Things I Learnt from Staying in an Indian Village

As much as I’d love to say that I hail from a quaint little village in India, I can’t. I mean the closest my friends and I even get to saying the word village is when we are referring to “Village Cinemas”, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that rural life is right up there in my list of unknowns. Anyway, it had always been a dream of mine to visit a traditional Indian village and I was EXTREMELY excited when we were invited to one by a family friend. And so, after twelve hours of road tripping, five instances of carsickness, multiple complaints of vertigo from the elders and encounters with roads that were really rock filled mud tracks, we arrived in the village slightly bruised and battered.  It was all worth it though, because this trip ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. Here’s a few things that I found pretty awesome.

#1 Atithi Devo Bhava- Guest is God

This saying prescribes a dynamic of the host-guest relationship in Indian culture and is taken from the Taittriya Upanishad which claims Matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava ( be one for whom the Mother is God, be one for whom the Father is God, be one for whom the Teacher is God, be one for whom the guest is God). I’ve heard of this concept many times before but this trip was the first time I saw it actually being lived out in real life.

I’ll never forget the number of times our hosts called our taxi driver to make sure we were ok on our journey to their place (approx. 28 times), or the amount of food they packed into tiffin carriers for us to take on our drive back. Nor will I forget the time the lady of the house literally jumped up and ran outside to pluck me some flowers when she saw my flower-less braid ( when I exclaimed at how gorgeous the flower she chose was, she winked and said “just like you “)! To top it all off, the members of the house were quick to offer us ANYTHING if we so much as mentioned that something was nice.

One of the most unforgettable moments of my life was how the family took us to their prayer room just before we left, and made the elders sit on a chair. The husband and wife of the household then proceeded to fall at the feet of each elder to take their blessings and then gave us all sarees and gifts. By this point we were all in tears, incredibly touched by the love in the room and extremely heavy-hearted at the thought of leaving. Every time I wear the saree given to me, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling as I fondly recall the love I felt that day.

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#2 Keep it Simple!

The most endearing thing about the villagers was how genuine and simple they were. There were no airs and graces to be seen within a 50 mile radius of the place, that’s for sure! The women giggled shyly as if they were newly married brides whenever we praised them for their amazing culinary skills and the men were incredibly modest about their ability to harvest fruits, oils and vegetables across acres and acres of land through manual labour ( “I’m only an agriculturist” said a successful farmer, with his hands folded). Although talented in various arts, the children were softly spoken and very humble about the extent of their talents.  One boy claimed that he played “a little tabla” and we soon found out he was a student of a highly esteemed Indian musician after further enquiry. Their humility was definitely something to aspire to.

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#3 Men are Treated Like Kings but then, Women are Treated Like Queens. 

In recent times especially, there’s been a whole lot of talk about feminism and differences in the way that men and women are treated in Indian Culture. Undeniably, there’s been an abuse of power by many individuals in creating a structure that is patriarchal and abusive to women, but fundamentally, Indian culture sees a man and woman as equal halves. One of the first things that struck me during my trip was that the men in the household were treated like Gods. The women refused to eat until their husbands had eaten and spoke to their husbands with much respect, serving them at every and any point possible. But equally, the men treated their wives with dignity and love, made sure that their wives were not straining themselves too much with the household chores and took care of the household finances. The result? The women were essentially untouched by the stresses of the outside world, which made them emotionally available to take on a nurturing role within the household. The men took on the role of a provider and made sacrifices to keep the household running. I’d say that the real winners in this arrangement are ultimately, the kids brought up in these households who have every opportunity to form secure attachment styles to build their lives upon.

This visit almost seems like a dream now that I’m miles away in Australia, but I’m SO incredibly grateful to the universe and all the Gods that fulfilled my wish to spend a few days in an Indian Village!

 I am a 23 year old tradition lover living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Happy reading! – Divya

 

 

 

 

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A Date with The Gods

She woke up earlier than usual that morning. Pangs of excitement left no place for the slightest traces of slumber. Shower? Check. Saree ? Check. Hair braiding? Check. Breakfast? There was no time for that. She smoothed her hair into place and made sure her pleats were neat. As she adorned herself with bangles and earrings, flowers and perfume, she hummed a sweet song of joy. She would dress in nothing but the best to meet her beloved Lord, who after all, had given her everything that she called her own.

