USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hindu’
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Hindu Traditions

*Note: The informant is an Indian-American student at USC. She identifies with the Hindu religion and is generally in touch with her Indian heritage, though she was born in the U.S. and is thus very Americanized.

INFORMANT: “Hindus have a lot of really specific little things that we can’t do or that are considered unlucky and stuff. Like, there’s a lot. Let me think. Like, we’re not supposed to cut our nails on Friday because it’s bad luck. It’s bad luck to sweep the house with a broom at night. If a woman’s left eye twitches, that means something bad is going to happen to her, but if a man’s right eye twitches, that means something bad is going to happen to him. I don’t necessarily follow all of these, but I know about them. Like, some of them are pretty outdated, but we still know them. I’ve just grown up with stuff like this. Some people may think it’s weird, but all my Indian friends know about it and do the same stuff, so it doesn’t even really seem weird to me.”

These little superstitions and traditions are a good example of folklore that has been passed down through so many generations that the meaning of the tradition might be obscured. At one time, there was probably a clear practical or at least religious reason that Hindu people couldn’t cut their nails on Friday, or sweep the house with a broom at night, but because so much time has passed and so many things have changed, some of these superstitions have no practical purpose anymore, but rather are archaic superstitions carried on because of a sense of duty or loyalty to the religion and the culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Protection

Feet / “Bad Eyes”

*Note: the informant is Indian-American and identifies with the Hindu religion. She is in touch with her Indian heritage but she was born in the U.S.

INFORMANT: “And then Hindus or Indians or whatever also have lots of like body language things, I don’t know how to say it, like, gestures. Like if we touch anything with our feet that’s not the ground, say if I touched a backpack with my foot, then you have to touch the thing and then touch your eyes and do that three times. It’s funny, I have a Persian friend who has a similar thing, but for her it’s like if my feet touch another person’s feet, then I have to interlock my pinkies. I have no idea why it’s a thing.

And then we also have this saying, where like, say I’m going to a job interview and I tell a bunch of people about it and then I don’t get the job, they’ll say it’s because someone “put bad eyes on you,” which basically means they didn’t want you to get the job or were talking badly of you and basically put bad luck on you.”

I can’t figure out the context or reason behind the gestures, and neither could the informant, but it’s notable that her Persian friend had a relatively similar tradition. Both have to do with the feet, and not having the feet touch something, so it leads me to believe that these cultures must value one’s feet or see the feet as sacred or something not to be soiled by touching random items or the feet of another. The interlocking pinkies thing brings to mind crossing fingers in America, where someone will cross their fingers if they are lying or if they want something to happen. The saying also seems like it has variants in other cultures – I remember my mom talking about someone giving someone else the “evil eye,” which was first and foremost just a look but also held a sort of bad luck, because that person wished you ill.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Protection

Hindu Death Customs

*Note: The informant is Indian-American and identifies with the Hindu religion. She is generally in touch with her Indian heritage, but she was born in the U.S.

INFORMANT: “Most of these don’t actually apply to me or my family, but I know some other families who take a couple of them more seriously. Basically, Hinduism comes with a lot of weird customs for, like, death and stuff. I mean, I guess any religion does. But, like, for instance, some Hindus believe that a dead body should be free from all bonds, so they take off any stitched clothes, jewelry, or even hospital wrappings. They bathe the body like that, and then they would wrap it in a new cloth and they would get cremated. There’s also this thing called Sutak where you’re supposed to follow all these specific rules for 12 days after someone dies. Like, you can’t eat candy or food with spices, and you can’t give gifts or anything. I’ve even heard that if you die from a snake bite they won’t cremate you, they’ll just, like, throw you in the water. I don’t even know why. I also heard – and this one’s really gross – that it used to be a thing that when young women died, they would seal off their vaginas before cremating them so that evil spirits couldn’t rape them in the afterlife. There are all kinds of crazy things like that.”

Death customs are some of the richest aspects of folklore – they explain so much about the way a certain group or culture or community acts when alive! Death customs are usually associated with religions, though there are also death customs specific to certain nations of other groups that have little to do with religion. The custom of Sutak brings to mind the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva for dead relatives – there is a general respect for the dead in most religions, and family members are expected to pay tribute to their fallen loved ones by abstaining from certain things. I’m interested to learn more about the snake bite custom – whether it’s true, whether it’s still done, and most importantly, why? It might have something to do with the fact that snakes are sacred because a snake is the garland of Lord Shiva, an important Hindu figure.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Signs

Don’t Step on Books/Paper

The superstition: “If you step on a book or piece of paper, then you have to touch it to your forehead because otherwise it’s disrespectful. It’s because books are like instruments of learning which is next to God and practically sacred so to put it to your feet shows disrespect so you put it to your forehead, which is a sign of respect, to counteract that.”

