TRAVEL IN 2020 – by Prachi Sardeshmukh

They say change is the only constant thing in our lives, but no one had ever in their wildest of dreams anticipated such a huge drastic change in our lifestyles, across the seven seas. Corona Virus, aka COVID – 19 took over the entire globe and smeared its nasty hands over every continent, country and city known to man. People were forced to seal themselves indoors and stay isolated, quarantined from one another. Offices, schools, colleges, malls, theatres, parks, everything got shut down. Curfews were being put into practice. The evolution of wearing masks and the demand for sanitizers dominated the market.

Like a vengeful warrior on a mission, the virus attacked all and sundry, but without a doubt, the industry that has been struck down the most by it, is the tourism and hospitality industry. Travel came to a standstill, for months. People were stuck in one place, without any means of transport to even go from one city to the next.   As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the global travel and tourism market is predicted to see a loss of 100.8 million jobs worldwide in 2020. The region that is supposed to see the biggest loss from COVID-19 is the Asia Pacific region, losing approximately 63.4 million jobs, while Europe is forecast to be the second hardest hit with a forecasted employment drop of 13 million. The estimated forecast on the global revenue obtained from the tourism industry was aimed at a whopping 712 million US dollars, but now stands at a mere 447 million US dollars after a 34.7% decrease.

Slowly, rules against travel were lifted, and travel resumed, with extra cautionary measures. What was once considered to be a leisure filled, relaxing experiences, has now turned out to be the most stressful and scary experiences. Globally, companies have opted to go online and use apps such as Zoom and Google Meet to conduct and host meetings. It has dawned on various industries that a huge chunk of their employees don’t need to actually come into a work space to complete their tasks or duties, and can very well work from home. Chief People Officer of Randstad India, Anjali Raghuvanshi, feels that from an organizational standpoint, people are in a wait-and-watch mode because it is all about employee safety. “The way the pandemic is you won’t see companies operating at a100 percent strength. In fact, the guidelines are around 10% or 25% to begin with and then move to a larger strength if need be. Lots of organizations are toying with the idea of whether it actually makes sense to work at a 100% capacity,” she adds.
Keeping this scenario in mind, one tends to question whether or not tourism will ever pick up the pace post COVID. Avoiding as much as social and human contact is of utmost priority right now as safety comes first. With cases increasing at an alarming rate, it is but natural for people to fear and risk travelling at the moment. The upside to reduced travelling, is that it has decreased the amount of carbon footprint and pollution in tourist places, allowing them to revive and get a much-needed do-over by mother nature herself.

Air travel has slowly begun, following heath guidelines published by WHO and is picking up the pace after a long gap of two whole months. Both domestic and international airlines are up and running. Flights have started operating at 60% capacity in India. Railways have also been swung into operation post lockdown with keeping in mind that only asymptomatic persons, who wear a mask and underwent screening were allowed to travel.

Although, experts predict that by late 2021, things will get back to normalcy and travel will resume without hindrance. After being cooped up within the four walls of our homes for months together, one would definitely look forward to a vacation or two. As Maya Angelou has perfectly put into words, “If you can’t change it, change your attitude”. We must stop complaining about the current situation and understand that it’s not going to last. We are the victims of a pandemic and are going to go down in history. Despite the circumstances, the tourism industry is keeping afloat. With advanced technology and apps, we can manage to get by our lives and adjust to the new normal. Until then we’ve got to learn to adapt and overcome our challenges in ways, we never thought we’d have to. Here’s hoping for a better and safer future!

Author: Prachi Sardeshmukh, Culture Expert with Culture Rings

Bibliography

Statista.com –    As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the global travel and tourism market is predicted to see a loss of 100.8 million jobs worldwide in 2020. The region that is supposed to see the biggest loss from COVID-19 is the Asia Pacific region, losing approximately 63.4 million jobs, while Europe is forecast to be the second hardest hit with a forecasted employment drop of 13 million.

