Tag Archives: india

Turkish Good Luck Charms 

Background Information: 

The informant is a residential real estate developer who learned a lot of traditions and superstitions from their mother. They currently live in Detroit, Michigan but emigrated from Turkey. 

Main Piece: 

ME: Hey GD, would you mind telling me a bit about what you would do for good luck when selling your homes?

GD: Well… what I would do when initially trying to sell a house… elephants are supposed to be good luck. It’s a set of seven elephants from Turkey, and they are like a graduated size, starting from a big one all the way down to a baby one. I would always put them together in a room in one of my spec houses to bring good luck in selling the home. 

ME: Do you have any idea where this comes from or how you found out about it?

GD: Well I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but uh I imagine it is cross-cultural. Only because we have friends from India and they do the same thing. Uh but I got it from my mother who is Turkish. And obviously seven… seven is a lucky number too right, so. 

ME: Would you do anything else to try and sell your homes?

GD: So whenever I present any of my new homeowners with their keys, I always put their keys on an evil-eye keychain that I buy from Turkey. 

ME: So what’s the significance of the evil eye?

GD: So the evil eye… it’s basically like a mirror. If there are, you know, legend has it, that if there are people that give off bad vibes their vibes can affect things, and the evil eye will reflect their bad vibes and give it back to them… It basically reflects evil back to the evil person.  

Context:

This interview happened a month ago at my home. 

Thoughts: 

It is interesting to me that the informant does not seem to know a ton about the origin of their superstitious beliefs, yet they still use them in their business, and partially credit their successes to these artifacts. It is also interesting how the informant brought up aspects of multiculturalism through folk artifacts. According to the informant, the seven elephants signify good luck in their culture as well as the culture of their Indian friends. The origin of the elephant as a good luck symbol actually does not originate from Turkey at all, but instead comes from Hinduism and the god Ganesha, and elephants are commonly used in Feng Shui practices as good luck. For more information see here: Cho, Anjie. “Uses of the Elephant Symbol in Feng Shui.” The Spruce, The Spruce, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.thespruce.com/use-of-the-elephant-symbol-in-feng-shui-1274686. Looking at the evil eye, it’s origins surpasses even those of the Ottoman Empire. Researchers think that the first evil eye amulet was created in 3000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, or what is now Syria. The origin of the modern-day blue evil eye beads first appeared in multiple locations around the Mediterranean at around 1500 B.C. For more information see here: Hargitai, Quinn. “The Strange Power of the ‘Evil Eye’.” BBC Culture, BBC, 19 Feb. 2018, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180216-the-strange-power-of-the-evil-eye. It is very interesting that these two charms, which are very widespread in Turkey, are neither original to the region, nor originated in the region. 

Bunny Chow

Main Text

KK: “So there’s this dish in South Africa called bunny chow like colloquially, we just call it a bunny. It’s big enough that you would, it’s a big deal. There are restaurants that like specialize in bunnies, and essentially the the recipe is just you take a loaf of bread and you cut out the inside, and then you fill it with a curry of your choice. So like mutton curry, chicken curry, potato curry, beans, whatever. And the origin of it was, you know, Indian people from, like their homeland India, were taken by the British to South Africa to cut the sugar cane. They would be eating their lunch and would be eating curry, but they didn’t have anywhere to like put it or store it, and they didn’t have rice like easily accessible to them. So what they would do is just take the loaf of bread, like the British style bread, and fill it up with the curry. And then like nowadays, it’s just a really popular meal among the Indian South African community.”

Background

KK is a 21 year old USC student studying psychology on a pre-med track. Of Indian descent, he was originally born in South Africa but has lived in England, the UAE and now in New York, Ny. Bunny Chow is obviously a fusion dish borne out of necessity, made by these displaced Indian sugar cane workers. It has since become so popular, according to KK, that he eats it at his home in America and restaurants specialize in serving it back in South Africa.

Context

KK eats this meal regularly with his family at home in New York and says that the context this meal is served in is certainly a family style sit down dinner. Because of the size of a full loaf of bread, Bunny Chow is usually shared with multiple people which makes it a staple meal for Indian families with ties to South Africa.

Interviewer Analysis

Food traditions are very easy to share and that is why so many people have family recipes or dinner traditions that mean so much to them. I find it so interesting that this dish is a cultural fusion however, Indian style curry served inside British baked bread and served in Africa. This dish is obviously not something that came from a fancy written cookbook, but from the needs and innovation of everyday people. Bread bowls and Chalupas spring to mind as similar recipe variations on bread bowl with meat and vegetables inside, but it is obvious they do not share a common origin.

