Tag Archives: Gujarati

Indian Wedding Ritual: Sisters Demanding Money

Context: The informant, AV, is an 18 year old student with parents who immigrated from India, specifically Gujarat. She’s been to multiple weddings in India, and observed this at her first cousin’s wedding. She remembers being somewhere around 5th grade-aged, and so she recounted what she remembered, with a general explanation. She doesn’t know if this is an Indian ritual or just a Gujarati one.

Text: AV said “When our cousin got married, he didn’t have any sisters, so me and my sister stood in front of his horse and didn’t let him through until he promised us money and silver chains. We were really young so I don’t remember it as well, but I remember it happening” and explained that essentially, when either your brother or a close cousin who has no sisters is getting married, you’re supposed to stop them from going into the wedding. They usually enter on a horse or in a car and they’re meant to walk into the venue, but before they can, you physically get in front of the horse/car, stop him, and tell him he’s not allowed to pass. He then is supposed to bargain, offering you money or gold or silver to let him pass. When it’s enough, you let him pass — usually now, it’s ritualized in the way that you push back like three times and on the second or third time you let them through.

Analysis: This ritual feels somewhat similar to the pranks traditionally played on couples during weddings, as a way of disrupting that liminality, except it’s specific to the groom and his side of the family. It’s a ritual for the groom to also leave the family; as the groom goes to the bride, the sisters will no longer be the most important women in his life, and they cede that position in a joking ritual that requires the groom to bribe them, proving how much he wants the bride. It’s a wedding ritual that rearranges the structure of the families that will be combining, and visually reorders the groom’s priorities. For the sisters, it’s also a form of letting their brother go, knowing that their relationships will fundamentally change, but disrupting that transition with this joking ritual.

Gujarati/Jain Death Rituals Regarding Food

Context: The informant, A.V., is an 18 year old student with parents who immigrated from Gujarat; her family practices Jainism. Recently, her grandmother passed away, and this is what she observed immediately afterwards. Her grandmother, known as “Ba” lived with her family, and passed within the home.

Text: “When Ba passed away, a bunch of family friends came over almost immediately and when they asked my mom what they could do to help, she told them to start throwing out all the cooked food in both the refrigerator and freezer. I was really confused, so later I asked her, and she told me that if someone dies in the house, none of the cooked food is safe to eat anymore because like something about bad energy spoiling the food? Or like the aura of death in the house? I don’t remember. My cousin said it was probably because in olden times, they didn’t have much separation between the kitchen and where the death happened and also probably didn’t have good food storage, so whatever emanated from the body might end up getting in the food and making it unsafe.

The other thing was, until Ba was cremated, we weren’t allowed to make any food in the house. Family friends had to bring us food, like we couldn’t cook at all. My mom said it was partly because of the bad aura, because the house was like impure, but also partly because the spirit could linger and you want it to pass on. She said that like practically it was probably because people were supposed to have time to grieve without having to think about food, plus if people brought you food, you would have a strong community around you. Either way, it’s just kind of something you do. It doesn’t really matter if you believe in reincarnation or spirits or anything it’s just something you have to do.”

Analysis: Beyond any scientific reason that has to do with spoiled food and body-related fumes, the disposal of cooked food seems like an extension of contagious magic; as the body has died in the house, the food is no longer safe to eat because it contains that same aura of death. Rather than having an object that is once in contact always be in contact, with one having the ability to affect the other, it’s that two objects in contact with the same object (house) can affect each other. It’s almost a contagion syllogism if anything. One passing away makes the food no longer safe to eat. If anything, it’s contact magic in that the body touching the house affects the house’s purity and anything made within the house is unclean until the body is cremated, or purified.

Water from a Stone – Gujarati Proverb

“પથ્થરમાંથી પાણી લો”

Translation: “getting water from a stone”.

Context: The informant, my mother, was born in India in the 1970s. She had an arranged marriage of sorts, in that she was introduced to different people from good families and could choose someone from them. They would figure out if they were compatible, and get married nearly immediately. She told me that when she was looking for someone to marry, her uncle told her one of the criteria should be to look for someone who could do this. All of my family is from Gujarat, and this is a Gujarati proverb.

If you describe someone with this phrase, it means essentially that they can make something out of any situation– if you give them a stone, they will find water in it. Typically, the “something” they could make would be money. It makes sense to advise someone not to find a man who is already rich, but one who is industrious; even if he has money now, if by circumstance he loses it all, he will be able to make it back.

Analysis: Gujarati culture tends to put a lot of value on being able to make money. It’s a good quality if you want stability in life regardless, but also it comes from years of being traders and businesspeople. A significant amount of Gujarati people are part of the merchant caste, including my family, and so it makes sense to place importance on having the creativity to get oneself out of any bad financial circumstances.

I’ve also noticed that the idea of coaxing something out of a stone (specifically blood) is a concept that can be found in other cultures’ proverbs as well. Interestingly, however, that tends to be in the context of talking about an impossible task or achieving something incredibly difficult. Here, it’s not a “you are destitute and must spin straw into gold” but instead a “you are destitute but you have the intelligence to make this straw you just found into something and the charisma to sell it to someone else”. They seem like oicotypical variations on the idea of someone achieving the difficult task of producing something useful out of something useless, with both likely rendered different by what their respective backgrounds hold relevant.

Indian Superstition – Leaving the House

Main Piece

Informant: “If you’re about to leave the house and someone asks you where you are going, you have to come back in and sit down for a minute and then tell them where you are going. Basically it’s because it’s bad luck to interrupt someone as they are leaving. You shouldn’t ask someone where they’re going if they’re already on their way out and if someone asks you, then you should come back inside. Or else whatever you were going to do will not get done.”


My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 


This superstition is enacted when someone is about to leave the house and they are interrupted.  

My Thoughts

There is not always a rhyme or reason for superstitions. According to my informant, people follow superstitions even if there is no good reason to follow them. However, there are certain elements in this superstition that I connected with others. This superstition falls in line with the Indian black cat superstition (originally from Egypt, popularized in India). This popular superstition says that if a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck. Both the black cat superstition and the superstition told by my informant depict the interruption of a journey. In both superstitions, your interrupted journey will bring bad luck and assurance that whatever you were doing will not get done. 

Indian Proverb – “After the Ramayana is over, she’s asking who is Ram and who is Sita.”

Main Piece

Informant: “Another saying translates to “after the whole Ramayana is over, she’s asking who is Ram and who is Sita.” The Ramayana is a super famous story in Indian culture and history, and is also very long. Ram is the main prince character, and he is also a god reincarnated, and Sita is his wife. So basically you are saying you just heard this long story and now you’re asking who the main characters are.


My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 


Informant: “It’s used in situations where someone asks a really obvious question after hearing the whole story, which they would have known if they were paying attention.”

My Thoughts

I have studied the Ramayana before. I know how intricate and complex the stories are, and I am familiar with how long they can be. Having researched and learned about the Ramayana, this proverb was something that I can understand and laugh at, which is why I enjoyed this proverb. 

I have heard variations of this proverb before in English. But clearly, the English version does not reference the Ramayana. This shows that a proverb can be translated into more than one culture. In other words, proverbs can be cross-culturally valid. But during the translation process, certain key elements are changed to make it more culturally relevant and accurate. In this case, the Ramayana would be substituted for another work. In the English version, I have heard Harry Potter used instead of the Ramayana.