When a Buddhist girl begins her menstrual cycles (menarche), her family throws her a ‘big girl party’ and invites the entire family and the neighbors to join in on the festivities and fanfare of their daughter now having entered womanhood. Menstruation defines womanhood in Sri Lanka and until she menstruates she is genderless.
Some ‘big girl parties are quite grand, held in 5-star hotels with the guest list mounting into the hundreds. Some, as in a village, are simple affairs, with a large crowd enjoying the festivities of food and drink. In some places in Sri Lanka, the tradition is dying out, but not in the villages.
I’ve been to two ‘big girl parties’, and in the beginning I thought it a bit bizarre to announce to the community that the girl has finally gotten her period. I knew this to be a time, in my country, when mother and daughter talk quietly about how to use a menstrual pad and that it’s a monthly happening. My grandmother told me when I was somewhere around 9 or 10 that if I ever found blood in the toilet to quickly tell her. I hadn’t a clue as to what she was talking about, but nether-the- less I often checked for blood! I don’t remember having ‘the talk’ with my mother, but with my girlfriends.
Most cultures have the ‘coming of age’ parties. I’ve been told that the Hindu people in Sri Lanka celebrate for a week, with many rituals surrounding the girl’s coming of age. Somewhat similar parties are girls’ ‘sweet 16’ party in the US and in Mexico the girl’s Quinceanera party at the age of 15. And the Bat Mitzvah for 12 year-old Jewish girls. I could go on and on, but I’d have to spend a lot of time on Google to research the different cultures.
I’ve been to the ‘big girl’ party, but I didn’t get the explanation of what happens with the girl before the party. I’ve since been told that once the girl starts to bleed, she immediately tells her mother and then her mother goes to horoscope reader and gives him the day and time of bleed. Hence he does the reading on the girl and forecasts the girl’s future. He also gives day and time of the coming out party. Until the day of the party, she has to stay in her room so no male can see her, even her father or brothers. She’s not allowed to eat eggs or meat and there’s an auspicious time to come out of room, which coincides with the day of the party.
On day of party at the auspicious time, the mother brings daughter out of room and an elderly mid-wife gives her a bath. The girl has to wear white clothes to signify purity. After the bath she is given gifts by parents and her family. She in return gives a stack of betel leaves (bulath atha) in offer of respect. Later in the day she changes to a fancy party dress and enjoys the festivities!
Note: The photos below were taken by Lipton Jayawickrama as I wasn’t able to go to this specific ‘big girl party.’
Father and Big Girl, Dhaneesha.
Dhaneesha offering betel leaves
to her grandmother.
Bowing to her grandmother,
Dhaneesha shows respect to all her family.
Even her cousins.
Dhaneesha in her party dress.
Everyone loves to have their photo taken.
Such a cutie!
Wow! What a smile. Look at those dimples!
Certainly not camera shy!
Dhaneesha's uncle and cousins.
Grandmother, Aunt and cousin.
Time to eat.
Time for a group photo.
BFF! With a 2nd fancy dress.
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