Category Archives: India

Kuva-no-Ker

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Well performance with Bhavai troupe (still from video by Barrett Griffin)

 

There’s no such thing as being a “fly on the wall” visiting a community that rarely meets outsiders. This is especially apparent when your professor is a prince. In anthropology, it is important to consider this when situating oneself within a field site so that the novelty and subsequent centering of the anthropologist does not take away from the observation or interview processes. Here in Dhrangadhra, we have found the avoidance of being centered to be nearly impossible. Wherever we go, we are treated like celebrities. People don’t just stare at us; they follow us, tap us and grab us, and constantly implore us for “selfies.” While this can be annoying, especially when we have work to do or we can’t understand what they are saying about us or why they giggle, their behavior makes sense. In the ‘melting pot’ of the United States, even the most sparsely populated areas have exposure to a number of different cultures. In towns like Kankavati and Jesada, meeting people from other countries is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our scarves may not be tied correctly, our hairstyles and textures might seem strange, and our conscious and unconscious behaviors may be vastly different from their own. Furthermore, our professor, Dr. Jhala (Bapa) is a prince, which makes our presence all the more noteworthy. It is very difficult to convince people not to hold you in such high regard in a society in which social status is so fixed and paramount, especially with the language barrier. Most of the time, we don’t have a choice but to go with the flow, accepting this privilege in order to go where we need to go, see what we need to see, and talk to who we need to talk to. The best we can do is simple gestures of kindness such as smiling, waving to people, and taking pictures of or with them. One of the photographers brought a polaroid camera, which really helps in terms of being able to give something tangible back. Sometimes with kids, I’ll cross my eyes, stick my tongue out, or generally act goofy just to break the barrier of intimidation and bring out a smile or laugh. Most kids seem to respond very well to that.

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Kankavati woman insisting on a photo with Sam following the Rajput sword dancing performances

When we attended the revival event at the Well of Sorrow, we had a slightly different experience. Though we were greeted like celebrities, by the time the ceremony began the attention was no longer centered on us. The rituals and presence of the royal family became paramount, and we were able, for the first time, to observe these people without being a focal point. This event was in remembrance of the Jhala clan’s Eight Ranis (queens) who in 1486 jumped into the Well of Sorrow with their maidservants and subsequently drowned during Sultan Mohamed Begawa’s siege of Kuwa. This historical event is known as Kuva-no-Ker, the destruction of Kuwa, and people still use the term to refer to any great calamity.

Several large tents were set up around the well, and many people came from surrounding villages to witness the ceremony. We were given chairs to sit near the royal family to watch the ritual. Then we were invited, along with members of the royal family and female Rajputs (warrior caste) to pour water into the well as a symbolic gesture of remembrance. The Jhala clan is part of the Rajput caste. We then moved to a tent where we witnessed Rajput girls from one village, dressed in turbans and jeans, then young men from another village, perform sword dances. These were possibly one of the most exhilarating performances I have ever witnessed. They were swinging swords feet away from us, close to each other, sometimes climbing on each other’s backs or even blindfolded. We were not allowed to take footage out of respect, but it was an unforgettable experience. Afterwards we enjoyed dinner in the garden with the royal family.

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Rajput women and girls (sword dancers wearing turbans)

A couple of days later, we filmed a dance around the well with some of the Bhavai (male) performers, who were dressed like the Ranis. We had been rehearsing this performance for two weeks in addition to getting henna tattoos, buying costumes, and making masks. We each represented an animal deity representative of each Rani and her descendents. I was a tiger. The other animals included a parrot, horse, cobra, magical bird, crocodile, and a lion. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anyone to perform the role of the rooster. We developed movement to represent these creatures and performed our individual one-minute dances, with our homemade masks, around and near the well. Many people from the village came to watch. After that, we changed into our “queen costumes” which included elaborate saris and large skirts. We kind of just followed what the Bhavai performers were doing, dancing around the well, and standing with them as they reenacted the Ranis deciding to jump in the well. Although the rehearsal process had been time-consuming and frustrating for some of us, it was a rewarding experience and an honor to take part in an event that held so much significance for these people. Though it can be very difficult to navigate the issue of privilege, it felt good to be included in this event in a way that showed the people that we recognize and honor their heritage.

