USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘indian’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Protection

Disease as a result of Possession

Text:

BH: “So when I got chicken pox in like 7thgrade, no wait 10thgrade, yeah, and I remember we came back from the doctors’ with medicines and everything and my mom called my aunt and said “she has chicken pox”, which implied uske andar mata aa gayi hai [she’s possessed by the mata] so for the first three days, I was only allowed to have sponge baths and on the fifth day, the uh fourth day or the fifth day, a pandit [priest like figure] came and he put some oil and coins in a [bowl] and did something – I don’t fully remember but he performed some sort of ritual, uh he touched that oil on my feet. And then – uh it was only then that I was allowed to fully bathe in proper water. Before that I wasn’t allowed to bathe, and they all just saying “uske andar mata aa gayi hai” which like I don’t even know what that really means. And I asked my mom, and she didn’t really have an explanation either.”

BH: “Oh yeah, and I also wasn’t allowed to have onion or garlic because that is what apparently what you do when the mata [possesses you] and I wasn’t allowed to eat non vegetarian food also.”

BH: “I was only allowed to eat all this after 14 days when I wasn’t contagious anymore.”

BH: “The person [affected by the disease] is already in isolation – the family members are already treating you like some sort of untouchable and you’re basically being discriminated against at that point of time – it’s just not a good headspace to be in because you can’t go meet people, and people who visit you can’t come close…And on top of that you hear these terms that you don’t fully understand but seems negative so it just makes you feel even more low. I mean if there was some scientific basis, I would understand, but I just wish there was better terminology for it than using such words.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

It is interesting how even now cultural practices and beliefs like possession as an explanation of a disease like chicken pox, which is pretty well understood scientifically, persist. The informant talks about the feelings of isolation and prejudice she faced from her family which put into perspective the harmful effects of such folk beliefs when they are forced on people who don’t understand them or do not want to partake in them. Her confusion also arises from the fact that even the people around her whole seem to truly believe in this tradition don’t have an explanation for it. Often, folk beliefs are so integral to identity that they are not questioned by people who are involved in them.

Customs
Game
Humor
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Indian Wedding Custom: Stealing Shoes

Text:

BH: “So one of the wedding rituals that all, or like most, of the Indian weddings have, is the joota churai [shoe stealing] of the groom, so basically the [to-be] sister-in-law that uh, whenever, so Indian wedding require you to remove your shoes whenever you enter into that pandar [ceremonial area] where the groom and the bride [perform the official religious marriage rituals] – they have to remove their shoes because shoes are considered to be something dirty and they’re entering into a pure religious place and that’s why they are asked to remove the shoes. So, as soon as the groom removes his shoes, it a battle, or kind of like a battle, between the groom’s side and the bride’s side because the bride’s sides – the sister-in-laws – are supposed to steal the groom’s shoes and at the end of the wedding [ceremony], the sister-in-law will present the shoes back to the groom in exchange for some money. It is like a ritual which shows the relationship between a sister-in-law and – like a very friendly relationship – between the groom and his sister-in-law, it kind of helps them bond.”

MS: “Have you yourself ever been involved in the stealing?”

BH: “So basically what happened – there’s a varmala ceremony [bride and groom exchange “necklaces” made of flowers, similar to leis, similar to the exchange of rings] that happens in Indian weddings. So the groom was [lifted] by his brothers onto their shoulders so that he could put the varmala on his bride. And during that time, all the sister-in-laws – because he was at a height – they, uh, removed his shoes without him knowing and we ran away and we hid them in a car and the whole time when he had to pose for pictures, he was just barefoot and then he had to go for the ceremony [where he would have had to remove his shoes anyway] so it didn’t really matter. But it was a good ice-breaking session for us, that allowed us to bond. Because then we had to uh – so once the wedding ceremony was over, we came to him with his shoes and we were basically bargaining with him for how much he’d be willing to buy his shoes for. Since there were a lot of saliyans [sister-in-laws], we negotiated to a high amount and in the end, it depends on the groom and his family as to what uh amount they want to give and that is split equally among the sisters…It helped us make – uh, it was an ice-breaking thing for us, because the next time I met him [the groom], I was very comfortable because I had led the negotiation earlier because I was the closest sister-in-law so it was very easy for me to maintain a good rapport with him later as well.”

