Tag Archives: Indian

Tom and Jerry Incorporates Indian Culture But Does It Do It Well?

Recently Tom and Jerry: The Movie was released in theaters and HBO!

In this movie, Hollywood gets Bollywood glam! The beloved co-stars of Tom and Jerry attend an Indian wedding and wear Sabyasachi and Anushree Reddy couture.  

A UK-based fashion house, Aashni + Co assisted Warner Bros. crew in sourcing bespoke costumes at an Indian wedding extravaganza. Each outfit was beautifully designed, and had a light, airy feel to it – the color palette had hints of peonies, lavender, and rose bowers.

Aashni + Co Co-Founder, Aashni Anshul Doshi.

Aashni + Co Co-Founder, Aashni Anshul Doshi told India Currents that she borrows inspiration from what she sees around her – from the incredible to the little mundane things. She said, “Even a short but meaningful current affairs conversation gets me going. Believing in the greatness of any idea can be a real inspiration for me.” 

The surreal juxtaposition of Bollywood in a cartoon movie accompanied by unexpected pop-ups of elephants, peacocks, and tigers in the grand ballroom did not compete with the slippery antics of Tom and Jerry. The effect was reminiscent of Aladdin’s entry into Jasmine’s palace! 

Aashni comments, “Being part of Hollywood gave me an opportunity to up the ante. Having dressed up Indian brides, grooms, and families from across the globe, we went with our instincts about grand Indian weddings to curate every look.” And it worked!

I have not shopped at Aashni +Co but I love their glossy website that offers an exclusive shopping experience. They were approached by Tom and Jerry stylists in the summer of 2019.

“The bridal ensembles had to be elegant, rich, and traditional. We worked around this pitch and shortlisted suitable outfits to present for selections. It was great that where typically across the globe, an Indian bride is usually dressed in red, the choice to go with ivory with understated elegance was zeroed in on.”

Choosing something so unconventional and expensive, I wonder about the process and challenge of acclimatizing Hollywood stars and their audience to Indian attire and cultural norms. When India Currents’ asked Aashni + Co to comment on this, we did not receive a response. 

In old Bollywood films, the bride was always dressed in a classic red saree and heavy gold jewelry. In my day, bridal attire was sourced from popular saree stores that carried few versions of bridalwear. Simple and elegant, a look recreated in Mira Nair’s rendition of A Suitable Boy. My mother stitched outfits for us in taffeta, satin, and silk with handspun gold lace. She did not consult a design book. The ideas stemmed from her imagination. My wedding saree was a shimmering red-gold tissue trimmed in broad gold brocade.

In India, people always asked me, where I bought my clothes? My elegant mother was an understated designer! Now, when I pick up a chic garment from an Avante Garde boutique-like Aashni + Co. that reminds me of my mother’s, it always has a $$$$ price tag.

In the last ten years, there has been an explosion of bridal couture in India! Indian diaspora is hypnotized by the glitz and glamor – each outfit is more ornate and ostentatious. Tom and Jerry and other films like it can perpetuate global misconceptions about Indian wedding culture. 

My other issue was that while the human actors wore their glad rags to the hilt, they seemed a bit confused about their own spatial and dialogue relationships with the cartoon protagonist.

If the screenplay and direction were intended to draw parallels between the lives of Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the cat and mouse duo, it did not. The underhanded gesture at the outset employed by Kayla to nab a position at the prestigious establishment conjured up the gestalt of Jerry but then it frittered away. Ben( Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) as a tense interracial couple before their wedding gala did not capitalize on the conflict. My heart warmed up to Michael Pena because he has a great sense of timing but even his humor was stymied. My eyes scanned to glean memorable unexpected moments in the fight sequences between the sworn adversaries, but mayhem and destruction failed to impress! 

There was nothing to make me scream in sheer delight. It was nothing like the ”zombie-high” I felt by watching reruns of short cartoon films created in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. This live-action/computer-animated slapstick comedy would not be my “go-to” movie when I want to share the family couch for some popcorn and laughter.


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.


 

Indian Artists Confront Fast Fashion in Desi Communities

One cotton shirt uses up to 3,000 liters of water to make. One denim jacket takes 7,500 liters. That’s enough drinking water to last one person for six years! The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter. The fast fashion industry, particularly, wastes around 93 billion cubic meters of water every year, which is enough to meet the needs of around 5 million people.

Recently, seven Indian artists and graphic designers came together to create specially commissioned artworks and comic strips that underline water consumption by the fashion industry. The participating artists—Priyanka Paul, Aditi Mali, Manasi Deshpande, Mehek Malhotra, Vinu Joseph, Param Sahib, and Sonali Bhasin—launched their artworks on their social media handles. The artistic intervention was organized by The ReFashion Hub, a collective working to bring together multiple stakeholders—including fashion businesses, textile bodies, industry leaders, young designers, artisans, and consumers—invested in wastewater reuse and management in the textile industry with long-term positive climate impact.

