Blog post by Manasa Anand
Navratri is that time of the year – Gujaratis strap on on their dancing shoes, Bengalis adorn their finest silks, and Tambrahm kumaris and mamis embark on a massive golu tour of the neighbourhood and beyond.
It’s a festival that is colourful, fun, enthusiastic, spirited and so much more. The best part of Tambrahm Navratri is obviously Saraswati Puja, the one day Tambrahm parents give their kids the licence to not open their books.
But on a more serious and purposeful note, it is a festival that truly epitomises unity in diversity. Take our own Iyers and Iyengars for instance – for most part of the year, both the communities follow their own calendar of festivals. But, Navratri is the one time that binds the pachangams of Iyers and Iyengars.
Here are a few typical instances of Tambrahm Navratri that may help ring a bell,-
1. The mystery of golu steps
These beautiful bommai-laden golu steps are a Navratri staple for any Tambrahm. Mind you, erecting this beauty is no mean feat – Mamis have got to channelize their latent creative energy, bubble with enthusiasm and inspire their reluctant family members to work as a team.
While golus in the past were mostly resplendent with classics like dasavatharam set, cricket set, kalyanam set etc.; Mamis’ innate nature to compete and outperform has gotten the better of them and resultantly contemporary golus are much more than head-bobbing chettiar bommais.
In respect of golus, another aspect that has always caught my fascination is the closely-guarded secret of the steps. However, I have my experience at multiple golus to count on, and assert that these steps are either book shelves, cardboard boxes or stacked-up newspapers.
2. Colour-coded Mamis
One of the most recent developments in the Mami scheme of things is the concept of ‘each day of Navratri represents a certain colour’. Consequently, if a group of Mamis are spotted during Navratri, you may be swept by a wave of blue on one day or a forest of green on another depending on which day of Navratri it is.
Also, what’s particularly cute is how Mamis use Whatsapp to solve the colour of the day crisis. These whatsapp groups not just help Mamis to stay ahead of the fashion curve, it also ensures Mamas pockets are eternally light (for Mamis now need different coloured saris for each day of Navratri).
3. One mami, one song
Every girl born in a Tambrahm family has definitely gone through a minimum of 2 years of paatu class. So, it’s safe to say that Carnatic music is an inherent part of Tambrahm culture, sometimes so inherent that we have family members who play antakshari with Carnatic kritis. In fact, many Mamis, who are considered popular singers tend to take big-time offense if they are not asked to sing; and as we all know, there isn’t a more heinous crime than hurting a Mami’s ego. So, given all of the above, it is but natural that golu visits are deemed incomplete without showcasing these talents.
Ironically though, as far as my observation goes, most Mamis reserve one song solely for Navratri purposes and end up singing the same song every year in every golu. Thus, I now identify those Mamis as Sri Chakra Mami, Kanjadhalaya Mami etc.
4. Uniformity in blouse piece and hierarchy in fruits
A generic Navratri thambulam (vethala – pakku) kit is a random assortment of a tray/bowl, a blouse piece, 2 bangles and 1 fruit. While most items in the kit are pretty standard, the fruit generally varies depending on the giver Mami’s perception of the recipient Mami.
To make it a bit more illustrative, here’s an example – a dignified and well-respected Mami would typically get an apple/thengai as opposed to a less popular Mami who would most likely get a banana/saathukudi.
5. Passing the parcel
All those of us who have been recipients of Navratri gifts at some point in our life have been in cognizance of the fact that the gift we received may have been X Mami’s gift to Y Mami. We accept the said gift from Y Mami and do the exact same thing that Y Mami did – give it to Z Mami as though it is brand new.
This exercise of re-gifting sure saves a significant amount of time and effort. But, re-gifting has to be done after exercising considerable caution as it’s not entirely risk-free – for instance, Y Mami has to ensure she does not give X Mami’s gift back to X Mami. Else, pandemonium will strike!
An inevitable offshoot of the daily Mami congregation during Navratri is the vambu that comes out of it. Needless to say, Mamis are incredibly sharp – they can solve complex family tree puzzles like a CAT 99 percentiler and can sniff the presence of a boy/girl of marriageable age like a Labrador retriever. Much to the dismay of the boy/girl, Navratri get-togethers act as a fitting place for Mamis to discover, exchange and disseminate such critical information.
7. Sundal O Sundal
On any Navratri evening, a Mami with an average social life would typically have visits to 2-3 golus, which in effect, translates to having 2-3 bowls of sundal. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Navratri and sundal overdose are almost synonymous.
To keep things crystal, if Diwali is the festival that causes weight gain, Navratri is the festival that causes gastric touble. But thankfully, for us, there is not a whole lot to worry about – as there is very little that our famed mizhagu rasam and thayir saadham cannot cure.
In conclusion, here’s a little bit more food (for thought) – Dandiyas/Garbas may sure be lit as hell. But, going to Rajeshwari Mami’s house for golu, singing a song, eating the sundal (that you’ve earned by way of the song), getting home and having thayir saadham with vadu-manga is not just the most chamathu thing to do; it may also be the safest route to take.
Happy and safe Navratri!