© 2023 Dr. Margaret Sheppard

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The appearance of menstruation is always cause for a particular ceremony, called lokuna (grown up) or mal-varauna (opening blossom). In the district of Colombo the expression kotoluna is generally used, which means the same as lokuna.

As soon as the bleeding sets in, the wife of the wash-man is sent for. She takes the blood-stained cloth away from the girl and gives her a clean one. The old cloth remains the woman's property and she is further presented with a piece of the girl's finery, such as a ring, a bracelet, or an ear-ring, in addition to a pot and three earthen dishes, a measure, and a reward of fifty cents. The woman anoints the girl's hair with oil (nanu ganava), puts a coconut flower into the pot and moves the vessel three times in a circle above the girl's head.

Next the girl is led into a room of the house where she remains secluded for one or two weeks with only the company of an old woman of the family. This relative also serves her food. Meat, fish, eggs, and baked things are prohibited during this time.

The astrologer is summoned. He has to examine the horoscope and indicate the day for the purifying bath according to the horoscope .

On the day of her bath, the girl is first taken to a tree having a milky juice (breadfruit-tree, papaya, rubber-tree) and there, her mother or her mother's sister pours a pot of water over her head . From there, they go to the bathing-place where the bath is taken.

In the meantime, all the girl's relations have assembled in the house. The moment he enters, the mother's brother breaks a coconut on the threshold. The manner in which the two halves fall down is examined with regard to the girl's future. If the inside parts of both halves point up, it is considered as a very good omen; the girl will be spared from diseases and lead a very happy married life. If, however, both parts fall with their openings downwards, or the female half with its inside up and the male one face down, it is a bad sign; it means that in her marriage she will have the upper hand. But if the male half of the nut lies upward, and the female one points down, it is regarded as propitious for, in this case, the man will be the stronger partner in the marriage, which is as it ought to be according to Sinhalese and Indian ideas.

After this ritual, the mother or her sister brings an oil-lamp of brass with a star-shaped opening for the wicks (pitala), and lights a certain number of wicks  in accordance with the horoscope. The burning lamp is moved three times around the girl's head; then, she takes it herself and carries it into another room of the house where it is left burning. Now, the girl is presented with gifts, such as ornaments, sari, or even money, from her nearest relatives.

A new horoscope with reference to the day and hour of the beginning of the menses, has to be calculated by the astrologer and is used in place of the birth horoscope. From now on this is the authoritative one, and it is consulted on every important occasion, especially marriage.”

(Pages 243-4)

I observed  parts of these ceremonies during the period of my research.

In 2012 when a young girl had her first menstruation she was immediately secluded from all boys and men either in a separate house or room, or part of a room screened off. She was washed by a dhobi (washer woman) who then took away everything she was wearing including any jewellery, when she began to menstruate. She was then served with specially cooked kiribat and sambola etc. All close female relatives had gathered for the occasion on hearing that the girl had now become a woman and they were also served these refreshments. The women relatives entered the house but the men and boys stayed outside.

The astrologer was then consulted for a lucky time and day when she would be brought out of the house dressed in beautiful new clothes and a party was held. She was now considered ready for marriage (although in reality nowadays she would finish her education first.)

Guests present gifts such as gold jewellery, money, crockery etc. The house was  painted for the occasion and new items of furniture are often purchased for the occasion which would later form part of her future dowry.

Dhobi (washerwoman caste) helps the girl to have her first wash. Nowadays people have bathrooms

On the instructions of her mother she then carries it to the room where she will be excluded. It is placed on a chair beside the mattress where she will stay for her seclusion

As she returns to the house she covers her head so as not to be seen

Her mother and a maternal aunt help her to light the special brass light

Mother encourages daughter with a kiss

Dhobi woman helps girl to settle in in the room in which she will be secluded.

Dhobi collecting rest of girl’s “old” clothes

Girl is settled in

A clothes hanger is used to partition off the room

The rest of the women relatives and neighbours then partake of the specially cooked kiribat (rice cooked in coconut milk, sambola (onion, chili and tomatoes relish, and bananas

Mother organises daughter's first meal

This is special kiribat (milk rice), sambala (relish) and a banana

Her younger sister shares it with her

She then relaxes after a traumatic day

Dhobi woman finishes clearing up in the bathroom and collects up into a sack the girl’s clothes, sheets etc - everything she was wearing or using when she started to menstruate including her gold earrings. These are now hers and she takes them to her home.

The Astrologer was consulted and a new horoscope for the girl was drawn up plus he found the lucky day for the girl’s party when she would leave seclusion and  wear beautiful her new clothes and jewellery given to her by relatives, friends and neighbours who would be attending the party. In this case it was held about 5 weeks later. During all this time the girl who was only 11 missed school. I was unable to attend her party but did attend another one.

Dressing in fresh clothes

Female relatives oversee the “settling in”

Puberty Ceremonies held for Girls

Wirz describes the ceremonies held for girls when they start to menstruate for the first time. These are still held have been adapted to suit modern times.

N.B. the jewellery - a gold chain, earrings and ring all of which are 22 ct gold. These are all gifts from relatives etc.

With her younger brother and sister The brother insisted that the family dog was included in the photo!

This girl had started to menstruate shortly after Tsunami. The girl’s father was a fishing labourer so as all the boats in the local fishing fleet had been destroyed they were at this time, dependent on  Tsunami rations. However traditions are important and these beautiful clothes were bought and presented to the girl and the usual party was held following her seclusion.

End of Seclusion Party