Tag Archives: Heritage

Decoding the Significance of Indian-American Heritage

One of our seven beloved grandchildren asked the other day, “How do you say ‘reception’ in Indian?” She needed the information for her school paper, Growing up in a Multicultural Family.

A few months ago, another granddaughter had asked, “Has anyone in our family invented something?” for her high school paper.

The significance of Indian American heritage can be decoded through an understanding of “reason” and its limitations.

The renowned eighteenth-century philosopher, Immanuel Kant would say, “All knowledge flows from the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

The world continues to subscribe to the philosophy of Kant.

Science, six sigma, policies, laws & regulations, and the like are products of reason. America excels in the products of reason. Most Nobel prizes go to Americans and America is home to top-notch technologies, products, and services.

In spite of these incredible accomplishments, why then has America not been able to tackle racial disharmony for over a century?

The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery in 1865 and a host of newer laws, policies, rules, and regulations have been adopted since then, including the 1965 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

Racism persists because the nation is limiting its pursuits to the products of reason, but the solution is not to be found there.

Swami Vivekananda was an Indian monk revered in his native land and widely respected in the United States. Asserts Vivekananda, “Indian thought dares to seek, and successfully finds, something higher than reason.”

Swami Vivekananda’s wisdom can be proved.

Intuition is immediate cognition without the benefit of the five senses and the rational mind. Perfect intuition translates into the capacity to discern truth from falsehood. We all have a certain level of intuition, but the accuracy is generally too low to be of any practical value.

How does one discover something higher than reason? Obviously, one cannot use reason itself for such an inquiry.

Seers have left behind clues in the form of discoveries over millennia that couldn’t have been sourced from previous knowledge, and in every case, the process used is meditation, known for thousands of years.

As an example, the four Vedas are the most ancient scriptures of humanity. Their knowledge and wisdom couldn’t have been sourced from previous knowledge as there was none. This is why they are referred to as “revealed” (Shruti).

Another example, physics realizes that the universe came into existence pursuant to a big bang moment 13.8 billion years ago when it was an incredibly small energy phase (10-33 cm in diameter), unbelievably hot and immensely dense. Physics realizes too that on the other side of the big bang, there was absolutely nothing, a void.

How did “nothing” transform into the energy phase of the big bang? No product of reason has an explanation, and the explanation they do have is fraught with inconsistencies and paradoxes.

Inspired by Indian wisdom, my friend and associate physician turned theoretical physicist, Jim Kowall found the answer: “Consciousness of the void created the universe”.

How did seers know that meditation is the route to progress? They cite their Guru as their source, but how did their Guru know it? If you keep going back, you will eventually run out of Gurus, and then the question is, where did the first sage get the knowledge?

This is where the inquiry comes to an end, and the belief in God exponentially increases.

Meditation also brings about a rise in internal excellence, inducing positive changes from within. And this hypothesis can be tested as internal excellence can be measured.

Internal excellence has nothing to do with race, religion, gender, political affiliation, or national origin.

A rise in internal excellence is accompanied by a rise in positive emotions (love, kindness, empathy, compassion) and a fall in negative emotions (anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, frustration, jealousy, anxiety, despair, fear, sorrow, and the like).

So, society needs to do meditation to bring about a rise in racial harmony and a fall in societal discord. Who would have thought? 

Relatedly, the best performance results when the best products of reason are combined with a program to enhance internal excellence

The ancient contributions notwithstanding, science is the appropriate body of knowledge to use when the system fundamentals are well understood. When they are not, but measurements are available, data-driven methodologies such as six sigma are appropriate. When system fundamentals are not well understood and measurements are not available, then enhancing one’s focus of attention as with meditation, remains the only route to new discoveries. Take care though, discoveries made this way must nonetheless meet the rigor of logical scrutiny.

Remember, transcending reason may well produce new knowledge, but once produced, it is subject to all the constraints reason imposes on all knowledge.

This in a nutshell is the significance of Indian American heritage. American heritage provides the best products of reason, while Indian heritage suggests that transcending the bondage of reason is the only route to further progress and teaches how.

Indian American heritage has the capacity to make a substantial contribution toward a better and more peaceful nation and world. These ideas should be front-and-center in the conversations to further strengthen US-India strategic partnership.


Pradeep B. Deshpande is an Indian-American academic in America for fifty-five years. He has interacted with Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and P. V. Narasimha Rao, a friend and associate of his late father in the freedom struggle.

