Some time end of last month; about 2 weeks ago, my old neighbor Ah Yaw invited me via sms to attend his elder brother daughter’s “bangle ceremony” somewhere at Towner Road. He urged me to drop by cuz his other siblings would be there. It’s a rare opportunity for me to meet up with them after more than 30 yrs. His 2 sisters and that elder brother with their children, cousins and other relatives would be gathering there for the solemn Hindu ceremony. Ah Yaw’s two elder brothers and an elder sister have passed away. There are left with only 4 surviving members including himself. His aged mother living in Woodlands wouldn’t be attending cuz she’s too sickly to travel that far. I told him I would drop by after work at 8pm.
As usual, I asked around and enquired from my Hindu friend about the significance of ‘bangle ceremony”. The said ceremony is actually held twice in a traditional Hindu lady’s lifetime – once just few days before her traditional Hindu marriage and when she reaches the 8th month; heavily advanced pregnancy just before giving birth on the 9th month where she shall proceed to her own mother’s house to deliver! This usually applies to the first born. It’s quite interesting really. An elaborate bangle ceremony before the marriage and another just before delivery at her own mother’s place. It’s a custom where most conservative Hindus strictly adhere to.
I read somewhere that bangles are vital jewelry ornaments for Hindu maidens especially if they are married. For without wearing any bangles on her wrists, it is as good as naked – without any clothing on. The emphasis on bangles whether they are made of glass, plastic, white gold, yellow gold or even silver are not that important. The important thing is that Hindu ladies should deck themselves with multi rainbow colored bangles cuz each color denotes an attribute. Others such as rings or chains are of lower priority than bangles so it seems.
“Glass bangles hold different meanings according to their color. Some regions have specific bangles associated with their local traditions, and there is a more general color code for bangles as well. Red bangles symbolize energy, blue bangles symbolize wisdom and purple symbolizes independence. Green stands for luck or marriage and yellow is for happiness. Orange bangles mean success, white ones mean new beginnings and black ones mean power. Silver bangles mean strength, while gold bangles mean fortune.”
I’ve learnt something valuable about Hindu customs and traditions. There is always something new to learn from other races’ customs and traditions. My next question to my Hindu friend is – As a Chinese invited to witness the ceremony, what should I do? Do I buy some bangles? Oh just give an angpow (red packet) will do lah! That’s the reply from my Hindu friend. I told my Hindu friend giving me advise on the do’s and dont’s of such an important ceremony that the Chinese usually give angpow with even number for “good” joyful occasions. Usually we give auspicious numbers like $88, $168, $188, $888 etc. For “bad” or unhappy occasions such as funeral, the Chinese give odd numbers like $30, $33, $50 etc. To my utter dismay, I was distinctly told by my Hindu friend that they do not practice such custom. In fact, they would prefer me to give angpow with odd numbers! Alamak. Cultural shock lah! I kept asking my Hindu friend whether they had just told me is true? For I do not wish to offend the feelings of my old neighbor Ah Yaw’s brother or the bride to be. They assured me that they are different from the Chinese as far as this aspect is concerned.
Confident that I got the correct advice, I set off to Ah Yaw’s brother’s residence to experience this interesting ceremony. When I reached there just after 8pm, I was greeted by a huge crowd of Indians overflowing from the tiny 3-room flat to the common corridor. There was hardly room to sit let alone enter the tiny flat. All the furniture was moved to the common corridor. There was so much fresh flowers and lighting decorations around. Food was also prepared in abundance for the guests.
Ah Yaw told me to greet his elder brother who was standing at the main door. I went over to him and shouted “Tarzan!” I’m not going to use his name. I’ll stick to his nick name, “Tarzan”. My dear readers may be amused by this revelation; so were those present there. When he heard me calling him that long forgotten nick name, he seemed in a state of momentarily shock until Ah Yaw explained to him my sudden appearance. Quickly, he shook my hand and flashed that rather unique trademark simile where his mouth slanted sideways, lopsided to one side giving a wry smile minus one or two teeth. The thick mustache added that dash of “garang_ness” on his facial expression! If not for his shinning pate albeit not as powerful as Tharman, he could resemble like any one of Bollywood veteran actors playing the malevolent godfather.
