Celebrating Shivaratri

Today, Monday is Shivaratri. Satya and I went to the temple Saturday to commemorate the festival and it was very crowded! I’d never seen it so crowded before. On the way back and forth I peppered Satya with questions about the festival. Here is what I discovered:


He said that Shivaratri commemorates a man named Kanappa (literally Mr. Eyes). Kanappa was hunting one night and sitting in a tree. On the ground below unbeknownst to him was a linga, Shiva’s sacred symbol. All night Kanappa was dropping leaves on the ground and many fell on the linga. Shiva was so happy about this that he appeared before Kanappa. Kanappa shrugged off the meeting initially and just continued on with his life. As he told the story to others, they told him, “You met Shiva! You are so lucky!”. Kanappa then wanted to see Shiva again so he performed many devotions to Shiva and even decided to sacrifice his eyes to Shiva if only he could see Shiva again. He poked out one eye and was preparing to poke out the next when Shiva appeared again to him. Shiva told him not to poke out his eye and even restored the other eye to Kanappa. Thereafter, Kanappa became a loyal follower of Shiva.

Satya says that this story demonstrates how easily pleased Shiva is and how generous he is. Satya and his family emphasize that Shiva is a simple, generous god. Before I met Satya all I knew was that Shiva was the destroyer-that was it, only that one dimensional view. Satya also says that Shiva even has worshippers among the demons, something I can’t quite understand yet. From my observations so far, Eastern thinking does seem to hold more complexity/shades of grey than Western.

At the temple:

We arrived 10 minutes before the temple was supposed to close for the night, but everything was still happening. In one area, the priests had placed a linga on the back of the Nandi and were leading it around. The priests were also doing the usual ceremony with the fire, blessing hat, and blessed liquid (forget what the liquid is). I still have to improve my sipping abilities-I can’t drink the liquid from my hand gracefully yet as it still goes onto the floor and on my wrist and chin. Little girls wore their most colorful outfits as did some of the women. Satya was a little confused with one group because they were chanting “Narayana Narayana” near Shiva. This confused him because that is one of the names of Vishnu, not Shiva. I guess we will have to ask his parents about that one. Satya also made sure to ring the bell near Shiva area. This was a little difficult because there were so many people there and a lot of people wanted to do the same. A lot of parents would also hold their toddlers in their arms so that the toddlers could ring the bell too. I tried to stay close to Satya, but there were so many people that sometimes we got separated as we made our circuit to the altars of various deities. This time, I did not get the peaceful, holy feeling at the temple but I think that is because we rushed to get there, had to deal with the crowds, and after all that only stayed for 20 minutes.

Last year we went to a small, North Indian temple for this festival. It was a lot different there. There, people poured milk over the linga and then in the main room people were chanting. Satya had no idea what they were chanting, but Saturday at the South Indian one he didn’t know either exactly all that was happening. Last year on Shivaratri was the first time I’d ever been to a Hindu temple and the first time we’d gone together.

Celebrating at home:

Satya called his parents and sister and told them we were going to the temple for the festival. His sister mentioned he was supposed to fast for the day. He sort of followed this because after our usual breakfast of oatmeal we didn’t eat a full meal until the evening. We also made sure we took showers right before we left because being clean is so important for Hindu celebrations. Satya mentioned wanting to bathe the idols we have in the house, but we didn’t get to that this time. In India, his parents had some family members over at their house. All in all, Shivaratri seems to be a smaller, quieter festival compared to some of the other festivals although Wikipedia mentions people staying awake all night in prayer, listening to musicians and watching dancers.


There is a lot about Hinduism/Lingayatism I do not understand yet. I still feel awkward going to the temple, but that is ok. There is a lot that Satya doesn’t know as well. We do what we can. We both think it is important to worship together and to support each other’s festivals and traditions.


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day snuck up on me this year.  I don’t think Satya and I have anything huge planned for tonight.  In a few weeks it will be our first wedding anniversary so we more looking forward to that date.