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Me in my tiger mask (photo by Camilla Martinelli)

The Negotiation Phase

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Desert Sunrise (Photo by Shaniece Maldonado)

Addiction is a subject most people try to avoid. The reality is, however, we are all addicts. We live in a world in which we are increasingly being alienated from our most basic sources of sustenance, so we fill those voids with other things. Maybe it’s something obvious like drinking, smoking, drugs, or prescription pills. Maybe it’s the internet, TV, or video games. Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s school. Maybe it’s never simply allowing oneself to be alone in silence. Whatever it is, it is very hard to break away from this pattern of constant stimulation. When you travel, however, you are forced to adapt your defenses and coping mechanisms.
When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorders. Basically, I had a complete mental breakdown and could no longer deal with any of my obligations. It took several years of therapy and antidepressants to get to a point where I was somewhat emotionally stable and reliable. These treatments were not especially effective for me after a few years, and I discontinued them once I felt stable enough to manage my issues. Since I have managed to do very well academically, I wasn’t worried about coming to India without consulting a therapist. Gujarat is a “dry” state, which means alcohol is prohibited, and since I don’t drink very much I didn’t consider that to be an issue either. I figured the stimulation and opportunities available here would be manageable enough without the aid of medication or other ways to “take the edge off.”

I certainly didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have regulating my emotions in frustrating situations. That is not to say I wasn’t warned. In the manual, it specifically says that after the initial “honeymoon” phase where everything is new and exciting, a second “negotiation” phase would follow in which simple things become extremely frustrating. For one, there were technical issues such as the water not working and the power (and thus air conditioning) going off during the hottest parts of the day. Another issue that really bothered me was the obliviousness of some of our photographers, whose equipment and copious photo-taking, in my view, often proved disruptive to our explorations. The people we were visiting were often so wrapped up in wanting to get their pictures taken that we were not able to properly observe their activities. Of course, our presence itself was inherently disruptive to a degree. What made it worse was the fact that, for example, when we attended the wedding, people were more interested in getting their pictures taken than the event that was taking place. This angered the priest and the bride’s father, and we had to leave early.
What set me over the edge was when we went to the desert to meditate. First of all, I was grumpy, as we had to wake up at 3:00am after being asked to stay up until 10:00pm the previous night to rehearse for a performance at the end of the month. So when one of our photographers decided to fly a loud buzzing drone overhead during the entirety of our meditation session, I was enraged. I tried not to be, but at that moment I realized with all the stimulation and lack of alone time, I needed a moment to connect to myself in silence and appreciate the magical moment of the sunrise and the whispering wind. After that point, I lost control emotionally. When we got to the next stop and some of us were told we weren’t covered enough to go into the temple, I burst into tears. For most of the day, I felt like an overflowing well. The water just kept on coming. That upset me even more because I felt myself slipping and was terrified I would have another serious breakdown. Thoughts started surfacing in my mind that I didn’t realize I was still capable of having. I watched as everyone else enjoyed themselves, wishing I could partake in their happiness but feeling incapable of doing so. At the end of the day, I was solely responsible for my misery.
I took the next day off to process what had happened, and I realized that being in this vulnerable position was bringing up lots of old feelings that the busyness and comforts of home had allowed me to avoid dealing with. The fact is, the people taking all the photographs and flying drones were coping too. To engage deeply is not easy. It feels safer to be behind a screen or camera lens, especially if that is a skill one has confidence in. In fact, for some people like the photographer with the drone, it is easier to engage deeply from behind the lens. Additionally, the photographers were not usually able to capture authentic, candid moments as the attention was so centered on their equipment. We all have to deal with our own challenges and obstacles. One photographer dropped her hard drive, and another dropped an important lens. We are all human and vulnerable, which is not a comfortable feeling, and we deal with it in different ways, some of which are at odds with each other. As we have gotten to know each other, many of us have revealed tragic losses and difficult experiences which we haven’t dealt with emotionally yet or in a long time. I feel so grateful for all of these amazing people, even if we occasionally drive each other crazy. They say that you learn as much about yourself as you do about these places on study abroad, and I wholeheartedly concur. Although this experience has been emotionally challenging, I’m so glad I have this opportunity to challenge myself to feel things I haven’t let myself feel in ages. I’m grateful for the realization that I needed to connect with myself without the distracting comforts of home.

Getting Settled in India

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Wow. So much has happened in the past week, and between three days of travel and five days of adjusting to a different culture and time zone, I’ve had basically no time to process my experience in writing. It feels like I left Philadelphia a month ago. First of all, I couldn’t have been luckier in terms of the group of people that have decided to embark on this journey with me. There are eight of us undergrad students, one grad student, and one alum. Our teacher, Dr. Jhala who we call Bapa (which means father) is a prince, though since India declared its independence in 1947 the Jhala clan no longer holds political power. Nevertheless, the family is still held in extremely high regard, and maintains this palace compound where we stay called Ajitnivas.

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Ajitnivas (Photography by Sam Romero)

Getting to India was quite an adventure in itself. Four of us decided to arrange our flights to have a fifteen-hour layover in London. The flight to London was about seven hours, and from London to New Delhi was another seven hours. From New Delhi we took a one-and-a-half hour flight to Ahmedabad, which is a three-hour drive from our destination, Dhrangadhra. Most of us are still adjusting to the time difference, a week later. It wasn’t until yesterday that I could sleep for more than an hour without waking up.

