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      Indian Festival Traditions  Anand Mela! A Joyful Gathering
the country indians in iowa anand mela food
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Image of Map of IndiaIndiaImage of Indian Flag
India is a vast country of one billion people. Home to 20 major languages and more than 100 ethnic groups, it covers a landmass of over three million square kilometers. It includes the Himalayan Mountains, tropical rain forests, desserts, and coastal plains and is the seventh largest country in the world and the largest democracy. Located in the north, New Delhi is India's capital city; the western coastal city of Mumbai (formerly known as Bobmay) today is the country's commercial hub, however. Indians in Iowa come from all over the subcontinent. Although India is the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, her citizens also practice Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, and the Sikh religion among others. Despite different backgrounds, however, many Indians celebrate each other's festivals and holidays together.

Image of tabala (hand drums)Settled by the 4th millennium BCE, India has been host to a variety of cultures, from Harappans to Aryans, Chinese to Greeks, and from Egyptians and Romans to Europeans. India has thrived over the millennia due to her rich natural resources and the production of spices, teas, silks, cottons, indigo, jute, and coffee. Trade with Europeans began with the Portuguese in the 15th century and continued with the British, French, and Dutch. Efforts by those powers to dominate India eventually resulted in Britain's ascendancy in 1757. For nearly two centuries, the Raj, first as the English East India Tea Company and then the British Crown, ruled the vast subcontinent via local rajas and nawabs. Hence, while Hindi is the official language of India.While Hindi is the official language, English is commonly spoken, especially in the urban areas, due to prolonged British influence.. Through a series of struggles, mutinies, revolutions, the Indian Congress's adoption of Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi's doctrine of civil disobedience in the 1930s, and finally Britain's decline after World War II, India finally achieved independence in 1947.    TOP

Image of lotus blossom, a sacred flower for Hindus and BuddhistsIndians in Iowa
From a mere handful in the 1950s and 1960s, there are now nearly 7,000 Indians in Iowa, close to 2,000 of which live in Polk County. There are also Indian communities in Ames, Iowa City, Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, and the Quad Cities. Immigrants rather than refugees, most Indians are employed as physicians, professors, scientists, government workers, Image of Traditional Indian outfitand business owners. Many Indians came to Iowa for higher education in the 1970s and ended up staying, becoming citizens, and raising children here. While the majority of Indians in Iowa are Hindus,there are a significant number of Muslims. Hindu temples in Madrid and Cedar Rapids, a small mosque in Windsor Heights, and the Indo-American Association of Iowa, based in Johnston, are all indicators of a thriving community. Such groups as well as similar ones in Iowa City and Waterloo/Cedar Falls sponsor local celebrations of Diwali (held in October or November), Holi (held in March or April), picnics, culture classes, women's events, and annual parties.    TOP

Image of Traditional Hindu wedding with bride and groomAnand Mela - A Joyful Gathering
Festivals abound in India. Among Indians in Iowa, family and community get-togethers, which include weddings, religious holidays, and purely social gatherings involve plentiful food, music, dance, and a variety of activities. Mehandhi, rangoli, and kite-making represent only a very few of those activities.

Mehandhi, which makes use of henna paste, is a temporary tattoo, most often used to decorate the hands and feet of brides prior to their wedding. Applied with a stylus in intricate paisley patterns, the brown paste dries and flakes off, leaving a dark orange Image of Mehandhi or hennadye on the skin for up to three weeks. Rangoli or sand painting, is an ephemeral art form using a variety of colored sands to create detailed pictures, often referring to Hindu gods, goddesses, and their stories. Once completed, the "paintings" are blown into nearby bodies of water; their value and purpose is their very impermanence. In the northern state of Gujarat, people make and fly kites during spring festivals. Uttarayan in mid-January and Vasanta Panchimi in mid-February are the two major festivals associated with kite flying.    TOP

Image of Prachi Mahajan prepares traditional Indian foodFood
The food of India is as varied as her people, geography, and climate and ranges from the curries and dals (stews made from various beans or legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and split peas) of the north to the flavorful coconut-based soups and stews of the south. Combinations of aromatic spices whole, ground, fried, and stirred are the key to all of India's flavorful food traditions.

Besides spices, other key ingredients are dairy products, ghee (clarified butter and cheese curds), dals, and rice. Fried vegetable patties, somosas (small, stuffed, and fried pies), soups, and crackers serve as snacks or appetizers. Kebabs, biryanis (meat and rice dishes), and stews of various vegetables alone or mixed with chicken, lamb, beef, or cheese curds are served alongside pickles and chutneys (pickled and spiced fruits), as are meats prepared in a tandoori (clay) oven. Chapatis, rotis, and parathas are among the variety of flat and sometimes stuffed breads Image of colorful spice powdersmade from wheat flour or ground legumes rounds out most meals .Desserts consist of rice pudding flavored with cardamom, mango ice cream, or gulab jamun (honey soaked doughnuts) served with hot chai (spiced and sweetened tea with milk).

In Iowa, homemade Indian food also makes use of ingredients found here such as corn and soy beans, which are combined with traditional spices to create new dishes.    TOP

Classical Indian music is an ancient tradition said to go back to the Vedas. Vedas are a large body of texts regarded as the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism and said to contain spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of human life. The word "vedas" originates from the Sanskrit word vid (to know) and implies knowledge and wisdom.

There are two distinct and independent Indian classical music traditions: Hindustani (from north India) and Carnatic (from south India). Both are characterized by two features central to all Indian classical music: raga (scale) and tala (rhythm or beats, similar to metre in the western musical system). Classical Indian dance is based on Indian classical music, which always accompanies the dance.    TOP

Indian dance is a blend of rhythmic and dramatic elements and feature intricate and specialized hand and footImage of Hema Nilakanta, Bharatnatyam dancerplacement with the extremities flexed rather than pointed, as in Western classical dance. Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi (only two of several forms of Indian classical dance) require years of specialized training and schooling. Like Indian ritual theatre, classical dance is based on Indian myths and folk tales and depict the life cycles of the Hindu gods and goddesses Vishnu, Lakshmi, Rama, Sita, Krishna, and Radha. Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi were traditionally performed for ritual purposes, at temples and at court. Most traditional folk dance, on the other hand, are inspired by themes of everyday life and are most often performed on social occasions, for weddings, and local celebrations and parties. The mothers of the Northeast Iowa Asian Dancers taught a variety of folk dances from their mothers in the 1980s and 1990s; a new generation is now learning the steps from the one-time students.    TOP


Text by Riki Saltzman with the assistance of Rema Nilakanta, Pramod Sarin, and Pramod Mahajan. Photos by Will Thomson, Teresa Zilk & Riki Saltzman.

the country indians in iowa anand mela food
  lesson plans resources traditional artists  
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