Please contribute generously

A few days ago someone we met at a party, busy waxing aloud on politics and culture and what not, claimed ignorance of Iftar. I was rather shocked because she didn’t look like a sweet, sheltered, ghetto type.  I put it up on FB and was supported by a wave of friends who agreed that the person probably lived under a rock – what? You get Iftar timings in the newspaper – you may not be interested in them, but surely you’ve flipped past them? What about the constant and rather annoying messages on twitter and FB and SMS about this or that politician’s Iftar party while Anna is fasting. Eh? What has one got to do with the other? Have we all stopped celebrating because Irom Sharmila has been fasting for TEN LONG YEARS? Then? What is your rather silly point? But there were also some who were equally blank. And I was shocked. How could I, you know, I, I the tolerant, secular person that I am, be friends with people who don’t know what Iftar is? I got over myself in 30 seconds flat, thank you, so you needn’t help with that.

I will not be making myself the benchmark because my family went for Diwali parties as well as Iftar with many families, we broke bread with them, we went shopping on Chand Raat and I have bangles in every size and colour that I have kept away for the Bean. Some of my favourite childhood memories are the sheer thrill of being allowed to stay up till late night and walk through the night bazaar, admiring the lights, stopping to eat, wear bangles, put mehendi and buy chadars. Not everyone needed to have attended it, but again – how can you miss such a huge mela in your city! You’d attend or hear of the other melas, then why not this one?

A calmer, wiser friend said, and I quote ” You and I grew up as minorities and even if our parents and we wanted to not know about others (majority of other minorities) we couldn’t not. But it is just easier for a member of a majority to not know about specifics about the minorities in their midst. It’s human nature I think. But now I feel guilty that I’ve burst your bubble ;-) That’s what comes of being an old born dyed-in-the-wool cynic. Listen to your daughter…she makes more sense than me :-)”

If you’re interested in what the Bean said, this is it: Mama, where is your phone with the games? (She means my touchscreen – I sold it and got a BB, yayy!)

Me: I sold it because I didn’t want it, baby. (And because I refused to let them sit there playing games on it).

Bean (stamping her foot in annoyance at the boring BB): Jesus gives us phones and if you sell them off he won’t bless us and give us new phones anymore. Now you have to make it right. See, pray like this. (Sits down, crosses legs and chants OOOOMMMMMM. And then starts to clap and sway and sing ‘Aha dekho nikla chaand…. idhar Eid, udhar Eid’ )

Yes, really. She did that and had me in splits.

A few days later I knew if I mentioned Paryushan, someone or the other would go blank and ask me what I was smoking. No, the excuse that you know nothing about your own religion doesn’t work. Ignorance is never an excuse. I am not a practising anything, but I still can’t claim ignorance as my excuse.

I know it’s a diverse country, I know there is so much to know, but there is always the newspaper and the internet. Maybe its time we put down page three and picked up something more worthwhile. That way we can stop bragging about how diverse our culture is and how we all live in harmony. The truth is we mostly live in ignorance. I plead guilty to it as much as anyone else.

So anyhow, Navroze Mubarak, Happy Rakshabandhan, Eid Mubarak and Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to you all. Now, please come out of hiding, all of you, and tell us something, anything that you’d like to contribute about your culture. Something people have asked you about in the past, something that is uncommon and you’d like to shed light on. We may as well use this platform for something useful!

Pssst: Here’s my sharing. The average Indian Christian doesn’t wear short skirts and stay out late at night imbibing alcohol. Even we are all required to be home by sunset unless there is something important – it is not gender specific, it is just the way it is!

Okay, okay, serious sharing – here’s one that I thought everyone knew, but clearly they don’t. Lent is a period of 40 days of mourning and fasting. It ends with Easter. And oh – you do not wish people Happy Good Friday. That is the day Jesus died and is a day of mourning.

About these ads

288 thoughts on “Please contribute generously

  1. Lovely post. Look forward to all the comments this post will bring in! Should be good learning.
    Here’s my (more than) two cents. Being south Indian Christian, here goes:
    1. Indian Christians do not only speak English – there are as many ‘insert Indian language’ Christians as there are languages in India
    2. Most south (north also, I am guessing!) Indian Christian brides wear sarees. There is also usually a thali/ mangalsutra. Some people wear toe- rings even. There usually is never (bad grammar, that!) a ‘kiss the bride’ sequence. It’s a happy intermingling of the whole religion- region and the cultures that come with it. So yes, we make laddoos, murukkus and vattayappams, in addition to cakes, at Christmas time.
    3. The Roman Catholic way of worship is called a Mass and the Protestant one, a church Service. The ‘wine’ they serve at church is not alcoholic and we do not get high on it :)
    There, done. Will come back if I remember more.

      • My understanding was that only certain Christian denominations used non-alcoholic communion wine – I remember reading that it needs to be “pure” wine, i.e. only made from grapes, and not contain additives – which reduces its shelf life – remember reading about this in the context of a very funny story (One of the Durrell brothers?, can’t remember) about communion wine going off….

          • um – do you mean in India? I got (more) curious and asked a friend who is doing a degree in theology here – she says the Catholic church definitely lays down the law on what wine should be used – it is documented, (I have links, if you want) and has been for centuries. Among Protestant traditions, she said Lutherans do use wine in the rite and that its use is documented but that newer denominations do choose to use non-alcoholic wines.

            • Oh I can only speak for India and CNI churches. Churches abroad are vastly different. It’s why we get so mad at being considered short skirted, alcohol imbibing, kissing in Church types! No idea about Catholic churches – again, far too much nuance for me!

    • That is right – we do not get high on it guys. Definitely not after 2 drops or even a spoonfull of wine.
      I once had somebody tell me that they got high after they received communion at Mahim church. What can you say – Its all in the head :)

      • At regular Sunday Mass (Catholic)wine is not distributed to the laity.It’s only the Blessed Bread (Holy Eucharist) that is distributed.It is only on very special occasions like weddings, First Holy Communion or privately organised Masses for special fuctions that Blessed wine is given to all.That too, the host is mostly dipped in wine & given.

        • Karwa-Chauth is actually not such a big deal in quite a few parts in eastern UP too (even Allahabad, MM!, Benaras, Gorakhpur etc. ), even though it is celebrated with much gusto in western UP. Also, in UP districts bordering Nepal (the tarai region) and in Bihar, non-veg is not a taboo for Brahmins. Fish is consumed very often, as is meat.

          • Oh so you have one too? Around the same time? Okay I wish someone would tell me some festival/ritual where men worship their women or fast for them or something. Come on, in such a huge and diverse country we’ve got to have someone doing right by us women!

          • To add to this KC concept – we have Bheemana Amavasya – Which is the day of worshiping Lord Shiva but then no Moon show and fasting – just a prayer for a good husband and for his healthy long life. And its not done forever – only first 9yrs of marriage or until marriage.

            We also have Nagapanchami – which is praying to Naga for brother’s long healthy life and happiness.
            There – my 2 bits.

  2. The average Iyer girl doesn’t grow long hair, wear mallipoo, likes to live in sarees and surely isnt programmed at birth on how to make idli/dosa/sambar/filter coffee or to follow any other TamBrahm rituals. In fact my idlis are quite the disaster. But on the topic of Ganesh Chaturthi, I am reminded of the fact that I used to love seeing Ganesha idols with a green dhoti. Something very appealing and auspicious about it.

    • She doesn’t? :p Gee, you could have fooled me. But now also tell me what the average Iyer girl does. For instance, I always thought Ganesh Chaturthi was big in Maharashtra and a lesser deal for the rest of the country until you told me your mom makes the modaks.

      PS: why green dhotis? any extra significance?

      • Here is some info on how Ganesh Chathurthi is celebrated in a tambram houselhold. WE don’t do the long celebration culminating in the visarjan. We bring the clay ganesh idol home, with an umbrella and a garland made out of a specific plant (don’t know the name but know that it pops with a sound when you squeeze it :) We then make modak (both the sweet and the salty kind) in addition to appam and vadai. A day later we take the idol to the ocean and let it float away :) The memories of lanes filled with tiny clay ganeshas waiting to be selected to our home brings a smile to me face even today :)

          • The God is coming home to your house, an umbrella is a practical thing to use (no not being completely silly, that is one of the reasons) and all Gods in procession have an umbrella over them for the same reason – it’s a mark of respect as well.
            Look for pics/videos of temple processions – they all have umbrellas and the hand fans called “Chamaram” – the swishy kind…

            • Please tell me more – why is an umbrella a mark of respect? this must be a recent phenomenon then, no? Gods didnt have umbrellas traditionally – say like coconut or jaggery have been around forever.

          • You are sending Ganesh on his journey home to his parents.
            You give him an umbrella for shade. You also pack a modak and curd(?) rice in a small cloth sack for his picnic lunch.

          • an umbrella is a very ancient tradition…for instance, I know surely in Bengalis…(i dont know so much about the other clans) when a shradh is done for somebody an umbrella is always given to protect the person from extreme elements during their journey to heaven ( or maybe to hell…who knows?)

          • Now that we are talking about the umbrellas – we use it during processions too in the church. Two huge red decorated umbrellas are carried by the altar boys just behind the priest.

            In the Jacobite church – we have processions for christmas, easter and many other feasts. I think its more about giving importance, making it grand kinds.

          • Why is an umbrella a recent phenomenon? The chattra/chattri as a symbol of respect, held over important people’s heads is a very ancient motif. Meant the person under the umbrella was important enough to not have to expose him/herself to the elements….not sure if I misunderstood your question altogether.

            • Yeah, well no.. I didn’t mean recent as in yesterday, but somehow I expected each symbol to be as ancient as the elements itself. And you’ve answered my question anyway. Thanks!

  3. ok, here’s one- though they are hindus, oriya kayasta brides ( or wifes, for that matter) dont have to wear a mangalsutra. They can if they like to, of course, its just not a must as it is made out to be in bollywood movies of yore

    Also, there are 2 navratras- one around march and one .. well before diwali. people usually only remember the diwali one, but both are considered equally auspicious.

      • The one during March is the actual Durga celebration. The one in October is when Ram celebrated it.
        Bengalis don’t wear mangalsutra. Its the noa or iron bangle on the left hand. I guess you already knew that.

      • The March one is a celebration of Spring, and is usually only Parvati centric. Some communities in TN also celebrate it – Lalitha-worship mostly (Parvati as Lalitha). The autumn navarathri is not about Rama in th esouth – it is again a celebration of the main Goddesses – among Iyengars, it tends to be the one time Parvati is worshipped in any form at all – First three days to durga, next three to Lakshmi and the last three to Saraswati. No sewing (no use of needle and thread) during the 9 days, and on Saraswati pooja day, NO reading at all – as books were placed in pooja and all reading material was considered as offerings to her. The next day – Vijayadashami – starts with cereminial reading/playing instruments/singing etc. and most teachers of music and dance start s a new item that day. Also an auspicious day to start music/dance…..

      • The one around March I am guessing is Ram Navami ? Bengalis have a celebration around that time too called Basanti Pujo.
        In the Krittibas Ramayana, Rama invokes the goddess Durga in his battle against Ravana. Although she was traditionally worshipped in the spring, due to contingencies of battle, Rama had to invoke her in the autumn akaal bodhan.[12] Today it is this Rama’s date for the puja that has gained ascendancy, although the spring puja, known as Basanti Puja is also present in the Hindu almanac.

        • But then again MM, do we really need to know all these nuances to do with religion ? I mean, I am a Bengali and all the time people from other parts of India are very surprised that Bengali Brahmins eat meat and that we also eat meat during our Pujo. I am very thrilled to dispel their myths and see the surprised look :)

          Also when we just superficially know about other people’s religion the whole meaning is lost and it is fun but just involves a lot of eating/gifts/glitz, not bad but still. Ultimately it just becomes Kajol celebrating Karva Chauth in one more KJo film.