The mere sight of the Gopuram* induced waves of happiness and unsurprisingly so, the temple was deliberately built where the earth’s magnetic field gave off high positive energy in abundance. Discarding her slippers and worries at the door, she stepped into the temple. She loved the feel of the marble on the soles of her feet and with every step, she absorbed positive energy from vibrations bouncing off the temple floors. A large bell was struck, the sound ringing loud and clear, dispelling any negativity that might have been lingering in the environment.

She reveled in the sight of the Gods, bedecked in layers of silk and jewels. She adored the temple air that possessed the most heavenly smell one could dream of: an oddly satisfying combination of camphor, ghee, flowers, sandalwood and incense. The sonorous recitation of ancient Vedic texts amidst the strains of nadaswaram* made her soul so, so happy. She circumambulated the Ganesh idol first. The sound of the prayer she chanted fervently in her mind competed with the overt chanting of the priest in the inner sanctorum. With every arathi* and abhishekam* the priest conducted in there, vibrations of all things good increased. All she was doing by going around the idol again and again was sharing in the vibrations already created, free to anyone that cared to tap into it.

An elderly couple walked past, their faces resplendent with the light of wisdom. The experiences of decades were etched into fine lines that appeared at the corners of their eyes. In the background, peels of laughter emanated from a group of children who were engaged in playful banter. The melody of old Carnatic compositions could be heard as some middle-aged women sang their hearts out with much sincerity. People from every stage of life were at the temple, it seemed, reminding her of her past, hinting at her future.

She made her way to the Navagraha *and payed obeisance to the planets who had the potential to rule her destiny, if only she allowed it. Deep down inside though, she knew that with God’s Anugraha *, the Navagraha could do absolutely nothing to the course her life took. Her surrender to God’s grace was not absolutely perfect though, so she still circled the panel of planets, just to be safe 😛

Her rounds now all complete, she sat down quietly for a few moments to enjoy the glorious atmosphere. Fully satiated with her temple run, she rose to exit through the grand temple doors. Not without a handful of prasadam* though, which happened to be yoghurt rice on this particular day. She smiled to herself. It was God’s nature to give, no one visiting His home would be allowed to leave empty-handed. Her heart and stomach were both full. It was time to go home.

Do you have any cherished memories of temple visits? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: Gopuram (a large pyramidal tower over the entrance gate to a temple precinct), nadaswaram (double reed wind instrument), arthi (ritual of worship in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to deities), abhishekam ( Hindu ritual of pouring water or other sacred substances on a statue of a deity while also chanting mantras), navagraha (nine ruling planets of astrology), anugraha (grace), prasadam (a devotional offering made to a god, typically consisting of food that is later shared among devotees).

 I am a 22 year old tradition lover living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Happy reading! – Divya

Finding “The One” and Other Family Activities

So you’ve been brought up in a traditional family, you haven’t really been doing the “going out” and socialising thing and you’ve spent the majority of your life as a home body. Your life is inextricably linked with that of your parents. You go wherever your parents go and family is your world. One day, you are under strict instruction to not mix too much with boys and the next, you start receiving questions about whether you have found “The One” aka your future husband. Obviously, your first reaction is “Eh?! Remind me how this is possible again?”.  Was I supposed to be on some kind of treasure hunt where an aha! moment would alert me to the fact that The One was found? Nope. No chance. And so, you subtly remind your parents that thanks to your orthodox upbringing, this whole love marriage thing is not a very likely option. “Appa and amma, you choose, you know best.” you graciously say. Knowing fully well that the list of requirements you have specified is next to impossible to find in someone of this generation, you take some solace in the fact that this whole finding The One business could take years altogether and you have plenty of time to enjoy being a pampered daughter.

This does not stop the incessant stream of preparatory advice pouring through from everyone from your grandmother to random maamis* who have travelled to your western country all the way from the other side of the world, of course. ” Make sure you shower as soon as you wake up. Don’t touch anyone or anything, especially anything in the kitchen unless you have showered. Make sure you pray first thing in the morning. Cook in the orthodox way, your in-laws might be very orthodox” And so on, and so forth. Pretty much every action or reaction of yours is an opportunity for the imparting of future marriage advice.