When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with my mom’s family who lived less than a mile away.  We would go to my grandparent’s house for a big formal meal-nice china, real silverware, a glass or two of wine for the adults, 7 UP and a cherry for the kids, candles, and a beautiful flower centerpiece.   After the meal, we would open our Valentine’s.  This always had a certain hierarchy to it.  My grandfather would go to the mall to get Fanny Farmer candy for everyone.  They would come in red heart shaped cardboard boxes and inside have an assortment of candy.  My grandmother would get the biggest box of candy.  Then, my parents and my aunt would get medium sized boxes.  All of us kids would get the smallest size.  The four of us kids would also get Valentine’s cards from my grandparents, my parents, and my aunt. 

For us, Valentine’s Day was about gathering with the people we loved most and enjoying a nice meal and chocolates.

Scandinavian Humor

Today, my uncle from Iowa sent me an e-mail with a Norwegian joke in it.  If there is one thing that my Swedish-American uncles love, it is jokes about Norwegians.  Why?  I don’t know-proximity I guess.  Swedes make fun of Norwegians; Minnesotans make fun of Iowans or Wisconsinites.  The joke below pokes fun of the Norwegian accent, but the Swedish accent is nearly identical to the Norwegian accent. 


Below, is the joke.  Do not read if you have delicate sensibilities or do not like earthy humor.  Hope you enjoy it!


A Norwegian fella wants a job, but the foreman won’t hire him until he passes a little math test.  
Here is your first question, the foreman said.  ‘Without using numbers, represent the number 9.’  
‘Without numbers?’  The Norwegian says, ‘Dat’s easy.’ and proceeds to draw three trees.  

‘What’s this?’ the boss asks.
‘Vot! you got no brain?  Tree and tree and tree make nine,’ says the Norwegian.  
‘Fair enough,’ says the boss.  ‘Here’s your second question.  Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99.’  
The Norwegian stares into space for a while, then picks up the picture that he has just drawn and makes a smudge on each tree. ‘Dar ya go.’  

The boss scratches his head and says, ‘How on earth do you get that to represent 99?’  

‘Each of da trees is dirty now.  So, it’s dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree.  Dat is 99.’

The boss is getting worried that he’s going to actually have to hire this Norwegian, so he says, ‘All right, l ast question.
Same rules again, but represent the number 100.’  

The Norwegian fella stares into space some more, then he picks up the picture again and makes a little markat the base of each tree and says, ‘Dar ya go.  Von hundred.’  
The boss looks at the attempt.  ‘You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!’  

The Norwegian leans forward and points to the marks at the base of each tree and says, ‘A little dog come along and pooped by each tree.   So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, vich makes von hundred.’

‘So, ven do I start?


A joke that my grandmother wrote down in her booklet of favorite poems is about another Norwegian.  She used to listen to the radio and copy down her favorites in a small notebook.  This one is very common and people throughout the Midwest have recited this one for generations.  Some people even turned it into a song!


My name is Yon Yonson
I come from Visconsin
I work in the lumber mills dere;
Ven I valk down de street,

all de people I meet,
say, “Hello, vat’s your name?”

(repeat ad nauseam)


My dad and my uncles can do those jokes in wonderful fake Swedish accents.  They grew up around people whose first language was Swedish-my dad’s dad for example lived in an isolated Swedish-American farming community.  He did not learn English until he went to school and he and his brothers and sisters retained a slight Swedish accent throughout their lives.  Unfortunately, my siblings and I can’t replicate very authentic Swedish accents. 


Then, of course are the old Sven and Ole (and sometimes Lena too) jokes.  There are some jokes that say that Sven and Ole were old batchelor farmers that lived together.  That is another standby of Midwestern culture-the old bachelor farmer.  Unlike India where nearly everyone gets paired off (in Satya’s family there was one aunt that never married, but she was over 6 feet tall so perhaps that is why and another who never married because she was blind), there have always a substantial minority of Swedes and Norwegians that never married.  My grandmother had three bachelor uncles that lived together.  Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion website has a whole bunch of jokes submitted by listeners.

Finally, I will end with my grandfather’s Swedish tongue-twister.  He used to amaze all of us with this feat.  (The “sj” sound is unique to the Swedish language and one that trips up nearly all non-native speakers).  Sadly, no one else in my family can now recite it.I myself can’t recall the exact one, but it did involve that sound and seasick sailors.  Here is one version I found: sjuttiosju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor, which means 77 seasick sailors were nursed by seven fair nurses.

I’m not sure how much longer these jokes will last.  I think the only ones to tell my future hypothetical kids Sven and Ole jokes will be my dad and his brothers. 