          • No, no. Not at all – but I don’t consider the knowledge of Iftar nuance -if you know they fast and they’re breaking the fast, then you hear the term being used, no?
            how come everyone knows you look at the moon for karva chauth (thank you DDLJ!) but one keeps hearing Iftar in the news and still have no idea? Which is why I asked everyone to come forward with clearing up misconceptions and terms. Why shouldn’t we know about people we live side by side with? It just shows a certain disregard for anyone beyond self. I don’t mean this to anyone personally – but its just crazy that we don’t know so much when we have so many resources at our disposal.

            That said, I am very happy to hear nuance. This is so much fun.

          • No, it is not Iftar that I am talking about.
            It is the nittie gritties that I myself am contributing about Shoshti and such(later comment). These are interesting cultural nuggets but it is not necessary to know everything.

            Also like Diwali, Christmas, Eid now Iftar is also talked about as one more occasion for a party. I think it really is much more than that. My child’s babysitter, a Bangladeshi Muslim, says that back home for Iftar it is more about gathering the less fortunate and breaking bread with them than about “la-di-dah” parties that politicians attend.

            • No no.. not necessary, but definitely fun to know. I might remember enough to pass it on myself, but if someone mentions it, I’ll go ‘Ah, bong mom told me that too!’

          • Kashmiri pandits (brahmins) are also non-vegetarian ( the story goes that since the winters are so severe they have to live on animal meat to survive as no plant based food is available in the snow covered months)

  4. Most Bengalis generally worship the goddess Kali on Dipavali. There are two forms of the goddess. Raksha Kali (the one who protects) and the Shamshan Kali (the one who destroys). The Puja happens at midnight and (especially if you are worshipping Shamshan Kali) you get mutton and alcohol as Prasad.

    Also, the Bengali idea of non-veg food is a little different. Masoor dal is supposed to non-vegetarian. So is rice. And onion and garlic. If you are on a strict vegetarian diet for whatever reasons, you will probably be allowed to have rice, but not the others. (Because who can keep the Bong from having rice? :P)

    Also? “Maachhi” means fly and “maachh” means fish. Therefore, naturally, “machhi bhaat khabo” is wrong. No one wants to have fly and rice!

    • Being married to a Bengali (myself a Punjabi), I quite like the Durga Puja, especially because it is a ‘community puja’. I enjoy the ‘Pushpanjai’, where the crowds gather together and offer flowers during puja. Every year, my in-laws send new set of clothes for their grand-children for the Puja. It is traditional to wear new clothes on all the Puja days, especially the Saptmi, Ashtami and Navmi (and probably Dashmi too)

  5. Hi… I do not know what iftar is… or the significance of Eid… because I have not come in close contact with any Muslims… actually, my parents are Anti Muslims but thats a whole different story.
    But I do know a lot about Christians (I am a Hindu, btw) since I grew up in a convent boarding school… I have been to Mass, know the rosary, a cross used to be a prized possession in school, Mother Mary’s b’day was celebrated as Boarders’ day… etc etc.
    What I mean is… you know about religions you come in contact with… so, not knowing about something is ok. I have stopped celebrating festivals after moving out of home… so they have little signficance except for a good holiday. And there are many people like me… if we do not know about our own religion, how can we know/be interested in others? And that is fine…
    Anyway… Gujarati (since I am from Gujarat) girls fast every year for a period of 5 days for a good husband. Girls even as small as ten years do it… they cannot eat wheat, processed food, veggies etc during this time. It is called “gauri vrat”. On the last day they apply Mehendi and wear new clothes and celebrate. I cannot get into details of the vrat since I could not stay without food for more than day. But it is interesting how it is so common for parents to ask their daughters to fast for a good husband in this day and age.

    • Actually I don’t think its about being interested in religion, either yours or another’s. It’s being interested in people and their culture. If I notice that people around me are celebrating something, I’d like to know about it. If I see a procession or a dharna or a political protest, i’d like to know what their point is. I expected it of all people who are aware, curious, intelligent, concerned, outgoing, meeting people without prejudice … clearly I was wrong and I am going to change that expectation, but not without a little sadness. Precisely because of your first sentence.

      Oh well – moving on – I didn’t know about gauri vrat either. Is it celebrated at the same time as some other festival? would we know it by some other name?

      • wow. I have been through this all my life but I am still amazed and saddened by just how comfortable,no, easy it is so say very publicly “i am or my family is anti-Muslim” without even a sliver of discomfort.

        I think I will understand if you don’t publish this comment MM…

        • No, I’m publishing. As I mentioned, i’m saddened too. This way at least we know what we’re up against. So many people feel that way but will pretend otherwise. I’ve heard plenty of anti-Muslim remarks all my life because people think I’m Christian and would agree/or hear my name think I’m Hindu and imagine I am in agreement.

    • nahi MM theek keh rahi hain yeh behen , our parents ne bhi kaha tha kum zarf ko ziada indulge nahi karo but considering you want to provide a forum tau parho yeh comments.

  6. Sikhs don’t celebrate karva-chauth. Married women don’t wear any kind of mangalsutra. They do wear chuda, toe rings and a nose ring after marriage.
    The chuda is supposed to be worn for 40 days, but some wear it for an year too.

    There is no restriction on women/men entering a gurudwara at any time. I say this because I found it really strange when my class mates(girls ofcourse) were not supposed to enter temple or even the kitchen in their homes during the monthly days or there were some special temples where only very young girls or very old women could go.

    • About the choodha, it has to be ‘sawah’ something. So it’s either 1.25 weeks, or months, or years. No clue what the rationale is and trust me, I asked *everyone* when I got married; nobody knew!

      MM, I get your point, but have you noticed how SO MANY rituals and customs and what’s called “culture” is about women doing things a certain way? I’m yet to read a comment about how men deviate from the standard template for an occasion or life-event. And that’s okay, except a lot of people take that as an excuse to control women and put them in their place. Or maybe that’s all my baggage speaking! The way I look at it, either find out why you’re doing something, figure out the message or intent behind the act or acknowledge that you’re doing it out of habit or because it gives you a sense of importance/identity. But don’t ask me to do it just because it’s always been done that way.

      • No, you’re right. Absolutely right. I am also rather surprised when I see men insisting that a certain ritual be carried out in a certain way, insist on traditional food being cooked etc – because its not their headache to get it done and you see women killing themselves to do it. but its not my place to tell them and i feel really bad.

      • I get where you are coming from, WildChild. But men actually are supposed to follow certain rituals. During Pitra Paksha, rather Shraddha days as they are commonly known, men are supposed to do “tarpan” for the departed souls. Again, the son who gives “mukhagni” (burns the pyre) is supposed to live almost like an ascetic where he cooks food for himself, sleeps on floor etc. And then there is a whole set of rules to be followed for Upanayanam. Phew!
        I think such rules have dwindled over time because the traditional patriarchical society molded them to suit itself. No such luxury for women, though. :(

        • Really?! I had no idea. I’ve only ever seen my mom cook or go to the temple for the Shradhh. In fact, once my Dad had a dream about his mom the night before and he insisted (last minute) that we prepare a grander feast for the priests and give them clothing etc. Guess who had to slave in the kitchen? I’m going to read up on this and make sure he follows it to a tee on the next Shradhh.
          Thank you, Richa!

        • Traditionally, the girl .is supposed to wear chooda for 1.25 months or 1.25 years. A span of 1.25 is considered auspicious in almost all Punjabi traditions. But if the lady gets pregnant while she is wearing Chooda, she is required to get it off before
          delivery of the baby

      • Similar to the chuda (sorry for the spate of comments) are the green bangles that a Kannadiga bride wears when she gets married. A few days before the wedding, the festivities kick off with an auspicious pooja/gathering in which married women (sumangalis) are invited and given gifts of fruits, flowers, bangles and clothes. They bless the bride & her family. The bride is then made to wear green bangles, symbolising fertility. She has to wear it for 16 days after the wedding – during these 16 days, she is forbidden from touching things like the broom, mop, etc, to ensure that she gets a chance to settle into her new household and ‘chill out’ for a bit before taking the plunge into full-scale domestic duties.

        At the wedding, the groom ties the thali/mangalsutra, which is a locket on a yellow thread. Each bride has two of these lockets – one from her mother’s family (tied by the mother/grandmother or an older married woman after the Gowri puja on the morning of the wedding) and one from the husband’s. For sixteen days, she wears these on two separate yellow threads and it’s after that, that the husband’s family gives her a gold chain/black beads chain to put them on. I think it’s a nice way of symbolising the Indian concept of the marriage between two families. There are generally some beads (generlly corals, or sometimes made of gold) between the two pendants – to symbolise the fact that there should be no friction between her mother’s family and the husband’s and that both with get together amicably.

        The sumangali puja I was referring to is performed not just before weddings, but all auspicious occasions – housewarming ceremonies, thread ceremonies, special pujas, etc.

    • I am not sharing anything wise..but what the heck, how did it that woman not know what Iftar is? Is she really living under a huge rock buried in the earth?!

      It is surprising how little people know in India of other religions even though we are a very diverse country. I am South Indian, from Andhra to be specific and Ganesh Chathurthi is celebrating with major fanfare in our home. Most people actually think it is big in Maharastra but it is about as big in Hyderabad where I am from. Even though I am in the US, we take off from work that day and celebrate it and today in our home we had a Christian, a Jew and a few Hindus celebrating with us! Talk about diversity..all in the US too :)!

      • Oops didn’t mean to leave the above as a comment to the comment. That is what happens when you are in a Ganesh Chathurthi induced food come while you type :)!

  7. Really nice post. I am very impressed with the way Bean taught you to pray! :)
    You know growing up, I saw my mother celebrate all festivals. Ganesh Chathurthi was really big in my house and I didn’t even know that many staunch Iyengars don’t celebrate it. We used to go buy a clay “pillayar” and I used to decorate it and also make one with wet clay myself. Only after I came to the U.S. I met some people who claim to be “Veera Vaishnavas” (staunch) and will not even enter a temple with iyer gods – funny as the term sounds – like Shiva, Muruga, Ganesha and so on. It is strange for me when very young people use such terms and say they won’t ever enter a non vaishnavite temple. One woman said she doesn’t eat eggs because she is a veera vaishnavite (but will eat cakes and muffins made with eggs!). I founds these things so strange because my mother who grew up in a very traditional Iyengar household that followed every Iyengar tradition to the dot was so broad minded (when she was running her household) and we have been to churches and Vailankanni temple for prayers and I have celebrated Ramzaan with my close muslim friends…and here in the U.S. I got to know how these parochial attitudes run so strong and deep in people when it comes to religion.

    • I have noticed that people get more staunch when they move away from home. Friends who had to be dragged by their mothers to sit for a puja have set up entire mandirs in their homes and follow rituals to the dot now that they are abroad.

