My grandmother’s name is Snehlata. It translates to “a vine (lata) of love (sneh).” I would say that she is rather a “a vine of strength”, who has succeeded in keeping her ever spreading family together. Today, her children and grandchildren are spread out across India, the US, Canada, Azerbaijan, (and, hey, France!)
When asked about what Modh meant, my grandmother seemed not to know. It was my father, who suddenly became very enthusiastic about my project, who also provided the missing piece to the puzzle. His knowledge on religion has inspired a forthcoming project – Interviews with my father.
The Modh in Modhvaniya indicates that my grandmother and her family fall into the tribe of Goddess Modheshwari worshipers, indicating that before conversion to Vaishnavism, more than five generations ago probably, my ancestors were actually followers of Shaktism. My grandmother can ascertain that we have been Vaishnavs for at least three generations before her. Vaniya indicates the caste; we are vaniya or baniya or the merchant caste. My friends have fun making jokes about how caste-ist I am because I chose to study economics.
My grandmother is the mother of my mother, hence my maternal grandmother. My grandmother married into a family that was also a follower of Modhvaniya Vaishnavism; so did my mother. These marriages occurred through arranged marriages. One of the questions that I asked my grandmother was about finding suitable partners for marriage (not for me, oh dear no!) – how do you assure that you find a good husband or good wife who is Modhvaniya Vaishnav? You can apparently not marry until your seventh cousin in the family.
So basically, you can marry in your tribe but not in the family (until the seventh cousin). My grandmother says that my father actually doesn’t belong to their Godhra family by blood. My father comes from the Modhvaniya Dhandhuka family, which is a Pushtimarg following Modhvaniya family based in Dhandhuka, a small town not far from Ahmedabad, India. In trying to make sense out of this, I have concluded that probably more than one family was a part of the Modhvaniya tribe that later converted to Vaishnavism. I might be wrong. (If you have the piece to solve the puzzle, please send me an email.)
My extended family largely consists of intermarriages between the “Shah”s and the “Parikh”s. Not that all families with these last names belong to the same sect as my family, but that those who belong to Modhvaniya vaishnavism usually have these two lastnames. My grandmother was a Shah before she got married; Parikh after. My mother was a Parikh and still is a Parikh because my father is a Parikh. So every time that I have an option of choosing a secret question to retrieve a password, I cannot use the option of “What was your mother’s maiden name?” Guess what, it never changed! Well, maybe her middle name did change, from her father’s firstname to my father’s firstname.
Check out Part I
Part III coming soon…