The aim was to raise awareness around the pressing issue of wastewater stewardship with a focus on bringing climate action to fashion.

Talking about the initiative, The ReFashion Hub’s Divya Thomas says, “By 2050, fashion will become the second-largest water polluter. It’s imperative for us as consumers, to come together to talk about the consequences of fashion on climate, as well as what each of us can do to make fair fashion choices.”

The artists were invited to design comic strips that capture a sarcastic take on producing a T-shirt, and the resources that it drains, with a key focus on water wastage. The resulting works showcase the absurdity of the industry, hoping that viewers take note and make responsible decisions.

As a child, Pune-based webcomic artist and freelance animator Aditi Mali fondly recalls being more excited to receive clothes that her cousin sister would outgrow than buy new ones. In fact, she finds reusing what she has so therapeutic that she has pretty much stopped buying new clothes. “I would like to revamp my T-shirts into cute tops and make them into bags instead of buying new ones,” says Mali.

Comics by self-taught illustrator and poet Priyanka Paul and Mumbai-based designer and visual artist Mehek Malhotra (Giggling Monkey) bring attention to the amount of water that our clothes consume. Through the project, Paul explored the ethicality and constant tryst we have with capitalism and fast fashion in terms of everyday practices and the functionality of clothing, the rise of thrift shops, and what makes up eco-consciousness. Malhotra’s artwork was made to start the conversation around the grim reality of the fast fashion cycle. “We can afford a 300 rupee T-shirt but we can’t afford to repair the damage it does to the environment. Buying responsibly and investing in the right fabrics is the key to being more understanding of the environment,” she says.

Political satirist, independent journalist, and video storyteller Vinu Joseph’s main objective was to make his audience aware of something they might have taken for granted all this while. “It’s challenging to convey something this serious in a funny comic video without losing the essence of the original subject,” he says about the experience. Designer and mixed media graduate Param Sahib agrees that millennials need to know that the damage is being done. His series is a fun take on how things are being made, and where we are going wrong—with a plea to start looking out for sustainable options.

Mumbai-based artist Manasi Deshpande’s sarcastic comic addresses the issue of greenwashing in the fast fashion industry. The ironic comic portrays a garment worker making a ‘Save Water’ T-shirt. The idea, according to her, was to show the hypocrisy of the fast fashion industry, the environmental cost, and the water pollution that tags along.

Further, Delhi-based cartoonist and illustrator Sonali Bhasin’s amusing piece has polka-dotted frogs narrating the cause of the loss of their aquatic habitat—a comment on the impact that wastewater from dyeing has on our natural environment. “What if nature talked back? What if you could see the impact of every impulse buy you’ve ever made, and how would that feel?” she asks.

The artworks are part of a series of dynamic, youth-focused programs and initiatives to raise awareness about water usage, including public video projections, installations, and the Fashion Forward Fellowship, India’s first fellowship focusing on wastewater stewardship. The five-week fellowship program ends in April with one winning sustainable capsule collection.

The next project by The ReFashion Hub and YWater launched a photo series by photographer Prarthna Singh to inspire young fashion-conscious people to rethink fast-fashion consumerism with more fair and sustainable choices. It will continue to promote traditional crafts and support local artisans through its textile exhibit Karkhana Chronicles.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 


 

Dharmic Environmentalism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The environment is a universal concern.

Universal environmentalism, however, is myopic, monopolistic, and hegemonic. It overlooks native and Indigenous solutions and, as such, is a recipe for disaster. 

We all relate to our surroundings differently. Present-day environmentalism, however, is based on the Western anthropocentric approach. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, anthropocentrism as a religious and philosophical doctrine holds that “human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind.”

The destruction of ancient paganism was a turning point in environmentalism. Before the advent of Christianity, both as a religion and as a political power, there was no distinction between nature and the divine in the widespread pagan societies. Pagans believed in God’s transcendence in the elements of nature. The notion of the ‘sacred grove,’ however, is an alien concept in the West. Moreover, Marxism, Liberalism, neoliberalism, etc., too are an extension of the same anthropocentric ideology. They regard humankind as central and the most important in the world. 

What is considered modern and scientific in our day-to-day lives today, is based primarily on Christian theology. Implicit faith in perpetual progress dominates our lifestyle, our habits of action, and our planning for the future. Man’s destiny, within this paradigm, is to be hopeful of a future affected by science, technology, a promise of more progress, and doomsday prophecies. 

