USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘india’
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).

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Looking for Water: Marathi Proverb about Appreciation

Text:

AB: “There’s this proverb that my mom says –”

“Kakhet kalsa gavala valsa”

AB: “– which basically means that you have um a pitcher of water in your hand but you’re looking for water in other places, which I mean happens literally too like how many times do you have glasses on your head and you keep for them in other places? But I think the more like metaphorical meaning is supposed to be that people tend to not realize what they have because they too busy like searching for things outside. So like not appreciating what you already have I guess.”

AB: “Yeah people usually say it to me when I’m complaining about all the problems in my life – they’re like “kakhet kalsa gavala valsa” like you’re not being grateful for all the good stuff that you have.”

 

Context:

The informant is an Indian-American college student from Los Altos, California. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world. Marathi is the language spoken in a specific region of India. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does a pretty good job of explaining what the proverb means. An English equivalent would be “the grass is always greener on the other side”. It is interesting how the informant relates it to literal situations like looking for glasses which were on your head all along – this to me highlights the relevance of proverbs and emphasizes their staying power. Because their literal meaning is so easily understood intuitively, their figurative meaning holds more power.

Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Indian Superstition – Sneezing

Informant: So in Indian folklore, there’s this like… superstition that if someone is leaving, like for like an event or just leaving your house or something, and, like, one of you sneezes… then you need to like, stop and immediately do prayer… and then like, get milk from the fridge and pour it on the ground before they can leave again, because if they leave, it’s almost as if like… something bad is going to happen to them, like a bad luck curse or something.

 

Interviewer: That is… interesting to say the least. Why the milk?

 

Informant: I’m not really sure why the milk… but like, other people believe that if you say someone’s name when they’re about to leave it is bad luck. My family was more about the sneezing though.

 

Context

During one of my club meetings, I brought up the Collection Project, and amongst the responses I got, the informant told me some interesting indian folklore.

 

Analysis

I find superstitions to be very interesting, especially when the subject is treated differently in separate cultures. For example, in Mexico (and in Japan too, I think) if you sneeze out of the blue it’s thought to be because someone is talking about you elsewhere. It’s interesting to see the same action have a negative connotation to it. However, I don’t particularly understand the milk, apart from perhaps it being a product of cows (revered in India) and having the power to ward off bad omens.

 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Elephant and the Jackal

Informant: There is one tale that I remember from when I was like… super young. Like an Indian folktale.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, let’s hear it.

 

Informant: It’s called The Elephant and the Jackal. There was once an Elephant that was a monster, and like, he would rampage across the forests destroying trees, and that would also destroy like, bird nests and stuff. Not even the Lions or Tigers wanted to mess with it.

One day, the Elephant destroyed the Jackal’s nest during one of his rampages. The animals finally decided to call a meeting to figure out how to kill it but, no one stepped up because they were afraid of the Elephant and his massive size.

The Jackals were really pissed about the nest, so they held another meeting. They had decided to take out the Elephant once and for all, but failed to come up with a plan. But then, an Old Jackal said he knew what to do.

The next day, the Old Jackal went to the Elephant, and like, bowed and revered him, and told him “Oh great Elephant! The other animals and I held a meeting and decided that someone as big and powerful as you should be the King of all animals.” The Elephant didn’t think much of it, and let the Jackal keep praising him. The Jackal then told the Elephant that all the other animals were like, a bunch of animals were waiting for his coronation ceremony, and that he should come with.

 

Interviewer: So the Elephant took the bait completely…

 

Informant: Yeah, like. The Elephant, drunk in his ego, followed the Jackal deep into the forest, where the trees were thick and it was like, hard to see for the Elephant. The Jackal then led the Elephant through a patch of quicksand, but since the Jackal was old and light, he could get through. When the Elephant stepped into the quicksand though, he like, got stuck and started sinking very fast. The Elephant cried out and asked the Jackal to help him, but the Jackal told him that he had been a massive **** and had destroyed the lives and homes of many animals, and like, someone like him didn’t deserve any help. The Jackal left to tell the other animal, while the Elephant sunk to his death in the quicksand.

 

 

Context

During one of my club meetings, I brought up the Collection Project, and amongst the responses I got, the informant told me some interesting Indian folklore.

 

Analysis

This was just a simple märchen with a simple message. Bad things happen to bad people. I guess there is also a secondary message that with age comes knowledge, seen as it was an old jackal that managed to bring down the elephant, out of all the animals. Could even be stretched to a brain over brawn analogy too, seeing as not even the lions or tigers dared to face the elephant.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology in India

BACKGROUND:

An individual in Los Gatos, California describes her family’s experiences with astrology while living in India. According to my source, her family strictly believed in the folk belief of astrology. The practice involves determining a person’s future based on the alignment of the stars and planets. My source recounts a story that was passed down to her about her grandmother taking both her children to an astrologer to discover their future. The real intention of their visit was to get information on the oldest son. Instead, the astrologist only commented on the younger daughter. When confronted about not talking about the son, the astrologer refused to reveal anything about his future. He continued on about the daughter claiming she had a bright future and was going to move away to a far off land. The family left the astrologer. When the older son was 18, he passed away. The daughter later went on to move to America and eventually brought in the main source of income for their family.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, A, went as follows:

Me: Could you give me an example of a time when astrology was practiced in your family?

A: Hmm… So when my mother was like 8 or 9 maybe 10 years old–In India they believe in astrology, right–so her mother took her and her brother to an astrologer and she really specifically wanted to look at her older son’s astrology map. The astrologer would not look at the oldest son, only looked at my mom. He kept saying she was going to move to a far away country, and she was gonna help the family out and bringing everyone there and their mom kept saying, “No what about the oldest son what about the oldest,” and he would not talk about him. So she kinda just blew it off and said, “okay whatever” and went away. On a later date… my mom’s oldest brother died. He was around 18 or 19. My mother did end up coming to this country.

