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In the name of Tradition

Posted: December 29, 2010

We Indians – we are big on Tradition. We like to revere it, uphold it, force others to uphold it, kill them if they don’t – yes, we love Tradition. And we are so fond of it, we will uphold one tradition even when it conflicts with another. Our “adjustable” mindset allows us to do that. Sometimes, that’s a good thing – the world is not black and white, and it’s good to let it be when things clash with each other. But sometimes, peculiar things occur in the name of such tradition.

Here is one such story. I belong to the Tamilian Brahmin community, and I mention this only because that has some relevance to this story. Tamilian Brahmins (or TamBrams, as they are sometimes known) have certain well-laid out rules when it comes to the handling of food. These include the strict separation of vessels/implements used for cooking and eating, not eating or touching food on others’ plates, not letting certain foods mix with other foods and so on. My idea is not to diss these rules – some of these make sense from a hygiene/disease prevention point of view, and others such as not letting cold foods near hot ones would have made sense in a pre-refrigeration era.

Some of these rules are so ingrained in one from childhood that even today, while I can pick up a piece of dry roti from someone else’s plate, the idea of sharing something messy like rice revolts me instinctively.

Which is why, a few years ago, at a Tambram wedding, I was horrified when it emerged that one of the ‘traditions’ was for the bride to eat her first post-wedding meal from the same plantain leaf that her husband had used – after he had eaten. Disgusting to anyone (both the practice and the idea – to imply that the woman should be happy with what her man leaves her), but particularly surprising in the context of Tambram traditions that lay so much stress on ritual purity.

Of course, most people did not see the conflict. This was a tradition too, wasn’t it? And Tradition cannot be questioned. The unwilling bride was coaxed into following the tradition – and although it cannot have been a pleasant meal for her, the peace was kept. Ultimately, the tradition of keeping the woman in her place won the day.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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  1. well traditions are also bent for convenience and women are at the disadvantaged end … traditions never bend for them but bend them to the society’s convenience. This a simple but powerful article that points to this fact…

  2. Elixir, you hit the nail on the head; traditions are more easily bent for other reasons, but when women (and esp a new bride in the family) wants to bend them, that’s sacrilege!

    • Very true Apparna. I was disgusted at the very idea, but I couldn’t throw a big tantrum because I was at my “in-laws” place and had to “behave myself”. If I argue against any of these so-called traditions, I am considered a rebel and a feminist (just because I won’t eat my husband’s leftovers or fall on his feet)! When will people let us be as we are????

    • Sudha, I didn’t know this was common – I thought it was some rare thing I witnessed! Basically, the moment we demand to be treated like the adults we are, and for our dignity to be recognized, we are rebels and “arrogant” feminists. The weird thing is, I am sure none of these rituals have any Vedic sanction or sanctity to them, they are just customs that people refuse to let go of.

    • @ APARNA, I agree with you. I think one thing I am coming to terms with is ignoring all the adjectives that are used on me.

  3. I came to know of this custom from a male friend. He said, he left the plate (they didn’t use plantain leaf, they were settled in some place North) as clean as possible, eating very little, keeping his bride’s feelings in mind. He said he did not have the courage to fight the tradition itself, so he compromised this way.
    I echo the first comment.

    • well Shail that little bit does show that guys today have become a little conscious of it…maybe courage will also seep in some day… or am I being too optimistic?

  4. My parents didnt do it 🙂 Apparently, on the way to the temple (which you have to go after marriage before food) my mom told my dad that she hated it, and my dad told his mom (my grandmom) that if she dared suggest it, he would walk out of the hall 😉 but now a days, I think its more of feeding each other rather than eat from the hubby’s leaf which is popular (at least thats what I did!)

    • [quote name=”Rs Mom”]My parents didnt do it 🙂 Apparently, on the way to the temple (which you have to go after marriage before food) my mom told my dad that she hated it, and my dad told his mom (my grandmom) that if she dared suggest it, he would walk out of the hall 😉 but now a days, I think its more of feeding each other rather than eat from the hubby’s leaf which is popular (at least thats what I did!)[/quote]

      that is very heartening to hear… so I ain’t getting optimistic for nothing.. there are a lot of sensible people in the previous and present generation who can rise above traditions!

  5. R’s Mom – if your dad, from an older generation had the guts to stand up to outdated traditions, surely the young men of today can take on some battles! Feeding each other sounds sweet and egalitarian… completely different from eating the leftovers on your husband’s plate.