MS: “Does it matter where you hide the shoes?”

BH: “Not really. You just have to make sure you hide them well because if the groom’s side takes the shoes, then you will not get your money. So we usually hide them in the cars so we aren’t really bothered during the long ceremonies that we have in Indian wedding that the shoes might be stolen back by the groom’s side.”

[Talking more about the negotiation over the shoes]

BH: “It’s a very very hard negotiation, so all of the bride’s family and the groom’s family come in to support both of them, though the bride doesn’t say anything even though she is pressured to say something, she will not say anything because she does not want to take anyone’s side…In the end, we just take – as the sister-in-laws, we just take whatever the groom is willing to give and whatever his capacity is to give and that is equally – but it helps because we make jokes about it in the future. Because a sali’s [sister-in-law’s] relationship with her jija [brother-in-law] is very fun and relaxed – it’s like friend-cum-brother so they should be able to have open conversations and this is one of the ways to establish that.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any wedding traditions that the informant has been involved in or seen in the past. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

This was a very culturally dense discussion that took for granted a basic understanding of how Indian weddings work. Focusing specifically on the one ritual of stealing the groom’s shoes, it seems to be, as the informant says, a means to establish a relationship between the groom and the sister-in-laws. But it is also notable that the entire family joins the discussion about how much the groom is going to pay for his shoes, whose side you support becomes an identifier of whether you belong to the groom’s side or the bride’s side. In the same vein, the bride is not supposed to partake in this discussion because she is now supposed to be a part of both the groom and the bride’s sides. The exchange of money itself is also interesting and may have some historical basis in the fact that traditionally the expenses of the wedding ceremonies were paid for entirely by the bride’s side of the family – this seems to be one of the place where the bride’s side can some monetary and symbolic compensation.

Also interesting is the change that the informant implicitly mentioned from the traditional “battle” like nature of the ritual, where each side is supposed to steal back and forth from each other, to the more modern “we just hide them in the car and forget about them till the end of the ceremony”. Even though the practice has changed, its social significance persists.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Re-entry into a Home: Indian Folk Belief

Text:

MM: “See when we return home after a long time, then it is supposed to be pretty auspicious that in front of the main door of the house someone pour oil on like both sides of the door – before you like enter the house.”

MS: “Is it usually when the person is already at the door, or before they show up?”

MM: “No like when you show up, you have to wait at the door, and then someone pours the oil and then you’re allowed to enter.”

MS: “Was there ever a time this ritual was done differently?”

MM: “Yeah there was this one time when we showed up somewhere and they had already put the oil on the doorstep and the door wasn’t even open yet and it was supposed to be like a super bad omen. Like you’re supposed to do it the right way, after the people show up, not before.”

MM: “My grandparents believe in this pretty ardently and some people from my parents’ generation do as well, but we kids like definitely don’t see the point and I don’t think I’d like continue to do it if it were just me.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India, currently doing a study abroad program in America. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does not really understand the reasons behind the ritual herself, and is adamant in not taking part in it, but she still acknowledges the proper way to do it and the consequences of messing up even the order in which the actions must take place. I think this ritual developed because there was a time when people would often go away for long periods of time and the lack of communication abilities would imply that there was no way of knowing if and when they would be coming back. Further, there was implicitly more of a risk in travel earlier than it is now. The ritual seems to be a response of gratitude for a safe return as well as a prayer that even return be as safe and sound as this one.

