Why do we celebrate: Mekhal ?

Mekhal Kashmiri Pandits
Step 1: They took his hair away

My baby cousin ( he was born in ’92 the year otherwise famous for the Cricket world cup) has been a lovely boy. Obsessed with his hair generally (especially when he was in his precious teens). I’m not heavy into gifts but the one thing I did get him from the time I were in UK was a hair-gel. I used to find his hair vanity endearing, almost. Then his Mekhal happened in 2006. And as the hair was being snatched away, the tear drops (at 14 it takes a lot of guts to show up in class with that hairstyle, especially if you’ve loved your hair) fell first slowly to avoid embarrassment, and then free-flowingly soon afterwards. Everyone tried to cheer him up, but it wasn’t easy.

I decided to talk to mother.
‘Che kithkany pyoi Mekhali hund khayal’
Kihin na photo aeses wuchaan
Why did you think of it suddenly? I was flipping through old pictures I said. Why is it celebrated?
‘Goda os yi shurany khatra, chhina dapan ‘bhikshaam dehi’ beyi ti kenh chi dapan. Kihin nay thread ceremony paensa aes jamaa karaan parna khatra. Guru dakshana. Teli aes na Gurukul gacchan. Vany ma chu akoy teacher vany kus chu gurukul gacchan. Vany chi schoolas manz paraan. Yi aes sirf Brahman karaan. Teli ma aes baki paraan.
In earlier times, it was meant for children. Don’t they say (during the ceremony) Bhikshaam dehi (give me alms). Nothing, just to be able to collect money as a fee to the Guru before going to commence on studies in the Gurukul. At that time people would go to a Gurukul. Now it’s not that there’s just one teacher. Who goes to a Gurukul now? Now people study in schools. This ceremony used to be just for Brahmins. At that time no one else was studying, right?

Mekhal Kashmiri
Step 2: He applied for scholarship in his “Bhikshu” attire


Ta vany kya chi karaan?
Vany kya, vunyi ti chi paensa jamaa karaan. Su chu pata gor nivaan. Vany chu yi symbolic, ritual akh. Vany chi badyan shurany ti divaan mekhal.
What do they do now?
Now also they collect money. The priest takes that money now. In these days it’s just symbolic, one ritual. Now grown up kids (men) even have a Mekhal.

Mekhal (or thread ceremony) also entitles the boys to wear a 5 string thread around these necks (signifying that they are Brahmins) and once they get married it is converted to a 7 string thread (2 more for the wife). According to a Priest I once met, earlier (in some Treta Yuga) women also used to wear these threads. But in Kalyug, just men do/ can. And only Brahmins. It is still considered a great thing (a punya) if you contribute/ donate during the mekhal ceremony of people. In fact I have often seen parents/ relatives ask each other to contribute in case someone was unable to attend. It’s also considered a matter of pride almost to get the ceremony done, being only just short of a wedding (and almost like one). Girls or non Brahmins do not have this ceremony– traditionally being not set for studies.

Step 3: He was dressed up as the Mekhali Maharaja

In the first few weeks itself, Jing asked me if caste was still an issue in India. I told her (and honestly at that) that in my age group, we didn’t really even know who was which caste. My exposure to castes really began only when I went to Pune and saw so many reservations. Of course the fact that I’ve been told that the whole Kashmiri Pandits community only has Brahmins also meant I grew up in special circumstances. The boys wear their threads as a part of their identity as Hindus- Kashmiri Pandits.

I’m a big fan of culture and preserving rituals- I think they bring meaning to our celebrations. I love spending time learning what all the small things mean. But I do wonder: what do we celebrate Mekhal for? Exclusivity for Brahmin boys who are the only ones who get educated, or just the fact that we think the Gods (or all else) would get displeased if we didn’t. On the other hand, something similar called Vidyarambham is celebrated in Kerala (highest literacy in the country) amongst all castes, gender and religions and for children who’re 4-5 years old to initiate them into education. Wouldn’t that be nice to think about-especially when I’m trying to solve India’s education problems :-)!

Needless to say, we had the greatest time with the food, songs, and gossip throughout the three days of absolute festivity.

  1. In Basara, Andhra pradesh. only sarswathi temple in india i think. where akshara abhyasam ritual is done irrespective of caste and creed. my schooling also started after akshara abhyasam. it is historical pilgrimage temple you can visit any time. lot of people will be there.

  2. Festivity and fun isn’t worth justifying the small little quaint ways we tend to seperate people. I would be glad if not all traditions make it, even the seemingly harmless ones.

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