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/sme-sector/will-work-from-home-be-the-new-normal-for-india/articleshow/75592738.cms)

 

 

ADVANTAGE OF HAVING A MULTI-CULTURED TEAM – by Prachi Sardeshmukh

Globalization as we know it has taken over the world and made its way into every nook and cranny. With the onset of the mid-19th century, there was a rapid increase in globalization alongside the advancement of technologies and improved logistics. This paved way for companies from various parts of the world to come together and work with one and other to produce and gain the best results. The marriage between two or more culturally vast background companies surely brought out a whole new realm of activities and thought processes. Multi-cultured teams lifted the veil of limitations and a whole new world of possibilities was revealed.

Hofstede correctly wrote, “The survival of mankind will depend to a large extent on the ability of people who think differently to act together.” Culture is very complex and ancient. It is a way of living, thoughts, and beliefs that have been passed down from generations. Culture is a highly sensitive subject and is held in high regard by people all over the world. It binds people to their roots. As we know, in any business, the customer is king. To understand the customer better, multi-cultured teams come in handy as they have a broader horizon of employees to work with from culturally diverse backgrounds that can help understand the needs and wants of customers better. New and fresh ideas start brimming when put together. Innovation and management reach new peaks with a team so diverse.  The main advantage of having a multi cultured team is that various communities and cultures are represented by the members and can put together and brainstorm ideas that would be appealing to the consumers. They can organize and put into practice various strategies of marketing and production based on regional wants and needs. They paint a pretty clear picture of the Do’s and Don’ts which can help and go a long way in achieving the companies’ goals and objectives. Firsthand knowledge of the localities and their buying tendencies helps create and deliver the products and services to the target market more effectively.

Furthermore, multi-cultured teams bring out team spirit and the ability to work together and adapt to situations. It creates a perfect, harmonious balance among employees and promotes healthy working environments. Employees engage with one another and learn beyond just what is needed for business. They learn to work with and respect one another, and most importantly learn about each other’s culture. Multi-cultured teams not only benefit the employees but are also fruitful to the organization as they provide the organization with the opportunity to train and retain the best of its employees and push for betterment.

A lot of growth takes place on both a personal as well as professional level. In order to survive, one must learn to co-exist, and what better way to do so when your own team pushes you and helps you achieve this!?

Author: Prachi Sardeshmuth, Culture Expert at Culture Rings (www.culturerings.com)

OVER MY DEAD BODY – by Kaveri Sinhji

For some people, there can be nothing more uncomfortable to imagine than to spend the day lolling about in a graveyard. Or worse, snoozing on a dead person’s grave.

But that’s for just some people.

For a bunch of others, especially those seen frequenting the Hindu Burial Ground in Indiranagar, it’s really nothing out of the ordinary.

The chef’s assistants at some of the small restaurants and messes just across the road come here armed with knives and graters in one hand, and polythene bags filled with veggies in the other. They think it’s way more luxurious to turn a polished granite gravestone into a chopping table than to cram it into the restaurant and compete for space with the cleaner and dozing watchman. So they come in, wash the surface of a gravestone, unload the bag of onions, green chilies, coconut, beans, carrots, and begin chopping, grating, etc. And once it’s all done they load the chopped stuff back into the bag, pick up their weapons and head back to HQ. Sometimes, of course, coconut needs some sun to dry and get that flaky texture for the perfect chutney. So they leave it behind for a few hours and come back for it. And it’s somehow always still there.

Closer to noon, the stones are warm, and a quick stretch and siesta feel like a hot stone massage on tired muscles. So sometimes the chef’s assistant can be found taking his or her 40 winks or more. And so intuitively, the tea guy rides his bicycle through the cemetery ringing his signature bell to announce tea. The plastic throwaways come out, and the sleepy graveyard wakes up for a refreshment break.

When I’m on the job showing tourists around, we often land up at about this time at the Hindu graveyard, and we of course see the kitchen counter improvs. And then we come across a bunch of other townsfolk: young musicians and brass bands practicing their syncs, hard-working construction workers hungover from last night’s peg too many, opportunistic petty gambler gangs, dog tired people, tired dogs, calves tied to the gravestone while their mothers graze for thistle off an unstoned grave, stoned men and women, gravediggers on a break, zombie-like beggars who burn the midnight oil, and once in a while, a grieving bereaved offering Biriyani on a leaf-plate to their lost loved one.

