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The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Holi and other hoildays

First, let me start by saying that I finally made it to the temple. There was a dance performance there by some students of my dance teacher. She suggested that I go and it made a good excuse to check out the place. I'm possibly more intimidated now. It's a large temple and there must have been a couple hundred people there. I didn't go into the room with the murtis (statues of the gods), I just went to the auditorium.

I think the theme of this blog has been that I have to learn to not worry over what other people are thinking of me. It always comes back to that. The fact is, I can't control other people. Maybe some will be offended by me. Maybe they'll think I'm just some stupid American who thinks "oh, karma is like so cool, man." But that's on them to deal with. It is not my responsibility.

I am reminded of another movie. A campy 80s movie with a lot of heart called The Last Dragon. I don't know if you've seen it. It's a Black kid living in Harlem who loves Chinese things. He studies kung fu and has a Chinese master and he wears Chinese clothes and follows Chinese customs. His family doesn't know what to make of him, but he just does what feels right to him.

I read a book once that talked about the experience of being a minority. I think that is part of what I am feeling. Being white, I'm used to being in the majority and I rarely think about my ethnicity or the color of my skin. It's a completely different experience when there's no other white person in sight. Being surrounded by Indians makes me extremely aware of being different and being a minority.

Back to the point. There wasn't really a Holi in the traditional sense today. I went to my boyfriend's dad's house and his sister and her husband and baby were there.

Knowing that his family doesn't have any experience with Indian things, I thought for Holi that I would make them an Indian dinner and bring a variety of Indian sweets for them to try. It was a lot of fun.

I wore a decorative bindi and they had no problem with it. For some reason I find it easier to wear the decorative ones and not feel self-conscious. It's the plain ones that make me stress. There's a lot of information out there about fashion bindis and they're just good fun for everyone. But when you're wearing just a small, plain bindi, it's clearly for another reason. Anyway, there will be a follow up post on the bindi experience another time.

For dinner I made Malai Kofta, which is not at all spicy, and even people who don't like Indian food would like it. It is balls of mashed potato and cheese deep fried and added to a tomato/cream sauce.

Then I made a traditional "milk shake" that is served at Holi, called Thandai.

Then I made kheer (rice pudding), barfi (Indian "fudge"), sesame gajjak (crunchy candy), and gulab jamun (which is the dessert you get at most Indian restaurants, deep fried flour balls soaked in syrup).

I did a lot of cooking! Totally worth it, though. Everyone said they learned a lot and enjoyed the food.

There are a lot of Hindu holidays. Also, in general, Indians like to celebrate and will celebrate any holiday for any religion around.

Interestingly, there is no Hindu holiday around the winter equinox. Probably because of the climate in India, but that's just a guess.

The big one that tends to get compared to Christmas is the Indian new year, Divali, also known as the festival of lights. That is in October usually. It depends because the Indian calender goes on a lunar cycle. There is also some confusion over time zones. India is a full day ahead of us, so there is disagreement over whether Americans should be celebrating at the same time as in India or on the same calendar day.

There is also a holiday where sisters make red thread bracelets for their brothers and the brothers promise to protect their sisters.

There are many surrounding the different events in the epic story, The Ramayana. For example, Rama's birthday and the day that Rama defeated the demon Ravana.

There's the birthday of Ganesha and the birthday of Krishna.

There's "Shiva's great night."

I think what I'll do is discuss each one in more depth as it comes up in the coming year.

Holi does not have a lot of religious significance. There is a story about a brave prince who goes into a fire and is not burned, proving his devotion to God. I look at it like Easter. Yeah, there's some stories about it's significance, but it's really just a chance to have fun and celebrate the spring time. Things in India get extremely messy. You can look up Google images for Holi and see people drenched in color. Another place to see it in action is the movie Outsourced. It's a "cross over" movie, an American movie taking place in India. The American guy gets very surprised by Holi.

My boyfriend's step-mom still wants to do it, she thought it sounded so fun, so she said when the snow melts we'll make a bonfire and throw colored rice powder.

Here's me at Holi last year:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Call for Ideas

I have a list of ideas for future blog posts and new experiences continue to inspire me, but I wanted to give my readers a chance to weigh in on what they would like to hear about.

I have planned posts on the following:

-Arranged Marriage
-American-born Indians (ABCD)
-Whether the religion and the culture can be separated
-Branches of Hinduism
-Typical rituals/"day in the life"

What else would you like to know about? If I don't know the answer to your question, I will find out!

Speaking of bindis as a sign of marriage...

Something light-hearted and fun for a change!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I made it my new year’s resolution to be fluent in Hindi this year. I am one of those people who has a very hard time learning language and I never learned much in school. In high school I studied Latin and in college, Sign Language and Sanskrit, but I have never been able to make much use of any of them.

As I started to try to live my life by following my heart, I knew that I very much wanted to be bilingual. I started looking for a language to devote myself to. The trouble I was having was that I wanted to learn them all and I couldn’t focus!

Finally I realized that learning Hindi would be a great step toward being integrated in the Hindu/Indian community. There are so many hundreds of Indian languages and dialects that picking one is overwhelming, but Hindi is the language of movies and news and many Indians speak it as a second language, if not the first.

I feel as though being fluent in Hindi will somehow prove to people how serious I am about this path. The dedication it will take to get this new language will show my dedication to Hinduism and I will not appear flakey. That’s some of the psychological stuff floating around in my brain, anyway.

I started with Rosetta Stone and I am extremely happy with the results I’ve gotten. I’ve become such a proselytizer of Rosetta Stone products. A few years ago they had a system that was not as good and I had that, but this summer I discovered they revamped everything and addressed all the problems in the old system (things like not learning how to say anything about one’s self, not learning basics like greetings, etc.). I am working on level 3 now (which is currently the highest level of Hindi) and what it has given me is the feel for the language.

