USC Digital Folklore Archives / Festival
Adulthood
Festival
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

West Bengal Wedding Traditions

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about wedding traditions.

 

Piece:

Indian weddings vary from state to state. In my state, the wedding traditions are different from in our neighboring state. I was just at an Indian wedding. Our wedding is typically a four-day affair. What happens is, the day before the wedding, the groom’s family invites their own friends and family – no one from the bride’s side – because, apparently, that is the last bachelor meal the groom is going to have. So it’s a big deal. When I went, they had invited over 100 people, there was catered lunch… The groom was served on silver platters with all kinds of silver bowls… everything! It was like a big, big, deal: all the groom’s favorite foods. It was almost as if you were taking him for his last meal before you kill him or something. We give gifts to the groom… anyway, that is the day before the wedding.

The morning of the wedding, the groom’s family sends all kinds of gifts to the bride’s family. Clothes, jewelry, anything… It depends how rich you are and how much you want to spend.

The morning of the wedding, there are some rituals from the bride’s side. One ritual is turmeric. It is considered very auspicious and anti-inflammatory. In the olden days, there was no makeup or anything, so I think that’s how it started. That, what they do is put a little bit of oil and turmeric on the bride and groom’s face, then take a shower, so you glow on your wedding. I think that’s how it started because it’s all organic. And they put fresh turmeric, sandalwood, and oil into paint, and you put it on each other.

That evening is when the groom goes to the bride’s house and the wedding ceremony takes place. The groom does not come back that night. In our culture, the bride and the groom spend the night at the bride’s house, because the wedding takes place all night long. There is music and dancing, everybody stays up all night long.

The next morning, the groom brings the bride home to his family. So when he brings the bride home, it’s like a big welcoming ceremony, because the groom’s side of the family invites all their friends and family to meet the bride, and they welcome the bride to the house. They shower her with gifts – usually lots of jewelry. Gold is considered as an asset for the women, because women were not allowed to inherit property, so during the wedding, the father of the bride gives whatever value they would give to the son, equal amount value in gold to their daughter. So that’s how the ritual started. But now, not so much, since women are allowed to inherit property, and are now very independent and professional, so they don’t need that.

Then, again, there is a big lunch where they invite friends and family to meet the bride. The following day, typically, there is a reception. There is no ritual that goes on; typically you just invite five, six, seven hundred people… it is a huge affair, with catered food, but there is no alcohol served: never on the wedding or reception day. This is just for your friends and family to meet the new bride.

 

Analysis:

It is interesting to hear how much bigger an affair weddings in India are than they are here. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will throw huge social celebrations for holidays and occasions, like weddings. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I was shocked to hear that a typical Indian wedding consists of 500-1,000 guests. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

 

Festival
Holidays
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Durga Puja

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.

Piece:

We have another festival that is very… what should I say? It’s the main festival from West Bengal, which is where I come from. And that’s called Durga Puja. Puja is any kind of celebration that involves some kind of religious prayer ceremony. So let me start off with Dussehra. So what happens is, and as you know, our Indian calendar is a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. So the date of this celebration varies from end of September to end of October, depending on the lunar cycle. It’s actually a nine day festival, but the main days of the celebration are days six, seven, eight, and nine. And on the tenth day, so the story goes like this:

There’s this goddess, Durga, she lives in the Himalayas with her husband Shiva. And she has two sons and two daughters. One of her daughters is the goddess of wealth, Laxmi. Her other daughter is the daughter of knowledge, Saraswati. The other son used to be the sons of fighting battles, Kartik. And then there’s the elephant god, the youngest of her sons, Ganesh.

I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”

In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.

His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”

And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”

So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.

And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”

The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.

The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.

So, that is Ganesh’s story, but that is also the youngest son of Durga when she comes to visit. And so the art is her parent’s house. So she comes for those few days, with her children, and on the tenth day, she goes back to the Himalayas to be with her husband. So what happens in West Bengal where I come from, is those days are… it’s a lot of fun, all the schools, offices, colleges, everything is closed. It’s hard for me to explain. They put up all these temporary structures on the streets and stuff and then have these celebrations and, it’s like all over West Bengal. And there is food, there is music, there is lighting. So that is the story behind one of our festivals.

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.

Analysis:

It was very fascinating to hear about how many of the primary holidays in India/West Bengal have elaborate creation myths of their own. It seems that many of the holidays are tied in directly with the events of the religion’s mythology, celebrating anniversaries of the Gods’ actions and locations in the mythologies.

It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and use religious holidays as excuses to throw huge social celebrations. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

 

Festival
Holidays
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.

