Some answers/South India 101

Leenadll left three comments on earlier posts that seemed better to answer in a post than in the comment section.

What is Navarathri?

Navarathri translates to “nine nights”.

Most people outside India don’t know that the North of the country celebrates religious events very differently from the South.  The Dussera (“Ten days”) is the north Indian equivalent of our Navarathri, and is more popular but celebrated differently.

Navarathri is celebrated in the south as a celebration of the three Goddess or Shakthis – of wealth, valour and learning.  The first three nights are dedicated to the Goddess of wealth – Lakshmi, the next three, to Durga of valour and the final three to Saraswathi, the Goddess of learning.

The fortnight preceding Navrathri is dedicated to dead people. So the ten days of celebrations are meant to cheer people up from the gloomy observance of the previous fortnight.  Some families keep a display of dolls in steps, and invite each other over. So, there is a lot of golu hopping that happens during this time.

Navarathri is predominantly a female celebration – so the men usually stay out of it.

In the North, Dussera is celebrated as the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana.

What is pulli kolam.

Kolam is an entirely south Indian tradition.  It involves drawing decorative patterns at the threshold of homes using rice flour.  The religious significance is that it welcomes the goddess of wealth Lakshmi into the house.

Pulli kolam is a form of kolam where a varying number of dots are placed and they are connected in various patterns.  I am horrible at pulli kolam.  My dear friend Gayathri, however, is brilliant at it, as you can see from her kolams reproduced below with her permission.

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Sarees are expensive in US, and cannot be worn by people of big body sizes.

Yes, sarees are expensive in the US.

No.  A saree is a piece of unstitched cloth 5-5.5 meters long – 6 yards of it.  You merely drape it around your body in two layers with pleats and all.  What depend on size are the “in skirt” that goes under the saree, and the blouse, which is worn on top.

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8 thoughts on “Some answers/South India 101

  1. leendadll

    Thanks for the education!
    LOVE the rice flour art!!! Is the original grid done freehand or via some template? I wish I’d thought of doing something like that when, back as a kid, we’d get pre-printed dot templates from KOA campgrounds… but we only used them for the game where you connect dots with lines and trap each other’s drawings.

    Is the art done in public or private spaces? Do people leave it till it disappears naturally (wind/rain) or have a ritual for removing it or just walk all over it an not care? I ask because I used to participate in some public street chalk drawing events and would be furious that would people walked through the art the second the artist was done… no respect for it at all.

    I read that Dawali is coming up. Do the N and S celebrate that differently too?

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    1. Gobblefunkist Post author

      The dots are free hand.
      Kolams are drawn in front of homes – private, but often public spaces have them too.
      The original idea was critters and small animals would eat the rice flour over the course of the day. These days kolam is drawn using white sand/chalk powder. They rub off naturally- wind, walk over etc. What remains is washed off next morning for a new kolam.
      Yes Diwali is celebrated differently too. In the north, rows of lamps are lit to celebrate lord Rama’s coronation. In the south, people take oil baths and burst fireworks celebrating Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon king Narakasura!

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  2. Hangaku Gozen

    Interesting post! Thank you for writing it. I just remembered after reading it that the Indian in-laws have invited me over for a pre-Diwali dinner. (They were concerned I wouldn’t be comfortable at the big friends-and-family get together, primarily because everyone will be speaking Hindi.) I will dress up, but not in Desi clothing: as you said, it’s not only expensive, but none of it fits me. I have an American figure (cough); I can’t shop at Uniqlo, the Japanese clothing store, because even their XL is too tight around my hips and shoulders. The Indian MIL offered to custom order a sari from India for me, but I know she won’t allow me to pay her for the expense, and I’d probably wear it only a few times. (I should have bought one when my daughter got married in a Hindu ceremony, but the sari her in-laws bought for her was over $1000, and I wasn’t in a position to spend that kind of money back then.)

    The in-laws, who are from Jaipur, don’t do the lights and rice flour paintings—they live in a city highrise and they’re challenged for space as it is. They leave the decorations to their suburban relatives, who are hosting the big Desi party next weekend. And yes, the MIL is dreading it, as most of the people there are her husband’s extended family. Living in the US has been very lonely for her.

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    1. Gobblefunkist Post author

      The most expensive saree I bought for my wedding costed 200 dollars equivalent and I was very unhappy about it! I never buy a saree that costs more than the Indian equivalent of 20 dollars.

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