Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Does Ganesha Have an Elephant Head?

This week was not as crazy in terms of traveling around: we mainly stayed in the area, and it was a welcome relaxation because Hampi was amazing, but quite tiring! This last Saturday, we all went to see a Ganapathi, or statue of Ganesha, as the celebration of his birth was this last weekend. The holiday is called Ganesh Chaturthi, and is widely celebrated around India. Ganesha is the Remover of Obstacles and is the first god prayed to during a pooja (prayer). How did Ganesha get an elephant head? Monasi, our dance teacher, detailed the story to us:

Parvati, a goddess and the wife of Shiva, was cleaning the dust and dirt off of her skin one day and decided to create a statue from it. What she ended up creating was a small boy of whom she wanted to be real. With her magic, she made him a living boy and declared him as her son. Because she was tired dirty from all of this dust, she told the boy to wait in her house and to not let anyone in. Obeying his mother and creator to the tee, the boy let no one in the house. At one point, Nandi, Shiva's cow (transport), tried entering, but was refused by the boy. He complained to his lord, and Shiva went to investigate. There, the boy refused Shiva entry. Shiva was deeply offended that he, a great god, was refused by a small boy! So, he cut his head off with a trident. Parvati heard her boy's screams and came rushing from the river. Shocked and angered by Shiva's act, she set the world off balance and caused mass disruption upon seeing her dead son. All of the gods approached Parvati and tried to calm her, but she said she would only be calmed if her son returned to her. Shiva, being the cause of this, decided to remedy the problem by saying that the first animal they saw would sacrifice its head for as the boy's new head. As an elephant was the only animal in sight, its head was cut off and placed on the boy's. Delighted that he came to, Parvati became happy again and balance was restored. Gajanana, as he is sometimes called, literally translates to "head of an elephant" and Ganesha can be interpreted to as "the first of Shiva's servants". Ganesha loves sweets and eating, so he is quite large, yet his transport is a mouse (see the lower left corner of Ganesha statue in above picture). As you can also make out, his right tusk is broken. This is because one day, Ganesha was traveling on his mouse, and being his big self, fell off and broke his stomach (he did not die and recovered immediately). However, the moon was watching him and laughed at Ganesha; Ganesha was so angry that he broke a piece of his tusk off and threw it right into the moon, which set a curse. Ganesha is one of the main deity's worshipped in Hinduism and is a very important god in understanding this religion.

I think one of the things I really appreciate about Hindu mythology is that none of the gods are perfect and they admit their mistakes. Having these qualities makes these gods much more relatable, yet their unparalleled powers and wisdom sets them apart from any human.

After learning about Ganesha and seeing a Ganapathi, we tried some banana buns, which are delicious because the dough kind of reminded me of an Eastern European dessert my aunties always make called Pampushkies.
After that, we went saree shopping, which was overwhelming (at least for me). I ended up finding one that I really liked, and tons of kudos to Smriti for putting up with my indecisiveness and helping me pick out the final one!
As a final stop on our day trip, we ventured to Kapu Beach. About 30 minutes from Manipal, this relatively secluded strip of sand, palm, and sea offered a quiet place for us all to relax. The waves crashing on the rocks was such a powerful, yet calming sight. A black-and-white striped lighthouse sat perched atop an outcrop of rocks, and I ended up napping on top of some surprisingly comfortable boulders! Pictures below:

Kapu Beach

The Kapu Beach lighthouse!

Where the ocean met a river...a quiet cove of paradise

Where I napped!

A beachside snack place where Smriti treated us to ice cream. I feel like I use the phrase "where Smriti treated us to ice cream" too often for my own health...
When not traveling and discovering more of India on the weekends, I am still learning in my classes and everyday experiences:

In the Ayurveda Practical this week, Shirodhara was performed. This involves the mixing of buttermilk, milk, and gooseberry (or other medicated herbs) and pouring it into a funnel that slowly pours onto the patient's forehead and hair. If done in regiments of 7, 14, or 21 days, Shirodhara is known to relieve headaches, decrease wrinkles, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep patterns. In the picture below, Tanzeela experiments, wait I mean treats, Emilie.

Tanzeela (left) treating Emilie (on bed).

