Tag Archives: hindu

A Mouthful of Sugar


Main Piece:

Informant: So whenever like there’s like an exam or like something big that we have to do. You take a like, a teaspoon or a spoon of sugar. Put it in your-right hand? Yeah, right hand and then you… Sorry. And then you just you take it like you….

Me: You ingest the sugar straight? 

Informant: Yeah, just sugar straight up. It just supposed to be for good luck. You do it every single time I’ve done it. Ever since I was in like high school. And my mom was just like, hey, do this. And it’s like, good luck for like to be prosperous. That’s all you learn. Like I think Hindus do it a lot. My mom again taught to me and I think it’s like something big.

Context: 

My informant is a 21-year-old Indian American gerontology major at USC, this folklore was told to both me and his girlfriend (my roommate) in my living room. 

Background: 

My informant learned this from his mother and he still does it before every test or interview for good luck. 

Analysis. 

When he was telling me this, I kept thinking of the saying “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. I think sugar because for such a long time it was so hard to get, it becomes something that is saved for special occasions, so using it for important exams it a way to use some of that luck. I know in kitchen magic you’re supposed to add sugar to sweeten the spell, so it’s cool to see how sugar represents luck and good in multiple cultures. 

Shaving Head after Father’s Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education. This is a practice of MN’s specific culture, Hindu Brahman.

Context: As we talked about certain funeral proceedings, MN shared this information about the mourning period. This piece was collected in the early morning at the university as we were conversing about different cultural practices.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information): 

MN: “And also …like  if your father dies, the eldest son … who’s a boy … they cut their hair. Not completely … no actually … completely. If the mother dies, it’s the second son. 

Me: “What if you don’t have a second son?”

MN: “ mmmm … if you have a second son.” 

Me: “So let’s say you only have one son.”

MN: “The eldest son can choose to. They have a choice. It’s not compulsory, if you’re religious then you do it. Like … when my grandfather passed away, my uncle did it. It’s all a choice.” 

Analysis: This particular Hindu ritual is very interesting because it seems like a very spiritual and religious tradition. MN emphasizes two important aspects of this tradition: choice and religion. The son is not obligated to complete this ritual but is given a choice to perform it. In addition, the son can choose to perform this ritual based on his religious beliefs. The completion of this particular ritual is dependent on the son. Sons are not forced to complete this tradition, which emphasizes how it changes 

Another interesting aspect of this traditional ritual is the birth order of the performer. The eldest son is often seen as a great authority figure while the second eldest is perceived as a lower authority figure. This is telling of a patriarchal society that places higher importance on male heirs and their duties. The eldest son is seen as an authority figure, which is similar to how fathers are considered to be head of the household. After the father dies, the eldest son can choose to shave his head to commemorate his late father. Correspondingly, the second son can also shave his head to honor the death of his mother. The second son can be considered to be the support for the first son, much like mothers support their husbands. This ritual is only a portion of the funeral rituals that are performed by grieving loved ones, which reflects Indian values of family and tradition.

Lemons for Life … or Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education.

Context: In Maharashtra, where MN is from, it is customary for a meal to be accompanied by a slice of lemon to be used as a condiment. The lemons in India are almost circular (spherical) so the nub is hard to find unless one is paying attention.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

MN: In Indian food, you keep salt and a piece of lemon so that you can put it in anything like a curry or even rice, make it flavorful. And, so whenever you want to cut the lemon you always … you know there’s a nub (gestures to emphasize point) … on the side … you always cut it perpendicular to that. You always keep it flat and cut it like that because when someone dies in the funeral process, that’s when you cut the lemon parallel to the nub. Ummm … that’s because when you prepare a plate for the person who has died the lemon should be cut in that direction. And … like … my mother used to scold me because I didn’t pay attention, but it’s like a bad omen to cut it like this because it’s like you are invoking the dead. There’s just a fun (pause) little (even longer pause) fact that I learned that … always cutting … so like … now, I’m like … I am very like …. Always cutting like this (gestures cutting motion with hands). So on the plates for the dead, that’s when you cut the lemon with the nub.”

Me: “Can I interrupt you for a second? I just want to know, I just want to know, Do you know where your mom learned it? And do you think that’s like …only … to … um where … you’re from?”

MN: This is some item … it’s not like some book, I think. It’s like some, like knowledge that everyone knows this … it’s like. She learned it from … It’s just something that she was taught … and I was taught.