Acknowledgments. This article is written with the blessings of H. H. Gurumahan, Founder, Universal Peace Foundation, Thirumoorthy Hills, Tamil Nadu, India.


 

An Inauguration That Awoke My Ancestors

(Featured Image: Screenshot from CNBC coverage of the 2021 Inauguration)

I was pouring my coffee and almost spilled it when I heard Senator Amy Klobuchar’s words, “Our first African American, our first Asian American, our first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris” waft from my TV. As nonchalantly as I had been watching the inauguration, that moment – those words violently ran through my body, as though all my ancestors were asking me to listen. 

Kamala Devi Harris.

I was happy to hear of the Democratic shift in our Executive and Legislative branches of government and had voted accordingly, yet I remained skeptical. Skeptical if the words matched the vision. 

I accepted Vice President Kamala Harris as a person of color, but I’m not sure why, I hadn’t rationalized the identities she presented. Her Indian-American identity was one she had disengaged from early in her career, rightfully so, only to reach out conveniently when she needed votes. I still voted for her, advocated for her. Not because of her Indian heritage but because of her qualifications, her recent policies, her passion, her willingness to adapt, change, and grow. She was a powerhouse and deserved a position that matched her abilities. This was the narrative I spun for myself and others. 

But…it wasn’t until those words were uttered at the inauguration that I felt myself shudder. Shudder in disbelief. Shudder at the significance. Shudder at the thought of my connection to her.

A Lotus Goddess. 

And there she was…like Lakshmi Devi, ready to sit upon her throne. Her purple garments, vibrant like the purple lotus. Rooted in America in the most American way – a child of immigrants from two spaces and places. I could not will that away and neither could she. 

For so long, I denied seeing myself in Kamala in the interest of seeming impartial; to not be criticized for voting based on resemblance. I cannot deny it any longer. Our Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris is an Indian-American and I love her for it. I love myself for it. She will be a part of my history and I, hers.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

South Asian Arts Council Gives Indian Art “A New Life”

SAAC (South Asian Arts Council) board member Ravinder Reddy says his virtual study groups are educational – just not in the traditional sense. 

“We’re not discussing art the way [one does] in college or an AP course, but learning about art so that when one goes to a museum, you have the broader context of how the art fits in with the larger scheme of Indian art,” he explains. “You also have enough knowledge to appreciate what you’re looking at.”

Ravinder Reddy

Reddy began hosting his study groups two years ago as an effort to bring South Asian art to a broader Western audience.  A psychiatrist, he owes his fascination with Indian art to the culture he left behind when he moved to the United States. 

“Growing up, my parents used to take me to temples and I wasn’t interested at all at that age,” Reddy says. “Most of what I know now about India is after I moved to America.”

Beyond his involvement in the South Asian Cultural Arts Council, Reddy is also the author of Arms & Armour of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka: Types, Decoration & Symbolism, where he explores the history behind ancient Indian weaponry. He joined this San Diego Museum of Art-based support council years ago to “increase awareness and appreciation of the rich and diverse arts of the Indian subcontinent.” As a board member, he is one of the several South Asians who volunteer their time by offering lectures.

These monthly meetings were originally held at the San Diego Museum of Art, home to more than 1,500 works of art originally from South Asia. From there began a journey of appreciation, inspection, and analysis of Indian art, iconography and symbolism. After gaining traction with his monthly sessions, he now offers bi-weekly meetings to keep up the momentum of learning, and members seem to appreciate this greater frequency. Today, his virtual study group has art-lovers from beyond just San Diego. 

“We’re taking art out of the context of an enclosed culture,” says Reddy. “Or just a museum. Or just people in the know.” 

Although Reddy was thrilled by the newfound diversity in his audience, the study group’s increasing popularity brought its own set of challenges as well. For one, there was a noticeable difference between the audience members’ understanding of Indian art itself. 

“We have people who are from India, either first or second-generation immigrants. We have people who have visited India multiple times,” Reddy says. “But then, on the other hand, you have people who have never been to India but are fascinated by art from South Asia, perhaps because of the colors or the stories or the exoticisms.”

Krishna Bichwa, 18th century, Karnataka.
Published in Ravinder Reddy (2018): Arms & Armour of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Hali Publications, p. 243

To navigate these differences, Reddy keeps his curriculum simple. He opens every session with a review of the material he covered previously and provides necessary explanations for niche religious or mythological concepts. Study group members also receive supplementary study materials that provide the broader context of the art he covers.

