As a new mother this year, I have started my own quest for tradition. My partner and I are raising a child who has Hindu, Sikh, and Christian heritage. We want to pass down some aspects of our experiences as South Asian Americans. … We’ve decided to call our tree a ‘family tree’ and, instead of lights and store-bought ornaments, we put photos of relatives, loved ones, ancestors, and small items that represent our families on the branches. But we have plenty of ‘living’ and other images — my newborn nephew’s photo, an ornament made in grade school by my brother, and a set of handmade paper mâché stars bought on a family trip to Goa when I was eight years old.
Photo of the Day: “Joining hands together is the ultimate symbol of unity. Devotees come together and try to form a human pyramid to break a clay pot containing curd on the eve of the Hindu festival of “Janmashtami.”
Photo by: Sudeep Mehta (Mumbai, India).
What an absolutely brilliant composition.
At a Crossroads: When a Young Hindu Converts to Christianity in Delhi
by Emily Frost, guest contributor
At a coffee shop in Delhi, Kanika thought she was spending just another afternoon passing time with her childhood friend Jo Jo, avoiding the heat and the crush of people outside. But there was something different in the way Jo Jo approached her that day. He had a special question for her: Do you know what is happening to your soul when you die? Kanika had no idea, and that worried her.
Surprisingly, in their twenty years of friendship, Jo Jo, an Indian Evangelical Christian, and Kanika, a Hindu, had never discussed their religions. That day at Costa Coffee though, Jo Jo started a long discussion, scribbling Christian themes and images on the napkins scattered around him. Kanika collected the napkins and poured over them that night in bed.
In the weeks to come, Kanika began talking to other Christian friends and considering a conversion. She knew hardly anything about Christianity and had grown up in a devout Hindu family, but the question of life after death remained unanswered for her.
Now, four years later, at 24, Kanika is at a crossroads. She has become an Evangelical Christian in secret, and her family disapproves of any reference she makes to Christianity.
Photos of self-inflicted piercings and flagellation are striking to see, but I do find myself tensing up once in a while. Thanks, quelowat:
PIERCING FOR PENANCE: An Indian Tamil Hindu devotee with a steel rod pierced through his cheeks took part in a religious procession for Lord Murugan in New Delhi Thursday. Tamil Hindus seeking penance and blessings of the Lord Murugan, son of Lord Shiva, pierce their bodies and carry pots of milk on their heads. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Hindus Celebrate the Triumph of the Good with Navratri
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Hindus in India and around the world are in the midst of celebrating Navratri, the colorful and light-laden, nine-day festival also known as Durga Puja. Dedicated to Durga, Hindus celebrate the mother goddess’ defeat of the demon Mahishasura — the triumph of good over evil.
Shiva, the Hindu deity of destruction and transformation, then permitted Durga to see her own mother for nine days in the year. The tenth day is known as Dussehra or Vijayadashami, an auspicious time in which Hindus launch new activities or the beginning of learning.
An Indian Hindu devotee reads a copy of the "Durga Stuati" in the 700-year-old Sheetla Mata Temple of the Durgiana Temple Complex in Amritsar on September 28, 2011 during the Navratri festival. (photo Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)
After Durga’s visit to her mother, her image is cast into water to represent her departure on the tenth day after Navratri.
A young boy wades through the river carrying pieces of an idol of the Hindu goddess Durga after its immersion ceremony for the Hindu festival Durga Puja in Bhubaneswar. (photo: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images)
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!
Lessons from Hindu Sufi Guru Irina Tweedie
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I hoped to get instruction in Yoga, expected wonderful teachings, but what the teacher did was mainly to force me to face the darkness within myself and it almost killed me…. I was beaten down in every sense until I had to come to terms with that in me which I kept rejecting all my life."
—Irina Tweedie, from Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master
I hadn’t ever heard of Ms. Tweedie before happening upon this quote from Parabola, but her spiritual memoir looks like a compelling read. And if you’d like to hear more of the late Sufi teacher, here’s a poignant interview from Thinking Allowed. She talks about the mind as “the greatest obstacle” to spiritual clarity and that an inherent tension exists between knowledge and the mystical path in which “the less you understand, the better.”
Bollywood Squares: The Manganiyar Seduction at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"They have the Muslim saints and they worship Allah. And then they also have their … Hindu goddesses. And they sing to both. Like, there would not be any difference if they were to sing a Sufi Islam mystic song or if they were to sing a Hindu mystic song. It would be with the equal amount of devotion."
