At crossroads in my belief system

I grew up in a conservative, rather traditional tambram family. Observing practices like ecchal, patthu, theetu and madi*. I never thought too much about it but for the theetu part. I know much has been said about it in various posts on the blogosphere and I am not bringing it up again. I also grew up comfortable with the concept of madi, vizhhupu, sesham* and such. So much so that my in-laws surprised me with their rather liberal outlook on these things. To me all of these were just relics from my past. I honored it just as my parents and their parents before them did. Any rational thoughts were bundled away because I did not want to hurt any one’s feelings. These practices did not harm me in any way other than the inconvenience they posed on occasions like sumangali prarthanai or devasam or any vaideeha karyam. I refuse to look at it from a feminist point of view simply because it applied as much to me as my dad or my bro.

So years later when my family means just me and my spouse and we are at the stage where we decide what rules we follow and which we don’t I am still haunted by my upbringing. Over the past few years I slowly grew immune to the infiltration of patthu and ecchal in my kitchen. I forgot what it meant to observe theetu or madi. I did not need to. The passing away of my father brought these back into focus. Caught between wanting to do for my dad what he did for his, I question the beliefs, I question the rituals.

The easy answer would be to just chart a new path for myself comprising of the things I want to believe in. It would be easy if I did not care as much as I do for my mom’s or FIL’s feelings. I feel caught in between when I see her take so much care and prepare for the annual devasam for appa. I bite back questions and lack of belief in the hope that the day will be perfect for her in the way she wants it to be. I sit in stillness wondering about the elemental concepts of my religion. Life after death. Exotic as it sounds, it seems to be the cornerstone of the many things we do yearly for the departed soul. Feeding, quenching and making the soul feel loved. I wonder what if we “knew” there is no life after death. Once you cremate or bury the life that was. It is The End. Does it change the way you honor the memory of the love you shared with the person? Does it mean that we will create different kinds of rituals to keep the memories alive?

So many questions. Not as many answers. I feel am at the crossroads and I have no idea where to go.

*Practices that stem from the belief that cleanliness overrules everything else. I am not dwelling too much on the practices themselves on purpose. And I am not debating if they are right or wrong either. 🙂

9 comments

  1. Laksh, we all go through the phase, especially considering our generation is stuck between following and leading, and also partly because of where we live (geographically). The environment does play a role sub-consc.

    I didn’t care much for customs earlier and I do certain stuff if it’s not too much trouble for me. 🙂

    Follow the heart in this case is what I’d do if I were you 🙂

    @rads: thats what I try to do. yet there are times when I feel guilty for doing what I feel.

  2. Hi Lakshmi, I stumbled onto your blog just today and I like your style of writing :-)..I have read only a few of your latest entries, but cant wait to raid your archives ! The topics that you cover seem to be close to my heart as well…so here’s hoping to see a lot more articles from you !

    @Chhaya: Thank you and welcome here. I checked your blog out too. Your musings posts do share similar sentiments.

  3. It is a difficult decision. What to follow…whether to follow. Personally, I follow what I can. I hope I don’t change things so much that I forget my roots & culture which I intend to pass on to A. Some of those are definitely based on hygiene & science; I would follow those. Theetu, as long as I am at my mom’s I have no choice. I will not hurt others’ sentiments. I live here, so follow their rules; though I have made a few major changes even here. About devasams, after life etc.., that is a whole different issue.
    Do what I think is appropriate I suppose. Though, I do not think that geography makes a difference like rads said. I followed whatever I do here, when I was in the US also. That I feel is a lame excuse. If you feel you must you will. Sorry rads if I offended you…this is just my point of view.

    @Apar: the hygiene related ones, I can understand to an extent. my problem comes with the greyer areas of life after death and pithru karyams.

  4. Just like all your Blogs, this is interesting and thought provoking and I have been and still assessing the issues vis a vis views of my next generation !!!

    @someone: Will make for an interesting discussion when we do meet sometime.

  5. Hmm…rituals…customs. what to follow and what not to follow. Most of the customs that we follow are more for not offending the elders like you said. When my pati comes to our place, thats the only time when we follow ecchal or patthu. Madi is the only thing we follow during special occasions. There’s this another thing that you are not supposed to put plain rice on an empty plate. Things like that, we tend to forget in our daily lives. Some of them we cant follow practically. My mom-dad follow a mixed system..not too rigid..not too liberal. So, basically its just a compromise…blending it in your own way…

    @Shalu: Its easier when you are following some one else, my problem is when I get to decide what is ok and what is not.

  6. Laksh- another topic that has been on my mind a lot these past few days, what to carry on and what not. By not following some things, will I reap consequences, the fear of unknown and of course just being the devil’s advocate for questioning each and every thing.

    @Mitr: I know!

  7. I can sense your dilemma Laksh. I hold on to certain practices just because they were so part of my value system while growing up (I still cannot make myself to chupify from a ever silver tumbler – I can almost sense my patti’s glare and amma’s reminder from the corner of my mind), and for that reason have a hard time letting go. But majority of what we follow here at our place is dictated by convenience, and what appeals to the mind…!

    @Suman: I know what you mean. For me the problem is reconciling what I actually believe in with the things I do to keep amma and mamanaar happy.

  8. I see this at a diff angle I believe. When I was at my home as a spinster I felt the most uncomfortable when it comes to “Theetu”. Keeping ourselves out of the door for three to five days…I mean it was too demanding and I argued with my mom a lot. But when I got into my husband’s family, because of their caste and culture they dint care much where as I started feeling those things as important ones. I dint know how I got that feel and started being one aacharam lady. Again those habits faded when I started living in a nuclear family, But Yes I also have this dilemma somewhere in my mind and I follow certain things which are comfortable and appealing to the mind…

    @Deepa: Totally can relate to what you say.

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