Source : Google photo of Rangoli art with rice powder or paste
Synopsis : The fading traditions due to social and demographic changes come at a cost of greater isolation of people from each other and loneliness. The traditions connected us to our past in a joyful way that has now given way to what some people call practicality. The blog looks at the reasons and the consequences of living a modern life devoid of traditions that used to help people come together in the past.
No matter where we come from, we always talk of some traditions that we follow while rejecting quite a few others as the time passes. We say that we value certain traditions and wish to continue them while the next generation shows less veneration and gives up what some consider their cherished traditions. The society as a whole is undergoing changes brought about by the pressure of new technology, new priorities and new age of looking at traditions with a critical eye and questioning their validity today.
I see many traditions I grew up with vanishing because people do not consider them worth continuing. It brings back the nostalgia that the old traditions still evoke in me but the next generation does not seem to care because it is not their priority any more.
Source : Google photo of Diwali celebration in India
Once I was home during the Diwali festival when many houses were decorated with oil lamps and the Goddess of wealth Lakhsmi was worshipped in Hindu homes to seek her blessings for prosperity and a happy home. Usually Diwali is celebrated in November to celebrate the triumphant return of Lord Ram from Lanka where he fought the King Ravana to rescue Sita so people lit his way with oil lamps all the way from Lanka to Ayodhya so a delightful tradition was born that people all over the country carried on for thousands of years. Diwali is the time when most Hindus whitewash or paint their homes to give it a fresh look.
Source : Google photo of sellers of clay lamps for Diwali
At this time it was my job to look for the clay lamps, cotton for making the wicks and the castor oil while my brothers looked for fire crackers to liven up the spirit. We sat around making cotton wicks to put in clay lamps that we filled with castor oil, placed them on window tops and other places. We kept the lamps going by refilling them with oil. Our home glowed and looked so beautiful with all the lamps while our elder sister made decorative designs on the floor with rice paste that she mixed with different colors to signify that Goddess Lakhsmi was coming to bless our home.
Our ma celebrated the worship of Lakhsmi with elaborate rituals, sweets and ceremony that we all joined in. This tradition was a joyous occasion for us all when we were young.
Many years later when I was home again, I saw my sister putting up tiny candles and trying to light them one by one but they soon went out. She said with a sad face that no one cared to light the clay lamps the way we used to so she bought the tiny candles to continue the tradition in a halfhearted way. Our sweet mom also died so the celebration of the worship of Lakhsmi has also stopped. Our elder sister is now dead so no one made the decorative designs on the floor with colored rice paste any more.
The joy of Diwali had gone out because people have given up the tradition of celebrating it the way we used to. Now the market is filled with cheap imported Chinese lights that some people put up for a day or two because they can’t be bothered to look for the clay lamps, cotton for wicks and the oil anymore. They have given up traditions in the name of practicality now so the old traditions are slowly vanishing.
Source : Google photo of Holi celebration in India
Another tradition was the celebration of Holi which is a color festival when we used to spray colored water on others while they did the same. We got really dirty when someone smeared black or red paint on our faces while others threw red or vermillion powder on each other to make the festival very colorful.
At this time Ma made a lot of sweets at home. Holi was a time for joy and festivity. In the evening people hugged each other and put sweets in your mouth while the kids made a pile of wood in the square to make a huge bonfire that signified burning away evil and usher in the new era of peace and prosperity. Everything had a religious connotation since the festivals were usually related to some important religious event in the past meaning thousands of years ago.
Source : Google photo of pickle making at home in India
There are many things that people have now given up that were a part of our life when we were growing up. Our ma always made pickles of mango, tamarind and other things for which I was asked to peel the green mangoes, grate them on a sharp grater or picked the seeds out of the tamarind to get them ready for ma to make pickles. I had to go to the market for all the spices and mustard oil needed to make the pickles. She then filled up huge ceramic jars with delicious pickles and put them on the roof when the sun did the job.
Now people do not make pickles at home because women do not care to make them. They buy the commercial pickles because it is easier and more practical. This word keeps popping up now because people discard the traditions in the name of practicality but there are many other socio economic reasons as well that I will explore some more later in the blog.
Source : Google photo of Bari making at home in India
Another tradition that has disappeared today is the making of Bari at home. Bari is the paste of a certain type of pulse called dal in India that is soaked overnight and then made into a paste. My ma would get up early in the morning, bathe and put on fresh sari and perform a worship of some Deities before she would start making Bari. The bari would dry up in the sun and would be kept for the whole year in the pantry so our pantry was full of bari, pickles and whole grains of wheat, rice and dal.
Now women just buy the bari and can’t be bothered to make them at home because it is more practical to just buy them. The point is that these things were available in the market when we were growing up but our Ma still made them at home at a much lower cost and of better quality. She did not mind the work that was required to do so.
A whole generation has grown up that knows nothing about making pickles and bari at home or making sweets during the festival time. My dad always made the paste of besan ( chick pea flour) and put it through a sieve into hot oil to fry it to crispy golden color and then put it in the sugar syrup. This was a delight we enjoyed greatly during the annual Pooja festival. Not anymore.