“If you have an audience that is not shy about asking questions, that’s a huge advantage,” Reddy says. 

The coronavirus pandemic has penetrated nearly every sphere of public life. Reddy’s study groups were no exception. Unsure of how to safely continue these study groups, the SAAC originally cancelled them. Then, the rest of the world slowly began to go virtual, and Reddy followed suit. These study groups were given a new life through bi-weekly Zoom meetings. Although the shift was unprecedented for Reddy, who was accustomed to leading his small group in person in the rooms of the San Diego Museum of Art, he appreciates the merits of a virtual format. 

“The huge advantage people is that people don’t have to leave their homes” Reddy says, laughing. “They don’t have to get into their cars and find parking, which is a nightmare, if you know anything about San Diego. They don’t have to dress up at all.” 

But the benefits of Zoom go beyond mere convenience. Reddy forged new connections with his audience after the pandemic struck — connections that were not possible with his previous study groups.

“We now get people who are not local,” Reddy says. “I mean, you and I would not be having this conversation if this was a purely local activity. You live in Pleasanton, but you still had a chance to watch our video. Without that, you would have had to drive all the way to San Diego.” 

Before closing off our meeting, Reddy holds an artifact of his own up to the Zoom camera. It’s an ancient, authentic dagger from Karnataka, with a handle in the shape of a baby Krishna. Although Reddy confirms that the dagger is real, he says his interest in this object is purely artistic, not as a weapon.

“It’s an honest-to-goodness dagger. But the question is, what’s Krishna doing on the handle of this dagger?”, Reddy says and laughs. “Do you see this two-headed bird right here?” he asks, pointing to the sculpted feathers emerging behind the Krishna. “It’s Karnataka’s state emblem. It’s called the Gandaberunda…and what context can this be used in? Well, today it’s used in a particular kind of dance in Karnataka. To me, the blade is nice. But it’s the handle where the story lies.”

It’s heartening to watch the SAAC study groups grow and attract different members of the American demography. It’s a reminder that South Asian tradition and heritage is just as important and celebrated as its Western counterpart. Reddy’s study groups have faced some setbacks, from cultural contrasts to a global pandemic. But his leadership is a reminder that ancient art can survive — and even thrive — in an increasingly digitized culture. 

“It’s giving art,” Reddy says, “especially ancient art, a new life.”

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. Her Instagram is @kanchan_naik_

Six Yards of Draped Emotions

Until recently, traveling to India meant carrying a half-empty suitcase, so it could be packed with saris to be brought back to the US. But as the Indian immigrant population began to grow, the second suitcase was no longer necessary. We have gone global and so have our methods of expression. I can find any type of sari at a local shop near me, as I would in the sari shops lining the streets of Abids in Hyderabad.

The quintessential Indian drape, 6 yards of sheer fabric or the Sari, has been a trusted sakhi for all women of all ages and personalities. The word Sakhi comes from Sanskrit, meaning girlfriend – a friend with whom you shared your innermost secrets, a friend for life. South Asian women feel connected to their roots, in a foreign land, whenever we drape ourselves in a sari, our fond sakhi. We feel her embrace and forget our inhibitions. 

“Sari stores thrive in many Indian enclaves in America. Among the largest is India Sari Palace in New York, with a vast inventory from India, as well as Japan. Many in the Indian community wear mostly saris, and so there is a constant demand even in America. Just looking at the stores in ‘Little Indias’ across America indicates the sari market is thriving. In the 60s, many women were reluctant to wear saris in the US, afraid they would stand out. But in multicultural America…there seems to be a new pride in one’s roots.”, writes Lavina Melwani, “And why not? After all, there is quite as graceful as a sari.” 

The sari drape got revolutionized by Garden Vareli, a brand that used women who were modern, bold, and draped the sari in novel ways.

Garden Vareli’s marketing expert, Santosh Sood, emphasized, “We had a sari ad that celebrated the sexuality of women unabashedly, but without being vulgar. A woman does not always have to be somebody’s mother, daughter, wife or sister. She is she and that is her identity.” 

Thus began the sari revolution. It no longer was the attire of the homemaker or of the average middle class. It was a bold fashion statement. Navroze Dhondy of Garden Vareli, commented, “For the first time, it was a shift from the sari being perceived as boring, everyday wear without any sensuality to a smart, bold and sexy attire meant for the modern woman.”  