Piece:

Diwali is called the Festival of Lights. This is kind of associated with on of our mythologies, which is Ramayana, where Rama, who is a prince, was sent to exile for fourteen years. Rama’s father was a king, married three times. By rule, what happens is the eldest son is successor to the throne. But, what happened was, the middle wife goes to the king, who in the past helped him a couple of times, and the king had said, “I want to grant you two wishes, since you took such good care of me.”

And she said, “I don’t need anything now, but when the time comes, I’ll ask you for my wishes.”

So when her children grew up, she went to the king and said, “Now you have to grant me my two wishes.”

So the king goes, “Okay, tell me what you want me to do.”

She says, “I want you to send your oldest son to exile for fourteen years, and I want you to make my son the king.”

The king was very upset, he’s like, “That is unheard of – you cannot do that.”

But she says, “You said you would grant me two wishes, those are the only two wishes I have.”

And the oldest son, who was very respectful of his father, says, “You know what? If that’s what you had promised her, I don’t mind. I’ll go into exile for fourteen years, and I’ll come back after that.”

So he goes into exile, and there are a whole bunch of stories about what happens when he’s away. But, the day that he comes back to his kingdom after being in exile, the whole country was lit up with diyas to welcome him back, since he was such a good person. And that’s the day we also – since it was believed that, when he comes back to the kingdom, there will be wealth and prosperity – worship the goddess of wealth, since it is believed that, on Diwali, that is the day that wealth and prosperity will come to your house.

So you will see all Hindu households light candles, exchange sweets, exchange gifts and clothes: it is a huge time of celebration. There is one thing we also do, and it is kind of related to your Halloween. We also light a lot of fireworks that day, because we say we are scaring away the evil with the fireworks; and we are welcoming the good by welcoming the candles and the diyas.

 

(Later, after asking about the religious nature of the holidays)

 

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.

 

Analysis:

It was very interesting to hear how RB views Hinduism – not as much of as a religion, but more as a culture and lifestyle. Hearing the mythologies of these holidays with this context explains why there is seemingly more variation in the ways people tell these stories. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will use religious holidays as excuses to throw large social celebrations. It seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
general
Holidays
Material
Myths
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Afikoman: Jewish Holiday Folk Game

Context: AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
———————————————————————————————————————
Performance:
MW: So what do you know about the Afikoman?
AW: The Matzah, the bread we eat during Passover, because it represents the fact that when the jews had to flee Egypt and slavery. They left in such haste that the bread did not have a chance to rise, that’s why we have matzah.
AW: So, we eat the matzah all week so that we remember what happened to us, and during the seder…the person that leads the seder
[AW flips through her Passover Haggadah]
AW: explains to everyone…REMINDS not explains, what the bread means to us as a people
AW: they break it in half, one half to be eaten, and the other to be set aside for later. Traditionally that half is hidden by the oldest person at the seder for the children to find after the festival meal.

MW: Do you have any, like, special house rules?
AW: So we make rules, first the Afikoman has to be hidden in the house. Depending on the age of the children, if they’re very young it has to be in one specific room in the house to make it easier for them to find it. If they’re older it’s anywhere downstairs. It’s usually hidden by the person who led the seder.

MW: Ok
AW: Someone says “on your mark get set, go” and the kids race to find it, if there are young kids we hide it again so all the kids get a chance to find it.

Meaning
MW: So what does the Afikoman mean to you?
AW: It’s just part of the festival, it’s nice, you know what it’s nice because I remember the nights where we were all to grown up to do it. So it’s comforting to see the next generation carrying on our traditions.
———————————————————————————————————————

Analysis:
The Afikoman is wrapped which serves the practical purpose of keeping it, a dessert item, separated from the rest of the food. But the wrapping also serves a symbolic role as mimicking the way Ancient Jews would have wrapped their matzah as they fled Egypt. This mimicking is key to the overarching theme of Passover, that all Jews see themselves as having been liberated from Egypt, not just their ancestors. So in repeating the wrapping behavior modern Jews inhabit the role of their ancestors. The Talmud, a commentary on the Torah states that “We snatch matzahs on the night of Passover in order that the children should not fall asleep.” Thus, Afikomen hunting becomes a way to engage children with short attention spans during what is a fairly long religious event.
Likewise, the matzah is split in half during the seder. This might represent the delayed nature of Jewish salvation, the matzah eaten during the Seder representing the exodus itself, while the Afikomen matzah, hidden away and eaten only after the Seder ends, represents either the Mosciach, or Messiah’s final redemption of the Jewish people, or perhaps their eventual return to their homeland Israel after 40 years in the desert. For alternate uses of the Afikoman in Jewish households as a pendant for blessing see What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish

Ochs, Vennessa. “What Makes A Jewish Home Jewish?” What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?, an Article by Vanessa Ochs, in Cross Currents, the Quarterly Journal of Opinion Covering Religion and the World., www.crosscurrents.org/ochsv.htm.

