SOMETHING NEW: Many people are interested in Indian culture and want to visit Little India. This is great, especially if you live on the west coast. If you live in Kansas or Florida, accessing the wonderful stores there is hard (unless they have a web site-- and I have attempted to include those below). For the convenience of those who can't get to Little India in Artesia, I've included a link to
EXOTIC INDIA is a wonderful site with a huge variety of quality products. I've purchased from them and have been very satisfied.
DIRECTORY: For your convenience, I've included the following
directory to shops and philosophical/cultural topics mentioned in this
A BACKGROUND OF CALIFORNIA OAKS
are many reasons for moving to Southern California. Right up at the
top of my list is Little India. What is Little India? It's the second
largest ethnic Indian community in the United States, just behind New
York City. Little India is located on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia,
roughly between 183rd St. and 187th St. In those four blocks, you have
the feeling of being in India-- or as close as possible using a suburban
strip mall as a base. My daughter, Lily, and I made a weekend foray
to Pioneer Boulevard recently. I'd like to share our experience with
love affair with India began 25 years ago when I began practicing a
form of meditation from that country. India began working on my soul,
body and stomach all at once. I meditated at an Ashram in Oakland, CA.
In addition to Indian philosophy, they served Indian food. (My own Indian
cooking efforts have been limited to chai, a spiced tea. Here's my Chai
I discovered and was hooked by the sari shops on University Avenue in
Berkeley. And then there's Indian philosophy, music, and culture. All
intensely beautiful and powerful. I was in love with India long before
Mira Nair's movie "Kama
Sutra: A Tale of Love" came out. (This is a movie everyone
should see. It is beautiful and beautifully produced. This is an erotic
film-- be forewarned.) All of a sudden, after thousands of years of
civilization, India and things Indian are hip and stylish!
This is very good for the merchants-- but it has some negative impacts.
symbol of enlightenment.
problem with becoming popular: I read a newspaper
article by a teenager of Indian descent. She talked about walking through
a mall in Southern California and seeing bindis (more about these later)
sold on cards in shops, crowded together with junk jewelry and chain
chokers. She talked about her feelings seeing American movie stars sporting
delicate mehndi (henna painting) on their hands. And young women wearing
sheer sari fabrics made into skimpy clothes under their grunge jeans.
She recalled her mother's, aunts' and grandmother's colorful saris and
their traditional ways. She said, "I got mad when I saw the pictures
of celebrities using Indian traditions to be fashionable. ... They were
robbing something valuable from my culture without understanding the
meaning of such traditions. Saris, mehndi, and bindi have been
a part of Indian women's lives for thousands of years..." ("From
Saris to Mehndi, the Indo-Craze Catches On", Meera Rangachar,
Los Angeles Times, 11/29/97.)
This is a problem. Other cultures experience this as they are picked
up by the mainstream-- our Native Americans, for instance. They become
caricatures with the heart and soul cut out. What I'd like to attempt
here is an article about Little India-- which I love-- and a bit of
cultural exploration. Right away, we have a problem. I'm no expert on
Indian culture. I doubt anyone is-- India is a huge place peopled by
many, many distinct groups with many languages and dialects and several
major religions. What is Indian culture? It's a composite. But I know
a little bit. I'd like to insert what I know as we move through Little
India. (Please, please: my readers from the Indian subcontinent-- If
I'm wrong in anything I say below, correct me. I can change the text
easily and would appreciate your input. You can e-mail
me right here.)
TO LITTLE INDIA
may feel like you got there like this.
Photo: Geri McCormick
Let's go to Little India. Readers have written me requesting that I add a map! What a good idea. Unfortunately, this writer uses a 1945 operating system––my brain is old and so is the rest of me. I never expected to be attaching maps to anything. Not only did one reader say he wanted a map, he wanted Map Quest and Google. Well … I'll be lucky to get one up, but I'll try.
The value of a map is obvious. Here we go …
I googled the Little India Chamber of Commerce, which is right in the middle of the action. 18600 Pioneer Blvd;
Artesia, CA 90701; (562) 809-8000, and got a beautiful map. When I followed their directions to attach it I got an 'forbidden access" message. I suggest just getting on Google searching for the above. Ditto for Yahoo.
Now to try MapQuest.
MAPQUEST LINK TO LITTLE INDIA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The world marches on: I have a Magellan now, a little map screen thing that you program with your destination. It gently reminds you of where to turn before you end up in Iowa. That's the best way to get around.
