How to Pray for a Husband in India

Traveling, for me, is not only beautiful and enriching because of the deep histories, architecture, gastronomical culture, languages, and myriad of landscapes and climates; it is beautiful as you are exposed to so many people in the country, while you are journeying to the destination.  Through the people is how we are able to break down barriers, share stories and ideas, identify commonalities and transcendence, and find a sense of openness, excitement and inspiration yet accompanied with a sweet humility and peace. The people are where the real “heartbeat” of travel, and for me, where the real enchantment lies.

My journey and encounter with India was no different. The moment when I stepped on my connecting flight from Qatar to India, the aroma of curry and spice, the long grey beards, the traditional Indian dress, bindis, and more importantly the abundance of turbans, made it crystal clear that I was on my way to India. I was traveling solo and on my way to meet Sucheta and Dipak who were coming from USA. I was one of very few non-Indians on the Qatar Airways flight and curiosity quickly overcame me. At the time, I had been living in Spain, and certainly was no novice to travel, yet, for me India brought such an array of thoughts and feelings, as it was my first voyage into the eastern world, one perceived to be exotic, mystical, and very complex. I felt like little Ms. America in the midst of the unknown.

gina shopping for sari

On my flight, I came across a jolly old Indian man with bright pearly whites, a turban and a beard who just kept smiling at me.  I felt welcome as he started to communicate with me in Hindi (he quickly realized I was clueless) and even more grateful as he began attempting to teach me some of the local language.  He did it with such enthusiasm and such support as I stumbled across the words and the pronunciation so much so that three rows of seats in the airplane were laughing.  The passengers would all nod with encouragement as they saw me desperately trying to connect with them.  We shared snacks and smiles and it was then that my angst turned to comfort.

Arriving in New Delhi was fascinating and overly stimulating especially at 3:00 am in the morning.  My senses were on overload because of the entire aroma, the taxi company ripped me off, and I felt like an actress walking on the red carpet as I exited the airport.  My hair was blonde at the time and well the Indian’s didn’t see people like me very often so they looked at me in complete fascination and wonder.

Gina & Sucheta at a wedding in New Delhi

Upon awakening on the first morning, I was greeted by a serene and kind Indian grandmother who had prepared an authentic meal and later she and her friend took me to purchase my first Salwar Kameez and for my first ricksaw adventure.  We followed the afternoon sharing our ideas of love and they shared with me their love stories and the Indian culture and arranged marriage over chai.  Seriously, I thought, someone please pinch me.  I am halfway across the world speaking to two lovely older women about love and life.

And the Indian hospitality continued to unfold throughout my stay.  The people that I encountered along the way not only opened their homes, they opened their hearts.

The majority of the rest of my stay was with Sucheta’s grandmother, an absolute beauty, in Chandigarh.  She shared authentic meals, chai and conversations, and more importantly she integrated me into her morning routine where we feed the roses and the birds.  She persistently encouraged me to pray to god for a husband and assured me that god would listen.   Not sure where they came from, but I wasn’t going to argue, I rolled with it.

Gina with Sucheta's grandmother

My experience also included being invited to an authentic Indian wedding and to prepare, I received the full induction of the sari and accessory shopping experience.  The vibrant colors and array of textiles, patterns, beautiful bling, and intricate details to the parties and the weddings, the Hindu ceremony and the feeding of the fire, the food, the family, and the friends were certainly all elements to make ones spirit soar.   The Bollywood dancing and actually wearing a sari, a sleeve of bling bangles, was purely icing on the cake.