It’s made me realize over time that there’s no surface more versatile than the top of a grave!

It’s just so fascinating. Not just the versatility, but also the colorfulness of the massive yard. The more opulent graves have digitally printed images of the dead on the tombstones to immortalize the dead. The thick polished granite stone shows no compromise on expense. The less ornate are many notches quieter in a statement, with a very approximately sized slab of unpolished stone keeping the body down. And then we have those on the poverty line who sometimes can’t afford even a stone, so they use cement and paint it happy colors. And then below the poverty line, those who can’t even buy cement so just use the same earth they dugout to make the grave, and use weeds and wildflowers to mark the spot. Poor in life, and even more poor in death.

It is the children’s graves that really strain my heart.

“BABY. Born 11-9-1996. Expired 13-12-1998”

And then, I have this vantage point of foreign, or more so, western travelers. It feels completely impossible, or at least wrong to try and call a Swedish Graveyard and this Indiranagar Graveyard by the same name. There’s nearly no similarity or comparison. One is solemn, and the other feels to me like a place with a sense of humor. One is quiet, and the other is a riot of chit-chat, mooing, honking, laughter, and such noise. One is pristinely clean and green, while the other is a casual scatter of useless discards.

As a Cultural Anthropologist I can’t help but turn this into a subject:

What gives death such different treatments?

I mark the matter-of-fact cheer and the relaxed attitude of people in the graveyard, in stark contrast to the visitors I’d seen in cemeteries in Europe? The explanation for this I wouldn’t have found in history books. For this, I would need to go talk to someone who hangs out in the cemetery. And my luck as always brings me to just this perfect man to chat with!

“Death is not the end. It’s just a transit stop to a better destination,” explains an old man is often seen smoking his beedi on his favorite unpolished gravestone. He solders iron for a living which is a noisy affair so comes for a stretch and a smoke break to the cemetery. “We celebrate death because you see all the people here are from wretched and poor homes. They’re sick and tired of life, and when someone dies some of us are even envious of him.”

He nailed it for me.

The cheer comes from a deep-rooted, inbred philosophical outlook: a spiritual viewpoint stemming from the Vedic theories of reincarnation and Karma. Dying is not the end of life. It is the mere shedding of tired old clothes, and an adventurous opportunity to don a whole new avatar based on a divine assessment of how you’ve performed in this life.

“You should see when a dead body is brought to be buried here: there’s music, there’s dancing, there are alcohol, food, and drugs. Of course, the bereaved will miss him and shed tears for their own loss. But from the viewpoint of the dead, it’s only a step in the right direction. Therefore the revelry!”

Article by

Kaveri Sinhji

Anthropologist & Founder, Culture Rings / www.culturerings.com

Pictures Courtesy Andy Deemer.

YOU SAY YOU DO YOGA. BUT ARE YOU A YOGI? – by Kaveri Sinhji

I’ve been guilty in the past of using the word Yoga loosely. 

I used to say, “I’m doing Yoga.”

One cannot “do” Yoga. One can practice yoga, and that practice isn’t a 50-minute classroom routine. In fact, it is a whole way of life, a philosophy, a change of gauge that takes you on a journey of discovery of your True, Cosmic consciousness. 

To a Yogi, you can’t imagine how ignorant and blasphemous the statement “I’m going to do some Yoga” could sound. But then, what’s a Yogi, and what do we care about what a Yogi thinks?

Saffron-clad impostors on the banks of holy rivers who pose for you for 200 rupees ( mind you, selfies cost 500), have further misplaced the images conjured up by our minds when we think the word Yogi. 

Well, a Yogi in the original sense is one who truly practices Yoga. Both the words Yoga and Yogi have taken a fair beating thanks to their loose use in conversation and commercial abuse worldwide. 

If you understand the meaning of the word Yoga, that will indicate to you the essence of Yogic philosophy. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which means “to link” or “to connect”. 

