So, what does this story have to do with modern-day Iran and Iranians? Everything. For the vast majority of Iranians who identify as Shi’a and even for many who don’t, the story of Karbala lies at the heart of all struggles against oppression and tyranny — personal and political.
—Melody Moezzi writes this smart, informative piece about the relevance of the one-thousand-year old story behind Ashura and modern-day politics in The Washington Post.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Eid Mubarak, But When?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.
Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?
About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)
Gudi Padwa, New Year’s Day for Indians, Marks the Start of Spring
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Bollywood stars took to Twitter to wish their fans Gudi Padwa, or Happy New Year. India’s vast cultural and ethnic diversity accounts for celebrations at different times and places. Grand festivals are held to celebrate the start of vasant or spring.
The people of Maharashtra observe the new year as Gudi Padwa on the first day of Chaitra, the first month of the Hindu lunar calendar (which is April 4th this year). It is also known as Ugadi (or Yugadi) in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Vishu in Kerala, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Navreh in Kashmir, just to name a few. The Hindu holiday literally means "the start of an era" and for some celebrates the creation of the world.
An important event of the day is the hoisting of Gudi, a victory flag, onto bamboo poles. It has a copper or brass pot on top of it and is displayed in front of homes.
Intricate rangoli (traditional decorative folk art) designs appear on doorsteps in vibrant colors.
(photo: Harini Calamur/Flickr)
(photo: Preshit Deorukhar/Flickr)
The color orange is signficant for Hindus, often used as part of religious ceremonies and celebrations.
Also families begin the festivities by eating the bittersweet leaves of the neem tree, which is said to have medicinal properties.
Neem leaves. (photo: Wendy Cutler/Flickr)
This day marks the end of one harvest and the beginning of another, which agricultural communities signify as the beginning of a new year.
Neem twigs are bundled for sale near Manek Chowk in the Old City. (photo: Meena Kadri/Flickr)
The Western (Gregorian) calendar greets the first day of spring around mid-March, nearly a quarter of the way into the new year. But doesn’t the agrarian approach feel more reliable, literal, and frankly inspiring than staring into the endless white of another January 1st snow? Here’s to letting the first green buds of spring and a new harvest signify a brand new year.
Hindu Holi Festival of Colors Are Energy, Joy, and Life
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
An explosion of color results as participants of a Holi festival in Utah throw colored chalk into the air and at each other. (photo: Jeremy Nicoll)
There’s no shortage of photos from Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, which takes place this year on Sunday, March 20th. Around the world, people celebrate the holiday by “throwing colors” at anyone who wanders by. Sometimes it’s in the form of powders, sometimes colored water, and sometimes natural dyes.
According to the BBC’s description of Holi, Ratnaval, a seventh-century Sanskrit drama, has one of the first references to the festivities:
"Witness the beauty of the great cupid festival which excites curiosity as the townsfolk are dancing at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns. They are seized by pretty women while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating. Everything is coloured yellowish red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over."
As with most Hindu holidays, the historical significance of the festival is complex and varied, depending on the region of India you find yourself in. For some, like my dad who grew up in the city of Hyderabad, it represents the beginning of spring, which, coincidentally, also occurs today.
With such differing explanations, I was particularly drawn to this lovely depiction by Outsourced actor Sacha Dawan. He says “it’s a day of throwing unlimited amounts of color. In a way the color represents energy, joy, life.”
If you find yourself at a Holi celebration this weekend, please send us your pictures!
Ringing in the Year of the Rabbit
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Parading in Puerta del Sol, Spain. (photo: PepeZoom/Flickr)
One of the most important Chinese holidays is Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. Following the lunar calendar, this year the celebration fell on Thursday, February 3rd, which is also the year of the rabbit. The rabbit is the fourth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Images of the rabbit become part of the celebration. The theme for festivities is to spread luck and good fortune, and the rabbit (remember your lucky rabbit’s foot?) is symbolic for both.
