Posts Tagged ‘Hindu’


The Little Ganesh book we have has caught my son’s attention of late.  He seems to be drawn to the large colour illustrations – and Ganesh’s potbelly.

It’s the story of Ganesh and his brother Karthikeya and their competition for a magical mango.  In brief, Brahma (on a whim) decides that he MUST know who is the “wiser” of the 2 brothers and enlists Narada, the mischevious sage, to find out.  Narada gifts a magical mango to Shiva, telling him that it must be eaten whole and can’t be cut into pieces.  Being the chivalrous god that he his, he passes it onto Parvathi – but she’s too proper of a wife and so decides one of her sons should have it.  But which one?  Narada steps in, reclaims the mango, and says he will give it to the first one who circles the world 3 times.  Most of us know what happens from here:  Karthikeya hops on his peacock, thinking he’ll be lapping Ganesh on his mouse (the peacock and the mouse are their respective vahanas (modes of transportation)).  But Ganesh shows that he’s the “wiser” one by circling his parents 3 times.  After all, his parents are his world…

I get it – but I see a number of problems with this story from the perspective of a 4-year-old.  I don’t like how the brothers “can’t” share the mango (NOT the example you want to set when you’re trying to teach a kid the importance of sharing).  I don’t like how Brahma and Narada were trying to quantify how “smart” the brothers were (would not want my kids doubting if they are “smart” or “smarter” than their friends, or worse – their siblings – what a confidence killer!).  Lastly, I don’t like how it alludes to parents (Shiva & Parvati) playing favourites among their kids – this breaks the cardinal rule of parenting!

(I was also a bit disturbed by Mandala Publishing’s Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh – a beautiful book about how Ganesh got his elephant head – but my kids do NOT need to be thinking about how the god Shani accidentally destroys a child’s head at this point in their lives.  Of course this version of the story is probably less horrific than the one where a father (Shiva) actually beheads his son.) 

I don’t want to avoid these important mythological tales altogether, so what do I do?  I change the wording of the story – that’s what I do.  Instead of “wiser,” I use “sillier.”  And rather than the prize being the mango itself – it’s who gets to use a really cool plastic knife to cut it. 

And I make Ganesh share that darn mango.


I was clearing out some boxes this past weekend, and I came across the Annaprasana Invitations that I had printed for my son a few years ago.  Aren’t they cute?

They’e from Crane & Co. – it just so happened that I was in their store and saw a set of boxed notecards with that darling little spoon.  I asked if they could print text for me on the inside (don’t remember exactly how much it was – but very inexpensive) – and there I had something memorable to send to our family and friends.

I had written before about my admiration for the concept of the 16 Hindu Samskaras (see the Vidyarambam post).  The Annaprasana is the 7th samskara (the 4th one after the actual birth of the child).  It marks the baby’s first solid food feeding (anna means “rice” and prasana means “to enter”), and is typically performed during the 6th month (or even months for boys and odd months for girls) at a chosen muhurtham (or “auspicious day and time”).  The baby is fed rice kheer or payasam with a golden ring by either the father or a senior male family member.  In our family, the feeding is done in conjunction with a prayer ceremony, and afterwards we have a fun game where we place an array of objects around the child (a pen, gold jewelry, a book, money, a (toy) knife, etc.) to see what grabs the child’s attention.  The choice is supposed to forecast the child’s interest or vocation as an adult.

It is remarkable to me how this 4,000(+)-year-old tradition so beautifully connects the spiritual significance of food with the physical needs of the child.  According to Rajbali Pandey (author of Hindu Samskaras – my favourite text on the subject), “Food was a lifegiving substance.  People thought that there was something mysterious about it from which life emanated.  The source of energy was to be infused into the child with the help of gods.”

As a mother, baby’s firsts are always emotional moments.  The Annaprasana is truly a poetic way to share one of these firsts with friends and families.  As South Asians continue to root themselves in Western society, I hope I get invited to more samskara celebrations!

Raising Compassionate Children
Author: Guest Blogger

This post is authored by Ms. Navjot Kaur, a Toronto-based elementary teacher, children’s author and advocate for inclusion.  Ms. Kaur’s first book, A Lion’s Mane, published by Saffron Press, is an important story about a young boy and his Sikh identity.