    • oh snap! I was aware that our family was unusual in celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi, and it’s interesting to find some more folks in the same boat…we even had much angst among older folks in the family (heard at third hand from parents :)) when we gave our daughter an “Iyer” name! :) :)

        • You bet there are! My name is almost exclusively Iyengar, (or Bengali :)) Uma, Lalita, Aparna (all names of Parvati, Shiva’s consort, thus not, traditionally, iyengar names – all Iyer. Female names of rivers – Iyer. Male names from previous generations (nowadays everyone has “modern, short names!) very clearly identified Iyer vs. Iyengar. Whole ‘nother topic :)

  8. Maharashtrians celebrate Naag-dive (diva is diya/lamp in Marathi) – a little known festival where mothers do an aarti of their children. Now, the aarti is not done with typical diyas, instead the cotton wick dipped in ghee is lit on a piece of sweet or a katori if the sweet is say kheer. Every child is assigned a naagdiva or a sweet dish at her first naagdiva. Mothers, grandmothers do this aarti every year around Dasera/Diwali and age doesnt matter! My grandmother does an aarti for my mom with a katori of basundi/rabdi as my mom does my aarti with a gulab jamun. :) And some of my cousins have two naagdivas – one traditional, elaborate Indian sweet which you make at home (e.g puran poli/chiroti) and one easy to make/buy (shrikhand/barfi).

      • Hey MM

        The Bongs have a child puja too. Ask your Bong part of family. Usually it is one of the Shoshthis done every few months. In one of them the Mother is supposed to fan the kids with a “hand fan”, offer five kind of fruits and flowers, new clothes, utter some mantra, tie an yellow thread and put a tika of turmeric +yogurt. I never gave it a thought until had my own kids and was far from home.
        I do it in my own way, the fan is the part I like but this year lost the only hand-fan we had and so I just did the other part :) These are strictly rituals though I must say and every household has like tons of them. Most of my Bong friends don’t do it (their parents mostly still do) and really i do it for fun of it.

          • I don’t even know the Puja part of it, there is a verse which is more like a nursery rhyme in plain colloquial Bangla that my Mom or Ma-in-law utters over the phone and I say “ditto” :-D
            You should actually do it, you sure have a great haat pankha too :-D For the record my 7 year old does not much enjoy it and absolutely hates to put on the tika.

          • Oh yes! My mother does this for me STILL! I was away from home this Shoshthi, and my mom saved the haat-pakha and fanned me with it after I went down almost two months later! However, most Bong households also celebrate ‘Jamai-Shoshthi’ on that day. I don’t know the Puja part behind it, but nowdays it basically boils down to inviting your son-in-law, giving him new clothes, and stuffing him with good food. I wonder why there isn’t a ‘Bou-Shoshthi’ too. There should be! Really!

        • There you go. BongMom said it. Better :) I forgot all about the haathpakha. There is this whole story about a poor woman, her children, cats being killed, and a God of course, thats read out to the kids of the house, on the Jamai Shosti day. Now that I think of it, all members in the son/daughter/in laws category are basically fed and pampered that day. Maybe the Jamai part of the name is just to satisfy the male ego :)

      • Hey this child worshiping thing is a part of the south indian navrathri celebration. Young girls who have not attained puberty are considered a form of Durga Devi and they are given all auspicious things like bright colored bangles,kum kum,blouse bits and of course the famous south silk paavadai (just a long skirt in silk to be worn with a separate silk blouse). These girls are called Kanyas. Actually people organise a special pooja at home called Pondugal (which means ‘young girls’, I think) to which these girls are invited. Lavish south indian food follows.
        You must see the attention these girls get! the boys are so ignored- i used to enjoy that! :-P and the big thing is ‘WHO GOT THE BEST PAAVADAI IN TOWN?’. lol

      • There is a festival called Hoi that’s celebrated close to Holi where mothers worship sons and fast for them. There is a pot of rice decorated with a specific mala for every male child that is worshipped. I am glad to say my mom celebrates this for all her children (two girls one boy) regardless of their gender :)

  9. I’m on a roll :) (I promise – I find the subject fascinating, and have all kinds of (generally pointless) knowledge about religious traditions :) )

    A generic one, at a very high level: among tambrams, there is usually confusion about just when exactly a festival is to be celebrated. Iyers, Iyengars, and even different communities within them often have different dates of Krishnashtami, for example. This is caused by the definition of the festival: Most Hindu communities celebrate the Ashtami – the day of Krishna’s birth, calculated using the more common lunal Hindu calendar. Tambrams (and some communities in Karnataka and AP) use a solar calendar – and Krishnastami is celebrated like anyone else’s birthday – i.e. the day of the star – so the day the Rohini star is ascendant, in the month of Bhadrapada (Purattasi in Tamil). Usually the dates aren’t too different – maybe a day off – but I have known years where the day is off by a week or so :) So takeaway – dates of most major festivals are dependent on the calendar followed (solar/lunar) and the star vs day of observation.

      • The Tamil calendar is solar (that followed by tambrams, as well as all other communities in TN) – as is that of some other communities in the southern states. From casual observation, the tambram calendar seems to align most closely with the Bengali calendar, if you want a point of reference.

        • Telugus use the Lunar calendar – or at least, that is part of the reason why their wedding ceremony happens in the middle of the night (of course, it could apply only to some communities and not all).

        • Yes M, you are right .Havyaka Brahmins (from Karnataka) also follow the Solar Calendar.They celebrate Vishu as their new year (also called Souramana Ugadi-the other Ugadi which the rest of the state celebrates is the Chandramana Ugadi).

          • So do Iyengars from AP – they celebrate both Ugadis. And folks from Srirangam celebrate both Ugadis too, whether they follow the lunar calendar or the solar calendar. Tamil New year is around the same time as Vishu/Bengali new year/baisakhi (Until Karunadhi got into it and decided to change it, but I understand that hasn’t caught on)…usually April 14th.

    • Clarify question pls – do you mean, why jaggery vs. sugar? That is simple – sugar is an interloper :) Most festive food goes back to traditional products and foreign vegetables/fruits/condiments are forbidden for specific events. This includes veggies common today, like tomatoes/potatoes/bhindi/cabbage/green beans etc. We use tamarind/arbi/any of the Indian beans like guvar/flat beans etc. And there are variations of course…in traditional cooking, jaggery was the sweetener of choice – other traditional forms of sugar (like rock sugar) were either too expensive for cooking or change composition when heated (palm sugar). Cane sugar is also considered non-veg by traditional folks, since it is (probably was, nowadays) clarified through bone char.

      Coconut – come on, EVERYTHING tastes better with coconut! :) It is ubiquitous in southern cooking, no reason it shouldn’t be part of sweets as well!

      • Not vs sugar – I just mean so prevalent in food everywhere? And yes you’ve answered my question although you will get hot argument from my husband as well as a couple of others from the South. they can’t stand coconut and cooking for them is a challenge!

        • Oh individual tastes have always diverged – and funnily enough I’ve met more men than women who dislike coconut. I imagine that since the recipes were created by women, they picked stuff that they decided was suitable to the palate.. and yes, for your husband’s community, coconut does feature rather more heavily than in tambram cooking, where it is rather easily avoided (just leave it out, most dishes taste fine) – but dishes with coconut milk as the base for the gravy don’t have any real substitute unfortunately :)

          Jaggery common in everything: jaggery in savoury dishes isn’t common by any means – it is only a feature in Karnataka (some communities) and a very small section of TN. Your husband’s community/part of the state is a prime offender in that regard (yes, I dislike jaggery in dishes that are *not* meant to be sweet :))

          I don’t fight with people who dislike coconut – my attitude is Great, more for me! :)

      • Don’t know if anyone has answered your questions on coconut as i did not read thru all the comments :) It is a symbolization of breaking your ego. When the hard outer shell is broken, it symbolizes that you give up your ego and surrender to god. This is what i was told as a kid, curious to know if some one an tell me what else it signifies.

    • Jaggery because really sugar is refined and all and in the days these rituals started there was no sugar, jaggery was the primary sweetener.

      Coconut, because I think in the coastal areas, this was a fruit which defined completeness, with every part of it being put to good use. Also it stored well.I don’t think people from Kashmir or the NorthEast would use Coconut for their pujas

      • But they do! My dad’s family is from Punjab and mom’s from UP, and I’ve seen the coconut being used as an offering (and later distributed as prasad) all the time. No clue why.

        I know it’s given to brides and just-married women since it symbolizes fertility, but pujas? God only knows.

        MM, thank you for this post. I’m getting answers to so many questions I had as a child!

    • MM, I love coconuts! they remind me so much of childhood and home!
      Now, they are sacred and used in every pooja because they are considered the fruit of the Gods. The three dot like things on the dehusked coconut are considered to be Shiva’s eyes (yes, Shiv ji has 3 eyes – the 3rd eye is called Netrikkan which I guess opens when he is angry). Coconut placed on an earthen pot is called Purnakumbha (Kumbh meaning the pitcher) – it resembles the womb I am told which symbolises life and divinity.

      Regarding jaggery, I found this interesting material. It says:
      “Man’s life may be compared to a stalk of sugar cane. Like the cane, which is hard and has many knots, life is full of difficulties. But these difficulties have to be overcome to enjoy the bliss of the Divine, just as the sugarcane has to be crushed and its juice converted into jaggery to enjoy the permanent sweetness of jaggery”

    • Don’t know about jaggery but I’ve heard that coconut is used because it somehow symbolises akshay something .. basically every part of it is used for something and it never goes bad .. the dry coconut (also called gola) is given to the brother on bhaiduj (in parts of UP at least) to wish long life for him.

  10. I am delurking for the first time because it has been so interesting to read all of this!! The whole month of Shravan (Hindu calendar Aug-Sep) is considered auspicious and is choc a bloc with festivals – Narali poornima (the sea is worshipped by fishermen, marking the start of the fishing season; observed by making a sweet dish with coconut), Raksha bandhan, Nag Panchami (where some communities worship the snake with milk) and Ganesh chaturthi.
    Maharashtrians/ Konkanis follow three rituals during Ganesh chaturthi – the first is a ‘vayana’ pooja where married women exchange a platter of coconut, bangles, flowers, comb etc with each other. The second is Lord Ganpati’s day where a mini feast of his liking is prepared and offered to him (my mom used to ask us kids to leave the pooja room for 5 minutes after the aarti so Ganpati could have modaks in peace and without embarassment :) this is how much He is loved!!!!) and finally Rishi Panchami (day of seven rishis) where a special vegetable stew is made and grains are not used. ……..

    • …….jaggery because it is a pure form of sweetener, coconut because it is the fruit of the coconut tree (which is revered btw – Kalpataru) and more practically perhaps, because it grows in abundance in those regions.

    • At our place, it is not just married women that exchange platters, very young girls do, too… Only they contain chocolates, small bangles, bindi packets. I am thinking of including a book and a pencil too for my Moonbeam’s platter :)

  11. Everyone offered Indian festivals. Since I grew up in Singapore, let me offer some others.

    Ohh I didnt know the word Iftar. My friends use the word puasa :)

    I found it strange that so many Indians(so far I have heard) complain of smelly Chinese supermarkets. Its not smelly. Just different. There, that was my rant.

    Anyways, during Chinese New Year, we will visit our Chinese friends ad neighbours bringing Tangerines and clementines. Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively.

    My mom is from UP and she celebrates Teej. I figured I gave my spouse 4 kids and thats good enough for his long life. I do neither Teej nor Karva Chauth.

    This has got nothing to do with festivals but if you are using chopsticks. NEVER EVER stick the chopsticks upright in your plate/bowl of food. Its the worst thing to do. The Chinese say it looks like joss sticks one uses when praying to their dead ancestors.

    • I cant believe Indians call markets smelly. our markets are as smelly as the next person’s!
      Nice to learn the chopstick tip – my kids do it all the time. I should tell them not to. Also, tell me, are joss sticks only used when people die then? Not the way that we light them all the time for a pleasant smell?

      • err….in defence of the other side, most of those complaining, IME, have been vegetarians complaining about the strong smell of fish in Chinese markets. Most meat/fish markets in India are separate from the vegetable markets – and most Indian stores in the US are run by Gujarati Patels and are mostly vegetarian stores – there are a few that cater to the subcontinental non-veg market by stocking halal meat etc. but my non veg Hindu friends tell me they prefer to get their meat from American markets and prefer that the Indian store be veggie-only as they can’t be sure the desi stores follow proper meat handling/storing practices!

