On April 25th, Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation hosted the 4th annual Taste of India festival. Located in Virginia Beach's neighboring city of Norfolk, the festival celebrated the culture and cuisine of India.
In Indian culture, there is little distinction between the secular and the sacred. In fact, there is no word for "religion" in Sanskrit, the holy language of Hinduism. (The closest synonym, dharma, is more accurately translated as "duty," "ethics," or "natural law.") Reflecting this fusion of the holy and the profane, Taste of India's cultural events were sprinkled with religious elements.
Nearly fifty groups graced the stage at Sunday's festival, performing songs, dances, and even a fashion show. Some performances, such as the jazz/hiphop tribute to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," were purely secular, while other introduced a religious component. The song "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram" is a devotional hymn, or bhajan, sung to honor the god Rama. Students of Malini Srirama performed a dance set to "Radha Kaise Na Jale," a song (from the Bollywood film Lagaan) that describes the relationship between the god Krishna and his consort Radha. "Ganeshaya Dheemahi," a song (from the movie Viruddh) that honors the god Ganesha, set the stage for a dance performance by students from Nrithya Kalalaya. Dr. Dilip Sarkar led a yoga demonstration. More than a purely physical activity, yoga began as a way to harness one's physical senses and, through meditation, come to a greater understanding of the divine presence in each individual.
Hinduism found a place among vendor booths as well. Between spices, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and scarves, shoppers could find images of Hindu deities, such as paintings of Shiva and statuettes of Ganesha. One booth sold puja trays, platters used for Hindu worship rituals. Even among CDs and DVDs, shoppers discovered religious films, such as Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan, a miniseries version of the great Hindu epic.
Taste of India introduced Hampton Roads residents to a microcosm of Indian religion and culture. For more about the festival, visit www.tasteofindiahr.org. For more about Hinduism, see Gavin Flood's An introduction to Hinduism. (Cambridge University Press, 1996).