 What are some of your favorite jokes?

Celebrating Winter: The St. Paul Winter Carnival

I haven’t written much about Minnesota, so today I thought I’d write about one of St. Paul’s oldest and most beloved festivals-the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  The St. Paul Winter Carnival began yesterday, January 22.  When I was growing up, the St. Paul Winter Carnival helped to liven up the after-Christmas winter doldrums. 


In my family we, like most Twin Cities inhabitants,  all knew the legend behind the carnival…how the good King of the Winds, King Boreas gets defeated by the god of Fire, Vulcanus on the last day of the carnival.  King Boreas promises to return next winter, and Vulcanus brings the warmth of spring and summer.  The winter court gets selected the first day of the carnival.  There are very picturesque titles: Queen of the Snows, Wind Princesses, Klondike Kate, etc.  During our city festival in June, Vulcanus’ followers, the mischievous Vulcans would scare us with their loud horns and grease paint.  The Vulcans would go into the parade crowd and mark people’s cheeks with a black V for Vulcanus.  We would go to one of St. Paul’s parks to see the beautiful ice sculptures and some years we’d see the ice palace-a huge, multistory palace construction of ice made from ice taken from Minnesota’s lakes.  We would eagerly read the St. Paul newspaper, St. Paul Pioneer Press, to try to figure out where the Winter Carnival medallion was hidden.  We never could make sense of the daily clues, but enjoyed following along.  Usually the medallion is buried somewhere under the snow in one of St. Paul’s city parks.  There are parades too, but we preferred to stay away from the crowds and stay indoors.


Why did the Winter Carnival begin?  It began in the 1880s as a way to show off St. Paul and to prove that it is possible to survive and even have fun during the coldest part of a Minnesota winter, contrary to the view of a writer in New York.  In 1886 St. Paul, MN was actually one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and city leaders wanted this to continue.  The festival was modeled after the one in Montreal, Canada.  The Winter Carnival has been held every year since 1886.  To this day the metropolitan area of St. Paul/Minneapolis has the dubious honor of having coldest mean temperature of any metropolitan area in the lower 48 U.S. states.  The weather does play a big factor at the carnival.  Sometimes the weather is unseasonably warm and some events like the ice sculpture contest are cancelled due to melting.  Other years there are sub-zero temperatures that keep even hardy Minnesotans indoors and cause outdoor events to be cancelled. 


I would usually recommend visiting Minnesota in either June or September because those months usually have the best weather, but if you ever find yourself in Minnesota around the last week of January or the first week of February check out the Winter Carnival.  I guarantee it will be a memorable experience!

On “The Story of India” and Family History

Last night we watched the final episode of “The Story of India”.  The fifth episode was all about the Muslim invasions and the mingling of Muslim and Hindu culture.  The sixth episode was about the British and the Independence struggle.  For both episodes, Michael Wood glossed over many of the atrocities.  He did not say much or anything about temples being defaced by Muslims or about how Hindus tried to bury some of their temples in sand to protect the temples from destruction.  He didn’t mention how the British impoverished India and even in some cases changed the culture for the worse-creating more landless peasants or putting more of an emphasis on the birth of boys because they would not recognize female rulers.  The series was beautifully photographed. In its defense, how could you compress 6,000+ years of history into 6 hours? Sometimes Michael Wood made huge leaps and he seemed much more comfortable in Pakistan and Northern India than anywhere else.  Overall, we rated the series a 6/10. 


The series did make us reflect on his family’s history.  Both sides of Satya’s family have been shaped by the Muslims and the British.  His dad’s family comes from far Northern Karnataka.  It used to be part of the Nizam state of Hyderabad.  His grandfather spoke both Urdu and Kannada and in fact was an Urdu teacher and farmer.  In his spare time he used to write Urdu poetry on cigarette wrappers.  On the outside he represented a nice mingling of Muslim and Hindu culture.  On the other hand, why did he do these things?  Survival.  He had to blend in as much with the Muslims as possible in order to avoid being killed.  He did not wear the linga, had a goatee, and basically dressed like a Muslim farmer.  After Hyderabad became part of India, there were massacres of Muslims too so that whole region suffered a lot of violence in the not so far past.  To this day, his father’s village is very poor.  Poverty meant his father had to leave his home village at the age of 12 taking his younger brother with him to further his education.