        From personal experience I find the meat sections of local grocery stores don’t have as much of a smell as that of Chinese markets – maybe something to do with the way the meat is packed or stored? One exception – whenever the store has crab in stock (King crab legs) – then yes, there is a very distinct odor about the whole store :)

        M (waiting to be crucified by the meat-eaters :))

  12. Here’s one: Tam Brahms do all eat thayir sada (curd rice) – yes, our parents force it on us when young but guess what? We develop our own tastes as we mature. Also just because I am Tam Brahm, please do not call me Maami!
    Also just because I am Tam Brahm does not mean I am religious – I for border on atheism!
    Not sure if this fits in with the rest of your post, but I thought it should be out there :)
    Hope you SIl is doing better now!

  13. This is certainly fun! I’m doing a little jig too, since I had Muslims, Catholics, Konkani Brahmins etc as friends through school and college, I know many of the points mentioned :).

    Anyway, so here’s my contribution. The Kerala Nair (including surnames like Menon, Nambiar, Pillai, Kurup, Kartha and more) community was one of the few Hindu matriarchal communities in Asia (of course, with legislation and integration, inheritance/marriage etc have become more fair). Even so, in my family, there is an annual puja seeking blessings for healthy female progeny, and my m-i-l, grandmom-i-l were a tad disappointed when I had a boy.
    Also, our weddings are really quick (15-20 mins max, blink and you miss it); it’s a purely social affair with no religious rituals/priests involved. There is also no agni – only a few brass lamps lighted.

    • woo hooo!!!!!! And we found the function for the girls. I have always felt that I should have been born Punjabi and married to a Mallu or the other way around, but definitely maintained that combination. Yes I know the weddings are short – have never managed to attend one, but would love to.

      • @dee – I didn’t know about the puja for girl progeny..is that universal to all Nairs or specific to your family? My family is very un-ritualistic and we’ve never had pujas etc, so thats probably why I don’t know about this. But yes, we practice still matriarchy in a small way, most kids in our family take on their mother’s last name and women don’t change their names after marriage. We also have men stay in their wives’ ancestral homes or live with the wives’ parents…its all cool!

        • Actually, I want to make a small correction there…Nairs are a martilineal soceity…not really matriarchal. Back in the day, in traditional nair household the mother’s brother, Ammavan, was the head of the household or the Karnavar (NOT the mother). So the head of the family was still a man, just not the father.
          Also back in the day, Nair women were allowed to marry up (brahmins) and could practice polyandry! They continued to live in their ancestral homes after marriage and the husband (s) visited.

        • I know the puja (basically an offering to Devi, the mother goddess) was started by my paternal family; apparently, they had always been short of girls :P. My grandparents revived it when they had 3 boys in a row, and after a few years, my aunt was born :)
          And you’re right, matrilineal is probably more accurate; and women generally enjoyed more prestige and respect than in traditional patriarchal families.

      • If you attend one, try not to blink when you see the bride and the groom standing in pose. Else, you might miss seeing it, though you attended one. Its really that quick. All it involves is – tie the tali (essentially a leaf shaped locket on a yellow thread) around the bride’s neck – exchange of malas – exchange of bouquets – kanyadan – three rounds around the lamp. The main part is the tying of the taali.

        • LOL! So mean – try not to blink indeed! I think its great to keep it short and sweet. In UP the weddings go on forever and the groom’s friends usually bribe the pandit to skip parts so that it wraps up fast. I hear TamBram weddings are even longer.

        • Originally, there was just a single ritual, the groom gifting the bride with one complete set of clothes(saree, blouse etc called the pudava). Thali, malas, pheras etc were added due to influences from other communities.

  14. I loved reading about the nuances of every culture. I’m highly observant and observe these things. I have 2 things to add.

    1. A lot of knowledge about religions/castes/practices/lingo depends on the place you come from. I come from Bangalore, grew up in a very traditional Iyer family. But words like TamBrahm or non Brahmin were never used much in my house. My dad runs a business and we have all kinds of people coming and going. Of course, my grandmother had her prejudice, wth, I’m sure we do too. But, it wasn’t a big thing. We knew it was a bias and were uncomfortable about it.

    When I went to study, though I found other Tamilians – I never spoke in Tamil initially because I’ve always grown up speaking English to friends or Kannada at best. I just said one word in Tamil to a friend who is from Chennai. From her name, you wouldn’t know she and I belonged to the same caste and who thought of these things when you are in a hostel, really! But I had someone ask me right after I spoke the word, if I was a Brahmin. For a good minute, I was speechless. No one’d had ever asked me. I hadn’t even given it a thought to think of how offensive it might be. All I could think was ” how did this person know!?!?” My name surely doesn’t reveal my caste or even my mother tongue. Only on a little research, I realized in states like Tamil Nadu, thanks to the kind of politics (DMK, AIADMK), awareness about caste is high. In Karnataka, though we have had Brahmin ministers or Vokkaligas or Lingayats, beyond the media and a certain sect of the community talking about it, no one really bothered. So, this was certainly an eye opener for me!

    2. I wanted to talk about Kanu. I don’t know if all Tamilians celebrate this. I know TamBrahms do coz we do. Kanu is a festival right after Sankranti/Pongal where we pray for our mothers’ houses, our brothers and their families. Girls pray for the well being of their ‘maika’ and their Mamas. So we go up on the terrace or balcony, place turmeric leaves and leave balls of leftover pongal(s), kumkum rice, turmeric rice, a sour berry (forget the kind!), curd rice (but of course :D), some sugarcane, a banana – all divided among the number of women/girls present and sing a ditty that goes something like this: “Kaaka kum Narikum kalayanam, nee vazharaaple, naa vaazhanum.” (Kaaka = crow, nari = fox. kalyanam = marriage. I should live the way you live) I’m assuming this is a reference to different kinds of families coming together but living in harmony like animals in nature. (Someone correct me?) Girls also go to their parents’ houses for lunches on this day. Then, my mum used to rub turmeric root (we each had a piece) on our side burns and forehead and we had to wash our hair that day and use that turmeric root to rub (on stone floor or pumice stone) and extract and use it. Whatever happens, my mum doesn’t let me miss this festival.

    3. Kannadigas have Naga Panchami where the sisters pray for their brothers – I think this is a South Indian version of Rakhi – something similar if not the same. My aunt always calls my dad and all of us for lunch and gives him gifts every year :)

      • They rub turmeric on the sideburns and between the eyebrow because its something they recommend doing everyday to reduce hair growth in these areas. South Indian women esp in TN (not all women) apply turmeric on their face as there is a belief that it reduces unwanted hair growth. I think that is the reason.

    • Some UP-ites celebrate Naag Panchami too, and it’s exactly like Bhaiya Dooj (or Rakshabandhan without the rakhi). My mom and her siblings used to do it but my generation doesn’t. It was always on a school day and they figured Rakhi and Bhaiya Dooj were enough. Growing up, we always assumed you had to be adults to do the Naag Panchami teeka!

      • Really? Naag Panchami is something like bhai dooj? that is news to me. So what is the naag angle to it? I know snakes are worshipped and milk used to be put out at all the big trees around our locality. Didn’t realise there was more to it. Tell me why they have this along with raksha bandhan?

        • Oh, sexist angle! Sorry to disappoint!!
          The RITUAL is the same as Bhaiya Dooj (tilak/mouli/aarti/mithai), but here it’s not for them to offer you protection. It’s for you to wish that your brothers be safe – from naags and from evils in general. Similar to what women do for men heading out to war.

          • Oh! There is a kid angle too to Nagapanchami in UP! Small girls used to make dolls out of rags, and then go out in the fields and the brothers used to beat the dolls with sticks back to rags. And the girls used to distribute some soaked grains. Now that I look back, the doll-beating feels so cruel! :(

          • I looked it up and the “dolls” are supposed to be snakes, apparently! :)
            So the idea is destruction of / victory over snake-kind by mankind. This festival sounds weirder with each comment that comes in. It’s not about respecting another species (or their power) but beating the cr@p out of them or wishing that the men in your family stay safe from their attack. Even the milk and offerings are only a means to appease them.

    • I have had someone ask me that. I said I dont know. Then that person asked my spouse’s caste. And I scream across NK, hey what cast are you. This lady is curious.
      Nk was embarassed, that lady was embarassed and I could care less.

      I was never invited to that particular group function ever again! Which suits me just fine.

  15. Kumari pujo among Bengalis. A young (pre-pubescent) Brahmin girl is selected as Ma Durga incarnate. Ashtami morning during Durga Pujo, she is adorned and venerated as the goddess Herself.
    One of my cousins was the Kumari once. It’s a bee-yoo-ti-ful sight! I’m not sure if it’s comfortable to sit for hours and being prayed to, though :|
    The kumari pujo at Belur Math (or any Ramakrishna Mission, really) is quite famous. It’s telecast live.
    This is one of my favourite comment threads ever. I learnt something new with every comment! :) My roomie back in university was a Syrian Christian, and she told me about their weddings. It’s the loveliest amalgamation of the Indian and the Western cultures. I’d love to attend one someday (She got married when I had a very important presentation, so I couldn’t make it to Kerala :( )

    • Yes, I’ve seen the kumari puja and its lovely.
      There is also one festival/ritual I forget what its called, where you feed young pre-pubescent girls no? Can anyone tell me what the significance of that is?

      • We? (checks with Ma) I don’t think so, not among Bengalis at any rate. That said, I remember this happening somewhere (and even being a part of it!) During Navratri perhaps?

      • The kanjakaas, you mean? Same thing. They are considered incarnations of the goddess (for Punjabis, usually Vaishno Devi). It’s done on the ashtami, or Navmi for baniyas. I remember counting my loot on the ashtami, and then consoling myself that I’d be able to keep up with my school friends since I had so many more Goel/Aggarwal/Mittal neighbors!

        I don’t know where the stigma against puberty comes from, though!

        • Ah. yes. that is the word I was looking for and I’ve seen it happen a lot. The Bean has been invited for a couple when we were in Delhi and the Brat was most upset that he didn’t get a steel plate to bring home with sweets :)

          • Some Iyers do this too, to add to your database (or confusion!) I was invited as a kid, to many such, and always revelled in the “loot” :)

          • I knowwww! My brother would be made the ‘lainkdaa’ as consolation but he’d CRY because nobody would invite him! Every house had its own crying lainkdaa :D and you only need one!

      • During navarathri we do kanya puja that is very similar to the kumari pujo. My mom invites 5,7,9, 11(odd numbers, as many as she can find) young pre-pubescent girls and do their puja, feed them and give them new clothes, bangles, flowers and gifts. They are for that day considered a true physical presence of the god. Amma would wash their feet, apply turmeric, sandalwood and kumkum on them, adorn them with flowers and do the namaskaram to the little kids. It is beautiful to watch :)

  16. M, as for your question on the wine served at churches – I am not really sure it changes according to denominations. I know a number of places where nuns make wines and ‘supply’ (for want of a better word) them to the Protestant church as well. But yes, like MM said, far too much nuance! :)

  17. TamBrahms (definitely Iyers, not sure about the Iyengars) have a different sweet and savoury dish that is made for every festival. It pays to have a TamBrahm friend (especially one whose Paati lives with them) – now I happily wait to get my kozhukattais (the tamil modaks) tomorrow.

    • Maia, all tambrams live for food :) Some would say, all Brahmins live for food – there’s even an aphorism to that effect – so yes, different special menus for every festival. Keeps the cook from getting bored, I suppose.

