03 September 2019

Ganesh festival - then and now

Having spent 2 decades of my life in Gujarat, I became exposed to the Ganapati celebrations primarily after I moved to Pune at the age of 21.

I got to see the celebrations in a relative's home as well as in our housing society. Ever since our daughter came into the picture, I even experienced the whole Ganapati idol-making, decorating, welcome and farewell with dhol-tasha, Ganesh prati-sthapana pooja, prasad and various cultural events / sports.

When my daughter turned 2, I started maintaining a scrap book in which I pasted Ganesh pictures that came in newspapers, magazines etc. for her collection. I was awed by the creativity shown in the making of Ganesh sculptures as well as the various advertisements in the paper on occasion of Ganesh chaturthi. Not only the idols, but also the innovative decorations that people came up with at their homes and in their societies. The different "dekhave", meaning themes, for Ganapati celebrations were mindblowing. The colors, materials, rangolis, flower decorations, modak preparations, delicacies served during the 10 days at homes, pandals, restaurants etc. There are contests for the Ganesh / Gauri decorations and one of our neighbors used to win it year after year.

The themes now span across desserts, Avengers superheros, political situations, movies - you name it. Though this is similar to the Durga pooja furore in West Bengal and Navrathri Golu in Tamilnadu - this kind of excitement not only provides for social engagements, it also benefits the economy. Earlier, I used to be super impressed by the grandeur of it all - but over the years I am moved more by the simplicity in the execution of these festivals. Somewhere along the way, the real reason for the festivities is lost and it became a holiday and fun season. Simplicity and sobriety are so much more attractive - guess its my age :-)

But I love how my daughter and her friends are totally caught up in the fever of this festival every year. Culture and tradition beat the entertainment provided by the malls any day !

24 August 2019

Janmashtami special - The Krishna key

I was regaling my daughter with the story of Krishna on the occasion of 'Janmashtami' today.

Though He enjoys God status (avatar of Vishnu), the things that come to mind when we think of Krishna are a god-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, and as the universal supreme being. A song keeps playing in my mind - "O Krishna, you are the greatest musician, of this world!" He is also known for His practical wisdom(Bhagwad Gita), political savvy and natural charisma. The last quality is what endeared Him to his disciples so much that He is seldom thought of on the same formidable lines as other Gods. The word Krishna means "dark" or "all attractive".

Some lesser known facts about Krishna-
  • He is a pan-Hindu god, but is particularly revered in some locations such as Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, Jagannatha in Odisha, Mayapur in West Bengal, Dwarka and Junagadh in Gujarat, Pandharpur in Maharashtra, Udupi in Karnataka, Nathdwara in Rajasthan and Guruvayur in Kerala.
  • Krishna related literature has inspired numerous performance arts such as Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Manipuri dance.
  • In the event of 'Ras leela', Krishna danced with the Gopis, and it was such that each Gopi thought that she was dancing with Krishna alone.
  • Krishna granted Eklavya a boon after he sacrificed his thumb to Dronacharya. He was granted another incarnation as Dhrishtadyumna, who stepped out of the yajna fire, to kill Dronacharya.
  • Pandavas were related to Krishna from his mother’s side. Their mother, Kunti, was the sister of Vasudev, the father of Krishna. 
  • He brought back the son of his guru, Sandipani, who was dead. Therefore, he paid his Gurudakshina to Sage Sandipani.
  • He is part of the Jain religion. He is represented as one of the Triads, named Vasudeva.
  • It’s believed that Krishna was a “Manifestation of God”, or one of the prophets who has revealed the “Word of God” to people on Earth. Therefore, it’s said that he shares a powerful image with Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus.
  • The medieval era arts of Vietnam and Cambodia feature Krishna. The earliest surviving sculptures and reliefs are from the 6th and 7th century, and these include Vaishnavism iconography.
  • Across the various theologies and philosophies, the common theme presents Krishna as the essence and symbol of divine love, with human life and love as a reflection of the divine.

26 May 2019

Musings from my Mussoorie trip

After a rejuvenating vacation to the queen of hills - Mussoorie, I felt like penning some of my thoughts. It was rejuvenating not only because it was a hill station that offered some much-needed respite from the harsh temperatures of Pune. But also because it was getting really exhausting to multi-task amongst daughter's various summer vacation activities, housework in absence of absconding maids and pile of work at the office.

Got to spend an entire week with the family amidst verdant surroundings and clean mountain air. Experienced a variety of climate - tremendous heat, rain as well as cold. But it was a good break from the monotony of city life, the constant distraction of gadgets (we managed to escape the cacophony of election result) and general demands of various people.