His family on his mother’s side has a different story.  They were middle-class farmers.  Unlike his father’s family, his mother’s family has a man who has memorized their family’s history and who keeps their written family history for them.   He visits every so often to update the family history and Satya says that the family history is written on copper plates.  His grandfather on this side of the family was able to go to a university.  He was a dreamer who loved theater and Shakespeare.  He loved to put on plays and discuss them with his friends.  For all that, he did have a very tough choice during the Freedom Struggle.  He was offered a job with the British civil service but turned it down.  He did have friends who were very active in the Freedom Struggle, but he seems to have tried to stay neutral. 

The most surprising thing to me is his family’s lack of bitterness.  Satya has prayed in mosques a few times with his father.  Satya speaks proudly of a tomb of a Sufi saint that is near his home in India.  His father firmly believes that religion is on the inside of a person and should be left up to the individual.  Satya did not undergo a Lingayat initiation and says that his dad’s family doesn’t know many of the traditions because they couldn’t safely practice many of them.  In some ways, you could say that the persecution his dad’s family suffered made his family more open.  The cost was high, though.

There also have been many posts in the blogosphere about Indian identity.  What makes India special?  What do Indians have in common with each other if not religion, or language?  We’ve also spoken with each other about this.  The best we can come up with is what others have said before…it is the ability to absorb the best from other cultures and make it their own and to look forward to the future while remembering the past.  What do you think being Indian means?

Our MultiCultural Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! 


A while back some people asked me to blog about how Satya and I will be celebrating Christmas this year.  This year will be a bit different because we aren’t celebrating it in Minnesota with my family.


My aunt seems a little worried that I’ll turn my back on my Catholic upbringing.  For my birthday this year she gave me: cloth Christmas placemats and napkins, an Advent wreath, and some homemade soap from a monastery (smells like Christmas soap), and a batch of her special 7 Step Bars (one of my favorite sweets). 


Advent wreaths count down the weeks until Christmas.  The first Sunday of Advent one candle is lit.  This past weekend was the fourth Sunday so all candles were lit.  The third Sunday of Advent always has a pink candle.  The other candles are all either purple or blue-the colors of advent. Each Sunday has a name and a special theme.  For example, the third Sunday is called “Gaudete” which means “Rejoice” because soon Christmas will arrive.  The Advent wreath also came with prayers to say while lighting the candles.  Each week has a different prayer.  When I was a kid, we would make Advent wreaths in Wednesday night religion class and be sent home with prayers to say. 


Each Christmas season sometime after Thanksgiving my mom’s family would start baking.  They’d make fudge, gingerbread, spritz cookies, lemon bars, plantation bars, 7 Step Bars (graham cracker crust, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and more), and more.  On the weekends when we’d come to my grandparent’s house for Sunday Supper we’d play games and watch movies and eat lots of sweets.  The sweets would be stored in empty Blue Bunny ice cream buckets and put in “the cold room”-the coldest room of the upstairs near the attic where there was no heat.  This year, since we aren’t making it back, my aunt sent me my favorite kind.  Someday I’m sure I will make 7 Step bars with my own kids.  Luckily, Satya likes them too.


We did get a Christmas tree.  We got ours about two weeks ago.  It was a journey!  First we went to Home Depot because we heard they had $30 trees.  We didn’t like any of their trees.  Then, we went to Lowe’s.  Their trees weren’t much better, but they were on sale and we found a cute round one.  It was also bitterly cold outside-the wind was blowing hard.  We asked Lowe’s for a tree stand, but they sold out.  We went back to Home Depot but they also had sold out.  2 weeks before Christmas!!  Then we tried Target.  At Target we found some cute ornaments and some great multi-colored lights, but no tree stand. We even got so desperate as to go to Whole Foods because they had a lot of Christmas trees for sale.  They too were sold out of tree stands.  After Whole Foods, we got so sick of the whole thing we decided to go across the river to New Jersey.  We raced back to our apartment, put the tree in a mixing bowl in the tub so it wouldn’t dry out too much and then continued our search.  We had to drive almost an hour, but the first place we tried did have a tree stand. They sold out of their metal tree stands, but still had plenty of the plastic kind. 


