No-Turkey Thanksgivings

No, this blog post is not about trendy non-turkey Thanksgiving dinners. Many of us may automatically associate turkey with American Thanksgiving. But there are many other countries around the world that celebrate the season of harvest with their own traditions and without that particular bird. Although celebrations differ in many ways, one of the key concepts of all of the holidays introduced below is giving thanks.

Korea: Ch’usŏk

Ch’usŏk or Hangawi is a three-day celebration of harvest and thanksgiving. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. During this time, the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Because this holiday follows the lunar calendar, the celebration’s date changes every year on the solar, or Gregorian, calendar. Therefore, Ch’usŏk was most recently celebrated on September 26th, 2015. People travel across Korea to reunite with their families, pay respect to their ancestors, and to enjoy each others’ company with good food and games.

One of the traditional foods associated with this holiday is songpyeon (see below). Families gather to make this rice cake filled with different fillings such as sweet sesame seed, mung bean, and red bean paste. It is said that whoever makes the best-looking songpyeon will have the prettiest daughter. Want to give Korean holiday cuisine a try? Check out Traditional Food: A Taste of Korean Life from our library!

Picture of Songpyeon

Picture of songpyeon, crescent-moon rice cakes. Songpyeon is a special Ch’usŏk delicacy filled with a paste made of chestnuts, jujube, sesame seeds, and red beans.
Attribution: Korea.net/Korean Culture and Information Service

Historically, this holiday was celebrated with the playing of a traditional wrestling sport called sirrum, as well as with a version of tug-of-war, tightrope performances, and a dance known as ganggangsullae, or “hand-in-hand under the moon.” Although these activities have not disappeared, it is now more common to watch them on television than to do them in person.

Check out Annual Customs of Korea: Notes on the Rites and Ceremonies of the Year from our library to find out about other Korean holidays and rituals!

 

India: Pongal Festival

Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. The holiday has been celebrated for more than a thousand years and is considered one of the most significant Hindu festivals. The four-day celebration gives thanks to nature for a fruitful year of grain, turmeric, and sugar cane. It falls in mid-January and each day includes activities filled with traditions and rituals.

The first day is called Bhogi and on this day people throw away and burn old belongings and clothes. The act of burning signals the start of a new life cycle. People prepare for the celebration by cleaning and decorating their houses with painted kolams, or designs drawn on the floor using multi-colored rice.

Painted kolam on the ground

Painted kolam on the ground. 
Attribution: Thamizhpparithi Maari

The second day is called Pongal or Thai Pongal and is celebrated with rituals such as letting fresh milk boil over a vessel. The name of the overall holiday festival, Pongal, means “boil over” or “overflow,” and is derived from this ritual. People continue the day by eating food and visiting each others’ homes.

Pongal ritual- fresh milk boiling over the vessel

Fresh milk boiling over in a vessel. 
Attribution: Thagadooran

On the third day, or Mattu Pongal, colored beads, bells, flowers, and ears of corns are tied around the necks of cows and worshiped. As the cattle enter the village center, sounds from the bells signal villagers to race their animals against each other. The festivities continue on to the fourth day, also known as Knau Pongal. Women perform the ritual of leaving cleaned turmeric leaves on the ground. The leaves are topped with leftover milk from the boiling of the day before, rice – both colored and ordinary –  sugar cane, and plantains before participants take part in ritual bathing. They then gather and wish for prosperity for their households.

Interested in finding more about this holiday and other Hindu holidays? Check out Hindu Feasts, Fasts and Ceremonies from our library.

 

Ghana: Homowo Festival

Homowo festival

A Ga traditional leader sprinkling food to signify abundance.
Attribution: Online Today www.todaygh.com

Homowo, sometimes called “Yam Festival”, is usually celebrated during the month of August. The word homowo can be translated as “to hoot at hunger,” which explains the origins of the festival. It originally began with the Ga people fighting against great famine through vigorous food cultivation, resulting in a great harvest. The festival remembers the period by celebrating the season’s harvest through cooking food using yams, one of the major crops of the country.  

The festival is signaled a month before with the banning of drumming and other noise-making in the Greater Accra area. The festival proper begins when a priest sprinkles a self-made concoction onto the royal family to fend off evil spirits and for good health. 

