Follow the Hindu Moon

                                                                        A guide to the festivals of south India

                                                                                Soumya Aravind Sitaraman

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Celebrate! Festivals

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Path to God

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Interviews with the author

   

Soumya Aravind Sitaraman

Soumya Sitaraman is a freelance writer and award-winning artist. She has contributed articles on Indian art, architecture, and culture to several leading magazines worldwide. She serves on the advisory committee of non-profit arts and culture oganisations in Bangalore   where she lives with her husband and son...read more

Other books by Soumya Sitaraman

Photographer: Usha Kris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published November 2007

Random House 

India Limited

908 pages

Hardcover, 2 volume set in slipcase

Rs. 3500

ISBN: 978 81 8400 011 5

Genre: Non Fiction, Culture

 

Richly illustrated with about 1000 photographs

 

Business Standard “Living it up in the moon's shadow"

11 November 2007

 

Q&A - Soumya Aravind Sitaraman

 

Follow the Hindu Moon: A Guide to the Festivals of South India takes the reader on a journey that must be familiar to many in the four Indian southern states; of fasting and feasting, of festivities that are intrinsic to Hindus in the south. Author Soumya Aravind Sitaraman, then an NRI, decided to catalogue these festivals when, in her quest to explain them to her young son, she found that there were few publications or books that described festivals in a comprehensive way. The book, a lavish production in two volumes (in pretty colours; hot pink for one volume’s cover and orange for the other) tries to not just give the explanation for festivals but also recipes for the food that is typical of that occasion. Here the author speaks to ARCHANA JAHAGIRDAR

 

What made you write this book?

The need to know, the need to explain things adequately to my son who at that time was only five years old. I felt that there were gaps in our understanding. And once I started researching the book, it became a joy of discovery. 

 

How did you do your research as many of the festivals aren’t documented?

I verified through several sources for each festival. I asked many people what they do in their families for these festivals and then I came to a middle ground. I also read the scriptures, spoke to purohits, read other books on these festivals. All this gives you a solid understanding. 

 

Since many festivals aren’t recorded, families over generations do make up their own variations. How did you account for that?

I have tried to include some variations in the book. But obviously its not possible to include all variations so my advice is that one should always go to one’s grandmother for family traditions in following festivals. In some cases, if you belong to a region close to a border, the way you celebrate a festival is influenced by the traditions of two states. Therefore your own family is the first point of reference. This book gives you a framework. Also, in our culture, you can form your traditions. Our traditions are flexible. 

 

Why are festivals important in the modern context?

Festivals are really marking of significant dates in the calendar which connects us spiritually, in a way it connects us to ourselves. It’s also a way of cleaning one’s slate and doing the right thing. 

 

But a festival, for instance connected with harvesting, what relevance could it have for an urban dweller?

By supporting harvest festivals, you support the farmer and that ultimately helps the economy. However, it’s not so important how you celebrate a festival as long as one understands the concept behind it. Also, there is no compulsion to celebrate any festival. The doer must understand the why of a festival and modify it accordingly. I find that once people understand the tradition, then they want to follow tradition. Then they don’t want short-cuts. 

 

You started writing this book as an NRI. But do you feel that Indians living in India aren’t as aware of the traditions behind many of their festivals?

Certainly I feel that. But in the same breath they are also interested in re-connecting. Many young people are these days living away from their homes for a variety of reasons. So the separation from tradition is there but at the same time the interest to go back to roots is also strong. 

 

Since your son was the starting point for this book, what is his involvement with different festivals, now that he is older?

My son is certainly proud and delighted, especially now that he sees the actual book as he has seen the work and effort that has gone into it. And when it comes to festivals at home, he does involve himself in all the festivities. 

 

What festivals do you celebrate?

I celebrate all festivals though the scale of celebrations varies. But I try and enjoy every celebration in our calendar year. 

 

 

Asian Age “Mistress of spices opens door to kitchens of faith”

 AKSHAY SINGH

God isn’t known to fancy pottering around the kitchen. But the kitchen does stock supplies to cater to Him. Besides firing up aromas in curries, spices play an important role in Hindu festivals. In her book, Follow The Hindu Moon, Soumya Aravind Sitaraman gets to the heart of that very role and analyses its significance.

 "Turmeric has proven anti-bacterial properties and in an age of disease, prevention would go a long way," says Soumya.

