Tag Archives: india

Children’s Tales- Akbar and Birbal


Akbar was the Mughal Emperor of India, and Birbal was one of the wise advisors in his  court. He was known for coming up with unique ways to answer questions and solve problems. So there’s quite a few stories about that, and they’re all meant to teach you to be calm and wise.

One day while Akbar and Birbal were out for a walk, Akbar noticed a group of crows sitting together under a tree. He wondered how many crows were there in his kingdom, in total. So he asked Birbal, “How many crows live in my kingdom?” Birbal paused and calmly said, “There are a total of eighty thousand two hundred and fifty four crows in your kingdom.” Akbar was amazed at how calm and precise Birbal was. So he asked Birbal, “What if I find more crows than what you claim in my kingdom?”  Birbal said, “It means that crows from neighboring kingdoms have come to visit friends and family.” Akbar then asked, “And what if there is less crow?” Birbal said very calmly, “It means that some of our crows have gone on vacation to other kingdoms.”


JG is 59 years old and my mother. She grew up in India with a very religious Hindu family, before immigrating to the USA. She passed down this story to me, as well as many others with the same characters, when I was a child. She had heard these stories from her parents as well.


In many Indian cultures, calmness and problem-solving skills are valued very highly. My mom homeschooled me until 5th grade, and during this time she focused on making me think outside the box. The stories of Akbar and Birbal try to instill these qualities in children from a young age. They echo ancient Indian history, with the characters being an emperor and his advisor, showing how India’s days as a monarchy affect its culture today.



A, 19, is an Indian student at USC. He has lived in India for 12 years of his life. Both his mom’s and his dad’s sides of the family practice Hinduism. He then explained the traditions, rituals, and celebrations that are practiced in Pujas for certain Gods during their respective festivals.


Most Hindu households reserve a room or space in a room for a ritual that can be practiced daily or for special occasions. A puja involves placing idols or photos of gods that a Hindu family may specifically worship. These idols or pictures are decorated with garlands of flowers, and colored powders of red and yellow are dabbed onto the heads of these gods. A sweet dish is traditionally made that is emblematic of the festival or that the god enjoys. A lamp or ‘dia’ is placed on a special silver dish along with some rice and colored powders. This plate is then rotated near the idol, with the fire signifying our communication with God, while songs are sung in either regional languages or Sanskrit, and a small bell is rung. In the end, we pray to these gods, place our hands near the lamp for a second, and then place the warmth on our faces. We take a piece of the sweet dish with our right hand, as is customary, as the left hand is seen as dirty.


Puja, a ceremonial worshiping ritual, is usually performed by offering fruit or flowers to a Hindu deity that is represented by an idol or image. This ritual is practiced to reinforce a connection with a God and show appreciation for said deity. The word Puja derives from the Dravidian word for flower Pu, explaining the use of floral garlands in said celebration. In this celebration, flowers are meant to procure health, wealth, and prosperity. Pujas can be held throughout the year but are more prevalent during March and October/November; this is because of the cyclical calendar that is symbolic of the stages of life. The seasons of Spring and Fall (March and October/November) are very representative of the transitions between life and death. Many other cultures around the world celebrate similar dates, like easter and All Souls Day. Overall, puja is a ritual of offering to a God in Hindu mythology.

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.  


This interview happened a month ago at my home. 


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.”


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.


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.