Tag Archives: indian

Indian Wedding Traditions – Stealing Shoes

Background: 
My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage.  (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:
NS: At Indian weddings, the youngest bridesmaid..ok so..have you ever been to an Indian wedding?

SW: Nope.

NS: Oh. Well the bride and groom…they do a thing where they walk around a fire 7 times, and each time represents, like, the first one might be commitment, or the second one represents love. They walk around 7 times, and then the youngest bridesmaid will steal the shoes from the groom-

SW: The groom’s shoes?

NS: Yeah, so she steals the groom’s shoes, and it’s always expected, like, Indian men will take out cash, like over $100, before their wedding day because they know they have to pay for their shoes back. And basically, it’s like a sign of wealth. The groom shows that he has the money to buy his shoes back, even if he doesn’t need to. It’s supposed to be, like, a way of showing that he can support his wife and family, financially. 

Thoughts: 
I’ve never been to a wedding before, and talking to NS, my best friend, always makes me want to go to one, especially an Indian wedding. They seem to be a big affair, with hundreds of people there, including extended family and friends. Walking around the fire reminds me of a more symbolic way of reading out your vows, which I like. NS also mentioned that she’s been to a few weddings where her Indian cousins marry someone who is not Indian, and because they’re not Indian, they don’t quite get all the Indian traditions that make up the wedding. So NS, often being the youngest bridesmaid (as she is the youngest cousin), has dealt with the family of the groom being less than understanding. She’s had people she hardly knows get angry with her and tell her to return the shoes, or the groom will give her $10, clearly not understanding the significance of the custom. It makes me sad that so many people won’t even consider trying to understand a culture different from their own. 

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Sindhi Folk Song Wah Wah Sindhi Wah Wah

Context: RP is a really close friend of mine. She currently lives in san francisco and works at Google. I decided to facetime her and ask her about any folklore. She is fascinated with songs and dancing and told me about this sidhi folk dance. 

YM: So tell me about this folk song

RP: When I was in India, I used to really enjoy dancing and listening to the Sindhi songs. Basically, they all are about being grateful to the Sindhu god – Jhulelal…And each caste in India has its own state. But Sindhi, our caste does not. Sindh, this state lies in Pakistan, since the India-Pakistan partition…I, at times, listen to these songs when I am here in the US, because I miss it so much. One of the songs is “Wah wah sindhi wah wah” which actually means Sindhis are the best, also it paragraphs detail about the specific traits of sindhi culture. I personally love hearing this one, since it reminds me of our Sindhi culture. 

RP: Also sindhu language is written like Urdu, starts from the bottom corner of the last page, in the reverse direction.

RP:  Basically the sindhi/Sufi songs have deeper meanings which make you realize how vast the universe is and to be grateful.

YM: In your culture what does this song signify? 

RP: I feel this song symbolises the pulse-beat of the nation you could say.. Like the consciousness of the Sindhi people that it manifests in this song or any other Sindhi song. The song has a spirit and you know it has life and vitality and it represents the people 

YM: That’s beautiful

Background info: RP was born and raised in Pakistan, she identifies herself as Indian and Sindhi folk songs have always been her favorite growing up. Sooner or later she plans  to go back to India, because she wants her kids to learn and imbibe the sindhi culture, which will be very difficult If she plans her future here. 

Analysis: This song seems to represent the culture of the Sindhi people. It is folk song and music that is ethno, meaning it is outside of westorn music (foreign musicology.) Sindhi songs and music are usually danced predominantly with your hands, not much leg movement is done. It appears to also represent the consciousness of the nation as a whole, I imagine that when sindhi songs are danced or heard one experiences a sense of identity and individuality. And of course it is a form of self expression for Sindhi people. 

Holika Dahan: The day before Holi

Main Piece:

The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan. The legend goes:

            The was once a young prince (he was a kid), the son of a tyrant king, who prayed to Rama (a deity in the Hinduism religion). The king thought himself to be a God and was furious that his son was worshipping another. The king told the young prince that unless he stopped worshipping Rama, he would punish him. The king’s sister, Holika, was blessed from birth as to never be harmed by fire. So, the king devised a punishment for his son for refusing to stop worshipping Rama. He would make the young prince burn in a fire.

