Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In 1978 February we went to our Family Deity ---Goddess Shanta Durga at Kavaley in Goa to perform a religious Ceremony called the "Maha Rudra"We were lucky to be accomodated so quickly after we made the request---the queue for folks wishing to perform this is so long that the wait literally takes years!!!We went during the "Maaghi Navratra"---a period dedicated to the Goddess---Her yearly Fair or "Zatra" as it is known takes place then.
The beautiful simplicity of the Temple is very endearing--the white washed structure has a huge Reception area,leading to a smaller Hall and beyond that lies the "Garbha Griha"or the Sanctum Sanctorum.Everyone can enter the Reception area but to enter beyond that means dressing in the traditional manner---pure Silk nine yard Saries for the women and pure Silk Dhoties for the men.This Dhoti is a very puzzling garment----it consists of 4 yards of material which has to be draped in a particular manner---tied round the waist,gathered in small pleats which are tucked in at the waist in front, then divided and the central pleat is passed between the legs to be tucked in securely at the waist in the back----the torso is left bare----a Silk Shawl is allowed for those bashful males who don't like leaving their chests bare!!! This Ceremony lasts for 5 days and the Pooja takes place for 5-6 hours every morning.
The "Maaghi Navratra" is dedicated to the Deity and a lot of Her followers make their yearly Pilgrimage to the Temple during this period.The Fair is set up in the huge Compound surrounding the Temple---within the Temple Complex itself.There are colourful Stalls----selling everything one can imagine---Rainbow hued Glass Bangles,Cloths,Jewellery,Traditional Beauty aids-----Bindies,etc. galore!!!!There are lots of traditional Toys----wooden Dolls,Fruits and hand Woven baskets from neighbouring areas.Refreshments too are available in plenty---the scene presented is a busy chaos filled with raucous calls of the vendors.A pall of Dust hangs over the entire scene adding to it's rustic appeal.The Food Stalls,Bangle sellers and the "Kumkum" sellers are what fascinated me the most----the purity of the home made "Kumkum" known as "Pinzar" is a speciality---I ended up buying so much that I still have a one KG. bottle full of the stuff even today!!!The beautiful jewel like sparkle of the Bangles was no less enticing---I must have bought dozens of these-----unfortunately I was forced to give away most----the size was too small to pass over my knuckles !!!
We'd get up early each day and after after bathing and drnking a cup of Tea would head to the Temple by 7.30 a.m. for the Pooja.There we'd sit with the other couples while the Priests guided us through the Rites-----then we'd bifurcate----women to draw large Copper Pots called "Kalshis"of Water from the Sacred Well on the premises and the Men to perform the Sancrosanct Rites-----we'd pour "Kalshi" after "Kalshi" of Water into the huge Copper Cauldron which would empty out as soon as it was filled-----gallons of Water was used for the Ceremonial purification and the Goddess's bath!!!!There used to be lots of good natured ribbing and competition amongst us women to see who'd draw the maximum pots of Water from the Well!!!
It would be past noon by now------all of us would be fasting and then would begin the Ceremony of readying the Goddess in Her finery----a beautiful Ceremony which is sealed like a Jewel in my mind!!!!Her Face,Hands and Feet are made of Gold---She wears a huge Diamond on Her right Hand-----Her Jewellery too is dazzling------only She knows the full extent of Her wealth!!!The final touch would be the application of "Kumkum" to Her forehead----the remaining "Kumkum"smeared leaf would be passed around and all the women would jostle,push and scramble to get a dot---applying the holy "Kumkum" to their foreheads as a blessing----each one praying that she precede her husband in Death!!!By the time all the Rites were over it would be past 2 p.m.-----we'd disperse after the "Aarti"---the ceremonial musical salute to the Deity's greatness!!!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Blogging about Ganesha revived a lot of memories----all related to my most Favourite topic----FOOD!!!!We Indians are very involved with the business of Eating---it's an extremely serious business you know---stuffing your face----and there are certain rules that need to be followed!!!Food is the main reason for my downfall---and my ailments!!!
