Saturday, 1 March 2014

Maharashtra - Key Concepts

I always come across interesting words and phrases, when I'm doing research for my blog posts. I thought this time I should blog about some of these, especially as Indian culture provides us with a wealth of concepts, physical items and new words, many of which have been borrowed into English. I've decided to call this strand of my blog 'key concepts', which cover all bases: words and phrases, as well as new concepts. 

Tying the Kushti by Tyabji
Kushti - I came across this word whilst I was reading Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey and it means the sacred girdle of Zoroastrianism, which practitioners tie three times around their waist before prayer. We also have the word cushty in English, which means 'great' or 'brilliant', eg. 'What do you think of my new car?' 'Cushty!'  I wonder if there is a relation between the word, as it's used in English and the Zoroastrian girdle?

Paan - Rohinton's novel also features a 'paan-wallah' or 'paan seller' and paan was a new concept for me. There are different varieties of Paan but it's basically a combination of Areca nut or tobacco, wrapped in betel leaves, which is then chewed creating a juice that is mildly narcotic. The paan-wallah in Rohinton's novel works opposite the local bordello and specialises in virility-enhancing paan, a kind of natural Viagra! Betel-chewing is common across East Asia. By all accounts, paan users spend a lot of time spitting out a bright red liquid, which leaves technicolour stains on any surface it hits!  This anti-social aspect of paan consumption has led to anti-spitting campaigns in places like Mumbai.

कोई बात नहीं - Shahrukh Khan
Koi baat nahi - कोई बात नहीं - I heard this useful Hindi phrase a few times, when I was watching the Bollywood movie, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. As they get into more and more difficult situations during their trip to Europe, the main character, played by Shahrukh Khan tells the character played by Kajol 'Koi baat nahi, señorita' meaning 'it's okay, señorita'. Koi baat nahi literally translates as 'a thing not' or 'nothing' and can also be used to say 'you're welcome' like French 'de rien', Spanish 'de nada' or Russian 'ничего' (nichevo)

Tilak - from my reading of VS Khandekar's Yayati, I learned the word 'tilak' which can refer to the facial markings of Hinduism, such as the long line, usually drawn with a coloured paste, from the place where the eyebrows meet, to the end of the nose, popular with Shaivites (worshippers of Shiva). Tilaks can show a person's caste, marital status or which sect they belong to. We're probably more familiar in Europe with the 'Bindi' which is a kind of circular dot worn by Indian women on their forehead between their eyes. I guess Bindi is a kind of tilak, although Bindi are usually stuck on (powder or jewels) rather than painted.

Distributor of Holy Thread by Meena Kadri
Darshan or Darśana - from the Sanskrit दर्शन is a concept which is difficult to describe in English. It comes from Hinduism and literally means 'sight'. It refers to the spiritual act of seeing a deity, but it's perhaps more than seeing, with an element of understanding and blessing that is bestowed on the 'seer'.

The closest European concept I can think of is 'epiphany' which also relates to a spiritual moment of seeing and understanding. The seeing/visual element of Hinduism interests me, as I'm quite a visual person and it's perhaps one of the reasons I find India and Hinduism very stimulating. It also explains the psychedelic nature of Bollywood movies with all of their colour and movement, where the visual elements are elevated to an art form in themselves.

Image credits:

The image of the priest teaching a young boy how to tie his kushti is from Wikimedia Commons - you see more information on this file here.   

The image of Madame Tussaud's wax model of Shahrukh Khan was taken by me. You can see more of my photos on my Flickr photostream

The image of the man with a prominent red tilak is by Flickr member, Meena Kadri who is originally from New Zealand.  Meena has an amazing collection of Indian photos which you can see on her photostream.  She also has a pretty cool website
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