Traditions and Customs -
Tamil Hindu Culture
Each of the religions in societies of the world has their own culture, with many customs, traditions and qualities. The Hindu culture is a culture of love, respect, honouring others and controlling one's own ego so that the inner nature, which is naturally pure and modest, will shine.
Jaffna Tamils being mostly Hindus exhibit Hindu culture in many respects. Respect for others, modesty and fear of Gods are the most important features and here is a list which is not in any way comprehensive.
Respect for Elders and others
The acknowledgement of seniority and maturity is shown in many ways in the behaviour of individuals when they are in the presence of elders. This respect for elders is a keystone of Hindu culture. It extends to parents, teachers, relatives, and any other person who is older than you. There is a saying that if you meet someone older than you are then treat them as if they are your parents by giving them the due respects you would give to your parents!
a. Bringing gifts such as fruits when on a visit to their elder’s homes is a must in almost every family.
b. Behaviour in front of elders like sitting when elder person is standing, talking loudly or excessively, arguing and contradicting them, yawning or stretching, smoking or drinking are all prohibited.
c. Serving food first for elders, seeking their advice and blessings and giving then the first choice in all matters are favoured.
d. No one will cross the path of elders anywhere.
e. The elders are generally greeted with both hands clasped in front of the chest as in worship.
f. The fore finger is never used to point at something when speaking to elders but the whole palm is used as a pointer. Using the index finger is considered to be rude.
g. Younger persons will never call an elder by their name. Even brothers and sisters are called as brother (annai or thambi) or sister (akka / thangachi). All relatives are referred to as uncles and aunts, grandpa or grandma.
h. No one is addressed by their first name except people of same age.
i. Giving and accepting things to one another, presenting offerings to Deity is done with both hands and this is considered to the proper way.
j. Throwing objects at another person even if they are known persons is considered as rude and violent.
The teachers had the most respect from all their students and people in the village. They were the educated and considered to be the top people for advice and help and no one would want to antagonise them.
Respect for and by Women
In traditional Hindu culture, the women are usually held in the highest regard, far more respected than in the West. But this does not mean the kind of equality they get in the West. The qualities of the women traditionally admired are their modesty and shyness.
a. In a company of strangers, the women do not engage in any conversation freely but this is allowed in the company of relatives or friends.
b. Women speaking to strangers in the street are improper.
c. The Hindu wife will never address her husband with his name. Usually the husbands are referred to as ‘husband’,’ him’, ‘aththan’ or even ‘mama’ sometimes. (During a Hindu marriage there was a custom where the priest conducting the marriage ceremony will make the wife to say the name of her husband for the first and last time in her life. I have personally witnessed this at my sister’s wedding in 1960.)
d. The wife would normally walk behind her husband one or two steps.
e. The husband and wife will never hold hands, kiss or hug each other in public.
f. Men do not touch or hug any other woman other than his wife.
g. At meal times food is served to the men first before the woman eats.
h. Women never walk on the streets alone; always they are accompanied by some other person at least by a child.
i. Interaction between men and women in public is restrained, mostly men socialise with men and women with women.
j. If a male visitor arrives at a house when the lady of the house is alone, it is not proper for the lady to invite him into the house.
k. All married women are expected to wear the Thali at all times unless the husband has died. They should not sell or dispose it in any other way.
l. Young girls and unmarried women wear a black pottu in the forehead and married women wear a kunkuma pottu.
m. Friends and relatives visit one another unannounced and when they do visit they will be served with snacks and refreshing drinks. It would be discourteous to refuse to accept these unless there is a specific reason.
n. Pregnant women and women in general would be given seats in a crowded bus or trains as respect for femininity.
o. Another saying is if you meet a lady older than you then treat her as your mother and a younger woman as your sister.
Cleanliness / purity
Cleanliness is an important aspect in Hindu culture. In daily life the Hindu tries to protect the innate purity by wise living by never using harsh words, angered or using indecent language and keeping a clean healthy physical body. The ways this is achieved are;
a. Food: The nature of one’s food affects the physical, mental and emotional state and hence the food and its preparation and serving need more attention.
. Cooks tasting food will only place a small portion in the palm of their hand and taste it but never off the spoon which is used to stir the food.
. People will never offer something to others from which they had taken a bite or sip.
b. Offerings to temple will be most clean; flowers are handpicked and not smelt, and flowers fallen to the ground are never offered to the temple as they are unclean.
c. In Hindu culture, the left hand is primarily used for personal hygiene purposes and hence using left hand to receive or hand over anything from anyone is considered as an insult.
d. Shoes and footwear are meant for use in the outside of the house and never worn inside. They are usually left at the entrance of the house and people wash their feet in water before entering the house. Carrying of footwear in the hands anywhere in the house is also avoided.
e. Before going to the temple people will have a bath and wear clean washed clothes and before entering the temple they will wash their feet in the temple pond or in water drawn from the temple well.
f. Menstruating women will not go to the temple during this period and they will not take part in any religious matters in the house.
g. Menstruating women will stay isolated in the house in a room so as to keep the rest of the place clean until three days are over and has had an oil bath.
h. Women after child birth will remain isolated for a month.
i. The Hindu washes the floor of the house with water now and again to keep the place clean and this is possible as the floor is of cement. If the floor is made of clay it is smeared with cow dung and this has the same effect. (cow dung is deemed pure)
j. After attending a funeral both men and women stay outside the house for them to be showered with a bucket of water by one of the occupants of the house. Then they go to the well and have a bath, wash all their clothes and then only enter the house. This is preventing any infection from the funeral house. This is more prevalent in the villages.
k. Men after having had a hair cut will not enter the house but go to the well and have a bath before entering the house.
l. The workers in the fields and backyard of the house are not allowed to enter the house as they are unclean.
m. Anyone visiting a patient in the hospital will have a bath before they enter the house.
n. Fridays are considered to be holy days and only vegetarian diet is served in the house hence all the pots and pans and the kitchen will be washed properly before the Friday arrives. If they are vegetarians this may not be the case.
o. If anyone in the house suffers from an infectious disease like chicken pox, a bundle of Neem or margosa leaves are hung at the gates of the house indicating there is an infection – a brilliant method of isolation.
a. The priests in a temple would receive a fee or monetary gift called TThetchanai at the completion of their pooja and blessing.
b. Conversations are not held at the doorways as is giving and receiving things. This is considered to be inauspicious and avoided or step in any direction first – either inside or outside
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