Sunday, August 14, 2011

Huvilya - in celebration of womanhood

About a Kannada festival

During weddings, thread ceremonies or landmark anniversaries Huvilya or Sumangali puja is performed. (we say – hooveelya)
My first Huvilya was in my wedding. After that I was a part of many Huvilyas. For many years I felt a sinking tightness in my tummy and was an unwilling participant. Being the first daughter-in-law of a large, very traditional joint family, I had no option. But one day I witnessed Huvilya at an Aunt’s house. Here the function was an amazing celebration of womanhood and girly solidarity. I realize this is what Huvilya was meant to be.

Preparation for Huvilya begins days in advance. Five revered and beloved ladies (or 7 or 9) from the family or friends are chosen. Care is taken that every lady is in ‘happy-married’ status – a Muthaidey. Two girls below the age of puberty are added. They are Kodaguse Muthaideys.
Traditionally the host visits the ladies, offers them haldi and oil and invites them for the function. The oil and haldi is so they have a soothing oil massage and bath before they come! But now the invite is generally over the phone. And most women make do with a convenient shampoo bath!

The host begins to shop and cook for the event. Often tasks are assigned. Leela you do the shopping, Malini Atte come home to make the chiggali – thambittu please, Brinda go with Mahesh for the fruits and vegetables.

What to shop?
Every Muthaidey has to be given haldi-kumkum packets, many fruits, a blouse piece, betel leaves-areca nut, coconut (cleaned and haldi smeared), coloured glass bangles, dakshina cover (cash gift) and yummy treats in disposable cups and  surprise gifts like a coin bag, a brass lamp or silver toe-rings. These are arranged tastefully in a steel plate (or plastic tray or cane basket).

tastefully arranged Huvilya tray

Yummy treats:
Thambittu – fat discs made from washed and pounded rice and jaggery (really tasty)
Chiggali – roasted-til laddu (i love this)
Kosambari – spicy treat with soaked chana dal and chopped cucumber (made at most festivals)
Panaka – lemon juice flavoured with saffron
Majjigey – buttermilk flavoured with salt, hing and karipatta

What is done?
Make way…make way … here come the heavy bucket of water, the mug and the wooden platform. The ladies troop outside. One by one, eldest to youngest, their feet and hands are washed, wiped and decorated with Haldi - Kumkum and flowers. Everybody crowds outside to have a peep.

The ladies return to occupy places on mats or chairs (we have more women with knee problems now!) They are offered the yummy treats in slow order. Some drink and some eat while most prefer to save their appetite for the main meal that is soon to follow. There is a lot of teasing and cajoling at this point. The ladies get to eat first while the men wait! There is relaxed laughter.
The ladies are then offered a fistful of haldi signaling prosperity and blissful marital status, a dot of kumkum and strings of jasmine flowers. For a South Indian woman this is ultimate dressing up. She feels beautiful. She feels wanted. A glow settles into her face. The ladies and the two girls represent God and virtuous ancestors. The host then worships them … offers agarbatti, arati and akshata. Of course there is a lot of embarrassed laughter and banter from the young and serious witnessing by older ladies.

The ladies bless the host and anyone else who wishes to offer them pranaam and take blessings. Generally the extended family of the host  (men and women and kids)  takes blessings. The ladies then make an elaborate pretence of going home. They take their gifts and loaded trays and walk out of the house, pose there for a snap and return happy and contented about a job well completed.

Smaller trays are kept ready. All other women and girls present at the function get a loaded tray each. It contains smaller amounts of gifts. But every one gets something.
Since chiggali and thambittu are not made often. Every one is waiting for tasty bites.
Huvilya is a celebration of womanhood. Imagine being invited and fussed over… and it is not your birthday or anniversary.

What fun!

These Huvilya pictures are from a recent 80th birthday celebration at Prabhamani Atte's house.

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