general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

“Indian Burial Ground” Seal Beach Legend

Main Piece: “So there is this story that I was told as a kid, that involves this Indian burial ground and the coyote dens who live around it. So story goes that back before anyone ever lived in Seal Beach there was this Indian Tribe that moved into the area of Gum Grove Park. They lived there for many years without any problems, and for the most part lived a pretty uneventful life. Then one day, a group of the Indians had to leave the grounds to go find food for the rest of the tribe. The group went out and was having lots of trouble finding food this time around, until they finally came across some deer. The hunting party killed as much as they could carry, and then headed back to their home. However, when they arrived back the tribe had been murdered by something. The hunters searched for days and days to see if they could find the people or the animal that was responsible, but they found nothing. The hunters eventually buried their dead in the burial ground that is still in Gum Grove, and instead of leaving to start a new life, the hunters stayed at the burial ground and opted to die alongside their tribe. After all the hunters had died, there was a sudden influx in coyotes in the area and especially in the area surrounding the burial ground. They created their dens behind the burial ground, and it is believed that these coyotes are the hunters that were reincarnated as protectors of this sacred ground. And every night at around midnight they would howl and cry, as they are still not over the loss of their family and friends.”

 

Background: KS said that this is a legend that he remembers hearing form his father when he was a child. KS also said that this very park is incredibly close to his house, and that as a kid he loved going with his family to play at the park. But as the years went by, KS liked going and exploring the park with friends and, thus this story would come back into his mind every time they went to the park. They knew that this burial ground was deep in the park and very secluded, and it also had warning signs that would count down to 10, but KS said that he only ever went their once because it had such an eerie feeling. And KS said that he was able to hear the coyotes at night as well, as one time he even saw a couple of the coyote dens the reside by the burial ground.

 

Context of the Performance: KS told me this legend of the Indian Burial ground while we were discussing some of the most famous stories from our communities. This was one that KS particularly remembered and said that it was one of the more unsettling things he had ever experienced.

 

Analysis: This legend is interesting for a couple of reasons. For starters, there isn’t a whole lot of other information about this particular legend on the internet. This in now way means that what KS heard isn’t true or that he is lying, but I think it speaks to just how specific this legend is to his life and perhaps his family. Seeing as how the park was so close to his house, it is entirely possible that his parents used this as a way to discourage him from exploring the more dense areas of the park so that he would stay safe. There are most certainly coyotes in the area, and for a kid to be exploring on his own could definitely be dangerous. Additionally I think this also functions as a legend that seeks to remind us of the horrors that we committed to Native Americans. Having the entire tribe beings slaughtered bye an unknown enemy, and then choosing to die rather than leave their homeland I think is a very powerful way of showing the struggle between Native Americans’ pride and struggle for their land, and the greedy and destructive nature of the colonizer.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Cutting Nails at Night

Context/Background: The informant is Indian-American and has family in India who, alongside her family within the U.S., engage in cultural practices, one of which being the belief in not cutting one’s nails at night. It is deemed back luck, so they refrain from doing it at night time and have to wait till the day time.

Informant:

“Something that um… most people in India always say is not to cut your nails at night… or also, a variation of it is if you cut your nails at night, you’ll lose all your wealth or lose all your money or something like that, but, I don’t specifically know why they say that, but my parents always say that to me and if you’re like… starting to cut your nails at night, they tell me to wait until morning or something.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced by their parents in childhood.

Analysis/Interpretation: I find this piece of lore interesting because it causes me to develop questions regarding the cultural values of nails and growth in general. I’ve heard this from another Indian-American student as well, so it seems very ingrained in the folk belief. There’s definitely an interesting dynamic in terms of looking at the literal version of physical growth (nails), juxtaposed with the idea of wealth and prosperity financially.

Narrative

Panchatantra = Indian comic book

Main piece:

“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.

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 said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.

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

It is read by kids as a comic book in India.

Personal Analysis:

The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.

Proverbs

Door ke dhol suhaavne lagte hai

Main piece:

“Door ke dhol suhaavne lagte hai”

The drums sound better at a distance

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 learned this in grade school when she was studying in India.

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

It has a similar meaning to “the grass is always greener on the other side”.

Personal Analysis:

I don’t know if drums actually sound better at a distance, because it might sound very loud and messy. In a rhetorical sense, I can see that something that’s loud and entertaining might seem good from far away. It might mean that the small details of the drum is not that pleasing to the ear, or maybe the drums from up close is too loud that it’s not that great. The American version of grass makes me think of the american dream and having a nicely mowed green lawn. I think that cultural differences make one more relevant to another area. I grew up in the States and don’t really know if the sound of a drum is as meaningful in a proverb.