The most beautiful things in the world are not seen nor touched.  They are felt with the heart.
– Helen Keller

Helen Keller was deaf and blind and yet a wonderful teacher helped her break down the barriers of isolation – leading her to achieve immeasurable goals.  Helen became a dynamic author, political activist and lecturer – constantly campaigning for progressive causes.

To hear of such courage and strength is inspiring when today’s media images are filled with mainstream connotations of what beauty and success should look like.  How can we ensure our children can sift through their world of iPods, iPhones, streaming videos, text messaging and billboard images and still find time to think about another person in need?  Or to  make friends with someone who doesn’t quite fit in with the crowd?  It is a difficult, but necessary, task.  For now, we as parents are the role models – so the dialogue starts with us.

The Sikh festival of Vaisakhi is here and every year I wonder how I can make it more meaningful to my child.  Gnaana is doing such a great job of raising awareness about cultural heritage and it shows that this is a common thought amongst parents of diverse backgrounds.  So, I started to really delve into the story of Vaisakhi while researching an upcoming title.  What I found made me feel Helen Keller’s definition of beauty in my heart.

The Panj Pyaare, or five beloved ones, chosen to represent the Khalsa (the baptized body of Sikhs) did not hail from high financial backgrounds or social status but came together to create a new force – united towards progressive causes – to uplift ordinary people’s lives.  The hierarchical Hindu caste system of the 1600’s systemically kept everyone “in their place” and people craved change.  It is inspiring to learn of the individual struggles and challenges each of the Panj Pyaare faced before joining the Khalsa and also, the knowledge that in April 1699, Guru Gobind Singh ji dared to challenge his Khalsa to stand out and BE different.

It could not have been easy to visibly stand out given the political climate of the time.  Perhaps our children would feel uncomfortable helping someone who is being harassed or being bullied in school – for fear of repercussion.  But we need to make them aware of ways they can help, such as telling an adult about the incident.  With courage and compassion on their side, our children can become strong advocates for change – recognizing the right thing to do when faced with difficult situations.

A unique identity made sure that members of the Khalsa could not be bystanders, but must always be ready to help someone in need.  Through the Amrit ceremony, and adopting the common last names of Kaur (lioness) and Singh (lion), all Sikhs, including women, would hold equal status in society.  Now that is a beautiful thing to teach my son and to celebrate – Happy Vaisakhi!

© 2010 Navjot Kaur

Hindu School
Author: Gnaana



No, it’s not a weekend thing – it’s an every day thing.  That’s right.  Welcome to Krishna Avanti Primary School  – the UK’s first state-funded Hindu school.  “Where Vedic values and culture are a part of everyday life,” and where “being vegetarian & eco-friendly becomes fun.”

Located in the London borough of Harrow, home to over 40,000 Hindus, the school works with ISKON UK as its official faith partner and delivers the UK “National Curriculum.”  Students learn Sanskrit, swimming and yoga, as well as music, dance and drama encompassing Indian (along with Western) instruments and styles.  There’s also an emphasis on outdoor teaching – reminiscent of ancient India.

And why not?  There are Christian and Catholic Schools, Jewish Schools, Muslim Schools and Sikh Schools.  But critics say such schools only serve to divide communities and thwart efforts towards racial integration.  We say it’s only fair to give parents a choice (especially since there exist state schools for 6 other major world religions in the UK).

The Krishna Avanti School is certainly an inspiration to the global Hindu diaspora.  We can dream of a place where kids eat healthy vegetarian meals and learn about a philosophical system that emphasizes freedom of thought, alongside traditional subjects.  A state-funded Hindu school would never happen in the US, or elsewhere for that matter, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen privately.  Hmmm, our wheels are turning…. 

What’s in a Gotra?
Author: Gnaana

Gotra Cow Shelter Shed

If you are Hindu and are off to a temple this New Year’s for an archana or puja or such, you’ll likely be asked what your gotra is by the priest.  But did you know that the word “gotra” is the Sanskrit term for “cow shelter?” 