  18. For Tamil Iyers’, our biggest festival, even bigger than Diwali is the Varalakshmi vratham (Lakshmi puja). We don’t do Lakshmi Puja during Diwali. And not everybody does the Varalakshmi vratham. It is family specific and has to be handed down to you by your mother-in-law. Lots of food gets made, the puja is an hour long, you do it wearing the nine yards you wore on your wedding day and in the evening you invite at least 5 women for haldi-kumkum.

    • Well, in many S.Indian brahmin traditions, Diwali isn’t very important from a religious POV. There are many others that are more important, such as V.Vratham for Iyers, Sree Jayanti (Krishnashtami) and Karthigai for Iyengars and so on. Diwali is just the most visible and fun festival around – it was/is rather a liberating one for us actually – no specific pooja to be performed, rather small list of mandatory foods (lots of optionals though, which is what made it fun) and the crackers…we never lit diyas on Diwali, when growing up – lights were reserved for Karthigai. Incidentally the reason for Diwali is different among Tambrams: it is naraka chaturdashi – the celebration of Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon Narakasura. (and yes, this is one of the celebrations in the multi-day N.Indian Diwali) – but the tamil version stops with that. One day wonly.

      • Diwali is North Indian only? I thought South Indians did the traditional oil bath at 4am and lit lamps and patakas. Are you done confusing me or do you want to throw in something else?

        • No, we do the 4 am bath and patakas – lamps, other than the pooja lamp, are optional and are seen as a newfangled N.Indian innovation in some more traditional homes. As CA pointed out, this is specific to tambrams – Karnataka celebrates 3 days of Diwali. (Which was great growing up – we got a longer holiday!)

          • Uh! Just want to add that its not specific to Tambrahms. Am a brahmin and not a tambrahm and we also have the 3 days of Diwali with lights and 4am bath.

        • In Coastal Karnataka, Konkanis celebrate Diwali for 3 days. First day would be cleaning of bathrooms, decorating tubs, mugs, taps with flower garlands, decorating bathroom walls, worshiping well and they also have fish fry (just the way they take oil bath, they give fish oil bath too). Second day, early morning taking oil bath, visiting temples. Third day used to be ‘Go Pooja’, that is worshiping cow. All three days, lights and lamps are lit all around the houses early morning and late evenings.

      • M, does Karthigai Deepam qualify as a festival? Its my favorite! The weather in December in Madras is just right, the houses are oh- so – beautifully lit up and it all smells and looks and feels so dreamy and beautiful! Is that specific to a community? Tell us more.

        • Hi Maia, that is my favourite too… the whole city looks lovely.. I am not sure if it is specific to a community but I have seen all Tamil hindus celebrate it. Again there is a small difference between how Brahmins and others celebrate it I guess. I have seen my Brahmin neighbours light an Agal deepam all through the Karthigai month.
          My best memories of Karthigai are decorating the house with my neighbour’s kids (they follow islam) and having a building competition in our colony (among the kids ofcourse) on whose building looks the best..

          Another favourite month of mine is ‘Margazhi’, the Tamil month that falls in Dec/Jan. Almost all the houses have huge kolams drawn early in the morning and there are early morning bhajans sung. My parents would wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and do pooja the whole month, till the first day next month ‘Thai’ which is Pongal!!

          MM, my other favourite festival is Ramzan.. Though am a vegetarian I love love love the deserts that they make for Ramzan, also the ‘Nombi Kanchi’ that my neighbour gives us every evening :D. This year mom was saying that Aunty had not given it and she asked for it..

          • They are they are.. but with me living in an apartment most times.. During Margazhi I have seen people come down the building and almost decorate the roads with big kolams.. And most times its a collaborative effort between all the families in the building..

            If I have to explain better, on normal days kolam is a ‘anchu pulli or 7 pulli’ (5 or 7) affair and not much thought is put in.. But in margazhi and special days they are an elaborate affair.. much thought is put into it.

            Again this is just the city culture am talking about.. There should be other places where kolam is an elaborate affair everyday

          • Nope, kolams are drawn everyday – the large, involved ones are a Margazhi special. Areas in TN go all out – Srirangam for example.
            BTW, another tidbit about kolams is that the one drawn for festive occasions by tambrams is always the same – and also identifies Iyer vs. Iyengars – it’s called a padi kolam.

        • Maia, it certainly does – and is unique in that it is a Tamil festival with origins before/apart from vedic Hinduism – thus its popularity across what used to be the old Tamil regions (parts of Kerala and all of TN). Like Murugan worship in TN – it crosses caste barriers. It celebrates the story of the contest between Brahma and Vishnu, with Siva as interlocutor – Vishnu won the contest. I made only a brief mention in my Diwali comment, but the whole house-decorated-with-lights thing is done on Karthigai, not Diwali. A few token crackers are burst that day as well. As usual there are specific sweets (pori urundai) and savouries. As a child in Bangalore, growing up in an area without too many other Tamilians around, I found Karthigai a wierd festival, it’s come into its own for me now as an adult :)

          • Kolams are drawn everyday and is supposed to be drawn at brahma muhurtham. In the month of margazhi, the ozone layer descends closer to the other and the oxygen is supposedly rich. Hence the early morning waking up and walking out for bhajans and going to the temples tradition. I think the big kolams was a way to keep the ladies outside so as they get some of the benefits too. On the topic of kolams – they are supposed to be drawn using hte rice flour and the objective is for the ants to be able to feed from.

  19. Raksha bandhan and Holi are not big in the south. Equivalents of Raksha bandhan are “Nagarapanchami” (where snake God is worshipped) or “Sodara Bidige” (performed the 4th day of Diwali)
    Equivalent of Karva Chauth is “Swarna Gowri Pooja” in Karnataka. It is celebrated a day before Ganesha Chaturthi. Brothers / parents gift their sisters / daughters during Swarna Gowri pooja … and sisters gift the brothers during Sodara Bidige or Nagarapanchami.

  20. MM, I love this comment trail. Mainly because, quoting you “It’s being interested in people and their culture.”
    I used to have both Christian and Muslim neighbours, so I used to look forward to all festivals with anticipation (:D ofcourse for the food)

  21. Wow! Very interesting! M have covered many tambram rituals!

    Among Tamil Iyers ( Iyengars too I think) we do something called ‘sumangali prarthanai’. It is usually done before doing any major family function like a wedding. It is a strictly ‘ladies only’ affair, where the lady ancestors of the family who passed away as ‘sumangalis’ (meaning, not widows) are remembered & prayed to bless the family. In our home, we used to decorate a mirror with jewels, new saree, flowers etc. The daughter of the house is the most important person in this function. Without her present there can be no Sumangali Prarthanai. All Sumangali ladies from the family are invited. They have to wear the traditional 9 yards. The lady host has to wash their feet & appy turmeric & Nalangu ( mix of lime & turmeric gives a dark red colour. This is applied like a Mehandi) and invite them. After the pooja is done, the eldest daughter gets to wear the new saree for which the puja is done( the other daughters get new sarees too) & everyone is fed a traditional feast. Along with the normal dishes, every family has a few dishes that have to be made as ‘tradition’. Those are said to be the favorite dishes of the female ancestors.
    In some families if an ancestor had passed away as Sumangali before reaching puberty ( lots of child marriages at that time as we know), a pre-pubescent girl from the family is treated as Goddess & is offered new clothes, bangles etc.

  22. Sigh, I feel left out. I was raised Hindu but have been an atheist since I was 17. And my husband was raised Catholic but is agnostic. As a result, the kids have not really been exposed to religion except for both grandmas talking about it occasionally. We don’t really celebrate any of the festivals but I do want to choose a few to celebrate in a secular way — I just haven’t done anything out of sheer laziness. :(

  23. Loved the comments on this post. Learnt so many new things. Thank you MM. Since no one mentioned it before here. Tam-brams (Iyers I know) celebrate Karadaiyan Nonbu sometime in March. I think it is also called Savitri Vratham. Like all other festivals I grew up with this one is making the kara-adai/vella adai and praying for the longevity of your spouse. All women and girls tied a yellow thread akin to mangal sutra around their neck after the puja. Growing up I remember being embarrassed to go to school the next day because I would be teased.

    Link to the festival: http://www.subbuskitchen.com/2009/03/karadayan-nonbu.html

  24. I am confused about all the different last names, Iyer, Iyengars, Nair.

    You know for the longest time, all I thought about India and its languages was Tamil and Hindi being spoken. And I thought being Punjabi meant you were a Sikh because in Singapore all Punjabis were sikhs.

    Anyways, the chinese only light the big joss sticks for ancestral table and or the burning hell’s money. Not for smells. Ohh a good one, burning of paper goods for offerings(elaborate houses and cars and food and money) will ensure your loved one has all these things in their next life. My dad always told us NEVER to step on the ashes or the paper money. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joss_paper

  25. :) Wow, this has been interesting MM and iftar caught my eye! I’m a Hyderabadi Muslim and here goes misconception#1: a lot of us speak a dialect of Urdu that’s coloquially called “Hyderabadi” and may or may not know Telugu

    misconception #2: there is more to Hyderabadi cuisine than biryani and haleem :( For more information and amazingly authentic recipes (for biryani and haleem recipes as well) check out: http://zaiqa.net (and no, I don’t run the site or know its owner)

    and misconception #3: This is related to your comment about iftar and is a clarification that I have to make so often that I sometimes just give up and let it go. In fact, someone in the comments just said the same thing…

    So misconception #3: Eid is the festival, Ramadhan is actually an exercise in abstinence and gratefulness. (Of course, going by the melas and the varieties of food prepared, it may be a festival for many people)

    Ramadhan (or Ramzaan/ Ramazan) is a holy month of the Islamic lunar calendar where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and do not eat or drink anything (yes not even water) . Eid (ul-Fitr (the other Eid being Bakr Eid)) is celebrated to mark the end of Ramadhan/the month of fasting and is celebrated on the first of the next lunar month, Shawwal. So if you want to greet someone on Eid, please say Eid Mubarak or Happy Eid and not Happy Ramadhan! Besides being incorrect, it makes me sigh and miss Ramadhan :(

    And can I throw in one more? The burkha doesn’t have to be black in colour, it’s just supposed to be an outer garment. For example, lookie here: http://www.shukr.com
    I have to do all I can to stop myself from rolling my eyes when people ask me if I’m from Malaysia because I wear a non-traditional one. 100% Indian, people! (and no, please don’t ask me if I support Pakistan at India vs. Pakistan cricket matches like “all Muslims” or if my father beats me into wearing the hijab)

    MM, you rock! And hope your SIL gets better soon, insha’allah.

  26. Great post MM ! I got to know so much about other state festivals. In telugu community, during Pongal/Sankranti we have Bhogi festival one day before Pongal. Many girls draw beautiful muggu/rangoli during this time and they are decorated with colours and gobbemmalu ( which is made of cowdung, haldi and kumkum with a flower on top of it). There is a scientific significance for using the cowdung. It is also mixed with water to spray on the mud before they put the rangoli. On the morning of Bhogi, they have bhogi mantalu which is a sacred bonfire and we can see people singing and dancing around the fire. It is a beautiful sight to watch. These traditions are mostly obesrved in small towns and villages only due to lack of space in cities.

    Another important ritual on the day of Bhogi is Bhogi Pallu where they gather the kids of the household(usually young kids below the age of 5 or 7) and shower them with an assortment of fruits, flowers and some coins on them. The fruit is usually the indian jejube fruit. This is a ritual for kids to shower them with all the blessings.

