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 ūüėõ

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! РDivya

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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 ūüėõ

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). 

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! РDivya

 

 

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! РDivya

 

Amma, can I become Sita when I grow up?

It was during the summer of 2010, that my Visual Communications class embarked upon an assignment that involved choosing a role model and presenting him/her to the class. I chose mother Sita.

At age 15, I didn’t really think too much about the fact that I was choosing to present a Goddess as my role model to a society that is largely secular. I guess I could have picked someone that my teacher or classmates had actually heard of before, but Sita was my idol and I really wanted¬†to¬†share my admiration¬†of her with everyone. It’s quite amazing that my teacher, a born and bred Australian, approved my choice of Indian Goddess because “she embodied virtue and chastity”. She patiently listened to my account of agnipariksha*, pativrata* and of course the Purushottama* himself, Lord Rama! And so it was, that the classroom of an Australian high school learnt about¬†the greatness of Sita.

It’s hard for me to pin-point what it is, exactly, about Sita that I love. As a four year old, I was attracted to the way I saw her depicted in cartoons. I loved her waist-long hair and the demure way in which she carried herself. As a teenager, I admired her immensely because to me, she represented the glory of womanhood in its entirety. She was one of a kind, someone I would not be able to meet off the street. Indeed, in this day and age, it is very easy to forget the grandeur that womanhood entails.

For instance, do we know that the scriptures extol women as the embodiments of seven holy qualities (sathya (truth), prema (love), dharma (righteousness), shanthi (peace), sahana (tolerance), ananda (bliss), svanubhuti (spirituality), while our male counterparts have only three? As I listen to reports about the ill-treatment of women in India, I wonder how the inhabitants of such a sacred land have forgotten the pedestal upon which women are placed in our culture. Indian history has been filled with great women scholars and women of noble character. Did King Janaka not choose Gargi to confer honour onto him over many great men and sages of esteemed standing? Was India not the home of Savitri, Maitreyi and Chandramathi, who were all paragons of virtue and chastity despite the challenging circumstances they were placed in? Clearly, women have been endowed with strength to achieve great heights in whichever field they choose to pursue.

Of course, we have also been endowed with the great gift of motherhood. The lap of a woman is the first classroom of mankind. Whether we realise it or not, we play a crucial role in the formation of generations to come. We are responsible for instilling high ideals in our children and have the incredible ability to mould them into bright and virtuous members of society. In this way, we are not merely makers of the home, but the nation and  world at large.

As I thought about what I wanted to put into my Sita presentation, I realised that what I loved about her was a combination of so many things. I loved the fact that she exemplified the “simple living, high thinking” construct. I loved the fact that she stood up for what she believed in. I loved the fact that her grandeur was attributed to moral fibre and not the clothes she wore. Above all, I loved the fact that what made her so beautiful was the purity of her thought, word and deed. She represented good character and that to me, is worth more than all the things in the world put together.

It is so easy to be talented and intelligent, so easy to acquire material wealth. But, safeguarding one’s character, is not so easy. And that is why, thousands of years after Sita’s sojourn on earth ended, we are still talking about her. We belong to the lineage of women of great character and I think we owe it to ourselves to at least try and live up to our ancestry. And really, why not? We have nothing to lose! Being a modern day Sita would be pretty awesome…

Who were your role models as a child? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: agnipariksha( a test of chastity where the purity of Sita allowed her to emerge from a blazing fire unscathed), pativrata (chaste wife), purushotthama(ideal man).

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 and interactions with friends. Happy reading! РDivya