Modern technology too ends up being a means to an end. As the attitude and the will to exert dominion over nature becomes all the more urgent, the more technology threatens to slip from human control. We end up empowering our political class as they promise to make things better with newer progressive technologies as well as with catchy phrases and slogans.

Such thinking was unknown either to the pagan Greco-Roman antiquity or to the indigenous civilizations of what came to be known as the Orient. Indigenous care for nature goes much beyond the shrill of environmentalism. Such care is deeply rooted in culture, “religion,” and spiritualism. Native cultures, such as Hinduism, have a long history of living in harmony with their surroundings. They are mindful of ecological limits, constraints, and boundaries of nature and do not take from nature more than what is needed. There is an element of reverence towards the earth and other elements of nature that guides them. Native cultures have developed a complex system of using and preserving the ecology. Native American communities’ use of low-intensity controlled burns, regenerative harvesting, etc are examples of native environmentalism. 

Bishnoi Woman (Image from Permaculture News)

As for Hindus, much before any modern-day environmental protocol was ever signed, it is the Bhoomisuktam (hymn of the Mother Earth) of the Atharva Veda that provides a framework for environmentalism. Composed more than 3,000 years ago, Bhoomisuktam is considered the oldest environmental protocol. The Sukta is composed of 63 verses. These verses provide a framework of understanding as well as respecting Mother Earth and her environment. The Sukta recognizes the Earth for all her gifts such as plants and herbs; rivers and cultivable land for food; and animals for milk, honey, etc. But going a step further, the invoker of the verses declares that despite availing all those boons, he does not intend to hurt Mother Earth in any manner whatsoever. The Sukta gives to Mother Earth an assurance of rational utilization of her resources. 

Much of our interaction with the elements of nature, according to Hinduism, is guided by Dharma: the rules of ethical behavior. Such behaviors are guided not by rights, but by obligations. Pankaj Jain in his book Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities describes three communities in India that have actively and consciously worked to preserve and protect the environment as part of their cultural and religious ideology. Those communities include the Swadhyayis, Bishnois, and Bhils.

The Swadhyayis disavow environmentalism. Their mission is “to generate and spread reverence for humans, animals, trees, earth, nature, and the entire universe in general.”

Similarly, the Bishnoi community was founded by a 15th century Guru Jambheshwara who spread the teachings of conservation and living in harmony with nature. Bhils, on the other hand, have protected their sacred groves for generations. 

According to Indic environmentalist and the author of the book Good News India, DV Sridharan, “one doesn’t restore nature, one just keeps a vigil against interruption of Nature’s relentless act of creating the fair and rightful balance.” Hindus believe that when the imbalance reaches a critical point and equilibrium is broken beyond redemption, an avatār ‘unburdens’ the Earth.

Unless the ecological concerns do not empower individuals and communities worldwide to find their indigenous solutions at a more local level, the answer to such concerns will always evade us.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Letters to the Editor: 4/02/2021

Dear India Currents,

Biden Can’t End Cancer

Some politicians like to take credit for everything.  During a speech in Houston on February 26, 2021, President Joe Biden said, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  There’s just one thing—one thing—I could be known for as president.  It would be the end—the president who during his era ended cancer as we know it.”  There are three major problems with this statement.

First, scientific researchers, not politicians, will end cancer.  Second, there are over 100 types of cancer.  They won’t all be cured at once.  Third, the president cannot single-handedly allocate more taxpayer money for cancer research.  The House of Representatives and Senate are involved in determining how taxpayer money is spent.  Biden can’t end cancer.

Ashu M. G. Solo

Wilmington, Delaware


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note. 

From the Darkness of Desi Culture, Women Find the Light

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PDT/ 9pm EDT!

Being a Desi woman can be hard…

I often hear of the specific struggles my Desi clients face in their communities. 

My mentor used to say, “things in the dark always come to light”, and my hope is, through this article, that women will feel empowered enough to break down generational curses of antiquated traditions that are not working for them in this day and age.

One of the most brutal and painful, yet extremely common issues I have confronted is one of Eurocentric beauty standards in the Desi community. Being a woman who has been forced into this conversation at home for her entire life, I’m just eager to dive into this one!

From complaints of being too fat, too dark in complexion,  too short, having small boobs, and even having short hair – I have heard it all. 

Who said beauty was limited to these features? More importantly, who has control of said inherited genetic traits?

The worst part is society, family, even friends, at times.

I remember my relatives would set me up for arranged marriages with men larger than me, mainly so that I would not be rejected.

I once had a family bargain for me. They said, “Since your daughter is not good-looking, make sure she has a doctorate so we can show her off that way.” 

I have heard Desi women being told: just look nice until you get married, and then it doesn’t matter how you look. There are matchmakers that say things like “She is dark. I have the perfect dark-colored boy for her.”