Customs
Festival
Game
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Megilah Reading

Every Purim Jews congregate to listen to a reading from a book called the Megilah which features the backstory of Purim. It’s the most outwardly religious part of Purim. The congregation is encouraged to be active and loud, reacting verbally to every single mention of the characters’ names in the story. Mordecai and Ester (the Jewish heroes) get jubilant cheers every time their name is read while the bad guy Haman is booed. The congregation is even traditionally encouraged to drink so much that they can’t tell whose names to boo or cheer.

Again, this is the religious part of Purim but the encouragement to chime in makes it stand out from other Jewish holidays in a way that fits the extra cheerful celebration of Purim. While this folklorist’s congregation doesn’t drink during the reading, it does fit the rest of the relatively lax nature of the event.

Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Los Angeles Swedish Festival

Los Angeles Swedish Festival

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from Sherman Oaks, California, currently studying at the University of Southern California. Their stepmother was from Sweden, and included the informant in traditional Swedish holiday festivities. Here, they are describing memories of attending the Shrine Auditorium, and a belief they recall. They will be identified as X.

X: My stepmom was from Sweden, and so, obviously her heritage was very important to her, because she was living in a different country, but she’s Swedish.

I guess Christmas time in Sweden is a big cultural thing, and they have all these different traditions than what we have over here. So, the Swedish community in Los Angeles puts together an annual Swedish Christmas fair at the Shrine — it’s basically like every Swedish person in LA is in the same room at the same time, and they have all the vendors selling things from Sweden, all the clocks and all the food, they’d have Swedish meatballs and spiced wine, which they make around Christmas time.

They’d also have the Santa Lucia celebration, I think. It’s like the blonde girl with candles on her head, like a candle crown. They’d sing a traditional folk song, which I still kind of know the melody — I never learned all the words.

It was beautiful, they’d turn the lights down, and all the girls would come in and, their white gowns with little red accents on it, because that’s the Christmas colors. Santa Lucia would have the crown of candles on her head, and everyone else would have a little wreath on their head — it was really pretty.

They have these little Christmas elf characters called tomte, and they’re little wooden creatures, with little beards and hair, and made of sheep’s wool, I think, but it’s really soft. They all have little red caps on, like Santa hats. But the story goes, the tomte are little older men type characters, like elves, and they’re the size of a small child, and they would either live in the barn or the pantry of the house, and their job was to take care of the animals.

You’d feed them porridge, leave it out for them and they’d eat it. And the way you know you have a tomte living with you is if you have a tidy house and tidy barn, that means there’s a tomte there. We still have our tomte decorations that we put out every year, now it’s become just a part of Christmas.

Context

The informant is a friend of mine who studies in the same program. I asked them if they recall or would be willing to share any special holiday traditions or rituals that they or their family takes part in annually.

My Thoughts

All of what the informant shared with me is factually accurate, as far as I can tell. It is interesting how there are small variations in holiday celebrations; instead of what I know of as elves in Western culture and Christmas celebrations, decorations, and stories, the Swedish Christmas holiday includes tomtes, which I have found stem from Nordic tales, and do in fact resemble gnomes.

It is nice how this almost foreign version of something has become a staple of Christmas for the informant; it is a means by which they might reconnect with their stepmother and show appreciation for their relationship, even without her being there.

 

Festival
Game
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tug-of-War

Text:  KT: We have a giant tug-of-war, like literally a million people pulling at a single rope at a time. It happens every year, just for fun.

AT: To symbolize what, were you celebrating something?

KT: No idea, maybe we were. But every year there is a rope that is about 3 meters in diameter, and there are offsets of ropes that pull out. And it’s literally a million people, and they shut down the biggest freeway on the island and they see which side wins. And you can just pick whatever side you want. There’s people climbing on the ropes and shouting, it just gets really crazy.

AT: Does someone usually win?

KT: Oh yeah, every time. And there’s usually like three deaths every year. They just don’t give a shit. Five-year-old me was terrified, it’s very dangerous.