Once he got the idea where I surfaced from, he started firing me in fluent flawless Hokkien to take a sit and pai seh could not really entertain me cuz he’s busy with the ceremony. For the first time in my life, I felt so inadequate in my Hokkien dialect ( I’m a Teochew ) when facing our Tamil Tarzan whom replied to me in impeccable Hokkien even as I spoke to him in English. On that split second, I was thinking if only he could speak Mandarin that well instead of Hokkien, those PRCs here would falling all over the place cuz they always insist that we learn Mandarin even though our lingua franca is in English and we are more at ease using broken or pasar Malay. My good friend Encik will definitely endorse this statement. Click here to read more about Encik.
Tarzan aged about 57 yrs old has mellowed much. When we lived in the kampung in the early 70s more than 30 yrs ago, he was a physically strong powerful young man; a professional soldier in the army. A commando who was always pumping iron and training physically in his spare time. Sometimes, he would mix around with those boys in the kampung. But he always played the role of mafia chief, terrorizing us at times since he was much older and stronger than all of us. I remember how he constructed a makeshift tree house and we even hijacked our Chinese neighbor’s chicken for him to cook curry in outdoor campfire setting. We always took his instructions and played according to his rules during the long year end school holidays then. That’s how he got his Tarzan nickname I suppose. He was only known by that name then. If there was any dispute or grievance against each other, we would bring it to Tarzan’s attention. He would arbitrate and decide according to his whim and fancy. Does that sound familiar with you?
As usual, Ah Yaw introduced me to his two sisters and their relatives. The elder sister – the tuition teacher aged about 56 yrs was totally different from the young elegant maiden of yesteryears. When I saw her after more than 30 yrs, my mind immediately recalled these lines –
“…. rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come ..”
We can never escape Time’s bending sickle! Yes, we age dramatically. Some age gracefully whilst others not that blessed. Nevertheless, the tuition teacher’s soft, sweet melodious voice still prevails and lingers. Her same concern and sense of compassion still remain when she enquired about my family members. Kindness and compassion are some attributes that will never change no matter how many zillions of time the globe spins. I was comforted by this fact.
Next, the manager nurse sharing the same birth year as me. All agree that she inherited one of her late brother’s looks. That brother passed away at a tender age of 19 yrs old whilst embarking on a professional career in the army. I remember her as a compulsive gluttony as she is the youngest of all Ah Yaw’s siblings. It follows that she was quite plumb and hyperactive – the exact opposite of the tuition teacher and the other late sister who was also a nurse. She introduced her two young sexy hour glass figure daughters to me. Her only son was not there. She is now a much matured authoritative mother figure of 3 grown-up children. I had an interesting chat with her husband and introduced him to my blog. He seemed to be living in another world when he proudly and unabashedly declared that his state of art iphone 5 is ONLY meant for calling, answering and sending sms! He should have stuck with Nokia instead, then maybe Nokia wouldn’t have gone bust!
Sitting around on stools along the common corridor amongst ourselves – a motley group of middle aged dinosaurs including “chicken” – nickname of the cousin who used to stay with Ah Yaw during the long year end school holidays; and with his huge siblings and their offspring of paraphernalia, we began to journey into those happy careful days of a bygone era. Of course, their children didn’t join our conversation as they found us coming from another part of the old world unconnected to their current world view. It was in the middle of our animated conservation that I suddenly blurted out to Ah Yaw, “Dei how come no chinaman here except me dah?” It seems that I was the one and only yellow or “manjar”amongst them. I’m sure Tarzan surely got lots of chinaman friends since his Hokkien is so super fluent? He didn’t invite them?
“Alu, not like those days in the kampung we used to mix around and going into each other’s houses. Nowadays, we live in HDB flats. Everyone closes their door once they go back. In those days, did we ever shut our door? Our doors were always open and anyone could have just walked in uninvited lah. Times have changed. Only you are special. I believe no other Chinese would want to attend such Hindu ceremony except you lah!”
As usual, time flew fast. It’s about one and half hour since I dropped by to their exclusive close knit family’s bangle ceremony. Before I made my move, I was invited to take a group photo with them inside the small flat including the cheerful bride. She was so beautifully decked with fresh flowers, ornaments, jewelry with painted designs and patterns all over her hands and palms. Without doubt, she was clearly the bride in waiting. I gave her an ang pow when she came to greet me earlier and wished her all the best.