We certainly learned the importance of keeping track of our things while exhausted in London. We had a great day walking around the city, drinking ales at a pub, and taking a short boat tour to see famous landmarks. On the way back, Shaniece left her phone on the Underground (the subway). As the doors closed, a man held up the phone and waved to her. The people in the car all pointed to a button, which Shaniece tried in vain to press only to the effect of giving her a slight shock. In a moment of desperation, she rushed past the gate blocking the entrance from the station platform to the tunnel, which caused all the trains on the line to stop! It was a crazy situation, but fortunately the Underground employees and other people at the station were extremely kind to us. After giving her several lectures about how she could have died rushing past that gate, to our amazement, they were able to get her phone back. We chuckled imagining how SEPTA employees would have handled this situation. As we got off the train to the airport, I realized my wallet was not in my purse. As I frantically searched for it, a security guard walked by carrying Sam’s wallet. Apparently she had dropped it exiting the train. Soon, she realized she had my wallet in her bag, which I must have dropped earlier and she had been keeping safe. We were extremely relieved to know that somehow we had managed to hold on to all our most valuable and necessary possessions. Of course, when we got to New Delhi our checked luggage was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, it was merely delayed and we were able to get it back several days later. Lesson number one: travel is unpredictable and it is easy to get disoriented and lose things.

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London

Dhrangadhra is very hot at this time of year, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is dry, though, which makes it much easier to handle the heat. In addition, most people do not go out between the hours of 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, so it is perfectly acceptable to take naps. It is both wonderful and a bit unnerving to be living in a palace. While we are told the people who work here consider it a good opportunity, it is strange to have people essentially waiting on us. Because most of them do not speak English, it is difficult to communicate with them other than to say abhar, which means thank you in Gujarati. Nevertheless, most of them are very warm towards us, and we communicate through gesture, and more than anything, simply through smiling at each other. Shaniece brought nail polish, and yesterday she, Camilla, and some of the women have had some very nice exchanges painting nails and doing henna together.

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Camilla (L) with Barati (R) (Photography by Sam Romero)

In addition, a woman named Jayshree speaks English and is almost always with us, helping us to navigate these places. Jayshree works as a social worker at an NGO with women and children. She is extremely warm and makes us all feel loved and safe. As Camilla remarked, she feels like a combination of a mother, a sister, and a wife. She makes her own clothes (which are all gorgeous and expertly tailored), and she teaches women to sew at the NGO. We all feel very lucky to have her with us.

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Jayshree (L) dancing with Chrissy (R) (Photography by Liliana Jacobson-Peregrino)

Because most of our names may be hard for Indian people to remember, we were given Indian names. My name is Anande, which means “joyful one.” We like to wander the beautiful palace and its grounds at night, most of which is not in use and in varying degrees of ornateness and disrepair. We are not to flush toilet paper, and we are warned the water is not safe to drink or brush teeth with. Only certain areas of the palace have wifi, and most of us do not use data on our phones as we have discovered data is extremely expensive and quick to be used up. Apparently, however, this wifi is a recent development along with the air conditioning in the bedrooms.

So far, we have been busy visiting temples and sacred sites, buying clothes in the city, hearing music, going to weddings, etc. We are served four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner. I was surprised how easy it was to adjust to eating Indian food every day; I love Indian food, but as an American I’m used to being able to enjoy a variety of cuisines day to day. But the food is delicious, and I always look forward to the next meal. It is also very fun to wear the clothes here. Though us women must cover our legs, shoulders, and chest, the fabric is light, loose, comfortable, and beautiful. It is amazing to walk down the streets of Dhrangadhra and see so many beautiful women adorned with lots of jewelry with long pretty hair. I don’t think I’ve seen an outfit I would consider “ugly.” Though dress codes for women can be restrictive, at least the options are flattering.

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Women praying at Ranmal Temple in Dhrangadhra

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Wedding in Jesada

Navigating the streets of Dhrangadhra is not like anything I’ve experienced before. First of all, there are no road rules. While sometimes this doesn’t seem to make a difference in terms of safety, other times certain drivers scare the crap out of us. In general, though, I’ve noticed people here don’t seem to get road rage. The lack of rules has an effect of making the people who drive on these roads much more aware of everything that is going on, rather than relying on rules and boundaries to ensure safety. People drive wherever they can, and there seem to be more motorcycles and rickshaws than cars. Bulls, dogs, goats, and boars roam freely, eating the colorful trash adorning the brown roads.

