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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Specific Background (and a song)

First, I'll say a couple more things addressing comments.

If anyone is honestly offended by what I am doing, please don't hesitate to mention it. I want to have the most informed opinion that I can. Anonymous comments are accepted here.

Dhurga makes a good point that it would be easy to be offended by a white woman wearing a bindi because she thinks it is cool or exotic and that is not why I am doing it. People might not know that. That is why I have cards with this web address on them to give to people who are curious. I think this blog is my explanation.

There was also a comment about how I should keep my expectations low about visiting India. I know a lot of Westerners have stars in their eyes about India. I don't think I'm that way, but maybe I'm giving myself too much credit! My parents have been and my cousin lived there with her husband's family for ten years. When the movie Slumdog Millionaire came out, I was living in Arkansas. Some of my friends there said, "Oh, if you see this movie, your opinion of India will change." I guess they thought that I didn't know about slums, extreme poverty, and corruption? I know some people think that India is a place of peace and spirituality and everyone there is a holy person. If there were a place on earth like that, I think we would all be there! But people are people. The majority of people anywhere are concerned with material things, and most of them rightly so. One has to be concerned with getting enough to eat.

Anyway, I thought today that I would talk in more detail about the path that has led me here. I've told you about my life growing up and the Vedantic philosophy that has always been there. As with many children, I thought my life was pretty typical. The way we did things was the way everyone did things. I never thought that other kids didn't have parents who meditated at dawn and dusk every day. On some level I knew that the other kids in my school didn't read the Gita and go on intense retreats, but those were just things that were in my life, not things I needed to label. And so, strangely, I did not connect any of those things to the Indian kids in my class.

I had one very close friend in elementary school who is Indian. She just found me on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and we haven't seen each other since I went into the sixth grade at a different school. I remember I used to go over her house and there were Indian decorations and her mother once showed us how to wrap a sari, but I never thought much about how she and I knew the same mythology.

There were other kids of Indian ethnicity in my own classes in high school, but again I didn't think about there being a connection between us. At that time I was still doing only Indian philosophy and none of the culture, dress, food, or dance.

I've friended many of them on Facebook too, though I barely knew them in real life. I wonder if they've looked at my profile, seen the religion status, wondered about it.

Back then I was not the way I am now.

And what changed me?

The first thing was when my mother and I were sifting through old books that were for sale in the basement of the Waltham library for $1 each. She came across an enormous book that was falling apart at the spine, which was called Dancing with Shiva. We were really into Indian philosophy, and the book was only $1, so of course we bought it. The book is huge, but each page is a self-contained message. I read all of it. I loved it. There was philosophy and religion and culture discussed in it. Because the book was so old, I automatically assumed that whoever had written it was long gone and that this book was one of a kind.

A new age shop moved into the town center. I went shopping there once. I was not interested in the crystals or essential oils or scarves, but I found one little brass dancing Shiva statue (known as "nataraja," king of dance). It was so beautiful. I was mesmerized by the grace in the lord's limbs. When I took it to the register, I found that the clerk had no idea what it was. To her, it was just more vaguely spiritual stuff that she packed the store full of, pulling it from every culture she could find.

That statue went with me to college. I gazed into his eyes every morning. And yet, at that time I still saw myself as Christian. Unconventional, perhaps, but very religious. I grew up in Massachusetts, which is a pretty liberal place, and because of my parents' interests, I had no exposure to evangelical Christianity at all. In college I joined a Christian group because I wanted a spiritual base. It was a shocking discovery to find that I did not fit their definition of Christian at all. I thought of Jesus as an avatar of Vishnu, one of many. I kept that to myself for the two years I was part of the group. I was always trying to hide that I did not have a "testimonial", a story of how I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart. I left the group for good after they brought in a speaker who gave a talk about the tragedy of an area of the middle east, which has been calculated to be the least proselytized area in the world. That made me angry. I could not accept that other religions did not have an equally valid path to God. I realized more and more that I had more in common with my Indian philosophy side than I did with my Christian side.

Also, right before I went to college, my older cousin married an Indian man and moved to India with him. She would spend the next ten years living mostly with his family there, occasionally staying in Massachusetts for stints. Currently they are back in Massachusetts and have a house. But my first year of college, my cousin had arrived in India recently. She had an Indian wedding and sent us beautiful pictures. For my birthday that year, she and her husband sent me my first salwar kameez. I had never seen one before. My cousin made me promise I would actually wear it, she didn't want to get me a gift that would just sit in my closet.

So, wear it I did. I had one Indian classmate very startled to see me. "Do you know what that is?" she asked. "Yes," I told her, "I do."

After college, I went to graduate school. It was there that I realized that I could join a Hindu student organization. I kicked myself for not thinking of that back in college. I went to events with the Hindu student association at my graduate school and that was when I first started identifying myself as a Hindu.