    • hey,
      I’m from karnataka as we do this fruit shower too. I love doing it for my son and he simply loves collecting all the fruits and putting them in his mouth :-)

  27. Ok – here goes – Today is the 2nd day of Onam (Sept 1st) So we can add that to the happy list fo festivals.. Thiruvonam is on 9th Sept this year.

    Adding to your description of lent – Some Syrian Christian communities actaully have a 50 day lent. Our mass is partly in Syrian and called a ‘qurbana’. We also have oil lamps (along the lines of temple lamps) in our churches.

    For Monty Thursday , called Pesaha, we make a special appam called ‘indriappam’ which is had with jaggery sweetened coconut milk or ‘pesaha paal’

    On easter Saturday we make ‘Kozhukottai’ – surprisingly something that the TamBrams I know make for VinayaChathurthi pooja.

    And of course Mallus are not big on RakshaBandan.
    The closest to KravaChauth will be Thiruvathira Nombu (Dec/Jan time) and I have gladly kept the nombu in anticipation of the ‘puzhukku’
    I ahve never been brave enough to attempt a roza yet, but I have attended iftar parties all my life too..

    Maybe your frined is right – being a minority makes you more open to all the majorities.. But hey, I like the end result- I am a Mallu Syrian Christian, who speaks 6 langauges, celebrates every possible festival and can make a mean Dhansak :)

    • Hi, my family is from the Kongu region (Coimbatore District bordering Kerala) and we celebrate Thiruvathirai too and not Varalakshmi viratham..

  28. Arre lovely post. And Bean ki jay ho! What she did was so lovely. I want to hug her and hold her towards the “west” and say, “ye dekho, naya India” Mmuaaah to both of you :)

    I have not been through all the comments yet, so I dont know if someone has already mentioned it. But Bengali’s do not have karwa chauth at all. What we have, however is “Jamai Shosti” in which the mother of the girl fasts and prays for her son in law’s good health, wealth, wisdom. Now, my grandmom passed away before her daughters were married, and my mom being the eldest daughter in law of the house, took on the responsibility of festival (festival? its more of a one day ritual really, no gaana bajana, just food). As a child I used to be insanely jealous as to why my mom would fast and pray for not my, but my bua/pishi/aunt’s husbands. I thought my share was being taken away ;)

    What else? I guess most of us know this, but during Durga Puja, on the eighth day, a little girl is worshiped as the Goddess. She is decked up, prayed to, and made very bored in the three tiresome hours of the Puja. To my eternal surprise, I have never seen any of the kids cry, make faces or be irritable. Maybe they just like the attention, but I kinda like the cool divine intervention idea :)

    How is the SIL, MM?

  29. What fun! I know about most things related to religions and festivals. I grew up a hindu, converted to christianity, married a south indian mallu-tamil catholic and live in a muslim country. By faith I am supposed to know intimately about Judaism and me and my husband celebrate Passover (at least) with great seriousness. Now, being a benarsi, one cannot escape the festival bug of whichever religion. But one event which I think everyone celebrates across board is “Rakshabandhan’. I do. I have seen so many muslim and other non-hindu folks believe in it too and I think it’s the cutest festival around. Really. I wish Yohaan also gets a rakhi ‘tier’ some day. :D
    That said, a lot of christians I know frown upon bindis and sindhoor and really, when i visit a Hindu freind/cousin for a festival, I like dressing up, incl bindi etc. And I also like to cook a huge Onam sadya spread just for fun. Being Indian can be and is huge fun-partaaaay

    I am waiting to hear more about north-east India, lets see if some reader of yours comes from that side of the country.

  30. What fun! I know about most things related to religions and festivals. I grew up a hindu, converted to christianity, married a south indian mallu-tamil catholic and live in a muslim country. By faith I am supposed to know intimately about Judaism and me and my husband celebrate Passover (at least) with great seriousness. Now, being a benarsi, one cannot escape the festival bug of whichever religion. But one event which I think everyone celebrates across board is “Rakshabandhan’. I do. I have seen so many muslim and other non-hindu folks believe in it too and I think it’s the cutest festival around. Really. I wish Yohaan also gets a rakhi ‘tier’ some day. :D
    That said, a lot of christians I know frown upon bindis and sindhoor and really, when i visit a Hindu freind/cousin for a festival, I like dressing up, incl bindi etc. And I also like to cook a huge Onam sadya spread just for fun. Being Indian can be and is huge fun-partaaaay all the time!

    I am waiting to hear more about north-east India, lets see if some reader of yours comes from that side of the country.

  31. Bunts follow a matriarchal lineage….so tradiitonally women do not “belong” to their husbands household after marriage. Children take on their mothers ancestral village/family name (I have that appendage too!) though our surnames(Rai, Shetty, Hegde etc) come from our fathers side. We are identified by our mothers family name and even wedding cards list this out. The mothers oldest brother is treated like the head of the family and his name is also mentioned alongside the grandparents and parents names.
    Daughters are rejoiced in our home and pregnant women are blessed so that they give birth to daughters since they are teh ones who carry on the family name.
    Property is always inherited by the daughters and if there are none, that is, if a man dies with no daughters, his property is inherited by his sisters, and not his sons/wife :(
    Though this is not strictly followed by us of late (all children are given an equal distribution in assets). I know of families who still follow it as per convenience. For example – my mothers side of the family did a fair distribution after my gparents died but my dads side of the family conveniently followed this archaic rule.

  32. Hey … we (bongs – cutting across religion, caste and creed) also celebrate a month long festival once in every four years. In recognition of the great devotion shown, this year 2nd Sep we are getting a day of that festival as a reward ! Yes it is on today … and God will be there on the grounds. It is expected that over1 lakh devotees will attend the festival and people from around 122 countries will see it live on TV. However Bongs not in the city/state has been advised by priests to spend a day of mourning and listlessness. Our brothers on the other side of the border will celebrate the festival on 6th Sep!

  33. I just relaized you were asking for rituals and I gave you a lot of other gyaan :) Okay here goes….Bunts worship the spirits of their ancestors. Each family home has a small house/room constructed closeby for the spirits to stay in. It is locked all year but once/twice (I dont know if its at a specific time in a year) a year, a worship is arranged where meat is offered. A person is chosen by the elders as a medium for the spirits. This person must maintain chastity for a mnadtory period (I think its 10 days) – no meat, no sex, no touching of menstruating women etc. On the night of the bhoota-aradhane (translation: spirit-worship), apparently the spirit posseses him and gives out advice and warnings etc for the next one year or so. I have seen this once when I was small and this guys was trembling like a high voltage current was going thorugh him and muttering stuff in a strange tone. The family members can also come forward and ask questions. Most Bunts believe in it and in troubled times, a bhoota-aradhane is usually recommended to appease the spirits and make things easier for the family.
    What I love about this custom is the chicken curry made for the offering is soooooooooo spicy and yummy!!! Finger licking good :)

  34. On the night of Ganesh Chaturthi, one is not supposed to look at the moon. The story here is “Lord Ganesh was travelling on Mooshik (the mouse), visiting everybody’s house and happily eating modak and other sweets. He accidently falls off the mouse and the moon looks at him and begins laughing, calling him fat and teasing him. So the Lord gets angry, breaks off one of this tusks (this is the reason why you see Lord Ganesh with one tusk only, the other one was pulled off ) and hurles it towards the moon and curses the moon, saying, anyone who looks at you on this day (Ganesh Chaturthi), will be called as a thief.”
    And as ritual has had it, I always look at the moon (trust me, its by accident) each year. I keep telling myself, ‘dont look, dont look’ and voila there he is in front of my eyes. So as a antidote, someone has to shout at you and scold you and call you an idiot, so the curse goes off. So that’s how I end each Ganesh Chaturthi each year, by hearing an earful of scoldings, much as I’d not like to. :D

    • the story goes that Krishna (yes, the God) happened to see the moon on a Ganesh chathurti day, and he was wrongly accused of killing a king (I forget his name) stealing the syamantaka mani. It was only after he did some kind of puja that he was absolved of these accusations. In our community, if you look at the moon, you take a handful of raw rice (akshata) and throw it upwards, towards the moon, so you are safe for the next year :D

  35. Onam which is celebrated in kerala, is really huge. People of Kerala wish to depict that they are happy and prosperous to their dear King Mahabali whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. The saying goes “men go to the extend of selling all their possessions for one Onam Sadya”
    Traditionally, its supposed to be a 9 course meal with 64 items, eight varieties each of the eight dishes. it used to take about 3 banana leaves to serve.
    Now its cut down to 11-13 essential items. and food is placed in a strict order on the banana leaf. also the place setting for each item on the banana leaf has to be followed.
    The door / entrance is decorated with flower rangolis.

  36. At Namboodiri (malayali Brahmins) weddings, the thalikettu(tying the magalsutra) is done by the father and not bridegroom. Don’t really know the significance of this, but it shocks a few people when I tell them about this.
    When I tell people that I am a Malayali, they take it for granted that I eat fish.But unlike the Bengali brahmins who eat fish, mallu brahmins are staunch lacto vegetarians.

        • Lacto Veg Diet consists of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. Nutritional requirements fall under five categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins. One should have a certain knowledge of dietetics in order to balance the diet. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) will help ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs. Processing, refining and overcooking destroy much food value.

          This is my understanding.

        • Lacto-vegetarian is a term used so as not to confuse with vegan. Otherwise in the west you might sometimes end up with a meal which is vegan ie without dairy products and its also to say that you won’t eat egg. Just to distinguish the food you eat. Hope it helps.

      • In our culture, the mother ties a “Mangalya” (mangala sutra) on the first day of marriage to the bride … and the husband ties another one after kanyadaan. (basically both of them tie a turmeric thread with a small pendant). Later the bride gets both of these pendants on her mangala sutra. (mostly a gold chain)

      • I checked with my parents and here is their explanation:
        The father ties the magalsutra given by the bridegroom blessing the union of the bride with the groom and this is followed by the kanyadaan. So in other words, the father gives away his daugther after she becomes a sumangali.

        And this is what wikipedia has to say about the origin of mangasutra.
        In pre-historic India, prior to Aryan invasion, men of the same tribe or other tribes used to abduct women of the same tribe or other tribe. To protect their women, Man found that it is neccessary to make an identification mark on his Woman. He used to tie a thread to the wrists of their women. Men who came to abduct the woman who was tied with threads, used to confirm that the particular woman belongs to a particular man, and they used to go back with out harming her. Historians say that this was the reason for the orgin of Mangalsutra. With the passage of centuries, this thread was called Kanakabandhana. This was around the wrists of the bride and the groom to signal their commitment to marriage. After Aryan invasion, Man started to wear a sacred thread Yagnopaveetham to his torso, after marriage. Kanakabandhana on the wrist of the bride eventually was changed to Mangalsutra by 6th century AD. Historically, the custom of tying a Mangalsutra, the auspicious cord, on the wedding day, appears to have become popular only after the 6th century AD.

  37. Dear MM.. such a thought-provoking and enlightening discussion.. i’m sure we’ve all learnt something new if we read the comments section! So I was having one of those days… u know husband super-busy at work and returned past kids bedtime, and with Ganesh chaturthi cooking + 2 young kids all by myself, I was exhausted and ready to scream.. luckily I came here and got transported to a different world.. just the break I needed.. thank you much!!!!! Sending good thoughts your way.
    Oh, and for the custom I’d like to share.. I’m tambram too.. so Vijayadashmi is usually a good to start something new. But we also have a small ritual called ‘aksharabhyasam’ where when a kid is around 3 (depending on month of birth), that particular vijayadashmi is when the father holds kid’s hand and they start writing. The first words written are God’s name. I love this .. the way education and the start to it is made symbolic..