Another important detail: If you're planning a trip, the first thing you should do is call up
your credit card company and have your credit limit extended. This trip
will cost you.
INDIA STREET SCENE
daughter and I arrived on Pioneer Boulevard about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon.
We learned what I already knew: If you're going anywhere on the LA freeways,
be there by 3 or 3:30. The traffic was bad, but not as bad as I expected.
Still, we needed sustenance. And chai. We went to a little restaurant
I'd heard about-- AMBALA DHABA. It's a tiny little place tucked
at the end of a strip of stores. It's a very nice place, but not fancy.
They serve on Styrofoam dishes, for instance. We got there early enough
so that the restaurant wasn't packed. I noticed a newspaper article
up on the wall-- a good review by the LA Times. Also a plain white card
with the letter "A" on it in the window. I had not seen this
before: The County of LA Health Department inspects restaurants an rates
them based on conformity to health standards. AMBALA DHABA got
the highest rating, an A, which means a 90 to 100% compliance.
didn't know what to order, so the proprietor suggested a number of things.
I ended up ordering what the LA Times reviewer got-- a chicken dish.
My daughter ordered a mahi-mahi dinner. Wow! Unbelievably good-- both
dishes. And huge. My chicken was marinated in what seemed to be a yogurt
sauce with spices (lots), then broiled or roasted, and served over sliced
onions. Lily's mahi-mahi was similar. The dishes came with either naan--
a delicious and gigantic flat bread-- or rice with peas and spices.
The food was wonderful. And the chai. If you do not love chai now, a
few hours in Little India will convert you. At any rate, we had a lovely
meal and I highly recommend AMBALA DHABA-- we eat there every visit to Little India and never have been disappointed.
great place to eat. This is the great mural painted on the wall outside
and I walked around Pioneer Blvd. after dinner. My daughter had concerns
about visiting this Little India-- especially with me. She's seen me
go into a shopping frenzy before. Lily ended up loving the place. She
is an artist and could have spent many hours sketching here. (She has
her own website, lilynathan.com)
Little India is a visual feast. The ethnic Indian character on Pioneer
Blvd. is very strong: Women in saris and salwar kameez (tunic and pants outfits) are the rule. Many
men are turbaned. Signs are in Hindi (?) and English. The stores are
uniformly ethnic. Store windows display brilliant colors, glittering
jewels, interesting spices and other gear. It's a family orientated
place: You'll see grandparents, parents and grand kids walking together.
We felt absolutely safe and welcome wherever we went. Everyone was very
warm and cordial, and answered our (dumb?) questions graciously.
of the colorful boutiques on Pioneer Boulevard
evening walk yielded what will be referred to below as the "Parable
of the Shoes." We stopped in a number
of stores. One of them had a large selection of traditional shoes for
men an women. These look like harem shoes or horse's hooves if they
haven't been trimmed in a year: They turn up at the toes. The shoes
are highly decorated: embroidered, mirrored and so on. Lily really wanted
a pair she found. We decided, "Let's look around some more. Tomorrow,
we'll buy." Remember this.
STAY AT A NICE PLACE
The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, commissioned
by Shah-Jahan in memory
of his wife in the 1630's. It represents the flowering of the 330 year
Photo: Geri McCormick
enough time: My previous trips to Little India
were marred by the fact that I was tightly scheduled and staying on
the other side of town. This time, Lily and I were smart. We stayed
overnight in nearby Cerritos. Many motels can be found in Artesia, but
I found the Sheraton
Cerritos Hotel at Towne Center on the Internet. It offered
a great weekend deal for posh accommodations. The Hotel was wonderful.
While cheaper places are available, you might as well stay here. You'll
max out your credit card in Little India anyway. What's a few dollars
more? You can reach the Cerritos Sheraton at (562) 809-1500. The address
is 12725 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, CA 90703. The hotel offers lovely,
quiet, large rooms, a pool, spa, and a gym. Everything you need after
a day of shopping and eating at Little India. They're also right next
to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. Wynnona Judd was playing
there the night we stayed. You might want to plan your Little India
trip around what's playing at the Performing Arts Center.
spent all day Saturday tramping Pioneer Boulevard. (Wear good walking
shoes.) We hadn't planned on staying that long, but we got hooked. Sari
stores! Oh, God! I love them! When I was a teenager, I made many of
my own clothes. I have a deep and abiding love for handcrafts and textiles.
The clothes in these stores! So beautiful! The workmanship, the ornamentation!