Source : Google photo of catering during marriage in India
One tradition that I miss is the marriage feast when we served our guests with food, sweets etc. and urged them to eat more. We knew all the guests so we called them uncle or aunt out of politeness. Everyone enjoyed the food together while some people cracked jokes when someone competed to see who could eat a large number of sweets. It made the marriage feast a very joyful occasion.
Now a morose caterer supplies the food laid out on tables so the guests take what they want, eat silently and leave the envelop to someone for the bride and the groom and leave. They do not enter the house because the caterer sets up the tent outside the house. They do not meet with the bride or the groom or the parents who are taking part in the rituals of marriage inside the house. The priest decides the time of marriage which may be at 1 am so very few people remain to see the act of marriage. The marriage was no longer a joyful occasion but rather a boring event people were anxious to get over with. It seems that the parent’s generation kept going the delightful traditions that the next generation has totally discarded in the name of practicality.
One thing that has drastically changed now is the size of a family. We were eight brothers and sisters not counting a few who did not survive their first year so a large family was the norm. Now you will find only one or two kids per family. This has come about due to the tremendous economic pressure that has forced the middle class to limit the number of children they produce. If the first child is a girl, they may not have a second child due to the fear that they may have two daughters in a row. The cost of raising two daughters and to save money for their dowry later is so high that the middle class can’t afford.
It is also true that women today do not stay home like their grandmothers did so they get education and jobs that has made them more independent. They have no time for making things at home the way our Ma did so they opt for fast food or eating at the cafeteria their employers offer. Most working women now are lousy cooks because they spent so little time in the kitchen learning from their elders while growing up. This focus on earning money after some education has made people give up many traditions that I mentioned earlier. It is an ongoing process during which many more traditions will be lost that will have a huge impact on the society as a whole and on the individual families.
In the past ,the traditions were followed that brought people in the community together to celebrate festivals together and visit each other but that has changed now due to the individualistic culture that has developed. Now the kids stay home playing with their play stations or Galaxy pads to play games but they know very few kids in their community. They are lonely and reclusive not by choice but due to the changing society.
So far I have written about the changing traditions in the cities and among the middleclass that seems to power the engine of development in any country but not all people live in urban areas. There are millions of people who still live in the rural areas where many traditions I mentioned in this blog still thrive to a great extent but they are not totally immune from the winds of change either.
The rural population in many countries is under pressure due to the physical and demographic changes that have come about. Now the rural parts of India are increasingly being connected with roads, electricity, Internet connections, schools and other facilities that make the pressure to change great.
They may still have large number of children but the kids now go to school and many go to college who later move to cities to find jobs. The small farmers find it harder to feed their family so many sell their land to move to cities to find jobs. They cannot compete with large or very large mechanized farms that are taking over the task of farming like what has happened in the United States and other countries.
What has changed in the rural areas is that more women have come forward who have shaken off their traditional roles of home and hearth. For the first time they feel that they are equal to anyone so they must get education, training and seek opportunities that come their way.
Source : Google photo of girls wrestling boys in rural India
I was delighted to see young girls wrestling with boys and beating them in village wrestling matches watched by thousands. This is a fundamental change from the way women were treated a generation ago. Now girls join the army, navy and air force to become officers who command over men. They join the police force where many become officers. Some compete to join the Indian administrative service where they achieve high ranks. They had to give up many traditions like home and hearth to achieve what many have achieved so there is no going back for them. This is a positive change that is sweeping the country now.
This new generation of urban and rural women who are more educated than their parents is making a big impact on the society as a whole but it has come at a price. Their priorities are very different from their parents whom they consider as traditional because they still value old traditions.
The infrastructure development all over the country like India is also changing the society and the behavior of people often in a negative way because they have discarded what was once enjoyable that brought people together in their great rush to re prioritize their wants and needs. It is therefore inevitable that old traditions are given up because to them they are no longer practical. It is no longer practical to get to know others and say hello. It is no longer practical for the kids to play with other kids so they stay home and morosely watch inane TV programs or play with their toys.
It is no longer practical to observe and participate in joyous festivals because people in big cities live in small apartments in high rise monolithic and ugly tenements that have no parks nearby. It is no longer practical for women or girls to learn to cook and learn about home making because of fast food available on line and delivered to your doorsteps anytime.
So we have lost a great deal of what was beautiful and what people enjoyed together in the name of practicality. When people lose their social bonding, they become lonely and die alone in their homes while others go about their business until the stench of a rotting corpse assails their nostrils. Those who can afford go to fancy old age homes.
Therefore I reject the notion of practicality to discard the traditions that used to bring people closer. We have not learned what the modern living has done to people in other countries so we tend to imitate them. I think our parents were wiser and enjoyed life more than the present generation. It is not the flat screen TV or the car that makes your life better but the human interaction that came through traditions.
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