A special meal, kpokpoi, made from maize and palm-nut soup, is served. This food is then taken to the chief for blessing before the meal. The priest sprinkles the food on the ground to give thanks to the gods. The king presents participants with his annual speech and the chief priest prays for the people. Drumming and dancing resume and people enjoy the festival. Throughout the holiday, participants are encouraged to remember that with determination and willpower, anything is possible, just as their ancestors once proved by overcoming famine. More information about the festival can be found in The Ga Homowo, available through our library.

 

There are many other countries and cultures not mentioned here that celebrate the harvest season with thanksgiving. Here are some print resources available for you to check out and learn more about these holidays around the world:

You can also contact the subject/area specialists at the International and Area Studies Library to dig deeper into holiday customs and celebrations. The University’s cultural houses on Nevada Street hold regular cultural celebrations and events. All are welcome! For more posts like these and for other international information, follow our IAS Facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

Attribution: AForestFrolic

 

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Planning your Research Trip to India

Are you planning your research trip to India? If it is your first research trip to India, you will definitely have a lot of questions. Is there a list of libraries that would suit your research? Which cities to tour for the best possible research material? How will you communicate with the locals? How do you carry yourself in a foreign country? How safe is the city you are touring? There are a couple of steps to follow in order to make the best of your trip. Let’s begin!

National Library of India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

National Library of India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It is extremely crucial to do some basic research about the country and specifically the cities you have planned to visit in your itinerary. The city and the library/institution you will want to visit will depend on the topic of your research. If your research is about North India, then the best cities to tour would be Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Kanpur, Patna and Gwalior. If your research is about the financial conditions in India, then the best cities to visit would be Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai.

For researchers touring Delhi, there is an interesting archive review blog on “Twenty Libraries in Delhi You’ve never visited.” Being the capital region and also one of the largest metropolis cities in India, most researchers would like to cover New Delhi in their first trip to India.

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi would interest some of you. Please note that you will need a letter from your home institution and a letter from the U.S Embassy.

Fatehpuri Library. Courtesy of SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal

Fatehpuri Library. Courtesy of SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal

If who would like to focus your research on the Southern parts of India, then the Tamil Nadu State Archives would be an excellent source for your research material. For more details on location and directions or working hours and admission procedure, you may visit this post. At the bottom of the webpage, there is a list of all the TNSA official websites that could lead you to the right source for your study.

If you are planning to visit Kolkata (metropolis in East India), the West Bengal State Archives and the National Library are great sources with in depth study material.

For first timers, India may not be an easy country to travel around in. The country is known for diversity in its culture and that might prove to be difficult for some and interesting for others. It is important to remember that every country has its own charm and any foreign visitor will have to make some basic adjustments to make their travel easy and enjoyable.

In India, every state speaks a different language so communicating with the locals might be a tedious task. I would advise you to learn some basic Hindi (national language) words like “Haan” (Yes), “Na/Nahi” (No), “Namaste” (Hello), “Shukriya” (Thank You) and try to carry a pocket dictionary with you. Although, down South, people are fluent in English more than Hindi.

Photo Courtesy of Mariellen Ward via BreatheDreamGo

Taj Mahal. Photo Courtesy of Mariellen Ward via BreatheDreamGo

Not all parts of India might be safe, especially for women. Always be agile and cautious especially if you are traveling alone during late evenings. It is advisable to wear appropriate clothing (preferably salwar kameez or jeans and a simple top/kurta) to avoid teasing. India is far more traditional in comparison to the West and hence, it is better to play safe. Try not to be over friendly with strangers, especially men. Use public transport during business hours and avoid exploring secluded streets during late nights and/or alone. Also, if you are on a short trip for a specific research purpose,avoid traveling during festivals like Diwali, Navratri, Holi as most public libraries and institutions will be closed during holiday season.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Insitute of Asian Studies

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies. Photo Courtesy of Mara Thacker

India is most definitely a vibrant country with warm and welcoming people. Don’t let that overwhelm you. Instead, enjoy the differences in the cultures and try to be a part of the Indian culture as much as possible. The historic landmarks, scenic beauty, and the amazingly diverse culture of India are all worth experiencing without having to worry about any of the negative possibilities. Keeping my tips in mind as you travel should guarantee you a safe and pleasurable research trip. Happy research!

