A Sampling of Indian Arts and Traditions in Louisiana

By Maida Owens and Daria Woodside

The Hindu community in Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 2007 maintain many traditions connected to annual secular and religious celebrations, including Navaratri and Diwali. These are times for pujas (worship services), communal dinners, dancing, and cultural programs. This is a time for adults and children to share their talents with the community: music performances, theatre productions, and classical, popular and traditional dance traditions. It is also a time for music and dance teachers present their students' talents.

Navaratri is a nine-day festival dedicated to the Divine Mother which is celebrated at the time of the autumnal equinox during the Hindu month of Ashwin, which falls, according to the lunar calendar, around the end of September or beginning of October. For each of the nine nights of the celebration, a different aspect of the Divine Mother is worshipped. Each temple participates by offering pujas (religious services), dancing, and performances by community members.

Diwali, or Festival of Lights, is a time for Hindus worldwide to celebrate the New Year. Determined by the Indian lunar calendar, it falls between mid October to mid November. In 2007, the Baton Rouge Hindu community celebrated Diwali in four sites over three weekends. At Datta Temple, the Hindu Vedic Center, and the LSU Indian Student Association, the evening focuses on cultural programs by community members. At Hindu Samaj, the Diwali celebration is a religious service that includes dancing.

Several traditions relate to decorating the temple and altar. Rangoli, one of the traditions maintained in Baton Rouge, are special designs made with ground stone, chalk, rice powder, other natural materials, or flowers by women across India and perpetuated by those living in Louisiana. An ephemeral art form usually created for special occasions, rangoli are placed in front of doors leading into to people's homes houses or Hindu temples, usually during special occasions. Rangoli designs welcome guests and wish them good fortune to those who enter, and; they also create a sacred place for prayer.

Altars are decorated during worship services by the priest. The priest's wife and others provide the palette: a rich variety of flowers, greenery, food, paint, and other materials such as Christmas garlands and lights. While the devotees sing bhajans (sacred songs), the priest builds the altar behind a screen and reveals the finished altar to those present.

These photos provide a sampling of the vibrant traditions of Louisiana's Hindu community.

Maida Owens is director of the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program. Daria Woodside is an independent researcher and college educator in Baton Rouge. This slideshow was prepared in 2007 as part of the New Populations Project.