USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘indian’
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.

general
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Indian Cremation Ritual

Informant SM is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. 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 an Indian tradition centered around cremation he is fond of and believes many Indian people practice.

SM: It is customary in Indian tradition to cremate someone’s body after they die. And then you take the ashes, and you put it in a place that’s very special to this person.

AK: Wow I think I’ve heard of something similar. What does this ritual mean to you?

SM: It’s a way of celebrating someone even after they have died.

AK: Where did you learn this ritual, and does your family practice it?

SM: I didn’t learn it from a specific person, but it’s just part of Indian culture. I haven’t had a chance to experience it because none of my relatives have died in my lifetime.

AK: Where would you want your ashes to be placed?

SM: Oh wow, that is a tough question (laughs). I guess I’d pick Mount Tambora, you can call it Mount Tam — in San Francisco because it’s this really beautiful hike, and it’s kind of the first hike I went on with my family. Yeah, I guess that’s where I would put mine.

I was definitely familiar with this ritual, but I had never heard the part about placing the ashes in the person’s favorite place. As I asked the question to my informant about where he would like his ashes placed, I began to think about how I would answer that question. It certainly is a very difficult question because it’s so difficult to determine someone’s favorite place. I feel like at this point in my life, I don’t really have a favorite place, but if I had to choose, I think I’d just pick my room in the house I grew up in.

 

general
Tales /märchen

Akbar and Birbal

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 common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Akbar is known to be this angry king who has this little friend named birbal who is known to be very cunning and sharp. They have thousands of tales about the two of them. Akbar usually gets mad about something and birbal fixes it by being cunning and smart.

One such story:

There was a thousand people that came into the kingdom and they wanted to kill birbal because birbal was screwed up. So they told him that he needs to drink a bottle full of lime juice straight down. That’s supposed to tear apart your entire digestive system. So Birbal is like “okay I’ll do it.” and Akbar says, “Birbal, what the hell, you’re going to die” and Birbal just winked. And later, he went home and took a bottle of ghee, and drank the entire bottle of ghee which covered his entire digestive system. Now he came back and he downed the lemon juice and survived because the ghee was a coating.

AK: Why do you know or like this piece?

KM: I didn’t know as a child that lemon could kill you. I think it’s funny because in this story they depict everyone to look like idiots and Birbul looks funny because he’s this low-key middle-class guy, but it represents the underdog winning.

AK: Where did you hear this story?

KM: I learned of this story at home from this book called the Punchit Tandra. I also heard many stories from my parents including this one. I remember this story in particular because it is short and is a representation of the power of wit and intellect.

This story was very interesting to hear because I am also of Indian heritage, yet I had never heard this story before. I belief this is because I grew up in a very western society and these stories were never passed down by my parents. Another interesting thing to note is the manner in which this story was told by my informant. It is obvious that her recollection is devoid of many details and likely not performed as it was by her parents. I attribute this to a generational difference as well as the fact that my informant retold this story from memory. Therefore, it makes sense that she was only able to remember the most crucial plot details.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Gujarati Protection Against Evil Eye

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:

So my grandma always did this thing, where she had this belief where if people see success too much, they give you the stink or evil eye, trying to wish you bad luck. So what she would do and say to do is to make a black mark somewhere you cannot see it- so take a little bit of like eyeliner, or mascara, and put it like right behind the ear or something to ward off evil spirits, and people’s bad visions. It’s the same way either way for males and females, but females do it generally.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within piece that their grandmother taught them this folk belief on protection against the evil or bad eye.

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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: 

Upon further research, it is commonly believed in India that the main source (i.e. givers) of the evil eye are women, which is why they generally use this protection against the evil eye.  The black mark is meant to cast or ward off negative energy and evil spirits. I could not find significant meaning as to why it is a black mark, or behind the ear, but I found this protection against the evil eye very interesting.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Camp P________ Secret Ritual

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So ever since I was a kid, I went to this sleep away camp called Camp P________ (name removed by request). Once you reach a certain level at the camp, a lot of people know you, like a sufficient amount of people, and you can get inducted. So the second week, every two week during campfire, everyone who is inducted, which is a huge secret at my camp, like nobody knows about it, they come to campfire, and they say like please stop what you’re doing and follow us in silence. And then they lead you into the woods, and everyone’s dressed as indians. And you recognize them, but you can’t talk to them, they won’t smile and they won’t look at you, you walk, you all sit in this area, there’s like bonfires everywhere, this woman sits in the middle, and it’s like a ritual. The girls and boys are separate, by the way, there’s no boys around. She starts this whole ceremony and she says all of these native american prayers and does these rituals, and it’s all accurate too. And then, everyone has a specific name at camp, so the lady says “Giggling Chipmunk and Mountain Sunrise, come down from the hills and bring us the one that we shall call Spastic Chipmunk.” That’s my name. And they run and they grab you and they drag you from the crowd, and you have no idea if you’re being taken, you’re blinded and you’re stripped naked, they beat you, and then you get this necklace and it’s this hand painted necklace, and every single one is different, and there’s a rock on the end of it, and it’s a symbol that’s specific to you. So like mine is a sunrise, and that’s how we know that someone’s in the tribe. And if anyone asks about the necklace, you’re supposed to just say “My friend made it for me,” just very casual. And you spend the entire night with the tribe, and there’s this party after, and the next day you act like everything is back to normal, and then you, the next year, get to choose people to be part of the tribe. And it all stems from this indian tribe called the Paioka, and the guys do the same thing, except they wear a necklace that’s just an eagle on it, and it’s a representation of the Monotauk Indian tribe, and a lot of our camp counselors have it tattooed on them. It’s a really spiritual thing at our camp, because those tribes used to live there back in the day.

Collector: It sounds like this ritual was very significant to you.

Informant: It definitely was. They always told us that whenever we feel alone or sad, you just touch your necklace and you can feel the voices of the women in our tribe. (Starts crying) Sorry, I’m so emotional. There’s people that wear it year-round. I probably should. It really means a lot to me.

I never went to sleep away camp, so I never experienced anything like what she is talking about here. However, it was very emotional for me to see her reacting so strongly to her memory of this ritual. Because this is something that is very foreign to me and hard for me to understand, it was really cool to hear her describe it so visually. I could almost feel as if I was there experiencing it with her. I also think it’s really interesting how this ritual stems from rituals of previous Native American tribes, and that they still honor them today.

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.

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