back to the ritual (and some rambling)

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Posted by Catherine Cartwright Jones on August 10, 2002 at 15:59:09:

"Ritual Art of India" by Ajit Mookerjee, Thames and Hudson, ISBN
0-500-28058-4 has some lovely rangoli and pic 52 shows clearly that
red stuff on Indian feet is not necessarilly henna .... kumkum is just
as likely ... more so in older texts! (Kumkum is a bright red
cosmetic, and was used more often to tint hands and feet, and create
body adornment in India ... as kumkum was essential in Hindu devotion
and kept its bright auspicious red, and henna has a strong Muslim
conection (read: invaders and not always well loved) and henna was
less apt to stay an auspicious red.

Muslim and Hindu cultures are a tricky thing to sort out in India.
There are more Muslims in India than in any other country (or so I
heard last) though they are a 12% minority in the population. Muslim
culture had a huge influence on India (especially in regards to
henna), though politically activist Hindus sometimes prefer to not see
it that way and occasionally reconstruct history. Sorta like some
white people in the US prefer to assert that that US culture is ALL
WHITE, and the Black, Hispanic and Native Americans who have lived
here for the last 500 years have been inert.

"Aditi, the Living Arts of India" , ISBN 0-87474-853-4 is a big
paperback picture book of Indian traditions .. has some lovely rangoli
too ... and lovely big glossy pics showing weddings, wedding nights,
traditions about conception, birth, naming ceremony, holidays ....

Books like these are lovely, but one thing bothers me a bit: they
play hard into "orientalism". If you're not familiar with that term
... it's the tendency to view a different culture as "exotic,
dangerous, thrilling, beautiful, noble, primitive, inexplicable,
mysterious, wonderful, childlike, and also vulnerable..... in
comparison to US" .... with all the baggage of the 'primitive' as
something sorta sacred, sorta, childlike which should be kept precious
and protected .... or exploited as cheap labor. The whole notion
tends to piss me off. People are people and everyone just tries make
sense of life in whatever way works. Orientalism marginalizes human
beings and shoves them into stereotypes. Very pretty stereotypes, but
it still makes it easy for people to dismiss them as less complex than
ourselves. Granted, the folks that put together these books seem to be
working the flip side of "orientalism" ... if they play up photogenic,
mysterious, ritualistic, colorful, exotic aspects of their culture and
introduce them to us as something to consume as novelty, tourism,
fashion ... they're nobody's fools, they are viewing US as the slighly
dumb distant 'other' who can be easily expoited. So why does this rub
me the wrong way? It inconveniences my friends who are
Indian/American (or other comparible ethnic) who get hassled because
they DON'T wear a sari and behave in the "glossy picture ethnic"
manner ... and they get hassled by both Yanks and their families. The
big glossy exotic pictures are beautiful .. but it creates stereotypes
that cut both ways.


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