One can never really be sure when Yoga was first practiced. But archeological evidence suggest that Yoga was a way of life for the residents of the Indus valley, 3300–1900 BCE. It is believed that the Indus people were pantheists (people who believe in the totality of everything, with no belief in any distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.) They embraced nature and treated everything natural as a blessing, revering rivers, sunlight, forests, soil, wind, animals that they hunted, food that they consumed etc. Because they connected them with the divine universe. Ritual practices began to be followed during this time, which revered every obvious or subtle source of sustenance. If you remember the scene from the movie Avatar, where the hunters who shoot animals apologize to, thank and bless, the prey before it breathes its last. It was something like that, it is believed back in the Indus valley days. And that’s believed to be the beginnings of Yoga.

The rituals were documented during the pre-Vedic and Vedic times (1700 to 500 BCE), and became indoctrinated during the Brahminisation of Hindu people’s practices in the 3rd to 6th century CE.  Very soon, the philosophy of Yoga was documented, charted, and became associated with the Hindu religion.

The origins of Yogic philosophy and practice are far older than Hinduism and the Sanskrit language. They are also older than Patanjali who is considered to be the father of Yoga and wrote the Yoga Sutras (a collection of 196 Indian aphorisms about Yoga and theory and practice, viewed by many as the foundational texts of Yoga) in 400 CE. To quote:

“Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind”

In the words of Adi Shankara, the founder of Advaita or Non-Dual Spiritual Philosophy (which is the Yogic order of the Nath Panth that I have been practicing for over 20 years):

‘Yoga is the means of perceiving reality.”

As Knut Axel Jacobsen  a Norwegian scholar of history & religion explains, Yoga in fact in connection with other words, such as “Hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specializing in particular techniques of yoga

When I say, “I’m going to do some Yoga” I am referring to Hatha, which is a section of Yogic practice. Hatha is an only physical exercise with no spiritual effect, unless one adds the word Yoga (connect), thus associating the physical actions involved in the Hatha class, with the Self. In any Hatha Yoga class, you will have some participants who are simply exercising, and you’ll find some Yogis who are actively connecting, synching, evolving.

The latter find themselves not by intention but by outcome, carrying the habit of Yoga (connecting) everywhere they go. At work, they are Karma Yogis; while they gain the knowledge they are Gnyana yogis, connecting every learning with their evolved higher selves; while they ideate and think, they are Kriya Yogis, who connect every thought with their higher consciousness.  

As much as a great set of abs might make you feel like a million bucks, and as much as you might feel energized and positive with Hatha practice, you’re only a true Yogi if you’ve successfully connected your every posture, every breath, every movement, every pulse, with your true cosmic consciousness.

So the next time you’re on your way to “Yoga Class” which in essence is Hatha Yoga (maybe with a few minutes of mindfulness and meditation, but still, just a class), please remember that you’re on your way to only dip the tip of your pinky toe into the ocean of Yogic philosophy!

Hold a mirror to your face, look into your eyes, and ask yourself: Am I a true Yogi?

Article by 

Kaveri Sinhji

Psychologist, Anthropologist & Historian

Founder of Culture Rings / www.culturering.com

kaveri@culturerings.com

THE OFFERING OF SUFFERING – by Kaveri Sinhji

An Anthropological Analysis of Rituals Performed During the Hindu Angalamman Festival

INTRODUCTION

This assignment seeks to describe and analyze the central ritual performed during the Angalamman festival, celebrated by a sub-sect of the Tamil Hindu ethnic group, in the small town of Kaveripattinam (population 15000) in Southern India.

An attempt has been made to carefully detail the ritual proceedings, and to map them against various anthropological theories including Van Geemp’s ‘Three Phases of Ritual’ and Marcel Mauss’s ‘Three Gifting Obligations’. The study will then move onto describe the enablers, participants, attendees, witnesses, the structure of society, the social purpose of the festival, and the roles played by faith and law. A brief note of the author’s personal reflections is also furnished before a summary in conclusion.

