Thursday, October 15, 2009


Its festival time again and the ubiquitous Toran is back in action. It’s incredible how it makes it appearance at every festive occasion in Bombay. Now I am not exactly a "toran" fan but my next door neighbours have this really gorgeous one made from banana leafs that’s tempting even me. Here it is...

It intrigued me enough to look up toran on the internet - my instant guru for most queries, which I must admit was not too helpful. I am still clueless about the origins of a Toran. Must make it a point to ask my Gujarati landlord about it. They are quite religious and well versed with traditions and culture.

A Toran is essentially a decorative door hanging, usually decorated with marigolds and mango leaves or a string that is tied on the door with the flower on it as a part of traditional Hindu culture on the occasion of pooja. Regular torans esp in Saurashtra are made of cloth while the ones adorned on doorways during festivals tend to be made from fresh flowers.

The Toran technically is the first thing that someone sees when they come to see your house and is therefore reflective of you. So expect to see Torans ranging from the basic to the exquisite to the just simply overdone! It is always string across the doorway in welcome for all guests that step into the house. As someone explained to me, in earlier times, a typical Indian house would have the door opening into a courtyard with rooms surrounding it. I can understand that – the haveli at my ancestral home in Rishikesh is still like that no matter how modern the interiors.

But I am detracting! Given that the door led into a large impersonal courtyard, the Toran was supposed to make the guest feel welcome and Indians are famed for their hospitality. “ Atithi Devo Bhava” - a Sanskrit verse, from ancient Indian scriptures, that mandates hospitality akin to God’s worship, it’s the cornerstone of Indian hospitality.

Interestingly enough, Toran is also an old English family name with its own crest! An Anglo-Saxon name, it comes from an Old Norse word which means “thorn’. So technically, Toran refers to people who lived near thorns /bushes. Strangely enough a connection of sort, however tenuous between something made of plants / flowers / leaves from a bush and people who lived near a bush? Far fetched but who cares? Food for some speculation or imagination.


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