Shubh | February 05, 2018
Editor’s Note: Once approved, we make it a point to publish submitted articles as is. But a little bird told us that this author was a die-hard fan of Akshay Kumar (and let’s be fair, who can resist that annoying charm!) so we took the liberty of adding his special spice to this article. Surprise!
Being Indian can make us loud, proud and sometimes, at the receiving end of some repetitive questions. Questions about eating with hands, to the “what is that dot” on the forehead – we’ve all answered them at some point. But have we really given the correct answer or just one we assume to be correct? Well, read on to find out what the real reasons are behind many of these Indian practices. Trust me, the answers may surprise you!
Surprise surprise – we know how to use cutlery!
But we sometimes prefer to use our hands. Food is an experience in Indian culture – one that involves and stimulates the senses. A practice that began in Vedic times, eating with your hands was a way to be in sync with nature’s elements. Ayurvedic texts stated that each finger was an extension of these elements:
Thumb – space
Forefinger – air
Mid-finger – fire
Ring finger – water
Little finger – earth
The unification of these fingers (or in fact, the elements) during meal time was believed to improve our connection to the food we ate.
Firstly, feeling the food with your hands helps you gauge the temperature and texture of your meal. Always better to let your fingers find out if it’s too hot, rather than your scalded mouth.
Secondly, the fingers with their thousands of nerve endings, send messages to the brain to start releasing digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach. Basically saying, “Brace yourself! Sambar incoming!”
Lastly, our hands function as energy cleansers and remove any negative energy that may be attached to the food. If your sabziwala was having a particularly bad day, his angsty energy is likely to be attached to thekarelas you just bought.
Placing the palms over the food before digging into the meal, is believed to remove any negativity and prevent it from harming your meal.
And no, it’s not dirty because we “don’t know where those hands have been”. We wash them before mealtime so we know exactly where they were – but we can’t say the same for that cutlery!
Ah yes, if I had a dollar every time I heard this one ….!
First and foremost, both men and women can be spotted (see what I did there..?) with these.
More commonly known as “bindi,” it also has various other names “tilak”, “tika”, “pottu”, “sindoor”, “tilakam” and “kumkum” depending on which part of India you are in.
Different colours can have a different meaning with red representing marriage, black to ward off evil eyes, and sandalwood ones for religious events. In more orthodox provinces, different colours are worn to represent the different castes.
Placed between the eyebrows, it is intended to activate the pineal gland (also known as the “third eye”) to act as a constant reminder of a Hindu’s life’s purpose of awakening the inner, spiritual sight.
Thanks to India’s interculturalism, it is not uncommon to find non-Hindus who have made this a part of their daily lives.
Let alone India, globalisation has brought the bindi and placed it on Madonna’s forehead… and Gwen Stefani’s… and Katy Perry’s, and many other celebrities who unfortunately gathered a whole lotta flak for doing so.
Ok, there is no easy way to explain this, especially since there are various explanations. But here goes mine:
The truth is that Hinduism worships only one Supreme Being. The rest are simply different manifestations and forms that originate from that Being.
The reason 330 million gods comes about is due to the word “koti” in Sanskrit texts.
The common meaning of this word is, “million”, while another meaning implies that there are only 33 forms or divine energies. The Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Satapatha-brahmana are some of the ancient Vedic, Sanskrit text where the 33 divinities are mentioned.
This is also supported by an exchange between Śākalya and Sage Yājñavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – Chapter 3 (a Hindu scripture).
Another thing to bear in mind is that the term “god” fits Abrahamic religions, but not Hinduism where we refer to such higher powers as “Devas”. Devas are not “gods” or higher powers as we know them in the English language. Instead, they are manifestations of various natural energies.
C’mon, I know we Indians can be great Mathematicians and have gifted trigonometry, the decimal system, the number zero, negative numbers, algebra and arithmetic to the world, but 330 million gods is a little too much for us to count as well.
No, especially if you can run away from that Aunty Ji fast enough!
Jokes aside, not all Indians have an arranged marriage but this practice is still alive and kicking even with the arrival of the new generation. And no, you do not meet your husband on the day of the marriage for the first time, although that is unfortunately still a reality in some rural parts of India.
Arranged marriages have a horrible reputation for stripping away the right to choose or consent to a life partner. Thankfully, times have changed – at least in some households – and arranged marriages happen with consent from both the boy and the girl. The families bring them together, boy and girl meet a few times, keep in contact and converse, and eventually inform the parents if and when they want to take the matter further.
For many generations, it was the sole decision of the family elders to pick the spouse they deemed fit for their offspring, at whatever point they felt was a “marriageable age.”
The selection process was lopsided – the boy had to show up and claim he could earn, while the girl was assessed based on physical appearance, household chores, grasp of the arts, gait, religious knowledge, dowry, whether she had a “good character” and everything else that would make her an ideal daughter-in-law.
Surprisingly, marriages during the ancient Vedic period in India were far from such sexism.
The Vedic religion allowed women to choose their own suitors in a swayamvara ceremony – the girl’s parents would spread word on the girl’s intent to marry and all willing and interested men were welcome.
After receiving prior information about the men and their character and reputation, the girl would garland the man she chose as her husband. In some cases, competitions also took place to showcase the suitors’ skills and qualities, before the bride-to-be made her decision.
Lastly, there was also the Gandharva marriage – as long as there was mutual consent between a man and a woman, they were considered married. No rituals or witnesses were required.
Ancient Hindu science (and possibly Ayurveda) believe that all important nerves, which start from the brain, eventually end in our feet or palms. Thus, hands and feet become the vital energy zones.
It was common practice for youngsters to touch the feet of their elders, gurus, or people they respected in order to humble oneself and seek blessings. The elders in turn would place their right hand on the youngster’s head and utter good wishes.
By bowing before someone you respect, you express the desire to inculcate some of their qualities.
So, when you bend and touch your elder’s feet, and they place their hand on your head, you end up forming an energy circuit. This creates a flow of positive energy between the two people.
In addition, the wisdom that the elders acquired is literally through walking the earth longer than you. By touching their feet, you gather some of the dust from their feet, which in turn helps you gain some of that wisdom.
So, run along and touch your elders’ soles … it’s good for your soul.
There you have it!
The next time someone asks you such questions, be sure to share these details and provide context to our practices. And then take them to an Indian meal to enjoy eating it with your hands. Why?
Because … food!
Sambar – (Tamil) A lentil gravy, common to South Indian Cuisine, usually eaten poured over rice.
Sabziwala – (Hindi) Vegetable Seller
Karela – (Hindi) Bittergourd
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