ode to indian culture

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Ode To Indian Hospitality- atithi devo bhava

atithi devo bhava

As non- resident Indians, from the time we pass through the doors of the International airport in India, meeting and greeting loved ones who are there to receive us at the oddest hours of the day, to the time we are ready to bid adieu to our motherland, waving good byes to loved ones, ready to pass through the airport doors to board the international flight back to the country that is now our home, we get this sense of immense warmth, a feeling of being a part of a huge family, a perception of being accomodated in every way. That unique treatment that we receive from our loved ones in India is an integral part of the Indian culture. Although the 'satkar bhav' or the sense of welcome, stems from the love we share, the premise of the guest-host relationship in general, originates from our very ancient scriptures. 'Athiti Devo Bhava'. The guest is to be revered, so says our scriptures.

The sanskrit saying, 'Athiti Devo Bhava', meaning, the guest is God comes from the Shikshavalli of Taittiriya Upanishad. 'Atithi' literally meaning without a fixed time with respect to the calendar, signifying a guest who in olden times came unannounced; 'devo' means God or God like and 'Bhav' means Be or Is, hence the interpretation- the guest is God. It is actually a part of the verse that reads in full as: "matrudevo bhava; pitrudevo bhava; acharyadevo bhava; atithidevo bhava". Sikshavalli is the teachings of Aachaarya (teacher) to his 'Sishya' (disciple) on the basic code of conduct. The literal translation of the verse suggests that one should strive to be an ideal person who regards "the Mother as God, the Father as God, the Teacher as God and the Guest as God."

Growing up, we hear several stories from the Hindu scripture, Mahabharata, that teach us this 'code of conduct' towards the guest. Our parents and granparents narate stories of Krishna and the Pandava princes who placed their guests before themselves. For some of us, our childhood memories certainly involves visits of our cousins from America. It meant awaiting their arrival outside the airport for hours with garlands that would adorn their necks. Visits from families from other parts of India was no less exciting. We remember the "khatir" that our parents did. "Khatir" is a Hindi word that conveys everything that is done to make the guest feel important and welcome. It mostly involves cooking highly eleborate Indian delicacies that is offered with lot of insistence to the guests, irrespective of how full the guest might have gotten. The more the insistence to take more food, more is the sense of importance conveyed by the host and often felt by the guest.

Life in India might have gotten too fast paced to indulge in elaborate 'athiti satkar' (another term that conveys the welcome extended to the guests), but by no means is the essence of this very anciet tradition lost. You can feel it in the homes of family and friends when they let you have the only AC room in their house on the hot summer days. You can feel it in the people on the street when they show their eagerness to help you out with directions. You can still see it in the 'dhobi' (the cleaner), the milkman and the maid. Foreign tourists can certainly feel the Indian hopitality as well. Although several instances of rape/ groping/staring of foriegn women tourists on the streets of India is a huge blob in our 'sanskar' (meaning culture) that we so proudly claim to possess. The Ministry of Tourism has adopted 'Athiti Devo Bhava' as their tag line to depict the Indian hospitality and also to encourage people to treat the country's guests with reverence, but obviously lot more needs to be done. The Indian government needs to step up to ensure safety to all women by providing mass education to the public, implementing strict laws and meting out severe punishments to the perpretators. On our part, we, the followers of Indian culture, should make a consious effort to continue this age old tradition and pass this very intregral part of what constitutes the Indian culture on to the next generation as our heritage, lest it would be lost in the chaos of the modern world.

 

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