      • naah, we do the vidyarambham with finger on rice :) Basically mama/ father/ father-in-law (depends on which part of kerala you hail from) holds the kiddos finger and writes into a plate of rice. In hindus it is the name of Ganpati. Now, makes me wonder, how is it dont in christians and muslims? Never thought of this before!!

        • We don’t do it at all – Its a Hindu custom. Not sure if Muslims do it and I am guessing because of Eid the few readers I have are busy which is why we havent had any Muslim inputs!

          • Oh Indian Muslims have the Bismillah ceremony, where they write with the takhti qalam for the first time? And/or when they start reading the Quran.
            Im not sure if all Pakistani Muslims do this. And Im sure things changed when takhti qalam changed to pen and later laptops.

            And considering the first word of Quran, ( and the first Revelation to the Prophet was) IQRA (Read!) so the reading/writing front is covered from Day One .

            You have asked so I am volunteering, as I have a problem with “Oh we do all this too how come you dont?” school of thought

  38. Lovely post, MM! And the comments are lovely too :)
    From my side:
    Tam Brahms celebrate the pregnancy of a woman by having a ‘Valaikappu and Seemantham’. The Valaikappu is the fun part where the pregnant woman is decked up with lots of bangles – from wrist to elbow, literally. And there are some specific bangles meant for the occasion- a twisted piece of a particular grass is also worn because its meant to be auspicious and good for the baby. My grandmother told me once, that the sound of bangles clinking is supposed to be good for the baby in the womb, which is why this festival originated. It is a fun event though -usually a bangle seller attends, and a set of bangles are gifted to all the women who attend. My cousins and I have a great time picking out bangles we like from the stock that the seller brings :) Its typically a womens event.

    The Seemandam is more serious – where the father prays for the health and well-being of the wife and child-to-be-born. Usually a married woman who doesnt have children yet is made to sit near the pregnant woman and blessings are showered on her that she may have a baby soon. An interesting part of this is that towards the end of the ceremony, a juice is made by crushing the leaves of some plants (mainly neem) The husband tilts the wife’s head backwards and pours a few drops of the juice into her nostrils. I hear its quite uncomfortable, but its supposed to travel directly through the body and benefit the baby. A small baby sits on the lap of the pregnant woman and a small prayer is said that she may have a similarly healthy child :) Its quite a sweet event.

  39. Wow, so much has been written & discussed. Another thing amongst the Bengalis is the ‘Jamaai Shosthi’. This is specifically when the son-in-law is gifted new clothes, has a belly-bursting lunch, along with a small puja (the puja part is not that mandatory, I think). This year it happened in the first week of June, but not sure if the timing is tied up with some specific/auspicious time of the year.

  40. Very very interesting post and comments. What diversity. Let me add to it, in some parts of Maharashtra, during Navaratri we have something called as “bhondla” or “hadga”. In this all the neighbourhood girls get together. Each girl gets something to eat and what is brought is kept a secret. They draw an elepant on a low platform and form a circle around. they sing songs while circling the elephant. the songs are all to do with criticising the “sasural”. After 9 songs are sung, everyone has to guess what everyone else has bought as “khau”. We did this all 9 days of the navaratri and it was great fun. Especially the guessing game at the end.
    The motivation behind this game seems to be to give women a chance to socialise and rant about their in-laws..

  41. I learnt so much about festivals & rituals in this one post & comments.And yes, I have also often been wished “Happy Good Friday” & when I protested was asked but then why is it called good?I then have to explain the whole concept but I don’t mind as at least one more person will know something about my faith.I totally agree with the last 2 paras of your post.I think our Hindi films have contributed a lot to the stereotyping.Incidentally, in Goa, all Brahmins( both Christian & Hindu ) are staunch non veg eaters (with the exception of beef for the Hindus) & celebrate all festivals both Christian & Hindu with much fanfare & pride.

  42. Kayasthas celebrate ‘Chitragupta Puja’, 2 days after Deepawali. I remember the time in Allahabad, when we used to bring all our books, pens etc and keep it in the Diwali Puja with Ganesh & Laxmi idols. My dad being a doctor, used to keep his stethescope & medical books there. We applied haldi, kumkum to all of these & then we all wrote personal letters to Lord Chitrgupta :). It started with Gaytri Mantra & ‘Om Ganeshay Namah, Om Chaitrguptaya Namah’ , followed by what one aims to achieve in the coming year… eg – I remember writing – I will study well, I will listen to my parents etc etc :). After this, these letters were sealed by roli & haldi, & kept in puja & were later immersed in Ganges, along with Ganesh – Lakshmi idols.

      • Yup..another illahabadi fan of urs :)
        No, I guess this is different from Vishwakarma Puja… Here, we basically worship books, ledgers etc…as Lord Chitrgupta was supposedly the chief accountant at heaven, or something like that :D

        • kya fan-van yaar. we’re fellow villagers :)
          and okay – i thought for Vishwakarma you also worship tools. my dad’s staff do it in our office every year and they put everything there, books, tools, everything.

          • In our home we do the saraswathi puja on the 9th days of navarathri. On that day we worship the goddess of learning and place all the books, musical instruments, commonly used tools near the goddess. It is especially fun as kids because this is the only day parents actually tell you not to study or do homework. The next day on vijayadashami, we typically we honor our gurus and start a new lesson. This is the same day someone in the comments above said you get the child to write for the first time.

          • Actually, you know, my Mom would insist that we read and write and sing on the day of Saraswati pooja. Also, on the day of the Vijayadashami, she used to ask us to start doing something constructive (in addition to reading and writing and singing). For some years she was desirous of making a poetess of me, and she used to make me write verses following the rules of prosody and rhyme :) Used to be fun…

  43. Great stuff ! My three bits:
    – in Kerala weddings, there is enormous symbolism associated with the moment when the bridegroom gives a tray with some saris to the bride. Apparently, in olden times, accepting clothes from a paraya mard meant that you were agreeing to be his woman :-)

    in my Konkani wedding – the wedding ring was put on S’s finger by my dad and not me (go figure). Traditionally, girls didn’t get rings – the mangalsutra was their main symbol of marriage.

    in Konkani tradition (someone else mentioned it) – Diwali is THE day for fried fish. Shocked my mom initially because she stays veg on festival days.

  44. Just like North Indians have Rakshabandhan, tambrams and telugu people have “Garudapanjami” were pooja is performed and girls tie a yellow thread around their neck and pray for the long and healthy life of their brothers. Sisters give gifts as to their brothers on this day. Similarly, the day after pongal we celebrate “Kanu” by keeping “Kanupidi”, wherein we keep sweet pongal, white colored rice (curd rice), yellow colored rice (rice mixed with turmeric root which is kept as part of the pongal celebration the previous day), kootu(like a dal), sugar cane pieces on the leaf of the turmeric plant (in odd numbers like 5 or 7 or 9) early in the morning and pray to the sun god for long and healthy life of our brothers.

    As you have asked even I have been wondering for a long time to know if there are any festivals/rituals celebrated by men for the well-being of their moms, sisters and spouses. We seem to be doing everything for the brothers and husbands(not even dads)

    • During Pongal, it is a practice in South India for brothers to get sarees & bangles in shades of green for their sisters – wishing for a long happy married life & prosperity for them. But I’ve never heard of any husband praying for wife thingy – is there something like that? would ask my hubby to follow that :P
      MM – this post sure rocks!

  45. Most of the festivals/rituals/ traditions mentioned by the Tambram commentators here are observed by majority of Tamil/Malayalee/Telugu etc Hindus in Malaysia. Deepavali, Kaarthigai, Vijaydasmi, Pongal, Navrathri, Varalakhsmi nombu, observance of purnami, valaikaapu, thevasam/thithi observance for the dearly departed, 30th day naming ceremony of a new born baby, Vinayagar sahurthi, Thaipusam, etc etc Yup, all that & more is certainly observed . :-D

  46. Samvatsari is the last day of Paryushana —the eight or ten day festival of Jains. It is the holiest day of the Jain calendar. Many Jains observe a complete fast on this day. The whole day is spent in prayers and contemplation. A yearly, elaborate penitential retreat called samvatsati pratikramana is performed on this day. After the pratikramana Jains seek forgiveness from all the creatures of the world whom they may have harmed knowingly or unknowingly by uttering the phrase— Micchami Dukkadam or “Khamau Sa”. As a matter of ritual, they personally greet their friends and relatives Micchami Dukkadam. No private quarrel or dispute may be carried beyond Samvatsari and letters and telephone calls are made to the outstation friends and relatives asking their forgiveness.

    My husband was asked for forgiveness from his Jain Friend today!

      • I was asked for forgiveness by my colleague too! He folded his hands(like when you say namaste/vanakkam) said “Micchami Dukkadam” to me! I was quite taken aback, but after he explained the ritual to me and left, I remembered that I had said sharp words to him too. So I went to his place, asked sorry. It’s the most thoughtful ritual I have come across till date.

    • THIS, right here, is the kind of festival I’ve been looking to adopt. What an amazing idea. Ah, baggage-free life! Can you also call people up and tell them they could ask for forgiveness and you’re giving them a free one-day pass? :D

  47. In Goa, Ganesh Chaturti is the biggest festival. It’s huge – even bigger than Diwali or Christmas, which totally surprised me. The state shuts down completely for two whole days – even the restaurants close as the staff go home for ‘holidays’. Schools close for about two weeks. People come from all over India to celebrate Ganesh at their ancestral homes where large families gather to worship the elephant-god. It’s lovely, but also very noisy. Today is the first day of visarjan and we’re bolting. The trucks laden with loudspeakers are on their way. Ganpatiji, close your ears.

  48. I got one more. During Dussehra, folks in Andhra (I am sure its specific to a community, but I don’t know which one) celebrate by sacrificing a hen. The blood is sprinkled on the vehicle.The count is usually 1 hen per vehicle. The meat is later distributed (much like they do at Bakrid).
    Loving the comments section :)

      • Ummm, ask OJ to contribute the Parsi bit? I could direct a Jain friend here to add her 2 bits. No Buddhist friends, sadly!

          • I’m here, I’m here! Okay, my contribution to Zoroastrianism 101: Pateti is the last day of the OLD year. ‘Patet’ means to repent, so it is a day of repentance and one mustn’t wish anyone Happy Pateti. You may say Saal Mubarak or Navroze Mubarak (Happy New Year) the day after Pateti, since that is the first day of the new year and therefore worthy of a greeting.
            Don’t even get me started on the ignorance people display about my community. I’m appalled and incredulous and more recently, I’ve taken to foaming at the mouth, which doesn’t make a pretty picture at all. The End.

  49. Okay adding Jain bits:

    The last day of Paryushan (which was yesterday) is the most important day of the year. This day and the next is the day of ‘kshamaapna’ – where you ask for forgiveness and forgive. You set aside your ego and genuinely say sorry for anything you might have done or said intentionally or otherwise and hurt folks.
    You do this aloud to all the people around, and as part of a ritual to all living organisms of all sizes.

    As I have grown older I see the wisdom in these rituals more and more. They bring a sense of peace that nothing else can.

  50. The Navratras and the related rituals (eg Garba) are very strongly to do with honouring the Divine Feminine and the principle of renewal (they happen around the seasons of harvest). The stories related at that time eg about Durga slaying demons, are not just myths but about our own inner struggles to overcome our own demons. At one level the devas and asuras represent our own forces of perception and being…

    Garba dancers, sufi dancers, whirling dervishes etc dance in circles-that is supposed to represent the cyclical nature of time for time I think-the centre is God/Goddess who is the only constant, the beloved, the point of focus…

    • Aah thanks for that U. Despite being a true-blue Gujju who does (rather, used to do) her garba till the wee hours of the morn every single day during Navratri, I could not explain it to the (non-Gujju) husband who wondered why on Earth ‘going round and round in circles gave [us] such a kick’ *rolls eyes*

      • What a beautiful notion…. the dancing in circles, that is.
        I have to say I am not a big one for garba etc either, Chox. The OA likes it but I’ve slowly begun to stay away from crowds and noise so that’s one I can’t do.