By this time I had more understanding and access to the Internet than I had in high school. I was looking at my beloved Dancing with Shiva book one day, and on a whim, I looked up the publisher, Himalayan Academy, online. I could not have been more wrong about this book. It turned out that it was published by a large organization based in Hawaii. There were two more books in the series, plus books about how to be a Hindu and a magazine! I subscribed to the magazine, Hinduism Today, and read many of their books on their website. As much as I like them, I do know for sure that I am a Vedantist and not a Shaivite. But I do have a deep connection to Shiva and I enjoy their writing very much.

That same nataraja statue sits at the center of my alter today.

So, that is how I started down the path of taking on Indian culture as well as religion. I was not able to always live near the organization in which I grew up and I realized that it was very small. It started to seem odd to me that they would try to pull the religion out of the culture, when the two have gone together for so long.

Lastly today, I have a song to share with you. When I was visiting home, a friend introduced me to the music of her friend, who is a filk musician. One of his songs is the story of Hanuman from the Ramayana. It is beautifully written and beautifully sung. I have been listening to it almost non-stop.
under Relgious/Spirtual > Storyteller. It is called "Divine Monkey."


  1. it is really a nice story.

    i don't see why indians should feel offended even if you wear bindi thinking it cool or exotic. most indians will on the contrary be very happy that you are trying something indian.

    it seems you have missed a chance of visiting india , while your cousin was here. is she interested in hinduism too?

    - basu

  2. I did miss a good opportunity. I planned to visit here at some point, but time kept going by and I didn't realize they were going to move to America. Now it's too late! :)

    She doesn't feel the need for a label. She just says to do whatever you do and you don't have to call it anything. She and her husband are quite religious, though, from what I've seen.

  3. Sorry, I meant to say "visit her," not "visit here"!

  4. Hi Aamba

    Very valid points raised. The key it to like what I said in your previous post. Since Hinduism is the approach you are taking, go for it. How do you feel about wearing indian clothes? And you should honestly go to India when you can. It'll change your perception about alot of things - for the better. I'm heading to South India in november for 6 weeks and part of my stay will be at an ashram as well.


  5. I wear Indian clothes about 75% of the time, I'd say. I love suits and I think they ought to take the Western world by storm, I'm confused why they haven't! I wear saris for special events too. I'm lucky that I currently have a job that lets me wear anything, so I'm usually in a salwar kameez!

    I am keeping my eye out for the next opportunity to get to India, I won't let it pass me by.

  6. Amba, you look very serene in bindi and saree/salwar kameez.

    Dont count too much on Indian trip. Do visit some established ashrams there. Be careful while you travel alone, better have a family around you.Keep good work.

    There are some other good white hindus here in USA.David Frawley of New Mexico and Frank Morales of Nebraska come to mind. They both were awarded Acharya Titles by the prestigious hindu seats in India. Himalayan academy is one of its kind, they do amazing work, simply too good to believe.surya, chicago.

  7. Errrr... No one will be offended if you wear a bindi. Hindu Dharma is a universal dharma which was beyond the borders of modern India. Modern India is just a fraction.
    The bindi recognizes the third eye and I have seen the concept in South Americas indigenous traitions as well.
    Please wear the bindi if you want too.
    Hindus are not particularly judgemental about these things since there are a zillion sects in Hindu dharma.

  8. Hi Amba .Nice to read ur blog.Do visit India(especially South India) U can come to Pondicherry n visit Sri Aurobindo Ashram .It will immensely help u in ur spiritual journey.

  9. Is it Aamba or Amba? Why do u hav an extra A in ur name.Amba is one of the names of Goddess Durga.Do correct me if i'm wrong.

  10. There has been some confusion about my name.

    I took it from the Mahabharata, but I apparently did not look closely enough at the devanagari.

    I assumed, based on how I've always heard people say it, that it started with a long "a."

    I've been told that I'm wrong about that!

    However, I decided to leave it because I've been going by this name for a while now, so there it is :)

  11. there are so many web sites you can find meanings of the names

  12. RESPONSE TO WELCOME Swamy vivekanandas speach
    At the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago
    11th September, 1893

    Sisters and Brothers of America,
    It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

    My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honour of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.

    We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny.

    I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

    The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita:“Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.” Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth.

    They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

  13. visit the ebsite and read swamy vivekananda s speech at At the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago
    11th September, 1893

  14. Why we disagree? by Swami Vivekananda
    by Arun Nair on January 7th, 2008 | 5 responses
    At The World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 15th September 1893

    Transcript of the Speech:

    I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, “Let us cease from abusing each other,” and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.
    But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog.

