Indian Style Birthday Celebration

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Yesterday, it was Vaishnavi’s 19th birthday and I was invited. Shekhar picked me up in his scooter at 6pm and we headed to town where Vaishnavi lives. I live in the outskirts of the town/city.

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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.

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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

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 in my forehead and touched her heart afterwards. I touched my heart as well. Then Vaishnavi kneeled down and touched mom’s and grandma’s feet.

The Ritual

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.

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The grandmother went first and while holding the plate on 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. Then 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, 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.

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The process was repeated by her mother, and then her aunt.

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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).

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Then I was asked to do it. I did an okay job.

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The Children

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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.

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The Cake

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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.

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Vaishnavi’s sister feeding her cake.

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Feeding seems to be part of the tradition.

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Vaishnavi kept going back to the cake and eating another piece. I think she liked it.

Dinner

Lastly, dinner and dessert was 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.

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(All the photos, except 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.

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19 thoughts on “Indian Style Birthday Celebration

  1. well im african american,and fell deeply in love with a indian girl from jaipur,named neha,,,i thought she was my soulmate…but because of the custom there and their religion….against outsiders,,,i guess it wasnt meant to be..;(

  2. Hi
    I came across your blog today and found it interesting. Spending the night reading all the previous posts. The birthday ritual you are talking about is a Maharashtrian birthday tradition called ‘aukshan’ or blessing. It is done for every birthday regardless of the persons gender usually by an elder woman. This is a dying practice now, especially in cities. My family is from Pune and I have had this done to me once or maybe twice in my twenty three years, that also because my grandmother was there on that particular birthday.

  3. So is this ritual done for every birthday, or is there something significant about the 19th? Like a quinceañeara? Do they do the same for guys? Is there another ritual?

    This is all fascinating; thanks for writing.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’re getting to the point where we are starting to try to ignore birthdays, but friends don’t let it happen, LOL.

      1. Well, I’ve definitely been there, at parties where everyone was speaking some foreign language that I didn’t understand. You, fortunately, seem to be in VERY colorful surroundings. Do you think it’s hard to learn Hindi?

        1. I’ve been thinking about getting the Pimsleur Hindi course. I have a fantasy about traveling to India, though I’m also afraid I’ll get sick there from the food. Friends who have been there say it’s almost impossible to avoid. And unfortunately, I’m a little sensitive that way, so getting sick would be bad.

          As you can see, I’m working my way through your blog. Very interesting!

        2. I hope it’s not too overwhelming to get so many comments at once, LOL… When I discover a new blog, I tend to read the whole thing at first.

    1. Hi Kim, 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.

  4. Well, I am just an observer and self-taught learner of anything that fascinates/interests me. 19 years in one of the most populated cities with frequent stays in multiple other towns in a very broad region of North India, 3 in a small town in the southern part, I have had my experience mostly from personal observations across very varied economy and people.

    Angel? A more general opinion is the devil. Either way the concept doesn’t work for me,

    It was easier to answer than you think. I am happy that it helps you.

    I, also, love the pictures of the cat I shared.

    Thanks for reading the (whole) comment and for your amazing reply.

    I’ll be following your blog, anyways, to see how you all fare in upcoming times. Feel free to ask me anything if need be.

    Regards!

  5. Hi Manija!
    I just came across your blog while doing a search on Google for cilantro and, then, your “About” page intrigued me. And it took me almost three hours since the search to read all of your posts.

    TL;DR version:
    “what looked like melted red wax” is a mixture of ghee (clarified butter), sindoor (the same red powder used to paint bindi) and yogurt.

    No-I’ll-read-this-too version:
    Nice to see you adjusting to the living conditions of India. You have a strong will and strongly supportive husband. You will do splendidly on your next trip.

    I apologize but let me reply to multiple posts here:
    1. Culture Shock: Bugs – This is not really a culture shock. The region you were living in constitutes the Western Ghats (Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Ghats). Your post was dated around the monsoons. Switzerland in August to insects! Not to forget, a low population area.

    2. Nutribullet – That fondness for the 600W machine can be maintained. Electricity is supplied at 240V unlike the US where it is 110V. So, take some time off, after you arrive at the airport (Bangalore/Mumbai), to buy a 240V to 110V converter rated at least 600 Watts (most likely you’ll find configurations rated 750W, ex – http://www.indiamart.com/shweta-electronics/voltage-converters.html). It shouldn’t cost more than Rs.1500. Chances that you’ll find specific devices in small places is pretty small, hence get it from the city.
    However, I’ll suggest if it’s only Nutribullet you’re buying it for, then skip it and get a general-purpose blender. It will set you back by another Rs.1000.

    3. Cats – In my personal experience, wild cats have never had any issue with cameras. One night, I found a kitten on the street and it took me 5 minutes to make her follow me home. I shot her instantly without any grievances. Now, she demands company for morning walks at 5 A.M.
    See her: http://imgur.com/a/pII68
    Since then, I’ve had contact with two more wild cats – a war-tempered male wanderer, and a mother-of-four female – with similar experience.

    4. Privacy, workers leaving a mess after them and more are more intricate and complex issues and will only help make this reply longer. Hence, I save it for later.

    Best Wishes!
    .

    1. Kumar! OMG, who are you? My little Indian angel? You have answers for everything! I love it. And very useful and interesting answers too.
      It’s good to know the bugs aren’t that bad all the time. I didn’t know it was the worst time for bugs.
      About the nutribullet, I have eventually found out I need the converter but wasn’t able to get it where we were. I will try to get it in a city when we go back. Thank you! We also bought a blender, chosen by an Indian friend, but it didn’t work as well as the nutribullet. And we didn’t want to spend 2500 rupees in a better blender.
      I love the pictures of the cat you shared:)
      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and for your amazing comment.
      -M

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