Monday, May 03, 2010
Vacations have an aura around them------the very mention of these relaxes the tense muscles and soothes frayed nerves-----that's way I react to them!!!!For me the thought of just not hurrying around all the time-------just the thought is such a boon!!!
Since childhood Vacations have been special for me----apart from the Home Work alloted to us during the longest Vacation----May to July---which fell in the middle of the School year-----filled with hot,hot Summer days!!!!We also had Vacations for Diwali and Christmas---the weather would range from balmy and cool in October-November for Diwali to cold and chilly during the Winters in December.Christmas----that was a fabulous Vacation---thanks to it being the year ending!!!Life started anew after that---a New Year and a New Class,Books------I can still remember the beautiful smell of those new books!!!!
The Seasons all had a special flvour to them----the Summer Vacations brought with them Watermelons and Cantaloupes grown in the Desert of Rajasthan-----ripened in the hot Sands under a blazing Sun---full of juicy sweetness!!!!There were also the wild Mangoes gathered from the Trees growing wild----these too used to burst with sweet juice----we'd just wash them and suck the Juice later eating all the remaing pulp on the Skin and Seeds-----till there was nothing but the white Seed and thin Skin left!!!These Fruits used to be kept in a Tin Tub filled with Water to cool them down-----all Mangoes,Watermelons and Cantaloupes.A favourite after Dinner Dessert was flavoured Watermelon------a large chunk would be cut in the rind of the Watermelon---and a mixture made from 70-75% Rooh Afza(an Indian Sherbet) and 25-30%Water would be poured into the inside of the Fruit.The chunk would be replaced in it's original position on the Rind to seal the Fruit----this would be placed in Water leaving the cut part of the Rind above the level of Water---and set aside for the whole day.At night the Watermelon would be cut up and eaten----it used to be Heaven to eat it---with the Juice dripping down our chins!!!In June the deep Red juicy Cherries,Plums,velvety Apricots and Peaches,Pears would all descend on the markets from the hilly regions of the Himalayan Foot Hills----Figs,Litchies,Loquats and the cultivated species of Mangoes,seedless White Grapes----my mouth's watering----I better stop!!!
The Diwaali Vacations meant loads of Fun for us----Mummy's frienfds and their children would arrive by 10.30 a.m. each morning for a week before the Festival---the women carrying their Kerosene Stoves and raw Ingredients for the various Maharashtrian snacks.Since we had a Cook,Lunch was no problem----we kids would have a great time---sneaking onto the back Porch where our mothers were busy rolling out, roasting,deep frying,or binding various traditional Sweets and Savouries-----various Laddus,Chirotey(Saat Padi),Shankarpaaley,Chakli,Chivda,Sheva,An
arsey----too many to list here!!!These were stored in huge Steel drums called"Saaths" and these drums could accomodate a minimum quantity of 15 Kgs. at a time----today I salute their capacity to make three different items daily by Tea time using such primitive equipment!!!All this would stop in the evenings when all the fathers too would congragate at our home after leaving their Offices!!!After that Daddy'd insist on everyone leaving after Dinner----we'd be a minimum of 30-35 people daily for Dinner those days!!!Even today the memory uplifts my mood each time I remember those days---------hospitality had a different meaning and wore a more welcoming look then!!!!
The Winter Vacation too had it's own characteristics------the markets would be flush with our favourite Vegetables----milky white Cauliflowers,crisp white Radishes,juicy Green Peas,sweet Red Carrots,ripe Red Tomatoes-----everything would be organically grown both in Kitchen Gardens and on the Vegetable Farms.The juicy "maltas" were a Winter speciality---like an Orange but extremely sweet and juicy these were consumed by the dozens!!!These days were a hub of delicious activity----"Aamla" the Indian Gooseberry would flood the markets as would tiny sweet red juicy Carrots---these would be cooked in Sugar Syrup(Murabba) and preserved for the coming year---a favourite accompaniment to our meals!!!So also the wonderful Sweet and Spicy Pickle made from Cauliflowers,Turnips and Carrots---this Pickle would cook in the Winter Sunlight in Ceramic Jars ----with cloths tied round mouths of these Jars------ drinking in the Sun's rays!!!These were the days of thick creamy Soups and roasting Potatoes,Sweet Potatoes and Yams n the fire burning in the Fireplace of the Drawing Room!!!
The smell of cooking Sugar Cane Juice would hang in the air near the Sugar Cane Plantations----huge Iron Woks would be placed on white hot "Bhattis" or Stoves built into the ground to retain their heat.These would be fuelled by the flat chips of the Juice removed Sugar Canes--------it used to be a hive of activity.The best part was to join these farmers for Lunch----simple fare of Corn Bread,Mustard Greens,globs of fresh White Butter and the huge Punjabi Glasses of frothing creamy "Lassi"( Butter Milk)!!!This and many more similar memories even today leave me replete with satisfaction and happiness---I have lived those wonderful days----to my heart's content---so no regrets moving on.
After my marriage Vacations meant getting up in a more leisurely fashion---I'd be up at Dawn for getting everything organised for the morning Rush Hour-----by 8.30 a.m. the house would be empty----leaving me gasping for breath----hence an extra half hour in bed would work wonders!!! Luckily the School and Court Vacations always coincided---so we'd plan our Trips and book our Tickets----this way we travelled over most of the Indian Sub-Continent.The Indian Railways those days were a joy---we all loved the Food the Railways provided----it added a special spice to the Journey-----besides certain Stations on the Routes were famous for their Specialities----Baroda and Godhra for Masala Milk and Ice Creams,Mathura for it's fresh and soft Pedhas,Karnal for it's spicy Chholay Bhaturey,Agra for it's Petha------so many places---so many flavours----so so many beautiful memories----today I carry a treasure trove in my mind's eye!!!!!!
