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Ganagour Festival

The third day of the Hindu new year is celebrated as the ‘Ganagour Festival’ in Rajasthan and by all rajasthanis in any part of the world. The festival actually begins from the day following ‘Holi’ and is a sixteen day festival.

During this festival, goddess Parvati (as Ganagour), along with her husband lord Shiva (as Isarji), are worshipped by young girls and women. Young girls pray to the goddess so that they can get a good husband and the married ones pray for the long lives, health and prosperity of their husbands. Women offer prayers for sixteen days or just on the last day as they wish. Newly wed brides have to offer prayers for the duration of the sixteen days. During these sixteen days women get together, and programs are organized which includes a lot of singing and dancing. Ganagour fairs are also organized at many places.

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Women apply henna just before the last day of the festival.

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The last day is the day when Ganagour goes back to her husband’s home with him.  So women and girls keep a fast, offer prayers to the Ganagour, dress her up, offer sweets and tell each other stories about Ganagour and Isarji.

DSCN0743gathered for the ‘pooja’..

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Apart from all the colorful festivities, what I like the most about all our festivals is that how our ancient sages, philosophers and thinkers wove some social message or included an ideal way of life into all our festivals. Here, after the pooja (offering prayers), women tell and listen to stories of Ganagour and Isarji. These stories carry with them messages of how how to lead a happy married life without too many frictions or misunderstandings. They become all the more relevant in India because in India the marriage is not just between two individuals but between two families and the onus of maintaining a happily balanced relationship between the two automatically falls on the women folk.

Here, I’ve shown and written about Ganagour as we celebrate it, and it may differ from region to region. In some places idols of Ganagour and Isarji are worshipped whereas we perform the pooja on a wall painting.

Happy New Year!!!

Today marks the New Year according to the Hindu calender, the ‘Vikram Samvat’ and the year that begins is V.S.2070. The new year falls on the first day of the waxing moon of the month of ‘Chaitra’. This day also marks the first day of the ‘Navratri’ or nine days during which goddess Durga is worshipped. The ninth day or the Navmi is also the birthday of  Lord Ram hence the day is called Ram-navmi. So the new years brings a whole lot of festivities along.

In Rajasthan, the third day of the new year, is celebrated as the ‘Gangour Festival’. This festival is celebrated by the women- folk and is by far one of the most colorful festivals. The women pray to goddess Parvati, the consort of  Lord Shiva and the feminine power of the world (goddess Durga is the warrior incarnate of Parvati to slay the demons and restore balance to the world).

Wishing all a very Happy New Year!!!

Happy Holi!!!

Its Holi today!! The festival of colors, of joy and celebrations. It is a major festival of our country along with Diwali, and falls on the full moon day of the month of ‘Falgun’.DSCN0668

On the evening of the full moon day, bonfires or ‘Holika’ are lit. This bonfire symbolizes the victory of good over evil. The story goes that Prahlad, the son of demon Hiranyakashipu, was an ardent devotee of lord Vishnu, but his father considered Vishnu as his arch enemy. He tried to dissuade his son from worshipping Vishnu, but could not deter him. Angered, he then tried to kill his son but every time lord Vishnu saved him. Finally Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika decided to do the job for her brother. She had a shawl that was immune to fire. She covered herself with the shawl and sat on the pyre with Prahlad. As the fire blazed, a gust of wind blew the shawl off Holika, onto Prahlad , saving him from death and killing Holika. Hiranyakashipu was later slain by lord Vishnu’s  ‘Narsimha’ avatar, in which he came as half man and half lion form.narsimha

On the next day, called Dhuleti or Dhulandi, people celebrate by coloring each other with colored water and gulal (dry colored powder). It is a mixed celebration of spring and also marks the agricultural season of Rabi crop.DSC_1800

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DSC_1812children playing Holi with colors and water guns

Holi of Braj, the land of Krishna,is the most famous and colorful. The  “lathmaar holi” of Barsana, the land of Radha (Krishna’s beloved) symbolizes the love of Radha and Krishna. The men from Nandgaon (Krishna’s village) visit Barsana on Holi. They sing songs, try to draw the attention of the women folk and drench them in colored water. The women, in turn, beat the men with thick staves or ‘lathi’ as they are called. The men have to save themselves from them using shields.18-lathmarholi

Special sweets and savouries are prepared in the homes.  Friends and family get together  to play holi and enjoy the special food with cool Thandai to round off with. Its a festival of fun, excitement and joy.

May this Holi fill your life with all colors of joy, happiness, love and prosperity!!

Happy Holi!!

Happy Women’s Day!!

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”

                                                                                                                                                     -Diane Mariechild

jan 052For the girl child

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jan 087a young bride

jan 038 three generations of mothers and daughters-in-law 

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Happy Women’s Day!!!

