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Background Information: Cultural Inforamation

In the Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri develops themes such as the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, and, the unbreakable ties between generations.

 

Wedding Ceremony:

Ashima explains how she was seated during her wedding, “She was seated on a piri that her father had decorated, hoisted five feet off the ground, carried out to meet the groom.  She had hidden her face with a heart-shaped betel leaf, kept her head bent low until she had circled him seven times. (10)” In the Bengali Culture, this ritual is called the Shubho Drishti.  
Ashima states she notices the watch, presented to her by her family, “among the cavalcade of matrimonial bracelets on both her arms: iron, gold, coral, conch. (4)” During a Bengali wedding, seven married women adorn the bride’s hands with the traditional bangles made of shankha (shell) and paula (coral) while Vedic chants are said by the purohit (priest). The shell is supposed to mirror the qualities of the moon, thereby implying that the girl remains serene and calm.  The coral is supposed to be beneficial for health.  When the bride and groom arrive at the wedding, they meet each other with a ritual of the exchange, “in which matching garlands are hung from their necks (230)” all through the wedding.


 

Month Baby Ritual:

When Gogol is six months old he has his, “annaprasan, his rice ceremony.  There is no baptism for Bengali babies, no ritualistic naming in the eyes of God.  Instead, the first formal ceremony of their lives centers around the consumption of solid food. (38)” The baby, formally dressed as a bride or a bridegroom, sits on the uncle’s lap and is offered a tray which contains certain ritual objects: a lump of earth, a sacred book, a pen and a silver coin. If the baby first picks up the pen it means that he/she will be fond of studies; the earth signifies fertility and prosperity, the money wealth and the sacred book religion. After a puja, the baby's mother dips a gold ring in a bowl of payesh and the ring is given to the baby to suck. This is followed by tiny pinches of fish, shukto and sweetened yogurt.  Though Gogol, “forced at six months to confront his destiny, begins to cry (40)” and touches nothing on the plate.


Pet Name and Good Name:

According to Ashima, "It's not the type of thing Bengali wives do - a husband's name is something intimate and therefore unspoken, cleverly patched over" (2). We are shown how important private life and feelings are to Bengali families. It is explained that members of this culture are given two names: one that is a pet name, daknam, (used only by family and close friends) and one that is used by the rest of society, bhalonam or also known as a good name.