The variety! You have to see them. The saris, salwar kameez and other traditional
clothes are displayed in racks, as in our familiar Western stores. They
can also be displayed hanging from the ceilings and high on the walls.
Most stores are packed with goods. You walk into a brilliant rainbow
of color and pattern coming from all sides: Rich fabrics. Glitter and
gold. Beads. Sequins. Intoxicating!
Indian clothes could be worn many more places than they currently are.
I wore a salwar kameez to a family party at Christmas. Salwar kameez outfits consist of
a below-the-knee tunic-- usually ornamented--the salwar. And harem pants, the kameez, plus a scarf.
The sets range from unbelievably fancy, embroidered, sequined, and beaded
silk to everyday stonewashed denim and cotton. Salwar kameez ouitfits are beautiful,
and very practical. Also flattering to any figure.
I was introduced to the outfits as "Punjabis," which is a misnomer. A Punjabi is someone from the state of Punjab. The British applied the word "Punjabi"
to the salwar kameez, later transforming "Punjabi" into "pajamas." However the garments got their name, they feel like wearing pajamas to me. Relaxed. Comfortable. My mother was captivated
by the salwar kameez I wore at Christmas. She wants one-- to wear to her country
brilliant variety went on, shop after shop after shop. I'm going to
talk about some specific stores below. These are stores where we bought
something-- they just pulled us in. Many other stores exist in Little
India-- ours is by no means an exhaustive list. This place is a treasure
trove. Every corner is worth exploring.
on our shopping list was groceries. If you read the Recipe section on this website, you will note that I recommend visiting an
Indian or Chinese store for chai spices. They have them in Little India!
Indian grocery stores are another visual feast-- and a feast of smells!
And sounds! Merchants play traditional and modern Indian music everywhere.
And the shelves loaded with exotic stuff: Condiments! Vegetables! More
types of lentils and beans than you've ever seen! Spices you've never
heard of, but are worth buying just for the color! We loaded up on cinnamon,
coconut, star anise (throw a few of these into my chai recipe), a packet
of a brilliant saffron yellow powdered spice, golden raisins. Other
of the groceries offer similar goods. PIONEER CASH & CARRY at 18601 Pioneer Blvd (phone 562-809-9433) is a favorite
grocery of ours. They offer great spices and produce (and many other
items) at very good prices. All the groceries offer slightly different
things, you should visit them, too. You'll find many unusual items by
poking around. Many grocery and variety stores offer very interesting
stainless steel cookware and dishes. I didn't need any pots or pans,
but I certainly would look carefully if I did.
stores offer magnificent Hindu devotional statues.
to right, these sculptures depict a Dancing Ganesh, Seated Ganesh, and
groceries and other stores offer Hindu devotional pictures. Others have
rudrakshas. (I'll talk more about these later.)You
will see Hindu devotional statues all over Little India. God appears
in many forms in Hinduism-- some study is required to know the names
of all the deities whose images are depicted. Two of the most famous
are the Shiva Nataraj and Ganesh.
Dancing Shiva in Shadow and Petals
Photo: Zoe Nathan
Dancing Shiva is shown in many forms. Click on the photo to be transported
to this lovely sculpture for sale on Exotic India.
is the Nataraj? Who is Ganesh? The statues
are artist's depictions of Hindu deities. The heart of Little India's
Hindu identity. The Nataraj is one of the most famous religious images
in the world: The dancing Shiva, representing the dance that is life.
A dancing four-armed figure standing on one foot, encircled by a ring
of flames. Ganesh, the son of Shiva, himself a God. Ganesh is the destroyer
of obstacles and the deity to be worshipped when beginning any new task.
A playful fellow who removes obstacles on the spiritual path, but also
puts them in your way just for fun. Fully understanding these two would
take a scholar or a saint a lifetime.
you see Hindu statues and pictures in Little India, understand that
they represent arguably the oldest religious system in the world.
ancient quality of Indian culture is reflected in Little India's stores,
especially the jewelry stores. The jewelry could have come from
long lost palaces. From temples or tombs. Jewelry stores abound on Pioneer
Blvd. They're almost as enticing as the sari stores-- and most sari
stores offer jewelry, too.
Lily Nathan tries on some earrings while shop owner, Sudhir Mehta, watches.
