A baby shower is a tradition practiced in the modern-world today which is based on the idea of ‘showering’ the expectant mother with gifts suitable for babies. It is both a social gathering for the mother-to-be with her relatives and friends as well as a celebration of a new life. However, the original purpose of this gathering was for the women to be able to share their experience and lessons on motherhood to the mother-to-be.
By the way, have I mentioned that baby showers are only attended by women? Baby showers are practiced by almost all races and religion today.
The Tamil Indians celebrates this occasion as well, in a ceremony called ‘Valaikappu’. ‘Vala’ means bangles and ‘kappu’ means security. In plain English, it is described as ‘the bangle ceremony’ as the pregnant mother is ‘showered’ with glass bangles which is slipped into her hand by close family and friends. It is usually performed during the odd months of pregnancy, preferably the fifth or seventh month. The event celebrates the joy of the upcoming motherhood and ensures the welfare of both the mother and the baby inside her womb.
In front of the ceremonial area lies the Kolam (some call it Rangoli), which is a decorative design made on floors of living rooms and courtyards during festivals.
The designs are meant to be sacred welcoming areas for deities.
The Kolam is a traditional art form originating from India, which is created with coloured sands.
Sandalwood paste and betel leaves are always integral parts of Indian rituals and ceremonies, and is used here to mark the forehead of the expectant mother.
These colourful gifts are given to each of the women at the end of their turns after they have completed the ritual as a sign of gratefulness and thanksgiving.
At the altar, these items are part of the ceremonial ritual. Other objects include many food offerings, bangles and oil lamps.
Preparations of the altar are almost complete, all that is left is the lighting of the lamps. The pictures shows the lighting of a simple bronze oil lamp (left) to the lighting of the beautifully detailed ‘Kuthuvilakku’ lamp being lit (right).
The lit ‘Kuthuvilakku’ lamp has a circular base with five wicks. Oil lamps are an important aspect of the ritual and are there to to ward off any evil.
During the Valaikappu, the expectant mother is dressed in a new sari and new jewelry specially for this day, accompanied with fancy head-dress made of beautiful flowers, worthy of a princess.
The art of contemporary tattoo, also known as ‘Henna’ can be seen marked on the hands of the mother-to-be as a sign of blessings and beauty.
The Henna body art is done by using the dye preparations derived from a Henna tree which is commonly found in tropical regions.
The image that is painted with henna art is of a peacock, which is associated to the deity and represents patience, kindness, grace, pride and beauty. The peacock is also the national bird of India.
The Valaikappu is a very colourful ceremony. The pictures above shows the different gifts that are offered to the mother-to-be, many of them contribute to the colours of the ceremony.
Just like in the modern baby showers, Valaikappu is also a ceremony that concerns only the women (with the husband of the mother-to-be) only appearing during the beginning and the end of the ceremony.
The ceremony begins with a procession of the women bringing all the gifts into the ceremonial area and placing them on the altar. As soon as the altar is ready, the expectant mother will be brought onto the altar by her husband and then seated at the center of the altar for the part of the ritual.
Each of the women, at the beginning of their turn, will mark the forehead of the mother-to-be. A giant mala (flower garland) was put around her neck prior to the start of the ritual, which adds on to the colour of the ceremony.
Sandalwood paste is a very common item used in Indian ceremonies and it is used to mark the forehead of the mother-to-be in this ritual.
Apart from the marking on the forehead, the sandalwood paste is sometimes also marked on the cheek and arms.
Glass bangles are then placed on the wrists of the pregnant mother during the ceremony by her close family and friends.
Part of the ritual involves passing a heavy larger-than-usual pestle to the mother-to-be to hold and to lift as a simulation to handling a real baby.
The sprinkling of water on the expectant mother’s head happens towards the end of the ritual.
One of her close relatives wishes her well and blessings after completing the steps of the ritual.
As a sign of gratitude and thanks, as well as a remembrance for this joyous occasion, each of the women are given gifts to bring home with them.
The last bit of the ceremony involves the expectant mother being asked to pick one of the three bundles of white muslin cloth. In it are ponggal (sweet) rice, pulli (tamarind) rice, and tairu (yogurt) rice. It is believed that if the mother-to-be picks the tamarind or yogurt rice (both of which are sour), then the coming baby will be a baby boy and the sweet rice, a baby girl.
Opening the bundle is probably the most suspenseful moment in the whole ceremony. In it holds the gender of the baby. From the face expression of the expectant mother, which rice do you think she picked?
After the opening of the rice bundles, the husband will take the first turn to feed her the rice, followed by her other family members.
The mother-to-be gets hand-fed with some desserts of her choice.
Part of the ceremony also included three female relatives who took turns to drizzle a little milk against banana leaf on her back. This act signifies wishing a safe journey for the newborn during childbirth.
The finale of the ceremony involves a few of the women joining together to hold the bowl containing lit sandalwood paste and betel leaves while offering prayers.
At the end of the day, the expectant mother would have more than a hundred bangles on her. The sound of that these bangles make when they clash which each other are supposed to heard by the baby in the womb.
After the rituals, the family holds a feast for all relatives and visitors and everyone share in the joyous occasion together.
It is indeed a very meaningful ceremony and joyous ceremony. If one was to ask me what Valaikappu is like, I would explain it in these simple words: Colourful & full of joy and laughter.
Special thanks to Satiaselan and Girija for giving me a chance and trust to shoot in this important celebration of theirs. Good luck and all the best for the coming of the little one into their family!