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Up until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stand the thought of the Samathiya Veedu, a traditional Tamil coming of age ceremony that celebrates a young girl’s first period. I can’t say I necessarily love it now, but I see just how incredible it was to experience my first period being supported, loved, and celebrated.
Many communities have their own coming of age ceremonies and celebrations that have become rites of passage. From Bat Mitzvahs in the Jewish community and Latin America’s Quinceañeras, to Filipino Debuts and Apache Sunrise Dances—many cultural groups celebrate the transition from girlhood to womanhood.
In recent years, the Samathiya Veedu has become quite the topic of discussion in the Tamil community. Do we really need to publicly announce that someone has started menstruating? The shame surrounding periods seemed to have hit me retroactively when I look back on this. And didn’t this all start as a celebration of fertility and almost an announcement that she is ready for marriage? I felt like it reduced my worth to the productivity of my womb.
Adding to that, not everyone that bleeds is a woman. The concept that a monthly cycle determines my femininity and the femininity of others is a myth.
I really developed a disdain for this ceremony. That is, until my friend chose to have hers.
How we celebrate the Samathiya Veedu is up to us
I softened the moment I saw the pictures of her celebration with her chosen family.
“As a trans woman, I never would have imagined that I’d be able to have this experience in my lifetime,” she shared with me. And this gave me a few things to think about.
For starters, whether or not we celebrate Samathiya Veedus and how we celebrate them is up to us. My friend wanted to celebrate her transition and be surrounded by the blessings of her trans family, and so she did. There’s empowerment and freedom in that.
My own coming of age
It got me thinking of my own Samathiya Veedu and the elements of the ceremony itself. I always remembered only being allowed to see the women in my life and staying in my room for a few days and telling myself that it felt like a prison sentence. But I almost forgot how loved, supported and cherished I felt in those moments. I didn’t have to lift a finger that week (no chores!) and was beyond pampered.
I was given food that, as per Ayurveda, strengthened my uterus, relaxed my muscles and increased my iron levels. The women in my family all shared their period stories and experiences to prepare me for what my cycles may look like. And that week ended with the crack of a coconut, signifying the start of my ceremony.
My day started with being blessed by family members with what we call holy grass. This signifies being sacredly purified and cleansed by the earth and then being blessed with milk, flower petals and sandalwood before bathing in turmeric water.
And by blessed, I mean every family member took these ingredients and intentionally put them on me. They gave me their blessing in this lifetime and in all lifetimes to come. Then, I was dressed in a hand-embroidered sari to be blessed again by the women in my family with trays of auspicious elements like jasmine flowers, fruits, bangles and more.
When I look back, it was a beautiful experience. It turns out that I wasn’t taught to be grossed out about my period or hide it; that came after the Samathiya Veedu was over. Somewhere along the way, we wrapped up the celebration with shame and stopped talking about periods.
The importance of creating safe space
But coming together with others that bleed to share support and stories is something we should all do, and often. I genuinely believe that curating a soft and safe space for all of us to land on will make navigating the world with our periods more comfortable. Doing so makes talking about these experiences much more accessible.
If I had to do it again, I think I would. Perhaps I wouldn’t incorporate those elements of the ceremony that don’t align with my views. But I wouldn’t write the entire thing off as I once may have.
I don’t want to forget that I come from a people who celebrate periods and see menstruation as a sacred and wholly natural occurrence. I was the center of the universe for my first cycle. So moving forward, I think I’ll treat myself like the center of the universe for every cycle to come.