My Dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
One of my deepest regret as a parent is not giving you more knowledge of your family religion of Hinduism. It is too vast a topic for me to fulfill that regret in this one letter but I do hope to give you numerous tales of this religion to arouse your curiosity.
Did you know that the term Hindu was derived from the Persian phrase, ‘people who live on the other side of the river Indus’? From this the word Hinduism was coined to denote a population that followed the Hindu religion. Nowadays the population on the ‘other side of river Indus’ is a mixture of many different religions. As such the term Sanatan Dharam (ancient religion) would be more appropriate for all Hindus. India, the title of the country also has roots from this Persian nomenclature.
I have always used the phrase ‘Hinduism is a way of life’ when asked about this religion. A true Hindu might not follow any particular deity but he/she is considered to be a good Hindu if they respect nature, and its creator and their fellow beings. Broadly speaking it encompasses a life lived morally and ethically. There is a diversity of spirituality where all is possible but not exclusive. Hinduism is unique in that it boasts of having no single founder, no single scripture and follows no commonly agreed set of teachings. It also boasts to be one of the oldest religions in existence. Many a times Hindus have been labelled as pagans because of the umpteen idols/deities that are worshiped within the Hindu home.
All these idols are different forms(avtaars) of the one Supreme Creator. Just like this planet, this Supreme Being is timeless. Unlike many other religions Hinduism has never actively tried to ‘conquer’ the rest of the world with its philosophy. The Hindu religion might not have asserted its beliefs on other population, but its spread is quite evident. The vast Angkor Wat site in Cambodia and the Myson Sanctuary in Vietnam are just a few examples of this amazing spread. I was also amazed to see the influence of Hinduism in Mauritius. There I saw one of the biggest temples with some gigantic statues of many Hindu deities! Just like the elaborate churches of Christianity, there are many Hindu temples scattered around the globe. Most churches are decorated with biblical stories retold in art form whereas most temples depict the Hindu stories in sculpture form.
Many of the teachings and philosophy of Hinduism are derived from its four(and that is not a definitive number!) main religious texts all written in the ancient language of Sanskrit.
- Mahabharat including the defining chapter of Bhagvad Gita
The first two texts are philosophical and spiritual and the next two are compilations of stories using the philosophical theories of the original texts. Other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and movements like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Brahmo Samaj, ISKON or the Theosophical society are based on the founding principles of Hinduism. For me the Mahabharat and the Ramayan could easily be considered mythological stories very similar to the Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythology. With this in mind, my present task is to toil through Homer’s Illyad and Odyssey. I must confess though that I have never read the Vedas or the Upanishads but I do love the intricate stories of Mahabharat and Ramayan. It follows that the next binge-watching for us has to be the innumerable episodes of the Mahabharat and the Ramayan. A trivial data for you to digest: During the Covid 19 lockdown the Indian channel DoorDarshan aired a rerun of the 1980’s Ramayan serial. This resulted in a hundred fold jump of its viewership, running into hundreds of millions of viewers. Eat your heart out Netflix!
My earliest memories of the Mahabharat is of Gangaba reciting stories from this epic. Gangaba the accomplished reader would organise Mahabharat gatherings for all the neighbourhood women. Usually set in the cool afternoon, either on the open breezy veranda or in the shade of the cool Sitafal(custard apple) tree. As this epic is written in a poetic style, she would read each poem first and then demystify the poetry in her own words. She would add her own wisdom and insight to the story. Just like the modern ‘gurus’ of this era she had a huge following. Thankfully nothing on the scale of present day Guru recitals(ભાષણ). Another time where Gangaba‘s reading skill came into use was during the mourning period. In most Hindu households, the 13 days after death are deemed to be the mourning period. So it was Gangaba‘s task to recite the Mahabharat or the Ramayan from end to end within the 13 days. Reincarnation of the departed soul is one of the defining ethos of Hinduism. Hence the purpose of this recitation was to guide the soul to find peace(આત્મા ને શાંતી મળે ) and then move peacefully on to the next life. Hindus believe that one’s birth is determined by the deeds carried out in the past life and the actions in the present life will determine the next life cycle.
There are many Hindu rituals I remember seeing or being involved in over the years.
- Accompanying Gangaba to the temple(મંદિર) every evening for prayers(પ્રાર્થના ) and sweet offerings(પ્રસાદ).
- Visiting the temple around diwali time and specially for the new year’s day offering of Annakut(અંકોટનો પ્રસાદ). An offering of a mountain of varied food to the Supreme Being
- Taking all of you to the temple in your first month for a blessing from ‘God’ (દર્શન અને પગે લગાડવા માટે)
- Observing individual little temples(મંદિર) in all Hindu homes. A Hindu will create a worship area(small temple) within the home, avoiding the need to visit the bigger temple away from home.
The festivals of Holi, Diwali, Rakshabandhan and Navratri are also just few of the thrilling social events in the Hindu calendar. Talking of festivals, we had a superb chance of seeing the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Pune. This is the festival for the Elephant God(Ganesh) when the whole of central Pune was closed off to vehicular traffic. Various temporary temples were built in the closed off area and these housed ingeniously decorated hand made idols of Ganesh. Throughout the festival days, there were daily stage shows of excerpts of Mahabharat, loud music, pujas(prayers), processions and of course a huge variety of food. On the final day there was a huge procession to transport and immerse the Ganesh idol into the local river Mula(Ganapati Visarjan). Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most celebrated festival in the state of Maharashtra. Millions of people take part and come to enjoy the different aspects of this festival.
There is a vast treasure of information on the net which I hope this letter will inspire you to look up. One Youtube channel which I found interesting and has over 40 videos, is called Hindu Lifestyle. It demystifies many concepts of this religion and in my opinion, is very well made.
Please do find the time to explore this subject. Also let me know what you think of my recommendation of ‘Hindu Lifestyle’. Hopefully you will have noticed that I have changed the method of my posting by uploading the recipes separately. Does that work better for you? I have also created a ‘Surajba Family Recipe’ section for any other recipes from the Surajba Clan. Now just waiting for the onslaught!
Amar I have listened to your request of easy recipes…working on them right now. I always say though if you cook regularly, all these recipes are easy. Sometimes you might just need to spend that extra time in the kitchen to impress your guests!
As always, happy cooking and stay safe and healthy.
Bye for now, loads of love, hugs and kisses,