Unbeknownst to you, your horoscope will be exchanged and examined ( received by unsuspecting looking aunties who will only receive the horoscope outside the Rahu Kaalam* time-frame). Several proposals will be received and turned down by your parents, others will be brought to you for your approval. Again and again, the cycle will continue, till The One is found. You will question whether marriage is even necessary seeing as your life is going pretty great so far. You will be told by your mother that this line of questioning is not an option( *read in dramatic voice* ” my salvation is dependent on me giving away your hand in marriage”). Your mother will further be prodded along by several maamis that will alert her to the fact that “a girl should be married before the end of her 24th year according to the scriptures”. Your father will roll his eyes. Your brother will add his own requirements to your already long list ( “as long as my future brother-in-law is a musician and has a Xbox, he can marry akka”). You will widen your eyes at the happenings and continue about your daily routine as if none of this is happening.

And this is how the arranged marriage system continues to exist in the 21st century, even amongst those of you who have been brought up in the West.

Have you had any interesting experiences with arranged marriages? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear it:)

Glossary: Maami (married aunty), Rahu Kaalam(inauspicious timing).

 

 

 

More Indian than Most Indians

Is it just me or are NRIs more Indian than most Indians living in India? I mean while my fellow NRIs are busy enrolling themselves in carnatic vocal, violin, mandolin AND keyboard lessons (because where I’m from, pursuit of one art only is simply unsatisfactory, you see), our metropolitan Indian counterparts are busy enrolling themselves in salsa, western drums and electric guitar lessons. While we look forward  to any Indian festivity that will allow us to wear sarees and kurtas, our Indian counterparts embrace any opportunity to wear sundresses and crop tops ( bindis and salwars are reserved for “ethnic days” only people!). We travel all the way to Chennai from the other side of the world for music season, while our Indian counterparts would much rather go for a Coldplay concert in America. And so, the list goes on.

Of course, I am not denying the fact that there are traditional, orthodox families still existing in India who epitomise “Indianness”, nor am I denying the fact that some NRIs are more Western than the Westerners, but for the most part, Indians today are more modernised than ever before! I suspect that the “grass is greener on the other side” adage is contributing to this fascinating socio-cultural phenomenon and while I can’t speak for the lifestyles of metropolitan Indians, I can fully understand why NRIs cling on to culture with their dear lives.

Our parents are often the first generation of the familial line to call a foreign country home and in a multiplicity of unknowns, culture and tradition are the only known knowns.  They are so scared that we will lose touch with our traditional roots, all of which are steeped in immense spirituality, that they will go to any length to keep the spark of culture burning brightly within our hearts. And so, they spend hours of their week driving us to bharatanatyam classes, exposing us to temple-going culture and celebrating all Indian festivals at home to make sure that we know what our culture is about. They make sure that we spend time with our grandparents so that we may tap into the wealth of their knowledge and learn about the beauty of our traditions from people who have been practising them for decades. They constantly remind us that the “God first, others next and myself last” checklist should drive our lifestyle choices always, always, always!

Plus, as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Living further away from India makes us appreciate even the smallest aspects of Indian culture. Seeing a kolam on every doorstep, for instance, or buying a million pairs of earrings from a street vendor for a grand total of 100 rupees. The sight of a temple gopuram every 10 kilometres, or the sound of temple bells. Echoes of the Venkateshwara suprabhatam ringing out from homes in the morning, or watching ladies engaging in all sorts of strenuous physical activities in sarees. Listening to the spell-binding singing of the apartment doorman who you would have sworn was Ustad Rashid Khan if your eyes were closed, or the go with the flow attitude of every single person you speak to on the street. The lack of road traffic rules and the lectures of the local taxi uncle ( “In India, driving is all about mutual understanding mam” said he as he drove onto oncoming traffic. On a one way street).

So, if we appear like country bumpkins in our braids, bindis and salwars rather than  glamorous, bollywood actresses to everyone out there, we do not mind in the least. Our highs are driven by incense and bhajans and our lives are simple and straight-forward. Such peace, much wow. We are the way we are, and we are very happy with that 😛

What are your most favourite aspects of Indian culture? Leave a comment below! 

Glossary: NRI (non-resident Indian), bharatanatyam (indian dance form), kolam (rice flour art), gopuram (temple arches), bhajan (devotional singing). 