Have been to other hill stations in the past too viz. Gangtok, Manali, Coorg, Mahabaleshwar (Simla and Ooty had been during childhood and don't remember much) etc. But somehow this one left a lasting impression. What left an indelible mark from the entire trip is the charm and simplicity of life on a small hill station. While Gangtok is similar to Mussoorie in terms of landscape and cleanliness, the variety in food and activity of Mussoorie is quite impressive. Plus, no offense, but the whole place(Sikkim) seems alien from India in terms of its culture, food etc. Coorg is quite scenic too but the personality of the place is not as strong as Mussoorie. Manali has a lot to offer but the journey is arduous and it is too commercialized and crowded.

Mussoorie is truly the queen of hills. The views are breathtaking. The weather is volatile and the landscape is winding. Every act is an effort, every walk a trek; yet the people are smiling, helpful and maintain the place very well. The restrooms were always clean (with zero stink) and there was never any litter to be found anywhere. There are temples, gurudwaras, masjids, churches and monastaries in and around Mussoorie- its quite a diverse culture! Food-wise its paneer and maggi land, but other cuisines (Indian as well as international) are available too. Curd and lassi are pretty rampant too - yet I never saw a single cow/buffalo/goat throughout. Wonder where all the milk is coming from! Among tourists, the most common languages to be heard were Gujarati (no surprises there!) followed by Marathi (surprise!). Our resort had many Maharashtrians and it seemed that we had not ventured far from our home state :-)

Culture wise, we experienced Delhi, UP and Uttarakhand cultures. We traveled by road from Delhi airport to Mussoorie (had to cross entire state of UP in between), so experienced Dhaba food to big city restaurants at Dehradun. Dehradun is quite a huge city (I had it pinned as a quaint one for some reason) and suitable as the capital city of Uttarakhand. Passed quite a few familiar names viz. Meerut, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar etc. Even passed Modinagar (the city established by Nirav Modi) and it has an aura of its own. It made me curious as to why a person who had so much clout & money here, needed to commit fraud, and is now a fugitive, running from country to country.

There is quite a lot to do too. Right from adventure sports, trekking, water sports, boating, sight seeing to religious pilgrimages. Haridwar, Hrishikesh are quite close by and can get a view of Kedarnath, Badrinath from the topmost point - Laal Tibba (8000 ft.). There are ropeways, waterfalls, horse riding, zoos, a national park in Dehradun. There a quite a few educational institutions - Doon school being one of the famous ones. Also, the respected IAS academy; however we were not allowed to visit any of them. The literary circle is strong too. Ruskin Bond, a popular children's author from Landour (very close to Mussoorie) is a famous local celebrity. He is a regular at one of the bookshops where he comes for book signing every Saturday. Got a few of the signed copies of his latest book, which released just a week ago on his 85th birthday - "Coming round the mountain". Bond, as you might know, is a Britisher who chose to settle in Dehradun, and then Landour, and writes books for the youth. Thus, this place has foreigners as part of its culture too!

I had read books about Garhwal and Mussoorie by different authors earlier and always felt the authors had rich imaginations to cook up such diverse characters amongst a colorful and adventurous backdrop. But turns out it was not out of their imagination only, the life in these hills is really varied and unique! And yes, let me not forget the shopping.  A lot of the shops have products from Kashmir though there are products from other states too. The shawls and embroidered dress materials are quite good- especially on Mall road. Its a great place to walk end to end. There are ropeways for Kempty falls, Gun Hill point, or you can choose to trek instead. Also, the Company garden has an awesome variety of colorful flora.

All in all, a truly memorable trip. The idea of driving to Mussoorie instead of flying to Dehradun turned out to be a winner. Got to experience the lovely woods, giant trees, brick kilns, sprawling sugarcane and vertical potato farms, jaggery factories, witnessed litchies in abundance (their season is still a month away so could not taste any) and saw lots of monkeys and langurs. Our cab driver (from Rajasthan) kept us entertained with a lot of stories and anecdotes - its refreshing to understand the world from their viewpoint! Though we conversed in Marathi, which was completely alien to him, he could interject apposite remarks in between thus proving that language is no barrier to true communcation! We wondered at the architectural marvels there; regular buildings built on vertical landscape - our resort was one such property. The electricity keeps going, the rains come and go, it turns hot or cold in the blink of an eye or smoggy on other days. Yet life goes on and there is never a moment of boredom.

28 December 2018

Australia - Diwali 2018 (Kesari tours)

This year the plan was to visit Australia – best time to visit is November. Hence, we sacrificed our usual May vacation and saved our leaves for the big one. Unfortunately, our usual travel companions could not make it at this time. My mother was eager to join though.

With an 8-year-old, and a senior citizen, we figured we needed to join forces with a competent travel companion to ensure a smooth vacation. That’s how we sought the services of Kesari tours. Turned out to be the best decision!