        • oh but the original stuff is not meant to have so much noise and crowds and dust :(
          When I was a kid, there weren’t even PA systems – it was just a dholak and an aunty with a really loud voice singing and everyone joining in while doing graba. cant stand the loudspeakers blaring out nonsense bollywood stuff and possibly why i dont go as much any more either. just 1 day of the 8, that too just for coupla hours..

          • Yes, it used to be my favourite festival. I grew up in ahmedabad and the garba in each building meant women getting together and singing and doing garba. Raas was when the boys joined in. Two circles going in opposite directions. Was beautiful.
            The disco dandiya with people dancing in their small groups is something I saw in bby for the first time. Stopped going after that.

          • I once attended an old-world garba in a tiny Gujarat town, with residents dancing around the town square and was blown away by how beautiful it was–all the glitzy, ear-busting Bombay ones couldn’t hold a candle to the essence of that evening.

  51. To add to your bit on lent…for the mallu syrian christians in Kerala lent is period of 50 days starting roughly a week before Ash Wednesday…yes we are weird that way.

    And Mallu christians do not kiss the bride after the i do…the ammachis and appachis would faint if anyone did that in church

          • I got a peck on my cheek. The church was bandra, so it was allowed even though the audience were mallu ammachis and perammas, and might i add punjabis, who wanted a kiss like its done in the english movies.
            The sweet new ritual that was invented on the spot by an uncle who was the priest was this- after he gave the husband the holy communion, he handed me a red rose ( i had not converted, and he did not want me to feel like he had nothing to give me). It was the sweetest gesture.

          • ya ya…the priest was a little dithery about the whole thing- but of course M being M jumped in and said ” please announce that i may kiss the bride “- so we ” did” it much to the embarassment of my parents and the glee of his side of the family :)

      • actually, a very good fren of mine did.. she’s a goan christian and her hubby frm pune/bby… i didnt know her b4 her wedding .. so didnt witness the event.. but the wedding pics showed that they did.. and she ws blushing (even after being a mommy to a 2 yr old) while showing me that particular pic!

  52. its interesting to see how a lot of rituals/practices have emerged from social practices than pure religious reasons at times na?
    In Bengalis all pregnant women are given a “shaadh” just before their delivery by their mother and all other women from the family where the mother-to-be is fed all her favourite food and more…how this originates is that earlier since there was no proper medical care most times women died at childbirth. Therefore the practice was to feed the woman all her favourite dishes the last time before she went into labour/delivery. While medical care has improved for most people now, the practice is still held without fail in all Bengali households I know of…

    • A version of shaad is practiced in most cultures I think. In UP we have god bharai and you have a baby shower in the west. The idea mostly is gifts for the mum and the baby and good food for the mum!

    • The same concept is called ‘Seemantha’ in karnataka/Seemantham in Andhra where during the 7th month the pregnant woman is given bangles,clothes and her favourite food…

    • Even in my part of the country, pregnant women are fed their choice of food. But the reason given is that after the baby is born, a strict diet is followed by the new mom, and she may not get to eat all that she likes for quite some time!
      Actually, I think it makes sense to follow a diet after the baby is born, because we never know the allergies a baby might have. But sometimes Mas and Grandmas overdo it :( I gave up jack-fruit for a long time – nearly 2 years for each child!

  53. Have been a silent and sometimes absent reader, but this post does make me want to contribute my two cents.
    In Syrian Christian weddings in Kerala, the bride and the groom do not exchange rings, it is the priest who blesses the ring and either puts it or hands the respective rings to the bride and the groom during the wedding ceremony.
    And yes, growing up in north India as a minority had its share of funny comments from name distortions to appalling questions whether my mom wore skirts and baked pies at home:)

  54. Now that you have asked so Im sharing “our” festivals. Most Pathans dont complicate life with too much of the Karan Johar-isms of religious festivals.

    A lovely tradition from the first snowfall was hiding some snow in a covered dish, setting it on a nice tray and going around to some gullible neighbour, relative who might “accept” it; if they do, the tricked party has to treat the revelers. Ironically, in most cases the kids would ask for ice cream!

    My grandmother’s generation would also set aside some rice every Thursday and pray over it. Its said its the evening of the week when the spirits of the elders visit, so you remember them and “dedicate” it to them before eating (or giving it away) I wonder why rice? considering we were a roti eating community! Rice seems to be “extremely divine” in other religious communities so Im guessing the rice growers have very good P.R agents among the clergy!

    I am also quite fond of the “Friday” evening festival in South Asia, where young and old, rich and poor, those of faith and those who are losing it, troop to the theaters to watch the new releases. Or go to the market to buy a DVD. God bless them all , in the end Im sure they are going to inherit the Earth.

    • ROFL @Karan Johar-isms. I can’t decide if he did karva chauth a good turn or women are bad turn.
      Love the snowflake one. I think these are things I wanted to know more about. the quirky ones.
      I know a lot of communities worry about the souls of the dead. We have an All Soul’s Day. But we don’t feed them anything – just light candles at the grave.
      LMAO at your last tradition. You are beyond weird. Seriously, you deserve to be stuck with me.

      • Now i can breathe easy. Was waiting for aneela’s take. Could not bear to be the only one who would say, Madmomma, Arent you like Bobby and Julie? What kind of catlik ( as its pronounced in catholic areas of bby) girl are you? I married a prem nath from bobby kind of character so i could spawn a bobby with her tiny skirts and now you tell me its a myth. Hai tauba, you have just burst my bubble ( I was modelling myself on Nadira from julie, and now you tell me i am just a Nadira, not the epitome to THE kishchian (a s we say in north india sometime) lady!)

        With these burst bubbles at my feet, atleast i can hold onto the ONLY tradition followed in my family, the friday evening ritual. I did have to rebel against the rituals my parents believed in and so I became a world cinema buff, and a popular cinema snob( although my knowledge runs deep and wide), and gasp, even went to film school! Mocking my sense of cinema now goes hand in hand with my parents’ friday ritual to date. That is the new ritual that they relish.

  55. The meal you have in the morning before dawn during Ramadan is Suhoor. :)
    That’s my contribution.

    I’ve written a blog post about a similar topic before, about how expatriates in general are more understanding of other cultures and more aware & tolerant of other religions that people actually living in India.
    I know of people who not only celebrate Eid, but they also fast for Ramadan and put up Christmas trees during Christmas and attapu for Onam. We celebrate all festivals and have friends of different religions and backgrounds.

  56. Wise post and even better comments Mad Momma! I only know you thru blogs but like your views towards life in general. My two bits on Bengali festivals (as you’ve already mentioned, we’ve loads of them :) – one of our very favourite in childhood was the Saraswati Puja on the Maghi Panchami day (Jan/Feb). It was one where all neighbourhood boys (and girls) arranged for the Puja ourselves early in the winter morning and then had the whole day free to roam around since it is religiously forbidden to study on that day :) Also, it was the official day for Boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love for Bengalis long before Valentine’s Day took root. Ah, the blessed childhood!
    As an aside, I’ve noticed that quite a few gods/godesses are worshipped on different days by Bengalis than rest of the Hindu communities, e.g. Laxmi Puja on full moon day after Dashami/Dusshera as against on Diwali, Ganesh Puja on bengali new year’s day (in April) as against Ganesh Chaturthi. Don’t know the reason.

  57. Once I attended a malayali namboothiri wedding. The Thali was tied by the bride’s father! I was so shocked (at that age). My friend explained that it’s a custom that allows the bride to do any rituals on her own for her parents later (when they die I suppose). If the groom ties the thali, he has to do any such rituals at her house. And when the father ties the thali it’s called kanthasoothram; mangalyasotthram if the groom does it.

    Also, in mallu namboothiri houses, only the eldest son was allowed to marry and bring the bride home – this is called Veli. the younger ones usually do the Sambandham – an informal co-habitation. A younger guy….errr…weds, usually, a girl of lower castes. And he can only ‘visit’ his sambandham at her house. Now, these girls usually belong to matriarchal castes. She inherits the family properties of her house – and her brother looks after the properties for her – and the brother takes care of her and her kids. No help was expected from the father of the kids. I guess….they were just sperm donors. It’s said that sambandhams had stronger bonds with their husbands than the velis. May be because she gets to stay at her own house….and not get burdened by the the wifely duties and all the rituals that comes with it (if staying at the husband’s house)…letting her to be herself in the relationship.

    Now, any mallu namboothries around here…please don’t kill me if this is total b.s.

  58. Hey, am a huuge jackfruit fan. Lugged back a massive one both in the first and third pregnancy – so anytime you want to lug one back, I’ll be around to share! The reason it;s forbidden in pregnancy is that it can cause allergic reactions – itching etc.
    Re. rituals – we have a nice one around Sankranthi – the kids under five are all given a ritual aarthi and showered with roasted, puffed rice ( not muri, it’s called Aralu) and fruit. It’s meant as a thank you to God for sparing them during the winter season that went by and getting rid of any remaining ‘chill’. We do it for our three every year. We also eat a mix of neem and gud on Ugaadi, to remind us that the year ahead will be a mix of bitter and sweet, and to pray that the sweet will be more than the bitter.

  59. Wow..have I learnt or what!Thank you..My 2 cents worth..amongst the Knaanaya(derived from Canaan in Syria) Mallu Christian community there are a whole lot of marriage rituals which are fascinating to say the least… one of them involves beautifully decorated “umbrellas ” outside the church where all the menfolk hold onto and then lift while chanting -grat fun-and then the bride is carried into the reception by her maternal uncles

  60. So i am a jain but not a “pucca” jain so i will divulge what little i know.

    In Jains when a girl/ woman is in her periods she is not allowed to touch anything, enter the kitchen, go to the temple, she has a separate bed, separate plate etc and is basically treated as an untouchable. I never understood it, but was told that in the older days the women worked all day so these 4-5 days were rest days when they were not allowed to do any housework.

    Also Jainism is based on non violence to the highest degree, that is why they dont eat root vegetables due to high microbes in them, only eat before sunset since microorganisms increase after sunset, if you see the sadhu sadhvis of jains called Maharajsahibs they walk everywhere barefoot and they dont even cook their own food but only live of bhiksha which is basically whatever food they get from other jains.

    There are a lot of other quirks but i wil leave you with these two

    M

  61. In Karnataka, during Dussera, we do something called Aydha Puja…we go about decortaing and worshiping our tools of trade. But these days its ended up being worshipping i.e garlanding, aarthi, offerings for every tool in the house including refrigerators, cars, bikes, computers, oven..you get the picture! :D So you will see all vehicles being washed,decorated and garlanded on this day all over the state! It apparently denotes the worship of weapons by the Pandavas just before they went to war!

  62. In Tamil brahmin community, we have the
    ‘nalangu’ ceremony on the evening of the wedding: bride and groom with their close family members around, sit facing each other and slowly go thru some fun games – like snatching at a ball, breaking papads over each other… The idea being, to get off their shyness toward each other, with most marriages still being ‘arranged’ ones… Its a happy fun occasion for all the aunts and cousins as well, egging the couple from around. usually an elderly granny is the master of ceremonies, and strangely, the couple’s parents don’t attend – may be too tired after the wedding, or just to spare their kids the embarassment?

And in your opinion....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s