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BY Jaya Prakash

I trace my family roots to Malabar in modern

Kerala. Malabar which was once part of the

Madras Presidency, was brought into the State of

Kerala when India became independent. Kerala

of those days had a fairly complicated system of

what one might refer to as castes. My ancestors

belonged to the Nair caste. Right until the

middle of the 20th Century, the social fabric of

the Nair community in Kerala was substantially

woven within a tharavad or joint family. Within

it, the matrilineal system of inheritance was

prevalent. The head of the household was a

senior member of the tharavad who acted not

only as the custodian of the family wealth but

very often took on the role of educator. He,

together with other older members of the

family, imparted religious and cultural values

to the children of the family. Usually at the

end of the day and just before lamps were put

out, the grandfather or the uncle would gather

children around him and recite stories from the

Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas.

This tradition of oral transmission of stories went

on for generations, coupled with occasional

visits to watch performances of Kathakali,

Ottamthullal, Mohiniyattam, and other dance

forms as well as to listen to concerts of Carnatic

music rendered by stalwarts of the day.

It was this environment which my father left in 1940

to seek a new life in Singapore.

My mother was born in Malaya. Her father went to

Malaya in 1920 and was one of the early planters of

rubber in Perak State. He returned to India in 1929 to

get married. He brought his wife with him to start a

new life together in a rubber estate in Kuala Kangsar.

I was born in Kuala Kangsar but brought up in

Singapore. In my home, after evening prayers, my

father regaled me and my siblings with various

stories from the same Indian epics which his elders

in Kerala had recounted to him. In the same way,

when I went to visit my maternal grandparents in

Kuala Kangsar, my grandfather would gather the

children around and recite stories either from

memory or from Malayalam books which he kept

carefully on a side shelf in the sitting room.

My memories of early childhood are full of scenes

of my father and mother sitting comfortably in bed

or at the sitting area having us children close by and

telling us one story after another from the Hindu epics.

Thus the foundation of my interest in Hindu festivals

was put in place very early in my life.

When I started to visit India in early adulthood,

my interest in Hindu temples and in Malayalee

festivals connected with the Hindu religion began

to take substantial form. I started to put together the

various pieces of the jigsaw which comprise Hindu

philosophy. I read more about Indian festivals and

how they impacted daily lives. As I read, I yearned to

visit the various locations mentioned in the folklore

recited to me in years past.

This book portrays images from some of the journeys

which I undertook to understand how the Hindu

religion is practised around India. The journeys,

done over five years, gave me an insight not only

into the social fabric which people like my father

were born into and brought up in, but also into the

larger framework of the philosophy and practice of

Hinduism which united a large population of people

speaking different languages, eating different food

and generally living different lives.

The pages which follow do not give a complete

picture of Indian festivals or Hindu philosophies.

However, they give a flavour of the might, majesty

and reach of a philosophy which pervades India

and holds its adherents together. India has absorbed

people of many religious faiths. There is space for

everyone to practise not just his religion but also, if he

is a Hindu, to celebrate a festival in accordance with

his understanding of what that festival is meant to mark.

I hope that in some way, this book portrays the richness

of lives as they are lived in India whatever maybe the

economic or social circumstance of the individual.

Through my explorative journeys, I learnt a lot

about the religion I was born into and the traditions

and practices relating to it. Most of all, during each

trip, the impact of the explosion of colour, texture,

smell and taste brought spiritual stillness within me.

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