Context: KT was born in Okinawa, Japan and lived there with his Japanese mother and British father for the first nine years of his life. Though memories of his time in Japan are fading as KT ages, he still remembers specific things about life in Japan that were ingrained on his young mind during his early years. The folklore above was shared over lunch one afternoon during which I asked KT if he thought he had any folklore he could share with me from Japan. Most of the material he remembers is because he either got in trouble for going against the superstition or his involvement in the practice scared him. In this case, the practice scared him. 

Interpretation: KT doesn’t remember the specifics of this festival due to his young age during the time of his participation. He remembers the practices of it, not the festival’s purpose, which is understandable for a child. KT did a good job of providing a primary account of the methodology that goes along with fighting over the largest ropes in the world. Though he thought the people of Okinawa were participating in this large-scale game just for fun, the festival has actually been around for hundreds of years. Tugs-of-war were once held throughout the island to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to pray for rain. Everyone in the community took part in these rituals symbolizing Okinawa’s spirit of yuimaaru (cooperation). It can be assumed that the festival isn’t as important to the harvest as it used to be, but it still exists as a symbol of Okinawan community.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Navratri

TextRB: Navratri is an Indian Festival, it’s like celebrated in India. It happens every November, and I think you know, it’s like whenever I wear those really fancy dresses and I’m like, “I’m gonna go dance.” I feel like you know that. But anyways it’s basically just a celebration of dancing and fasting, like a celebration of life. And it’s really good cause what you do is you go to this big dance hall or whatever, and there’s this music, it’s called Garba music. And you can search it up, it’s like very traditional music. And you just dance all night to it. And it’s like a celebration of life. Traditionally, it celebrates three goddesses in Hinduism. It’s like Durga, Lakshmi, and one other goddess. But, it just marks the start of a new season basically. The most famous thing about it is the dance style. So, Garba is a very famous dance style, it’s like folk dancing. But anyone can learn how to do it because it’s just repetitive steps in a circle over and over again. But that’s my favorite dance ever.

AT: Who taught it to you?

RB: My parents. My parents and my grandparents taught it to me. And sometimes they conform the dance style into competitions. People have like competitions with this style now, or people just do it for fun at like any event. It’s just a very big community thing in India. Especially if you’re, like, my type of Indian. Like, I’m Gujarati, which is like from the state Gujarat in India. And it’s originally from Gujarat. So if you see someone else from Gujarat you’re like, “Hey, Navratri, Garba…” It’s our thing. Oh, and my grandmother sewed my dress.

Context: RB is an Indian-American who lived in India during her pre-school years. She practices Jainism, one of the lesser-known religions of India. She frequently returns to India to visit relatives and continues to practice her faith and India’s festivals with other Indian-Americans in Texas. This interaction took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break.

Interpretation: Navratri is typically a nine day-long festival typically celebrated in honor of the divine feminine in India. Navratri is celebrated differently depending on where you are/are from in India, practices surrounding the festival existing in multiplicity and variation. RB mentioned that it was a time of fasting, while others who participate in Navratri see it as a time of feasting. While the pattern varies somewhat by region, generally the first third of the festival focuses on aspects of the goddess Durga, the second third on the goddess Lakshmi, and the final third on the goddess Sarasvati. RB mentioned the first two of these goddesses while failing to remember the third.

RB chose to share this festival with me due to the mere fact that it is her favorite. She holds it special because of the fact that it is specific to the region in India from which her family is from, and the fact that Garba dancing is a point of pride and community that her family and the people from Gujarat share.

For another interpretation of this festival, please see p. 2416-2419 of Stany Pinto’s “Communalisation of Tribals in South Gujarat” (Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 30, No. 39)

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Praying for a Good Harvest: Indian Festival of Lohri

Text:

S: “Lohri is basically celebrated in Punjab and Haryana [states of India] and also in other parts of the country but has different significance you know across the country… So basically it’s the time when you uh sow the fresh crop…But so what we do for Lohri is we burn a bonfire kind of a thing and uh the auspicious thing to eat and to throw into the fire is uh groundnuts, revdri [specific food item], and uh popcorn – so these are supposed to be auspicious and then you pray to this pious fire, the bonfire, and pray that this harvest is good. And so the crops are supposed to be harvested in April and this festival is in January so you basically want the next harvest to be good because you’re now sowing for that round of harvesting essentially. And also it marks the going away of peak winters, and the coming in of spring, and like just like the going away of cold weather.”

S: “It is also like celebrated with the neighbors, like it’s a community thing. And the first Lohri of a child or of a newly married couple is very important – the family hosts that Lohri and calls all their relatives and friends over and then you know serve them dinner after they all sit around the bonfire and offer their prayers and everything. And everyone has dinner around the bonfire and eats together and it kind of brings in a lot of social interaction also.”