Oranges and tangerines also symbolize good luck and wealth. The word for tangerine has the same sound as “luck” in Chinese, and the word for orange sounds like “wealth.”
The presence of leaves are important too, representing longevity, branches of a family, and a secure relationship with the person to which you are gifting the leafy citrus.
Red is an important color in Chinese culture; it represents integrity and strength. Red envelopes, as seen in the image above, are called Hong Bao and are given to children and unmarried people with an even number (odd numbers are traditionally for funerals) of Chinese Yuan. Red is a central color in Chinese weddings as they promote good fortune.
How We Wait
by Peter A. Friedrichs, guest contributor
Awaiting Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee at Disneyland. (photo: huffmans/Flickr)
Advent is a time of waiting. For Christians, it’s a time of waiting for the arrival of the Christ child. For others, Advent is a time of waiting for a hoped-for future, waiting for the time of bleakness to pass and for new joy to arrive.
We spend a lot of our time waiting for a “hoped-for” future. Waiting for the arrival of our own newborn child. Waiting to get that promotion at work. Waiting in line at the checkout counter. Waiting for the light to change. One writer I know said, after returning from a recent trip to Disneyland, that she realized that an amusement park is 10 percent thrills and 90 percent walking and waiting. “I realized,” she writes, “that that same equation works for most of life … including Christmas. So one of life’s greater challenges is to enjoy the 90 percent.”
We can wait with eager anticipation, like a child who can’t get to sleep on Christmas Eve. We can wait with boredom, allowing our mind to wander and even forgetting what we’re waiting for. We can also wait with frustration, like the driver who honks his horn at the car ahead of him because the light turned green two whole seconds ago. We also can wait with supreme patience. There’s a reason we call that “the patience of a saint.” It’s very hard to achieve and sustain. How we wait says a lot about who we are.
While it’s good to look ahead to some hoped-for event, there’s a danger in all this waiting, too. The danger is that, in waiting, we become so “future-focused” that we forget the gifts of the present moment. We overlook what we have in anticipation of receiving what we want. And then there’s the danger of disappointment. When we pin our hopes on a wish or a dream, we can be crushed if it doesn’t come true.
In the spirit of the season, Simon John Barlow, a British Unitarian minister, urges us to wait for a particular gift in a particular way: “Prepare the way to welcome your inner-Christ child — the being of love and light, the spark of holiness that lies deep in us all. Seek the signs of hope and promise in your life and the world around you — the stars that point the way to the Light of God. Make your way to the stable of peace and acceptance in the secret depths of your heart.”
In this season of Advent, I wish you good waiting. Waiting that allows your hearts to soar to a longed-for future and your feet to stay planted in the goodness and gladness of today. May this season bring you joy in your present, in your presents, and by and through your presence.
Reverend Friedrichs is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Media, Pennsylvania. After working as an attorney for nearly 20 years, he followed his call to ministry and was ordained in 2006. You can listen to his sermons on his congregation’s website.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
The “Multiplicity in Singularity” That Is Islam
by Krista Tippett, host
“If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.” —Flavia Weedn (photo: Mushda Ali/Flickr)
We’re thrilled to put our show with 14 distinctly different Muslim voices back on the air a year after we created it. It is really more an experience than a show — one that was as full of discovery to produce as to hear.
In fact, we were surprised to find ourselves creating it. At the beginning of the summer of 2009, we extended an invitation to Muslims to reflect on their lived experience of Islam, of what it means — in a daily, particular way — to be part of what is often referred to in the abstract as “the Muslim world.” Responses were slow at first but began to pick up in number and intensity as our query was circulated in networks far beyond the public radio universe.
Hundreds of people responded from an incredible range of backgrounds, ages, and sensibilities. They came from an Iraqi-American Muslim growing up in Monterey, California and also from Mexican-American and a Russian-American converts living in robust Muslim communities in places like Seattle and Dallas. They were artists, stay-at-home moms, lawyers, college students. They wrote from Indonesia and Turkey, England and Canada, Saudi Arabia and Oman. We began to call some of them up to hear their voices. And Trent Gilliss — our senior editor who conducted most of these interviews — created an interactive map that blends personal photos, audio, and essays.