DEVELOPMENT (DESCRIPTION)

Angalamman is a non-Vedic Hindu Goddess believed to have protested injustice by crushing the fifth head of the creator of the universe. According to her Tamil Hindu devotees, she offers her kindness and protection to those who offer her their suffering. The greater the pain endured, the greater the promise of protection. If the offering exceeds expectations, the devotees also believe boons will be granted and wishes will be fulfilled.

Before the break of dawn, thousands of pilgrims carrying piercing objects have already lined up outside the Angalamman temple. Around 100 young male volunteers working for the temple, take their positions to perform the administer the piercings, which they have been trained to do with minimum blood loss.

The metal tridents or spears range from 1 mm thick to 3 cm thick in diameter, and 5 cm long to 10 meters long, which temples are sent through their cheek/s. Some seekers bring dozens of lemons which are sewn onto them to look like ponchos. Still, others insert thick hooks and metal chains into the skin of their backs, tying the other end of the chain to a large rock or an SUV.

Some pilgrims are here with a specific wish list (like wanting to find a good wife for their son or wanting their husband to find a job). For some, this ritual is an annual routine, during which they renew their request for protection during this dark age of Kaliyuga (Earth’s final, evil, era before Shiva’s dance of destruction commences).

There are also those returning to offer thanks for what they might have received. The Thankers express their gratitude by throwing fists full of salt on a procession chariot (Mayana Simhavahana Theyill) parked outside the temple.

The seekers take a 2 km walk to the cemetery, cheered by the crowd that lines the narrow street. At the cemetery, a Sadhu (Saint) will remove the piercings and administer the formal blessing, thus marking the closing of the ritual.

MAPPING AGAINST ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORIES

Identifying Van Geemp’s Three Phases of Ritual

  • Separation: The Seekers (accompanied by one or many family members) come to get their piercings done at the temple. During an interview, several subjects claimed that during the process of being pierced or decorated they experienced an unshakeable feeling of humility and surrender during this phase.
  • Liminality: After the piercings are done, the seeker claims to feel transported into a state of isolation: alone in this battle against pain, in a realm within their own psyche, oblivious to the reveling supporters surrounding them. During their two-kilometer walk to the cemetery, some of them go into a trance-like state. And sometimes, it turns into drama, with uncontrolled dancing, wielding of spears and swords, and indiscriminate lashing out, resulting in the crowd scampering for safety.

During many such episodes observed during this study, it was evident that there was an inner circle of people deifying the actor, believing he is possessed by the Goddess; the middle circle was seen scrambling to save themselves from injury, screaming in fright, and the outer circle that stood back, observed and were entertained.

  • Reaggregation: Upon reaching the graveyard and once the piercings are removed, members of the family of the subject huddle together and receive the blessings collectively from the Sadhu in the graveyard. The relief and re-assimilation are evident and celebrations after this are galore. At this stage, the subject experiences a sense of pride for their victory of mind over body.

Gifting

There’s a large amount of Gifting by pilgrims to the Goddess (read temple), that stems from the philosophy that one must first give something in order to receive something.

Marcel Mauss’s three obligations are clearly fulfilled. The pilgrim:

  • Gives (a donation to the temple, the ticket price paid for the piercing)
  • Receives (success, granting of boons, etc. which are treated as divine rewards rather than any outcome of hard work or coincidence);
  • Reciprocates (by throwing salt) plus perhaps a top-up donation to emphasize the thanks.

Balance of Value: Money that comes from ticket sales and donations goes into the host temple’s treasury, adding up to about 70 Million INR (1 million USD). However, the value of blessings is considered to far outshine the value of any human-made donation.

 ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL PURPOSE

Kaveripattinam’s social structure is based on the Hindu caste system, which has been abolished by law but still holds immense sway over people across India

This system determines the townspeople’s hierarchical patterns, with priests placed first, then administrators, then businessmen, and lowest, the menial workers.

The family structure (in this case, the temple owner’s family) is a combination of patrilocal and matrifocal, with the man playing house-owner, breadwinner, and social representative, while the woman manages the kitchen and housework, and holds the key to the safety box that contains all precious and dangerous things including money and alcohol, rationing them out with her stable judgment.