  6. I see the feminist emerging towards the end of the article 🙂
    Dont forget, in the same tradition, during the marriage, the man puts the metti (toe rings) in the girl’s toe and makes her take 7 steps holding her toe all the while! We dont complain its degrading to bend on all 4s and hold the girl’s feet at that time! What’s wrong in eating from a husband’s plate?

    • Firstly, men are welcome to protest anything that they find degrading. Don’t ask us to stop protesting things that upset us, because you don’t. If something irks you, go right ahead!
      Secondly, I fail to see how putting a marriage ornament on a woman (itself a sign of her being ‘owned’) is the same as eating leftovers from a used leaf or plate.

    • Read carefully. I said ‘We dont complain its degrading…’. Meaning, we dont find it degrading or disgusting in the first place to fall at a woman’s feet. Its tradition. We follow it because its tradition. Boys r sporting. Period 🙂

      Again 2nd point you made. Its not about putting the marriage ornament. Its about falling at a woman’s feet. Note the difference. I am comparing falling at the feet to eating leftovers.

      And why do you girls not complain, when you are gifted a diamond necklace by the husband or in-laws during the marriage? That doesnt constitute ‘owning her’ eh? 😀

      So net net, lets not get nit picky about traditions. Am sure there’s a damn good reason behind everything that’s done. Lets not forget Goddesses out number Gods almost 2 to 1. So if you have any doubts, let me clear it now. We worship women. Afterall she can make or break a home 🙂

    • If your wife nags you all the time and you just have to follow her your whole life, then you will know what many people here are talking about.
      And boys are definitely not sporting. They run to complain to their mothers etc. if their wife does not take care of them “properly”.
      And to me, being made to wear a necklace against my wishes, just because someone wants to show off their wealth is also degrading.
      I hold Indian culture very highly, but most of the traditions have been twisted.

    • Most unfortunately, the revolutionaries like you will never agree to propagate the idea of having registry marriage , where there would be just garlanding. But, I know, the girls would be more keen to have traditional marriage , even if there is possibilities of ignominious rituals. I don’t know, whether you are married, or how it was held, but be honest and say did you try anything more than writing blogs or posting comments? If yes, congratulations, if not, please tone down your voice and do some activist role. Sorry to post such a comment in a Womens forum where we are not natural participants being mail. Treat me as a person without gender consideration or even as a devil, but please ponder over my words. Regards.

    • Thank you for the mansplaining.

    • Girls are expected to touch her husband’s feet and then get her wedding saree, and even in a lot of other occasions girls are expected to “seek blessings” from their husbands. So, I think it is fair that guys get to hold their wives feet, atleast once in life. Ofcourse you can argue against both.

  7. totally agree!!

  8. Indian culture has a very long tradition of keeping the woman as a secondary citizens. Most of our rules/traditions have denied the woman freedom and respect.

    I have never been proud about indian culture or for that matter any culture. We indians have been just following our culture without questioning it.

    I support any woman who can think and decide what they want and how they want to live, instead of carried away by this society and culture.

  9. It would be interesting to note why the practice of eating left overs from the husband’s plate was not objected to in my grandma’s generation. It seems that the wives rarely got to eat good food which was mainly consumed by menfolk,children, the mothers and aunts in law and finally the women who slogged in the kitchen got to eat either very little food or that which no one wanted to consume. So men who wanted their wives to enjoy good food would take excess of it and leave a good amount in their plates(read plantain leaves) and ask their wives to finish it up. This later became a tradition. This may not make sense to those of us who have not experienced the sacrifices that are expected in a traditional joint family set up. I’ve heard my sister complain that when she was newly married the daughters in law never got enough to eat while her MIL would not think twice about piling up the plates of her sons and children even if they claimed that they were full.

    Having said that i must add that I’ve never been asked to fall at my husband’s feet or to eat from his spittled plate thanks to my MIL who’d have vetoed the very suggestion if it were ever made.

  10. Aparna,
    I read somewhere that the tradition started so the husband could save the tasty dishes for his wife. As a man, he’d be served the best of the best and as his wife ate after him, there might not be much left for her. This way, husbands would ask to be served loads and leave some on the plate saying they are too full – for the wife to finish off later.

    Yes, yes, the idea is majorly icky but there you go!

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