Día de los Muertos

The Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is celebrated from midnight on October 31 until November 2.

On November 1 (All Saints Day), deceased children (“angelitos”) are celebrated; on November 2, (All Souls Day) deceased adults are celebrated. In order to make the holiday appear  to “more Christian”, Day of the Dead combines both days and all deceased family members are celebrated. The idea is that the spirits return on this one day of the year to be together with their families. Festivities take place in cities and villages throughout Mexico, though each location may have different customs and ways of honoring their dead. Many years ago, relatives used to be buried close to families or sometimes, in a tomb, located under the family home.

After cleaning the house and setting up an altar in one’s home, offrendas or offerings are displayed on the altar and offered to the ancestors. It is believed that the deceased relatives consume the food by its essence or aroma.

By far, the most popular offering is the sugar skull. These skulls are made into a sugar mixture and then pressed into a skull shape and then dried and iced with frosting. Although they are edible, most sugar skulls are used for decoration only. Sugar skull art is very popular in Mexico. The name of the celebrated deceased is written on the sugar skull and then placed on the altar.

Pan de muertos  or bread of the dead is also placed on the altar as an offrenda. It is a sweet, soft bread often decorated with pieces of dough shaped likes bones. These bones represent the dead loved ones and there is also a tear-shaped piece of dough baked on the bread. The bread is often flavored with anise seeds or orange flower water.

Marigolds are in bloom in Mexico at this time of year and are also placed on the altar.

Although at first glance Halloween and Day of the Dead seem similar and both are rooted from early cultural beliefs about death and Christianity, unlike Halloween, the Day of the Dead celebrants don’t view the spirits as malevolent; they welcome and celebrate them. Day of the Dead is not at all scary. It is joyous, loud and especially colorful!

 

¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!

Sanskrit: Not for Hindus Only

Sanskrit, a classical language that is the Indian equivalent of ancient Greek or Latin, is a language which belongs to the Indo-Aryan group and is the root of many, but not all Indian languages. There are close to 300 to 400 languages spoken in India, but all of them are connected the mother language known as Sanskrit. However, Sanskrit is now spoken by less than 1% of the Indian population and is mostly used by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies. In fact, Sanskrit is one of the official languages in only one Indian state, Uttarakhand in the north, which is home to many historical Hindu temple towns.

There is a common misconception that Sanskrit is a “religious language”.  In this way, Sanskrit is to Hinduism what meditation is to Buddhism. Meditation is simply a breathing technique; it is performed by Buddhists but it is not for Buddhists only nor is it a simply Buddhist practice. While it is true that many Hindu texts (and Buddhist texts for that matter) were written in Sanskrit, 95% of Sanskrit texts are not religious in nature.

Earlier this year, the Indian government sent out a leaflet ordering schools to observe what is known as “Sanskrit Week”.  The leaflet clearly stated that “Sanskrit and Indian culture are intertwined as most of the indigenous knowledge of India is available in this language”.  There is a push to keep Sanskrit alive, much to the dismay of those who feel it is a religious language and may not be Hindu.

There also appears to be a resurgence of interest in Sanskrit in the United States. Every time yogis roll out their respective yoga mats and greet each other with “Namaste” (“The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you”), they are in fact speaking Sanskrit.  Due to the work of the Samskrita Bharathi, a non-profit organization, Sanskrit is making its way into the mainstream in US cities. Samskrita Bharathi is offering camps for children, classes for adults and children and has even established a SAFL (Sanskrit as a Foreign Language) course for high school students.

Due to this, recently, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of starting to learn Sanskrit.  As anyone deeply involved with yoga (or Buddhism or Hinduism) will tell you, learning Sanskrit certainly helps you to understand how to pronounce all the respective terminology. Much like English, the Sanskrit alphabet is taught in a singsong type of way through use of a chant, or mantra.  Sanskrit is a very vibratory language so speaking it is actually quite calming and peaceful.

This chant can be viewed by watching the video in the link below:

Sanskrit Alphabet Mantra