Soumya is a freelance writer and an award-winning artist based in Bengaluru. An extensive knowledge of the Hindu scriptures helps her put various customs and rituals under the scanner. Her motivation to write the book came about when she was trying to explain her son the nuances of the festivals.  

It is the first book to elaborately document all the festivals and their corresponding rituals of the four southern states Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

A culmination of seven years of work, Follow The Hindu Moon goes into details to catalogue all essential items one would need to prepare for the festival.

"While explaining what all one needs in their puja, I have also attempted to break down what is the historical significance behind the ingredients and why do we do it in the way we are supposed to," says Soumya.

In today’s day and age where the magnificence of a puja is a status symbol, the purity and essence of the rituals fall victims. "Akshaya Tritiya which falls on the third day of the bright half of the lunar month of Vaisakha of the Hindu calendar is one of the most auspicious days of the year and an endeavour started on the day is blessed to grow and prosper. But modern man’s greed has transformed what would have started as a festival to develop one’s personal qualities into a day where only gold is offered to the gods. The religious significance is totally sacrificed," says the author while explaining how far most Hindus have strayed from the idea behind most festivals.

 The 1,000 page cloth-bound book is divided sensibly into two sections, Celebrate and Understand.

Celebrate documents all the festivals of South India and features photographs of how Hindus in the four states celebrate their festival while Understand guides and educates a person through the preparations for the rituals and recipes associated with the concerned festival. Along with a Hindu calendar the book even has cheat sheets, which give the reader an option for a quick puja over an elaborate one. Understand also has a chapter explaining essential personal etiquettes when hosting guests during the festivals.

 "It was absolutely necessary to include them when I was writing the book. Essentially the thread of festivals builds and strengthens friendship and family bonds and the way we conduct ourselves during them proves important and crucial," says Soumya.

 

India Today Woman “The Festive Guide” --November 07 

Her paternal grandmother acted in the first black and white Tamil talkie film and her maternal grandmother was one of the first women pilots of India . With such role models, Chennai-based Soumya Sitaraman. 37. a freelance writer and award winning artist, has talent running through her veins.

She talks to Purvi Malhotra about her book FOLLOW THE HINDU MOON I realized that I needed to learn a lot about our traditions and festivals. I started asking questions and soon discovered that a lot of people did not know more than basics. Culturally specific things that are to describe are well documented to help the reader. My goal is to make sure that the information in the book is helpful, accessible and easy to follow: The gap between modern lifestyles and traditional rituals Modern lifestyles are very individual and nuclear. I have tried to bring in the understanding that our traditions are not rigid. They have survived due to their flexibility. This book provides some of the options, the philosophy behind our approach. The book is lifeline for people who are away from their larger family groups, who are interested in celebrating festivals but need a guide. Plus it is also user-friendly in independent modules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-day, Delhi   --November 19, 07

 “Traditionally Yours”

To provide a sumptuous and comprehensive insight into the festivals of South India , writer Soumya Aravind Sitaraman brings the intricate details of the festive favour of Pongal, Onam, Vishu etc all in her new book Follow the Hindu Moon. Read on as Soumya speaks about her work, the rich south Indian heritage and the festive mood.

Any specific reason for choosing South Indian festivals? As a Hindu woman living in the Silicon Valley , my son and his American friends used to ask me a lot about the Indian festivals. Also I believe most of the people celebrate the festivals without knowing much about their backdrops. So I decide to write a detailed book on Indian festivals. However, I wanted to be specific in my book and hence choose the South Indian festivals. My ultimate aim was to provide my readers with most accurate information.

  The book has two volumes. The first part, Celebrate, showcases puja. It features complete walkthroughs of every South Indian festival celebrated by the people of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And Book 2 — Understand, presents an overview of Hindu cosmology and culture, toothsome festival recipes, and guides to festoons, kolams, and etiquette.

The book makes a brilliant use of photographs. My book has around 1,000 coloured photographs for visual reference and they have been taken by my mother Usha Kris. This helped a lot because she knew exactly what I wanted in the pictures.

 How would you describe your work? It is a treasure. I believe it is not only for me but for everyone as this is the only book to record South Indian festivals in such elaborate way. It's a lifeline especially for those who are away from their families but are interested in knowing about their traditions.

Follow the Hindu Moon is available at all leading bookstores and its official website,www.hindumoon.com

Price: Rs 3,500

A Random House India Publication

Soumya Aravind Sitaraman (c) 2007