Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

Happy Birthday, Baby
Author: Gnaana

We try not to have our writers make this blog too personal of a space. But my baby – yes the little girl in the suitcase on our main Blog page – turned 1 a few weeks ago, and it got me thinking about First Birthday celebrations.  I remember attending my nephews’ (twins) first birthday party while I was living in Bangalore – a grand affair with upwards of 400 guests and a spectacular array of food!  These mini-wedding-style first birthday celebrations are the norm in the Indian culture.  Of course, a child’s first birthday IS a big deal – but I wondered how other cultures celebrate the occasion.  Here’s what I found:

Korea:  Koreans perform a Toljabee ceremony on a child’s first birthday of Dol (Tol).  Babies wear a specail hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and several items are placed before them – such as a string or thread (for long life), books, pencils, money and uncooked rice.  The type and order in which the child selects the items is said to give a clue to the child’s personality and future – very similar to the “destiny pick” we perform in the Telugu culture during the child’s Annaprasana (first solid feeding).

China:  Alough in China (as well as Japan and many other Asian cultures), everybody turns a year older on the New Year, many Chinese perform a ceremony similar to the Korean one.  The child is laid on the floor surrounded by many objects:  coins (wealth), a doll (many children), kitchen utensils, books, etc., and the child’s selection is said to illuminate his or her future.  A meal of special long noodels (longevity for the child) is served, and gifts of money are given in red envelopes.

Japan:  Some Japanese have the custom of isho mochi – where the baby carries a rice cake (mochi) weighing 1 sho (also a homophone for issho  – meaning “whole lifetime”) on its back – symbolizing the parents’ hope that the child will never go hungry in its lifetime.  Some Japanese also perform the “destiny pick.”

Ukraine:  Ukranian babies often have their hair cut for the first time on their first birthday. Godparents snip hair from each of 4 parts of the head (front, back and sides) – symbolizing the 4 directions of the world.

Hawaii & Polynesia:  A baby’s first birthday is commemorated with a huge luau – complete with a pig roast feast and music.

France:  The French typically do not throw baby showers for expectant mothers (although now it is becoming more common).  This was partly due to superstition.  Instead, friends and loved ones waited until the child’s first birthday to give gifts to the mother and baby.

What did we do? We opted for an intimate affair with family and close friends – American-style – celebrating my daughter’s love of nature and birds.

   Bird House Boxes by Faye Hubele 
   Bird-Seed Favors by 2BirdsInLove
   Palm-leaf plates & utensils from Marx Foods
   Photography by KRPND


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.


Some moments in life are so filled with emotion that it’s impossible to supress the tears – whether of joy or of sadness.  The birth of a child, a first haircut, a wedding – they are all pivotal events in a person’s life.  In Hinduism, we celebrate these pivotal events –  samskaras – with big fanfare.  There are 16 of these samsakaras – the first of which starts with conception and the last of which is the death ritual.  Together, they mark the stages of a complete human life – a truly beautiful concept.

The 10th Samskara is the Vidyarambha – performed to mark the beginning of a child’s formal education (vidya means “knowledge” and aarambham means “beginning”).  The child traces akshara (letters) in either the sand or a tray of rice grains (or with gold – if you’re wealthy!) – meant to invoke Saraswati Devi – the Goddess of Knowledge.

I know each family performs the Vidyarambha differently (some when the child is 2 or 3 years, others when the child is 5, and still others perfom some aspect of this ceremony annually on the Vijaydashami day of the Navratri celebrations), but I thought there was no better time to do this than my son’s official First Day of School:  today he starts in his primary class at his wonderful montessori school.

My Vidyarambham “ceremony” was a bit more modern – I had my son trace the word “OM” with Do-a-Dot markers on a template I prepared.  (I got this idea from his Montessori toddler class – where they do this with the English alphabet – it encourages pre-writing skills since children who can’t hold a pencil yet are really “writing” with the dots).

So this morning, amidst the tears and the pictures, I spent a quiet moment with my son – where he “wrote” and recited OM, and I blessed him with a kiss.  And so he embarks on the journey of knowledge…

(If you are so inclined, you can download our “OM” template here.)



It is a day to celebrate the Lord of Beginnings, Remover of Obstacles, icon of wisdom.  Growing up, this day was always special in my family – perhaps because it always fell right before the start of the new school year.  We typically had a small prayer ceremony followed by lots of food.  It was a chance for us to clear our minds of summer frivolities and to look forward to the challenges ahead.

My parents have this tradition (which we continue with the grandchildren) where each person in the family selects 1 book to involve in the prayer ceremony.  We mark  the inside cover with a turmeric and kumkum “Sri” – a (semi) permanent stamp which serves as a reminder of this day each time the book is opened.  Throughout the year, when my son opens one of the chosen books, he loves to point out that “we did pooja for it.”

Getting to select a book is perhaps the most exciting part of the day for the kids.  It’s a way to directly involve them in the ceremony.  They also learn to associate Ganesha with books and learning.  Personally, I feel that understanding this connection (and hopefully effectuating a reverence for knowledge) is more important than learning about the story of Ganesha himself.  It really is a gruesome tale – Shiva, Ganesha’s father, cuts his head off?  Thankfully, my son hasn’t asked me why Ganesha has an elephant head…

So what were the lucky books this year?  Ahilan chose Clifford’s Neighborhood and his sister chose The Hiccuping Hippo.  We even had a special guest at the pooja – Baby Leap Frog.  Ahilan annointed him with kumkum and insisted that we perform aarti to him as well.  Hey, whatever works for him…