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A Study of India

Our culture studies this month have focused on the history and traditions of India, a beautiful and complex country dating back to the 3rd millennium BCE. A new special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum coincided with the early autumn Diwali holiday, and we set out to tackle both this week.

First up was Peacock in the Desert– five centuries of art celebrating the rich artistic traditions of the kingdom of Marwar–Jodhpur. The SAM exhibit info flyer said "250 objects are on display outside their palace setting for the very first time... The exhibit immerses visitors in the courtly life of the Rathore Dynasty and explores the royal role of women. It also examines artistic responses to Mughal empire alliances, and the time of British rule known as the Raj."

We really enjoyed seeing the life-sized horses and elephant on the 3rd floor portion of the exhibit, and continued upstairs to see an elaborate wedding tent and an 18th century carved wood and glass palanquin used to transport the maharaja and his queen.

18th century carved wood and glass palanquin used to transport the maharaja and his queen.


Next up this week was the opportunity to learn more about the Indian holiday Diwali. It is a five-day cultural celebration beginning with Dhanteras two days before Diwali, and ending with Bhai Dooj two days afterwards. One of the most popular festivals in Hinduism, Diwali celebrates the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.

We traveled to Bellevue, WA to learn more. Our first stop was with henna artists who expertly applied henna dye to Isabella's hands in floral patterns. The paste dried quickly and is scraped off with a fingernail after a couple of hours. It leaves behind a light orange stain on the skin which darkens to brown due to oxidation and stays on for 1-3 weeks. We accidentally smudged part of one design, but luckily the dye had already set and the damage was minimal ;)

Next was a large table with dozens of rangoli templates and bowls of colored sand to play with. We had never seen such a craft before, but lingered at this table for quite some time playing with the patterns. Traditionally these would be created on the floor in a family home using colored rice, flour, sand, or flower petals. Designs are passed from one generation to the next, keeping the art form and tradition alive. The purpose of the rangoli is decoration, but they are thought to bring good luck as well.

There was a large crowd at the stage watching dance performances, so we moved along pretty quickly from there, but got to see a group of girls performing a traditional dance (which we later learned was very difficult for them and out of their "comfort zone," so big kudos to them for bravery!).

Last was a complimentary sweet treat from MoskSHA Indian Cuisine, but I realized too late they didn't share the name of the food, so it will remain a mystery... but it was delicious!

There will always be more to learn about the history, culture, and traditions of the Indian subcontinent, and we plan to touch back to it during our British studies to learn more about the Raj period of colonialism. For now, the colors, music, and of course, the henna, will stay with us!

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