It is the eve of Valentine’s Day! An appropriate time, then, to dust off and (ignoring thy shrieks of despair and protest) inflict upon thee a learned essay I wrote 14 years ago on this ancient Indian festival of love [actually, a ‘middle’ in Times of India on February 6th 2002; still viewable, in garbled form, here]
Lovers can celebrate Valentine’s Day with a whole new fervour!
Recent studies by Indologists reveal that the roots of this festival, celebrated on February 14 each year, can be traced back to ancient India: specifically, to the Harappa civilization. It appears that the name itself is derived from belan din (rolling pin day), an occasion when the young Harappan woman put down her rolling pin and embraced her flower-bearing lover with flour-coated hands. Over the centuries, this name inevitably underwent change. at some stage the word daine (right) was added on, to emphasize the fact that the sensible woman held on to her belan with her right hand just so that her man did not get any funny ideas about decamping with some shameless hussy from Sumeria or Samarkand. The resulting belan daine din in due course became Valentine’s Day in the twisted tongue of the British colonialists.
However, as with all things Indian, this central theme gave rise to an amazing variety of subsidiary myths elsewhere in our country. For instance, in Maharashtra there are reasons to believe that the festival gets its name from the ubiquitous and much-loved bhelpuri. Wonderful indeed are the legends that tell of how, on this day many millennia ago, an ardent young Maratha lad gazed into his beloved’s eyes as she stirred the bhelpuri pot and whispered: bhel ani tumi which of course means “Bhel… and thou!” It was the ultimate expression of love.
The cow belt has a different version. In ancient times this day was an occasion for young men and women to jointly feed the community’s bullocks or bel with mounds of that green and tasteless vegetable known as tinda. How romantic bel tinda day must have been to those young wooers of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as they stood amidst the snorting beasts and watched them slurp down their victuals by the pail-full.
Bengal puts a totally different spin to the story. Tradition here has it that a beautiful young lass named Bela had to choose her mate on this day from three equally suitable suitors of the Dey clan. The tale ends in typically tragic fashion; unable to choose, Bela becomes a wandering songstress renowned for that immortal ditty to love, Bela teeni dey….
Most relevant to our troubled times, however, is the Tamil Nadu version. On this day, amorous Tamilian teenagers of yore greeted others with sweets and joyous cries of “Vellum tayen!” meaning, ”Give us some sugar!”. Naturally, ignorant Englishmen corrupted ‘tayen‘ to ‘tine’ and the whole thing became Valentine. But wait a minute: a tine, as we know, is one of those pointed things a fork has; and a fork is but a trident by another name. And who do we associate most commonly with tridents nowadays? The Bajrang Dal, of course!
Here, then, lies the key to ensuring happy and peaceful Valentine’s Day in the coming years. The Bajrang Dal, recognizing the festival’s intimate connections with the ancient traditions of India, will hereafter join in the Valentine’s Day celebrations, greeting one and all with succulent sweets, serenades and secular hymns…
Belan Daine Din ke Shubhkamnaye!