Confidence in nonsense is a requirement for the creative process

Posts tagged “culture

Symbols (II)


Continuing from the previous post on symbols 🙂

Apart from various items used as symbols, certain symbolic acts are also performed as part of the prayers.

Even though present day India, and the world for that matter, treats women abominably, the ancients had different ideas. According to Hindu tenets, the woman of the house, especially the married woman, has a certain elevated status. She is considered to be the ‘Grihalakshmi’ : ‘Griha’ meaning home and ‘Lakshmi’ meaning the goddess of wealth (Vishnu’s wife). The idea is a happy woman brings health, wealth and good blessings to her family. Basically on her lies the onus of all things good. A new house is usually inaugurated with her entering by spilling rice at the door step, again going back to the idea that rice signifies prosperity and the act symbolizes the prayer ‘may prosperity lie at her feet’.

These mini footsteps are symbolic again to indicate that the first steps in the house are those of the goddess of wealth


Next was inaugurating the kitchen of the new house. The kitchen is considered the center of an Indian household and if there is enough food to feed the family and guests, then the household is doing well. So as a prayer to bring in the wealth of food, a pot of milk is boiled over a flame. Traditionally the flame is supposed to be generated from firewood and dried cow dung but that aint happening in today’s age. Milk is also a symbol of prosperity. Fire being another auspicious symbol which is worshiped as a God. More on that later.

Ironic how the idea of ‘good’ revolves around wealth


Symbols


I find symbols fascinating.. Mainly because they tell you so much about the culture and history of the people..

This plate includes the common ingredients needed for a usual worship ritual of Hindus..and all of them are somehow tied to the social, economic and cultural lives in this part of the world..

I could probably write a 1000 word essay just on turmeric. Its the most commonly used spice, an antiseptic, its a beautifying agent, its grows easily…. Its yellow color provides it importance in traditional rituals since saffron/yellow/orange are all holy colors for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.

The red mercuric sulphide powder or Vermillion is the ‘bindi’ or the red dot you would see on the foreheads of Indian women mostly and even men. It’s supposed to be a protecting energy to the women and their husbands.

Rice is the pulse of south east asian agricultural economies. Without rice we would be a very different people. Hence its offered to the Gods. A symbol of prosperity and wealth, rice has been used in ancient Greek culture as well as offering to appease the deities.

And flowers of course are a symbol of purity in almost all cultures.

And this was just one plate. We had a ‘pooja’ or a worship ritual done for the new house to bring the home or ‘vaastu’ peace and harmony. Not being a devoutly religious person I was still intrigued by the countless little symbols used throughout the ceremony. I’ll post about them as and when I get a chance because with modernization we are losing all these stories of our heritage.

These are links that tie us to our history and ancestors and if I were given the option of time travel I know I’d choose traveling to the past rather than the future..


Isn’t this world a wonderful place?


Many a perfectly good candidate of the male variety has been rejected for the position of my husband. More often than not, because he belongs to a different cultural group than mine. And no, this isn’t trite trashing of the caste system in India. The point I am thinking of today, according to what I recently learned, is called ethnocentrism.

“Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own.” – from the ever so wise Wikipedia.

In effect it is the predisposition to see the world with the eyes of one’s own culture. Anything that fits in our culture is right. Anything which doesn’t is wrong. Black and white.

Kissing in public is completely normal in American culture. But you get sent to jail for doing the same in India.
Americans think that the British drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
So ethnocentrism exists everywhere, because we(humans) are conditioned that way since birth. We always make assumptions about someone else without being aware that we are making an assumption.

Looking at it from a liberated mind’s view, ethnocentrism has a negative connotation. Living in today’s world it can bring to mind big bad things like hatred, violence, terrorism and racism. And sure, taking the extremist view, it is highly possible that ethnocentrism is the cause. And looking at it in milder day to day terms, it causes issues like Shiv Sainiks blaming women who go to pubs as morally bankrupt.

But I also see positives. The idea of having a group and believing it to be superior acts to provide a sense of belonging to people which is important for emotional well being. Americans are highly ethnocentric but they are also highly patriotic and believe that they have a better lifestyle than most of the world. This keeps them happy.

I read about this ritual of forced female genital mutilation that exists in some African cultures. Think about this:
A brutal ritual in which the clitoris of a girl or a woman is cut to deny her the opportunity to ever experience sexual gratification.

Are you back? The shock is apparently an ethnocentric response. And I think I wouldn’t mind being called ethnocentric if the opposite was to accept that its okay to treat anyone like this in the name of ritual.

So the first question that popped to mind was, why? Why does this phenomenon exist? Being a Darwin fan, I had to take the evolution route.

My humble conclusion: Because it allows to have large diversity of customs, traditions and ways of life. The more the differences, the more chances of developing better and stronger gene variety.

What do you think?

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