Prayer Room Memoirs

Leaning on the door frame, she stared into the room that bore witness to some of the most precious moments of her life. The memories were so vivid, stored as pristinely preserved images in her mind’s eye.  She still remembered the day she first moved into the house as a new bride, happy but slightly overwhelmed by the prospects of a new family . “With one match, light the wick ma. May you bring as much brightness and prosperity into our family as this sacred lamp does” said her mother-in- law a few seconds after she had stepped into her new home. She chuckled at the remembrance of how young she had been, still untouched by the world or weights of responsibility. Eager to please, brows furried in concentration, she had prayed to the Gods above that she wouldn’t drop the matches or do anything untoward, something quite likely considering her naturally clumsy disposition. As the flame burnt brightly, she had breathed a huge sigh of relief and then, the rest of her life began to unfold.

The room acted as the backdrop for the infamous Thala Deepavali* couple shot ( which everyone had oohed and aaahed over for days together…lakshanam/tejas* filled,smiling faces + new saree/veshti combination always resulted in newsfeed domination!). It acted as the recipient for every single food item she prepared with lots of love on festival days. Aah..how many kolams* had been drawn in that blessed room. How many job applications, home loan agreements, first salaries and exam results had been placed at the altar for blessings of the Almighty! How many times had they taken blessings there from the elders before embarking on important journeys, before making important life decisions? It was where the days of each and every member of the family started, and ended, for what was life without frequent reminders of our higher purpose?

As her offspring made a dramatic entrance into their lives, slowly but surely, the room began to take on a whole new dimension. It was no longer just the place where she could spend hours in blissful meditation. It was no longer merely a place of prayer. It was now a room where she would ponder about how best to maintain her inner peace amidst the spiralling chaos created by her adorable little toddlers, who seemed to be running on pools of limitless energy. It was now a room with an added disciplinary element, a naughty corner of sorts.”Vaishnavi, go and sit in front of Bhagawan* and think about what you have done. Once you feel truly sorry about your mistake, you can come out” she would chide, trying her best to maintain a serious expression. Of course, she would peep into the room on the sly to watch what her little brat was up to. The cute conversation between the child(now extremely sorry about her mischief)and the Krishna statue was not to be missed. In fact, there had been times when she had run to call her husband to come watch!

As the kids grew up, the room resonated with the sound of the tanpura which was used to tune voices, tablas, harmoniums, mridangams and sitars. Countless hours of practice was completed in the confines of those four walls. “Happa! How many instruments do you want me to put manjal*, kumkumam* on? I can’t bend down for that long di” her grandmother had said during the Saraswathi puja*. They were a musical bunch, indeed. She smiled as she remembered the numerous times she had bribed the kids with promises of trips to the park and ice-cream if they promised to chant 108 Gayathri mantras in that very room,  daily. They would thank her for it later, hopefully.

Her thoughts were interrupted by her father and husband, who were carrying an assortment of tools and wood pieces into the room. Navarathri* was approaching and the Golu* was due to be put up. For reasons unknown to her, they had decided to go with an elaborate nine step structure. Time to make an exit, she thought. The construction ability of the men in the house was less than enviable, to say the least. There were bound to be a few mishaps. She rolled her eyes as they rejected her suggestion to perhaps, try and make a simpler version and wished them luck. They were going to need it.

What are some of your cherished prayer room memories? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: Thala Deepavali( first festival of lights celebrated as a married couple), lakshanam/tejas (divine radiance), kolam( rice flour design), Bhagawan(god), manjal/kumkumam (turmeric, vermillion), Saraswathi Puja ( day where homage is paid to books/musical instruments ), Navarathri( nine day festival where the feminine principle is worshipped), Golu ( step-filled structure filled with various idols and dolls).

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Happy reading! 

 

 

Dilemmas of the Fourth Generation NRI ( Non Resident Indian)

If like me, you belong to the fourth generation NRI category, an identity crisis is definitely on the cards at some point in your life. If you are the first generation in your family living outside India, then not so much. For you guys, things are nice and easy. For instance, when people ask about where you are from, you are able to give a short one line response (i.e. I’m from Mumbai and I currently live in the U.K.). When it comes to adaptability, you only have to deal with the fusion of two cultures( that too, you will still be 90% Indian with a 10% hint of global flavour). Essentially, you are still  Indian, with zero chances of an impending identity crisis. But for us fourth Gen NRIs on the other hand, oh boy, it’s a whole different story. Why, you ask?