Story of Diwali

Background: The informant (A) is the 20 year old daughter of two Indian immigrants. She has lived in the US her whole life but visits relatives India with her family often and celebrates many Indian holidays in the US with Indian friends and family in her area.

A: Basically Ram’s wife gets kidnapped by Ravan, and then Ram crosses an ocean to reach her in Lanka, and in Lanka he kills Ram and is able to take Sita back home. So that’s like… the day of Diwali. It’s in like October usually I think?

Me: What do you guys do on Diwali?

A: We light a lot of um… tea lights? These little lights called “diyas”. It’s technically 5 days long but on the actual like….main day we put on Indian clothes and have like…a big family dinner. And we worship the goddess Lakshmi.

Me: Why do you worship Lakshmi?

A: She’s the goddess of wealth….I don’t know really know why but we just worship her on Diwali because she just symbolizes wealth and prosperity. And also we clean the house and make it really spotless…Lakshmi’s supposed to come and bless your house once it’s clean. That’s why you light all the candles too, for her.

Context: This story was told to me over a recorded FaceTime call.

Analysis: The informant grew up in America rather than in India itself where Diwali is a national holiday that everybody celebrates and is involved in. So, I assume there are parts of this celebration that are changed when celebrating away from the mother country. She wasn’t entirely certain about specifics of the origin story, traditions, and parts of the religion, as she isn’t a particularly religious person. This story and her celebrations not only demonstrate the concept of Diwali in the context of India, but also the experience of a first generation immigrant. Aspects of the culture evolve to accommodate the fact that they no longer reside in a community where not everyone celebrates the same holidays and some items may not be available in their location. These myths and stories are not simply known by everyone around them, they are known and told by the immigrants themselves (in the informant’s case, her parents). This changes the significance and meaning as the informant grew up surrounded by others who did not know the same stories or have the same beliefs.

“Atithi Devo Bhava” – Indian Custom

Informant’s Background:

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.

Context:

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.

Performance:

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.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

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.”

Translation:

  • Original Script: अतिथि देवो भव
  • Transliteration: “Atithi Devo Bhava” or “Atithidevo Bhava”
  • Translation: “The guest is equivalent to God.”

Thoughts:

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.

Menstrual Taboos In Modern-Day India

Informant’s Background:

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.

Context:

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.

Performance:

SV: “So… One of the kind of, er, traditions in India… are like women are considered impure when they’re doing their periods. So they’re not allowed to a lot of places, or they’re not, for example, like temples or a lot of holy places, or they’re not allowed in the kitchen and to cook food. So this is a tradition that is probably more prevalent in more rural areas which isn’t as prevalent in other areas where people are progressive and aren’t as strict with these rules but this, uhm, used to be a thing maybe in older generations where women would have their, like I guess rights limited when they’re on their periods and they have limited things that they can do and they’re sort of oppressed in some sense. Another thing through this is also the fact that sort of like talking about it is considered taboo. Like I guess when I was younger I didn’t realize it but then later when I got older I understood that like, because my mom’s on her period, that’s why she’s missing temple. Because when I was younger I would just think that she was busy or she was tired. And it didn’t make sense to me when I did understand it, because I thought it, to me, was just a normal bodily function, so uhm… I didn’t quite understand it but trying to talk to her about it wasn’t something she was comfortable with. Same at school, it’s considered very taboo to sort of like, openly talk about it, so for example sometimes at school a girl might be on her period, and she forgot her pad, so like she’d borrow it from a friend, and it’s sort of like they’re passing drugs or something it’s like… it’s so secretive. They’d cover it up with newspaper or with a plastic bag because it’s something that for some reason is considered embarrassing.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “It’s a normal human function, right? So I guess I still find it odd they treat it this way, but I guess that’s just how it is.”

Thoughts:

Menstrual taboos are fairly universal, seen in a wide range of cultures throughout the ages and even up to this day. In this case, the informant notes that menstruating women are seen as impure, hence they are not allowed to cook food or be in the kitchen, as they are most likely considered to be contaminating the food by being in it’s presence or by handling it. Superstition often plays a role in the establishment taboos, in this case, the actual possibility of the women contaminating the food is negligible, yet the taboo lives on due to the superstition that the menstrual blood will somehow manage to contaminate the food and the kitchen, as well as the temple, in the case of this taboo.