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Because animals are considered to be manifestations of Hindu deities, they are respected here. They are left to roam free and are not generally kept as pets except for in situations where they are utilized for a purpose. I treat my cat like he’s my son, so it feels strange to me to see all these dogs walking around and people paying them no attention. My first night here I tried to call to one of the dogs, and he seemed extremely confused. It wasn’t until I called him multiple times that he even realized I was talking to him, and when he figured it out he seemed very confused that a human was trying to interact in that way with him.

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Dog enjoying milk libations at stepwell in Kankavati

Because this experience is delightful and exhilarating, it can be hard to recognize feelings of culture shock. I expected culture shock to be a conscious experience, but it is actually a rather unconscious process. Out of nowhere, several of us have experienced feelings of depression and heightened emotion. I think, at least for me, part of this has to do with the poverty many people are living in as well as how much women are repressed. While it is clear many people live in tents outside the palace ground, it seems so normalized here that it sometimes takes a while to comprehend the extreme difference of our lives in this palace with their lives on the sides of roads. In Ahmedabad, women with babies would come up to the car, gesturing that they needed food. It also takes a while to realize how different it is to be a woman here. Since in America we often associate bright colors, beautifully draped clothes, bare midriffs, and piercings with empowered females, it is easy to forget how patriarchal this society is. When a woman is married here, she is not supposed to wear certain colors like blue, black, white, and grey as they are associated with widowhood. Women are also supposed to wear certain jewelry to indicate their marital status. It was difficult to watch a young girl marry in a neighboring village called Jesada, as it was clearly the worst day of her life; she looked absolutely devastated. She did not get to choose her partner, she was about to be separated from her family, and she now had to lose many freedoms she once had in order to serve her husband. In addition, an eleven-year-old girl was also to be married. Though she does not have to leave her family until she is older, it was shocking to witness something like this. Now I know, especially after feeling so happy most of the time and then occasionally terrible out of nowhere that these experiences can be wonderful, but they must be processed. As anthropologists we must keep our minds open, but at the same time, we must recognize when certain issues push our ethical buttons.

Getting ready for India

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Hey folks! My name is Anna, and I am an undergraduate anthropology student at Temple University. This week I embark on my study abroad journey in Dhrangadhra, India! Fortunately, the children I nanny are 2nd generation Indian-American, and both parents speak Gujarati, the language spoken in Dhrangadhra. In fact, the seven-year-old daughter taught me the phrase modhu bandh which means “shut your mouth.” Surely this phrase will be invaluable in my field work! The parents have been generously helping me prepare for this experience by teaching me about food, inviting me to Indian-American community events, and telling me about their experiences as Indian-Americans both in America and in India.

For the past semester, I have been studying the craft of ethnography in anthropological and sociological fieldwork. Ethnography is a tricky medium. There are a variety of methodologies that can be used in field work. Among these approaches, some are more successful than others in avoiding ethnocentrism and considering cultural relativity. They may be specific to a social structure, comprehensive, or comparative. Ethnographic construction may involve writing, film, audio recording, and/or performance. I believe that now, at a time when globalization is spreading faster than paranoia and biases are eroding, it is important to establish ways to interact cross-culturally and publish these findings that are effective, respectful, and non-exploitative. Staying in Dhrangadhra for the entire month rather than dividing my time traveling to several different countries or regions will allow me to gain an appreciation for what it takes to adjust to life in a different culture far from home.  This skill is critical in anthropological work.

On an intellectual and spiritual level, my foremost curiosity is what is spirit and how is it linked to the body? From what I understand, there is an infinite number of answers to this question shaped by various cultural, temporal, geographical, and political factors. I know that what I want to do someday will be rooted in this question, and spending time in a place like Dhrangadhra will be a transformative experience that will allow me to explore it in new ways by observing and learning about religion, nutrition, medicine, and performance.

That’s all for now. See you in Dhrangadhra!

Comparing England to India

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One of my advisers suggested that I try to compare and contrast my two study abroad experiences while an undergraduate student at Temple University.  It simultaneously also does the job of wrapping up my experience.  However, comparing the two experiences I have had is hard to do.  First some background knowledge:

Spring semester of sophomore year, I partook in an exchange program in Norwich, England, which is a city about two hours northwest of London.  I was enrolled in three classes, including an environmental science course, biology course, and a creative writing course (counted as my art Gen Ed).  During my six-month-abroad adventure, I did a lot of growing as an individual and young adult.  I went on numerous trips around Europe and met some amazing people along the way.

So, here is the part where I try to compare and contrast…

COMPARE:

-both experiences put me outside of my comfort zone.  Going to England was my first experience abroad that I took on by myself and without knowing anyone.  In India, I had no idea how the disparity in culture would play out.

