Of Haldi Kumkums and Vethala Paks

My Amma gives Vethala Pak to ladies every Navratri…sometimes 1 lady a day and on some days 10 ladies..whoever she gets.

I have tried to do that for the past 6 years..earlier, I would just take the stuff of the Vethala pak to my office and give it two married ladies there. Then when R was born and we shifted to our new place, I would call our neighbours.

One who is a Maharashtrian and one who is an East Indian. The first time I called the East Indian lady, I asked her if she was okay with it knowing that her faith is different from mine and she may take offence. But she was absolutely super sweet about it, came in, asked me where to put the kum kum, accepted the vethala pak with enthusiasm.

I learnt a lesson that day. You are what you want your religion makes of  you. She follows Jesus, but that doesnt mean she creates a fuss about Durga. She is one person who treats everyone equally.

Then came this year. I again, called my neighbours and gave them. this year, however, I wanted to give something to a little girl as well. Most south Indians would be aware of this custom, where you give clothes to a girl who has not yet reached puberty. So I have a friend whose daughter is about 10ish. I thought I will ask her. Then she has a son who is about 4ish. and so I called him. and I obviously, called my friend home for lunch on Dusshera. Along with it I called another friend as well, SDT who helped me take pictures for the Pratham books initiative.

Should I come, SDT asked me.

Why not, come na, I can give you Haldi kumkum and we will have fun at lunch. Nothing elaborate, I am just making idlis and sambhar, I told her.

Well, you cant give me Haldi Kumkum, she said.

Arey, why not, I asked her.

Well, because I am a widow.

and I was flabbergasted. Thats when I realised the other friend, I had called, whose daughter, I wanted to give clothes, even she is a widow.

Dont widows get Haldi Kumkum was the first thought in my mind?

Well, why not, I thought. For me, I have always associated Haldi Kumkum with a ritual where ladies can meet up and give each other stuff as well as socialise with each other which otherwise, is difficult in today’s busy life. Thats how I have always perceived it.

It really struck me only when my friend told me that oh, is it only for married ladies. Is it?

I searched wikipedia..and yes that’s what it says.

So, I guess, my understanding of the ceremony was wrong till date eh? 😦

But hey, since when did I rely my understanding of the ceremony on wikipedia *rolls eyes*

So, I went ahead and called them. They enjoyed, we enjoyed, the idlis were kadak, but the sambhar was edible.

Adn yes, I did give them vethala pak, coconut, banana and prasadam. The only thing I didnt give was the haldi kumkum that too, because they refused it. Instead of that, I gave them vibuthi 🙂

Well, that was upto them, I dont believe in this honestly. Does being a widow mean they have lost their identity? Does it mean that they cant socialise anymore? Does it mean that they cant enjoy wearing an occasional bindi if they want? Why do our customs lay so much emphasis on married ladies but seem to feel as if widows dont exist? cant they enjoy?
This post came up in response to LF’s post on Widows she did a few days ago.


About R's Mom

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67 Responses to Of Haldi Kumkums and Vethala Paks

  1. Jazz says:

    Oh that is so nice of you RM. I’m proud of you. 🙂

  2. I have a tamil neighbor who arranges pujas or haldi kum she does call all da neighbor irrespective of their religion and we all enjoy da puja, sundal and pongal without any religious barrier..
    Well regarding a widow, i really feel our society puts many restrictions as if a woman loses her identity along with her husband..

  3. My Era says:

    I am glad you went ahead with the lunch and celebration irrespective of the marital status of your friends. It’s a tough call given our conditioning and traditions, but in day-to-day life it is our call what we belief in and how we practice it 🙂

  4. Nithvin says:

    Yes RM, ‘Manjal Kungumam’ is usually given to ‘Sumangalis’. Though I don’t have any issues in giving it to widow, I know not many of them are comfortable in receiving it. It is sad, but if someone is not comfortable in receiving it, whether they personally believe it or it is because of societal norms, I guess their feelings have to be respected.
    Just this morning, I asked my MIL to give the maid the new saree I had bought for her along with ‘vethala paaku’ as I had to go for my bath. Later, she told me that she had asked S to hand it over to the maid. I wasn’t surprised as MIL had told me earlier also as to how she used to invite the neighbourhood ladies home during navratri, but would never give them the vethala paaku by herself. She would keep them on the table and request the ladies to help themselves. This was before my wedding. She lost her husband when she was very young and though I don’t know if anyone has insisted that this is how she ought to be as she is a widow, i think she has chosen to be like this so as not to incur anyone’s wrath.