After shopping all over, Lily and I ended up buying pure silver necklace
and earring sets from SHREEJI JEWELERS, 18628 Pioneer Blvd. (562)
402-1016. These pure silver creations seemed very good buys, especially
when compared to the costume jewelry sold elsewhere. This store has
lovely, well-priced items, many with an antique quality. We couldn't
resist. Proprietors Sudhir Mehta and his wife also carry a complete
line of diamonds and pearls. Since that initial trip, I've purchased
a gorgeous pair of pure silver earrings washed in 24 k gold and another
necklace and earring set. My last trip I bought an incredible, ornate
silver, Gothic style cross covered with blue stones-- perfect with a
choker length chain. After many visits, we always come back to Shreeji
Jeweler. The service is terrific: on one visit, one of daughters fell
in love with a necklace, but didn't buy it. She continued to talk about
it for months. As her graduation approached, I realized it was the perfect
gift. I phoned Sudhir and asked him to send it to me. He correctly remembered
and sent it! Thanks, Sudhir! (I was delighted to learn that our family
and the Mehtas have the same meditation teacher.)
alone is reason to make a trip to Little India. If I was shopping
for a wedding ring or something extraordinary, this is the first place
I'd head. Numerous stores offered 22 K and higher gold jewelry and every
gem you can imagine. The workmanship was superb. So elegant! So ornate!
And if you're looking to have your nose pierced, this is the place.
Lord's Jewelry will do it for you.
THE DOORWAY OF ONE OF THE MANY FINE JEWELRY STORES IN LITTLE INDIA
PIERCE OR NOT TO PIERCE? Our first, and maybe second through
fifth, visits to Little India, my daughter thought about having her
nose pierced. And thought again. On 11/29/00 she took the plunge, having
her nose pierced at LORDS JEWELERS. (18608 Pioneer Blvd. (562)
809-9378) Lord's is a beautiful, posh jewelry store with an extremely
friendly, competent staff. They use 24k piercing pins and do the piercing
by hand. This allows the best placement and is more sanitary than using
a gun. The customer selects a piercing pin and it is sterilized. Before
piercing, the "piercee" holds a bag of ice and water to her
nose for 15 minutes. The ice numbs the nose and apparently softens it
as well. We were at the end of our allotted time at Little India and
wanted to keep shopping, so Lily took the ice bag and walked around
to a few other stores, icing her nose as she went. We returned to Lords
when the 15 minutes was up.
The actual piercing took less than two minutes start to finish. Lily
reports, "It didn't hurt AT ALL, but it did feel weird." Also:
the man piercing her nose was very gentle. He obviously had done it
before. The result? Lovely. And no problems. While we can't guarantee
your experience would be so trouble free, I may get my nose pierced
next trip. Maybe. And Lily's delighted. Her dad wasn't even mad. Oh,
yes, it cost $40, including the 24k pin.
originally came to Little Indian looking for things for the home, rather
than clothes or jewelry. Lily was redoing
her room and searched for the perfect bedspread. Her room has an elegant
tone: A red Chinese rug, a brass bed, an antique Venetian glass chandelier.
And her own rich paintings and drawings. Exotic stuff. Where to find
a suitably lavish bedspread? In department stores and malls? Nope. We
couldn't find a thing.
found exactly what she wanted at Fashion
Galleria, owned by Archna Puri, 18327 Pioneer Blvd. (562) 402-7525.
The Fashion Galleria is primarily a very beautiful sari and clothing shop-- but Archna also
has bedspreads, wall hangings and pillow covers which looked like they
were made of antique salwars––the highly ornimentated tunics worn over pants in the salwar kameez. The slendid-- sequined, beaded,
embroidered, tasseled, metallic, you name it-- cuffs and neckpieces
of salwars were sewn together in incredible patterns. The finished
pieces look like the art of Gustav Klimpt, who did the well-known painting,
"The Kiss." They were opulent and perfect for Lily's room.
Several visits later, everyone in our family has a bedspread from Fashion
Galleria-- every type of patchwork and color, light and heavy weight.
Drop dead gorgeous!
Galleria is another "must visit"--we stop by every time we
go to Little India. The service is wonderful-- reminds me of shopping
in San Francisco in the old days when the staff actually helped the customers. Alterations are available: I purchased a wonderful velvet
dress, which they had altered and mailed to me. My "special fit
needs"-- being every inch a grandmother-- were accommodated by
the staff, who brought me the most comfortable salwar kameez (tunic and pants
outfit) I own on my last visit.
GALLERY has opened a new store for house wares and furniture. See AAKAR
HANDICRAFTS & FURNISHINGS below...