#1 Queries about our place of origin are enough to make us doubt our own identity

Aunty: Where are you from?

Me: Australia

Aunty: Ahaan, but where are you really from?

Me: Oh, I was born in Malaysia but moved to Australia a while ago.

Aunty(now annoyed): Yes, but originally?  From Tamil Nadu or Kerala? Your features are very Indian.

Me: Well,I’m sure several generations ago my ancestors were from India, but everyone in my family including patti(grandma) and tata(granddad) were born in Malaysia. I have no idea which part of India we are from.

Aunty: Aah that’s what I’m telling na, you’re Indian.

Me: …… yeah, I guess.

#2 India is home, but India is not home

Making a trip to India brings about a mixed bag of feelings. Everything is so familiar; the sounds, the smells, the food, the people, the culture, but at the same time, there is no particular part of India that we can call home. There is no family or family home to go back to. And so, we experience India much like tourists would, living in hotels, eating in restaurants and getting around in taxis. It’s fine because India lends its charm to everyone, foreign or not, but it would be pretty cool to have an ancestral family home in a quaint town somewhere!( cue dream sequence vision of family members in sarees, hair laden with malli pu (jasmine) , anklets tinkling as we walk around a Kula Deivam Koil(ancestral temple). Sigh.)

#3 We understand our mother tongue, but aren’t confident speaking it

We love the sound of Tamil and are quite capable of understanding and formulating sentences if need be, but because everyone from our parents to grandparents speak in English, speaking in Tamil doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s so nice to observe families from India speaking in such beautiful Tamil to each other and we really should try to learn our mother tongue! There are some classically Tamil sentiments and expressions that English just can’t do justice to.

#4 We belong neither here nor there, when it comes to pretty much everything

We aren’t typically Indian, nor are we Western. We have no idea which subsection of Indian familial classification we belong to ( a result of a long line of inter-cultural marriages once the family line left India). Our values are Indian, but we aren’t fussed about caste or creed. We aren’t as good as Indians at pronouncing Indian words, but we aren’t as bad as Westerners at pronouncing them either. Indians recognise us as foreigners(unless we look super traditional) and so do Westerners! Along the way, we have incorporated a little bit of the culture of each place we have lived in, resulting in an amusing blend of socio-cultural adaptations(i.e. yours truly, the South Indian looking, Hindustani music loving,  English speaking,  Malaysian food eating, Australian Tamil Girl!).

As confusing as it can be to be a fourth-generation NRI, we still manage to maintain our Indian heritage abroad and that in itself is an amazing feat.So to all my fellow NRIs, chin up and keep celebrating the glory of our beautiful culture! Let’s learn more about our traditions and culture so that they will be vibrant for many more years to come.

What are the dilemmas you face as a NRI? Leave a comment below:)

 I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Happy reading! – Divya

 

 

Modern Day Tradition Lovers!

It’s not easy being a modern day Indian Girl. I mean, we are occupied with the pursuit of degrees and careers (which is likely to lead to stress related hair loss along with financial independence) whilst trying to strike a balance between modernisation and tradition. I feel like in the toss up between trying to be a high-flying professional in heels and being the quintessential Indian woman, culture and tradition often take the back seat. If we really wanted to, we could be the kolam* putting, bindi wearing Indian girl and power-suit wearing career woman at the same time. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Here are 4 things modern day Indian girls trying to preserve culture know all too well…

#1 Contrary to popular belief, our lives are NOT boring. Neither are we.

Our wardrobes are an amalgamation of jeans and saris, maang tikkas* and floral headbands, kurti tops and evening dresses. We are just as good at making pav bhajis as we are at making lasagnes. We enjoy reading the works of Tagore just as much as we adore the works of Jane Austen. We don’t mind a bit of fusion even though our hearts are lost to the greats of Indian Classical music. Plus we can tease you to no end in at least two different languages (be prepared to get owned).

#2 We are strong-willed (aka stubborn)

We are adaptable to change and are happy to go with the flow for practically everything ( cue no major preferences for places to see, type of car we drive or clothing brands), but one indication that our morals are at risk and we turn into  warrior princesses. Of course, we are not perfect and we make mistakes sometimes, but we really do try to be uncompromising about our values and traditions because this is the only way culture can be passed on to future generations.