Before they formed their great civilizations, the ancient Aryans were originally nomadic people.  Being nomads, their cows were critical to their livelihood.  During harsh weather they needed to protect their “pets,” so several families would collaborate and house their cows in the same gotra.  And of course, disputes would inevitably arise as to whose cow was whose.  To resolve these disputes, a judge or supervisor – called Gotra-pati (meaning Master of the Gotra) – was appointed.  Gotra-pati were very well respected, and ancient Aryans introduced themselves by using the name of their Gotra-pati.

Hindus today continue this tradition of using thier gotra to identify their family lineage.

So now you know – when you tell the priest your gotra you’re actually linking-back thousands of years to an ancient Aryan tradition!  Mooooooooo!

**A note about this post:  “Gotra” is often confused with the term “caste,” which is incorrect.  We at Gnaana do not condone any type of promotion, justification, or even discussion of the caste system – particularly with young children.  By publishing this post about the meaning of the “gotra,” we wish only to point out the historical relevance of this link with our ancestors.


Have you heard of the Pancha Ganapati fesitval?  If you’re a Hindu tormented by the “December Dilemma” – you know, whether to ignore Christmas (ergo risking social pariah status for you and your kids) or to celebrate a toned-down version (after all, even the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that Christmas has many secular elements) – then read on.

The Pancha Ganapati festival is being touted by interfaith organizations as the “Hindu replacement for Christmas.”  This 5-day festival (which conveniently runs from December 21-25 of every year), invokes the colours of Lord Ganesha’s 5 shaktis (powers) – a sort-of Christmas-meets-Kwanzaa-meets-Hanukka.    A shrine is to be created in the main living room, which would contain a large statue or picture of Ganesha, and decorated with banana leaves, pine cones, tinsel, etc.  Then, on each of the days, children are invited to decorate Ganesha in the colour du jour and the family is to focus on a special sadhana (spiritual discipline).

Day 1 | Yellow:  Love and harmony among immediate family members
Day 2 | Blue:  Love and harmony among neighbors, relatives and close friends
Day 3 | Red:  Love and harmony among business associates and the public at large
Day 4 | Green:  Invoke the joy and harmony that comes from music, art, drama and dance
Day 5 | Orange:  Invoke the love and harmony in all three worlds (presumably the heavens, earth and the underworld)

Gifts are exchanged on each of the days, and placed under the shrine – to be opened on the 5th day.

Interesting.  So how do we come down on this holiday?  Kudos for the creation,  though we will have to do some further investigation.  But for now, let’s spread the word – Hindus do have a holiday in December.  Fa la la la la la la la OM.



There is something about watching a child give away a possession (whether it be a toy, a hand-made card or a muffin) that makes your heart melt.  It’s a raw affirmation of the goodness of humans – unadulterated and oh-so-sweetly innocent.

And it makes me think – how often do my children observe me giving to others (not counting the daily sacrifices I make for them, of course…)?  They don’t see me handling a legal matter for a family member in need.  They don’t see me writing those checks to chosen charities.  And they certainly aren’t privy to all of those altuistic intentions swimming in my head – those that will have to be saved for post-kids liesure days.

Of course cultivating the spirit of giving – to family, to friends, to your community, or to those in need – is vital to raising compassionate children.  So what’s a good way to resurrect the act of giving from the rare to the routine?

Taking our inspiration from hundis (offering boxes) found in Hindu temples, we created our very own Home Hundi.  After all, in the Eastern cultures, our home is our temple.  It’s a simple activity:  take a box, embellish to your taste, and place in a central location. Then, help your child select a “cause” – something he is passionate about (my son is obsessed with owls, so his cause is to help save the Northern Spotted Owl (via Defenders of Wildlife)).  Throughout the year, encourage everyone in the family to give to the hundi.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be money – it could be a toy,  a piece of food (I advise periodically checking and removing perishables…), an article of clothing, etc. – the objective is to encourage selfless thoughts of kindness.

At the end of the month/season/year, have your child empty the hundi into an envelope and “mail it off” to the chosen recipient.  Your child can then experience the intoxicating joy of giving….