Get Off The Threshold
At a tea stall in Meghalaya a few minutes before the Bangladesh border, with a cup of tea and a piece of cake in my hand, I move towards the exit of the wooden shack. As I rest one foot on the plank just below the entrance, I hear yelling from people inside and outside the tea stall, all frantically pointing to my leg, wanting me to remove it. When I seem puzzled, someone tells me this is a no-no in this culture. Later, I learn that it has to do with the threshold, and what it stands for.
This is an example of physical or space-related threshold, marking the edge between entering and exiting. A threshold also acts as a seema, borderline, that marks the point of no further movement, Lakshman Rekha is one such line.
Liminality describes the psychological process of in-between moments, being on the verge of transitioning across boundaries. The term ‘limen’ comes from the Latin for threshold, that which differentiates or separates. The experience of being in liminal space could either be positive, expecting a better state ahead, more wholesome and creative, or a dull staleness, disruptive and unsettling, because of the fear of the unknown. The significance of thresholds is felt more psychologically while transitioning from one state to the next — birth, adolescence, maturity, marriage, old age and death. And hence, they are marked as well as honoured by certain ceremonies and rituals. Because of its importance, the physical threshold invites certain respect. Sufis are known to pause a second before entering across any threshold.
Crossing the threshold implies entering a new state in life. An engagement ceremony is a threshold between an existing relationship or an arranged commitment to another, and that of getting married. A bride being carried through the entrance symbolises entering a new life. These are times of new experience.
There are significant time thresholds, transition points, known as Sandhya, twilight; rituals of worship, aarti, mass, namaz, or meditation are performed in many cultures at these times of the day — dawn, noon and dusk. Besides daily sunrises and sunsets, we also experience lunar as well as seasonal thresholds.
Changing one’s existing name, as while entering a religious order, renouncing one’s previous lifestyle, or as in some groups, women marrying and taking on a new name, is a threshold declaration of sorts.