The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. She grew up hearing this superstition from her parents, so she has always followed it.The gesture of putting to your forehead to negate it seems similar to another Indian superstition, that people can’t step over you, and they have to reverse their step to negate it. Although the informant isn’t religious, she still follows this religious superstition, since she is still rooted in Indian culture. I imagine education is very important in India and in Hinduism, since learning instruments can be likened to God, and sacred. Both of the informant’s parents are doctors, and she herself is studying engineering and computer science, does a lot of research, and tutors children; so I think it’s fair to say that she takes education very seriously herself. This may also be another reason she follows this superstition.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Monk and the Mouse

The tale: “So this monk was sitting on the beach when a kite fly, which I don’t really know what that is, but he saw a kite fly carrying a mouse and the mouse fell on the monk. So the monk wrapped the mouse with a leaf and took it home and prayed that the mouse would turn into a girl. And the mouse turned into a really beautiful girl, and the monk and his wife adopted her, so she like grew up and um, when she was an adult the monk told her that she should get married. And he told her to choose a man to marry, and the girl said she wanted like the most powerful man in the entire world. The monk thought she meant that she wanted the sun, so he went to like look for the sun and he found the sun and asked him if he wanted to marry his daughter. But the sun was like there’s someone more powerful than me…it’s um this cloud that covers me up during the day. So the monk left the sun and went to the cloud but the cloud was like there’s someone more powerful than me too, it’s the…um…oh yeah, it’s the wind. Because it blows me around. So the monk went to find the wind but the wind was like there’s someone EVEN MORE POWERFUL THAN ME, it’s the mountain, because it doesn’t move when I try to move him. So the monk went to find the mountain and the mountain says that the rat is more powerful because he can dig holes in me. So the monk finally goes to the rat and asks him to marry his daughter, but the rat says that he can only marry a mouse, right? So then the monk prayed that his daughter would turn back into a mouse, which God answered, and the mouse and the rat lived happily ever after.”

 

The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. When I asked her where she heard this story, she said “The story is from The Panchthantra, which is an Indian book of myths and stories, and I used to have a comic book version growing up.” So the story is clearly a folktale that was transcribed into authored literature, which then became many different versions, one of which was a comic book. It follows traditional oral tradition, the most prominent of which is only two characters in a scene. The monk only speaks to one person at a time. I think the message of the story is to remain humble. The young girl wants the most powerful husband in the world, but it ends up being a simple rat. And even then she cannot marry him unless she is reduced to her original state; so regardless of her transformation into a beautiful woman, and her wish for a powerful husband, she herself is humbled by her transformation and her final choice of husband. I think another message is that power is not where we’ll expect it, and there are many different forms of power. This tale is probably a good one to tell to children who become to over-arrogant.

Folk Beliefs

Karma

My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that’s an important part of her culture.

“We believe, or like, in general, not like I’m a crazy person…bad things happen to you because you’re paying for deeds that happened from your previous life/your previous birth. And so, shit happens now because you did something bad in a previous life. It’s also like karma.”

Q: Is karma related to reincarnation?

“Karma means you pay for every deed. So, this is a form of karma.”

Q: What would be an example of karma?

“Well, the way we interpreted it was when my dad got sick, it was because in a prior life or a prior form he had done something bad and this was… he was paying for it now.”

Q: How widespread is this belief?

“Pretty universal in Hinduism”

Q: Where did you first learn about karma?

“From my parents. It was one of those principles I grew up with. So, it was like, don’t be mean to people, because it’s going to come back and bite you. What goes around comes around. That’s how it started, because when you’re little you’re like ‘What is reincarnation, I don’t know’ And then when you learn about reincarnation…it’s applied on a larger scale

 

 

Humor
Myths
Narrative

Radha and Krishna

“So, um, a lot of Hindu culture and mythology surrounds the stories of Radha and Krishna. Krishna is the ideal image of masculine perfection, with wit, charm and flirty ways and stuff. He loves Radha, who is married to another man, but he cannot help but flirt with the other ladies of their town either. Their love represents love that transcends boundaries of society and marriage but is eternal and strong. There are many songs and dances about these two and they’re two of my favorite gods to study.”