Where I lived in India.

Where I lived in India.

Where I lived in England.

Where I lived in England.

-both were fulfilling in that I learned about myself and what I liked and did not like about living in that specific country, be it food, culture, etc.

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Typical lunch in Gujarat.

Typical Roast dinner in England.

Typical Roast dinner in England.

-I was able to gain the best experience because I put myself out there and made friends with local residents in both locations.  In England, I made friends with many of my flatmates, was able to travel with them and even visit their hometowns, and I learned how real Brits live.  In India, I was able to speak to the translators and really get to know them and ask them about their lives.  In some instances, I even had the opportunity to go home with them so that they could show me their home life.

Becoming fast friends with the girls who cooked for us! They helped me and Francesca put on our sarees.

Becoming fast friends with the girls who cooked for us! They helped me and Francesca put on our sarees.

My group of friends from Norwich, we all went to the University of East Anglia (UEA).

My group of friends from Norwich. We all went to the University of East Anglia (UEA).

CONTRAST:

-While both experiences were eye-opening, they did so in very different ways…England opened me up to new experiences, a different college adventure, and opened my eyes to how college is for foreigners.  England taught me how to be mature and travel smartly on my own, as it was my first time doing so.  I learned how to make friends, how to talk to anyone, and how to better be myself through the process.  Living in India taught me how drastically culture plays into lifestyle.  It was incredible to see how people across the world live and thrive.

Traditional clothes in India.

Traditional clothes in India.

Western clothing in England.

Western clothing in England

Weekend trip to farms.

Weekend trip to farms

Weekend trips to Germany.

Weekend trips to Germany

-Accepting what you’ve been taught…India left me questioning myself and my beliefs more often than not.  For example, after being asked why I wear contacts instead of my glasses some days, I would find myself perplexed.  Everything had to be explained, and this holds true vice versa.  When I was being taught the reason why some Indian traditions came to be, I would find myself questioning the reasons.  England was the exact opposite.  I would learn something about the way that “Uni” was taught and it made so much more sense to me.

-Both are culture shocks, but the cultural differences in India were more apparent to me, and in England the differences were more subtle.

Both experiences, for me, were one-of-kind and the best I could have hoped for.  Both have lasting impressions and have left me with new information and various global perspectives.

Get On Your Bicycle and Ride It

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Now that the group of us have started to get more comfortable with the palace and the Indian lifestyle, it is time for all of us to begin our independent research.  Bapa said it the best when he told us to “get on your bicycle and ride it.” AKA start moving!

Everyone on the trip is working on various projects, as there are an assortment of students studying various majors. There are a few architect students studying the concept of public and private space and the physical architecture of cultural Indian buildings. Some psychology students are working on the understanding of yoga and NGOs associated with women’s safety in India. Many students have decided to write poetry and short stories about their time in India as well.

However, my project consists of better understanding the Indian healthcare system and the methods and methodology of Indian medicine.

When I arrived to India, I was not sure what this would mean for me.  Even before I knew what my independent research would look like, I was connected to a women who took me to an Anganwadi, which is a government-funded center for children and mothers that was created by the Indian government to fight malnourishment. The government allocates food for these clinics and there are government workers who prepare the food to feed the children and teach their mothers basic nutrition and health lessons. This includes lessons such as introducing the various food groups and how to have good personal hygiene, as well as female anatomy lessons.

Me holding an adorable baby that was in the Anganwadi.

Me holding an adorable baby that was in the Anganwadi.

The nutrition poster-filled in with common Indian foods such as rice and mango.

The nutrition poster-filled in with common Indian foods such as rice and mango.

While observing and interviewing people associated with these Anganwadis was interesting, I wanted to learn and better comprehend the healthcare system in India, and the implementation of Ayurvedic (ancient eastern) medicine.

And so, my quest to understand these practices was started.  I interviewed several doctors including both Allopathic (western medicine) and Ayurvedic doctors, that worked at both private and government hospitals.  Below are the main take-aways:

  1. Health insurance is not common in rural Gujarat (no one I met had it or understood the concept).
  2. Public Ayurveda hospitals and doctors are funded by the government.  Imagine the U.S. government spending money on herbal medicine clinics…
  3. Yoga is extremely important in all aspects of health for Indians.

The beauty of this program is that it can be easily adapted to any person, in any major, with any interest. Your job as the student is to research what interests you and make the best of it.  It is your time to investigate and find out where your interest takes you.  You might be asking local villagers about their dreams, or interviewing Ayurvedic doctors–the choice is yours!

Entrance of the closest hospital to the palace. This is a private allopathic hospital.

Entrance of the closest hospital to the palace. This is a private allopathic hospital.

One of the rooms inside of this private allopathic hospital.