MY THOUGHTS:

I’ve seen astrology be practiced quite a bit in America. In those instances, however, horoscopes and predictions came via a publication such as a magazine or a post on social media. I find it very interesting that in Indian culture, astrology is conveyed via someone who studies individuals rather than a broad prediction of everyone born on a certain date. The fact that there are experts who specifically practice this one on one during appointments gives a much more authentic feel to the predictions being made rather than finding one in a publication.

general

Ghost Hauntings in India

BACKGROUND:

An individual in Los Gatos, California recounts her familial folk belief in ghosts while living in India. According to her, when a family member passes, the whole extended family sleeps in one room for about a week after the passing due to the fear of the ghost of the departed returning to haunt individual family members. She tells a family legend of her grandfather’s experience with ghosts. According to him, when his mother passed the family all slept in the same room as per their beliefs. While sleeping, with a gust of wind, the door opened and the ghost of his mother appeared before her widowed husband. When the father saw her, other family members awoke, screamed, and the ghost fled from the house.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, A, went as follows:

ME: Could you tell me about what the beliefs are towards ghosts in India?

A: So when someone passes away they’re always afraid that the ghost is going to return. So they would all sleep in the same room for the first, you know, week after the death.

ME: Was there ever an instance in which a ghost returned?

A: When my grandfather was 8 years old… his mother died. So they’re all sleeping in the same room and they said one of the doors opened, there was a gust of wind, and she came in. She came in to see my grandfather. And my grandfather saw her, and she… like other family members woke up and saw her, they screamed, and she ran away.

ME: Did she ever come back?

A: I don’t know, I just know she visited them that one time.

MY THOUGHTS:

I find it interesting that this belief and fear of returning spirits is fended off not via a religious figure, but through the bond and support of family. While the recounted legend is quite compelling, I’m more interested in the bonding experience this belief provides for the family. The passing of a loved one is an extremely traumatic experience. The idea that the only way to prevent a spirit from returning is through the family banding together is a good way to help cope with the depression of losing a family member.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi, India

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me about a family tradition surrounding Holi, the festival of colors celebrated in India.

 

The festival is usually celebrated it in the beginning of march. The night before the big day of Holi, there is a smaller festival called Holika Dahan. There was a kind in Hindu mythology character, Hiranyakashyap, who was so arrogant and self-centered that he wanted to be the only one worshiped by his kingdom, but his son, Prahlad, continued to worship lord Vishnu (one of the 3 gods in Hindu triumvirate) who is believed to be responsible for the upkeep of the universe. To teach the son a lesson, the king’s sister, Holika, tricks him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika wore a fire resistant dress and hoped that Prahlad would die while she survived but as fate had it, the opposite happened. So for this festival, all the neighbors go to the common temple and they have and get a piece of the bonfire to put in their temples at home to commemorate the victory of evil over good no matter what the odds are.

 

She always looked forward to this because her mother, grandmother, grandfather, little brother and her would always go to the temple together to bring this piece of burning wood and she would get to pick it out of the fire. As a kid, that was really a rush, and it became one of her favorite family traditions.

 

I had heard about Holi before, and even been to Holi-themed events, but I had never heard about the story behind it or the temple ritual my friend described. I think it is a very nice way to bring families together and remind them of their religious backgrounds.

Legends
Narrative

Witch house, India

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me a rumor that was started when she was younger about a house in her neighborhood.

 

She told me that she had never the house’s owner up until a few years ago. She had only seen 30-40 cats that went in and out of the house. She is not sure about how it started, but all the kids in her locality were scared of looking at the house for more than a minute at a time because somebody started a rumor that the evil witch inside would throw kids into a well inside the house or eat them for dinner. She says it became a fun little test among her friends for seeing who was the bravest by making people stare at the house. Looking back at it now, she thinks it was probably a parent who started this rumor so that the kids would come home right after it got dark.

 

It looks like this is one of those stories parents use to scare children into behaving and not leaving their house at night, like Mexico’s La Llorona or Panama’s La Tulivieja. I like that children turned it into a fun game instead of being scared of it. All of the Indian people that I’ve met are very playful and not easily scared, so that reaction makes sense to me.

Proverbs

“Ghar ka bedhi, lanka dhaaye,” India

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. “Ghar ka bedhi, lanka dhaaye” translates into English literally as “the person who is a traitor to his/her own home can bring the entire house down,” and it is based on Hindu mythology.

 

The context is about the evilest king in Ramayan, who was brought down because his brother exposed the king’s only weakness to the king’s rival. If he hadn’t received that information, he would have never won.

 

I found Indian proverbs to be very metaphorical and symbolic in comparison to the American or Latin American proverbs that I’ve heard. My friend told me about some others that she had heard and I didn’t understand them at first, but when she gave me some context for them, I thought their messages were very deep and beautiful. They clearly come from experience and make interesting religious connections.

Narrative

Tree story, India

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me a story that her grandfather used to tell her whole family when they sat in the front porch of their house.

 

She told me that there is a really big tree which was always barren in front of her house, and her grandfather said that the only time this tree was in full bloom was when it had a nest in which a mama bird had 4 babies. One day, a snake climbed up the tree and ate the babies, and the mama cried and cried until all the leaves fell off and the tree has never bloomed since. She says this story brought a flavor of fantasy to her locality which in turn gave her a sense of wonder ever since she was a child.

 

This story reminded me of the stories I used to hear from my own grandparents, and I think it is a really nice way to increase that sense of wonder and turn something seemingly ordinary into something that brings the family together.

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