Princess Niloufer

But long before Garden Vareli, Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad and the daughters of Vijaylakshmi Pandit were refashioning the sari and making its presence known, globally. The sisters, Nayantara Sahgal and Rita Dar, after their graduation in the summer of 1947 from Wellesley College, went to Mexico on a visit and met the legendary painter and fashion icon, Frida Kahlo, and dressed her up in the traditional Indian attire.

Princess Niloufer, a Turkish princess, learnt to drape a sari when she got married to Prince Moazzam Jah, son of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1931, and was always seen in a sari even when overseas. 

The sari today has become an expression of who the person is and of their style. Women are not draping them in just the traditional way but are experimenting with their drapes. Blouses are being replaced by Crop tops and fashionable blouses, t-shirts, and jackets. Belts are being worn to hold the pleats better and some saris also have a pocket for your cell phone. The sari, itself, is being draped over pants and skirts and isn’t necessarily worn with a matching blouse. 

The function of the sari has expanded beyond the function of the home. Women are not only walking and exercising in a sari but also running marathons.

But more importantly, there are Sari Sakhis all over the world – friends who share their love of saris and its utility. The sari connects, empowers, and gives voice to South Asian women, regardless of how far apart they may be.

Saree Speaks: A Revolution

Saree Speak Members: Yogita Pradip Hudekar (right), Sunayana Mundra (middle), Namita Arora (left)

Vini Tandon Keni, sari influencer and founder of the group, Saree Speak, has managed to start a sari revolution! Founded in April 2016, the group has 144,722 women of South Asian diaspora including many celebrities and movie stars like Kalpana Iyer, Anita Kanwal, Himani Shivpuri, Indira Krishnan, and the famous designer Anita Dongre. I spoke with Vini Tandon Keni to get more insight into the sari revolution:

AM: Other than your love for saris, what inspired you to start this group? 

VT: To encourage and make draping saris more acceptable and friendly to the younger sari wearer.

AM:  Being a member of this group, I know that you not only decide the theme of each month but also encourage members to share their personal stories and stories associated with each sari. Is this why the name Saree Speak was chosen or is there another reason as well? 

VT: Speak is the common name for all my groups. Another word for ‘voice’, another word for ‘share’. When you share you add to your joy or reduce your fear.

AM:  How do you inspire your members?

VT: We try to promote the unconventional styles that have come up, to add interest to the sari. Give it a variety, make it the fashion-forward.

Sari Stands

The sari has withstood the test of time, the pressures and struggles. It has fought to keep its place against the salwar kameez, trousers, jeans, capri, churidar, tights, and the palazzos, and became its own entity. And as Tandon says – every sari has a story. Just as we wear our scars, we women wear our saris, close to our hearts with pride and with joy. 

So we drape ourselves in six yards of fabric, layered with our emotions, identities, and voices. We remain wrapped in the warm embrace of our sakhi, our friend, our modern armor – our sari.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and writer based in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Being Different Is Like Sushi and Fried Chicken”: GUAA

I’m Asian American. My dad was born in the British Territory of Hong Kong and my mom is Chinese-American. My mom was born in the Deep South, in Mississippi, and not many Asians lived there. My Po Po is from Hong Kong and my Gong Gong came from Canton, China, so my mom knows how to speak a little bit of Cantonese. I was born in California. My mom says we are Chinese but we also may be related to Genghis Khan!

When I was in preschool one time I got bullied because of the way I look. I didn’t know why. But now I understand. Diversity is like genes from your mom and dad. Genes control how you look like, your personality and the color of your skin. So of course, nobody looks the same. Even though our ancestors come from different countries, we are still American. At my school, in second grade, there’s this presentation called, “Global Us. The Global Us is a play about your culture and your identity. Students perform traditional dances and songs. Afterwards there is a potluck. Did you know that food can bring people together? Countries all have different types of food, and Americans eat almost everything. My friend Lucia loves sushi more than me even though she is not Asian! I did not grow up in the Deep South but I love southern fried chicken, catfish, and hushpuppies! Yummy. Italian pasta is like Chinese chow mein. Argentinian empanadas are like Dim Sum. French baguettes are like American sourdough bread!

The most important thing about being Asian American is that we are still American citizens even though our ancestors came from different countries. A lot of times people cannot tell where we are from because of the way we look. They may say something racist like “go back to your country.” I get very confused because this is my home. You may have heard that the Coronavirus has been spreading around the world. My best friend, who is white, said to me that some white people are scared of Asian people because the Coronavirus can be contagious. But she knows I don’t have the Coronavirus even if I’m Asian American.