One of the rooms inside of this private allopathic hospital.

Sign outside of the hospital.

Sign outside of the hospital.

Allopathic pharmacy.

Allopathic pharmacy.

One of the doctors at the government-funded Ayurveda hospital.

One of the doctors at the government-funded Ayurveda hospital.  She was happy to share her information of therapeutic herbs with us!

One of the ayurvedic remedies.

One of the ayurvedic remedies.

How To: Enter a Temple

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In this post, I’ll explain the tradition of entering an Indian temple. First of all, there innumerable temples in India, ranging in faith from Hindu to Jain to Panjabi Krishna and more. Each temple is dedicated to a different God or Goddess. For example, there is a temple in Dhrangadhra (the town in which we are living) dedicated to the Goddess of wealth. We have also visited temples that are specifically created for people to pray when they are in need of certain things. For example, we went to a temple in Modhera dedicated to  children with learning disabilities and those who are transgendered.

Here is how you are supposed to enter a temple:

Before you enter, some general guidelines to keep in mind

*Make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing (i.e. shoulders and chest covered for women, along with pants/skirts/dress that lay well passed your knees and males wear any shirt and pant combo)

*Ask if you are allowed to take pictures before you actually take them!

*If you are a woman who is menstruating, do not enter the temple out of respect for tradition

And the official steps

  1. Take off your shoes.
  2. If there is a bell, you can ring it to symbolize that you are there for the God or Goddesses to hear.
  3. Bend down to touch the bottom of the temple entrance with your right hand.
  4. Take that same hand and touch your heart, and then motion over your face, and then head, like you are pushing your hair back in the air. This signifies that your prayer comes from your heart and all of your body.
  5. Enter temple.
  6. Walk up to the idol in the center of the temple.
  7. Bow down on your knees and recite prayer.
  8. Receive the chandla and the Prasad piece of candy or fruit that the priest gives you to eat, as a thank you for showing your praise to the God or Goddess.
  9. Retreat away from the center of the temple, making sure not to turn your back to the God or Goddess.
  10. Sit for at least one minute in the temple to show the God or Goddess that you are not simply there to ask for something. You have to show respect to the God.

I have also noticed that there are many holidays in India, or days to remember past events and history. Apparently, praying on these various days is like going through a portal and instantly getting to the event thousands of years previous. Pretty neat concept, right?

Here are a few of the highlight temples that we have visited:

Nal Sarovar, Gujarat-Nal Sarovar Burd Sanctuary: Mainly inhabited by migratory birds in winter and spring, it is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat, and one of the largest in India.  We stopped to look around, climb the stairs and enter the Temple!

Nal Sarovar, Gujarat-Nal Sarovar Burd Sanctuary: Mainly inhabited by migratory birds in winter and spring, it is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat, and one of the largest in India. We stopped to look around, climb the stairs and enter the Temple!

Upon entering the Temple at the sanctuary, we were immediately offered the customary chai (tea).

Upon entering the Temple at the sanctuary, we were immediately offered the customary chai (tea).

Modhera, Gujarat-The temple dedicated to children with disabilities and those who are transgendered.

Modhera, Gujarat-The temple dedicated to children with disabilities and those who are transgendered.

Modhera Sun Temple!  The Sun Temple, Modhera, at Modhera in Gujarat, is a temple dedicated to the Hindu Sun-God, Surya.  It was built in 1026 AD by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty.

Modhera Sun Temple! The Sun Temple, Modhera, at Modhera in Gujarat, is a temple dedicated to the Hindu Sun-God, Surya. It was built in 1026 AD by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty.

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A panorama of the beautiful Sun Temple.

The walls and columns inside are carved with elaborate depictions of Hindu stories and poses found in the kama sutra.  Indians are meant to come to this temple to learn about sex.

The walls and columns inside are carved with elaborate depictions of Hindu stories and poses found in the kama sutra. Indians are meant to come to this temple to learn about sex.

Tourist picture on the side of the Sun Temple!

Tourist picture on the side of the Sun Temple!

Temple in Patri, Gujarat!  Vibrant colors make this temple look like candy land.

Temple in Patri, Gujarat! Vibrant colors make this temple look like candy land.

A Temple right on our own backyard of Dhrangadhra.  No women were allowed in this Temple as it is part of a Hindu school where boys are taught how to live.

A temple right on our own backyard of Dhrangadhra. No women were allowed in this Temple as it is part of a Hindu school where boys are taught how to live a pure life.  It was a gorgeous temple, full with beautiful music, lights, and decorations.

Temples come in all sizes and shapes.  This Temple was in front of one of the local women's houses!

Temples come in all sizes and shapes. This temple was in front of one of the local woman’s houses!