#3 We often end up being the centre of unwanted attention

As much as being traditional feels so natural to us, we often forget that we are seen as a rarity in modern day society. Our friends and family are used to us, so we don’t really notice this fact until we meet new people. Then, there’s no running away from the spotlight. Be prepared for gasps of disbelief and comments about your past life “nee romba nala padare, nee pona janmathule Bhagawanekke ten ode abhishekam pannirpe*”.

#4 We are subject to interesting predicaments our peers will never understand

Sorry, I am not allowed to carpool with boys (Amma voice : THE ONLY BOY you are going anywhere with is your husband). Sorry, I have to get home before it gets dark ( Amma voice: everyone who lives here needs to get home before Bramhamuhurtham* ends). Sorry, I’m doing my prayers ( Amma voice: there is always enough time in a day to think about your salvation). Call it being over-protected or old-fashioned, but ultimately, our parents only go out of their way to protect us because they care for us. And really, we will only be treated like pampered, spoilt princesses by our parents. No one else is really going to drive us around everywhere at the cost of their inconvenience or go out of their way to make sure that nothing ever goes wrong for us!

What are other things you experience as a modern day Indian girl( or a friend of one)? Leave a comment down below:)

Glossary: Kolam( rice pattern made in indian homes), maang tikka( indian hair jewel), nee romba…( you sing really well, you must have offered so much honey to God in your past life), brahmamuhurtham ( auspicious time period of  4-8 am/pm)

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Any Brahmin influences on my writing are solely due to the fact that most of my exposure to the Tamil language has been through my TamBrahm friends ( I am not one). Happy reading! – Divya

 

Tamizh New Year Adventures!!!

Kausalya Supraja Rama Poorva Sandhya Pravartathe Uthistha Narasardoola Karthavyam Daiva Manikam*….. The smell of incense wafted through the air, amidst the fragrance of the tremendous ghee content present in the javarisi payasam* offered as naivedyam* in the prayer room. Patti* had already heated coconut oil and camphor in her prized kuli karandi* which she had apparently inherited from her great-grandmother.  She gently applied this oil onto my long tresses while simultaneously delivering a dose of scolding. “Thala la ozhunga ennai thechuka matela? Yen ipdi thalaiya viruchu potundu pei madri sutharel?” “Patti, neenga mattum ipdi solrel. Ellarum enakku  Koonthal Azhagi nu per vechirka*”. The oiling was complete and Patti gave the hair one final brush through. Amma walked in with the new panchangam*, freshly anointed with sandalwood and vermillion. “Where is everyone? I’ve been calling everyone to come to the puja room for the past twenty minutes!”

En Kaadal Sikki Mukki Thikki Vikkethu, Kumari*…. Appa emerged from the bathroom with an enraged expression on his face. “Who is playing all this kandraavi* on New Year’s day? Sailu, how many times will we have to talk to you about this?” “Yenna, be happy that he is at least awake at this time. Remember last year….?” Amma came to the rescue of her precious son, as usual. Eventually, everyone settled down, much to the relief of patti, who looked like she was about to blow her fuse at any moment. She could never understand why so much hoo-ha was caused on festival days in this household.  Of course, as the resident chamathu kozhandei* of our family, I cause 0% of this hoo-ha. Naturally, 100% of problems are caused by my brother, who due to some misfortune, believes he is God’s gift to mankind and has the freedom to do as he pleases.

No festival day is complete without a family photo in which we are all dressed up in our finest sarees and veshtis which will most likely only ever make a re-appearance during Navarathri* several months later. Obviously, the photo will be sent to all relatives and family friends who will gush over how big I’ve gotten and tell amma to dhristhi sutthi podufy* me.

Anyway, New Year’s day or not, the practice of oiling and plaiting my hair is a regular occurrence. I have a natural hair product collection that could rival any modern day girl’s makeup collection. Almond oil, bhringraj oil, coconut oil, amla oil, shikakai, gingelly oil etc. Let me tell you that washing hair that is way past your hip is no easy feat. That stuff is time consuming. Not to mention the drying process. But, it is such a therapeutic thing to brush out your hair, such a comfort to have your head massaged by your paati and no doubt, a great joy to have sambraani* waved under it to have that heavenly smell lingering about in your hair all day long.

