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Coming of Age

 

When does a child become an adult? Each culture across the world has marked one’s coming of age uniquely.  Be it a graduation, a particular age, a driver’s license, a new home, a marriage, or even having a child, we all find our own moment to grow up.

Some cultures use special ceremonies to mark this transition.  As an intern with Global Adjustments, I recently had the pleasure of attending the Hindu coming of age ceremony called an Upanayanam.  Many Hindu boys have this “Sacred Thread Ceremony” to mark their transition from boys to men at just eight years old.  Undeniably an Upanayanam has some distinctly Hindu traditions.  For example, in the middle of the ceremony the boy shares a final carefree meal with his best friend; afterwards he must be conscious of what he is consuming each time he sits down to eat and make sure to give back as much as he takes.  This concept is harmonious with the Hindu idea of overcoming one’s ego in order to be conscious of society as a whole.

However, I was also surprised to find rituals in the Upanayanam which seemed very similar to coming of age ceremonies of other cultures.  Much like a Jewish boy’s Bar Mitzvah, the Upanayanam centers on the transition into becoming a serious student where education becomes paramount.  Each ceremony requires the boys to recite scripture from their holy books, the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and the Jewish Torah, respectively.  Paralleling the ancient Chinese “Cap” Ceremony, a Hindu boy has his entire head shaved sparing a tuft at the back, whereas the Chinese youth’s hair is tied in a bun and capped in the same place. Both arrangements of hair represent the transition from youth to scholar.

Adulthood itself seems to be an ambiguous moving target.  These same Indian boys who have become an adult at eight might later anxiously await their strands of grey hair to come in which brings with it respect and legitimacy in the business world.  Many young Indian girls are excited to grow up quickly, but also bemoan the time when they switch from being called didi or akka (older sister) to being called auntie by small children.

Observing the Upanayanam, I began to consider my own transition into adulthood.  For me, graduating high school and going to university was a monumental coming of age moment.  Taking on the responsibility of my own education and living away from home for a time made me feel like I had crossed a major threshold on the way to becoming an adult.  I know there will be several markers along the path, but it is important to celebrate each one.

 

Cara Huskey is an intern with Global Adjustments’ Cross Cultural Training Department.  For more information on our courses, including working with younger generations, contact courses@globaladjustments.com

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