During the festival, women remain immersed in their kitchen duties, to dole out food to the endless stream of passers-by. The men organize and supervise the ritual proceedings.

This unchanging format of responsibility among members of the family, sexes, and castes seems to reinforce the sanctity of and rigidity of roles, hierarchy, and familial structure.

The town also holds pride in being the Holyland for believers in the protective powers of Angalamman. Their coming back year after year, in spite of forming no social bonds with local residents, throws light on the importance of continuing their ancestral tradition of making offerings of their own pain and suffering to Angalamman.

Lastly, when the host temple doles out free food to devotees, it reinforces who the giver is, and who the receiver, thus emphasizing Power and Hierarchy.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS

I grew up surrounded by people who are superstitious with strong beliefs in witchcraft and in the supernatural. However, my prior experience of Hinduism is so far removed from the context set in Kaveripattinam, that I could not personally empathize or identify with any of the proceedings.

This exercise demanded that I study, understand and explain what I observed, objectively and without any prejudice. Although I found the observations very easy to record, the purpose easy to explain, I did find it a challenge to witness this ritual at such close proximity, with such a deep intellectual involvement, and not be emotionally moved into cultivating personal prejudices.

I did also observe the power and dominance of faith over scientific reason: Pilgrims came from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Some are well educated, employed in scientific fields in multi-national corporations. However, their faith in the power of Angalamman is so deeply rooted that no education or exposure had succeeded to dilute it.

Law or No Law?

There was a man standing in the middle of the procession street, whipping his five-year-old child. The child was bleeding from fresh wounds but seemed drugged, barely reacting to the lashings. After every lash, the man pointed to his begging bowl. Passers-by, including state police, were either not reacting, or dropping money into the bowl.

On the other hand, a newly enforced law that piercing spears are not to be more than 10 feet long, was being respected by manufacturers. How were people deciding on what’s to be obeyed, and what’s not? It felt like a complex contradiction, with selective abidance.

I later found out that the decision on whether or not a law is abided by or not is decided by the temple owners and priests, and this is communicated through their messengers to the public, orally.

CONCLUSION 

In this paper, I have presented a detailed observation of a specific ritual
(piercings) performed during the Angalamman festival. During the course of
the study, several anthropological theories were mapped, e.g. the
Multivocality of Symbols, Van Geemp’s ‘Three Phases of Ritual’ and Marcel
Mauss’s ‘Three Gifting Obligations’ were easily identifiable.
The evident dominance of faith vs. science and caste-based authority over
political authority, the complex social structure (patrilocal-matrifocal),
combined with the undercurrent of hierarchical segregation, overtly or
symbolically revealed the social purpose of the festival.
The complex and deep proceedings surrounding the ritual of the piercing were not

possible to fit into a limited word essay. Hence a number of connected sub-
rituals have not been mentioned here, and observations, anthropological

mappings, the family and village social structure, and personal reflections too
have been condensed to only the highlights.

Kaveri Sinhji

Photo credits: Devika Krishnan, Fredrik Lindholm, Josefin Sorstrand, Chris

REFERENCES
Van Gennep,A., 1960 The Rites of Passage, London, Kegan Paul
Marcel Mauss’ The Gift (Essai sur le don, 1925).
Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s Small Places, Large Issues. (1995, 2001)
Rodney Fray’s introduction to Arnold Van Gennep’s rites of passage (University of
Idaho):
http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~rfrey/PDF/Shared/Rites%20of%20Passage.pdf
Overview of Victor Turner’s account of Ndembu ritual (Deflem, M., 1991 Ritual,
Anti-Structure, and Religion: A Discussion of Victor Turner’s Processual Symbolic
Analysis, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 1–25) on the
Anthrobase website.
Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 1991. “Ritual, Anti-Structure, and Religion: A
Discussion of Victor Turner’s Processual Symbolic Analysis.” Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion 30(1):1-25.
Photo credits: Devika Krishnan, Fredrik Lindholm, Josefin Sorstrand