I have a lot of vocabulary, I can read the script well, and I also have a sense for what “feels” right or wrong in a sentence. It came into my brain in such a natural way that I hear the rhythms of the language in my dreams and there has been no “work” at memorizing. I am able to have simple conversations now and I'm getting close to understanding more complex ideas. I’ve begun to supplement it with other things now, and I have several children’s books and DVDs in Hindi that I’m learning to read/understand.

It is my great hope that I will be able to raise my children bilingual, so it is my goal to have the language solidly down by the time I become pregnant. My boyfriend, who loves Bollywood movies, has also begun to use my Rosetta Stone, so someday we hope to have it be a language our whole family can use together.

For anyone else interested in learning Hindi, here are the resources I have found the most helpful: (great beginner’s books like Aamu the Aam) (audio lessons with a lot of variety and depth going back every day for months) (video lessons with scripts, allows you to hear real native speakers in their home environment. Also has exercises and quizzes, but not everything is working all the time) (my favorite dictionary) (a visual dictionary, which is a great idea. It has a lot of “borrowed” English words, but it is packed full of vocabulary) (Sesame Street clips in Hindi) (Comic books and DVDs in Hindi) (Hindi speakers yahoo group. The people here are very advanced and knowledgeable) (a blog with short grammar lessons) (children’s cartoon stories in Hindi) (more children’s videos)

Intermediate: (a list of useful info put together by the Yahoo group)

Advanced: (website in Hindi, selling Hindi novels and books) (books in Hindi, including translations of The Little Prince, and Harry Potter) (the BBC news in Hindi)
Hindi: a spoken thesaurus (a podcast of conversations between Robert Snell, a leading expert on Hindi, and an Indian woman about esotaric parts of grammar. I don't understand a word of it, but it's something to aim for)

New Links Added 5/12/2010 (I have not yet tried all of these!)
ISpeakHindi Wiki
Classes in D.C.
Worksheet and videos for kids
Online course materials for college class
A bunch of links
Kid's CD with games
Language games
Mellon project
University of PA
Syracuse University
New York University
Defense Language Institute
Listening Comprehension
Raj Comics
Hindi bolo blog
Hindi Learners
Learn Hindi from Bollywood Movies
Language Guide
Trip to the Market video
Hindi through Songs
Hindi literature

more Hindi literature
more Hindi Literature
To help you read it, this cool web reader
youtube Hindi karaoke

More New Links (ongoing updated)
Appu Series -DVDs for kids about body parts, the planet earth, animals, and nursury rhymes in Hindi and a DVD in English that I have about why we go to the temple.
Almost a Frequency List
Auditory Dictionary

And now that I've figured out how to embed videos, something really cute that will get stuck in your head!

Edit: It seems that the video has been removed :( Too bad, it was an adorable nursery rhyme cartoon. Here are a couple of cute kids attempting to sing the same song:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wearing a bindi

I've been reading with interest some forums about modern head-covering for religious purposes. Most of the women there did not grow up in a religion that covered the head and are now drawn to it. They express concern about feeling self-conscious as they start covering their hair, how to transition into it with friends and family who have not seen them do it before, and what exactly to wear to not offend or tread on the toes of a different religious group. Some of these women are pagans and others are Quakers and others just want to take this spiritual step.

Their concerns sounded familiar to me as I prepare to start wearing a bindi.

I've been dressing in Indian clothes for a number of years now. Not every day, but many days, I wear the pant suit originating in North India and Pakistan. I learned from an old boyfriend how to hold my head up high and be confident while looking different from those around me. I'm very comfortable in these clothes and only occasionally feel uncomfortable if there is an Indian person nearby. I wear them to my dance classes, but there it is expected. When I wear it to the mall I wonder if the Indian people I see are confused by my clothes.

The bindi is a new step. The simple, round bindi that I want to wear is pretty unmistakably Hindu. Since I am not married and there is disagreement between regions and cultures about exactly what a bindi in what color means, I will start with a round, black bindi. Red is a marriage color and many people, Indian and non-Indian alike, associate the round, red bindi as a sign of marriage, although I have seen many young girls and women my age who are not married wearing it.

For me the bindi is a spiritual sign, like the head covering. It is an outward sign of my religion and it is a reminder to myself throughout the day to stay focused on the spiritual.

It is also supposed to focus the third-eye energies. I don't know too much about that.

It's going to take a lot of confidence and a bold spirit to start wearing it daily.

But here's why it's worth it. Have you ever had the experience of being at a class or an airport, or the grocery store, and seeing a woman or girl wearing religious clothing (a head covering or a bindi or some other marking) and thought how beautiful it was. You wished you could be that brave and that sure of your spirituality. You think this girl is lucky because she probably grew up in the culture and has the support of a community when she goes home. But maybe she doesn't. I wanted to stop wishing to be that girl and start living that life. To live my life authentically, drawn by what feels right in my heart.

I don't know if that's a common experience, but I know the women in the head-covering group have felt it and so have I.

I'll be interested to see what kind of reactions I get when I start this. I will probably start slowly, doing it at family things or at class and not at work until later. I'll let you know how it goes.

ON ANOTHER MATTER, Holi is this coming weekend. Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to do any of the events for it. Holi is the most fun of the Hindu holidays and I've participated in events for it for the last two years. It involves running around and throwing colored powder at people. It's very messy. But with the snow still heavy on the ground here, I don't think that will be happening.

I came so close to making it to that temple for the Mahashivratri celebration earlier in the month too, but record snow falls closed everything in the state for a week. The temple will be having another one in mid March, so I'm determined I'll go to that one.