  5. meeta says:

    Oh, I so feel like coming and giving you a big hug. some of these religious rituals are beyond me too. Question it or follow it is upto ones choice.
    kadak idlis make into a good stir fried idli with sambar. try it the next time. 🙂

  6. Loved this post, RM. This is a subject very dear to my heart. I hate the way our seemingly modern society still ostracizes widows in different ways. Absolutely hate it. I have seen some widows feel very bad when haldi kumkum is not offered to them amidst a group of women. At other times, I have seen widowed women create a big fuss, shed tears about their husband being no more when offered haldi kumkum. Both situations are uncomfortable.

    On such social occasions, I invite people I am closest to and family, irrespective of whether they are widowed or still married. Even in the lighting of diyas, etc,. I do not differentiate between them. While offering haldi kumkum to a widow, I ask them if they would be OK taking it, and act accordingly.

    Our world has gone places but in some ways, we are still living in the 17th century!! I have been meaning to do a post on this topic too, but have not gotten around to it.

    Kudos to your East Indian friend who treats all religions equally.

    • R's Mom says:

      At other times, I have seen widowed women create a big fuss, shed tears about their husband being no more when offered haldi kumkum – Guess thats definitely uncomfortable 😦

  7. You did the right thing by giving them prasadam and vethela pak RM..
    I don’t understand how a lady is suddenly moved to a totally different category in society after losing her husband that she cannot socialize, she cannot wear make-up, she cannot take part in celebrations.. it is really weird..

  8. Smita says:

    Hey… u are so right in calling these ladies for haldi kumkum…. I have a cousin who had to go out and work after her husband passed away at a very young age (her daughter was just 3)… she started wearing mangalsutra the day she started working, also she loves to get all decked up for everything… I think she wears more jewellary than I do, I really like that she enjoys herself… and does not think twice before going anywhere…

  9. chipmunk says:

    gahhh to the tradition! just now i read a post in Tandooripanipoori blog!! I will never accept this tradition at all!!! She gotta live in this world! it doesn’t mean that her husband died and there ends his chapter! haven’t we learnt that they live in heaven! any lady for that matter wants her hub to be safe and good der!!!!! if this is wrong den why they tell us they goes to heaven!!!!!!!

    • R's Mom says:

      Exactly just because some one dies, the other person doesnt have to lose their identity na

      • chipmunk says:

        yes! no necessity of t!! infact she needs support when her dear ones are lost! not a custom like this!Did any god came and said that you must not keep this things wen hub vanishes!!!! some X men said and y we gotta follow !!!!!!!!! den y a small gal alone keeps t when she doesn’t knoes who s her husband! there is a limit for stories.

  10. meenamenon says:

    Waaa! Hats off to you RM, for standing up fo what u believe. U know in a way thts essence of dussera – be the strong brave women…… kudis for being tht!

  11. ashreyamom says:

    hmmm dont know what to say.. i have seen many people, majorly kandika’s( karnataka ppl) who wear halidi-kumkum, magalsutra after becoming widow. when they were asked, they said, it gives them a feeling that their husband is still living with them, when they wear all this.. there were few who fought saying that i wire kumkum even before getting married, why should i not continue it after becoming widow?? also saw few wearing only white saree after becoming widow..
    that is the reason why my in-laws insist me in wearing all the symbol of being married, which i hate to core..

  12. chipmunk says:

    he he i and ashreyamom shared the same thing but with different nodes 🙂 🙂

  13. sandhya says:

    Hats off to you, RM, thrice-
    Once for not associating haldi-kumkum with marital status- I so loved the fact that this did not cross your mind at all in the first place. I’m going to touch your parents’ feet first thing when I meet them for raising such a wonderful person.
    Second for going ahead with your convictions never mind what the convention was.
    Third for letting them make the choice- not pushing your belief on them.

    • R's Mom says:

      oh thanks Sandhya..my parents would LOVE to meet you I am sure…especially since I have raved so much about Bill Byrson to Appa and told him that you introduced me to him

  14. Vidya says:

    Being married into an orthodox family, I never bumped into something like this. We (MIL and I) invite elderly women (relatives, neighbors ) who have lost their spouses too. They visit us and are given vethala-pak and we visit for the vethala pak. I mean, it is not even consciously done. Anyway! Our customs/culture is screwed up in so many ways even for the simplest of things.. 😦

    • R's Mom says:

      thats wonderful na Vidya…I love the fact that you are ready to give them vethala pak..infact now when I think about it, even my Amma used to give it to one of her teachers who was widowed!