As the king started a bonfire, he tauntingly asked his son, “Where is the god you worship? You will burn and no one will save you.” He started a bonfire and had his sister sit with the young prince in the fire to prevent him from escaping the flames. Then, something happened, the young prince wasn’t burning, the aunt was burning. (This is where the story diverges based on region).

  1. Rama stepped in to save the young prince and burn Holika
  2. Holika was blessed on the understanding that it can never be used to bring harm to anyone.
  3. Holika wore a shawl that would protect her from the fire. When she was sat down in the fire with the young prince on her lap, she prayed to Rama/Vishnu (gods are just reincarnations so technically same person but with different names and looks). Vishnu blew a gust of wind to knock the shawl off of Holika and on to the young prince, saving the kid and burning Holika.

Every year, the day before Holi, Indians light bonfires to celebrate Holika Dahan.

Background:

This is a summary of what my roommate, B, told me when I asked her about Indian traditions and festivals. She said her told her the story when she was kid and her family was in India during Holi. She saw the bonfires and asked them why they do it, so they told her that story. The ending they told her about was a combination of the one where Rama saves the prince and where the aunt dies because her blessing was not to be used to cause harm. From what she remembers, the story is supposed to be the age-old classic of good winning over evil with a bit of religion thrown in. 

Context:

B said this was a legend about the day before Holi. This was collected from a message exchange with B since we were both busy with assignments and couldn’t coordinate a time that worked for both of us. I asked her questions and she answered them and then I summarized what she told me to make it into a coherent story.

Thoughts:

I don’t know much about Indian traditions and I didn’t know about a tradition of the day before Holi. It was interesting to hear about a tradition that I didn’t know about. She said the message is good winning over evil, which is a broad concept and I think many different cultures have some kind of story with this basis. In fact, even the story of Cinderella or the Korean variation, Kong-Ji and Pat-Ji (refer to here) is about the good defeating evil.

The Maharaja and The Rice–An Indian Tale

Main Piece:

The story goes, a maharaja (a king) was bored and commissioned a lowly mathematician to create a new game for him. The mathematician presented the maharaja with the game of chess. The maharaja was impressed with the game and offered the inventor any reward he wanted. The mathematician requested a single grain of rice. The maharaja said that it was too small of a reward, so the mathematician asked that a single grain of rice be placed on the first square of the chessboard. Then, on the next square two grains of rice, on the third square four grains of rice, with each square having double the amount of the previous square. The maharaja, though still believing it to be a too small reward, agreed.

The maharaja ordered his treasurer to pay the agreed upon sum. A week later, the mathematician returned to ask the maharaja why he had not received his reward. The maharaja, outraged that the treasurer had disobeyed him, summoned the treasurer and demanded to know why the mathematician had not been paid. The treasurer explained that by the time you get even halfway through the chessboard, the amount of grain required was more than the entire kingdom possessed. (By the 41st square on the chessboard, the maharaja would owe more than a trillion grains of rice.) There are also multiple endings to this store as well.

  1. The maharaja kills the mathematician to avoid paying the reward.
  2. The mathematician reveals himself to a God and tells the king he does not have to provide the reward. Just remember the lesson.

Background:

This is a summary of what my roommate, B, told me when I asked her if there were any Indian stories that she knew. B think she read about it in a bookstore that was a part of the temple her parents went to when she was younger. Most of the books were about Indian stories, but she remembers this in particular because it is pretty famous not just in India, but in the math and finance world. She says it’s a great illustration of exponential, a concept that is hard to visualize/grasp.

Context:

B said this was a legend about the day before Holi. This was collected from a message exchange with B since we were both busy with assignments and couldn’t coordinate a time that worked for both of us. I asked her questions and she answered them and then I summarized what she told me to make it into a coherent story.

Thoughts:

I think I heard this story somewhere before. I don’t recall if it was the same Indian king, but I remember hearing the concept of the grain of rice expanding exponentially. Maybe it was from some kind of math problem, but just as B said, I think this is a great illustration of the exponential. I think it kind of tells a lesson that you should always think before you answer because the maharaja didn’t think about his options and could have almost starved his entire nation if the treasurer hadn’t caught his mistake.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.