She sat as still as the marble goddess she worshiped every dawn. Dead, but for the ears that cried blood. Laughter from the celebrations taunted the air, striking her soul dead. The drums reminded me of a different celebration, seemingly many lifetimes ago.
She had been brought into our village with much pomp and fanfare. An embodiment of the goddess of beauty, they had called her. I had begged mother to take me to see her. The bride was seated demurely veiled in red and gold. As was custom, mother approached with the traditional blessing, “May you be long married. May you have many children.” As I crouched low to see her shimmery dangling gold earrings with its concentric circles of little gold bells, she had looked at me with her large kohl rimmed almond shaped eyes, and I swore I could see the warmth of the summer sun in them.
It was years later that I first spoke to her. She had returned from a long pilgrimage. Her ear lobes had been distended and in them she wore the auspicious pambadam earrings. But for that and her marriage chain she was bereft of all adornments. “Why?”, I had asked. “I seek the blessings of the fertile snake God to bless me with progeny. Until then I forfeit all luxuries and devote myself to her service”.
And so she served, through all the taunts, through being ostracised as the barren, through her husband’s second marriage, right up to the day they named his first child. As the new life came into existence, an old one ceased to exist. I watched her rip off the pambadam with her own hands. I watched life die in her eyes.
The Pambadam, are ear ornaments representing the cobra with extended hood, that were once given by parents to daughters before marriage as a display of wealth and prestige and probably also to ensure fertility, though this explanation is denied by present day women. Old women in southern districts of Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala can still be seen with the large earrings in extremely distended lobes. Each woman knows exactly the gold weight of her pambadam: at least 16 g.