—Roysten Abel, on the Manganiyar musicians
Musicians from Rajasthan, India, led by Daevo Khan, perform at the Rose Theater in New York on November 23, 2010. (photo: Lian Chang/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
Thirty-eight Sufi musicians from the deserts of Rajasthan, India. Thirty-six, open-faced, photo booths draped in red velvet, stacked four high and nine wide. One lone box lights up. One lone khamacha drones. One lone singer begins his song. Then another box alights. Then another. Pulsating, alternating. Percussive rhythms build with dhol, dholak, and karthal. Voices of men, women, and children from India’s Manganiyar community layer one on top of the other, enmeshed with harmoniums, kamancha, sarangi, bansuri, murli, and morchang. The theater’s magic. Electric. A crescendo. Quiet.
Roysten Abel, the creative force behind this production, describes the concept as a “dazzling union between the Manganiyar’s music and the visual seduction of Amsterdam’s red light district.”
And I missed it.
Visa issues delayed the performance of The Manganiyar Seduction at the Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater by two days, so I headed back home to Minnesota. At least we have this video from the White Light Festival to give us some access to this dramatic performance.
If you’re in Washington, DC, be sure to buy tickets for their March performances. And, according to Abel’s website, he is currently working on The Manganiyar War, interpreting the Mahabharata through music. That ought to be really fascinating.
A Very Merry Christmas. Hindu Style.
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
Sometimes it takes being on the outside looking in to the find humor in your typical Hindu Christmas. Recently, I attended a friend’s family dinner in suburban Minneapolis. This was the big sort of “cousins, aunts, uncles” family dinner that closely resembles my family’s gatherings. Three generations of Hindu-Americans passed around a Secret Santa basket that made me remember my own family traditions growing up in Canada.
Christmas is always a huge deal for us. It revolves around Christmas trees, gift exchanges, “Santa,” and Christmas crafts. Food, multi-ethnic potlucks, are always eaten in the Indian style. First the kids grab food and eat wherever there’s room — table, floor, couch — until we eventually clear out and make space for the adults. We even used to sing carols. My parents, aunts, and uncles with their Indian accents would follow along with lyrics printed out. Songs ranged from the more secular “Jingle Bells” to my favorite, “We Three Kings.”
Watching my friend’s family argue over the rules of Secret Santa made me aware how many Hindus are pretty loosey-goosey about adopting cultural traditions, as long as they’re fun. Even though half my Indian friends growing up didn’t celebrate Christmas, there was never a judgment or debate about it. Other Hindus never called me a traitor or a sell-out or even, frankly, questioned my festivities.
So it’s probably completely natural that Nickelodeon created a Bhangra Jingle Bells, and a few years ago Boymongoose, an Indian musician, created a comedy album titled Christmas in Asia Minor. Maybe, from the outside, our family really is that funny!
Diwali: The Festival of Lights
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world recently celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. From an American vantage point, Diwali is a mash-up of Christmas and the Fourth of July; people exchange gifts, gamble, eat sweets, and set off firecrackers all night long. For Hindus, it marks the beginning of the new year.
There are different stories connected with Diwali, but one of the most central is rooted in the Hindu Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. The holiday marks Lord Rama’s victory over the 10-headed, demon king Ravana and Rama’s return to the city of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. People illuminated clay lamps, or diyas, to celebrate Rama’s homecoming — a tradition that continues to this day.
In broad strokes, Diwali marks the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. The holiday’s name comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, which means “row of lights.”
Chandigarh, India (photo: Harpreet Singh/Flickr)
This NPR interview with the writer Sandip Roy offers helpful, accessible context on the history, lore, and rituals associated with Diwali. Roy recently interviewed interfaith couples here in the U.S. to learn how they’ve shaped Diwali celebrations to complement “mixed masala” family configurations.
In Nepal, Diwali unfolds over five days. On the second day, dogs are the center of attention. They’re lavished with treats and trot around wearing festive marigold garlands.
Major Diwali festivities fell on November 5th this year when revelers took to the streets with candles, sparklers, and other creative forms of illumination.
Chennai, India (photo: Mckay Savage/Flickr)
For our associate producer Shubha Bala, Diwali is a time for buying and wearing new clothes — also for sharing a meal with family.
Growing up in Canada, Shubha remembers decorating the house with Christmas lights. This was the first year her parents didn’t give her money to buy new clothes, which, she says, was a little disappointing. One year, she used her Diwali money to buy shoes. Her parents disapproved of this Diwali acquisition so she bought a t-shirt instead. When Shubha recently followed up to ask why shoes are not a Diwali-appropriate purchase, they didn’t offer up a clear explanation other than “it’s just the way it is.” She likens it to how some people say it’s disrespectful to wear a hat to church.
Do you have Diwali memories, stories, or traditions that have been meaningful to you? We’d love to hear about them.
A suspended sign in Bangalore, India. (photo: Saad Faruque/Flickr)
Photo at top: Delhi, India (photo: nowyou33/Flickr)