Saturday, 2 July 2016

Atithi Devo Bhava

The reason for me to come to India for the fifth time within five years is not the delicious food which you can eat on the streets, the authentic handicrafts that you can buy in most of the places, the perfect weather all year around, or the beautiful landscapes you can enjoy across the nation. No, the reason why I love this country is the hospitality of the Indians. Atithi Devo Bhava is an often heard saying which can be translated as: guest is equal to God. For the Indian community, and especially Hindus, this saying is one of the main rules which has to be followed at all times. This rule means in practise that when visiting locals, you are immediately offered at least one or two glasses of water and a chai. After that, another chai. And another chai. Many locals that I have visited in the past 4 months also offered me to have a meal with them, which is very normal. Having a meal with locals means that you are served first, others are not allowed to start eating before you have started, and that they will keep serving you food until your stomach hurts. There is just one way to let them stop serving you: put your hands over your plate so they cannot put more food on your plate. This may seems easier than it is; it is not just covering your plate, it is defending your plate with your life! This whole procedure of Atithi Devo Bhava does not only happen in people’s homes, but also in the train, bus, on the streets; well, actually everywhere! It is therefore normal when going to the shop to buy some groceries, you will be in the shop for quite some time drinking water and chai. 

When visiting the house of the principal of the local government school, we were literally welcomed as God. Not only by him, also by his 45 MBA students which gathered outside the house, waiting as a celebrity would pass by.When stepping out of the car, a garland made out of flowers was hang around our necks and a tilak was applied on our foreheads. Besides that, as everyone was seated on the floor, we were seated on some nice pillows. Also here, we were served food first and others were not allowed to start before we did.

As Gods, adorned by flowers and a tilak, seated with 8 MBA students

If you think that I came to India just to be treated as God, then you are wrong. Atithi Devo Bhava is also expected, what do I say, it is not expected, it MUST also be observed the other way around. When people visit me, they expect me to offer them at least some water and chai. Especially on my birthday party this was obvious: I told people they could serve themselves but people did not get up to get food. They remained seated and I had to take their plates, fill it with food, and give it to them. While they were eating, I had to keep offering food until they were totally full. 

Maybe the Atithi Devo Bhava practise in India might a bit too much for the Western world. Nevertheless, I am sure that if we would copy just a small bit of this practise, our society will function much better and we might be able to tackle many problems like discrimination and bullying. For me it is obvious; I am definitely going to integrate this hospitality practise in my daily life back home, besides the many other incredible things I have already learned in India so far!

Even in India a birthday is not complete without a birthday cake!

Ivar Stinnissen - The Netherlands
Microfinance Project Manager and Centre Coordinator in RangMahal

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