But do you know what? A virus doesn’t discriminate against people who look different from other people. In a way, a virus can be a role model, because they don’t care whether people are Asian or not, they just infect anybody with lungs. Nobody should be bullied for the way they look. We all look different. Differences are not bad. Differences are special. We should be kind and include everyone. We can all get along. Everybody deserves to be treated the same. Finding things in common like soccer, ice cream, and Minecraft can build a bridge to make friends like sushi and fried chicken. Everyone in America should be treated fairly because we’re all humans. We all should really get involved to create a better community around the world.

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Katelyn Ho is a 2nd grader, whose essay “Being Different Is Like Sushi and Fried Chicken” won the Best In Class Award at the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.

Lina Lee is a 2nd grader, whose artwork “My Beat To Our Rhythm” won the Best In Class Award at the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.

Celebrating 100 Years of Ravi Shankar

“Life is much larger than birth & death, failure & success. You are the unblemished, pure, eternal self. Knowing this, you will walk like a King.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Fifty-eight years ago, renowned Indian composer Pt. Ravi Shankar founded the Kinnara School of Music, spreading this noble philosophy and a fiery passion for the sitar with the rest of the world. A music creator for All India Radio, it was Pt. Ravi Shankar who popularized classical Indian music among the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and the Beatles. His distinct performing style set him apart from the other classical performers of his time, as his intricate rhythmic patterns were considered both melodic and unconventional. He brought an incredible dedication to his work, even composing the entire soundtrack for the 1995 film, “Pather Panchali” in one day. Although he sadly passed away at 92 years in 2012, Pt. Ravi Shankar left behind an enduring, heartfelt legacy.

To commemorate that legacy, music duo Sangam has teamed up with the Arohi ensemble to release an Indo-American interpretation of Pt. Ravi Shankar’s work. Featuring Paul Livingstone as the sitarist, this cross-cultural blend includes cello duets, sarod harmonies, and percussion riffs. Even more heartwarming is the effort from so many of Ravi’s direct disciples, such as Partho Sarothy, Pedro Eustache, and Barry Phillips.

Pt. Ravi Shankar is not celebrated today for simply mastering his craft. Although he was a skilled sitarist, he also symbolized the union of two worlds, two schools of musical thought. And the global harmony he created is certainly present today, as evidenced by the interpretations of Pather Panchali from the United States, India, and México. The Arohi/Sangam collaboration serves as a sincere reminder that music lives far beyond life itself.

To view Arohi’s tribute to the “Godfather of World Music”, click here! Meanwhile, click here to download the Arohi ensemble’s ‘Tilak Shyam’ recording!

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Harmonious blend of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto strains in Japan

The 900 year old Sanjusangen-do Zen temple in Kyoto

Sanjusangen-do (Built in 1164 CE and reconstructed in 1266 after a fire broke out) is a Buddhist temple in Kyoto that’s guarded by around 1000- Armed Human sized statues of Kannon, the Japanese Goddess of compassion. 500 statues sit on either side of the main Deity of Sahasrabhuja-Arya-Avalokiteśvara.

The 1000 armed Kannons

The 1000 life size Kannons carved from wood, have 28 guardian deities in front, that are larger in size. These Guardian deities are of Indian origin and primarily Hindu Gods.

In ancient Japanese Buddhism, Hindu Deities are revered and given their place of respect in the Buddhist realm of deities. The Hindu deities are considered guardian Deities of the Buddhist concept of the ‘Clear Mind Buddha’, which according to them is the Buddha that is of prime importance. The physical Buddha is seen as holy and revered, but he is also seen as an example of human bondage and suffering in samsara. Like a normal human Buddha had to overcome his delusions and finally had to shed the body. The ‘Clear Mind Buddha’ who is pristine and pure in thought (Nirgun as the Hindus say) however, is the primordial state without beginning or end and is the state which all humans must aspire to achieve to get salvation from rebirth. One has to not get obsessed with the physical Buddha, as he is external to you, while the ‘Clear Mind Buddha’ is the object of possible achievement for all humans through meditation and practice of dharma. This realization which arises from within is considered more important than bondage to external objects, however revered or holy they are.

