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

 

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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! – 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 Jasmine Love Story ( Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required)

I have no idea what it is about youths in Australia, but no one who is of marriageable age gets married. Or in the rare event that they do, the wedding is held overseas. In the ten years that I have lived here, I have attended a grand total of two weddings, and one of them was my aunt’s. One fine day we received a wedding invitation via mail and I stared at it in surprise. After confirming that the wedding was actually being held in Australia and that we would, in fact, be able to attend, I waited for the wedding date eagerly.

Finally, the day of the wedding arrived and I stood in front of the mirror listening to amma’s commentary on the techniques she was using to drape my favourite manjal coloured saree on me. I lined my eyes with mai, and placed a tear shaped bindi between my brows. The only thing left to be done now, was my hair. I measured the strings of the kunjalam against my waist-long hair to determine which point of my braid it should go onto. Ten minutes later the braid was complete, kunjalam and all. I walked towards the car, but stopped abruptly to do a double take on my reflection in the window just outside the front door. I glanced sorrowfully at the sorry sight of my long, empty jadai. My jadai was missing an essential accessory: malligai pu.

Oh! How much I do love the strands of those little flowers, as white as snow and as soft as silk. The sweet-smelling fragrance that they exude is , oh,  so heavenly and uplifting. Their very sight enthrals and the faintest whiff of their scent is enough to bring forth the image of my ishta devata bedecked in layers of jasmine garlands. It is a delightful flower indeed.

So why didn’t I just buy some malli pu for my hair, you wonder? Well, because it’s practically impossible to find it in the part of Australia I live in. Very few stores sell them and we are charged ridiculous amounts for  10  cm strings of yellowing, dried out flowers. Since buying flowers was not a practical option, we decided to plant a jasmine tree at home. It’s been five years since we planted the tree and it only recently started producing a decent amount of flowers. Sigh. It’s just too difficult to get jasmine here, which is why I turn into a mad, jasmine-hungry girl as soon as I land in India. No kidding.

We were having an interesting conversation with an auto-driver in Chennai who was insisting that the national language of India was Tamil and all other languages were “waste languages” when I spotted the sight of a flower vendor on the side of the road. I forced the auto-driver to stop immediately and literally bought out the flower store. “Divya, how much malligai pu do you want to put in your hair? People are going to think you are a bride or something” amma said as she rolled her eyes. Appa started complaining that he was getting a headache from the overwhelming strength of the scent.  “Shhhhhh. Everyone, just look at the flowers and enjoy.” I replied as I pinned the strands of flowers onto my hair. I mean, who knows how long it would be before I got to wear them again?  Our auto- driver finally dropped us off at out destination: the home of a family friend. As soon as the aunty saw me, she gasped. “Happa! Evalo lakshanama iruka. Oru nala paiyana paathe katti veppom”.

Oops. Probably shouldn’t have worn so much malli pu.

Jasmine flowers are one of the ornaments of Indian women. They are also used in the worship of Gods and are deemed to be auspicious. Modern day research confirms that jasmine has a subtle effect on hormones and promotes beta rhythms in the brain, resulting in greater mental awareness. It has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system and  results in increased self- confidence, which is why jasmine oil is used to aid patients struggling with anorexia. Chemical constituents in jasmine flowers promote a positive mood and help eliminate emotional barriers one may have. 

Do you love jasmine flowers too? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: manjal (yellow), mai (kohl), kunjalam (hair ornament), malligai pu (jasmine flower), jadai (braid), ishta devata (favourite God form), “Happa! Evalo lakshanama iruka. Oru nala paiyana paathe katti veppom”( wow she is so traditional. We will find her a nice boy to marry).

 

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

 

Ornaments of an Indian Woman: there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye…

Gifts of gold mark every important milestone in her life; the day she is born, the day she comes of age and eventually, the day she marries her soul mate. “Keep these ornaments carefully, my child” she is constantly reminded, “don’t leave the house without earrings on or a neck that is bare”. She is young, and so, she rolls her eyes. “All these beliefs are so outdated “, she thinks. “What’s the point of wearing all this gold?”.

Little does she know that this precious metal is being given to her as a form of financial security that she can cash in on if ever there was a need. The elementary composition of the metal is good for her health and accelerates healing processes in her body.

The bangles she wears on her wrists are colourful, circular pieces of metal that are oh so appealing to the eyes of the beholder. She takes pride in choosing just the right shades, to match the colour of her sari border. “Too bright” she thinks, ” maybe I should go for that peacock-blue colour instead”.

Little does she know that bangles only earned a place in the Indian woman’s jewellery box because the constant friction of the bangles against women’s wrists would help improve blood circulation and conduct energy towards the bones, which are naturally weaker in a woman than in a man.

She runs around the entire house, annoying her family members and escaping as much housework as possible, all the while filling the house with the sound of her anklets, laden with bells. This ornament, she has no issues with. This ornament is fashionable even in modern times. “Even people in Hollywood are wearing it” she thinks.

Little does she know that the soft, tinkling sounds she creates as she moves around her house dispel negative vibrations instantaneously.

She ponders over which earrings she should wear, the options are endless. “Should I choose something simple?” she wonders,” my sari is already pretty grand…”.

Little does she remember the ear-piercing ceremony that was held for her when she was an infant. But her mother does, of course. How could she ever forget the shrill screams of her beloved child lying in the lap of her maternal uncle, as the goldsmith pierced her child’s ears? She will never forget that. But she knows that it is best for her daughter, that the position of piercing is conducive to enhanced intellectual functioning and that it will promote a calm temperament in her daughter.

Her mother has several more pieces of jewellery that her daughter does not wear. She is married, you see, and around her neck lies her prized procession, her mangalsutra. The strands of this sacred necklace represent the qualities of love, faith and trust that she and her husband cherish. It is a symbol of the committed relationship she honours. The second toe of both her feet are enclosed by toe rings made of silver. In that toe, lies a connection to the uterus and the constant friction of the rings against her toes strengthens the system that brings forth life.  She watches her daughter, and realises that she is no longer a child, but a young woman who will soon fly the nest. ” I hope she knows which ornaments are most important”, she thinks.

“I hope she knows that the greatest ornaments an Indian woman can wear are not tangible. I hope she knows that the most essential ornaments of a woman are her chastity, noble speech and pure thoughts. I hope she realises that without these intangible ornaments, no amount of exquisite jewellery is of any consequence. The day she knows this, is the day my duty as a mother is done.”

A woman of culture never crosses the boundaries of modesty and sticks to the path of righteousness, no matter how inconvenient or difficult the path might be. Such a woman, requires no jewellery at all and will evoke respect and adoration unasked. Such a woman, in my eyes, has the most precious ornaments of all…

What is your favourite Indian ornament and why? Leave a comment down below:)

I am a 20 year-old University student living in Australia. As I was born in Malaysia, brought up in Australia and 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!