The informant said that she heard many variations on the love story as a child, but each one had this basic structure. It is fun and playful story about an illicit love, but it is also important because the characters take on great significance for the Hindu religion. The informant said that Krishna was supposed to represent the feminine side of God, and Radha the masculine. Sometimes they are even referred to as one God instead of two. I think this is one of the many differences between Christianity and Hinduism, because in Christian texts and stories, men often take on the prominent role, and God is depicted as a man. I think that the blending of the masculine and feminine deities indicates a willingness to give women as well as men large roles in the religion.

general
Proverbs

Proverb – India

  • “Ud Jag Musafeer bhor bhai ab rain kaha jo sovat he Jab chidia chug gai khet tub pachtowe kaia horat hai”
  • Get up early so that you don’t waste your time sleeping because then the sparrows will get to your crops before you do.

My good friend from when I lived in Illinois is very religious and involved with the Hindu community.  Both of her parents grew up in India and later moved to the United States.  She told me of this proverb that her parents often say to her.  The proverb is telling people that sleeping is a waste of time.  There is a lot of work to be done, and if the work is not finished it will be ruined.

It is well known that the Indian community has very high expectations for there children.  The immigrant parents who made something of themselves, and are now able to send their children to good schools, expect that their children succeed as well.  The children are expected to me doctors, lawyers or engineers.  The entire time that I was friends with Ridhi, her parents were very strict.  She always had to do extremely well in school; and A minus was not good enough for her parents.  After school she played lots of sports and in each sport she was required to succeed.

Therefore, it is clear why Ridhi heard this proverb many times from her parents when she was lazy and did not want to get out of bed, or wanted to watch TV all day.  Her parents had faced prejudices in their early experiences of getting jobs, so they felt their children would have the same difficulties.  In other words, if their children did not get the job done, it would be filled by someone else, the sparrows.  It is important to notice that in the proverb the sparrow is chosen.  The sparrow is not an intellectual or well liked bird, it is a pest.  Therefore, the proverb notes that the job will be done by someone else, but moreover, someone less qualified.

In conclusion, this is a proverb that every person she hear.  It is very true.  Success does not come to people who “sleep in”, it comes to those who work for it and earn it.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival – India

My elementary school friend, Ridhi, is Hindu.  Her parents were born and raised in India.  Despite that Ridhi, was born in America she still is very involved in the Hindu culture, participating in all the festivals and traditions.  One of these traditions is Holi.  Holi, or the festival of colors, celebrates the coming of spring.

I actually remember her celebrating this holiday.  I remember because the next day Ridhi would come to school with paint all over her.  The night of the festival they first start a big fire that everyone gathers around.  Then all the friends and family get together and throw powdered color over themselves and each other.  They all wear white so they all end up full of color.

The throwing of the powder is supposed to represent play between the gods, Krishna and Radha.  This festival was popularized because Lord Krishna was famous for playing pranks on Radha.  Since Holi is the celebration of the coming of spring, it is the celebration of rebirth and starting over with a fresh start.  This is represented by first the buring of the old with the fire.  The fire essentially gets rid of all the old, and leaves behind ash, which will help new things grow.  Then they throw color all everywhere.  This throwing of the color could represent the throwing of seeds for planting.  They throw the seeds to make new things grow.  Lastly, the fact that the powder is brightly colored is important.  The bright color represents the fresh new things that will grow.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival – India

My elementary school friend, Ridhi, is Hindu.  Her parents were born and raised in India.  Despite that Ridhi, was born in America she still is very involved in the Hindu culture, participating in all the festivals and traditions.  One of these festivals is Diwali.  It is the festival of lights in the Indian-Hindu culture.  This festival takes place to bring forth the New Year.

Many ceremonies and traditions are involved in this festival.  The first is the prayer, or puja, to the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi.  The purpose of praying to this specific goddess is to invite her into the house. Supposedly she will cleanse the house of all of the previous year’s “dirt”.  After cleansing the house she will leave it open to the bringing of prosperity.

During this festival, Ridhi’s family makes traditional Indian foods such as roti, chola and dal.  They also dance traditional Indian dances with their family and friends.

Another tradition in this Hindu festival is to put many lights outside the house.  Essentially these lights, light up the house, therefore making it easy for the goddess, Lakshmi to find and then cleanse.  Another “light” tradition is the setting off of fireworks. This tradition is obviously more modern, as fireworks are a need invention.  However, I believe that the fireworks are another form of lighting up the house so that goddess Lakshmi can find it.

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