It’s not every day one is asked to write about their own culture. Believe it or not, when I sat down to type a few words, I couldn’t think of a proper way to begin. How can one be articulate about their culture? Most of all, how do I talk about Indian food? (Or just ‘food’ as it is called in my home.)

What Does It Mean to be an Indian?

Does it mean having meals on a banana leaf with six different flavours of sweet, salty, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy? Decorating the front of the house with a “kolam”?  Wearing “pottus” on one’s forehead and decorating one’s hair with jasmine? This may all seem rather filmy (scenes of Rajinikanth and Baba’s curry powder ads come to mind), but I assure you, these movies and ads are inspired from our day-to-day lives.

To make things more interesting, I want to talk about Indian culture in a scientific sense (being a Biomedical student, and all). It has always intrigued me that science and culture have always (since the birth of culture) gone hand-in-hand. In other words, there has always been a scientific correlation behind every Indian practice and tradition which originated a long, long time ago. One cannot help but think that our ancestors must have been scientific geniuses, having come up with all these practices. Either that, or they were all just happy accidents. In either case, just to give them some props, we’ll take the former explanation!

Intro to Our Culture

A “Thali” is a meal that consists of 6 different flavours – two flavours, sour and astringent, have actually been incorporated to the meal to create chemesthesis. (Mind-blown!)

Kolams” are decorated outside every Indian household to create a sense of calmness in the minds of the visitors (psychotherapy at its finest). It works by the principle of cymatherapy (‘kyma’ = wave). The “Kolam” has geometric patterns which manifest into vibrations in the minds of the observer and in turn creates a soothing effect, making the observer/visitor feel welcomed.

Pottus” or “Bindis” are worn between the eyebrows to generate “Kundalini energy”. “Kundalini energy” stimulates focus and concentration and also symbolizes auspiciousness and good fortune.

Strings of ‘Mallipoo’ or Jasmine are often worn by married women as it increases galactopoiesis and prolongs the period of lactational amenorrhoea. 

Being a Malaysian Indian, I would say, is synonymous to being exotic (but, no, not in a Bollywood sense). With the influence from other races, we lead our lives in a slightly different way.  For example, nowadays, vegetarian “Thalis” have “tofu sambal” (I mean, where did that come from . . . I deduce that most of us in Malaysia have to have the meaty taste of “tofu sambal” in our vegetarian meals).

Magnificent Festivals a Plethora . . .

What I enjoy most about being an Indian would, hands down, be the festivals. 

Pongal”, meaning ‘overflowing’, is a four-day festival, so you can imagine the amount of excitement it generates!

  1. The festival starts with “Bhogi”, a day to celebrate the practice of forgetting the past and moving forward, literally and figuratively. Old belongings and unwanted junk are collectively burnt in a large bonfire. This signifies cleansing of both the physical and mental state.
  2. The second day, “Thai Pongal” is the most important day where families gather to cook milk in a vessel until it bubbles and overflows. This is the most anticipated moment where participants blow a ‘sanggu’ (conch) and shout “Pongalo Pongal!” (my favourite part). We then eat until our belt buckles break.
  3. Day 3, “Mattu Pongal”, is an action-packed day with ‘Jallikattu’ (I’m sure this word is very familiar now), an exhilarating game. It is a day where cattle are worshipped and recognised as being the source of wealth for providing dairy products, fertiliser, and labour for ploughing and transportation.
  4. The final day is marked by “Kaanum Pongal” (‘Kaanum’ = visit), a day for reunions whereby we exchange gifts and just enjoy the company of loved ones.

“Deepavali” (The Festival of Lights) is known for food, sweets, crackers, and clothes. This is the most anticipated festival celebrated by Indians. The preparation for the event is as fun as the festival itself. Deepavali morning commences with an oil bath with morning prayers. We then receive blessings from our elders and put on our new clothes. Again, we eat our hearts out, and then we visit relatives and burst crackers together.

“Thaipusam” is one of the grandest festivals celebrated in Malaysia. It signifies Lord Murugan’s birthday. “Kavadi Attams” are performed by devotees who shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a stipulated route. Devotees carry pots of milk on their heads during this pilgrimage and pierce their skin, tongue, or cheeks with a Vel skewer. In Malaysia, “Thaipusam” is celebrated grandly at Batu Caves.

So, What Does It Really Mean to be an Indian?

Now. To answer my own question. Being Indian isn’t a state of existence but an art of living. Being a Malaysian Indian, on the other hand, gives life just a bit more colour. Being an Indian isn’t a feeling, it’s an emotion.

In my capacity as President, I feel that the Indian Society has done a great job in teaching the ways of our culture to NUMedians. From Henna Booths and Indian Cinema, to celebrating Deepavali together, I can confidently say that the NUMedians are familiar with the way of the Indian.




About The Author

Naveen Eugene Louis

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