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Life Stages: Coming of Age

Various Rituals

Indians celebrate coming of age in different ways in different parts of India. The most common rituals include the "sacred thread" ceremony for boys and puberty rites for girls. The three upper castes—the Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vysya—perform the sacred thread ceremony, or upanayanam. Higher castes and upper class Hindus also celebrate when a boy reaches puberty.

The ubiquitous puberty rites for girls are known by various names in different parts of the country. They are known as poopunanneerattuvizha in Tamil Nadu and as therandu kalyanam in Kerala. Society conducts these rites with elaborate rituals and feasts. At the girl’s first menstruation she is secluded for a period of seven to ten days and cleansed by a dousing with turmeric water.

An Indian can legally vote and enter into contracts at 18, and can enter into marriage at 21 (for men) and 18 (for women). At the age of 16, both sexes may legally consent to sexual intimacy.

Traditional Views

Puberty presents a time of great changes and emotional upheaval for Indian boys and girls. In Indian society, young people must firmly suppress their budding sexuality and may not express their interest in each other. Parents and society place great importance on the virginity of their daughters and heavily stigmatize girls who engage in sexual activity.

The children of middle and upper class Indians generally obtain higher education after high school, and they rarely enter the job market until they have a degree or diploma. For lower classes and the poor, children begin contributing to the family income starting anywhere from the ages of 5 years to 18 years.