Valley Focus: Learning about Indian American Traditions

If you have wondered about Indian American traditions, two local experts some of the spiritual and colorful meanings behind their customs.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and ABC30 is highlighting the Indian American community.

Valley Focus host Liz Harrison welcomed guests Kiran Brar from Central Valley Kitty and Hidden Wealth Academy and Raman Gill, Senior Vice President at the Bank of the West. They discussed Indian customs and culture.

Liz:So, let's first -- I mean, let's talk about what you're wearing and what I'm wearing.

They actually brought me something to wear today, too.

This is a...

Kiran: Chunni.

Liz: ...chunni. Chunni. Is this beautiful or what?

This is silk. Silk. And you ladies are just beautiful.

Kiran:Thank you.

Liz: Your clothing is beautiful. Tell me about the tradition of what you're wearing.

They're two different types of Indian tradition.

Kiran: Yes, so, what I'm wearing is a saree, which is probably the most common dress throughout India. This happens to be a more formal saree that we would wear to elaborate celebrations, wedding receptions, et cetera. And Raman is wearing something -- it's a suit. Yeah.

Raman: Yeah, so, I'm wearing a suit. And also, even in this one, you'll find different styles, different designs, different bottoms. And depending on the occasion, that's how, you know --

Do you need a formal, semi-formal? Are you going to a party wedding or to a church or someone's house? So, they're all designed...

Liz: Okay. They're beautiful. And people can't see your shoes, but if they could see your shoes, they would see that they're beautiful. And she has little bracelets around her ankle, which all of the jewels and the embellishment are all part of the Indian dress, right?

Kiran: Yes.

Liz: And you even brought some extra jewels.

Kiran: Yes, some beads for you.

Liz: What is the significance of the jewel right here?

Kiran: That's a bindi, and originally the significance is it's a spiritual thing. You know, we've got two eyes to see the physical world with.

So, the bindi started out as a reminder to turn inwards. And brides would wear it because now they are gonna step into a new home.

They're gonna be the guardian of that new home, and they need to be -- mindfulness, you know, a lot of that. India is saturated with spirituality.

Liz: And you are very spiritual people.

Kiran: Yes.

Liz: Is that correct?
Kiran: Yes.

Liz: Everything in your culture really revolves around spirituality.


Liz: Tell me about that. How many different kinds of religion do they have in your Indian culture?

Kiran: God, there's Sikhism, Jainism. Hinduism is huge. Christianity is huge. Islam is huge.

So, different cultures, you know, customs, and religions. India's really saturated with spirituality.

Liz: Spirituality and color. You love color. I love Indian weddings because there is so much culture. And we actually have video of an Indian wedding here in the Valley. Tell us about what's happening, if you can sort of commentate for us here.

Kiran: Well, that looks like the groom is showing up, and grooms show up in elaborate ways -- elephants and limos and horses and carriages.

So, that is a ceremony happening at a Sikh Punjabi temple. And what we do is we take rounds around a holy book named the Guru Granth Sahib. And that's what the couple is doing right there.

Raman: And there are four rounds. And so with every round, you're actually making a promise to each other. You know, so, what you do is, before you start the round, a priest will kind of give you instructions and the same from their holy book. And then they'll sing it and you take the round around and you're making the promise.

Liz: That's beautiful. One other part of the wedding tradition is to get the henna tattoos on the hands. Now, I love this. If you can explain to us how this works. It's a very intricate design...that's drawn on the hands

And tell me about the significance and how long it stays on and all of those things.

Kiran: Well, it originally started because the henna plant has a cooling agent in it.

It was for -- You know, Egyptians used it, Indians used it to cool their bodies 'cause they lived in deserts. But, you know, mankind evolves everything, so it wasn't before long people started making intricate designs. You know, brides started putting it on their hands and feet.

But I think the best use of henna is by a new mother or a new bride because the plant stays on, the stain stays on for quite awhile. And it keeps the bride and the mother from doing house chores.

Liz: Now, how does it keep them from doing house chores?

Kiran: Well, the tradition is that you are not supposed to do house chores until the --

Yeah. The stain is gone. So brides go out of their way to keep that stain on.

Liz: I bet they do.

Liz: Oh, it sounds like a wonderful tradition. Now, I promised everyone that we would talk about the kitty. Tell me -- what is the kitty?

Kiran: Well, Central Valley Kitty -- You know, it was inspired by kitty parties in India, where women would come together. They have a kitty in which they would -- It's a container to collect funds in.

Liz: Not the animal the kitty.

Kiran: No, not a sexy cat or anything like that. It's actually got a lot of integrity, the name does.

And so my girlfriends and I got together, and we started to call each other "Kitty." We thought it was endearing. And our group just happened to grow and grow, and it was a group of very motivational friends. And, you know, we'd inspire each other, and before you know, we had guys in our group. So, everybody's a kitty, not just a woman, you know? "Kitty" is a container for abundance. And that is how our group started.

Liz: Okay, the last part that I want to talk to you about is the celebration of Holi.

Kiran: Yeah. Holi is a --Actually, it's a color fest. And it's a Hindu color festival that is widely celebrated in Nepal and in India. And Holi is a welcoming of spring.

It's got a lot of Hindu mythology behind it. But at the end of the day, it is about welcoming spring, abundance, victory of, you know, light over darkness, good over evil.

And also northern Indians do a lot of farming. You know, they harvest their crop during the wintertime, so it's a celebration of that. But what I love about Holi is it's a time where you can throw color on each other, and it's a -- You can't have hard feelings, right?

It's a sense of brotherhood, and regardless of who throws color on you, you have to be -- you have to open your arms and just love them through it. So I think it's a great way to just have everybody come together, let bygones be bygones.

Raman: If you take a look at Indian culture altogether, we're all about colors.

Liz: Yes. I have noticed that. In every celebration and every gathering, it is all about color.

Raman: And, you know, 'cause it's a deep meaning also, too - life is colorful.

Liz: Yes. I will agree with that.

Raman: And, you know, that's how we represent, regardless if it's Holi or any other festival, occasion, and you'll find us all decked up in colors.

Kiran: Yeah. It's spirit. Spirit loves bond. Spirit loves color. That's what we believe.

Liz: Well, Kiran and Raman, thank you so much for joining us. I have learned a lot today.

And I love my little decoration.

Kiran: Yeah, we want to see you wear it, Liz.

Liz: I will!

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