I used to wonder why all Indian women had such long hair and it was only recently that I found out that it wasn’t just about the aesthetics. Hair is inextricably linked to energy and the Kundalini and that is why many saints and holy men place their hair at the very top of their head. This leads to a higher perceptibility to higher order thinking and actually aids in spirituality. Staying away from cutting your hair regularly also means that the energy your body would utilise to regrow your hair continuously, can be better used for spiritual enquiry! Keeping hair tied and not letting it hang loose is also an aid in conserving energy. So as much as many of my friends and family members would like me to “layer” my hair and “get with the times”, I think I’ll stick to my long hair thanks. Nothing more beautiful then a long, neat braid with some jasmine flowers in it :p

Happy Tamil New Year to all my readers! How will you be celebrating today?

Glossary: Kausalya supraja…..= line from a morning prayer regularly played in Indian households, javarisi payasam= sago sweet dish, kuli karandi= steel, curved spoon naivedyam= food offered to God, paati= grandma, Thala la ozhunga…= won’t you put oil in our hair properly? I don’t understand why girls these days walk around with their hair loose looking like ghosts, Patti, neenga….= you’re the only one who says all this, everyone calls me the one with beautiful hair, panchangam= hindu calendar, chamathu kozhandei= well-behaved child, En Kaadal….= line from a love song, Kandraavi= nonsense, Navarathri= festival, dhrishti sutti podufy= removing evil eye, Sambraani= frankincense 

 

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Any Brahmin influences on my writing are solely due to the fact that most of my exposure to the tamil language have been from my TamBrahm friends (I am not one). Happy reading! – Divya

The Tale of the Girl and her Holy Basil

Aum…..Aum……Aum. The celestial sound of creation filled the air as she cleaned the area around her precious Tulasi plant. The drone of the tanpura, ever so calm and soothing was the only sound she would allow her beloved plant to be exposed to. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She loved the smell of morning dew, crisp and fresh. But the fragrance that emanated from her beloved Tulasi was no less.  It was her most favourite scent in the world.

She began chanting her mantras and performing puja with utmost devotion. Namastulasi Kalyani… she chanted as she drew a simple puli kolam in front of the Tulasi. She pushed some stray strands of hair away from her face and placed sandanam and kumkumam onto the maddam. Namo Vishnu Priye Shubhe, she sang as she placed some kumkumam onto a leaf. She picked up her kudam and gently watered the Tulasi…Namo Moksha Prade Devi, Namo Sampath Pradayini….Aum Shanthi Shanthi Shanthihi. 

Birds chirped inconspicuously in the background as she began circumambulating her beloved Tulasi. She used to run around her Tulasi as a five year old kid and stare enviously at its leaves. How jealous she was of those blessed leaves who got to be ever so close to her dearest Lord Krishna. If only she could become Krishna’s Tulasi maala for but one day! Now as a young woman, she prayed only that she should possess a character that was unblemished and that she should be as pure as her Tulasi maata.

She picked up the bell lying on her puja tray and rang it softly as she waved the camphor that was slowly burning away without a trace. Her puja was now complete and she walked to the verandah where her grandma was laying out chillies to dry.

Her grandma gave her a knowing smile and told her, “unakku manampol mangalyaam thaan”. “Manna…what patti?”. “Mannampol Mangalyaam- it means that you will be blessed with a good husband, of your choice.Gayathri shook her head in disbelief as she placed a few more chillies on the mat lying in front of her. “Aiyoh Paati! Trust you to find some correlation between a plant and matrimony”. ” My dear, this is said in the scriptures also. Worship of the Tulasi is done by chaste women and confers auspiciousness onto the household. But that is not the only reason why generations of Indian women like us have worshipped Tulasi. Because it contains mercury, Tulasi  has strong anti-bacterial properties and the air surrounding a Tulasi plant will always be bacteria free. Tulasi is also the only plant that releases an extra molecule of oxygen. While other plants release O2, Tulasi releases O3. That is why we keep the plant in an open courtyard in the middle of the house. Immersing Tulasi leaves in water and drinking it prevents respiratory tract problems.Make sure you drink some everyday.”

