By Navya Thakkar
I’ve always struggled with religion as a concept, so when it comes to understanding the role it plays in my identity, the process can be very frustrating. During my childhood, our Hinduism was entwined within our daily lives. Going to religious events, praying and dressing traditionally was an essential part of my family’s routine that was orchestrated by my grandmother. When I was old enough to question every action before it was performed, I began to rebel against all the religious events, with unknown family members and beautiful but itchy traditional Indian dresses that I just HAD to wear. It’s not that I didn’t believe in God or my religion, but that I didn’t really understand how these stuffy events were going to, in my own words, “help anything with anything!” So, I went up to my dad and asked him, not so politely, why I should care about this at all. In response to my teen angst, he told me something that has stuck with me through all these years.
He said that my belief in God is a personal journey, something that I would have to decide for myself, and that he would support my decision regardless. However, he told me not to confuse my relationship with God with my culture. He told me that we follow traditions, do events with family and yes, even wear the itchy dresses, because, simply put, it makes your grandparents happy. He made me see that we do not only follow tradition for God or ourselves, but a lot of the times, we do it for family. It is a way of connecting to our ancestry, experience a snippet of their life and enjoy that time with your family. It is important because it makes my grandma smile so wide, knowing that her granddaughter values her culture. It was in that moment that I first understood the difference between my religion and my cultural heritage.
In the following years since, I have been able to see that the traditions that once suffocated me are built on the same values that I hold personally significant in my life. The values of giving, connecting with the Earth, cooking cultural foods, and, most importantly, family. I realized that the traditions passed down through generations in my family are not necessarily about making me more dedicated to God and my religion, but rather to bring me more in touch with my heritage. Since then, I’m trying to value them, and be sure to make my grandparents proud, even though most of them aren’t around to see them anymore. I’m still unsure of my relationship with my religion. Right now, the label I identify with is that I am “spiritual, but not necessarily religious.” I have no clue how I will tackle that conversation when it comes to my kids. However, what I do know is that I want to pass down all our weird traditions to my kids, celebrate all the culturally significant festivals with my family, no matter where I end up in the world. I want to value my heritage and continue to have it be a proud part of my identity.
Here is my identity artwork! It’s a very recent picture of me at Vanderbilt, where I have grown and changed a lot, on the inside and outside. However, I haven’t been home in almost 2 years and miss it dearly. I decided to draw on this photo comic-book style to change details on what I would look like if I was heading to one of my family’s traditional events. Just something I image I would look like if the blog post above was turned into a comic strip!