The stories are endless, the prayers of the tour guides, the countless picture taking with the locals, family meals, shopping and learning about the countries trends and natural resources and most importantly what makes India go round.

gina with mehndi

It was indeed a vivid country, with a plethora of religious and economic contrast, world-renowned tourist destinations, rich traditions, customs, and history. My writing could certainly go on for days about my humorous and embarrassing culture shock moments, the perplexity of seeing the stark and heartbreaking divide between the rich and the poor, to describing the elaborate details of the Golden Temple, going solo to the Taj Mahal and getting prayed over, (again for a husband), to a “How to dance Bollywood guide” as all of those created an amazing experience for me, yet, I do believe what is everlasting, was the hospitality and care of my local friends, and whom I would refer to as teachers.  I am eternally grateful for having gone to the land of enchantment with a native, as the insights and authenticity were invaluable. We shared perceptions. I was able to challenge ideas and opinions with those with deep cultural awareness and insights, which proved to be very thought provoking and at times, quite enlightening.

For the intellectually curious and spiritual seekers looking to experience India, I would recommend really integrating yourself into the culture via a local as the experience will be richer and more rewarding than you can imagine.

 ~ By guest blogger, Gina Cooper. Gina traveled with Go Eat Give to India in November 2012. 

Significance of Karwa Chauth

Karwa Chauth is a one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in northern and western India. The day is especially auspicious for married women, who mark the event by fasting from sunrise to moonrise in order to pray for the well-being, prosperity and longevity of their husbands.

There are many stories in epic tales such as Mahabharat, story of Satyavan and Savitiri, Karwa and the queen Veervati, that tell how the festival originated and how it came to be celebrated only in certain part of Indian subcontinent. One theory is that Karva Chauth started as a festival to celebrate a special bond of friendship between the brides and their good-friends at their new in-law homes. A few days before the festival, married women would buy new karvas (spherical clay pots) and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. Inside they would put bangles and ribbons, home-made candy and sweets, make-up items, and small clothes as gifts for their girlfriends. The women would then visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth and exchange these gift pots.

Another theory suggests, that since Karwa Chauth follows soon after the summer (Kharif) crop harvest in rural areas, it is a good time for community festivals and gift exchanges. The festival coincides with the time for sowing wheat crops. Karwas are big earthen pots in which wheat is stored so fasting by the woman may have originally started as a prayer for a good harvest in this predominantly wheat-eating region.

The fast begins at dawn. The women wake up early in the morning to eat fruits, sweets, bread and potatoes. After this, fasting women do not eat during the day, and some don’t drink any water either. Women receive gifts from their mothers and mother in laws. They dress up in fine traditional clothing, sometimes in their wedding attire. Wearing red, gold or orange sari or salwaar kameez signifies a bride. The women adorn their hands with mehndi (aka henna), their best jewlery, and spend the day socializing with friends and relatives.

Photo courtesy Tribune India
Photo courtesy Tribune India

In the evening, all the women from the household, and sometimes the neighborhood, get together for a prayer (puja), while the eldest woman tells stories about wives who were able to change the destiny of their husbands through great devotion and fasting. Thalis (plates) decorated with offerings such as candles, flowers, sweets, sindoor (red color powder) are passed around and the women bless each other.

Here’s a song that is hummed while passing the thali:

“Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
A Katti Na Ateri Naa,
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Naa,
Gwand Pair payeen Naa,
Sui Che Dhaga Payeen Naa
Ruthda maniyen Naa,
Suthra Jagayeen Naa,
Bhain Pyari Veeran,
Chan Chade Te Pani Peena
Ve Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Ve Sarv Suhagan Karwara”

“Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
Aye Katti Naya Teri Nee,
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Bhee,
Aar Pair payeen Bhee,
Ruthda maniyen Bhee,
Suthra Jagayeen Bhee,
Ve Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Ve Sarv Suhagan Karwara

At sunset, the husbands join their wives to complete the final ritual of the day. They gather outdoors awaiting the moon to make itself visible in the sky. When the moon rises, the women look at it through a fine-mesh sieve, and then look at their husbands  reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta (stole). The women offer the water to the moon asking for blessing and her husband’s long life. Finally, the husband gives his wife her first sip of water and feeds her sweets to break her fast.

Photo courtesy BCCL
Photo courtesy BCCL

Karwa Chauth is still practiced by Hindu women all over the world.