All these dialogues need to stop. We need to change the narrative about beauty in our South Asian households and encourage our communities to embrace all bodies and all forms of beauty. It was this that pushed me to address stereotypes and motivated me to become one of the first few Indian American Plussize Models in the world.

Marriage Talk

This topic can be toxic, especially when it comes from other women.

I have heard many families refer to the marriage of their daughter as an escape. “We have raised you all this time, once we hand you over to a man, then we can finally rest.”

Starting from the age of being “legal”, a typical desi woman enters the age of marriage talk. Growing up, my eldest female cousin did not really know how to cook and clean. My relatives used to say, “If we don’t send you to your in-laws’ house without proper training you, they won’t blame you. They will blame us for sending an inadequate woman to that household.”

It used to blow my mind. In what way was she inadequate?

She is educated. She is beautiful. She is so sweet and caring. Yet, she is inadequate.

And now, with women being so educated, independent, and self-sufficient, marriage has become a competitive sport! Parents are trying to get their daughters liked by “qualified” men.

I would often hear: “We are the girl’s side, we have to go along with their demands” or “You are the girl, just adjust.” Women don’t get to choose, they are the ones being chosen.

Oh, you thought dowry was an old practice? Well, you’re wrong.

Prospective in-laws and parents parade their gold and silver jewelry and discuss how big the dessert table was in their respective daughters’ weddings.

Once you’re married, the nature of the pressure changes to childbirth and motherhood. Many South Asian women are forced into having children, one after the other, because that is what their husbands and in-laws want. 

Career Choices – For Women

In one narrative, it all boils down to how your work affects your husband and your child-rearing capabilities.

In another narrative, Desi women are discouraged by their husbands or families from accepting promotions and higher positions to avoid ego clashes with their counterparts.

I worked with a Desi woman studying to be a surgeon. All throughout her medical school and residency, her family members would question her parents, “Why are you allowing her to do surgery? That is very difficult. Tell her to do something more women-friendly” or “How will she manage a family if she picks such a difficult career path? She has to take care of her husband and children and also patients?”

How is a woman’s personal choice for a career dependent on her future husband and unborn children?

This places the burden of children and running a household on the woman.  

“What does women’s empowerment mean to you?”

This was a question I was asked and it is one that I ask others.

Empowerment is a two-way support network. Women supporting those around them while receiving genuine support from the others in their life. By educating yourself on the painful narratives of Desi women, see how you can empower HER by having the right conversations.

For the Desi women out there, do not be afraid to speak your mind.

For the Desi men out there, support the women in your life by listening to their needs.

For the Desi parents out there, give your daughter the respect and independence she deserves. Let her make choices for herself.

By bringing touchy subjects to light and having healthy communication in your households, we can ensure the proper treatment of desi women.


Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.

Fremont-Based Choreographer’s BollyHeels is Challenging Heteronormativity in Dance

South Asian Americans are redefining traditionally heteronormative notions of gender and sexuality. Although the culture is still well on its way towards acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities, Fremont choreographer Amit Patel is bringing Desis — and the dance community as a whole — in the direction of progress. 

Patel, who began learning Bollywood dance when was just 10 years old, is a professional choreographer for the Bliss Dance and Mona Khan companies. From performing at national events like the Indiaspora Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C to bagging a spot among the top 48 of America’s Got Talent out of 70,000 acts, Patel has played a major role in the representation of Desi dance on global platforms. His Youtube channel, where he regularly uploads choreography videos for both English and Hindi songs, boasts a whopping 184,000 subscribers. He was a part of Lilly Singh’s historic A Little Late With Lilly Singh’s premiere and a pioneer of Eastern Contemporary, a genre of Patel’s own making where he fuses South Asian and Western styles of dance. He has been featured in KQED’s series If Cities Could Dance.

Patel has been opening doors and bridging barriers for what seems like his whole career, and his latest “Bollywood Heels” projects, where he dances in heels to challenge heteronormative stereotypes, are opening up the dance space for LGBTQ+ community. In an interview with India Currents, Patel chronicles both his journey as a dancer and as a gay Indian American man. 

Image from If Cities Could Dance (Courtesy of KQED)

“There are so many different ways to create social change, from working in politics to working in media,” Patel says. “So for me, when I finally decided to pursue [dance] full-time, what interested me the most was artwork..that helped push the conversation.”  

A Fremont native, he reflected on his upbringing in a ‘tech’ family — one of the many South Asians attempting to reach their version of the American Dream in the Silicon Valley. Bollywood gave Patel the freedom to both connect with his culture as well as a liberating, cathartic mode of self-expression. His love for dance began with the Mona Khan Dance Company, when he joined Khan’s classes held in Milpitas’s India Community Center at eleven years old. 

