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

Childhood
Folk speech
general

“Ich bin klein”

Main piece:

Ich bin klein

mein Herz ist rein

darf niemand drin wohnen

als Jesus allein.

 

Informant’s English translation:

 

I am small,

My heart is pure,

So no one will live in my heart but Jesus alone.

 

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. DB grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch our home in Atlanta. The informant heard this nursery rhyme from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother. She values it because it’s “such a simple yet sweet prayer that any child can understand.” DB remembers “Ich bin klein” as the one solitary moment she shared with her mother before bed; despite their busy life and large family, they were always able to regroup and return to each and God at the end of the day.   

Personal thoughts: Popular Christian prayers tend to involve long sentences or invoke complex biblical concepts, which can be especially confusing for children. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for instance – one line reads: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” An 8-year-old has no grasp on temptation or evilness. Although these kinds of prayers are touted to be family friendly, many times children will simply recite them word-for-word without actually being able to fully understand what they are saying. The beauty of the “Ich bin klein” prayer is that it begins by reinforcing the innocence and simplicity of child (“I am small / my heart is pure”), which are words a child can easily grasp, and ends with an affirmation that the child reciting the prayer loves Jesus (“So no one will live in my heart by Jesus alone”). Bam. Easy. No mumbo jumbo about debts and trespassing – just an affirmation of a child’s purity and love for Jesus.

Folk speech
general

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Main piece: When in times of great stress or excitement, one will exclaim, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant first heard this exclamation-prayer from her Catholic family in Ireland, specifically her great-aunt, as they constantly use it all day everyday. Because the informant is not religious, she sometimes grows uncomfortable with overuse of it in casual conversation as it is a constant reminder of how she’s quite different from the rest of her family in terms of spiritual and moral beliefs. The prayer has stuck with her because of how different it is from American exclamations; when one of her visiting extended family members comes to the U.S., “JMJ” highlights their “otherness.”

Personal thoughts: Upon first read, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” may not seem like a prayer at all, but rather an explanation. However, whenever someone is exclaiming these words, they are either a) asking for help in a time of stress, or b) giving thanks for something unexpected/exciting happening, which are really the two key functions of prayers. What’s nice about the JMJ prayer is that it’s more modern in the sense that its text is shorter in length, and therefore more palatable and digestible to the average, on-the-go American. Out with traditional words and rituals, and in with quick, trendy expressions that double as prayers! JMJ is also interesting because it offers a sly alternative to taking the Lord’s name directly in vain, which devout Christians tend to avoid on the basis of their faith. By exclaiming, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”, you’re invoking powerful names in the bible, but you’re not directly saying “Oh, my God.” It’s a barely-there distinction, since Jesus is considered synonymous with the Lord in many ways, but the inclusion of Joseph and Mary somewhat soften the bite of taking Jesus’s name in vain. And by the time you reach the end of the phrase and have named all three, your local Catholic mother might’ve forgotten you even mentioned Jesus in the first place.

Folk Beliefs

St. Joseph

Informant: My informant, M.A., is 18 and was born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. M.A. parents both work as corporate lawyers and he hopes to pursue the same career. M.A. is also a practicing Catholic and is strongly connected to his religion. He has one brother and two sisters with the family being almost fully Americanized but still hold on to some of his Syrian heritage.

Folklore: “The patron saint of homes and real estate purchases is considered to be St. Joseph. The myth goes that if you are ever having a hard time trying to sell your house, you are supposed to bury a statue of St. Joseph head first in the backyard. If you complete this then the process of selling your house will be completed much quicker and smoothly.” M.A. heard this piece of folklore from an old neighbor in Connecticut who was having trouble selling his house. M.A. claimed that the neighbor did perform this task, but was not able to sell his house for another six months afterwards. M.A. is still strongly connected with his religion and does believe in these quirky traditions, but he also feels like people should not rely completely on these myths.

Analysis: I have never heard this myth before, but I did think it was peculiar as to why you would need to bury a statue of St. Joseph head first or even bury him at all in the backyard. These little stories might not actually provide any help like it did to Matt’s neighbor, but it is used mainly as a way to give people hope when they feel like they have done everything in their power to sell their house.

Folk Beliefs

St. Anthony

Informant: My informant, M.A., is 18 and was born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. M.A. parents both work as corporate lawyers and he hopes to pursue the same career. M.A. is also a practicing Catholic and is strongly connected to his religion. He has one brother and two sisters with the family being almost fully Americanized but still hold on to some of his Syrian heritage.

Folklore: “The patron saint of lost items is known to be St. Anthony. The myth goes that if you lose an item, you say a prayer to St. Anthony that goes, ‘St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come down. Something is lost and can’t be found.’ If you were to repeat this ten times then St. Anthony will help you find your lost item.” M.A. was taught this prayer from his mom at a very young age and was a commonly known story in his town. According to M.A., he says that his prayers have rarely ever been answered, but still performs the prayer regardless every time he loses an object because he figures it doesn’t hurt to try it.

Analysis: I was told this prayer from my parents when I was growing up, but the only thing that was different was that I didn’t repeat the prayer ten times. I felt that when I was a kid this prayer seemed to work a lot more than it does now, but I too still perform the prayer because it usually gets to the point where I’m desperate to find the item. Saying the prayer just gives me that small amount of reassurance that I might actually find my lost item but with my experience it’s usually gone for good.

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