Gayathri nodded in response and thought about all that she had just heard. Interesting, she thought. “Funny how the little rituals we do daily and take for granted are deeply rooted in scientific knowledge. Patti, our ancestors really knew what they were doing!”.”Of course di, old is gold!” she said with a twinkle in her eye. The chillies were all on the mat now and they shared a hearty laugh as they went back into their home.

Do you worship Tulasi daily? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: Tulasi (Basil plant), Tanpura ( musical instrument), mantra(prayers), puja(worship ritual), (sandanam/kumkumam( sandalwood/vermillion), maddam: structure in which plant is placed, kudam ( pot), maala (garland), maata( mother), patti (grandmother). Meaning of Tulasi sloka: Salutations to the benevolent Tulasi,salutations to the holy darling of Vishnu, Salutations to the Goddess who grants liberation, salutations to the one  who grants wealth.

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Happy reading! 

 

The Rice Flour Artist…

The sun has not risen yet, but the Rice Flour Artist has. It is 5 am and she has already taken her morning shower. Her hair is freshly washed, still wrapped in a towel at the base of her head. She puts on her bindi, walks to the prayer room and turns on the lamp. She finishes her prayers, plays M.S Amma’s Venkateshwara Suprabatham* and leaves to find the broom. Her mind is as quiet as her surroundings and this is a source of great contentment to her. There is neither any one or any thing to disturb her. This time is solely for her. She thinks about the experiences this new day will bring her.

She steps over the threshold of the doorstep, armed with a broom, a vessel of water* and a container filled with rice flour of the coarse variety*. The area just outside the front door is swept, water is splashed generously and now,excitement kicks in as she decides on the magnificient design she is going to try out. Sikku/puli* or padi*? The decision is tough, but she finally decides to go with a padi kolam*. It will take slightly more time to complete and is a bit more elaborate, but it is after all, her sister’s birthday today.

She pinches the flour between her thumb and her forefinger and releases the flour onto the ground along with the depths of her imagination. Her lines are neatly drawn, the curves are smooth and her circles are perfect. Some extra swirls here, a few dots there and she is done. The sun rises and the stream of light that falls across her kolam reveals a few ants that are gnawing away at her creation. She smiles as she collects her things and goes back inside. Mission accomplished. The whole point of her doing this daily is to feed a thousand souls in the form of little ants before her day officially starts. The ants rejoice, for their meal for the day has been obtained and take the grains of flour back with them, leaving only gratitude and blessings for the soul that fed them at the threshold.

After her sister’s birthday is duly celebrated, the Rice Flour Artist accompanies her sister who visits the neighbours to distribute sweets and get their blessings. They walk past dozens of kolams, all beautiful and all so very unique. There is a huge, intricate padi kolam outside Anuradha maami*’s home. “What’s the special occasion maami? Special kolam today?!” She smiles and proudly announces that her daughter’s marriage has been fixed. “Aaaah that explains it…Congratulations! Have you seen Haripriya? There is no kolam outside her place. Is everything ok?”. “She is fine, but one of her relatives just passed away so she won’t be putting kolams for a while”.

And so, pleasantries along with news were exchanged and the girls returned home. By this time, several people, animals and motorcycles had passed over the kolam of the Rice Flour Artist  and it was just a mere trace of what it had been. Not to worry though, as it is only a matter of a few hours before dawn approaches and the designs of the Rice Flour Artist reclaim the threshold. Every design is better than the last of course- practice makes perfect!

p.s. every Indian home has a rice flour artist. There are millions of rice flour artists around the world in the guise of mothers, daughters and daughter-in-laws.

What sorts of kolams do you like? Please do comment below- I am especially interested in the types of kolams drawn in the puja room/special occasion kolams and would love to learn about them!

Glossary: Venkateshwara Suprabatham- prayer played at dawn, usually sung by the famous singer, M.S. Subbulakshmi . Water is used nowadays although traditionally, an anti-septic, cow-dung mixture was used to keep infections at bay.  Kolam- rice flour design on the ground. Coarse rice flour- makes life a whole lot easier when doing a kolam(was used in image above). It flows between the fingers much better. Fine rice flour can also be used if preferred. Sikku/puli- types of kolam made using dots as a guide. Padi- freehand style of drawing kolam. Maami- married Brahmin woman.

 

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Any Brahmin influences on my writing a solely a product of my imagination and my interaction with Tambrahm friends. Happy reading! – Divya