“Everyone has a different origin story,” says Patel. “There is a huge conversation about identity and what makes “you” you, and what Mona provided [in] her dance company was this opportunity to explore our roots without having to give up the daily things that made us American.” 

It was with Khan’s dance company that Patel learned to fuse Indian music with contemporary techniques, creating the medleys that lie at the heart of the Eastern Contemporary genre. With Eastern Contemporary, Patel helped create that ‘happy’, welcoming space for cultural diffusion in dance. With “Bollywood Heels”, his blend of Kathak and Jazz, he aspires to do the same — this time, for dancers of all genders and sexualities. Patel was inspired to initiate change after coming to terms with Bollywood’s internalized heteronormativity. 

“As a kid watching Bollywood, I didn’t necessarily question Bollywood,” Patel told KQED Arts, reflecting on his childhood experiences. “All those traditional gender roles and expectations of a male dancer, that I would also be placed in. I didn’t necessarily resonate with that.” 

Bollywood Heels seeks to remove these expectations in dance, allowing artists to unabashedly express who they are. 

“I just intended to create a space where any queer person that wants to come can explore this movement without judgement,” Patel mentions in the same interview with KQED Arts. “And, also tie that in with culture, because in our South Asian community, that never existed.”

To learn more about Amit Patel, follow his Instagram and subscribe to his Youtube channel


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar. Her work appears in the Apprentice Writer, Polyphony Lit, Brown Girl Magazine, Parallax Literary Magazine, among many others. 

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Dwarka: Lord Krishna’s Kingdom

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

(Featured Image: Gomti Ghat by Suman Bajpai)

After a year of a forced break due to pandemic, at last, I have decided to travel and booked an early morning flight ticket (thinking, that at that rush would not be heavy, but I was wrong, the flight was packed) to travel up to Rajkot and then further to Dwarka

The present Dwarka is on the coast of the Arabian sea opposite the Gulf of Kutch. Known as the capital of Lord Krishna’s Kingdom, the Dwarkadhish temple has heritage importance as one of the major sites for Hindu pilgrimage. It is said that when Lord Krishna and Yadavas left Mathura and arrived at the coast of Saurashtra, they decided to build their capital in the coastal region; invoking Vishwakarma, the deity of construction, it is believed that the ‘city of Gold’ was built in one day. 

Sudhama Setu – Witness Sunrise and Sunset

Sudhama Setu from Wikimedia Commons.

After having lunch and some rest, I went to Sudama Setu over river Gomti.

Sudhama, the best friend of Lord Krishna, is said to have his presence in the land of Dwarka. The bridge that connects both sides of the Gomti River is called Sudhama Setu and watching the sunrise and sunset from this place can be truly delightful.

There I saw the sacred five wells built by the Pandavas, including the famous meditation spot of the five rishis. Camels, decorated in vibrant colours can be seen and camel riding on the banks of the Gomti River is one of the best things to do in Dwarka. The sight of the Ghats and boat riding is a great experience.

Dwarkadhish Temple – Stories Tell Its glory

Dwarkadish Templa (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Dwarka, the city, has been claimed by the sea six times. Though a few kilometers away, I could see the temple’s flag – Dhawajaji or the kirti pataka, which is changed five times a day. Soon the temple’s huge dome could also be seen. This is where Shree Dwarkadeesh reigned 5000 years ago and his presence is felt even today.

While moving towards Dwarkadhish temple, on both sides of the road you find a variety of shops that sell bags, juttis, items made by shells, sweets, Puja material, and Prasad. The air smells of salt and incense. Chants of Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaay, Om Namah Shivaay, and the Hare Krishna Mahamantra emanate through the backdrop of bathers, shoppers and the colourful bazaar. In the evening, different shades of lights enhance the beauty of the temple, which mesmerize you as soon as you enter. 

Sri Dwarkadhish temple is a five-storied structure built on 60 columns, crowned by a soaring elaborately carved spire. There are two gates or dwar to the temple. The North Gate is called Moksha dwar – the way to salvation, from where devotees enter, and the South Gate is called Swarga dwar – the gate to heaven, from where you exit.

Legend has it that the temple was originally built by the grandson of Krishna, Vajranabha, over Lord Krishna’s residential place (hari-griha). Adi Shankaracharya, the venerable Hindu theologian and philosopher from the 8th century who unified the main beliefs of Hinduism, visited the shrine. After his visit, the temple became part of the sacred Char Dham pilgrimage that is essential for the attainment of Moksha for Hindus.

Built in Limestone, the temple complex has several shrines. The main deity is Lord Krishna, also known as Dwarkadhish or Ranchor ji. The basement has an ancient Shivalinga along with Ma Amba, Aniruddha, Pradyumn, Rukmani, Satyabhama, Jamvanti, and Laxmi are also worshipped.

