Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ganesh Chaturthi - Seoul-Style

Having read my Facebook post about how different this weekend's cultural experience (seeing the musical Wicked) was from that which took place a year ago (Ganesh Chaturthi in Chennai), a colleague asked if I wanted to go with her to a Ganesh celebration one of her students had told her about. Boarding the back of her scooter, we proceeded down the fairly quiet Sunday morning streets of Seoul until we reached Seoul National University. As we were nearing the building, the number of salwars and saris was a good indicator that we were on the right path. Inside the lecture/performance hall, I was suddenly transported back to India, with women and children (and some men) donning their Indian garb. In one corner of the stage a Brahmin priest from the Mumbai area was chanting some Sanscrit verses, while another priest and a priestess rang the small bell and whisked the multi-wicked lamp around the decorated ivory idol of Ganesh. Around Ganesh were many plates of fruit, sweets, milk, and some roses. Not the elaborate floral decorations of India, but they would have to do. After more chanting and pujas, Hindu devotees came up to pay homage to Ganesh. I stayed for a bit longer, watching some Indian children do some simple dances, recite a poem, some chanting, a very boring speech, and some more chanting. None of the women wore fresh garlands of jasmine in their hair; a couple girls had a white fake set. A meal was to follow (at some point), but knowing that the event was on "Indian Standard Time," I wanted to get home to do some drawing.

From talking to some of those sitting near me, it was apparent that keeping their Hindu culture was important to them, but fairly significant challenge in a place like Korea. Most parents are sending their children in Korea to top international schools, which typically happen to be Christian ones. Interestingly enough, the parents didn't seem to be concerned about having to send their children to a Christian school (as this is a very common practice in India), but that their children were growing up knowing very little about their own culture, traditions, and religion. The small Indian children's group of which the performing children were participants is a helpful part in addressing this, but does not make up for the permeating cultural influence families would have experienced in India. Boring speeches and less-than-smooth performances aside, I hope that the children in the audience had their curiosity at least a bit piqued about some elements that are so much of their tradition.
For those families who are living overseas (especially in cultures so different than their own), how do you seek to ensure that your children experience and understand some vital parts of your traditions, culture, and beliefs?


Mysore Hotels said...

No doubt Lord Ganesha is prayed in every state of India however the trend of offering pooja defers according to their culture. On my last visit to Mumbai during Ganesh utsav i witnessed the extravagance celebration of Ganesha festival. I loved it a lot. Liked reading your post thanks for sharing.

Melissa Enderle said...

Thanks Mysore Hotels for your comment. Agreed - how things are celebrated varies state by state. Mumbai often seems to be more extravagant about how it does things. Seeing the Ganesh utsav there must have been so exciting!