USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hindu’
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.

 

Childhood
general
Myths
Narrative

The Race Around the World with Kartikeya and Lord Ganesha

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells a traditional Hindi story about a race between Kartikeya, the god of war, and Lord Ganesha, the lord of obstacles, learning, and the people. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to my informant and my informant’s sister to “make sure we respect her, cause’ parents are our world.” In this transcription of her folklore, she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: So this is the folklore of Ganesha and his brother, um Kartikeya’s, race around the world. So basically, [laughs], ok, so basically, um, one day, his parents were like, “We want you to race for this mango!” And, um, there was two songs and one mango, so they decided to have a race for that one mango. So both boys really wanted to win this mango [giggles], but they had to race around the world and be the first one to finish, so, so Ganesha picked his trusty steed of a mouse. And, his brother, Kartikeya, picked a peacock. So, Ganesha was a little chubby boy, and he had a mouse, which isn’t the fastest… And… well aren’t elephants scared of mice? Is that a thing?

 

K: Yeah, I’ve heard that before too.

 

P: So maybe that’s like also a thing, I don’t know. Um, so people were like “Eh, he’s not gonna win.” And his brother had the peacock, which is a lot faster, and he’s like a slim boy [laughs]. So anyways, the race starts, Kartikeya books it on his peacock, circling the world, but Lord Ganesha, smart boy, he doesn’t start. Instead, he goes to his parents, sits them down, and then goes on his mouse and circles them, because to him, his parents are his world.

 

K: Awwwww!

 

P: So he got the mango! [laughs]

 

K: Where did you learn that story?

 

P: Um, my mother told me that story. I think it’s also to make sure we respect her, cause parents are our world.

 

K: Ok that’s fair. Did it teach you that? Did it actually serve its purpose?

 

P: Um, I don’t it taught me to respect my parents because it’s just some thing you do as a human being… as a good person, but I think it like, was a cute way to look at it. Does that make sense?

 

K: Do you plan on continuing telling this story?

 

P: Okay, honestly, I don’t know, just because it’s a religious story and I’m not very religious. But, it’s like a good moral story, I mean aside from the whole parent thing, it just shows that like, you don’t need to be the fastest or the slimmest to win a race, you need your wits and intelligence! You don’t need a peacock, you just need a mouse to get your mango. The mango of life.

Thoughts:

This story is particularly interesting because melds to forms of folklore together: a cultural story with the concept or phrase of “you are my world.” My informant told me that a large part of Indian culture is respecting your parents and recognizing that you’re parents have done so much for you. By having Ganesha express that his parents are his whole world, this story is ultimately a very endearing and wholesome way to teach children that their parents should be the center of their love because they are where they are because of their parents. The mango also seems to represent the idea that if you give your parents your love and respect, they will always reward you in return with theirs.

For another version of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Krithika, R. “Race around the World.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 17 Dec. 2015, www.thehindu.com/features/kids/why-were-ganesha-and-karthikeya-keen-on-winning-the-race/article8000267.ece.

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi – Hindu Festival

“So Holi is a Hindu festival, traditionally a religious festival, that kind of symbolizes the beginning of spring and the end of winter. It’s kind of like a fun festival where people kind of get together and meet people and have fun. It usually involves wearing white clothing and throwing vibrant, colored power at each other; there is usually a lot of music and street food involved as well.  However, in recent years, more people who aren’t Hindu have been participating, and it’s become more of a cultural thing that a lot of people celebrate rather than just a strictly religious Hindu celebration. This is kind of due to the fact that we throw colored powder at each other, and people see that as a lot of fun. So a lot more people have gotten involved, especially in the United States and other western countries, where they kind of do a similar thing where they throw colors at each other like Color Runs and such. So Holi has kind of moved to the rest of the world instead of just sticking in one culture.”

Context: The informant is an Indian American student. The informant was describing the spring festival Holi to her roommates following USC’s plan to have a Holi celebration on campus in order to explain exactly what it was. The roommates had heard of the holiday, but wanted to know about why the holiday was celebrated. As shown in the text, SV sees the festival as an easily transmutable tradition that can participated in by anyone, regardless of their culture, religion, or status.

Analysis: The spread of religious festivals and occasions to various regions of the world that may not know that religious backstory is reminiscent of a more secular shift by the ritual. The shift of the Holi festival to other areas of the world demonstrates the universal appeal of the customs associated with the festival. This is demonstrated by the adoption of throwing colored powder in the Color Run, a secular, non-Hindu activity. Having a particular aspect of a festival to be so widely loved allows many people to participate and increase awareness of respective holiday. This is evidenced in the fact that often the parts of each culture that members of other cultures will remember are associated with festivals or holidays. For example, when we think of American holidays, we think of Thanksgiving–which is quite appealing food-wise. This holiday is usually one that is inclusive, and many families will invite others to come and eat with them.

While some would think that this could be seen as cultural appropriation, this goes against the spirit of Holi. In India, where there is a strict socioeconomic hierarchy, Holi is one of the few days of the year where everybody, regardless of religion or caste can go into the streets and celebrate spring. It is an amazing festival that brings everyone together. Therefore, allowing other people–either non-Hindu or not Indians–to participate in Holi, demonstrates the openness of the festival.

general
Tales /märchen

Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very well-known Hindu folktale to me (AK) about the two brothers of very renowned Hindu Gods.

KM: Ganesh rides a rat and Kartikeya rides a peacock. Anyway, Shivji and Parvati are their parents and they tell them to prove which one is stronger or smarter. Kartikeya says he has a ton of strength cause he can ride around this world 3 times and come back to you faster than anyone. And Ganesh said the same thing, but like it sounded dumb because Ganesh was riding a rat. So they had a fight and they challenged each other to ride around the world 3 times. So Kartikeya went off to go ride around the world… but Ganesh was really cunning and all and he just rode around Shivji and Parvathi 3 times. He just said that “you guys are my world” and so he won.

AK: What kind of story is this? Why did you tell me this one?

KM: Haha… I just think this funny is story cause it shows a child being a kissass. And It shows the child being super cunning but also aware of his flaws. He knew he couldn’t beat Kartikeya, but instead of being sad about it, he was just smarter.

AK: Who did you learn it from and what does it mean to you?

KM: I learnt it from my parents, and I think it’s funny that I learned it from them cause that’s how they were telling me that I should respect them — cause they were like “haha” we should be your world!

In my opinion, this folktale just represents a clever play on words and not much more. I don’t think there is any serious meaning that can be derived from this story. Instead, the folktale just seems like it was created solely for the purpose of entertainment. This is refreshing to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about this folktale.

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.

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.

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.

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

 

 

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