And though we had asked people to reflect on Muslim identity in a broad sense, we were immediately struck that so many had a vivid, epiphanal Ramadan story to share. We created a 30-day daily podcast — a new voice for each day of Ramadan — which you can still download if you’d like. And we pulled together this show with 14 stories across a spectrum of life and spiritual sensibility.
A bit of background: Ramadan commemorates the month when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is marked by recitation of the Qur’an, prayer, and fasting — sun up to sun down. The Ramadan fast is a spiritual discipline of commitment and reflection; but it is also meant to align Muslims with the larger experience of need and hunger in the world. And Ramadan is a period of intimacy and of parties — of getting up when the world is quiet before the sun rises for breakfast and prayers with one’s family, of ending or breaking the fast every day after nightfall in celebration and prayers with friends and strangers.
Of the many links on our site, none intrigues me more than our Flickr page, where you can see the faces behind the stories and voices. Taken together, the people who have become part of this project embody and illustrate the “multiplicity in singularity” that is Islam, as Feruze Faison put it. It was a delight, and an honor, getting such an intimate glimpse inside this holiest month of Islam.
Longing for Passovers and Memories Missed: Pesach 5770 (2010)
by Mary Moos, guest contributor
At Monday night’s Passover Seder we used hard-covered, bound copies of a Haggadah with a copyright date of 1923. The first user of the book — a relative or friend of our host family — had carefully inscribed his name on the inside cover.
In the many years since my conversion from Roman Catholicism to Judaism, I’ve used a variety of Haggadot but none like the one we used last night.
Some of them were faded blue, mimeographed copies, dog-eared and stained with wine and brisket gravy. Others were stapled and patched together with cracking glue and brittle cellophane that incorporated feminist interpretations. A few years ago, we enjoyed the company of a blind guest at our Seder. She used a Braille Haggadah in Hebrew. When it was her turn to read, she simultaneously translated the text into English. Amazing.
Reading from an almost 90 year-old Haggadah, with the name of the octogenarian sitting next to me written in childlike cursive on the inside cover, was an extraordinary experience. It struck me that he had been Jewish 60 years longer than I had been. It filled me with a deep longing for the Passovers and memories I’d missed. At the same time, I felt tremendous gratitude for the spiritual home I’d finally found.
Celebration of Passover is a biblical command for all Jews worldwide to come together as a community to singularly and collectively remember: What the Eternal One did for me when I came out from Egypt. At Passover, I am — along with the ancient Israelites enslaved in Egypt. I am with them redeemed from bondage, and I am promised the care and love the Eternal One blessed be He.
Growing up in a large observant Roman Catholic family, I often felt spiritually displaced. Praying and having a relationship with G-d was always important to me, but I struggled with how to do it within the structure of my birth-religion. The idea of Christ and His divinity got in the way of the personal relationship I wanted to have with G-d.
Holy Week was the only time I felt intimacy and safety with Christ. And then it was as a supremely saintly man who modeled how we are to have a relationship with G-d. Holy Week was the only time Christ became real. From His ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the Passover dinner with His disciples, the Stations, and His death on the Cross on Good Friday, I felt comfortable with Christ.
Now that I have found my spiritual home in Judaism, I no longer struggle with Christ. I understand Christ and His teachings from a Jewish perspective. I see Him as a wise and holy Rabbi falsely accused and killed by the Romans like another of our other Jewish saints, Rabbi Akiva.
I am grateful to have found Judaism and the community to which I can belong. I am no longer in Diaspora… I am home.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
What’s Your Hindu Star Birthday?
Shubha Bala, associate producer
A couple of weeks before my birthday, my mom sent me an e-mail reminding me when my “star birthday” was — March 14th, by the way — and saying she was donating to a local temple on that day so they can provide free food for the congregation. Although I’ve always been told when my star birthday was, this was the first time I went on a quest to find out what it was.