Adulthood
Customs

Indian Wedding Tradition

Informant:

Shehan is a sophomore aerospace engineering major from Atlanta, Georgia,  

Piece:

So ummm it is an indian tradition that when you have the bride and groom like the week prior to the actual wedding day they have this thing called a pithi. That’s a word in Hindi. But what they do is they get the groom and he sits on a chair all of his like bachelors like hang out and chill with him for a little bit and then they just like start throwing eggs at him and like ketchup mustard, mayo. really the plan is to like get him as dirty and gross as possible .the tradition is is like cleansing your body at the same time. They do the same thing to the bride, but with her they just put some sort of oil on her face, but for the groom it’s always like eggs yolks and always turns into a big food fight. And its like really fun, really gross and it happens before every wedding

Collector’s thoughts:

The most interesting part of this wedding tradition to me is that the informant says it is a indian bachelor party tradition, yet mustard, mayo, and ketchup are all very american condiments that are not traditionally indian. This reveals that while the tradition may come from the informant’s hini background, it has taken on a distinctly american twist in what foods are used to throw at the groom.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Navratri

My informant M is my 49-year-old mother. She follows many Hindu traditions even though she lives in America. She has found a community of friends who also celebrate many of the same traditions as well.

In this piece, my informant explains to me (AK) a Hindu tradition called Navratri. She also goes into detail about how this tradition has adapted over time into the form that she practices today.

M: So most North Indians fast for the first seven days of the Navratri…. Every night, jagrans take place, where devotees gather to sing religious songs. On the Ashtami or the Navami, fasts are broken by inviting nine young girls from the neighborhood, who are honored with gifts including money, food, etc. These girls, known as ‘kanjak’, are considered to be representations of the nine different avatars (forms) of Maa Durga.

AK: So this definitely isn’t the way you celebrate Navratri now right?

M: (Laughs) Oh no… this was the original tradition. Now you practice it by being vegetarian for the day. I actually fast for the day.

AK: Oh yeah.. I remember, I’m glad I understand where this tradition came from though!

For some reason, I had never really asked my mom where this tradition came from and just blindly practiced it my whole life. I distinctly remember my mom telling me to be vegetarian for the day but never questioned why. It was really nice to hear of this tradition, and I sure am glad we do not practice it as it was originally outlined!

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

An Indian Christmas

Informant SM is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is 20 years old and originally from India. He is very passionate about philanthropy, specifically helping poorer parts of India and aspires to one day become a doctor.

The informant tells me(AK) about how his Indian family celebrates Christmas and the winter time as a whole. He is very happy to share this and it seems as though talking about the Christmas time reminds him of very fond memories.

SM: I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional religious manner. It’s all about the gift exchange and just spending time with family for us.

AK: Do you have you any other traditions that are related to Christmas?

SM: We always put out stockings and because we have a younger cousin, we always put out milk and cookies to kind of show the fact that Santa may be real.

AK: Do you think the way you celebrate Christmas is very similar to the way other Indian people celebrate it?

SM: To some extent yes, but I know of a lot of Indian families that don’t even exchange gifts. Of course there are some Christian Indian families who definitely celebrate Christmas much more religiously than we do. But I think Christmas is just all about spending time with family and being around family. Everyone has Christmas off, so no matter how you celebrate, it’s the time of year where you can just be around family. I think that’s the biggest thing about Christmas, and everyone regardless of how they celebrate can take solace in the fact that they can be around their family. This is really important to me also because now that I’m in college, I’m not able to see my family as much as I used to.

AK: Yeah, I totally agree. Thanks for sharing with me man.

I found the informant’s experience with Christmas to be very similar to my own. Although my family does not always explicitly exchange gifts or put up stockings, we always celebrate the festivities together. For example, we have gone on day trips together to nearby beaches or unexplored cities. Other times we simply spend time together during the day, then watch a movie we all have not seen at night. I will say that as a child, my family definitely celebrated Christmas more traditionally. We would purchase a tree and put gifts under the tree.

[geolocation]