Photo courtesy iloveindia.com
Photo courtesy iloveindia.com

~ By guest blogger Shweta Sharma. 

Twelve year old teacher goes to India

Teaching is one of my passions. My name is Manika Bhatia. I am a 12 year old girl, studying in 7th grade at North Gwinnett middle school in suburbs of Atlanta. I enjoy playing basketball, swimming, volunteering with kids, and spending time with friends and family. When I grow up, I would like to be a corporate lawyer.  But in the meantime, I am enjoying teaching.

Continue reading “Twelve year old teacher goes to India”

What to eat at Holi?

The festival of Holi is celebrated once a year during spring time in India. It has a strong mythological, cultural and social significance. It is a day when people of all ages, religions and backgrounds come together to play with dry and wet colors, water balloons, and much more. Everyone would be outdoors, laughing, giggling, soaking in bright colors, leaving all reservations at home. Continue reading “What to eat at Holi?”

How to make Tandoori chicken without a tandoor

Tandoori Chicken is one of the most popular dishes from northern India. It is grilled chicken rubbed with a blended spice marinade, identifiable by its red coloring. Tandoori is Indian style of BBQ. The marinade has garlic, salt, coriander, tamarind, cumin, ginger, lentils and oil. Continue reading “How to make Tandoori chicken without a tandoor”

Celebrating Christmas in India

I grew up as a Catholic in a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian. In the city of Chandigarh in northern India, ours was among the handful of Christian families. Even though Christmas was a big deal for us, it wasn’t as festive around as it is here in the western world. Continue reading “Celebrating Christmas in India”

Golden Temple

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is one of the most spiritual places in India. The temple is a Sikh temple (aka gurduwara). It was constructed in 1604. Made entirely of gold, the temple is simply spectacular in its architecture and beauty teaching lesson of egalitarianism and humility.

Even though I grew up in north India, merely a four hours drive from Amritsar, I never had a chance to visit the Golden Temple before. Every time I planned a trip there, something or the other happened that prevented me from attaining this lifelong desire.

Fortunately, I made it last week. Amritsar is a small city in Punjab and very close to the India-Pakistan border. As a result of its location, the city can sometimes be unstable and unsafe, but lately no major cases of violence have taken place there.

After parking in the car garage, I walked through the busy streets of Amritsar where everything goes. If you don’t watch out, you can get run over in no time. There is a shoe deposit area before the temple where visitors need to drop off their footwear and walk barefoot for a few more yards on dirt roads before reaching the main entrance to the Golden Temple. Once there, worshippers must do ablution by washing their hands, feet and face.

The walk down the stairs gives a first glimpse of the gold of the temple which is a breathtaking sight. The temple itself stands in the middle of a lake and is surrounded by smaller temples made of white marble, a large courtyard and places for pilgrims to rest, eat and hydrate.

After soaking in the magnificent views of the temple, it was time to go inside and take blessing from the Sikh Gurus. First I bought some offering (Prasad) to offer to the priests. With hundreds of people visiting, there was almost two hours wait in the line before I could go inside. In the main temple, the priests chant away scriptures that are soothing to hear. Worshippers pay their respects by bowing down to the Guru’s, making their offerings and saying their prayers. Immaculate marble inscriptions adorn the walls and ceiling of the inside of the temple. The entire experience is very spiritual and refreshing to the soul.

I have been told the best time to visit is 4am when the temple opens and the crowds are thin. Also, that is the time when the Guru Grant Sahib (the holy book) is taken inside in a procession. When it’s dark, the temple lights up and make the gold glisten in the dark against the clear blue water. It’s definitely worth staying at one of the hotels overlooking the Gold Temple so that you can see it both in day and night.

Pilgrimage in the capital

Lotus TempleNew Delhi, the capital of India is perhaps the only city in the world where a vast number of different religions coexist with much harmony. The population of India is majority Hindu, but also includes a good number of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Jews and Zoroastrians. If you want to visit all their places of worship and see how they differ in their preachings, theology, rituals and architecture, plan a visit to Delhi where all of these religions have managed to represent themselves fairly well.

