Tag Archives: hindu

Durga Puja

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.

Piece:

We have another festival that is very… what should I say? It’s the main festival from West Bengal, which is where I come from. And that’s called Durga Puja. Puja is any kind of celebration that involves some kind of religious prayer ceremony. So let me start off with Dussehra. So what happens is, and as you know, our Indian calendar is a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. So the date of this celebration varies from end of September to end of October, depending on the lunar cycle. It’s actually a nine day festival, but the main days of the celebration are days six, seven, eight, and nine. And on the tenth day, so the story goes like this:

There’s this goddess, Durga, she lives in the Himalayas with her husband Shiva. And she has two sons and two daughters. One of her daughters is the goddess of wealth, Laxmi. Her other daughter is the daughter of knowledge, Saraswati. The other son used to be the sons of fighting battles, Kartik. And then there’s the elephant god, the youngest of her sons, Ganesh.

I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”

In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.

His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”

And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”

So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.

And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”

The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.

The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.

So, that is Ganesh’s story, but that is also the youngest son of Durga when she comes to visit. And so the art is her parent’s house. So she comes for those few days, with her children, and on the tenth day, she goes back to the Himalayas to be with her husband. So what happens in West Bengal where I come from, is those days are… it’s a lot of fun, all the schools, offices, colleges, everything is closed. It’s hard for me to explain. They put up all these temporary structures on the streets and stuff and then have these celebrations and, it’s like all over West Bengal. And there is food, there is music, there is lighting. So that is the story behind one of our festivals.

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.

Analysis:

It was very fascinating to hear about how many of the primary holidays in India/West Bengal have elaborate creation myths of their own. It seems that many of the holidays are tied in directly with the events of the religion’s mythology, celebrating anniversaries of the Gods’ actions and locations in the mythologies.

It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and use religious holidays as excuses to throw huge social celebrations. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

 

The Race Around the World with Kartikeya and Lord Ganesha

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells a traditional Hindi story about a race between Kartikeya, the god of war, and Lord Ganesha, the lord of obstacles, learning, and the people. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to my informant and my informant’s sister to “make sure we respect her, cause’ parents are our world.” In this transcription of her folklore, she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: So this is the folklore of Ganesha and his brother, um Kartikeya’s, race around the world. So basically, [laughs], ok, so basically, um, one day, his parents were like, “We want you to race for this mango!” And, um, there was two songs and one mango, so they decided to have a race for that one mango. So both boys really wanted to win this mango [giggles], but they had to race around the world and be the first one to finish, so, so Ganesha picked his trusty steed of a mouse. And, his brother, Kartikeya, picked a peacock. So, Ganesha was a little chubby boy, and he had a mouse, which isn’t the fastest… And… well aren’t elephants scared of mice? Is that a thing?

 

K: Yeah, I’ve heard that before too.

 

P: So maybe that’s like also a thing, I don’t know. Um, so people were like “Eh, he’s not gonna win.” And his brother had the peacock, which is a lot faster, and he’s like a slim boy [laughs]. So anyways, the race starts, Kartikeya books it on his peacock, circling the world, but Lord Ganesha, smart boy, he doesn’t start. Instead, he goes to his parents, sits them down, and then goes on his mouse and circles them, because to him, his parents are his world.

 

K: Awwwww!

 

P: So he got the mango! [laughs]

 

K: Where did you learn that story?

 

P: Um, my mother told me that story. I think it’s also to make sure we respect her, cause parents are our world.

 

K: Ok that’s fair. Did it teach you that? Did it actually serve its purpose?

 

P: Um, I don’t it taught me to respect my parents because it’s just some thing you do as a human being… as a good person, but I think it like, was a cute way to look at it. Does that make sense?

 

K: Do you plan on continuing telling this story?

 

P: Okay, honestly, I don’t know, just because it’s a religious story and I’m not very religious. But, it’s like a good moral story, I mean aside from the whole parent thing, it just shows that like, you don’t need to be the fastest or the slimmest to win a race, you need your wits and intelligence! You don’t need a peacock, you just need a mouse to get your mango. The mango of life.

Thoughts:

This story is particularly interesting because melds to forms of folklore together: a cultural story with the concept or phrase of “you are my world.” My informant told me that a large part of Indian culture is respecting your parents and recognizing that you’re parents have done so much for you. By having Ganesha express that his parents are his whole world, this story is ultimately a very endearing and wholesome way to teach children that their parents should be the center of their love because they are where they are because of their parents. The mango also seems to represent the idea that if you give your parents your love and respect, they will always reward you in return with theirs.

For another version of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Krithika, R. “Race around the World.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 17 Dec. 2015, www.thehindu.com/features/kids/why-were-ganesha-and-karthikeya-keen-on-winning-the-race/article8000267.ece.