North to South,East to West----the length and breadth of India swears by the gift of the Gods---Milk.We are addicted to it----and guzzle it by gallons each day in one form or another-----it is drunk plain or made into Yoghurt and Paneer---but it is considered a "complete" Food by all Indians!!!This is the only "pure" Food which has broken the Caste barrier since ancient times---a Brahmin can accept a glass of Milk from all---immaterial of the giver's caste!!!
As a child I loved participating in the wonderful "Langars" or free meals served at the "Gurudwaaras"---Sikh temples--served on their special days.The Food would be served on Plates made from dried Leaves tacked together with thin wood strips and the Curries would be served in bowls made from dried Leaves in the same manner---these added to the flavour of the Food and were easily disposed off in the Manure heap---it used to be totally Eco-friendly!!!.The Food used to be simple and wholesome Food accompanied by their "Halwa" or a pudding made from coarse ground Wheat Floor and Brown Cane Sugar in dollops of Ghee(Clarified Butter)!!!This would be served with huge deep fried Puries----ambrosia to really die for!!!The Food would all be cooked without using Onions or Garlic--considered unfit for pure thoughts---"Taamsi" or things increasing the body temprature and fuelling Anger.Thanks to Amma,I attended a lot of "Pahaadi" ceremonies too---and adored that Food too----simple cooking but with great taste---thick Black Gram Dal,Puries,Halwaa, a Potato Vegetable Curry with a Pulao and Yoghurt---I loved visiting all of Amma's relatives on these Special occasions!!!!!!
The religious Ceremonies too are dictated by Traditional Menus-----Weddings,Poojaas------every auspicious Ceremony has a set Menu.In Maharashtra and Southern India,Traditional Food is served on tender Banana(Plantain)Leaves.These Leaves are washed by sprinkling Water on them and then gently wiped dry----they're very delicate so care has to be taken not to tear them.Food is served from left to right---the first being a pinch of Salt,followed by a freshly cut wedge of Lemon,then hot and spicy Fresh Coriander Chutney.After this comes the red hot spicy Pickle followed by the "Panchaamrut" another spicy Pickle preparation made fresh with Dry Fruits,Green Chillies and Jaggery.This is followed by a " Koshimbir" dry Vegetable Salad,then a Yoghurt based Fruit Raita made with powdered Mustard for an extra zing-----this precedes a "Paatal Bhaaji" or thick Vegetable Curry.The Curry is followed by an "Usal" or tender Green Peas/Lima Beans/Kidney Beans cooked in a particular manner.A dry Vegetable follows the Usal and then comes the bowls of Lentil Curry,Sweet Rice or Vermicelli Pudding(Kheer) or "Shrikhand"(Sweet flavoured Yoghurt).This is followed by the various types of Vegetable Fritters(Bhajiyaas),Papadums and other fried Condiments.By now the Banana Leaf is filled in a semi circular fashion---left to right.In the centre is placed a mould of steamed white Rice which has"Varan"or plain boiled thick Lentil Stew ladled over it with a dollop of "Ghee"(Clarified Butter)poured over it.The bottom of the Leaf is reserved for the Bread---mostly hot fluffy deep fried Puries!!!Tall Glasses of Fresh Buttermilk---"Taak/Matthaa" are placed along with individual Steel Jars and Glasses of Water with each Banana Leaf.Here I must mention that though the use of Potato in preparing one of the Curries is mandatory, all this Food is cooked totally without using any Onion or Garlic---Shallots being the variety of Onions used in Indian cooking.This is called "Saattvik"or pure Food---fit for the Gods!!!Two Plates(Leaves) are set aside----"Naivedyaa" is first presented to the presiding Deity with a Ceremony prescribed by Tradition---the second Leaf is called "Gow Graas" and fed to a Cow---the source of "Amrut"or Heavenly Nectar----only then can one begin to eat the Feast---which has to begin with the Steamed Rice and Varan---again thus ruled by Tradition!!!