In general, Ayurveda seeks to prevent so that treatment never has to occur, but also has thousands of treatments for any kind of ailment. Ayurveda goes back 5,000 years and is one of the oldest, if not oldest, form of medicine. Ayurveda is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Contemporary Indian Culture, we are learning a lot about India's Freedom Movement. Because of its very extensive,intricate, and complex history, I do not have time to detail it here. However, I provided a link under "(More) Useful Links" if you are interested! I think the things I like most about this class is that my professor is a very intelligent person who thinks very much about something before forming an opinion, the fact that I am learning the history of a country I barely knew anything about before, and the interpretations of world events, such as WWII, are taught in a very different light than in the US! In short, I am learning a lot.
In Hindi, we are learning the basics of conversation, reading, and writing. Hindi is avery phonetic language and to get good, our instructor, Jeeva, makes us use a workbook that resembles the letter book I used in Kindergarten. You have to start somewhere I guess...
Epidemiology and Maternal and Child Health (MCH) are public health classes to their very core and I love them both because I love pubic health! I expected to enjoy epidemiology before taking the class, and it is not falling short. I am liking MCH much more than I expected and learning a lot about how to ensure the health of a mother and child during the most vulnerable times in their life together. (See "(More) Useful Links" for a description of what epidemiology is!).
Field Visits have been very informative and eye-opening to public health in India so far, and this week was no exception! We visited a milk pasteurization plant right in Manipal and got to witness public health in action. Milk pasteurization is very important to preventing diseases such as Bovine TB, Salmonella, and Listeria. Safe milk also provides essential nutrition to children (and adults). Picture below:

Me, holding a complementary lassi in front of the milk pasteurization plant! All the machines reminded me of all the engineers in my family...

Here's to another healthy and happy week for all!

Thank you for reading.


(The answer to the last quiz was: An Indian Classical Dance is: Bharatanatyam).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rome, Greece, and...Hampi?

When we think of Rome and Greece together, we often allude to the two great empires that once stood towering over human civilization itself. We think of massive stone pillars, luxurious bathhouses, and the kindling of human endeavor. We conjure up images of lush cropland, bustling trading ports, and exquisite food. There is another city that makes the famous duo, a trio: Hampi, India. Hampi is an untouched, ancient wonder for anyone lucky enough to venture there. It also offers one of the best sunsets (and sunrises) I have ever laid eyes upon. In its height, The Vijayangara Empire, located in Hampi, ruled almost all of South India from the 12th-15th Century, and contained an impressive 0.1% of the world population. The Empire itself set milestones in establishing the languages of Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit. Additionally, things like Carnatic signing came to birth, and still exist today because of the Empire's wealth and achievement. According to recovered documents and archaeological findings, we know that the Vijayangara Empire was primarily Hindu, but tolerated all religions and sects. As with Rome and Greece, Hampi excelled in trading, the arts, and architecture. The Vijayangara Empire met its downfall slowly through a series of battles, poor leadership, and a breakdown of power. I have provided a UNESCO link, which I also used for information, under the 'Useful Links' tab! Here are some pictures from an eventful weekend:

Day 1:

Tanzeela and I on the sleeper bus to Hampi! No a/c with open windows makes for a promising experience, but not much sleep!

Emilie and Tom preparing for the 9 hour bus ride to Hampi.

Our first stop in Hampi after about 3 hours of sleep: Virupaksha Temple.

Monkeys at the Virupaksha Temple...they are trouble makers and snatched Emilie's water bottle right out of her hands!

A view of the Virupaksha Temple from a distance.

We had to wait for a HUGE herd of cows to pass through until we could continue our journey to the Tungabhadra River. Cows are intimidating in large numbers, trust me on this one.

Me on the steps of the Ganesha Temple!

Ganesha stone carving made from one stone slab.

Downtown Hampi dotted with shops, restaurants, and fruit stands.

Photo credit to Michelle for capturing me, capturing an iconic photo of Tanzeela under her new home.

Ruins near Virupaksha Temple.

Selfie on top of the boulders near Virupaksha Temple.

Outside the entrance of our hostel; we were all so tired from the bus ride!

Public health in action! Emilie, Tanzeela, and I used this mosquito net when we went to sleep.

Lunch with the cohort and we also got to meet Smriti's husband, Varun!

Pizza + Rooftop Restaurant + Hampi = Happiness

After lunch, we took a coracle ride along the Tungabhadra River; the boat was shaped like a contact lens and was basically just a floating basket.

Ancient ruins seen along the river.

Entrance to a beautifully serene and peaceful temple we came across after getting off the coracle. The text is in Kannada, and I am not sure what it means, but I feel like it is the name of the temple.

Bharatanatyam in the ancient pillars of Hampi! Choreography creds to Emilie Ryan-Castillo...

The shadows the pillars casted on the grass were so cool!

A stunning view of where the Vijayanagara Empire once stood.

Sunset over Hampi, India.

Hampi Rooftop Restaurant, where we ate dinner and breakfast! The waiter was a very sweet man from Nepaland told us that he would be "ready for us" after our sunrise hike the next morning.