KRISHNA PLAYING HIS FLUTE
on the photo to be transported to this lovely statue, for sale at Prasiddhi
IS LORD KRISHNA? I bought two beautiful
paintings of Krishna from Fashion Galleria. Many
of Little India's stores carry Hindu religious images. These look strange
to outsiders, but they represent one of the oldest religions on earth.
Pictures of Krishna abound-- usually he's a blue skinned man playing
a flute, or an adorable bluish child. Most non-Indians only know about
Krishna from the Hari Krishna folks at the airport, if they know him
at all. Krishna was an historical personage, like Buddha, Mohammed or
Jesus. Krishna lived about 5,000 years ago and has been adored by millions
of people all over the world for thousands of years. Some of the greatest
religious writing in history has been inspired by his life. Lord Krishna's
story appears primarily in two texts: the Shrimad
Bhagavata and the Mahabharata, both worth reading, but perhaps dauntingly long.
an easy way of reading about Krishna. The
Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna might be described
as an inspired "cheat sheet"-- like those books that summarize
great books so you can take tests on them when you haven't done your
homework. Play of God's author, Vanamali, pulled together the references
on Krishna's life and presented them in a very readable form. (You can
order any of these titles from Amazon.com by clicking on them. All Amazon
rebates from this site are given to charity.) Play
of God captures the feeling of the Mahabharata--
which is one of the great adventure stories of the ages. It also captures
the devotion and love that Krishna inspires. Krishna's life story has
everything: Violence, treachery, action, beautiful women, warriors,
sex, intrigue. War. Supernatural events. Demons. The Mahabharata is a must read for every literate person.
Gita lies embedded in the Mahabharata like the crest jewel in a crown. The Bhagavad
Gita, which means "The Song of God", is one of
the most exquisite and concise religious texts in existence. It's short:
18 brief chapters. I carry a pocket edition that's smaller than a deck
of cards. (Pocket
Bhagavad Gita) There it is: The heart of Hinduism, as spoken
by Lord Krishna to his cousin, the great general Arjuna, on the eve
of a decisive battle. The Gita is an astonishing text that one could
devote a lifetime to studying.
a 13th century Maharathi saint, did spend a lifetime studying
the Gita. . His Jnaneshwari-- comments on the Bhaghavad
Gita- are brilliant illuminations that make the text understandable
to all. Many versions of the Janeshwari exist. I would like to
Gita: A Rendering of the Janeshwari, by Swami Kripananda, State University of New York Press. In addition
to presenting the Gita and Janeshwari in their original
language, this book pulls together the English translations so
that they capture the aliveness of the originals and are understandable
to modern readers. Reading a work such as this-- which is more beautiful
than any piece of jewelry or tapestry I have described above-- is essential
if you want to understand Indian culture.
HANDICRAFTS & FURNISHINGS PROPRIETOR POINTS OUT DETAILS OF GANESH
CARVING TO LILY
photo gives the tiniest indication of the range of merchandise available
a Aakar Handicrafts.
AAKAR HANDICRAFTS & FURNISHINGS, 18612-1/2 & 18618 Pioneer Blvd., (562) 809- 9093. This is the home ware
shop opened by Archna Puri and her family. You read about her clothing
store, Fashion Galleria above.
AAKAR HANDICRAFTS is a dynamite store loaded with things for the home.
Very hip, very stylish. So many things: Embroidered, sequined, quilted
pillow covers and bedspreads. Furniture made in India and upholstered
with embroidery and patchwork. All sorts of religious statues. Paintings.
Embroidered hangings that would make great window valences. A fantastic
silver candelabra about 3' high. A silver coffee service. Much more
I can't remember. I bought a pure silver antique-look necklace that
I cherish: I buy something there every time I go. This is one
of the best places for Hindu religious statues and paintings in Little
I'm going to arbitrarily cut this article here. I discovered that my web software could not handle the size of this article, so has been cutting it off here. Click on the link for part two.
CLICK TO GO TO PART 2!
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STEPPING OFF THE EDGE: LEARNING & LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
A MODERN SPIRITUAL COMPANION
A TALE OF MYSTICIAM & MONEY MENON
"BILL GATES MEETS DON JUAN."
TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD
BORN PREMATURELY ON A FREEZING NIGHT, THE COLT HAD TO FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE.
THE ANGEL & THE BROWN-EYED BOY
A FUTURE WORLD ONLY HEARTBEATS FROM OUR OWN
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