I loved all these Ceremonies as child---it was great fun to just participate in all the Ceremonies----totally carefree and without any responsibilities!!!!The "Maha Prasad" Lunches during the Ganesha Festival in my childhood---in the Maharashtra Mandal,Chandigarh------used to be fabulous.Long rows of Grass Mats would be laid out on the floor for seating the participants-------these rows were called "Pangats".The women would decide the traditional Menu and cook the elaborate Meal---------starting early in the morning at day break-----cutting and cleaning the Vegetables needed.They would then serve the Food on the traditional Banana Leaves---bending over double to ensure there was no spillage!!!!The number of people could go up to 500---entire Families participated----Civilians and Defence personnel too------everyone would be present in full strength---including some local non-Maharashtrian guests!!!There'd be a lot of jokes,laughter and bonhomie---the men would be served first along with the children----the women ate last.The men would place bets over finishing a particular item on the Menu---mostly Sweets like crisp "Jilebis/Jalebis" or "Motichoor" Laddus(Sweet Round Balls of tiny Chick Pea Flour deep fried Beads)----those days these would be placed in special "Thalis"(Plates)of Silver or Copper and later Steel-----the winner would get the Thali as a prize!!!!These competitions took place everywhere--Weddings,Naming Ceremonies,Poojas---I know quite a few people who had collected these Thaalis---in various sizes!!!
Then I grew up and became the person cooking these Meals---getting up at 4a.m.---bathing that early---this included washing the hair---and then cooking the Meal---everything had to be ready by 10a.m. for that's when the Priest would arrive to start the Pooja which would last for a good 2-3 hours!!!All this would be exacting and extremely tiring but great satisfaction was 100% guaranteed----the positive vibes could be felt for days after the event in the home!!!Today I'm proud of both my daughters--they too have the stamina to follow all the Rules and cook according to the dictates of Traditional Values.I'm proud of my Culture and of belonging to a Country which still practices an Ancient Religion----the contemporaries of Hinduism---the Egyptian,Sumerian and Mesopotamian Religions faded away many,many centuries back!!!!
Monday, April 26, 2010
Ganesha and I became acquainted very early in my childhood when Amma told me the story of His birth.We use a Herbal Powder(Uttana) mixed with Lentil or Chick Pea Flour,Full Cream and Milk as an application on the body instead of Soap on ceremonial days -----mainly Diwaali and on the New Year Day-----according to theLunar Hindu Calender.
According to legend,Shiva's wife Parvati collected the dried "Uttana" from Her body and formed it in the image of a young boy.She breathed life into Him and asked Him to guard the entrance of the Cave She was bathing in---with explicit instructions to let no one in.After awhile Shiva returned but was prevented from entering by the young Boy----acting on His Mother's instructions.A fight ensued---ending with the Boy's being beheaded by Vishnu's Disc, the "Sudarshan Chakra". Parvati emerged after Her bath to find the Boy lying in a pool of blood---and began lamenting for the Boy---telling all present that She had authorised the Boy to guard the door.Shiva too had cooled down by now---and He sent His followers---Ganaas----to bring the head of a child whose mother was sleeping with her back towards him.The Ganaas searched far and wide and finally found a she Elephant sleeping with her back towards her child.They cut off the head and came back to Kailaasa----Parvati was pained deeply to see the animal head---but was helpless under the circumstances.The Elephant head was placed on the Boy's shoulders----and all the Gods bestowed Him with special powers-------Brahma bestowed Wisdom and Knowledge,Vishnu bestowed the capacity to clear all obstacles present any where in the World and Shiva accepted Him as His son and made Him the "Ganesha"---Lord of all His Followers---the Ganaas!!!!
One Diwaali---I must have been just over 3 years old---the ritual application of the ceremonial "Uttana"(Ubatan) Paste had me protesting at the top of my voice----it felt sticky and yucky in it's touch on the skin though it smelt heavenly----hence the protest-----so Amma diverted me with the story about the birth of Ganesha.She said once the Paste dried she'd rub it off and make me a small Ganesha of my own!!!My curiousity piqued,I became engrossed in the tale-----and in Ganesha!!!!He became a friend---a confidant-----one of those "imaginary" childhood playmates most children talk of.Even today I carry on full conversations with Him and His Father, Shiva.I feel a deep personal bond with Him---in fact He is the one I turn to in need---and to date He has never failed me.I draw all my Positivity and Strength from Him---He has seen me through all my illnesses.I recite 16 of His names daily morning and night----but I don't fast for Him nor am I a regular visitor to any of His Temples----He has blessed me with the capacity to picture Him in my mind's eye---anywhere in the World!!!!I carry Him in my heart always!!!
