My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.
My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.
SV: “Ok so… there’s this thing in India which is… predominantly for the Hindu culture, which is in one of the ancient Hindi texts called “Atithi Devo Bhava” which roughly translates to “guest is equal to God”. So the… in India the guest is considered holy and usually when they’re entering your house, when you invite a guest over there’s a kind of ritual kind of thing which is similar to like when your in-uhh… like you’re… when your inviting a God into your house there’s certain like religious things that they do. Like there’s something called an “Arti”, and then they usually like, uhh.. like light a lamp and then they sort of do a prayer and then they invite the guests over and then the guests usually are treated very respectfully and they’re given like as much comfort as possible, and like the host will adjust as much as they can. So that’s one of the common… I guess like, ideas or traditions that Indians have, mostly the Hindus, but I think that sort of permeated once India tried to make it like a tourism slogan so it sort of permeated through all religions so… in general that’s the common thing, so… but I guess more modern it gets and more people err-like become… less religious some of the things like they have the prayer when they’re entering and stuff gets turned down or completely removed but it’s still like a thing where you treat your guests well.”
SV: “Overall, I think its a positive thing, uhm… Like mostly it’s like treating people well, which is always good, because India has a lot of issues about like the caste system and there are other issues so at least this is one of the things that like helps reduce some of this inequality and like helps people treat others well.”
- Original Script: अतिथि देवो भव
- Transliteration: “Atithi Devo Bhava” or “Atithidevo Bhava”
- Translation: “The guest is equivalent to God.”
I thought it was very interesting how what primarily started as a religious custom and practice has been so widely and readily adopted by India’s tourism industry. A quick search for the phrase brought up dozens of restaurants, vacation destinations, and the like that all state “Atithi Devo Bhava” as being their mission statement in order to please their customers. The adoption and outward marketing of what was initially an intimate and kind religious tradition, and it’s transformation into a promise of service to outsiders in order to make India appeal more to foreigners seems bleak, but not unexpected for the tourism industry.