Vasant Panchami : our own Valentine’s day

The world is in the Valentine’s day mode. Everywhere you look, you see red.. literally. Everyone out there is trying to woo out the moolah from your pockets by selling Love. The restaurants, the showrooms for clothes, jewellery, gift items, shoes, home appliances and even gyms and travel industry are going ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ reminding you constantly that you have to celebrate valentine’s day or else you will have wasted a year of your life. The chocolate makers (both company and home made), florists and card companies have gone into the overdrive, stocking up for the day!!

How the trend started in India I don’t quite remember, but as a child I have no memory of a Valentine’s day. It was around the time I was in college, that the winds of Valentine coated love arrived on our shores. It was limited to the bigger cities at first but the winds of consumerism and the idea of selling love by various industries quickly carried it to all parts of the country.

In the mad rush to follow this imported version of a ‘Love Day’ , we forgot that we have our own valentine’s day, that has been around for as long as one can think of. The colour of our Valentine’s day is- Yellow and its called the ‘Vasant Panchmi’.

Vasant Panchmi falls on the fifth day of Magh month of the Indian calendar. Vasant means- Spring and Panchami- the fifth day. It marks the official beginning of spring. It is one of the most auspicious day in the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated mostly in the northern regions of the country.

saraswati1[1]Goddess Saraswati (this image has been used so much that I can’t really trace the source)

Traditionally, this day is celebrated as the day of goddess Saraswati –  goddess of knowledge, wisdom and music. Prayers are offered to the goddess in all educational institutes of the country. Children receive their first lessons on this day. Years ago, as a child, I remember, people living within a particular area would get together and erect a pavilion for the goddess where we would offer our prayers. Music and singing competitions would be held in the evening for all age groups and it would be a major ‘outside day’ after the cold winters. Kites are also flown in many parts of the country.

This day is also celebrated as the day of ‘Kamadev’- the Hindu god of love and lust (aka Cupid). He brings spring to the lands and arouses the feeling of love into the hearts of the people. Nature itself celebrates the season of love as the trees sprout new leaves, flowers bloom and and the weather turns warm and bright.

Marriages take place on this day as it is considered auspicious for the couples wanting to step into matrimony and don’t need to consult the date of births, positions of planets and constellations for a suitable marriage date, as this day is  considered good for all couples.

kashmir beauty (121)Yellow Mustard Fields

Yellow is the color of the day, as the fields of Punjab and Haryana turn golden yellow with mustard blossoms. People wear yellow clothes, (women wear bright yellow shades and men, the much subdued tints of yellow). In our homes (we are from Rajasthan, hence Rajasthanis) the food prepared is also yellow colored- mostly sweet rice colored yellow with saffron and in combination with yellow seasoned and salted rice.

meethe chawalSweet Rice (source-madcookingfusions.com)

This year the Vasant Panchmi falls on the 15th February, a day after the Valentine’s day. Wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s day and a Happy Vasant Panchami.

some links

calendarlabs.com

about.com

Hopey New Year

No, you aren’t reading it wrong!! Today, is the last day of the year. Normally, I’m planning to go out partying with friends, deciding what to wear, where to meet up, etc. But this year somehow that new year cheer is absent. The incidents of last few days have left me shaken up. During the last 15 days I wrote two or three posts that are lying in their respective folders. I’ve been unable to post them because I felt that no words  of mine could fully do justice to all that I feel after that heinous crime against that young girl in Delhi.

A young ordinary girl, who had simple dreams for her life, was savagely brutalized. A young life snuffed out. But what made me happy was the way the common people have taken up her cause, taken up the fight for justice. I’ve always been very skeptical about the people of my country. They’ve seemed to have very short memories, in the past. Surely, this isn’t the first case where a woman’s honour and her right to live with dignity has been brutalised? But once the hub-hub of the case died down, they forgot all about them and went back to their lives. But this time, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The people aren’t letting up, not even with all the attempts to put down the protests, by our insensitive politicians in the parliament and elsewhere in the country. In fact, they are the ones who have shamed me the most. Shamed, because I’ve been party to electing them.

So I usher in this new year with great hope, despite the sadness in my heart. I hope that the un-named girl and all the other girls/women who have suffered the brutality on their bodies and minds, get the justice they deserve, swiftly. I hope we grow into a nation who is more sensitive towards their women-folk. I hope that our politicians and lawmakers will treat  the people, protesting for a just cause, as the citizens of this country who elected them to power and not as terrorists. I hope that we become a nation where a girl will be safe in the womb AND outside it. I hope that my daughter will be safe in this country.

Hopey New Year to everyone!!