As Time passed---the Maharashtra Mandal would bring the Idol all the way from Mumbai-----and the Ganesha Festival would be celebrated for 10 days with lots of pomp and cheer ending with with the "Maha Prasad" or Ceremonial Lunch before the immersion of the Idol in the evening on Anant Chaturdashi,the 10th day after His arrival----the day to say a "Good Bye" to him for that year---and to ask Him to return early next year!!!
At my maternal Grandfather's old ancestral home of Saawantwaadi, the Idol is prepared on the premises itself with great care and installed with great Ceremony.Here He stays for just one and a half day----but His presence is celebrated with solemnity and Pujaa---He has His Trunk turning to the Right side instead of the usual Left-----and thus His Pujaa is supposed to have very set and severe rules of worship------care has to be taken to ensure that everything runs like clockwork and there are no glitches and hitches!!!Everything---- from each dish on the Menu to the articles needed for worship is traditional and are kept sancrosanct and utmost care is taken to perform the cooking as well as the Puja in a "Sovala" or a state of utmost cleanliness----meaning that my Uncles and Aunts can't be touched by any of us till the Worship and presentation of the "Naivedyaa" or Ceremonial Food to the Deity is over!!!
After my marriage, He was a regular visitor to our home each year------everyone in the old home loved Him too-------every year Ganesha still graces Nikhil's (Milind's son) home during the 10 day period from Shukla Chaturthi-----Anant Chaturdashi in the month of Bhadrapad.It is a family event----in the old days there used to be lots of hustle bustle , many visitors,loads of Food and noise----today we are more sedate----many who then attended have passed on---many have moved away to the far flung areas---but the first day---the day of His arrival home----all of us including Sudhir's cousins make it a point to attend the Ceremony of His installation and offer their homage.Our Ganesha is a lenient one--His Trunk turns Left---and He is jovial----enjoying all the jokes and bon homie surrounding Him!!!
After we shifted here, He followed us here---of His own volition.We began recieving House warming gifts-------which would come from relatives and friends who visited us .Most often these would be small or tiny idols of Ganesha----Paintings,Pictures,Idols,Etchin
gs---some in Silver,Crystal,Stained Glass,Brass Images,Sand Painting------in every type of material concievable !!!! He sensed our affinity for Him----and He Blessed us with His presence!!!My daughter Sayali used to pass by the famous "Siddhi Vinayaka" on her way to School and back----she claimed that He'd call her to visit Him----no day was fixed for her visit---she just went whenever He called----even today the first thing she still does on arrival in Mumbai is go and visit Him in the Temple.Ganesha has blessed our home with His presence------He has bestowed on us the honour of residing in my home!!!!An entire corner in the "Ishaanyaa" or the North-East direction of my Drawing Room is dedicated to Him-----and is called the Ganesha Corner------in fact I'm running out of space there!!!!I know He'll create His own space-----May He bless me with His Presence and Blessings----always!!!
Friday, April 23, 2010
Each home has it's own persona and a distinctive character----our new home was no exception.The surroundings were truly out of this World---imagine finding a shady Tree lined haven---bang in the middle of the bustling Mega City of Bombay---also called the "Commercial" Capital of India!!!
We moved in on the 23rd.of May 1975----the Pooja took place in the morning followed by the Ceremonial Lunch---and all the Family members except Sudhir ,the two girls and me departed after Dinner---for the first time in our married life we were by ourselves at home----alone!!!!I was caught in the euphoria of it all---the fresh night Breeze wafting in through the windows---accompanied by a faint scent of "Raat Raani" or Night Queen---a very sweet scented Jasmine.Somewhere in the distance somebody was singing a Bhajan---in the "Waadi" or Coconut Grove of the Cottages across the road----the people had gathered together under the Stars to chat.Everything was silent and still---for me it was like being back in Chandigarh----I just lay awake for a long time that night---just listening to the Breeze whispering through the Trees!!!