The place below the temple is known as Chakra tirth. Shell-like stones, mostly white in colour, are available only at Dwarka, are sold here. This chakra is a sacred object, bestowing purity and salvation. Gopi Chandan, which is very dear to Lord Krishna, is also sold here.

The temple was packed with devotees, so in queue with my mask, I attended the enchanting aarti of Dwarkadhish.

Nageshwar Shiva Temple – A Tall Idol Attracts   

Nageshwar Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

The next morning, I went to Nageshwar Shiva Temple, which is one of the twelve jyotirlingas located at Nageshwar village in Gujarat. As soon as I had entered, a very big size idol of Lord Shiva surprised me, standing tall in the open sky. 

Nageshwar Temple is one of the oldest temples mentioned in the Shiva Purana. The swayambhu lingam enshrined in the underground chamber at Nageshwar Temple is known as Nageshwar Mahadev. It is believed that this Jyotirlinga protects from all poisons and one who prays here obtains freedom from all kinds of poison.

There is a legend behind this temple told to me by its priest there. There once lived a demon called Daruka, who was extremely cruel and tortured the people. One day he captured a Shiva devotee called Supriya along with many others. The prisoners were held in the underwater city that swarmed with sea-snakes. Supriya recited the Shiva mantra ‘Aum Namaha Shivayay’ to protect them. Daruka tried to kill Supriya, but Lord Shiva appeared in his full glory and killed the demon and went on to reside in the powerful Jyotirlinga.

The temple is a simple structure with typical Hindu architecture. Here the Shiva Lingam faces to the south and the Gomugam faces towards the east. The Shivalinga at Nageshwar is a Tri-Mukhi Rudraksha which is around 40 cm high and 30 cm in diameter. Goddess Parvati as Nageshwari along with the Shivalinga also can be seen. 

Rukmini Temple – Stands On Dry Land

Rukmani Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Almost 2000 years old, Rukmini Temple is located in a deserted area. Its intricate carvings have made it a nationally protected monument. The temple of Rukmini Devi, the chief queen of Lord Krishna, is on the outskirts of Dwarka City. Interestingly, drinking water is offered as a donation to the temple. By donating money one can contribute to bringing drinking water to this area.

Why this temple is far away from the temple of Lord Krishna is associated with a legend.

Saga Durvasa was once invited by Krishna and his wife Rukmini for dinner. Krishna and Rukmini were pulling his chariot. On the way, Devi Rukmini felt thirsty, asked for water, and Lord Krishna provided it by hitting the ground with his toe. Without offering to Durvasa, Devi Rukmini drank the water. The sage felt insulted and he cursed her – she would live separately from her husband. That is the reason that in this temple Rukmini is being worshiped alone without lord Krishna. As a result of this, it is believed that that is the reason for the shortage of drinking water.

Rukmini’s temple stands on very dry land, completely isolated with not a single building or house beside it. The temple’s spellbinding architecture with minute carvings and paintings depicts various stories. Within the complex, there are other temples also dedicated to Amba Devi, the Kul Devi of Krishna.

As soon you get a chance to travel, this should be on your list as one of the first places to visit in India!


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 

The Historical Old Temple of Vedanta Society In San Francisco

The Old Temple of the Vedanta Society in San Francisco somehow made me think about the little poem below by Rabindranath Tagore. I have appended my (admittedly poor) translation below the poem.

বহু দিন ধরেবহু ক্রোশ দূরে

বহু ব্যয় করিবহু দেশ ঘুরে

দেখিতে গিয়েছি পর্বতমালা

দেখিতে গিয়েছি সিন্ধু।

দেখা হয় নাই চক্ষু মেলিয়া

ঘর হতে শুধু দুই পা ফেলিয়া

একটি ধানের শিষের উপরে

একটি শিশির বিন্দু।।

“Over many many years, I traveled many many miles, spent a fortune, and visited many distant lands to enjoy the majestic beauty of great mountain ranges and seashores. But I just did not spare the time to merely step outside my front door and open my eyes to the simple beauty of a drop of dew glistening on a blade of grass in a paddy field.”

We travel to London, Paris, Rome, Greece, Egypt to see the Buckingham Palace, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Acropolis, and the pyramids. We travel east to visit the famous Borobodur and Angkor Wat in Indonesia and Cambodia, Beijing’s Summer Palace, and the Great Wall of China. We take time to visit the famous temples of Kedar/Badri, Varanasi, and Tirupati.  

But how many among us have noticed the Old Temple of the Vedanta Society of Northern California – a rather unusual structure – at the southwest corner of Webster and Filbert Street in San Francisco?  How many of us even knew about it?

