Prashavya Parinathi Yagna
An exercise in Cutlery Design
Customs, especially ones that have been followed from times immemorial, are held dear by its people. In an era where we are seeing increasing migration of people and thoughts, customs can be learnt, appropriated, or lost altogether. I experienced this first hand when I moved to Canada for a student exchange program this year. Coming from an orthodox Hindu family from India, it was tough for me to adapt to the customs and culture of Canada. I had to relearn a whole host of things, many of them everyday activities that were second nature. From being greeted by everyone I passed to realizing that Canadian do love their personal space the hard way, it was a quite a rollercoaster for me.
The thing that I found the most challenging to adapt to was "table manners". They differed wildly from what I was used to back in India. I had to sit at a table instead of sitting on the floor, close my mouth while chewing, and, vexingly, use cutlery instead of my hands to eat. While I did use forks and spoons in restaurants in India, I would rarely, if ever, use them when I was home. It was therefore quite jarring to have to use cutlery for every meal, every day, everywhere. I was undergoing this "ritualistic" change of mannerisms that thousands of Indians go through every year when they move out of their country.
Wait, what are these metal sticks for?
India is, for the better and worse, orthodox. People take traditions very seriously, and vehemently reject outside influence when it comes to their customs. A lot of us consider our customs absolute and immutable, although that's far from the truth. Customs and the culture they are embedded in are as alive as any organism, morphing between forms based on their environment. I believe that individuals shouldn't passively experience their culture, but actively help shape it. I wanted to add to the corpus of our customs my own rituals, drawing from my personal and arguably modern experiences. The "Making it Real" course offered at OCADU gave me an opportunity to explore the possibilities of such a ritual.
Custom WraithWorks Spoon. Yup, my imaginary Design firm is called WraithWorks.
The main aim of the Making it Real course at OCADU was to introduce us to the field of additive manufacturing. The final output was to be a pair of spoons linked together thematically. In fact, we modeled multiple spoons before we were deemed adept enough with the tools to design and fabricate our final pair.
Sometimes, I wonder what life would be like as a Cutlery Designer
In one of the classes, our instructor, Professor Greg Sims mentioned a tradition that his aunts followed where they gifted his sister a small silver spoon every year. A classmate of mine, Dave Foster, also mentioned collecting souvenir spoons from all the places he visited. The stark difference between societies and their cutleries got me thinking. Maybe I could make the event of changing over to cutlery for an Indian a ritual. The first meal in a foreign land. A "Prashavya Parinathi Yagna" (Change of Feeding Sacrifice).
A traditional Indian Ritual Spoon used for "Yagnas"
The one place Indians did use spoons was during "Yagnas", where offerings to God were poured into a holy flame. Our mythology states that the Fire God Agni is a messenger who carries the sacrifices of people to the Gods above. Ghee, the symbolic sacrificial goat, is poured into the holy Yagna fire using a ritual spoon. The themes of food, spoons, and sacrifice to Gods seemed intertwined by themselves. I decided to bring them all together into a single ritual, to be performed by Hindus when they move abroad.
A feast fit for a God.
I took my inspiration for the design of the spoons from the icons held by Hindu Gods. For example, Vishnu, one of the holy trinity in Hinduism, is usually shown holding a conch, a lotus, and a discus. The ritual involved the first meal one would have in a foreign land. Using symbolic cutlery derived from the likeness of ones personal diety indicated that they were having the first meal in their God's stead. They may be in a different land, but they haven't forgotten their roots, and would always keep their Gods fed.
From there, I decided to experiment with forms, drawing heavily from Hindu temple architecture. Hindu design usually is very organic and intricate and involved a lot of embellishment. I tried to figure out the "essence" of Hindu design by sketching them.
By the end of this process, I was converging upon designs for 4 spoons. I decided to finally model two, a spoon based on Vishnu's snake, and a knife based on his Chakra. I simplified the forms because a) I didn't have the skills to model intricate features and b) I wanted to give it a "modern" twist. I ended up with designs shown below.
Adisesha, the primal snake
The Chakra knife
Once the spoons were modeled, they were sent out for printing using a Nylon SLS 3D printer. Ideally, they would be printed using wax and then cast, but cost constraints meant that they were printed out of sintered navy blue nylon powder. Although I couldn't use them to eat, they did make for pretty cool display items.
Although I am an atheist myself, I find the concept of God and religion quite poetic, and love thinking about and participating in activities related to them. When the time (and money) comes, I will definitely get these cast and perform this rite if I ever move abroad. As fond as we all are of traditions, we must, as its people, update them to reflect the age they are being performed in more accurately. As I said, culture is not absolute. There is always give and take.
Psssttt... Made it all the way here? That must be tiring. Why don't you have something to drink. Like tea. From a cup and saucer. Made of diamond.
I guess I'm a natural