Today we lead a sedentary life---the day begins early---normally by 7a.m. then Tea,Yoga,Breakfast-----Sudhir leaves for Court by 10.30a.m. and my help arrives by 11 a.m.----cooking,getting the House organised---and then Lunch---finally SP---till about 4.30p.m. after which Yoga again on the Terrace,my evening "Adda" in the Compound wih my "Cronies",Dinner at 8p.m. sharp---and to bed by 9-9.30 p.m.----it's not a very heavy schedule as such---but still Vacation beckons!!!Vacations are still a laid back period for relaxing and destressing---unwinding your daily routine to a more leisurely pace---even if you don't venture out the daily rhythm changes!!!!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The Temple itself is a simple White washed building----it's Priests live on the premises in large homesteads called the "Vaadas" next to the Temple.They do not use any Onion or Garlic in their Food--ever---- and devote all their lives to serving the Goddess----hereditary service is taught to each generation from childhood!!!Each particular "Gotra" or set of people have the same Priest----marriage within the same Gotra though not forbidden is not very popular!!!
The beautiful surroundings of the ancient Temple are very picturesque.The Pagoda styled single storied Temple rests like a Diamond set in a Green Ring----the backdrop of a thickly wooded Shady Hill at the back and surrounded by lush Emerald Green Paddy Fields.The atmosphere is laden with the heady Perfumes of all the Wild Flowers blooming in the Hill at the back----the thick Wood resounding with Birdsong as well!!!The deep Cerulean Blue of the Sky sets the perfect foil for all the Colours to glow like jewels------no human hand can match the perfection of this canvas!!!The road meanders lazily through this landscape----the serenity and stillness of the atmosphere adds to the mystique and charm----highlighting it's Timelessness!!!
The Temple itself dates back to the late 1500s or mid 1600s---it was rebuilt many yers after the Potuguese invasion and occupation.The large Temple Complex also houses the offices of the Saraswat Trust and the rooming Units built to accomodate the Devotees during the "Maaghi" Navratra which falls during the period of the waxing Lunar cycle----say roughly in February/March.Reservations are made almost a year in advance for the Devotees who wish to occupy these Units or "Blocks" as they are called--consisting of a large multi purpose Room,a Kitchen and a Toilet and Bathroom---let out by the Trust for a nominal rent.We were lucky both times we visited to get a ringside view of all the Ceremonies and Rituals from the Balcony on the 1st(2nd.) floor.Many Devotees have formed bonds with the locals----each time they come down to the Temple,these women appear to do their domestic chores!!!
The Ceremoniesof the Nav ratra(Nine Nights) include a nightly Procession of the Goddess in various Vehicles----Chariots,Palanquins and Birds----of this the Solid Gold "Palkhi" or Palanquin reserved for the fifth day and the Solid Silver Peacock are two of the most dazzling "Vahanas"or Vehicles----both created from the Gold and Silver presented to the Goddess by grateful Devotees for fulfilling their various wishes and dreams.The Deity is dressed in gloriously coloured Silk nineyard Saries-----and decked with Jewellery in Gold with a surfeit of precious Gems---Rubies,Diamonds,Emeralds,saphires--
-of ancient lineage and the highest quality---it is unforgivable to offer anyting of lesser or cheaper value to Her---this holds true of Saaries,Jewellery,Gold,Silver and even the Pearls She wears.
The Procession begins after 9p.m. each night---lit by the huge Silver lamps---the Air scented with Incense and the intoxicating heady perfume of the various types of the Jasmine garlands adorning Her Person and mode of transport----the beautiful Hymns sung in melliflous and melodious tones-----all add to create a surreal atmosphere---one is transported to a place where only the Moment--the NOW exists---all else just fades away into oblivion!!!!
The Deity is very real---She communicates through Her priests by giving Signs called "Kauls"---all gathered ask for Her Permission to leave---and sometimes She witholds it in certain cases--those people denied Her leave continue to serve her devotedly without a murmur till She relents and lets them go.Those nine days we all eat "Sattvik" or pure Food----I used to fast on Bananas and Milk-----the rest not eating any Non-Vegetarian or Vegetarian Food containing Onion or Garlic----to keep the body pure till the Rituals are over. Those performing the "Maha Rudra" or the "Laghu Rudra" Ceremonies fast till all the rites are performed----5 days for the former and 1 day for the latter.Those days there used to be "Maha Prasad" served daily in the huge Dining Hall of the Temple---served on Banana Leaves and sponsored by various Donors---singly or togther in groups----the Feast would go on for 3-4 hours each afternoon----She alone knows how many people participated-----there used to be a never ending queue!!!!
We have been blessed to take part in the "Maha Rudra" in 1978 and the "Laghu Rudra" in 1983---both times staying at the Temple and taking part in all the Religious festivities------the indescribably exhiliarating feeling of being gathered close to Her Heart envelopes me still.Today She is my Mother---I confide in Her,ask Her advice or unburden my soul to Her in Her warm embrace.Our relationship today is one is to one and very personal-----a deep bond beyond all the Rites,Rituals and Ceremonies dictated by orthodox Worship.Today I no longer need to seek Her out---She makes Her Presence felt around me----I know that She is there with me---and always will be!!!!
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!!!!
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