Navaratri and Durga Puja

This weekend culminates the nine-day festival of Navaratri, Dasara and Durga Puja, celebrated by Indians around the world.

Vijayadashami also known as Dasahara, Dusshera, Dasara, Dussehra or Dashain is a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navratri every year. It is observed on the tenth day in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin, the seventh month of the Hindu Luni-Solar Calendar, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October. While the basis of the festival is similar – the worship of Godess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, the mode of celebration varies across communities.

  • Gujaratis – Gujaratis are known for their large dance parties known as ‘garbas’. Many grounds in the city play host to these garba celebrations. “We wear a traditional garment called the ‘chaniya choli,’ which is similar to a ‘lehenga’ but made with cotton fabric.” Performances include songs in praise of goddess Durga. The highlight of their festival is the dancing and singing.
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Students at an American university campus celebrating Garba
  • Marwaris – The Marwaris celebrate the festival of Navratri by worshipping goddess Shakti. The nine different forms of the goddess are worshipped on the rest nine days. “On the ninth day, there is a ceremony known as ‘Kanya Pujan’ where girl children are given traditional delicacies as a sign of respect to the goddess,” says Ekta Poddar, a student. Another ceremony called ‘havan’ is performed to mark the power and grace of Durga. The tenth day is ‘Vijayadasami’, the victory of good over evil, where idols of Ravan are burnt.
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Ram-Lila in Delhi
  • Tamilians – The Tamil community focuses on the ‘golu’ arrangement, or the doll display, during this time.The dolls are arranged on an odd number of steps and depict scenes from the Ramayana or even daily life. People are invited to the houses to view the dolls. The celebrations include singing and dancing.
GoluBombe
Golu, Bombe habba
  • Kannadigas – In Karnataka, Dasara or Vijayadashami is celebrated to commemorate the defeat of Ravana and Durga’s triumph over the demon ‘Mahishasur’. “We also have the practice of doll arrangement, called ‘Bombe habba’. We pay obeisance to goddess Saraswati and do ‘Ayudha Puja’ where we worship machines and other things that make our lives easier,” says Kavya, a resident on KR Puram.
  • Telugus – The community celebrates the Gombe Habba, the practice of setting up doll displays and distributes sweets to visitors. ‘Ayudha Puja’ and worship of the goddess Chamundeshwari on Dashami is also a part of their celebrations.
  • Bengalis – The Bengalis celebrate the festival for five days. On the sixth day, they conduct a ‘visarjan,’ the immersing of goddess Durga in water. The five days are celebrated with multiple pujas in the morning, followed by a community ‘bhog’ (lunch). Cultural programs are organised in the evenings.
  • Assamese – The Assamese people celebrate the festival of Durga Puja as a community. They set up statues of goddess Durga in large grounds, which also have food and gift stalls. Shivankar, a member of the Assam Association says, “On the last four days of the festival, we feast on homemade preparations. The maize crop that we grow is offered to the goddess.”
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The myth of the Indian vegetarian nation

An insightful article by Soutik Biswas that first appeared in the New York Times and also BBC:

What are the most common myths and stereotypes about what Indians eat? The biggest myth, of course, is that India is a largely vegetarian country.

But that’s not the case at all. Past “non-serious” estimates have suggested that more than a third of Indians ate vegetarian food.

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Image: BBC.com
If you go by three large-scale government surveys, 23%-37% of Indians are estimated to be vegetarian. By itself this is nothing remarkably revelatory.

But new research by US-based anthropologist Balmurli Natrajan and India-based economist Suraj Jacob, points to a heap of evidence that even these are inflated estimations because of “cultural and political pressures”. So people under-report eating meat – particularly beef – and over-report eating vegetarian food.

Taking all this into account, say the researchers, only about 20% of Indians are actually vegetarian – much lower than common claims and stereotypes suggest.

Hindus, who make up 80% of the Indian population, are major meat-eaters. Even only a third of the privileged, upper-caste Indians are vegetarian.

The government data shows that vegetarian households have higher income and consumption – are more affluent than meat-eating households. The lower castes, Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) and tribes-people are mainly meat eaters.

Vegetarian cities in India

  • Indore: 49%
  • Meerut: 36%
  • Delhi: 30%
  • Nagpur: 22%
  • Mumbai: 18%
  • Hyderabad: 11%
  • Chennai: 6%
  • Kolkata: 4%
    (Average incidence of vegetarianism. Source: National Family Health Survey)

On the other hand, Dr Natrajan and Dr Jacob find the extent of beef eating is much higher than claims and stereotypes suggest.

At least 7% of Indians eat beef, according to government surveys.

But there is evidence to show that some of the official data is “considerably” under-reported because beef is “caught in cultural political and group identity struggles in India”.