  15. Ashwathy says:

    I can’t believe I am hearing this in day and age! 😯 That too in a city like Mumbai! 😯

  16. anisnest says:

    proud of you lady.. widows in current society face so many social issues on day to day life.. this is one of that.. whether they want to accept kumkum or not is secondary.. I think what bothers them more is how the society will look at them if they accept it.. why can’t the society let people live the way they want and stop judging every single action of others? Sigghhhh

  17. Gayatri says:

    Sometimes some of the traditions/customs are so ingrained that one is not able to come out of it. Hopefully things will change with time as I’ve seen some widows now wearing bindi albeit small and gold bangles instead of glass bangles. With help from people like you and some of the people who have commented, hopefully more people would look at it as a socialising custom than a segregating custom and have fun on a festival day.

  18. Zephyr says:

    I think these things are all slowly disappearing though I wouldn’t say they have completely vanished. For instance most women today continue wearing bindis and the mangalsutras after becoming widows and likewise many women are invited for these functions too. I do. Whether or not they want to take the haldi kumkum is up to them but I offer them the tray bearing all of it. They get the tamboolam as everyone else does. I am not the only one, there are more and more like me, RM. Let us focus on them and make it natural for everyone to accept this as normal. I hate discriminating against widows for no fault of theirs, as if they cease to be women or lose their femininity with the death of their husbands.

  19. I am so proud of you RM, very proud of you for doing what you felt right. We really have to change the way things are. At least you made that lady happy and I am sure seeing her happy yo would have been happy too..That’s what we need in life.

  20. Comfy says:

    I don’t care about anything but the idli sambhar. And just for that I want to come over. Oh and for R of course! Bas.

    So when can I come? 😀

  21. Amit says:

    You do understand that you are breaking the norms of our society, don’t you? 🙂
    That is how changes come, one small step at a time. And you are making that change. Our society is very narrow minded and conservative and it will take an effort from all of us to change that.
    I am proud of you. 🙂

  22. Hmm this is one ongoing debate that i dont see will ever end. I remember a few months before my wedding a close relative’s husband passed away and so she refuses to come for the wedding.though there were some people who didnt like the thought my parents insisted that she be there for all the functions and that she woulsnt be wishing bad for me just becoz her aged husband passed away and she was very much around all the festivities….
    Also, ive seen manyof my aunts wearing kumkum and glass bangles and mangalasutra even after they lost their husbands and im glad that in our family-both husband and parents side they are mature enough to understand and not comment….

    U did the right thing rm…

  23. Loved loved this post. I’ve been meaning to comment for a really long time, now! Work. Sigh! 😦

    I think it is about time we start analysing our customs. The fact is most of them have become obsolete, even though they had valid reasons while they were introduced. We just keep following them mindlessly not realising that we have come a long long way since their inception. We keep holding on to most them claiming that we are holding on to our culture. But, really we are just holding on to a useless ritual. Most of us do not know to differentiate between culture and custom. And, this widow-vethalai pakku thing is one other such obsolete custom.

    I am so so proud of you, RM. Hope we have more and more of people like you! 🙂

  24. starsinmeyes says:

    Awesome, R’s Mom! Way to go! It’s the reason, I prefer to avoid all these symbols like haldi-kumkum, mangalsutra and toe-rings and on and on. Because they are denied to women who are widowed or divorced. Ugh.

  25. I’m not really sure about these customs, having not known about such rules too much as a kid, but the fews widows I did know, it always baffled me how they had to dress, act, talk differently than the rest of the women. I never really understood it. Then, later, when I was old enough, I finally looked it up, and was so outraged. I mean, biologically, women tend to live longer, so there are bound to be many widows out there, so it just makes no sense that society punishes them for something that is beyond their control. I’m also a little offended about the way girls are treated once they start their menses. I mean, I used to be invited to neighbours’ houses for some of this stuff when I was like 8 or 9, and suddenly, it stopped, and I asked my mom why and she explained. I still don’t understand again, why we treat little girls as goddesses, and then once they reach the age of biological maturity, suddenly they aren’t good enough? Sorry for the rant 😛 but its just annoying.

