Author Archives: nehashar

Raksha Bandhan

Informant: RG

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English, Telugu

Age: 21

Text: [RG] Every year for Raksha Bandhan, I perform aarti, tie a rakhi around my brother’s wrist, and then feed him sweets. After that, he buys me a gift. I usually feel closer with my brother afterwards.

Context: Raksha Bandhan is an annual Hindu ritual that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters; sisters pray for their brothers’ happiness and well-being, and in return, brothers vow to protect and cherish their sisters. Aarti is the waving of a lit lamp (typically in a clockwise motion) in front of the image of a god, or a person being honored. Rakhis are a sacred thread that are meant to be worn until it falls off the wrist naturally. 

Analysis: Raksha Bandhan primarily serves to reinforce the relationship between siblings. In Hinduism, one’s connection to god is one of the purest forms of love they can form; by performing aarti for their brothers, sisters are equating their love for them to their love for god. The rakhis themselves are a physical symbol of the sister’s love, and the brother’s protection. Raksha Bandhan fosters a deeper sense of loyalty, connection, and duty to family, all of which are deeply tied to Indian culture within the household. 


Informant: SK

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English, Gujarati

Age: 24

Text: [SK] Indian weddings usually last a few days because of all the different ceremonies that take place. One of these rites is the Haldi ceremony, where family and close friends apply turmeric paste or water to the bride and groom to be. At my sister’s Haldi, we used water guns filled with turmeric water to drench her and her husband.

Context: The Haldi ceremony is a pre-wedding ritual practiced across most traditional Indian weddings. The informant noted that he participated in the Haldi ceremony at his sister’s wedding, as well as some of his cousins’ weddings. He mentioned that the ritual felt lighthearted and fun, but also made him emotional because it signaled the start of the wedding.

Analysis: Haldi ceremonies are rooted in the usage of turmeric, which plays an important role in Indian folk medicine. The plant is medicinally used for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties, but in many South Asian cultures, it is also believed to have the ability to cleanse one spiritually. Weddings are a transitory period, marking the shift from single to married life; purifying the bride and groom by applying turmeric paste or dousing them in turmeric water is a cultural practice intended to prepare them for the transition into this new era. Furthermore, the act of applying turmeric to the bride and groom is often turned into a lighthearted, candid act (as mentioned by the informant, who used water guns) as a preclude to the more serious main wedding ceremony. With only family and close friends being invited to take part in this celebration, the ritual also serves to strengthen familial bonds and other social relationships. 


Informant: RS

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English, Konkani

Age: 58

Text: [RS] Ugadi is the start of the new year for the Hindu lunar calendar. This year we celebrated on April 9th. There are legends that go along with it…we believe that Ugadi is when Rama came back after his victory over Ravana and became the king of Ayodhya. 

Context: This festival has been celebrated by Hindus, particularly South Indians, for hundreds of years, intertwined with the epic story of the Ramayana (as mentioned by the informant, the belief is that Ugadi marks the triumph of Rama over Ravana). The informant commemorates the festival with his family each year; the tradition has been passed down for generations. The informant also noted that he thinks of Ugadi as the start of spring. 

Analysis: Ugadi is an important cultural celebration that intertwines the agricultural cycle with Hindu mythology. The festival’s role in the agricultural cycle serves as a marker of the beginning of harvest time; following the festival of Holi, Ugadi usually sets the Hindu new year between the months of March and April, heralding the onset of spring. As with many other Hindu holidays, it celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and the new beginnings that follow. With springtime having connotations of growth and renewal, the festival’s date is especially significant to the start of the Hindu new year. Beyond its agricultural significance, Ugadi helps to create a collective cultural identity amongst South Indians, reinforcing a sense of community and a connection to the environment in light of the new season.


Informant: LL

Ethnicity: Jewish

Primary Language: English, Telugu

Age: 19

Text: [LL] Holi is a festival celebrating love, happiness, and color. It’s almost like Mardi Gras, where huge crowds of people really let loose and have fun throwing colors at each other. 

Context: The informant usually celebrates Holi with his adoptive family, where they have a party and throw colored powder at each other. However, the informant mentioned that the festival is also popular amongst his friends; he also noted that people from many different backgrounds have participated in the celebrations he has seen. He described it as a “crazy but joyful experience,” and overall felt a deeper sense of connection to his family and Indian culture through the festival.

Analysis: Taking place at the beginning of March, Holi is a springtime festival celebrating love and color after the end of winter. Holi is reminiscent of childhood activities like throwing water balloons at each other, presenting participants with the opportunity to reflect on their youth, aligning with these themes of rebirth and renewal during spring. Like many other Hindu festivals, Holi is rooted in religious beliefs. However, most modern participants are simply looking for a reason to let loose and enjoy themselves during the festivities. Participants in the festival throw colored powders and water at each other to celebrate the change of season; oftentimes, by the end of it, they are covered in so much color that they are nearly unrecognizable. For many, the festival fosters a sense of community and transcends the boundaries of social barriers such as race and class as a result of this anonymity as well as the fast-paced, playful nature of the festival.


Informant: RS

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English, Konkani

Age: 58

Text: [RS] When I was growing up, every Deepavali we used to decorate the house with flower garlands and draw rangoli on the walls as they are considered auspicious. Oil baths were also important. We were woken up very early in the morning, and our mom would apply herbal oils from head to toe. After an hour, we would scrub the oil from our skin, be fed sweet porridge, and then be sent back to bed.

Context: Deepavali is the festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. The festival, and in particular, the ritual of the oil bath, was emphasized as being very important to the informant and his family. The informant believes that the oil baths are a way of washing off past sins. He also noted that he thinks of the festival as a time to celebrate new beginnings.

Analysis: Deepavali (also known as Diwali) is one of the most well-known Indian folk festivals, involving several rituals rooted in themes of light and purification. The festival celebrates the light that comes after a period of darkness; the ritual oil baths, which the informant believes to absolve one of sin, are symbolic of this clean slate that follows the festivities. According to the informant, the oils used are typically specific herbal blends, a reflection of traditional knowledge of folk medicine that has been passed down through generations. The practice of eating a sweet after being cleansed from the oil bath is likely to start off with something good to set the tone for the rest of the year. Deepavali provides those who celebrate with a cathartic opportunity to create a fresh start for themselves as well as spend time with loved ones. As a result, the festival is deeply important to Hindu culture and tradition.