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Hindu community in Tuscaloosa are a close group kept together through cultural traditions

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image source: www.cw.ua.edu

By Chandler Padgett

(Tuscaloosa is a town in Alabama state in USA. Located approximately 60 miles from Birmingham, it has a population of about 95,000.- NewsGram)

Nagaraj and his wife kneel before an altar in their apartment, chimes ringing in the air. Laden with colorful deity figurines and ornate art, the altar, or mandir, acts as a small temple for the Hegdes and a vital aspect of their religion, Hinduism.

Unlike the many churches that fill the Tuscaloosa landscape, the approximately 400 Indians (many of whom are Hindu) primarily worship at small mandirs in their own homes, as mass gathering is not emphasized.

“A mandir is a place where we can surrender our mind, it’s a small set-up, this home is an extension of the temple,” said Nagaraj Hegde, UA Vedic Society president and a Ph.D. student. “Even though the television waves are everywhere, we still need a TV set to capture it and play it back. We understand that divinity is everywhere, but these are concentrated forms where the deity is present.”

Before eating, his wife placed food on the mandir.

“We offer prayers, we worship them,” Hegde said. “We offer the food, whatever we eat, before, to the divine beings, pray to them please will you accept it, and we will take the remnants.”

In addition to domestic mandirs, there is a modest temple in Tuscaloosa and a larger one in Birmingham, which has a larger population of Hindus. People gather there every Sunday.

“Once in a week it’s good to meet each other,” said Parnab Das, a Ph.D. student at the University. “They give good, home-cooked vegetarian food. We do a small worship service, and we discuss things from our scriptures. We try to discuss not only religious things. We try to discuss social things going on in this world. Just try to inspire each other what we should and should not do in our life.”

Though a mere fraction of the population, Indians in Tuscaloosa are a close group kept together through cultural practice and traditions.

“We are very much closely bound,” said Vaishali Batra, president of the Indian Student Association of Tuscaloosa and Ph.D. student. “We do a lot of events together, a lot of social gatherings together. We always make it a point that we get together on Indian cultural festivals. We also meet the senior citizens and families, so we are very well-knit in Tuscaloosa.”

As is natural with intercultural interaction, Hindus in Tuscaloosa sometimes have to deal with misconceptions and misunderstandings from Americans and other non-Indians, such as the name Hindu itself. Most likely coined by Persians, Hindu merely referred to people living on the Sindhu River. The original name of the religion is Sanatana Dharma.

“Sanatana means eternal and Dharma means law or the way, so Sanatana Dharma means the eternal way or eternal law of being close to God,” Das said.

Even then, Das clarifies that Hinduism is more of a way or law of life than a religion.

Das and Nagaraj Hegde have faced some negative experiences during their time as students here as well.

“I was being asked by one of my lab mates that after death, if I go to hell because I am not a Christian, and it is being written in the Bible that if you are not a Christian you go to hell, what will I do?” Das said. “So I said, then I will go to hell, what else can I do? If God cannot see the deeds which I have done in my life, if God cannot see my love towards him, if God cannot see my dedication towards him, if still he asks me to go to hell because I am not a Christian, then I have to go to hell.”

Nagaraj Hegde shared a similar story.

“Once, four years ago, we were singing Indian kirtan on Manderson Landing, and within 5 minutes, someone said you can’t do it here,” Hegde said. “But it’s really improved a lot. Last year, every single Thursday in the summer, we have done it and nobody bothered us.”

The positive change in the past few years hints at some of the positive relationships Hindus have in the community. For example, Hegde’s Vedic Society seeks to educate Americans and other non-Indians about Hindu and Indian traditions and beliefs like yoga, meditation and universal harmony.

“I try my best to present the real knowledge without adding my own interpretations and present the knowledge as Krishna presented it,” Hegde said. “We try to bring about harmony in this world. We get Christians, we get Muslims, we get atheists, every type of person, and we don’t exclude against anybody.”

Some new international students struggle to become acclimated to Alabama and find their way around, especially since few have cars. Batra and ISAT seek to help with that.

“Our organization on campus is about uniting people and helping new students as well as the older students to settle down here or to help them with the basic things they need in the beginning or give them campus tours,” Batra said. “And this organization is about organizing Indian festivals so that students can have the feel of home when they are away from home.”

Hindus and Indians have formed a community in Tuscaloosa that maintains cultural and religious ties while simultaneously interacting with and befriending others across the city.

“Initially it was hard, it was very hard, but once I started the Vedic Society meetings then I made such wonderful friends, such nice people I could never imagine, I feel at home,” Hegde said. “I have many nice friends. There are nice people everywhere. You just have to go and find them. You think ‘oh this is bible belt they will be close-minded,’ but that’s not a fact.”

Source: http://www.cw.ua.edu/

Next Story

10 Facts about Madhubani Paintings which will blow your mind

Recently, Madhubani painting style came into limelight after some artists decided to renovate the Madhubani Railway Station by painting a huge Madhubani painting on the walls of the railway station.

