USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘india’
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.

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.

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.

Proverbs

“Hitting your foot with an axe”

Main piece:

Apne aap pe kulhadi maarna

“Hitting your foot with an axe”

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant is an international student from India. Her grandmother first taught her but everyone uses it in their day to day talk.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It means that when you put yourself in trouble. You planned everything but in the end there was trouble. For example, Person A is manipulative and tells everyone that Person B is cheating in school to ruin his/her reputation. In the end, it turns out that Person B never cheated and everyone finds out. Person A’s plan backfires and is now known as a bad person. This is when you would say, “Apne aap pe kulhadi maarna”.

Personal Analysis:

This is really similar to the American saying “shoot oneself in the foot”. The meaning is universal because the situation is a common occurrence in any society. The indian equivalent of a gun is an axe. It shows how different cultures are familiar with different weapons and might hint at what time period these proverbs started.

 

Narrative

Kabir ke dohe (Kabir’s couplets)

Main piece:

Kabir ke dohe (Kabir’s couplets) are couplets from India.

Here is one of them:

“Pehle Agan Birha Ki, Pachhe Prem Ki Pyas

Kahe Kabir Tub Janiye, Naam Milan Ki Aaas”

Translation:

“First the pain of separation, then the thirst for love

Says Kabir, only then will you know joy of the union.”

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant’s grandmother used to teach her these couplets because they were popular.

The informant believes that this couplet means first you experience the pain of separation then you can feel love. Only from the pain of separation do we feel the pangs of love. Then there is hope of union. This is the story of life – lovers meeting, separating, and realizing their love for each other then holding the urge for union and an eventual union. In Sufi tradition, it is a reflection of man and God – realization of the separation from God, the pangs of love and urge for union with God, and the eventual joy of union.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is shared with children in school.

 

Personal Analysis:

I never grew up with couplets, so it’s strange that other cultures see this as regular. The meaning is universal though and it can be said for lovers, family members, God, and anything else we love.

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk speech
general
Holidays
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gujarati Proverb Common Around Diwali

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script: मिच्छामि दुक्कडम्

Transliteration: micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ

Translation: “May all the evil that has been done be fruitless” or “If I have offended you in way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed, then I seek your forgiveness”.

Piece Background Information:

One specific thing that’s very interesting- whenever we meet someone on our new year’s day, we say micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ”. It basically means, “forgive me for anything I’ve done wrong over the past year and I want to start over on a clean slate with you”. Our new year, I think, comes right after Diwali- this big festival of lights. So it (the new year) is the day after that because the whole thing about Diwali is that it’s the conquering of good over evil, based on an ancient story.

So the ancient story is about this lord, he was called Lord Rama. He was a king who was in exile and his wife Sita was taken away by this evil king named Ravanna. So he crossed what is now called the region, the sea crossing between India, the south tip of India, and the current Sri Lanka to go and get his wife back. And they had like a fourteen day war where they basically, the two sides were fighting, and it ended with Rama putting an arrow through Ravana’s chest to kill him. The festival of lights celebrates his return after exile, back to the capital city.

Basically, we are asking for forgiveness from the other person and we want to start the new year off with a clean slate.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Through setting off fireworks, lanterns, and the like during Diwali, partakers in this tradition are recalling the celebrations that were believed to have taken place upon Rama and Sita’s return to their kingdom in northern India, after having been exiled and defeating King Ravanna. In this sense, Diwali can be seen as homeopathic magic as it is performed in order to bring about new beginnings/ wipe the slate clean through recalling the similar instance in which the slate was wiped clean for the once exiled Lord Rama. It also follows the Earth cycle as the celebration’s dates are dependent upon the Hindu lunar calendar.

For more information on Diwali, see Sims, Alexandra. “What is Diwali? When is the festival of lights?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/diwali-what-is-the-festival-of-lights-and-when-is-it-celebrated-a6720796.html>.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gold Is A Girl’s Best Friend

“On my mom’s side of the family, because my mom’s side of the family is really rich, um, in India, like, her father’s, like, an advisor to someone super important, and he’s a professor at this like super prestigious university. And they have, like, slaves, and it’s just weird to think of my mom’s family being rich in India when we’re middle-class here. Ummm, but, so, I guess, I think it’s a South Indian tradition, but I know it’s definitely a big thing on her side of the family is when your eighteen-year old daughter or when your daughter turns eighteen years old, you like give her gold, like, just like, whatever every singly side person in my mom’s side of the family sent me something gold for my birthday when I turned eighteen. A lot of gold! It was all like earrings and like necklaces and stuff like that, and I don’t wear any of that, and my mom wouldn’t give it to me because she was like, ‘You’re gonna lose it.’ Umm so I just have all of this gold at home that’s like mine, and yeah, that’s a thing. In Indian culture, like jewelry and like umm that sort of stuff is really important like to the point of being sacred. Ummm, like you have, I don’t know what it’s called, but like the giant ummm nose ring that connects to the earring umm like that is a sacred thing that they wear in like wedding rituals and stuff like that, ummm. So just like, jewelry’s really important and the eighteenth birthday is obviously really important, and I feel like that’s where the tradition comes from.”

 

On top of the jewelry being sacred, this tradition sounds like something that’s done for dowry purposes. Once a woman turns eighteen, she’s of proper marrying age, right? So if she’s of proper marrying age, she’s going to need a dowry and property for when she gets married. The gifting of jewelry and gold marks this transition into womanhood, honors whatever sacredness comes along with this tradition, and also prepares the woman with a dowry in the case of marriage. It just goes to show how much the culture depends on money to reflect who you are as a person. It’s very different from our society. While we do look up to people who have money, it doesn’t seem to reflect on our character as much as it does in India.

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