One of the things I was most excited about was the cultural immersion of this year. We were leaving an individualistic, self-centered, materialistic, independent, capitalistic society for a community-centric people. I was so curious. One of the most obvious aspects of the culture here is how the religion and culture blur into one. We live on a Hindu island with the majority of Hindu people, and we are not Hindu ourselves. Everything is foreign. Everything is different. We are always learning.
Our neighbors and new acquaintances have been gracious enough to include us in their religious observations, which happen quite frequently. Daily, offering are left at the foot of altars. Several times month, larger offerings & ceremonies are made to appease the spirits. At different times in your child’s life, certain rituals are required. Some ceremonies are every 210 days. Some once a lunar calendar. Some when a relative dies. Some when one is reborn. It’s so hard to keep track.
In addition to observing the daily offering rituals, we’ve also tagged along to a few more “official” ceremonies. Our first was for the dedication of a new building. We were staying in a guesthouse and they were opening a new section, so naturally 200 people in the community had to come over to “bless” it. There was incense and chanting, and flowers and food and ducks and chickens. I understood none of it. But it sure was fascinating!
Our next ceremony was a funeral. Or that’s what they told us it was. What actually happened was we were part of a 500+ person “parade” through the village streets following the coffin of a deceased person. Once we arrived at the “funeral”, we realized that 3 other people had recently died and they were all being cremated today. Oh yeah, we saw a cremation. With a whole bunch of our neighbors. That’s a thing.
Just recently, we were invited to our landlord’s family temple for their second daughter’s tooth filing ceremony. At 17, teenagers have their canine teeth filed down flat to align them with the molars. According to beliefs, these canine teeth represent the animal side of their souls, like bad tempers, greediness, jealousy, pride, and anger. In order to help young people control their animal urges, they have these canine teeth filed. So we watched as 16 others, in addition to our landlord’s daughter, had their teeth filed that day. Apparently, it’s very special and an important rite of passage into adulthood. Kinda glad I just had a Sweet 16 party.
These are just the big events, there’s been so much culture we’ve observed and absorbed day by day. Instead of feeling like I have this place figured out, I just have more questions. I hope one day to have the language skills to ask the questions and have the relationship with friends to find the answers! But for now, I’ll just keep watching.
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