  26. Smita says:

    I totally agree with your decision for calling your friends and sticking to your thought process. And I also respect their decision of not taking the haldi kumkum whether i agree with the thought process or not is a different thing all together.

    But by calling them you took a step which is worth applauding 🙂

  27. uma says:

    It’s really sad and unfair that there are customs that isolate widows and are a reminder of the fact that they lost their spouse. Is that their fault anyway? Why should they lose the right to dress up the way they like or forego wearing the so-called symbols of marriage? Since the traditions and rituals are so ingrained within our systems, even modern-age women feel uncomfortable in an environment that celebrates the status of being married rather than the feminine qualities of which Navratri is all about.

  28. Sumana says:

    Kudos to you Rm for doing that. My cousin lost her dad a couple weeks before her wedding. He was suffering from cancer. Since the date was fixed, my aunt wanted to make sure things go fine for her daughter’s wedding and we had called family and friends so no postponements. But on the actual wedding day, when the thali was supposed to be touched by the mom and other elders in the family and then tied to the girl, the purohit made a big fuss what with my aunt crying etc. Even before the first drop of tears fell off her eyes, a whole set of my mom’s sisters, cousins and mom gave him such a blast, that he had no words to say. He just was dumb quiet. I rejoiced the moment when aunt blessed the thali and asked her son in law to tie it to her daughter.

  29. Pingback: Three things I would like to see changed in Karvachauth celebrations. | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  30. notesnmuses says:

    Dad’s friend’s mother, once visited home. We knew that her husband passed away long back, but she was dressed as, what people call, “sumangali”. Amma was in a dilemma and didn’t know what to do about giving her the vethal pak before she left. She couldn’t directly ask her for fear of hurting her feelings. She placed the vethal pak in a tray and the haldi kumkum beside it. She offered it to her DIL first. The pati happily accepted the vethal pak and also the haldi kumkum.
    It was nice to see someone from that generation thinking progressively. 🙂

  31. SG says:

    R’s Mom,
    This is my first time visiting your blog.And it was through a search for widows receiving kumkum. As odd as that sounds for a reason to visit a blog, it was exactly what I googled for. I am a widow, My husband passed away 2 years ago rather unexpectedly. Cancer. My child and I have since picked ourselves up and are continuing to live life. We are since then trying to live life fully, without self denial or guilt and the belief that we deserve to be happy. My husband would have liked nothing better either.
    As much as I want to call myself modern, dynamic and a woman free from mind shackles, it has been daunting breaking free from thoughts and practices that have surrounded us in our formative years. Today I have been invited for a haldi kumkum. The person who has invited does not know. I thought of asking her if she’d be ok. I don’t want to offend her. But at the same time, I don’t want to make it unnecessarily uncomfortable. If she finds out later, it’ll be something she will need to decide for herself what she will make of it. And after much contemplation, I have decided to go.Simply because I need the blessings of the Goddess too. If anything I need them more to give me strength and protection. That is what my mil and sil said to keep in mind when they offered me kumkum last year. My mil is not very literate or modern, yet she has shown more grace and kindness in a loss in which she and I suffer the most. Goes to show that when it comes being human and humane, largesse of heart is all that matters.

    • R's Mom says:

      Hugs hugs hugs hugs SG…I love love love your comment…I am so so glad that you and your child have been so strong to get over the passing away of your husband and taking things in a positive manner…you are an inspiration..and for your MIL and SIL..salutes to them…I am so glad you decided to go…yes, go ahead and enjoy the ceremony…

      • venky says:

        Thanks for the blogs..and the relevant comment..we celebrate navaratri..Gollu every year and as part of it we call all the ladies for haldi kumkum…sumangalis to be specific..and I always had thos question Why??? Yesterday had a discussion with my wife and mother and they said they agree to what I feel ..its just that they have been following this because its going on like this for generations.. Finally we dis call a sumangali and her mother who is a widow for lunch..for me it actually does not make any difference ..they are 2 ladies whom we have called for a auspicious ocassion and they are going to come and bless our house…In fact it not only this discrimination..Imagine a widow is not allow ro participate in her own son/daugter weeding..why? How can u blame her for something which she hsd no control on..all this rules are Man made..or mayne a woman..i dont know..but its high time we oppose such things and give reapect to everyone irrspective of their marital and economic status

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