 

 

 

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“500 & 5” at the Spurlock Museum

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Autorickshaws. Curry. Hijra. Tamil. Bindis. And rupees. Guess that country.

If you guessed India, you were right. This is the country that “500 & 5” highlighted at the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library’s screening on Sunday, December 14th at the Spurlock Museum, organized by South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker. Wanting to take advantage of one of the film creator’s presence in Urbana-Champaign, 40 people gathered to view the Tamil-language piece, which was followed by a question and answer session with Kousalya Jeganathan.

“500 & 5” tells the tale of a 500 rupee note of Indian currency that travels through the hands of five different people in South India. While only valued at about $8 US, the bill’s impact is immeasurable in deciding the fates of many, including those of a gangster, a chauffeur and a woman suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. Filmed in modern-day India, the piece evokes a variety of themes like organized crime, divorce and the illicit use of narcotics. The theme connecting the various stories is the overwhelming influence of money in a variety of social situations. While the rupees solve no problems in the film, they certainly increase the tensions in relationships based on authority and subservience.

The film has had some difficulty finding distribution, Jeganathan mentioned in the talkback afterwards. Some of the tropes reject the conventions of the traditional feature film. For example, the film is split into five shorts as opposed to films with one major story line. Women are featured as prominent characters and are not merely the object of amorous pursuits as is a pattern in many parts of the world, including the East and the West. And, more than anything else, the film is explicitly anti-consumerist and anti-capitalistic, frequently criticizing the power that money represents. Distributors have therefore been reluctant to risk supporting a film they are unsure will succeed at the box office.

The audience’s response to the film was inquisitive and its questions revealed some unique details about the film making process. In order to dedicate themselves fully to the task, Jenganthan and other “500 & 5” creators quit their jobs, truly manifesting the idea that provoking thought was a higher priority than monetary gain. Certain scenes were filmed in Jeganathan’s home. Many of the actors came from a theater background, and the role of the hijra character opened new discussions of a third gender that is widely accepted in Indian culture. Jeganathan shared that envisioning a moneyless culture was new and challenging for many audiences, but was perhaps still a worthy exercise, even if momentary and fleeting.

Calmly accepting the fate of the film, Jeganathan stated that “whenever the universe wants it, it will come out.” “500 & 5” is recommended to audiences interested in the cinematic representation of South Asia. It offers a visually rich tapestry of several socioeconomic classes of Indian society, from the very poor and illiterate to the exaggeratedly rich figures of the entertainment industry. For more information on the film, visit accessiblehorizonfilms.com and be on the lookout for more events from the International and Area Studies Library by liking our Facebook page.

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An Evening of Carnatic Violin Music

Mark your calendars folks, for “An Evening of Carnatic Violin Music.” This event will take place on April 1st, at 5 P.M. in the International and Area Studies Library (IASL). The library will be hosting violinists Dr. M. Lalitha and M. Nandini who will be accompanied by mrindangam player Padmanabha Puthige.

Violin esignage

First things first, what exactly is Carnatic violin music? Carnatic music is mostly associated with South India, usually performed by an ensemble of performers. In this style of music the violin renders the melodic form and the mridangam renders the rhythmic form to the performance. Violinists Dr. M. Lalitha and M. Nandini come from a long line of musicians. Kalaimamani Dr. M. Lalitha and Kalaimamani M. Nandini are the fourth generation of musicians in their family. Music critic Sabbudu has said, “Music runs in their blood, they must have played music even when they were in their mother’s womb.”

Having been called the “Queens of Violin,” they are also known as the “Violin Sisters.” They have “enthralled the audiences with their spell binding music and have been highly acclaimed throughout the world.”  Dr. M Lalitha and M. Nandini are the only female duo in Asia to perform World music, South Indian Classical, Fusion and Western Classical music. Lalitha and Nandini have been recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship from the United States, and the Charles Wallace Fellowship from the United Kingdom in performing arts.

If the fabulous music isn’t enough, there will also be a reception with free Indian snacks from Aroma Curry House. We think this is going to be a popular event and seating is limited so we recommend arriving a little bit early to secure a good spot.

For more information about the event check out the Facebook invite! The Music and Performing Arts Library has also put together a subject guide to introduce you to this musical style, available here. The subject guide even includes a video of the “Queens of Violin” performing in India, so you can have a taste of what’s to come. We hope to see you on April 1st!

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