Simply put, your star birthday is your birthday using the Hindu calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar. Hindu calendars are traditionally used to derive entire individual horoscopes, which are culturally consulted for just about everything — from determining a baby’s name to finding the best wedding location (and person!)
Your birth star, or Janma Nakshatra, is just one component of the calendar. If you draw a line from where you were born, at the time you were born, to the moon, the Janma Nakshatra is the star constellation that the line would pass through. Each month has 27 Nakshatras, which means some Nakshatras will occur twice in a month.
As with most aspects of Hinduism, there is no rule as to what significance a star birthday has. For example, I spoke to Narayanan Kandanchatha, who grew up in the Indian state of Kerala and is from the sub-caste Nambudiripad. He said that each year they would have to do an important prayer on their star birthday. In his case, the star was so critical that if it was missed, rather than do it the next day, they would wait until the Nakshatra of the following month. He also said that in his culture, in order to do a Upanayanam ceremony (the male coming of age ceremony for the Brahmin caste), a boy must have conducted a special ceremony on his Nakshatra 36 times.
For my mom, her tradition was to wear new clothes on her star birthday. Then she mailed me a new shirt to wear. Some people believe naming your baby with the same first syllable as their star is auspicious. My parents didn’t intend it, but in researching this blog I discovered that I coincidentally ended up with an auspicious first name!
Finding your star birthday
- Find your Janma Nakshatra when you were born by using this calculator and your birth year (mine is Satabhisha.)
- Next find the Hindu month in which you were born. Scroll to the table of Hindu months here to find the start and end dates for that month. For example, I was born March 5, which would be the month Phalguna, starting on February 20.
- Then, go back to this first calculator, and for the date range enter your full Hindu birth month (e.g., February 20 - March 19) for the current year. It will give you a table with all the Nakshatras for the month. Find the date your Nakshatra lands on, and that is your star birthday this year (March 14 for me). If your Nakshatra occurs two times in that month, the second time is when you would celebrate your star birthday.
Since Hinduism is a religion composed of diverse cultures and history, the details in this procedure can change. Many cultures define their months differently. Also, some people don’t use the Nakshatra at all, using instead the Tithi, a completely different aspect of the calendar. But I’ll leave you to investigate these varieties on your own.
Hanukkah in the Heartland
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Last night was the first night of Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. I’ve been so busy burning the midnight oil (that’s a Hanukkah joke, by the way) for next week’s show on Sitting Bull, I haven’t made any formal plans to celebrate. Last December, a friend organized a Hanukkah throw-down replete with piles of steaming latkes and homemade brisket. But the fried smell of latkes lingered in her home a little too long for her liking, so there won’t be any Hanukkah party reprise this year.
Today, Andy sent around an op-ed by David Brooks about the complicated historical legacy that has shaped our modern-day observance of Hanukkah. Brooks reminded me that Hanukkah is a holiday informed by rabbinic storytelling over the ages. A few years ago I met an Ethiopian Jew who did not grow up with any awareness of Hanukkah because (like Purim) it isn’t written about in the Torah.
As a child, Hanukkah was a way to get in on the Christmas dazzle of presents, lights, and treats; but there was always a feeling of somehow missing out on the magic of Rudolph and opening presents beneath a tree. My parents would not allow a "Hanukkah bush" (the Jewish imitation version of a Christmas tree), although one year they did let me hang a stocking under the fireplace — actually it was more like a stringy sock from my drawer. Fortunately, I grew out of those Christmas longings and came to appreciate Hanukkah for what it is rather than as a proxy for something better I could never have.
Now that I live half a coast a way from family and friends, I realize I need to be more intentional about observing the Jewish holidays on my own. This may mean buying a menorah for the very first time. Maybe I’ll even pick up some latke fixings or listen to our show on Hanukkah with Scott-Martin Kosofsky later this weekend. Somehow I’ll find a way to light the shammas candle and say a little prayer.