Indian Standard Time

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Hello all!

So much has happened over the last week. Bapa has set up numerous field trips for the group to go on, ranging from yoga in the desert at sunrise, to visiting the wetlands and numerous Temples. We also had the chance to go the city of Ahmedabad for a day of basically sightseeing and eating. As our first time in an Indian city, it felt as though I was in a movie.  I have seen shows that depict Asia in this light.  People are everywhere, there are shops left and right, the occasional cow and pig crossing traffic, and endless noise.  Without a doubt, as a group of “others,” we still remain the center of attention.  Ahmedabad is the largest city in the province of Gujarat, and is a mega center that has an industrialized, yet rural feel.

However, first I think it is imperative that I introduce you to “Indian Standard Time.” India is a rich cultural country. India has a unique and exotic cuisine rich in flavors and spices. Indians, however, have no sense of time. None. Nada. At least, not in the American sense. Indians do have patience.

Maybe, as an American westerner, my sense of punctuality is pretty on point. What I am trying to articulate is that as a soon to be senior in college, and having grown up in an American household; when someone tells you to be ready at, say 8:00 am, you are normally there five minutes early. This unspoken rule (or spoken) of promptness holds especially true when one is in a new situation, with new people, or with people of high importance.

However, in India, time is not of the essence. As a group, we had to come to realize and acknowledge that our American sense of time was useless in India. For, no matter what time you were given to be ready by for an activity, you had to give or take an hour or two.

And so, an assortment of valuable lessons were learned by all on the trip:

  1. Patience is a virtue. When you find yourself losing your patience because you were ready on time but the drivers were an hour late, just remember to breathe in and breathe out.
  2. Adapting to new situations isn’t easy when you have no idea what you are doing. Remember, this isn’t the movies.
  3. Take everyone with a grain of salt, meaning: if someone says 8:00 am, do not kill yourself trying to get there five minutes early. Relax, take a minute to reflect, and stroll in when the time calls.

So, for the trip to the desert at sunrise, where we were supposed to be ready to leave the palace at 5:00 am sharp. And, as one can predict, 5:00 am served merely as a guide for the time we were to leave.  As our drivers arrived exceptionally late, our patience, as a group, was definitely put to the test.

Here are some pictures from the week, including the desert yoga at sunrise, the wetlands, and our first trip to an Indian city.

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Me, strutting a pose during the sunrise. I definitely need to work on my yoga!

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Nichelle Brunner, a student on the trip, looking peaceful as ever.

Sunrise!

Sunrise!

The wetlands!

The wetlands!

Seashells everywhere

Seashells everywhere

The water is so salty that the crevices in the sand accumulate salt.

The water is so salty that the crevices in the sand accumulate salt.

Finally in a city, and the first stop is a Dunkin Donuts for a caffeine fix.  However, the menu at this Indian Dunkin Donuts was still unusual to us all.

Finally in a city, and the first stop is a Dunkin Donuts for a caffeine fix. However, the menu at this Indian Dunkin Donuts was still unusual to us all.

McPaneer anyone? Me and Francesca Boomsma

McPaneer anyone? Me and Francesca Boomsma

We stopped by Neel's old house, who is from Ahmedabad.  We took a picture on the roof of his apartment complex.

We stopped by Neel’s old house, who is from Ahmedabad. We took a picture on the roof of his apartment complex.

Lights, Camera, Action!

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Indians definitely know how to party! We had the privilege of attending a wedding early last week. One thing was made clear after attending this celebration–the fascination with our differentness. Everywhere we travel, as a group of Americans, we are stopped, stared at, and photographed. At first uncomfortable and awkward, I have grown accustomed to it and it is something I have come to embrace. It is funny how we are recognized from a mile away; and it is easy to get annoyed when 30 people are gathered around, pointing and speaking about you in a language you cannot understand. It is the first time many people in this small, rural village have ever seen an “other” and we stand out with our language and variations in skin color, eye color, and hair types. They are fascinated, engrossed and captivated by our every move. The translators, guards and locals helping on the trip have told us that we are the equivalent of celebrities, which is hard for us to conceptualize. When we go on trips to local events, even the wedding and other celebrations, people are watching us and photographing us instead of the main event, which is hard to accept.

A bunch of spectators, waiting for us to take their pictures and shake our hands.

A bunch of spectators, waiting for us to take their pictures and shake our hands.

The wedding was unlike anything I have ever experienced. First of all, it was enormous, E-NOR-MOUS! Imagine about 2,000-3,000 of your friends, family, and village (basically the entirety of the small, rural Indian town). Now, imagine an energetic singer, complete with a band on a stage, giant speakers, and the sounds of never ending Indian dancing music. The women, of all ages, are decked out in their most elaborate sarees full of vibrant colors, jewels, and glitter. The men were mostly dressed in button downs or white pants and a matching shirt.