 

Holi – Hindu Festival

“So Holi is a Hindu festival, traditionally a religious festival, that kind of symbolizes the beginning of spring and the end of winter. It’s kind of like a fun festival where people kind of get together and meet people and have fun. It usually involves wearing white clothing and throwing vibrant, colored power at each other; there is usually a lot of music and street food involved as well.  However, in recent years, more people who aren’t Hindu have been participating, and it’s become more of a cultural thing that a lot of people celebrate rather than just a strictly religious Hindu celebration. This is kind of due to the fact that we throw colored powder at each other, and people see that as a lot of fun. So a lot more people have gotten involved, especially in the United States and other western countries, where they kind of do a similar thing where they throw colors at each other like Color Runs and such. So Holi has kind of moved to the rest of the world instead of just sticking in one culture.”

Context: The informant is an Indian American student. The informant was describing the spring festival Holi to her roommates following USC’s plan to have a Holi celebration on campus in order to explain exactly what it was. The roommates had heard of the holiday, but wanted to know about why the holiday was celebrated. As shown in the text, SV sees the festival as an easily transmutable tradition that can participated in by anyone, regardless of their culture, religion, or status.

Analysis: The spread of religious festivals and occasions to various regions of the world that may not know that religious backstory is reminiscent of a more secular shift by the ritual. The shift of the Holi festival to other areas of the world demonstrates the universal appeal of the customs associated with the festival. This is demonstrated by the adoption of throwing colored powder in the Color Run, a secular, non-Hindu activity. Having a particular aspect of a festival to be so widely loved allows many people to participate and increase awareness of respective holiday. This is evidenced in the fact that often the parts of each culture that members of other cultures will remember are associated with festivals or holidays. For example, when we think of American holidays, we think of Thanksgiving–which is quite appealing food-wise. This holiday is usually one that is inclusive, and many families will invite others to come and eat with them.

While some would think that this could be seen as cultural appropriation, this goes against the spirit of Holi. In India, where there is a strict socioeconomic hierarchy, Holi is one of the few days of the year where everybody, regardless of religion or caste can go into the streets and celebrate spring. It is an amazing festival that brings everyone together. Therefore, allowing other people–either non-Hindu or not Indians–to participate in Holi, demonstrates the openness of the festival.

Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very well-known Hindu folktale to me (AK) about the two brothers of very renowned Hindu Gods.

KM: Ganesh rides a rat and Kartikeya rides a peacock. Anyway, Shivji and Parvati are their parents and they tell them to prove which one is stronger or smarter. Kartikeya says he has a ton of strength cause he can ride around this world 3 times and come back to you faster than anyone. And Ganesh said the same thing, but like it sounded dumb because Ganesh was riding a rat. So they had a fight and they challenged each other to ride around the world 3 times. So Kartikeya went off to go ride around the world… but Ganesh was really cunning and all and he just rode around Shivji and Parvathi 3 times. He just said that “you guys are my world” and so he won.

AK: What kind of story is this? Why did you tell me this one?

KM: Haha… I just think this funny is story cause it shows a child being a kissass. And It shows the child being super cunning but also aware of his flaws. He knew he couldn’t beat Kartikeya, but instead of being sad about it, he was just smarter.

AK: Who did you learn it from and what does it mean to you?

KM: I learnt it from my parents, and I think it’s funny that I learned it from them cause that’s how they were telling me that I should respect them — cause they were like “haha” we should be your world!

In my opinion, this folktale just represents a clever play on words and not much more. I don’t think there is any serious meaning that can be derived from this story. Instead, the folktale just seems like it was created solely for the purpose of entertainment. This is refreshing to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about this folktale.

Hindu Traditions

*Note: The informant is an Indian-American student at USC. She identifies with the Hindu religion and is generally in touch with her Indian heritage, though she was born in the U.S. and is thus very Americanized.

INFORMANT: “Hindus have a lot of really specific little things that we can’t do or that are considered unlucky and stuff. Like, there’s a lot. Let me think. Like, we’re not supposed to cut our nails on Friday because it’s bad luck. It’s bad luck to sweep the house with a broom at night. If a woman’s left eye twitches, that means something bad is going to happen to her, but if a man’s right eye twitches, that means something bad is going to happen to him. I don’t necessarily follow all of these, but I know about them. Like, some of them are pretty outdated, but we still know them. I’ve just grown up with stuff like this. Some people may think it’s weird, but all my Indian friends know about it and do the same stuff, so it doesn’t even really seem weird to me.”

These little superstitions and traditions are a good example of folklore that has been passed down through so many generations that the meaning of the tradition might be obscured. At one time, there was probably a clear practical or at least religious reason that Hindu people couldn’t cut their nails on Friday, or sweep the house with a broom at night, but because so much time has passed and so many things have changed, some of these superstitions have no practical purpose anymore, but rather are archaic superstitions carried on because of a sense of duty or loyalty to the religion and the culture.