About 20% of Indians are vegetarians, according to new research. Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP promotes vegetarianism and believes that the cow should be protected, because the country’s majority Hindu population considers them holy. More than a dozen states have already banned the slaughter of cattle. And during Mr Modi’s rule, vigilante cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed people transporting cattle.

The truth is millions of Indians, including Dalits, Muslims and Christians, consume beef. Some 70 communities in Kerala, for example, prefer beef to the more expensive goat meat.

Dr Natrajan and Dr Jacob conclude that in reality, closer to 15% of Indians – or about 180 million people – eat beef. That’s a whopping 96% more than the official estimates.

Delhi, where only a third of residents are thought to be vegetarian, may well deserve its reputation for being India’s butter chicken capital.

But, the stereotype of Chennai as the hub of India’s “south Indian vegetarian meal” is completely misplaced. Reason: only 6% of the city’s residents are vegetarian, one survey suggests.

Many continue to believe that Punjab is “chicken loving” country. But the truth is that 75% of people in the northern state are vegetarian.

So how has the myth that India is a largely vegetarian country been spread so successfully?

Some 180 million Indians consume beef, according to new research. For one, Dr Natrajan and Dr Jacob told me, in a “highly diverse society with food habits and cuisines changing every few kilometres and within social groups, any generalisation about large segments of the population is a function of who speaks for the group”.

“This power to represent communities, regions, or even the entire country is what makes the stereotypes.”

Also, they say, “the food of the powerful comes to stand in for the food of the people”.

Why India is a nation of foodies

“The term non-vegetarian is a good case in point. It signals the social power of vegetarian classes, including their power to classify foods, to create a ‘food hierarchy’ wherein vegetarian food is the default and is having a higher status than meat. Thus it is akin to the term ‘non-whites’ coined by ‘whites’ to capture an incredibly diverse population who they colonised.”

Migration

Secondly, the researchers say, some of the stereotype is enabled by migration.

So when south Indians migrate to northern and central India, their food comes to stand in for all south Indian cuisine. This is similarly true for north Indians who migrate to other parts of the country.

Finally, some of the stereotypes are perpetuated by the outsider – north Indians stereotype south Indians just by meeting a few of them without thinking about the diversity of the region and vice versa.

The foreign media, say the researchers, is also complicit “as it seeks to identify societies by a few essential characteristics”.

Chicken is thought to be the most popular form of meat eaten by Indians
Also, the study shows up the differences in food habits among men and women. More women, for example, say they are vegetarian than men.

The researchers say this could be partly explained by the fact that more men eat outside their homes and with “greater moral impunity than women”, although eating out may not by itself result in eating meat.

Patriarchy – and politics – might have something to do with it.

“The burden of maintaining a tradition of vegetarianism falls disproportionately on the women,” say Dr Natrajan and Dr Jacob.

Couples are meat eaters in about 65% of the surveyed households and vegetarians only in 20%. But in 12% of the cases the husband was a meat eater, while the wife was a vegetarian. Only in 3% cases was the reverse true.

Clearly, the majority of Indians consume some form of meat – chicken and mutton, mainly – regularly or occasionally, and eating vegetarian food is not practiced by the majority.

So why does vegetarianism exert a far greater influence on representations of India and Indians around the world? Does it have to do with “policing” of food choices and perpetuating food stereotypes in a vastly complex and multicultural society?

Article: The Days of Desi

An article in Deccan Herald “The Days of Desi” makes for an interesting read for Desis in Pardes.

Illustration by Kavitha Mandana

 

The author, Surekha Kadapa-bose explains “the end of 2017 is witnessing a sudden cacophony, a sudden urgency, and a new-found love for everything desi. This, of course, is a delightful U-turn from the previous passionate adoption of everything foreign. But, just as we went to extremes to adapt the Western lifestyle from the 1970s to the new millennium, we now seem to be doing the same with desi. There seems to be a bit too much stress on desi food, fashion, culture, religion, rituals, films, music, education etc.”

There is a general misconception that fashion, as shown in the big fat wedding scenes of Bollywood films, is ‘the’ desi attire – men dressed in long silky sherwanis, bandhgalas, with a angavastra wound round their necks, and women, of course, have to be dressed in voluminous ghagras with miniscule cholis, blingy saris etc…

After desi attire comes food. The craze for desi has made inroads here too. The best examples are the popular junk foods – pizzas and burgers – which are originally adopted from Italy and America. Now they are getting Indianised and are being served with a desi touch. You get pizzas with toppings like tandoori paneer, chicken tikka, paneer vegorama, and burgers with stuffings like veg aloo tikki, masala dosa, paneer and so on.

My take on this variation: if one is so much in love with desi khaana, then why not say “no” to pizzas and burgers, and have Mom-made dosas, parathas and samosas instead?


GaramChai.com has long prided itself in being the single stop source for “Desi in Pardes” with extensive listings of Desi Restaurants, boutiques, places of worship and culture