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A Madhubani Painting in black and white. Wikimedia Commons
A Madhubani Painting in black and white. Wikimedia Commons

Madhubani Paintings, also known as Mithila Paintings are the quintessence folk art form of Mithila Region of Bihar. The art form is incredibly old and the name ‘Madhubani’ which means, ‘forest of honey,’ has a lineage of more than 2500 years.These paintings are the local art of Madhubani district of Bihar, which is also the biggest exporter of Madhubani paintings in India.

Recently, Madhubani painting style came into limelight after some artists decided to renovate the Madhubani Railway Station by painting a huge Madhubani painting on the walls of the railway station. The painting spans across an area of 7000 square feet and is expected to attract tourism to the Madhubani District. Madhubani art has received international and national attention in recent times.

Paintings and art are a reflection of the culture and tradition of the place from where they originate. Madhubani paintings are an important part of the Indian Culture. Madhubani painting in black and white are some of the oldest and most beautiful art that people can witness and admire. The style, which was losing its importance earlier is once again emerging as a major art form.

A modern representation of Madhubani art form. Wikimedia Common
A modern representation of Madhubani art form. Wikimedia Common

Here are 10 facts about Madhubani paintings which will blow your mind :

  • The history of Madhubani paintings dates back to the days of Ramayana. The history of Madhubani paintings dates back to the time of Ramayana when king Janaka asked an artist to capture the wedding of his daughter Sita with prince Rama. He commissioned craftsmen to decorate the entire kingdom with Madhubani art on the auspicious occasion of his daughter’s marriage. That’s one of the earliest mentions of Madhubani paintings that can be found in ancient scriptures and text.
  • Madhubani Paintings have 5 distinct styles to delight our eyes. Madhubani art has five distinctive styles, namely, Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik, Godna, and Kohbar. In ancient times, Bharni, Kachni and Tantrik style were done by Brahman and Kayastha women, who were considered ‘upper caste.’ Their themes were mainly religious and depicted Gods and Goddesses, flora and fauna. People belonging to lower castes including aspects of their daily life and symbols into their paintings.Nowadays, however, Madhubani has become a globalised art form. There is no difference in the work of different artists of different regions or castes.
  • Madhubani paintings are done using different kinds of everyday materials. In past, Madhubani painting was done using fingers, twigs. Now, matchsticks and pen nibs are also used. Usually, bright colours are used in these paintings with an outline made from rice paste as its framework. These paintings rarely have any blank spaces. Borders are often embellished with geometric and floral patterns. These paintings use natural dyes. For example, Madhubani paintings in black and white often use charcoal and soot for the black colour.
A Madhubani Paintings can be made using different materials on different mediums. Wikimedia Commons
A Madhubani Paintings can be made using different materials on different mediums. Wikimedia Commons
  • Madhubani art is characterised by symbols and figures. Madhubani paintings are characterised by figures that are prominently outlined, like bulging fish-like eyes and pointed noses. The themes of Madhubani paintings usually include natural elements like fish, birds, animals, turtle, sun, moon, bamboo trees and flowers, like a lotus. Love, valour, devotion, fertility, and prosperity are often symbolized by geometric patterns, which is another important feature of this art form.
  • From Mud-Walls to Canvas. Earlier, Madhubani paintings were made by women on freshly plastered mud-walls of their houses during religious occasions. The skill has been passed onto from one generation to another. Today, this artwork can be found on an international platform on mediums like cloth, paper, canvas, paper-mache products, etc.
  • Discovered and brought to attention by William G. Archer. Madhubani paintings, though prominent in India, were unknown to the outside world until a colonizer, William G. Archer found them. While he was inspecting the damage after the massive earthquake of  Bihar in 1934, Archer was amazed when he discovered the beautiful illustrations on the interior walls of the huts. He decided to bring the attention of other colonizers to this art form and introduced it internationally.

    Madhubani paintings are made without sketches. Wikimedia Common
    Madhubani paintings are made without sketches. Wikimedia Common
  • Madhubani is an Instinctive Art Form. Madhubani art is created without the use of sketches, they are made instinctively by the artists. This feature not only makes Madhubani paintings unique but also incredibly exclusive.
  • Madhubani painting also prevents Deforestation. Surprised? This folk art is not just mere decorations on the wall, it is also used for worship. Artists in Bihar draw paintings depicting Hindu deities on trees and those who hold strong religious beliefs, prevent others from chopping those trees down. This plays a big role in preventing trees from being cut down.
  • The Connection with Feng shui. Madhubani paintings use symbols and geometric figures which have a strong association with the Feng Shui philosophy. The use of flowers, especially the lotus, birds,  fishes, and turtles which we find in Madhubani paintings, are closely linked to the concept of divinity and spirituality in Feng Shui. Madhubani painting is believed to bring with them, the benefits of Feng Shui as well.

    Madhubani painting rarely has any spaces. Wikimedia Common
    Madhubani paintings rarely have any empty spaces. Wikimedia Common
  • The Importance of Sun in Madhubani. Since ancient times, the sun has always been an important symbol of nature worship. The Sun also occupies such an important place in the Madhubani paintings. There are paintings wholly dedicated to the Sun, in which it can be seen painted in different moods and colours. Every Madhubani home has one painting of the Sun which they worship daily.