The nine days of Dussera festivities include celebrations of such varied nature from simple pujas at home, to elaborate homams , dandiya nights , eye catching kolus made up of beautifully painted wooden bommais ,bhajans, music and so much more.
Over the years we have been invited to homes where Navaratri is celebrated with much happiness and devotion. Who can forget being coaxed endlessly to sing ‘just one sentence’ in the presence of elders or the carefully prepared neivedhiams that do not taste as delicious any other time of the year.
Another constant during these celebrations is the Thamboolam bag.When I think of the whole culture of giving the ‘thamboolam’ to guests I can’t help but think of the ubiquitous ‘manjapai’ that was such a part and parcel of my parents’ generation. As I reminisced about it with my Uncle Ravi,(who is highly knowledgeable about rituals and customs) he said that this manjapai had all but disappeared from urban use and was replaced by bags that matched each individual’s taste and luxury of purse.
Today the thamboolam bag may hold anything that appeals to the host’s mindset. The real intent for which it originated however is something quite different. In actuality ,the ‘thamboolam’ refers to the betel leaf and areca nut given as an offering to guests after a meal or around the time of their departure. It is meant not just to aid digestion after a heavy feast and leave the mouth refreshed but is believed that the red colour it imparts is a sign that the guest has been well looked after. In Hindu mythology it is considered sacred as it signifies the Goddess of wealth (Mahalakshmi)
Over time the Thamboolam grew to include the coconut , bananas, turmeric and vermillion powders.The coconut is thought of as ‘poorna phala’ (all encompassing; fulfillment of wishes),the bananas signify prosperity .The manjal and kungumam are equally auspicious and carry good vibes .There are so many people for whom the gifting or receiving of the thamboolam is special.
Swarna Reddy, for instance,whose home I have had the pleasure of visiting for puja takes immense joy in choosing her Thamboolam bags every year.She thinks of the women who are invited to her home and selects bags in vibrant colours that will not only appeal to them but will also add to the positivity associated with gifting.
Another dear family friend Rajam aunty talks nostalgically about receiving thamboolams every year as a child when living in the Agraharam. She says it was a practice within the Brahmin community to invite young girls to different homes within the area , every day for nine days,to offer them clothes ,fruit and other auspicious gifts.The idea behind it,she adds, was to celebrate the girl child and pay obeisance to the warrior (shakti) in her.It was a much looked forward to event with all the girls adorning themselves in pretty pavadai chattais and simple jewellery.
While the manjapai may not be to everyone’s tastes there are cloth bags that are available today which are made out of scraps of brocade, jute, gada etc, to suit every budget, embellished appropriately for the occasion and are extremely versatile for re-use .My mother’s friend now uses her thamboolam gift bag as a stylish potli (draw string bag).
Many of these bags are made and sold by organisations that educate children coming from dysfunctional homes,destitute women and homeless adolescents.They are not only taught to create but are also made aware of the value of their hand craft which adds much to their sense of self esteem. Jaishree Ravi (director at Seva Nilayam) says it’s so heartening to see young children take pride in making these bags and coming up with the different designs.
Buying Thamboolam bags from such NGOs serve the purpose of uplifting those lives that are in dire need of it.
My cousin sisters and me love visiting our uncle’s home during Navaratri. His consciously sourced thamboolam bags were always special .There is one in particular that never fails to evoke a response even from the most reserved onlooker. Sourced from an NGO in Mumbai, the handles are fashioned to look like strands of jasmine,almost as if one has wound fresh mallipoo around the wrist ! It has grown to become an essential accompaniment to my kanjeevaram wardrobe.
If you think about it even those manjapais doubled up to serve so many purposes.From transporting large amounts of cash or be it visits to the jeweller or grocer,it was always the manjapai to the rescue.
The red vermillion powder may have been replaced by the sticker pottu but we have to admit that there’s so much more to the thamboolam bag than what just meets the eye !
Seva Nilayam sells bags that cost between the range of Rs.20 to Rs.40/bag
Contact : Vijayalakshmi at 9994249661 for orders
Bio basics sells bags at a cost of Rs.23 /bag
contact :9677640246 ,9677610246 for orders
Shraddha Trust sell bags online at Rs.200-Rs.500/
website : www.shraddhamumbai.org
e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org