The stage, complete with dancers, singers, and some members of our group!

The stage, complete with dancers, singers, and some members of our group!

In India, the wedding families host a three-day to week-long celebration in honor of the wedding. The night we attended was the first of the series. It was a large ground that was covered with plastic drapes, complete with a makeshift fence, stage, waterfall, decorations and lights. With music blasting, people dancing, and the general commotion that one could imagine with attending an event of this size, it still bewilders me that almost all activity was halted upon our arrival. Within seconds, it was as if we had a large flashing sign over heads saying “foreigners here!” and instantly hundreds of people were staring, coming to watch us, surround us and take pictures. They all wanted to take pictures, hold our hands, and simply watch us.

The entrance to the wedding, complete with a fountain.

The entrance to the wedding, complete with a fountain.

There were local newspapers following us around, wanting us to partake and dance and smile for photos. We were thrown into the “garba” line. aka dancing circle. A handful of us, myself included, jumped into the line, embarrassing ourselves to no end. We danced and danced, trying to learn the wedding garba steps from watching the other women and men, but more practice is always needed.

When the women needed a break from dancing, they sat together to rest!

When the women needed a break from dancing, they sat together to rest!

I remember looking up and trying to remove myself as an active partaker and try to see what was going on around me. It looked like a middle school dance. Boys were dancing with each other, making their own garba circle, and the girls were in their own circle creating a larger concentric circle around them and the entirety of the wedding celebration.

Garba circle!

Garba circle!

Weddings in India last until people stop dancing. This means that weddings can go on well into the morning. The bride left the wedding around 1am, but the wedding commenced. We left around 2 am, and there were still hundreds of people celebrating!

Zhenya, Alexa (me), Francesca, Peter, and Lauren at the wedding, dressed in traditional garb.

Zhenya, Alexa (me), Francesca, Peter, and Lauren at the wedding, dressed in traditional garb.

Let The Good Times Roll

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We had the chance to go to a Temple opening celebration called Pran Prathistha (the installation of the Indian idols in a Gujarati village).  Neel, one of the students studying on this program, is a native Gujarati, and still has family living in the area. Luckily because of this, we had the opportunity to go to Neel’s family’s village, Ashoknagar, for the opening of a new temple. This incredible experience reminded us all that we were foreign. Again, hundreds of Indians surrounded us all looking amazed that they were actually seeing a foreigner, remember–we are celebrities here!

On our ride to the ceremony-something you don't see in Philadelphia!

On our ride to the ceremony–something you don’t see in Philadelphia!

Upon arrival to Ashoknagar, we met Neel’s humble family, were given fresh mango juice, and then directed to the main celebration. Imagine a long hall, the length of about five city blocks, covered in vibrant drapes and decorations.  There are areas to sit and eat, as well as the new temple, complete with traditional artifacts and loads of villagers completing old traditions.

Decorated hallways, thousands of people, music and food galore!

Decorated hallways, thousands of people, music and food galore!

We proceeded to enter the new Temple and one by one, approach the new idol statue. The priest was standing next to the new idol, waiting to say a prayer to us in Gujarati, called Pooja (prayers) to make the idol holy.  Then, the priest gave each of us a chandla (the red paint thumb marking placed on our foreheads, red being the holy color of God) and then a sprinkling of uncooked rice that is a customary tradition when one is welcoming something new (in this case, the new idol). We were then handed a flower to put on the idol to signify the holiness past from you to the idol.

Where the traditional prayers for the idol were performed.

Where the traditional prayers for the idol were performed.

Then, we walked through the chaotic festival to the inside temple where we were told to be seated on the ground and watch what was happening. We slowly started to imitate the joyous community members who were singing and clapping.

Thousands of people join in for the celebration!

Thousands of people join in for the celebration!

We were directed out of the temple, and proceeded to an enormous, outdoor food hall where we waited in line for food.  The attention we got from the town people was a bit overwhelming, so we were moved to a local school in the town to sit and have lunch. We were presented delicious (and spicy) food which consisted of rice, paneer masala (Indian cottage cheese in spicy sauce), poor (Indian fried bread), buttermilk, lentils, and gulab jamun (basically an Indian donut soaked in a sweet syrup).  After lunch, there was a ceremony set up for us to see the installment of the new idol, which was the culminating event!  This was definitely a day to remember, and a big thanks to Neel and Neel’s family!

Women who work serving the food happy to see us.  They all wanted us to take pictures of them!

Women who work serving the food happy to see us. They all wanted us to take pictures of them!

Our walk to the school!

Our walk to the school!

Delicious meal!

Delicious meal!