Birthday Parties in Kerala

Among Kerala Hindus at least, birthday parties are not held on the 365 day cycle. Instead, they looked at the "star" under which a person was born and birthdays were celebrated on the "star" day in the month of birth each year. As there are only 28 "stars" this day would not usually coincide with date of birth in a 365-day year.

Traditional Birthday Party

On her or his birthday, the traditional Hindu girl or body will:

  • Wear new or fine clothes,
  • Visit temples and make offerings to the deity, and
  • Enjoy a traditional feast with her or his favorite dishes along with relatives.

Birthday party lunch Typically, the party would be a vegetarian lunch. Rice would be the main item. It would be accompanied by different dishes - typically ghee and dal, ginger in curd, ginger-tamarind, pickles, fried papad and banana chips, thoran (made with a vegetable like beans and coconut gratings), oalan (made with melon squares and coconut-milk), kaalan (made with a vegetable and buttermilk), erisseri (made with jackfruit and coconut gratings) and saambaar (made with a mix of vegetables like melon and drumstick). The pic right shows most of these items.

The lunch would be eaten using one's right hand and not with forks and knives. Midway through the lunch, buttermilk is served. This would be mixed with the rice by the eater himself or herself. All the items were traditionally served on plantain leaves and eaten by sitting on the floor. Sweet dish After the main course (or sometimes before serving the buttermilk), paayasam - a sweet liquid dish - would be served. (Eating the liquid served on the flat plantain leaves require a special skill! In the pic left, we have solved the problem by getting it served in a glass bowl along with a spoon!)

In olden days, rich families reportedly organized feasts with 64 dishes. (These days, identifying these sixtyfour is itself a big problem!)

Offering to God Ganapathy Actually, the feast would not begin until an offering is made to the glutton among gods, Ganapathi. A lamp is lit and all the dishes are served on a plantain leaf by the lamp. Hindus believe that god Ganapathi is the god of auspicious occasions and an offering must be made to him before starting anything.

An Occasion for Get-Together

Traditionally, birthday parties in Kerala have been treated as occasions for family get-togethers. Relatives are invited to the party and use the occasion to meet one another and renew acquaintance. At the feast, all sit on the floor in a row with plantain leaves in front of them waiting for lunch to be served.