S: “And if it’s not like your first Lohri, then people just get together and they do like potluck, and they bring like one-one dish – you still have to organize it – but people just get one dish and do it together.”

S: “You also have these specific songs associated with Lohri, I don’t remember them but um, the kids are supposed to be going to everybody’s house and singing those songs and asking for Lohri – like you do in Halloween – and people give them money. I mean we used to do that when we were kids but I don’t think people do it anymore.”

S: “So this day is very auspicious, 13thJanuary, or 12th, it’s very auspicious, and with the Hindu calendar, it’s the beginning of the month of, I think it’s the month called Makar, I’m not too sure about that. But the thing is like, so the Hindus everywhere celebrate it but in their own way so I think it’s called Pongal in the South [South India] and Bihu in Assam [another Indian state] and it’s called Makar Sakranti in UP [another Indian state]. And then they have their own ways of celebrating it, like the Haryanvis [residents of the state of Haryana] celebrate it by eating kichdi and ghee [specific dish] and UP people celebrate it by having til ke ladoo [another specific dish]and I don’t know about Bihu, how they celebrate it but, so basically that day is auspicious in the Hindu calendar so it is celebrated in various ways in different parts of the country.”

 

Context:

The informant is a middle-aged doctor from India. This conversation took over the phone around the time of the festival mentioned. The informant mentioned to me her plans for the weekend involved celebrations related to this festival, and I was curious and asked her to elaborate more on what the festival was. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses. Certain key terms that were originally in Hindi have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets.

 

Interpretation:

Sowing and harvest festivals are pretty common globally and are especially prominent in an agrarian society like India. The unpredictability of the many factors that are needed for a good harvest leads to folk traditions like this one. However, their influence expands even to those who are not part of the community of farmers and in this context the meaning and function of the festival changes to be about regional cultural heritage. The informant mentions how the same festival is celebrated across India under different names, and with different specific practices even though all its variations are about praying for a good harvest. In this light, the details of how you celebrate the festival tie you into a particular community – for the informant, it is the community of people from Punjab/Haryana. The informant also mentions this emphasis on community, and how the festival is especially important to establish entry into the community by new members – whether by birth or by marriage. Further, the ties of the earth cycle (which is at a period just before spring) to the life cycle are also seen through the focus on children and the Halloween-like tradition of going door to door and asking for money. It is also interesting how the symbolic foods to throw in the fire have evolved to include foods that only exist in the modern world – namely, popcorn – and the informant spoke of them with the same reverence as the more typical foods that are groundnuts and revri.

 

Annotations:

For a more detailed description of Lohri, including an example of the songs the informant mentioned, refer to p. 26 of the book Let’s Know Festivals of India by Kartar Singh Bhalla (2005, Star Publications).

Customs
Festival
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eggs on Dragon Boat Festival

Context: The collector was interviewing the informant (as MD, the collector’s mother) for folklores. After she told the collector a folklore about eggs, the informant came up with another folklore about eggs. This is a custom the informant practiced in her childhood.

 

MD: When I was a kid, we (she and her peers) would have hard boiled eggs on Duanwu Festival (Dragon Boat Festival). We would weave nets to hang an egg on our neck. (Collector’s note: The nets were made of colored thick thread which was thinner thread intertwined together, according to a follow-up interview). Ah, that was really interesting. Every girl at that time could weave nets.

Collector: Is there something to do with good luck or stuff?

MD: I don’t know. We just followed what adults told us.

Collector: So what did the custom mean to you?

MD: That meant we could eat (eggs)! Those were eggs! It was just, like, whenever it was Duanwu, we could have eggs. (Collector’s note: eggs were not food that could be served every day for most ordinary Chinese families in the 1960s and 1970s.) After we hung the eggs in the day, we could eat them.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

Festivals are time to have foods that are not available all the time.

The interview also indicates the social environment and the financial status of ordinary families in 20th century China.

During the interview, the collector recalled a prose written by a Chinese writer, Zengqi Wang, that was exactly about eggs on Duanwu. Wang’s hometown is Gaoyou, a city in Jiangsu Province, which is also in the Yangtze River region like Shanghai. However, the eggs mentioned in that prose was duck eggs. See:

Wang, Zengqi. Shidouyinshuizhai Xianbi [食豆饮水斋闲笔,Literally: Journals from a studio of eating beans and drinking water], Huacheng Citry Press, ver.1, June 2015, pp 23-26.

(It is in Chinese)

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