Then, we decided to eat at one of our favorite South Indian restaurants, but it was packed so we walked down to an Italian one.  We returned home, put the tree in the stand and then decorated it.  When we were finished at roughly 12:30 am, Satya got on Skype and showed his parents our tree.  It was our first tree as a couple and Satya’s first Christmas tree period. 


Ornaments:  We got our ornaments at Pier 1, Target and A.C. Moore.  Pier 1 has some gorgeous ornaments.  We found a simple angel holding a harp go at the top of the tree. At Pier 1 I found a red bird ornament complete with green glitter to outline the wings and bright red tail feathers.  My grandmother had Christmas ornaments from her family going back to the ’20s and ’30s.  Some of my favorites were the delicate bird ornaments.  She even had little nests to go with the birds!  We also found the obligatory “Merry Christmas 2008” ornament to commemorate our first Christmas tree and first Christmas married.  Satya’s ornament taste runs more to the rustic.  He loves cabins for some reason.  One of his picks was a little house painted dark red with a tin roof.  Maybe some day we will have a little red cabin…We did try to find a star to go on top the tree. Stars and angels are the most popular choices for tree toppers.  Also, stars are more multicultural for us than angels since Hindu representations of angels don’t look like Christian representations of angels.  Stars are basically stars though and stars are also very important for Deepauli.  Once we find one we like we’ll replace the angel.  Other ornaments are a red reindeer, sled, white owl, and a beaded reindeer.  We have about 12 ornaments.  I figure that as the years go by we will slowly gather more. 


Tonight we plan on traveling to be with the family of my sister-in-law.  Her family is from Argentina so we will be having a very multicultural celebration.  We will be doing a simple gift exchange and eating lots of food.  Satya mentioned going to midnight Mass, but I don’t think anybody else is Catholic besides me.  We might try to find one, or may not.  Going to church does make Christmas seem more real-my favorite time of year for churchgoing was always Advent and the Christmas Season.

Cousin’s Lingayat Wedding

Satya’s cousin got married in India this past weekend.  It was a little bittersweet for him since he is happy his cousin is getting married, but sad he wasn’t able to attend.  Here are some things we found out:

-The festivities occurred over 3 days.  The dates are checked astrologically to make sure they are auspicious.  It is also important that parts of the ceremony are done at certain times, down to the minute.  Again, this is to make the ceremony is auspicious and the marriage begins on the right foot.

-Each of the three days Satya’s cousin got turmeric applied to his skin. 

-He wore different outfits for each day–one day in a suit, one day in a sherwani (the long-sleeved coats that end around a man’s knees), and the South Indian dyoti.

-3,000 people attended which is medium-sized.

-The cousin’s hand hurt after shaking so many hands.

-On the invitation, the women’s names go first.  This is a reverse of how it is in the U.S.  For formal occassions here, invitations are addressed Mr. and Mrs. Man’s first name Man’s last name.  There, the Mrs. goes first and her name is written out first and last and then her husband’s name is mentioned his first name and last name.  Is it the same in North India too?

-Brides are considered incarnations of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, happiness, and health.

There was one tradition that puzzled both me and Satya…for some reason after the wedding his cousin was not allowed to return to his home.  This was a big deal because Satya’s sister took lots of pictures and so the two of them wanted to e-mail pictures.  They ended up going to a friend’s house, but the friend’s computer has a virus.  No fun. 

Another part that confused us was that Satya says that in his family it is tradition to set out a pole and bucket in front of the cousin’s house.  The pole is then set on fire.  I don’t know what happens with the bucket…in case the pole fire gets out of control??  Has anybody else heard of this tradition and/or know the reasoning behind it?  Maybe the pole is to tell time….after it is burnt the cousin can re-enter his family’s house?  Satya has no idea. 

Yes, the cousin did have a traditional arranged marriage.  It was a process that took a few years because sometimes a girl was found that his cousin liked and his parents did not or the his parents would like a girl and he didn’t.  They met each other in August and decided by early September that they would get married in late November.  Both are Lingayats and they are both professionals in their mid to late 20s.  It turned out that the bride was related to somebody in Satya’s old neighborhood so perhaps that is how they found each other.  No, there wasn’t a dowry because in general dowries make Lingayats uncomfortable.

Everything went well, from what Satya heard.  His sister is returning to the U.S. this week.  Someday I’d like to see a Lingayat wedding, but that will have to wait.

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