Replica of Benares Temple and Swami Vedananda (Image by Partha Sircar)

The Old Temple has its own unique history.  It is the oldest universal Hindu temple in the western world.  It was completed in 1906, just before the great San Francisco earthquake. It somehow survived the earthquake and the fire that followed – some may think it was divine intervention. The temple was built under the leadership of Swami Trigunatitananda, who at the time was in charge of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco (founded by Swami Vivekananda himself in 1900). Swami Trigunatitananda was a brother disciple of Swami Vivekananda, one of Sri Ramakrishna’s sixteen monastic disciples.  Incidentally, he died in 1915 resulting from the injuries from a bomb thrown at him by a deranged disciple, while he was speaking from the pulpit of his beloved temple – the first martyr of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Movement.

Swami Trigunatiatnanda had grandiose visions of the temple. He wanted it to reflect an architectural representation of the message of religious harmony, the central theme of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world, as so ably expounded by Swami Vivekananda. Therefore it is not built like an Indian temple. Each of its four towers on the roof and the small tower at the entrance to the auditorium is architecturally unique. They have echoes of the Shiva temples of Bengal, the Varanasi temple, a medieval Christian church, the Taj Mahal, and a Muslim mosque. The veranda running along the north and east sides of the building on the third floor is lined with sculpted arches in Moorish style.  In addition to the auditorium, the temple housed monk’s quarters and administrative offices. With time came requirements for additional space.

Old Temple Auditorium in the Old Vedanta Temple (Image by Partha Sircar)

Major activity was shifted to the New Temple which was built in 1959 at the northwest corner of Vallejo and Fillmore Streets, a few blocks from the Old Temple. 

The Old Temple was recently subjected to a major renovation, including seismic retrofit, to bring it up to the current Building Code requirements. A  Re-Dedication Ceremony for the Old Temple took place on October 29 (Kali Puja Day) and October 30, 2016, graced by a senior monk from Belur Math and about a dozen monks from all over North America.  

Perhaps now some of us will take a closer look at the Old Temple and try to find out more about it. And that also includes me.

Epilogue

The article above was written about four years ago. Since then, the renovations, including seismic retrofit of the structure, for which the temple was closed for a while, have been completed. A guided tour of the temple was arranged by the Vedanta Society on October 13 and 14, 2018 to mark the reopening after the renovation and seismic retrofit.  As usual, it was conducted by Swami Vedananda, the elderly, very learned American monk, of the Society. I took advantage of the tour on its very first day. 


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write.

Featured image from Wikimedia commons.

Bards Of the Same Feature Recite Together

(Featured Image: Bay Area Poetess, Saswati Das)

Poetry As Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.

Poetry as I can relate to it is my first love and my last love. It was my grandfather who first introduced me to the world of poetry through Tagore’s poems. As a child, the rhythmic words of the poetry and its melody used to give me immense happiness. I used to get lost in the vivid descriptions of village life, the beauty of nature, the lush green forest, and the chirping birds and animals that inhabit them. My grandfather died at the age of seven. That was the time I had first faced death and that too of a person closest to my heart. Since then, I have been expressing my feelings through the world of poetry.

From my childhood, as I entered my teenage years, I started experiencing life with new passions and renewed vigor. On one hand, as the arrow of cupid struck me, I started writing romantic verses, while on the other hand, being a radical at heart, I started revolting against anything that binds us. I started questioning anything that we are bound to abide by and protesting even the silliest of things that maintain the status quo. I was in the process of discovering myself through life and poetry. During that time, revolutionary poets like Kaji Nazrul Islam, Paul Robeson, and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan began to inspire me and I started writing poetry in both English and Hindi languages, to bring social change and uphold social justice. Often, I used to mix romance and revolution in a single poem to decorate the message I wanted to convey.

You do not exist

From the date I knew myself

You had been near me;

Sheltering me from rain drops

Picking the flowers of glee.

 

Through the dark clouds in the sky

You showed me the horizon;

Breaking the bounds of joy and moan

You took me to my mission.

 

Across the distance of the vast space

Thou peace touches mine,

Thou sunshine remains untarnished

Through rusting affect of time.

 

You decorate my night with glowing stars

Soothe my soul like the sea;

It wets my eyes with drops of pearl

How much you love me!

 

A sound in my yard woke me up

I found myself alone;

Like the spring days you were there;

And now you are gone.

Thy shadow mingled in the dawn

With the dizzy morning mist;

Oh friend, you are a world to me,

You do not exist!

When I came to the Bay Area, I started missing the poetry, music, and arts of India that is so deeply rooted in me. I started searching for poetry group of Indian languages on the internet and finally found the “Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley”, a close-knit meetup group where the poets and the poetry lovers not only shares and rejoices poems of Indian and Asian languages like Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, and Bengali, but also the languages of the Western world such Spanish and English.