The Lotus temple built 25 years ago is perhaps the only one of it’s kind. It is a giant structure shaped in the form of a lotus, placed in a pond of blue water and surrounded by manicured gardens. Started 150 years ago by Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahai Faith believes in equality of mankind and one God. It’s teachings are more spiritually than religion inclined, catering to new age believers around the world.

Hindu God'sHindu temples feature various God’s and Goddesses, each of who stand for a particular virtue. Hindu’s worship the respective temples based on what they are seeking at the time. There are also some temples that are all encompassing with deities of a number of the God’s. Laxshmi is the goddess of wealth, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, Shiva symbolizes fertility, Krishna love and prosperity. Finally Ram and Sita are the main idols and you will always find their statues in the middle of the temple. The Hanuman temple in New Delhi is perhaps one of the most frequently visited. Built in 1540, it boasts a tall statue of the Lord Hanuman (monkey God) and is one of the five temples of Mahabharata days. An important feature of the worship at this temple is the 24–hour chanting of the mantra (hymn) “Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram”, since August 1, 1964. It is claimed that this continuous chanting has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Of the 165 Jain temples in Delhi alone, the Lal mandir that was built in 1658 AD is the most famous. Jainism originated in India and is based on science of nature and man. Many of the beliefs stem from Buddhism and Hinduism, such as reincarnation, non violence and Moksha (or attainment of enlightenment). Jains do not believe in God, but in a supernatural power that may be the collective souls of the universe.

Don’t forget to visit the biggest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal) in 1650. Constructed in Sandstone and white marble, it has domed pavilions, pillared corridors and a vast courtyard. Friday is the holy day of worship for Muslims. Islam is the second-most practiced religion in India, after Hinduism, with more than 13% of the country’s population.

 

India at first glance

The past week has been rather interesting and insightful. I have been in India, acting as a host and guide to my dear friend, Gina. This is her first time visiting India, even Asia. She is originally from US but currently living in Spain.

Chaos in the streets of IndiaThe first day we took a drive in Delhi, Gina pointed out the chaos and randomness of things that I was quite accustomed, and rather numb to having grown up here. “There’s a random cow in the middle of the street, a guy on a cycle with flowers in his carrier, a tea shack by the highway, stalls of groceries jutting out of run down structures, kids with goats” Gina exclaimed about hundreds of other things she saw in the most unexpected places. This pretty much defines the scene in India. There are auto-rickshaws, scooters, cycles, bullock carts, buses, cars and pedestrians on the same road without any rules, blaring horns randomly at each other, but still there is order in the chaos. Within that, the contrasts are even more spectacular. You will see million dollar homes next to slums, children begging for money knocking at the windows of Mercedes cars, women wearing saris covering their heads with modesty watching scantily dressed Bollywood actresses on their TV sets, five star hotels, Louis Vuitton showrooms and people earning less than $1 a day.

Copyright Go Eat Give

Orienting Gina with Indian culture and traditions has made me revisit it myself. I had been blindly following everything that was taught to me from a young age, but when someone else questions why things are a certain way, what do they mean, you need to think about it before being able to provide an explanation. India has a rich culture spanning thousands of years. It has over a billion people following several different religions. The society is somewhat tight, where family values, customs and people are given much importance. This means you can’t always do what you “feel like” as we often times take for granted living in the west. One thing Gina had a hard time with is when hosts would force her to eat even though she wasn’t hungry. Indians tend to show their love through food and it is considered rude if you refuse to eat what they offer when they are treating you.

Another thing she noticed is how we politely say “come” instead of “let’s go.” She thought it was a more gentle and inviting way of addressing each other.

I always knew that as a woman I had to dress conservatively in public places or men would ogle and I would draw unnecessary attention. Why is this the case and where does it stem from? Maybe the ancient believes of protecting women and hiding them behind veils in order to resist temptation. I don’t have the answer to that. All I know is some things you just don’t question and need to follow blindly.