Day 2:

Sunrise over Hampi on top of Matanga Hill. We hiked over giant boulders and up steep hills in the dark so we could see this beautiful sight.

As the sun peeked out above the horizon, it cast a magnificent light on the boulders, ruins, and vegetation down below.

Group photo after the hike up Matanga Hill for the view of the sunrise.

Mango Lassi before breakfast! Lassi is basically a smoothie and consists of yogurt, fruit, and sometimes, spices.

Sure enough, our favorite waiter was ready for us. Lemon sugar pancakes at Hampi Rooftop Restaurant. After breakfast, we ventured back into Ancient Hampi...

These two cuties in front of a temple entrance!

Underground Shiva Temple.

The engravings into the walls of temples and other buildings have been preserved very well, and we can see what life might have been like in the Vijayanagara Empire.

If my bathtub was this big, the possibilities would be endless! The Queen's Bath at Hampi.

This Shiva linga is used to worship Shiva (The Destroyer) because he is never directly worshipped, and, instead, is represented with structures like the one pictured above.

Group selfie inside the Band Tower at the Islamic Quarters in Ancient Hampi. Hampi has a lot of Islamic influence due to the toleration of religions by the Vijayangara Empire, and because of the extensive trading done with Arab regions.

After two full days of discovering Hampi, we said goodbye and boarded another sleeper bus back to Manipal.


In other news...

I am going to officially start my research next week, which I am ecstatic for. Dr. Aarthy, my research professor, and I have worked hard to get to this point and I am grateful for her guidance. I will have more on that next week hopefully.

As far as Bharatanatyam goes, the four of us (Sarah, Tanzeela, Emilie, and I) and our dance teacher (Monasi) are working hard to learn the moves and coordinate hand, eye, and leg movements so we look like we know what we are doing. We always start with our right foot in this dance, but I am trained to start with my left foot because of marching band...this is a struggle sometimes to say in the least.

Our field visit last week was to the Manasa Center in Pamboor, India. At this school, intellectually challenged children and young adults are given education and vocational training with the goal of self-sustainibility. It was a truly wonderful institution and is a pioneer in India's progress in handling mental illnesses. For more information on this NGO, check out: http://manasapamboor.org


Hampi was a wonderful place to visit because of its beauty, history, and hospitality. The more I experience of India, the more I love it.

Thank you for reading!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rangoli, Yakshagana, Jog Falls, and Murudeshwar

I can't believe I have been here for a month. It feels like forever has passed, and I also feel like I just was stepping off the plane in Mumbai. I have learned so much as my journey is coming to four weeks, and am shocked that it is one-fourth of the way done already. Time, don't go so fast!

This week features learning the basics in Hindi, Rangoli, Yakshagana, Jog Falls, Murudeshwar, and Shri Krishna's Birthday! (See links to the side for more information on some of these topics).

I forgot how much I have loved learning Spanish throughout the years, and taking Hindi has made me fall in love with language-learning all over again. Taking this class has motivated me further to have the goal to become fluent in Spanish one day soon, and I am so glad I am getting the basics of speaking, reading and writing Hindi because language is integral to understanding a country and culture.

On Thursday, we were introduced to Rangoli, an Indian art form that uses brightly colored powders and used for decoration and good luck. In Karnataka, the state which I am in, it is called Rangoli, though in other states, such as Tamil Nadu, it is called Kolam. Even though I was not the best artist, I had a ton of fun and even Rangoli could not escape my inner band geek (see pictures below).

Disclaimer: This beautiful Rangoli was not made by me, but is an example of what years of practice can do!

A little rougher around the edges...still fun though and I somehow managed to get powder all over my face.

Like I said, even Rangoli couldn't escape my affection for music and band.

Ashlin is so amused with my blue hands so close to her face!

A Rangoli high five with Sarah!
On Friday, we visited an Anganwadi Center, a child care center for 20-40 of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged children per 1 lakh (1000 people). The Anganwadi, or woman who takes care and teaches the children, at Kalmadi seemed to love her job and also seemed to be doing an amazing job at it. The town of Kalmadi we visited is a local village with an economy dependent mostly on rice cultivation and fishing. The Anganwadi Center we went to was described as one of the best of its kind and the children were adorable! The center is great for nutrition education, preventing malnutrition, and primary education. We did find out, sadly, that these centers are receiving a 50% budget cut within the next couple of years, which is disturbing and frustrating to think about. Pictures below.

The main room of the Anganwadi Center in Kalmadi, India.

The wonderful Anganwadi Worker (left) weighing one of the little ones!

