Friday, July 28, 2006

Update on "The Indo-Caribbean Custom of Jhandi"

An anonymous reader sends in the following comment regarding my original Blog on this subject:
"a jhandi is a puja (traditional Indian worship ritual) where friends and family get together and have a little prayer session. a priest leads it. and they sing bhajans (religious songs) and at the end, they distribute food (all veggie). there is no sacrificing involved in a jhandi. during the jhandi, or towards the end, they raise small flags".

This is helpful, but does not really answer the question of why the flags are raised at the end of the puja.

In this context, readers of this Blog might care to refresh their memory of Rabindranath Tagore's play Red Oleander (which I had the pleasure of seeing performed in London last week - a reasonably good production with some very strong performances). This play too makes references to Jhandi, which incline me to stand by my earlier speculations.

However, I quite accept that the current performance of the Jhandi ceremony as experienced by my anonymous commentator is vegetarian - this is probably part of the vegetarianising of Indian culture, to which I drew attention originally in my little booklet on Indian Spirituality, which includes a history of Indian religion (the whole booklet is now available for free download from my website at: Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Preston Merchant said...

I was intrigued by your theories--I have seen many jhandi ceremonies performed by Guyanese in New York and Guyana and know that there is very little information about how they came about.

Could the explanation be as simple as the fact that the early Indian laborers in the Caribbean had no stonecutters to make murtis? Even if some of the men had such skills, they would have had little time to use them on a sugar plantation. Jhandi flags, however, would just require some scrap fabric and embroidery and could be easily fashioned. Perhaps women made them.

Most of the other parts of the diaspora had regular contact with India, so the necessary religious materials would always have been available. But the Caribbean Indians were very isolated--and they were the first in the hemisphere. When the British imported labor to East and South Africa and Malaysia, for example, there were already Hindu communities in those regions, some of them very old.

I love the image of the early Indo-Caribbeans, performing their jhandi ceremonies, and planting the flags in the ocean--to connect them back to India.