Tag Archives: indian culture

Ekelavya and Guru Dronacharaya


This is a side story in the Mahabharatha. There was a young boy named Ekelavya who couldn’t be trained in the bow and arrow while growing up because his parents were too poor to hire a teacher for him. However, he found the 5 main brothers being trained by a great teacher, Guru Dronacharaya. Day after day, Ekelavya watched from some nearby woods as Guru Dronacharaya trained the five, one of them, by the name of Arjuna, growing to be known as the best archer ever. Arjuna was Guru Dronacharaya’s pride and joy as his best pupil ever. 

Meanwhile, in the woods, Ekelavya had a great respect for Guru Dronacharaya. He built a statue of Guru Dronacharaya and began training in the woods in front of it, pretending that he was being trained by the guru himself. Ekelavya grew very skillful at archery this way. One day, Guru Dronacharaya was passing through the woods when he came upon the statue in his likeness, along with Ekelavya. After observing Ekelavya’s archery for a bit, he realized that this boy was leagues better at archery than Arjuna. Guru Dronacharaya approached Ekelavya and asked how he had become so good at archery. The boy told him that he had watched the Guru training the five brothers and practiced on his own in the woods. 

Guru Dronacharaya wanted to protect his pupil Arjuna’s status as the best archer ever, so he asked for Ekelavya’s right thumb as his gurudakshina. This way, Ekelavya would be unable to draw back a bow. Because of his great devotion to his teacher, Ekelavya complied and cut off his right thumb to give to Guru Dronacharaya. 


This story is from the Mahabharatha, and is a plot point in the main storyline. An extremely simplified synopsis of the Mahabharatha is that it’s about the war between 5 brothers and 100 of their other brothers (Note that brother and cousin are essentially synonymous in this context). The “good guys” are the 5 brothers, and they eventually end up winning the war. 

During these times, archery was seen as the most stylish and elegant form of combat, and thus was highly respected. All nobles were trained in it. 

A gurudakshina was paid to a teacher after your time training with him comes to a close, and the guru could ask you for pretty much anything and you had to pay it. In this specific case, however, Ekelavya only really pays the gurudakshina out of respect for and devotion to Guru Dronacharaya, as there was no formal training or contract of any sort between them. 

The interviewee feels that this story resonates especially deeply with him because it shows that sometimes the world isn’t fair and people can just get in your way despite you doing everything correctly. Ekelavya works the hardest of any character described, and yet gets pushed to the side merely because he wasn’t born into nobility. It’s about realism. 

This story isn’t one that is told to younger children, as it kills their hope by teaching them that they can do everything but still not reach their goal because others get in their way, or things don’t go in their favor. Some families don’t tell their children this story at all because of the cynical way that it describes this world. 


In addition to the life lesson my interviewee notices, I think this story promotes respecting authority and tradition, seen by Ekelavya’s decision to pay the requested gurudakshina, despite it costing him greatly. The authority that is placed inherently in that culture’s nobility is also respected, as Ekelavya doesn’t question his place as separate from the other boys, opting to train from afar instead of asking to join their sessions or something of that nature. It puts an interesting emphasis on hard work. The hard work still pays off, as Ekelavya becomes better than the best archer ever, but he gives up his reward/possible reputation after all the hard work out of devotion. There is also a selfless element to this story, as he is thinking more about what’s good for Guru Dronocharaya than what is good for himself.

The Undressing of Draupadi


Draupadi wanted to marry one of the 5 main brothers from the Mahabharatha, but another man, Duryodhana wants her to marry him instead. He proposes to her, but is refused. Upon this refusal, one of his brothers begins trying to rip Draupadi’s clothes off. Krishna sees this, and decides to save Draupadi by maker her clothing infinite. No matter how much cloth Duryodhana’s brother rips off of her, there is always more that she is still wearing. 


This story is from the Mahabharatha, and is a plot point in the main storyline. An extremely simplified synopsis of the Mahabharatha is that it’s about the war between 5 brothers and 100 of their other brothers (Note that brother and cousin are essentially synonymous in this context). The “good guys” are the 5 brothers, and they eventually end up winning the war. 

This story is a simple lesson that one should respect women, and that to undress them is not okay.