Also on Friday, some new friends we made in the Department of Geopolitics invited us to a Yakshagana performance. Yakshagana is a folk performance that features grandiose costumes, dramatic music, and forms of Indian classical dance. In this Yakshagana, part of the Indian epic, Ramayana, was performed. I was lucky enough to have read this epic before going to India, and so it was amazing to see the story played out in front of me. All the actors were male, even the female parts; they were scarily convincing and I was shocked when the female character had a deep voice at the end of the performance! The singer was equally amazing and sang almost non stop for an hour and had a great voice. Pictures below.

The beginning of the performance. (See a video of a Yakshagana performance by clicking link to right!)

A dance between two of the characters from the Yakshagana.

Lastly, on Friday, some of us went to a dinner party hosted by the MPH students we met in epidemiology and played football (soccer) at the beach with! Although I have no pictures, I think it is worth mentioning that they were extremely gracious, welcoming, and polite hosts.
Saturday was a huge day (so get ready for a bombardment of pictures and text, hehe).

We had to meet at our van at 7:00 a.m. to make the 4 hour journey to Jog Falls. Jog Falls are the second highest falls in India, and one of the highest in all of Asia. On the way there, we were able to view some mountains from a lookout point. Because there has been drought here lately, the falls were a little skinnier than expected, but still a beautiful view nonetheless. Pictures below.

The Lookout Point on the way to the falls. I am glad we got out of the car for a minute because the roads were wild and I get car sick easily!

Jog Falls itself.

Emilie, Tanzeela, and I at Jog Falls! All we are missing from Apt. #611 is Katie Lu.


Next, we headed 2 hours for Murudeshwar, a coastal town known for its breathtaking Shiva statue and Temple. Some of the views on the way there were absolutely gorgeous, and when we got there, we ate a delicious veg meal near the temple. I think I accidentally ate a spicy pepper that was there only for flavor and I did not know one could sweat so much solely from eating food. Alas, my senses eventually returned to me and and I kept on enjoying the meal. Because the temple is situated directly on the shore, we were first greeted by a flock of colorful boats lazily bobbing up and down in the sea. As we approached the temple, we took our shoes off (as per custom), and were confronted by a massive tower-like structure called a Gopuram. After admiring it for a while, we walked into the actual temple and Smriti explained to us some things about Hinduism. In Hinduism, there are hundreds of gods, and different gods represent different things people can pray for. For instance, there are gods representing astrological symbols (think horoscope kind of) if something is going wrong in your life. Each person also has their own god that they pray to, either by their choosing or because of familial following. For a small fee, we were able to participate in a puja, or Hindu prayer. The priest recited some prayers in Sanskrit and lit incense. Next, we poured water over an ornate stone carving (see pictures below). After we were done pouring, we were supposed to think of something we could pray for/want in life. After that, we placed special leaves on top of it and circled it three times. The priest replaced the stone carving with the head of a deity and said more prayers in Sanskrit. We were all splashed us with holy water and then put a bindi on. I do not know the significance of everything done, and am not doing it proper justice, but it was an interesting experience that maybe the pictures can show in more detail. After participating in the puja, we wandered around the place a bit more and then Smriti treated us to ice cream at a seaside restaurant! On the way home, I caught a stunning picture of the sky during sunset.

Taken during the drive to Murudeshwar!

The veg meal we each ate in Murudeshwar. You eat all the dishes with the roti/chapathi (in the middle) and also mix the rice into the curries/dal/etc.

Colorful boats on the shore near the Shiva Temple.

Gopuram at the Shiva Temple in Murudeshwar, India. It is massive!

In the temple: When you are in a temple, all five of your senses are supposed to be awakened. That is why there is a bell to ring so that your ears can become awakened.

Lord Ganesha, an extremely important god in Hinduism.

Selfie of Emilie, Tom, and I in front of the giant Shiva the Destroyer. Shiva is one of the three main gods in Hinduism, right up there with Vishnu, the Preserver, and Brahma, the Creator.

Shiva from the 18th floor of the Gopuram (and the background of this blog!).

The priests adorning the head of a deity with flowers during the pooja.

The adorned idol!

Incense and oil.

Getting to know the people in the program! From left to right and top to bottom: (Top) Esha, Emilie, Sarah-Anne, Michelle, Me; (bottom) Ashlin, Tanzeela, Sarah, Tom.

Our amazing resident director/mom, Smriti!

After ice cream at an oceanside restaurant.



Thank you for reading!

Shri Krishna's Birthday was celebrated on Sunday, which I was going to go to the temple in Udupi because Smriti offered to take me and watch the festivities, but it was very crowded and I don't exactly blend in here. But I did learn a lot about the festival from talking to people and ended up having a fantastic Sunday afternoon conversation anyway.


Answer to the Question: How many official languages does India have? Two! Hindi and English.