Nalla Daaram / Black Thread

So we’ve been tying a black string onto our daughter’s leg because the gold/black bangles she’s been wearing (first on her ankles because they were too big) keep breaking. Apparently the thread serves the same purpose, but I’ve had a hard time finding details about it.  I’ll share what I did find here, but would love more info if you have it!

I should also say that I may be a bit over-eager to understand all aspects of the traditions I bestow on our daughter… but I’d just like to know what I’m doing!  And also not sound stupid when my mom asks “why do you do x?” Or when my daughter later asks me the same, for that matter.  At any rate, I should say that in my questioning of Indian family and friends, I’ve been told that many Indian traditions are best followed in the spirit in which they are done, rather than some exacting procedure.  They remind me that for each tradition, there are a wide varieties of procedures based on language, region, caste (unfortunately), etc..  So there’s my grain of salt to keep in mind.

From asking family and a few friends, I know it’s simply called ‘nalla daaram’ which means black thread.  The reason for putting it on a baby is to ward off evil spirits and protect from the bad eye, especially when taking the baby out in public or to parties/events.  The other stated concern is that when people compliment the baby too much, that can make the baby fall sick*.

We had been putting it on her ankle, but I was then told it could also be on the wrist – main thing was just to have a bit of black.  Then I was told it had to be put only on the left leg, but others didn’t agree.

I also asked why I’d seen my nephews wear strings on their waist, but that’s not something we’ve done for my daughter.  They told me that usually boys tie it on the waist and wrist, and girls on wrist or ankle.  I heard that girls sometimes also get it on their waist but only for a short time.

When I asked long it should be worn, the general consensus was that it’s usually worn for a year, and sometimes two, but mainly it depends on the parents.

From what I can find online the above was echoed, but there was also talk of a ceremony and specifics for actually tying it, saying the tradition is to tie it on the 28th day, and one site claiming that an auntie should do it.  I hadn’t heard this before so I checked with some friends and they hadn’t heard this either.  I suppose this is what I was told from the beginning in terms of these traditions having subtraditions of their own!

* Eerily, our nanny echoed this, saying that her baby sister died a few days after going to a birthday party, and their priest/doctor (not sure exactly who it is down in the islands) said it was because of the evil eye.  She was about 3 months, I think, and apparently they had forgotten to tie the black string on before going.  To determine the cause of death, they had put a branch of leaf on the baby’s forehead and it immediately shriveled.  While I may not believe every ounce of that story, if tying a black thread will avoid testing the spirits … I think I’ll do it. 🙂

2 Thoughts to “Nalla Daaram / Black Thread”

  1. Rajesh

    Os it only for girls? or even an adult boy can wear ? i observed many adult boys wore black thread on their left leg mainly muslims.

  2. RMOB

    Hi Rajesh,

    I do know that both girls and boys wear it, but I don’t have a solid answer on age. I’m also not sure about the Muslim tradition. What I can tell you is that when I asked around for what age our kids should stop wearing it, I got shoulder shrugs that said “really, there’s no age. just whenever you want to stop.” To me, that’s not a great answer, though! I mean, just when do you decide that your kids no longer need that protection? If I have a say, my now toddler and infant may be wearing it forever! 🙂

    If any other readers have insights, please share!

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