Valaikappu, also named Simantha in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, is a Hindu religious festival. This celebration has different names according to religions, cultures and States of the Indian Union. Its Tamil name means "the protection by bracelets".
No matter the names, the festival has the same purpose whatever the traditional practices: to bless the mother and her future child. Usually celebrated at the seventh month of the pregnancy, this party is also practised at the ninth month by certain families. The period of the celebration doesn't depend on religion, or on Indian region but only on the family tradition.
The pregnant woman is considered as a particularly vulnerable person in the Hindu cult. The Valaikappu ceremonial is thus the way to give sacred bracelets to the mother to protect her foetus from the devils. The rite is traditionally made for the first child; Indians consider that the symbolic protection will persist for the following pregnancies. The festival is original because it's reserved only for women; only the closest men (such as father, brothers and husband) are invited. Sari is compulsory for women. The ceremony takes place in general between 10 a.m. and midday and lasts one hour; then comes the meal.
Women prepare five dishes of different rice before the ceremony: sweet rice, tamarind rice, lemon rice, coconut rice and rice pudding. It happens that rich families prepare seven dishes of rice in reference to the seven months of pregnancy. The various dishes of rice and the other plates (fruits, betel and pastries) are presented on a table in front of the pregnant woman, sitting on an armchair at the center of the room.
In the most traditional ceremony, the rite takes place at the family house between members of the two families. The pregnant woman sits in front of several Indian oil lamps (the kuthu villaku), her husband brushing her hair from the roots to the tips while reciting a mantra. Then he presents her the various dishes of rice that she can eat to attract blessings and long life. Although the sari is the usual dress for the ceremony, debates exist on its origin: while some consider that the woman must wear her wedding sari, others claim the sari must be new for this occasion.
Today certain families consider the festival as important as the wedding ceremony, and thus prepare wonderful festivities. The current practice changes from the ancestral tradition. Women tie an impressive garland of flowers in the hair of the future mother, the garland being specially composed or bought for the ceremony. And most of the elements are still there! Oil lamps are lit, the rice is always cooked by five various manners and dishes are presented to the pregnant woman during all the ceremony.
Bracelets are thus the central element of the ritual. The woman has to wear an important number of them on her forearms, themselves almost completely covered. They have different colours. Their number can be explained by their use: the sound they make is supposed to scare the devils and to amuse the child. The mother of the pregnant woman offers the first three bracelets: the first is in gold, the second in silver and the third in sea buckthorn. The guests offer the following ones, all made of glass.
The guests follow one another in front of the pregnant woman to set her the bracelets, to present their gifts and finally to bless her. The blessing ritual is as follow:
- The guest spreads some sandalwood paste over the mother's cheeks to pull away the third eye.
- Then she applies a kumkum red powder on the mother's forehead to form a Tilak. Tilak is a sign of happiness.
- The guest sprays some rose water over the top of the head to bless the pregnant mother.
- She offers her several glass bangles and helps her to set it.
- Some rice is thrown over the head to complete the blessing ritual.
Once the blessing rite is finished, the various dishes of rice and other foods are served to the guests. The festival ends with this lunch.