his own sister had undergone the initiation rite as a child.

Impish and moody, Sejal Amod Ketkar, who has just been promoted to class three in the Marathi-medium Bedekar Vidyamandir, sat through the hour-long upanayan or yagnopavit ceremony, reciting the Gayatri Mantra and Sanskrit shlokas with practised ease. "Her grandmother has been training her for a few weeks,'' says her mother Asmita who works with Kale Consultants in Seepz. She laughs and adds, "It has all turned out so picture perfect, I wish I had invited more people in a more elaborate ceremony. But my daughter had never seen the ritual being performed for a girl before, so she insisted she would do it only if we had a small private function at home.''

Apart from the child no one else in the Chitpavan Kokanastha Brahmin family had any doubts. In fact, Ketkar insists he is part of the orthodoxy. "Would I believe in rituals otherwise? The upanayan is one of the 16 sanskars that are part of Sanaatan Dharma, and the mantras are known to help the child concentrate on her education through her scholarly life. As I did for my teenage son when he was little, I want my daughter to benefit from the power of the Gayatri Mantra and chart the correct path,'' he says. Pre-empting any doubts, Ketkar clarifies that the ritual will not affect the child's daily routine, let alone lead her towards renunciation.

Still, this departure from convention did come up when they went looking for a priest. "We asked around Thane and travelled all the way to Pune but male priests were reluctant to perform this sanskar (ritual) on a girl,'' says Asmita. "We finally got lucky when the local purohitas led by Vaishali Kale agreed to our request.''

Citing examples from the Vedic period, the priestesses of Thane note that sages like Gargi and Maitreyi underwent the thread ceremony and became proficient in the scriptures. "It was after the decline of this egalitarian period that the practice of upanayan gradually became restricted to males,'' says Purohita Kale, who initiated Sejal by whispering the Gayatri Mantra in her ear. However, instead of the holy thread worn by boys, the girl will wear a necklace of fine tulsi beads.

Interestingly, apart from the feeble opposition that the priestesses encountered from the Thane clergy, the girl's thread ceremony has not invited undue comment. The chief priest of Siddhivinayak Temple, Guruji Gajanan Modak, says, "While each household devises its own spiritual barcode, there is nothing in the scriptures that prevents girls from undergoing the thread ceremony. The upanayan signifies that a child is now mature enough to follow a guru and learn the scriptures. In the olden days, it was performed when children left home to join the gurukul.'' Devdutt Pattanaik, another authority on Hinduism, has not heard of such a precedent but says it is entirely a matter of individual choice.

A stickler for conclusive evidence, Amod Ketkar, however, is looking for the 'Harita Smriti', the scripture that is believed to sanction the ceremony for girls. "The Asiatic Library does not have a copy, but I'll hunt it out and spread the word,'' he promises.

The Ketkars had broken the mould earlier too when they requested wedding guests to shower blessings written on chits of paper instead of uncooked rice or akshata. "Sadly, emancipation is a slow process,'' says Ketkar.

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