I was in Mylapore last weekend to attend an important family function. It was a warm morning in the Tamil calendar month of Marghazhi. The cool breeze gently swayed trees that lined the narrow lanes. Mylapore oozed out Tamil culture. Even the obscure of roads had traces of cultural heritage preserved over generations. Tambrahm Maamis (the nick name given to the Brahmin sect living in the southern state of Tamil Nadu) in elegantly draped madisars (nine yards sari), soulful sounds from nadaswarams (a long wind instrument resembling a flute), fragrant mallipoo (jasmine flowers) from the street vendors and, of course the ever charming Kapaleshwar Temple.
I met Shastrigal “S”-a lively Tambrahm priest here. Throughout the function I couldn’t help but stare in admiration at the perfection and devotion in his rendering of the Vedic Mantras (Sanskrit couplets written generations ago). I have always loved chanting of shloks and mantra. Somewhere they touch the depths of my consciousness and help me connect with the divine. So impressed was I with him that I decided to give him a few words of appreciation post the event.
As our conversation picked up and moved beyond those words of appreciation, Shastrigal “S” asked me, “How many children do you have?” I replied, “I have two daughters”. “So you are now eager to have a boy the third time around?” he asked. As a mother of two girls I have on many an occasion heard similar things from over bearing people, stressing the importance of producing a son. I have over the years learnt to brush away such ridiculous conversations. But today I was a little taken aback to hear it from a man, whom I considered learned. Without being rude, I smiled back gently and said, “I am very happy with my two girls. Nothing more.”
Did I actually notice him twitch his face at that? Maybe he did when he retorted back, “You should not be saying such a thing. A son is an absolute must. Your husband being a Brahmin must pass on the tradition of the Gayathri Mantra to a male heir. Otherwise your family lineage would be cursed.
For those who aren’t really familiar with this Brahmin practice, every Brahmin boy has an Upanayanam also called “sacred thread ceremony”. This is the rite-of-passage ritual, where the concept of Brahman is introduced to a young boy. The youngster is taught during the ceremony the secret of life through Brahmopadesam where the Gayathri mantra is chanted in the boy’s ear by his father, his first Guru.
Being a person who holds the scriptures in very high regard and not wanting to argue with a learned person, I said, “Well there isn’t any guarantee that the next one would be a boy. So why even try.” Shastrigal “S” had an answer for that too. “I will teach you some powerful mantras which would ensure you conceive a male child.” I grinned meekly. Seeing me irresolute, he said, “I am only saying what is written in the scriptures!!”
My meek smile faded away.
It is not unusual in India to recite mantras/prayers to please the Gods for a male heir. The scriptures that have been passed on generations after generations are technically a set of rules to guide people to lead a good, healthy, prosperous and spiritual life. They were best suited for the ages they actually came about in. But with societies evolving into newer forms, I wonder how much of these rules we should still be sticking to. Doesn’t it make sense to adapt these principles in such a way that it suits our present day living and society? Before I left, I asked Shastrigal “S” how many children he had. “Four girls and one son”, he said, stressing on the latter half of the statement!!!!
As I walked back on the lanes of Mylapore that evening, the beauty no longer caught my eye. I could not help but wonder how many more such traditional beliefs lay hidden, which were archaic and probably are a menace to our modern society…