My knowledge and love for poetry increased by many folds after joining this poetry group. With the onset of the pandemic, we started meeting virtually every Saturday and we look forward to it throughout the week. Our group recently published a multi-lingual book of anthology captioned “A Memory Book of Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley” which contains an excellent collection of poems of some of the remarkable poets I met through the poetry group. I wish that “Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley ” keeps flourishing and inspiring the poets in us and as always keeps fueling the candle of creativity in our minds for long days to come.


Saswati Das, an engineer by profession and a poetess by heart, lives in Milpitas, California, and writes poems and fiction in both English and Hindi. She had published a poetry book in English captioned “Fragrant Flute of Fire”, which speaks of the cooling breeze and the scorching heat of human life. Recently, some of her Hindi poems have also been by Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley in the anthology captioned ‘A Memory Book of Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley’.

Machiavelli Mitch Akin to Jacobin Jayewardene

(Featured Image: Found on Twitter @ltthompso)

However much you dislike a player in the opposing team, when the blighter does a fiendish bend it like Beckham, at least for a moment we have to hit pause and tip our hat in recognition.

Technically not guilty but guilty – what a diabolical performance with a double-edged sword for the express intent to satisfy and maintain two conflicting groups:

  • Business folks, the source for election funding, desired stability and so wanted Trump to vanish
  • The virulent base was still loyal to Trump and wanted him acquitted

In a cunning, deflecting speech at the Senate, he flicked the fast-paced impeachment ball towards on-side, Biden’s new DoJ, to do the dirty work of making sure Trump becomes toast. 

Reminds me of a similar gambit once carried out in South Asian politics in the eighties.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister was being bombarded by global media for their cruelty against the separation movement by Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). J.R. Jayewardene, the veteran politician, invited the young newly elected Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, to Colombo for discussing and resolving this issue. The old crocodile convinces the well-meaning but inexperienced Rajiv to do the job together.

Thus, India sends in Indian Peace Keeping Force, a trained army battalion, and over a couple of years they too, through association, become villains in the eyes of LTTE. 

End result? At an election rally in southern India, a seventeen-year-old girl, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam of LTTE, garlanded the 47-year-old Rajiv Gandhi and kills him with her suicide bomb vest that carried 1.5 lbs of RDX. Jayewardhane went on to live till the ripe old age of 91.

Ok, ok, it is not ethical or honest behavior, but who said politics is all goody-goody. Politics is dirty and is merely the act of the possible, which puts all politicians in the region of umbra or penumbra, not black or white. Take Churchill, I adore him for tirelessly fighting to ensure democracy prevailed over fascism, but at the same time, I dislike him for opposing the Indian freedom movement.

Talking of democracy, here is how it really survived in 2020. 

Mike Podhorzer, a soft-spoken guy who worked only in the background, was the one to bring together the left-leaning labor union of AFL-CIO and the right-leaning Chamber of Commerce to start having weekly Zoom calls, from as early as 2019. Their mission was to bring the ship of democracy safely into harbor, without being hijacked by the pirates. They quietly achieved the following: 

  • Private money was channeled to influence local governments to pass laws ensuring voting by mail was a seamless process and enough time allowed to count all ballots
  • Invested in ads to shame the two Michigan certifying Republicans to follow the 250-year-old law to respect the will of the people, instead of falling for Trump’s offers to make them rich or bag cushy Ambassador postings
  • Made sure the extreme left did not hit the streets with protests and placards. Their absence on the streets upset the White House as they were banking on that and for skirmishes and violence to happen between the opposing protestors, in order for the President to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, under the guise of controlling civil unrest.

Yeah, it was a close call. It’s time now for the well-meaning Democrats to get off their “America is better than this” high horse and learn to sup with this crafty minority leader. In spite of all his skullduggery, the guy is at least lesser evil than his rabid comrades from TX and MO, right? After all, real governing is something that none of us get to see and it’s never about party policies, it’s always about people, a few good men behind the scenes is all it takes. Remember Reagan and Tip? However, our gentlemanly Schumer has to do one thing – after making deals and shaking hands with Mitch, he must count his fingers to make sure they are all there.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

Letters to the Editor: 3/18/2021

Dear India Currents,

Captain Tom Moore served in an imperialist force.

The United Kingdom and the world are celebrating the life of Captain Tom Moore for raising a lot of money for the British health service’s charitable wing. Moore is being praised as a hero, but he was a member of the British occupying force in India. The British caused millions of deaths in India and left the country in shambles.  Moore should have apologized to the people of India for being part of an imperialist force in India. Instead of raising money for NHS Charities Together, he should have raised money for reparations for India.

Ashu M. G. Solo


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note.