    Of course, the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat.

    Well, one day another flog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.
    “Where are you form?”
    “I am from the sea.”
    “The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?” and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.
    “My friend,” said the frog of the sea, “how do you compare the sea with your little well?”
    Then the frog took another leap and asked, “Is your sea so big?”
    “What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!”
    “Well, then,” said the frog of the well, “nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.”

    That has been the difficulty all the while.
    I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. l have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.

  15. Beautiful stuff. Thank you for sharing that iwth us, Sridhar. These words are the teaching of unity and I always love to read great teachers talking about unity.

  16. Origin and Meaning of the Name Amba Debate this name info
    Mother; compassionate
    (AM bah) [Guide]
    Form of:
    Itself (Amba)

  17. अम्बा, अंबा
    <- Go Back!
    Gender : Girl
    Origin: Sanskrit

    Meaning of Amba

    Amba (meaning "mother" in Sanskrit) is another name for Goddess Durga or Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva.

  18. But the question is, is that the same name as the character in the Mahabharata who swears to kill Bishma? That's who I'm named after.

  19. kena upanishad


    I hope this will help you !

  21. You are totally right, all those lists give the name as अम्‍बा. Oh well, like I said, I feel like it's too late now. This is the way I've been using the name and it seems like it's too late to change it. What do you think? Would no one notice if I removed one of the "a"s?

  22. I think no one will note that one a is missing.if you use two "a"s then only they will note.and the pronunciation will be wrong.some times meaning will change(specially in Sanskrit)

  23. i came to know of ur blog accidentally,n i'm little bit surprised to know that u r a hindu.i have been listening to stuff like some priest calling yoga demonic n criticizing it as paganism.i wanna know what is the perception of west towards hinduism.i'm also curious about the indian immigrants,do they retain the indian soul r seek ways to follow the west?i appreciate ur thinking of universalism.regarding amba in mahabharata,she is nota divine figure but just human.she might have taken the name of the godess.regarding the name amba,this is the origin of "amma" in south indian languages.amma means the same that of mother.keep ur work.happy deepawali

  24. Good to have you! Indeed, I came to have the name Aamba because I was asking my Sanskrit teacher whether her name was related to mother. It seemed very strange given her story.

    To answer your questions, for the most part Americans are rather unaware of Hinduism. Most of them have heard the word, but know nothing at all about what it is. Because of fear of terrorism, most Americans think all Indians they see are Muslim. There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about it. Certainly America is based on Christian beliefs and other Abrahamic traditions that are very against the use of images of Gods (or indeed, having more than one God). The Bible for Jews, Muslims, and Christians forbids the making of images of God and the worshiping of such images. So, naturally, when people from those traditions see Hindu practices they are often horrified.

    I think now that there is such a large Indian population, schools and other organizations are trying to correct that and spread more knowledge.

    Most of the Indians who live here maintain a lot of their Indian-ness. Some blend in, some blend in partially, but all the ones that I know keep their Indian traditions alive, even though their neighbors might never realize it!

    The books written by Jhumpa Lahiri show what seems to me to be a very accurate picture of the experiences of Indian immigrants and their children in America. I recommend The Namesake and Interpretor of Maladies.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Amazing, you are very luck indeed. To think you were attracted to the "Natraja"!

    He dose the furious "Tandav" dance, where the universe has come to its end of its old age. The people of the world are completely overshadowed with ignorance. The Demonic reign of ignorance in this time, is supreme.

    God Shiva dances on the "Demon of ignorance" and the veil of ignorance is lifted from the eyes of the people.

    If you notice the "NatRaja" there is a little guy under his feet, that is the Demon of Ignorance!

    God Shiva is the God of knowledge, and his wife's name is Goddess shakti.

    Shakti means power, God Shiva is knowledge - which means with knowledge comes power! However we should only seek knowledge. Those who lust after power are destroyed by it.

    God Shiva represent the male energy, and Goddess shakti represents feminine energy.

    I hope God Shiva gives you greater insight of the world.

  27. अम्बा meaning Mother. And represents mother Goddess.
    Yes, Who took vow against Bhishma pitamah had the same name amba .
    She later reincarnated and became reason for the great man's death.
    Though it was a need.
    Sis, i would suggest you to watcg 'MAHABHARAT ' TV SERIES, if you know hindi. Its available in YOUTUBE too.
    Lastly we arent offended even if u thnk bhindi s cool or exotic.

  28. I've taken a college class on Mahabharata and read the first three books in detailed translation. I've watched several movies and miniseries based on it. There is no story that I am more familiar with than Mahabharata!

  29. Namaste Aamba,
    I love ur Blog...Happy to see One more Proud Hindu..and yes you look very beautiful in Indian Attire..Lots of Love to You Aamba..