This ‘Clear Mind Buddha’ as the silent observer, is similar to the concept of the ‘Nirgun Bhraman or Paramatma’ in Hinduism, with all other Gods/Goddesses being considered its emanations with specific energies, which is very similar to the Shinto concepts of Kami. The beautiful Harmony with which the ancient Japanese monks have managed to fit all gods and deities from the parent stream of Hinduism into its brilliant offshoot Buddhism is remarkable. It is a brilliant testimony to their abilities and vast intelligence to bring harmony, accommodation, respect and deep understanding to the evolving spiritual streams, as well as merger of existing streams. After all there is only one truth and no one has the monopoly on it. This is something the ancient Japanese masters understood so well.

An achievement, one has to bow down to in deep respect.

Shintoism the original indigenous religion of Japan, Shinto teaches that everything in nature consists of a spiritual essence, or a spirit called a Kami. The Kami resides in all things. But there are certain designated places where the Kami interfaces more intensely with people. There are 8 million kami (not literally, but just a representation of many Kami that exist). The primary Kami is Amaterasu or the Goddess of the sun. Hence Japan is called the land of the rising sun. This is extremely similar to Hinduism where we are considered Suryavanshi (descendents of the sun). In Hinduism, the entire universe is considered an emanation of Paramatma; hence everything in it carries the spirit of the great creator. Lay people get confused that Hinduism has a million deities, and villagers are busy creating one every day. What an outsider does not see is that Hindus consider everything in nature as having a spirit that is derived from that one source to manifest. So having a million deities is the same as having one. Shintoism too is similar to that form and belief system in Hinduism. Ancestors are considered Kami too and just as we worship and follow the system of gotras (descendents of Rishis), they worship their ancestors.

In the next few frames , I shall post pictures of some of the critical Hindu “Guardian Deities “ that have been exhibited in the Great 120 meter hall, which is 900 years old. These Guardian deities stand on either side of the Avalokiteshwara Deity (The Buddhist God of compassion) and in front of the 1000 Kannons. The Hindu deities don’t resemble the Indian versions as there were conceptually transplanted about 900 years ago and are carved based on Japanese interpretations of Indian and Chinese Sutras.

The descriptions are brief and have been copied from the official booklet available at the Sanjusangen-do Centre. It is highly recommended for any visitor to Japan to visit this center and buy this book.

Japanese Name: Naraen Kengo, Sanskrit: Narayana

The original Sanskrit name of this deity is Narayna, also called Vishnu in India, the Hindu God of preservation of all creation. This God/statue is used in many ancient Buddhist temples of Japan at the gates where Narayan keeps his mouth open in conjunction with Vajra Pani (Shiva), who keeps his mouth closed. This according to them symbolizes that the deities swallow all evil and let only virtue pass into the temple through the gates. Another interpretation says they symbolize within lies all the secrets of the universe from beginning to end. The most amazing example of these Deities is at the entrance to the Todai-ji temple at Nara. Amazingly Nara has 7 prime temples (Much like the Tirupathy temple, where the Lord is considered the lord of the seven hills which represent the Adisesha or the serpent of Vishnu with 7 heads that is supposed to hold up creation).

The placement of Narayna (Vishnu) and Vajra Pani (Shiva) in the entrance to symbolize AUM is amazing. A (mouth opens to symbolize beginning of all creation from Brahma, who is born of Vishnu), and M (mouth shuts to symbolize the destroyer and therefore the end of existence) is Shiva, the God of death. The Japanese Buddhist integration with Hinduism is breath taking.

Japanese Name : Raijin the Thunder God, Sanskrit Name : Varuna

This deity has its origin in the God of water Varuna which later transformed into Thunder God as water was always associated with thunder. The iconography of this statue is based on Senju Darani-kyo’ Buddhist Sutra. As per the Rig Veda, Varuna is considered the counterpart of Mitra, Varuna rules the night and Mitra rules during the day.

Japanese Name: Basu senin Sanskrit: Vasu

Vasu in Hindu tradition can be interpreted in many ways. Vasudewa was the father of Krishna. Related to this name is an early Hindu belief system, sometimes called Bhagavatism that was largely formed by the 4th century BC. Vasudeva was worshiped as the supreme Deity in a strongly monotheistic format, where Vasudewa was considered the Supreme Being because he had the attributes of being perfect, eternal and full of grace.