In Indian culture, arranged marriages are a common practice, and the final decision on whether a marriage happens is given to the family as a whole, not the woman getting married. This story encourages respecting a woman’s desires for her marriage, even if the cultural norm or law doesn’t fully require it, and backs that up with a god taking the side of Draupadi. This makes even more sense to me that this story is found somewhat in opposition of the cultural norm when I remember that many tales come from being told by women as they do busywork. They used what ways they could to better how they were treated, and instilling good habits and respect in their children is a very powerful way to do so.

Loss of Knowledge Conversion Superstition Ritual

Context: The informant, A.V., is an 18 year old student with parents who immigrated from Gujarat and practice Jainism. This isn’t necessarily specific to North India, as she has seen South Indian people do it. However, she’s never seen anyone non-Indian do it. She was taught to do this from a young age by her parents, and continues to do it even when on her own/living away from home.

Text: The informant explained that every time she accidentally touched anything containing the written word with her feet, she would have to touch the item and, with the same hand, touch her forehead immediately after. These items could include books, loose papers, and iPads, as long as the written word was directly on the item.

Growing up, she was told that the reason they did this was because if anyone touched the written word with their feet, they were disrespecting knowledge. If knowledge was disrespected, the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, would take it as an offense and leave; knowledge would abandon you. By this, her parents meant that one’s intelligence and opportunities would disappear. Touching your hand to the item and then to your forehead would allow you to apologize, making it clear that you had not intended to do that.

Analysis: This is a conversion superstition ritual, done to rectify or invalidate actions that would normally result in bad luck in the future. Feet are considered dirty, and touching something with one’s feet is seen as a way of saying that whatever was touched doesn’t matter enough for you to treat it well. Knowledge, being a goddess, is held sacred in Indian culture, and books/words are seen as an extension of her. Much in the way that like produces like in homeopathic sympathetic magic, disrespecting items of knowledge with one’s feet is an imitation of disrespecting knowledge itself and will convey that message unless some apology is made.

The color white in India

In my culture, white has never been a good color. You wear white to funerals, wrap the dead in white and you usually don’t wear white to any festivities because of its connotations to death.

PK is an undergraduate student in India. She told me about the cultural significance of the color white when we both coincidentally found ourselves with matching white outfits.

Noting the cultural significance of the color white was interesting because of its contrasting meanings in western cultures. In western cultures, the color white is usually associated with chastity, purity and is worn by brides on their wedding days. To encounter a different cultural significant of a color and its association to entirely opposite events only shows the fluidity of associating meaning to abstract concepts (in this case, color).


Informant Info

Nationality: Indian

Age: 53

Occupation: Computer Programmer

Residence: Las Vegas, Nevada

Date of Performance/Collection: 2023

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Tamil

Relationship: Mother

Referred as AS.  AS was born in India and moved to the United States when she was 24. 


Thai Poosam is a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community, particularly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The festival is held in the Tamil month of Thai (January-February) and is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory.  The festival is characterized by elaborate rituals, religious ceremonies, and the participation of many devotees from all over the region to participate in the festivities.


While growing up, AS attended this yearly festival on several occasions.

One of the festival’s main events is the Kavadi Attam, a devotional dance performed by devotees as a form of penance and offering to Lord Murugan.  During this dance, devotees carry kavadis, decorated structures weighing up to 40 pounds, on their shoulders as they perform various dance movements.

Another important aspect of Thai Poosam is the Pal Kavadi, a procession of devotees who carry milk pots as offerings to Lord Murugan. This procession is led by the Pal Kavadi carriers, who are dressed in bright and colorful attire and are accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments such as the nadaswaram and the thavil.


According to Hindu mythology, Thai Poosam marks the day when the goddess Parvati gave Lord Murugan, her son, a vel (spear) to defeat the demon Soorapadman and his army of demons. Lord Murugan, with the help of his vel, defeated the demons and restored peace to the world.

Also, Lord Murugan is believed to be a deity who can bestow wealth, health, and wisdom upon his devotees. Devotees fast, pray, and offer special prayers and rituals to Lord Murugan, seeking his blessings and protection.  It is believed that by observing fasts and performing rituals, one can purify one’s body and mind and eliminate negative energies and impurities. Some devotees perform acts of self-mortification, such as piercing their tongues or cheeks with sharp objects, to seek purification and atonement for their sins.  Finally, Thai Poosam is believed to be a day of community and togetherness. Devotees come together to perform the rituals and offer prayers, and the festival provides an opportunity for families and friends to bond and strengthen their relationships.