Analysis: MN is very enthusiastic about sharing their culture. I find it quite fascinating that this specific funeral right is extremely detailed. It clearly demonstrates how much thought and effort loved ones dedicate when preparing for their departed loved ones. It is also interesting because this specific ritual is not written down but rather a tradition that is passed down in MN’s culture. The specific focus on the way lemons are cut reflects on MN’s character as well because they are considerate and detail-oriented. Although cutting lemons is commonplace, the symbolism for the Maharashtrian people is extraordinary. Lemons can bring some dishes to life by providing additional flavor and the juxtaposition between zest and the loss of life is also telling of MN’s culture.

A Dance for the Feminine Divine

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘B’. Translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 34-year-old Gujarati woman, born and raised in Gujarat.

B: Garba is the folk dance of Gujarat, and a religious—also very social and happy—event that originates in Gujarat, but also among Gujaratis all over the world. It comes from a Sanskrit word, I believe, meaning womb, and here we dance around a clay lamp in a circle, the lamp is also called the ‘womb lamp’. It’s performed by women, around the lamp with a light inside of it, but as time has passed I think men also do perform it sometimes for fun. The circle kind of represents the Hindu view of time, it’s circular, like the circle of life. There are nine nights of dancing, the festival Navratri, as a form of worship to the Goddess Durga, our devi (goddess). Men and women dance late into the night from the evening onwards in honour of her, but women generally perform Garba specifically, as a celebration. Like many other Hindi religious practices and rituals, and this is part of one… this is done on our feet, it’s barefoot, because going barefoot is like respect for the earth on which we walk, you know? The foot is the body part that touches the earth, the mother, and dancing barefoot is like our way of connecting with her, as well as devi—Goddess Durga. It’s a dance that worships, celebrates the feminine form of divinity. 

Analysis:

Hindus are polytheists, and have many gods and goddesses, some favoured by people with specific jobs, others by people from specific regions or families, and all of these different groups of people have specific festivals and traditional ways of honouring these gods. One such example is the affiliation of the Gujarati festival of Navratri, and one of its dances, the Garba, with the goddess Durga. Durga is, as my informant states, a representation of the feminine divine, one of the most prominent Hindu goddesses. The connection with the earth that is also emphasised by my informant is important, since it furthers the image of the feminine mother, since, a) the earth is the mother, b) the goddess Durga is the mother, and c) the women dancing themselves are also, often, mothers. Simultaneously, the lamp being called the “womb lamp” and the word Garba coming from a word meaning “womb” adds to this, essentially creating an all-round aura of fertility and conventional* divine femininity around this celebration, along with its general enjoyment and euphoria with all the dancing and collective experience.

*I say conventional here in reference to the idea that fertility and motherhood is associated here with femininity and vice versa, when it is not always so in reality, those need not coincide, this is simply a derivative from what the informant is stating.

Green Indian Charms

This is the use of a folk object to bring safety to one’s family, typically found in India. The informant is from Mumbai, India, and he and his family consistently use this practice whenever they have purchased new things. The concept of this is that the individual hangs green objects, typically limes or green peppers, from something. This is most common when something new has been bought. The purpose of this is to protect their family and their new possession from the evil eye of jealousy. They believe in that culture that other people looking on this object will bring jealous with their eyes and will spell bad fortune for themselves. The hanging objects distract the eyes and no longer spell misfortune. There is another side to this in terms of keeping bugs away as well. The limes and peppers are hung with string. It is said that both of the acidity and spiciness of the two fruits will deter bugs from hanging around the home in which it is hung. There are other accounts that the hanging charms will please the god of misery, Alakshmi, and keep her from causing harm to the family.

The informant learned this practice from his family. It was more important and believe in past times and now, it is more done out of tradition than anything. The informant remembers this because it is something his mother would do when he was younger. He does not believe in the actual superstition of it but appreciates the reflection of his culture and the preservation of folk traditions.

This is used in Hindu culture, which has many gods to reflect different aspects of society. Specific things please each one, so this is just likely one of many examples of implementation of religion in Indian culture’s daily life. This brings a sense of security to the person, much like physical blue all-knowing eyes are hung in some Muslim countries like Turkey.

Other source: https://www.thenational.ae/uae/shopkeepers-turn-to-charms-of-lemons-and-chillies-for-good-luck-1.526276

This article talks about its use specifically within shopkeepers to bring good fortune as they struggle through bad economic times. They change the fruits each week and use lemons instead of limes.

Menon, “Shopkeepers turn to charms of lemons and chillies for good luck”, The National UAE, March 6, 2010