Vasu could also mean God of all the elements in creation which is very similar to Japanese Shintoism wherein they recognize about 8 million Gods of various elements called Kami. Hinduism on the other hand recognizes eight primary elements and all else are its combinations. That is why Vasu is the god of the eight Gods or the various base elements.

Japanese Name: Nanda Ryu-o Sanskrit: Nanda Naga Raja

If the Sanskrit translation were to be applied directly, it would mean The King of the snakes from the Nanda Dewi Mountain (The abode of Lord Shiva). In this carving at some point of time the snakes became dragons through Chinese influence and came to be in Japan, as Buddhism reached Japan via China and Tibet.

Japanese Name: Fujin Sanskrit; Vayu

As introduced in the ancient Indian sacred texts Rig Veda, Vayu is the deity that pulls carriages through the air, defeating armies, bring fame, fortune. The design is completely based on Japanese interpretations of texts from Indian and Chinese sutras.

Japanese Name: Birubakusha Sanskrit: Virupaksha

The Japanese translation means the deity with many eyes and a wider vision. Notice the third eye between the two eyes, and the weapon in the hand is the same as Shiva’s. In Hindu Tradition Virupaksha is a form of Shiva’s and there is indeed a Virupaksha temple in Hampi Karnataka with the same Sanskrit name as in Japan.

Japanese Name: Karura Sanskrit: Garuda

The original Sanskrit name of this deity is Garuda, In ancient India it was believed to be a giant bird that ate cobras and carried the Hindu deity Vishnu on its back. Later on it was adopted in Buddhism as a deity, and was included in the eight guardians of Buddhism. The statue represents a bird headed figure playing a flute while keeping time with the foot.

Japanese Name: Mawara-nyo. Sanskrit: Maha Bala.

Maha Bala in Hindu scriptures translates directly to Durga Dewi, based on whom, many Bala mantras exist. Mawara-Nyo represents the indomitable spirit and the gentle feminine subtle energies of the universe, gentle yet decisive.

Japanese Name: Daibenkudoku-ten Sanskrit: Sridewi

The original name for this deity is Sridewi, also called Laxmi, written in India as Lakshmi. She is born from the sea and is Vishnus (Narayana’s) wife. In Buddhism she is a daughter of the dragon King and Kishimojin (Hariti). As in Hinduism, in Buddhism too, she presides over prosperity

Japanese Name: Taishaku-ten Sanskrit: Indira

According to the ancient Indian writings in the Rig Veda, He is the most significant heroic deity. In Buddhism this deity is supposed to live in Kiken castle As the lord of the realm of Tory ten. He is considered to have helped Buddha in his novitiate years. In Hinduism Indra is the God of the lesser heavens where ordinary mortals reside for limited periods of time in their endless cycles of birth and death.

The very best for the last, This is where the Japanese place Hinduism and Buddhism in perfect equal footing. Literally as parallel similar universes with different tag names.

Japanese Name : Daibon-ten Sanskrit: Maha Brahman

The Highest Hindu god and the creator of the universe is Maha Brahman. Since Maha Brahman was adopted into Japanese Buddhism, it is believed he is a guardian of Buddhism together with the Buddhist Deity Taishaku-ten. They both are equally tasked as partners with running the universe. According to the Japanese legend when Buddha reached self- realization, he was overwhelmed but was hesitant to preach to people. Maha Brahman advised him to start preaching in order to redeem ignorant people and their souls. It is for this reason the Japanese accord Maha Brahman an equal status to the Buddhist diety Taishaku-Ten.

Sanjay Rao is in search of the ultimate truth beyond concepts and notions, in that silence, after 20 years in soulless corporate board rooms. https://twitter.com/#!/sanjayrao1010

Previously published on www.esamskriti.com. Reprinted here with permission.

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Will Sambar Die With Me?

My cousin Ravi and his wife Radha were visiting America  for the very first time. One day, as I was waiting to pick them up for a drive around town, Radha was unusually late. As she slowly stepped into the car, she handed me a small box, saying “this is what made me late, wanted to warm it up for you.” I could smell the treasure. “Elai Adai!” I screamed with joy (translates to leaf pancake). The last time I had savored this heavenly dish was at Radha’s daughter’s wedding in India about three years ago. I was teary and grateful for her thoughtfulness. All through the car ride we reminisced over my grandmother’s cooking and the culinary precedent her ancestors had set. The taste goddess had blessed my family tree with amazing cooks. In Tamil, there is a term for this, kai manam, which means “aromatic hands” meaning that whatever one cooked was filled with flavor and taste.