Before I announced my imminent departure, I shook hands with everyone. I went personally to congratulate Tarzan. I told him in halting Hokkien that I had presented a small angpow token to his beloved daughter and I wish her happiness (Kong Hee
in Hokkien). Tarzan replied in typical Hokkien, “Yes, my daughter did tell me about it.” He was beaming with joy experiencing being the proudest father in the whole wide world then. He was so apologetic and kept saying pai seh,no time to entertain me. Wow! what a nostalgic trip back to memory lane of a bygone era. It was like a dream relived in that priceless one and half hour. It’s back to our cut throat world of competition and bottom-line real world once I hit the road on my bike back home.
In many Indian Hindu families today, traditions and customs still play an important role in life. Indian weddings, for instance, consist of many traditional customs and ceremonies which the bride and bridegroom and their families have to go through before and on the actual wedding day.
The first significant pre-wedding ceremony is when the two families meet to confirm the proposed marriage. It is done in the presence of elders and sometimes a priest. Then, a few days before the wedding, there will be a bangle-ceremony where the family of the bridegroom goes over to the bride’s home with bangles for the bride. It is also now that the hands of the bride are decorated by henna. Link
The Significance of Bangles or Chudi in India
Bangles are a type of ornament worn by women in India. Also called Kangan or Chudi in Hindi, Valayal in Tamil, Gaaju in Telugu, Bale in Kannada. Bangles are part of traditional Indian jewelry. In India, bangles are very popular and with growing fashion trends, have become a highly popular in their various designs and forms. They are usually worn in pairs by women, one or more on each arm. Most Indian women prefer wearing either gold or glass bangles or combination of both. Inexpensive Bangles made from plastic are slowly replacing those made by glass, but the ones made of glass are still preferred at traditional occasions such as marriages and on festivals. Bangles hold great value in Hinduism and tradition. It is considered inauspicious for a woman to have bare arms. Traditionally, married Hindu women always weary bangles around their wrists. Today, the modern day women may not wear bangles with their daily attire, but only on occasions and festivals. This is because to them, bangles have a very sentimental value. In fact, to the Hindu woman, bangle is not only an ornament, but also an important part of womanhood and honor.
A single bangle worn by a man is called a Kada or Kara (steel or iron bangle). Kada is a circular shaped bangle having religious significance for Sikhs, and is made from iron, white metal or gold.
Marriage – While girls in traditional Indian society are allowed to wear bangles, married women are generally expected to wear bangles. The jewelry is primarily associated with matrimony, signifying marriage in the same way that the Western wedding ring does. After the wedding, the woman continues to wear her bangles as a charm of safety and luck for her husband, and after a Hindu woman’s husband dies, she breaks her glass wedding bangles in an act of mourning.
Bangles and Honeymoon – During an Indian wedding, the bride tries to wear the smallest glass bangles. She is helped by her best friend or sister to do this using scented oil. It’s believed that smaller bangles symbolize a happy and loving marriage and a wonderful honeymoon.
Bangles and Husband and Luck – A married Indian woman is required to wear bangles (green or red depending on which region they belong to) on a day to day basis because bangles are symbolic of safety, marriage and luck for their husbands. Sudden breaking of glass bangles is considered a sign of danger or an unpleasant incident involving the husband.
Color and Meaning
Glass bangles hold different meanings according to their color. Some regions have specific bangles associated with their local traditions, and there is a more general color code for bangles as well. Red bangles symbolize energy, blue bangles symbolize wisdom and purple symbolizes independence. Green stands for luck or marriage and yellow is for happiness. Orange bangles mean success, white ones mean new beginnings and black ones mean power. Silver bangles mean strength, while gold bangles mean fortune.
In Gujarat and Rajasthan, the bride’s mother has to gift the bride a pair of ivory bangles. It is only on wearing these ivory bangles that the bridal couple can perform the ‘saptapati’; without the bangles, this ritual cannot be performed. (The saptapati is the seven steps that are taken around the fire, without which no Hindu marriage is considered complete).
Married women in Bengal have to wear the iron ‘kada’ (bangle) or ‘loha’ as it is commonly called, to signify marriage. In addition to this kada, the bride is presented with white conch bangles that are beautifully crafted and red lac bangles.
The South Indian ceremony called Valaikaapu occurs during the seventh month of a woman’s pregnancy. The family celebrates, and bangles of all colors and designs are stacked on the woman’s wrists. Once the ceremony is completed, the woman goes to her mother’s residence. There, she will deliver her child.
It is believed to be an event held to ward off evil spirits that might be lurking around the mother-to-be or the baby in the womb.