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Water from a Stone – Gujarati Proverb

“પથ્થરમાંથી પાણી લો”

Translation: “getting water from a stone”.

Context: The informant, my mother, was born in India in the 1970s. She had an arranged marriage of sorts, in that she was introduced to different people from good families and could choose someone from them. They would figure out if they were compatible, and get married nearly immediately. She told me that when she was looking for someone to marry, her uncle told her one of the criteria should be to look for someone who could do this. All of my family is from Gujarat, and this is a Gujarati proverb.

If you describe someone with this phrase, it means essentially that they can make something out of any situation– if you give them a stone, they will find water in it. Typically, the “something” they could make would be money. It makes sense to advise someone not to find a man who is already rich, but one who is industrious; even if he has money now, if by circumstance he loses it all, he will be able to make it back.

Analysis: Gujarati culture tends to put a lot of value on being able to make money. It’s a good quality if you want stability in life regardless, but also it comes from years of being traders and businesspeople. A significant amount of Gujarati people are part of the merchant caste, including my family, and so it makes sense to place importance on having the creativity to get oneself out of any bad financial circumstances.

I’ve also noticed that the idea of coaxing something out of a stone (specifically blood) is a concept that can be found in other cultures’ proverbs as well. Interestingly, however, that tends to be in the context of talking about an impossible task or achieving something incredibly difficult. Here, it’s not a “you are destitute and must spin straw into gold” but instead a “you are destitute but you have the intelligence to make this straw you just found into something and the charisma to sell it to someone else”. They seem like oicotypical variations on the idea of someone achieving the difficult task of producing something useful out of something useless, with both likely rendered different by what their respective backgrounds hold relevant.

Indian burial ritual

AS-“It is a weird burial ritual. Well, weird for other villages near my town, because no one except our village does this.”

Interviewer-“Has your always been doing it or did something happen in the village for everyone to shift from the ‘traditional’ burial rituals?”

AS- “I don’t know. It has always been like that. Maybe it was because my village mostly houses farmers and their land, and the rituals just symbolize their connection to their land. Anyways, coming back to the ritual. It is not something extremely groundbreaking but, in our village, instead of cremating out dead near a river and throwing their ashes into the water, our dead are cremated on familial ground and buried right there.”

AS is a middle-aged woman born in a small village in eastern parts of India. She spent most of her childhood in the village that she talks about, but moved out to attend school in a different city. Her father was buried following the same burial ritual that she describes in the above text.

In the above burial ritual, we see the impact of local sentiments into a more widespread cultural practice. By shifting from the widespread tradition of cremating beside a river, the village tradition of burying the dead on familial grounds integrates a smaller community’s culture with that of a bigger one. It is an example where we can see social norms and meanings (here, a farmer’s connection to their land) integrating with religious customs.


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.



In the classic folktale “Greedy Brahmin” a Brahmin is asked to look after a wealthy man’s house while he is away. The Brahmin becomes greedy and steals some of the man’s possessions.  As he leaves the house with his stolen goods, he encounters a group of monkeys. The monkeys trick the Brahmin into thinking he should give them his possessions for a much greater reward. The greedy Brahmin agrees and throws his possessions into the river, only to realize too late that the monkeys have tricked him and he has lost everything.


My informant is my uncle (BS) aged 65 years living in India. While growing up in the village, BS heard this from my grandparents and relatives. 

Interviewer : What does this story highlight?

Informant : “I believe the story of the greedy Brahmin highlights the dangers of greed and the importance of integrity. ”

Interviewer: What life lesson does this story teach us?

Informant: “First, it reminds us that the desire for material possessions can cloud our judgment and lead us to destruction. Next, the story emphasizes the importance of honesty and ethics in all aspects of life.”


The Brahmin in the story becomes blinded by his desire for material possessions, leading him to steal from his wealthy employer.  His greed ultimately leads him to fall victim to the monkeys’ trickery, losing everything he has gained through dishonesty.

I believe the story emphasizes the importance of integrity and honesty, reminding us that these values are essential for leading a fulfilling and happy life.  It also highlights how greed can cloud our judgment, leading us down a path of destruction that can have far-reaching consequences.

The story of the greedy Brahmin teaches us that we should not let our desire for material possessions override our moral compass.  Instead, we should value honesty and integrity in all aspects of life, recognizing that true success and happiness come from leading an honest and virtuous life. The story serves as a reminder to prioritize our values over our desires and to live with integrity, even when no one is watching.

Tamil Proverb

ஆபத்துக்கு பாவமில்லை

“Necessity has no law.”

Informant Info

Nationality: Indian

Age: 55

Occupation: Chief Information Officer

Residence: Las Vegas, Nevada

Date of Performance/Collection: 2023

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Tamil

Relationship: Father

Referred to as JS.  JS was born in India and moved to the United States when he was 22. 


The proverb suggests that in times of great need or urgency, people may be willing to take risks or bend the rules to achieve their goals or to meet their needs.


While growing up in the village, JS heard this from his parents and relatives.  The Tamil proverb “Necessity has no law” is a saying that expresses the idea that when faced with a pressing need or situation, people may act in ways that are outside of the norms or laws of society. 


The proverb’s message is that necessity may override society’s usual rules and conventions in certain situations. However, it is essential to note that this does not mean that the laws or regulations are unimportant, but instead that the moment’s needs may sometimes require individuals to act outside of their usual bounds.

In essence, the proverb is a reminder that in times of great need or urgency, people may be willing to take actions they might not normally consider to meet their goals or fulfill their needs. It also highlights the importance of understanding the context and circumstances that drive people to act in specific ways and to approach these actions with empathy and understanding.