We talked about my great-aunt Rashamma who lived alone in a big house surrounded by her paddy farms, mango and jackfruit groves, rubber plantations, and cows. Rashamma was known for her “kai manam.” She worked and managed the farms by herself; she was quite the busy landlady. Cooking was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped into the kitchen, she created magic with the least amount of ingredients. I can never ever forget her keerai masiyal (a mashed spinach dish), that she whipped out with the bunch of spinach that she had just picked. Every time I make this dish it always takes me back to her kitchen.

All this talk about food and family tree made me wonder—what will happen to my cooking lineage? My cousin and I wondered what our kids will cherish when it comes to our culinary heritage. Will  elai adai and keerai masiyal die with me, along with sambar and rasam? Will my two boys ever know the value of the dishes I ate as a child or savored as a grown-up? Will it matter to these Indian American kids, who prefer In-N-Out burgers to idly sambar, that the idly is also a part of who they are?
I almost had a panic attack thinking of the-almost-extinct dishes of my heritage. For example, I fear the endangerment of the quintessential Avial (a mix of many vegetables like long beans, winter melon, pumpkin, drumstick, raw mango, raw plantain, in a coconut green chili paste with yogurt) which is scorned at my dinner table with a “Yuck! Who invented this dish that looks bad and tastes bad?” sending a dagger through my heart bred in Kerala. The pavakkai pitla (bitter gourd in a tamarind coconut sauce), which is welcomed at the dinner table with “I think I’ll make myself a sandwich” or “I’m going out to eat,” I relegate to the dinosaur category. And the list goes on.

That evening as I walked into my home, I could smell garlic and basil simmering on the stove. My son was cooking dinner. He asked me to taste the one-pot pasta he had made. He noticed the longing in my eyes and continued, “I will cook all your dishes one day, but for now it’s just pasta.” I chuckled and smiled hugging my son, for it really didn’t matter if its pasta or pitla that he was cooking. What did matter was that I had passed on the love for cooking to the next generation. Hopefully, the “heritage” recipes will come in time!

Rashamma’s Keerai Masiyal

Ingredients
2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dhal
3-4 dry red pepper

A pinch of asafetida
3-4 green chilies sliced
3-4 curry leaves
¼ cup fresh coconut scapings
Salt to taste

Method
Clean, chop and cook the spinach in little water. Puree it and set aside. Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dhal, dry red pepper, curry leaves, asafetida and green chilies. Add the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté for a few minutes. Once it is a little toasted add the pureed spinach, mix well and season with salt. Serve as a side dish with rice.

Avial
This is a famous Kerala side dish that is served at feasts and weddings. There are many variations to this basic recipe.

Ingredients
Vegetables used are winter melon, raw plantain, long beans, pumpkin, carrots, and drumstick.
Raw mango (a few pieces)
2 cups of vegetables julienned
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup sour yogurt
Make into Paste
1 cup fresh coconut scrapings
3 to 4 green chilies

Method
Place the vegetables in a large flat sauce pan with winter melon at the bottom. Season with salt and add coconut oil, salt, curry leaves and turmeric. Cook the vegetables in a medium flame without mixing too much. Use a flat ladle to gently mix so that the cooked vegetables don’t become mushy. Now add the ground coconut chili paste and mix. Lower the flame and add yogurt and mix. Cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Elai Adai
This is a delicacy made in homes and it cannot be found in restaurants. It requires a banana leaf (elai) that is warmed over a gas flame to make it pliable without letting it tear apart. The outside shell is made with raw rice that is soaked in water, drained and made into a thin batter with salt (adai). The filling consists of fresh coconut, jaggery, small pieces of ripe jackfruit and cardamom. A ladle of rice batter is spread into a circle, on a banana leaf. The coconut filling is spread on the bottom half on the rice batter circle. Then the leaf is folded on top of the filling. The sides are folded and secured with a toothpick. This leaf pack is then steamed. It tastes like a modhak.

For all of us who want to cherish our culinary heritage, the best way is to write down family recipes in a Word document to  share with your children. Maybe one day in the future, they will look through the document, feel inspired and try one of mom’s ancient recipes!

Maybe, they will even ask me to show them how to make Elai Adai—a recipe that cannot have precise, written measurements—a recipe that needs to be learnt by watching to be able to emulate—a treasured treat from the taste goddesses hailing from my family tree!

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.praba@cookingmastery.com