The Rooster's crowing next morning woke me up-----it was still dark outside-----but I was too excited to go back to bed.I went to the Balcony facing those Cottages and sat in the dark----just drinking the ambience in with each pore of my body-----watching the Dawn change to Day!!!The Doorbell rang at 6.30 a.m.---my domestic help Vithoba had brought the Milk----and the day began in earnest!!!Everything was sparkling new----the Furniture,the Curtains----even my Utensils were mostly brand new---some old Copper and Brass ones were gifted to me by Atya as a remembrance of the earlier generations----but these were just that--show pieces.It was strange to wake up in a different atmosphere----with Birdsong and in the hustle bustle of a Village like atmosphere-----early in the morning the cries of the various Salesmen began sounding----the Sea Salt seller had started making his rounds---pushing his cart along---followed by the Knife Sharpner---then there was the Cloth Merchant with his wares draped across his shoulders----it was as if Time had stood still----how I loved all these things---I was getting re-acquainted with them after a five year gap!!!
The windows of both our Bedrooms face a huge Vegetable Garden-----lush with Spinach when we moved in.There are tall Coconut Palms,Banana Trees,Drumstick Trees-----Jacaranda,Gul Mohar and Laburnum Trees too there------it is a pleasure to stand in the windows-----specially on Moonlit nights in the cooler weather------the Moon plays hide and seek in the swaying fronds of the Palms!!!!This Garden acquires a newly minted ,fresh look during the Rains----the rich loamy scent of the wet Earth surrounds us----it smells like Heaven!!!This farm has a deep Well on the premises---used for watering their fresh grown produce---as well as for other household needs.We buy fresh Spinach,Amaranth,Radishes or whichever leafy Green Vegetable they grow in rotation----as well as tiny Egg Plants and the pale Green Monsoon Ladyfingers(Okra)during the Rains from these Folks.The view is breathtaking from my side of the Bed----clear or dark Grey cloudy Skies----according to the Season----- with waving Coconut Fronds etched on it.
In the 1st year here I had Vithoba who had been with us for 20+years and was a trusted family retainer---Atya entrusted our household domestic jobs to him.He lived with us and slept in the Domestics' room downstairs--coming up early each morning with the Milk and leaving after washing the Dinner Dishes.Unfortuately his wife was diagnosed with Cancer so he had to go back to the Village to care for her---and I joined the ranks of those who employed"suttya Baika" or freelancing domestic help.These women worked freelance in a certain number of homes---their timing and wage were fixed according to the chores they did.For the past 34 years this system has worked fine with me----my Chhaaya Bai has been with me since 1990----her younger sister-in-law Vanita since 1997------so help wise I'm set---Thank God for His Blessings!!!!
The Cottages across the road were the most fascinating--I loved seeing their daily routine!!!Those days the Mills were still working------and the folk living in those Cottages were working there.For the first 5 years after we shifted here there used to be lots of activity in those Cottages---Weddings,"Baarseys"/"Naamkarans
"(Christenings),Get Togethers--- and Poojas galore----specially during the month of Shravan(mid July-mid August)----there used to be festive air around always thanks to all these activities.There would be Cloth Canopies in the various doorways,loudspeakers would blare out the appropriate types of Songs all day ----this would last till past mid-night-----there would be lots of"Varaats/ Baraats" or Bridal Processions---Girls would get married and move away----new Brides would move in as daughters-in-law!!!They were truly halycyon days-----wonderful to recall as memories!!!
Then disaster struck---the Mill Workers went on Strike---and all the prosperity across the road went down the drain!!!Jobs went--Mills suffered lock-outs----pandemonium reigned---and those first 5 years turned into an old memory----never to regain it's lustre again.Women---even those who had never worked outside their home------stepped out to work in our homes as hired help----it was a saddening time for us all!!!The "Waadi" was being developed into a Housing Society but due to lack of Funds the Construction was left incomplete-----the earlier peacefull environment had totally disappeared.This empty shell of a Building stood for almost 20 years till a settlement was reached in Court.Till then this empty shell would come alive during the Monsoons as a Playground for children living in the Shanties----also it was a popular base during the Kite flying Winter Season!!!
Today there is Construction going on there---gusts of Dust float across the Street----covering everything with a fine film.The Tower will be 27 Storeys high----those beautiful days are now a part of memory----I wish I had photographed the sight before it faded away!!!
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