Some links about the incident

wikipedia

hindustan times

reuters

the hindu

the guardian

Nilanjana roy

going bananas

 

Stop Polluting The Rivers

A few weeks ago read an article in the newspaper, with the headline -‘Ganga now a deadly source of Cancer’. The holy Ganga; Ganga who washes away all our sins; our mother Ganga- it is a poisonous river today.She’s a dead river and who does she have to thank for her sad demise? Her own sons and daughters- the people of this land, who on  one hand give her the status of a Goddess, performing puja and Maha-aarti and on the other hand dump all the poisonous wastes, garbage, and worse, dead bodies, in the name of religion- have murdered her. And this is not the condition of the Ganga alone. Take any river of this country- they are either dead or dying a slow painful death.

I have an incident to narrate. Soon after our marriage, my husband and me, along with my parents-in-law, went for the customary pilgrimage to the holy lands of Lord Krishna- Mathura, Vrindavan and Mt.Govardhan. Holy river Yamuna- beloved of lord Krishna- flows through these lands, and is revered by the people just as equally as the Ganga.

One day, after performing puja on the banks of river Yamuna, the priest asked us( hubby and me) to take some river water in our hands and put it in our mouth( Aachaman). Looking at the water infested with floating garbage, plastics, mosquitoes and other insects, I was horrified at the idea. All the pious feelings flew out of my head. I could not put that water in my mouth and on the other hand did not want to look bad in the eyes of my in-laws so early in the marriage. I stole a glance at my husband and was relieved to see him equally disgusted. We both made an act of putting our hands to our lips and completed the puja. And this was 22 years ago. I dread to think what its condition might be now.

Not going very far- we live on the banks of the River Sabarmati. As I mentioned here ,(its looking clean in those pictures because that was just after the monsoons when the river had a lot of water flowing. Now with the lower levels of water the garbage has all come to the surface), its being developed as a river-front, and that’s where I go for my morning walks/jogs.The cool morning breeze, the variety of land and water birds that I get to see, all give me joy, but the condition of the river distresses me. The other day just as I was warming up for my jog, I saw two polythene bags filled with garbage land in the river, thrown by someone on the bridge.

Now, people of my country believe that anything that has been used for puja must not be thrown into the garbage bin but into a river or a major water body. So the river is full of floating flowers(at times, neatly packed in plastic bags), coconuts,pieces of fabric and all other kinds of materials- all in different stages of decay. making the river look like a giant dumping area.

I don’t claim to be a scholar of our holy texts, but I would really like to know where our religion tells us to use our rivers as a refuse dump.

During the last occasion of of Ganesh Festival, the government initially put a ban on immersing the Ganesh idols( mostly made of poisonous and non-biodegradable POP) into the river.Immediately all the Hindu outfits rose up to protest, to allow them to exercise their religious rights. The government had to relent but thankfully they prepared huge tanks on the river banks , filled with river water, where the idols could be immersed without causing too much damage to the river.

But I ask, is it also not the duty of the Hindus to take care of their rivers, to keep them clean and pristine, so they can really be called ‘Holy’.

And we can’t just leave the responsibility of keeping our rivers clean on the governments or the civic bodies. They can only do so much.We, each of us, as the sons and daughters of the rivers, have responsibility towards them. They give life to people,they nourish and sustain us. If all of us do our little bit towards keeping them clean, they will once again regain their glory. I have vowed never to throw anything into the river again.

So this Diwali, I simply collected everything after the puja and instead of throwing them into the river (as I did every year), I threw them into the bin. Feeling satisfied having done my bit, even if that means I have to burn in hell for eternity.

Posting some pictures of the river. I did not want to, because I felt it was like showing my ugly side to the world that is normally kept hidden away.DSCN0163

DSCN0168the garbage becomes a perching site for the pond heron

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Navaratri Festival

It’s time yet again for one more major festival- the Navratri. If the month of Shrawan (according to Hindu calendar) is reserved for the worship of Lord Shiva, which may be considered as the ‘masculine power’ that governs the world, the Navratris is the time when Parvati, Shiva’s wife and the ‘feminine power’  or ‘Shakti’ is celebrated and worshiped as the various forms of Goddess Durga. Goddess Durga is worshiped all over the country during these days but it is celebrated as a major festival in Bengal (as Durga Puja) and in Gujarat (as the Navratri).

According to the Hindu mythology, the demons prayed to Lord Bramha or Lord Shiva and performed severe penance in order to get boons from them that made them almost immortals. Thus empowered, they started harassing the people, creating a chaos in the universe and harming the religion. Since the Gods were powerless against them, they asked Godess Parvati for help and she took the forms of Goddess Durga, and others like goddess Kali, Chamunda, Amba, etc. and destroyed the demons, finding loopholes in their boons. The demons actually represent the human fallacies like pride,ego, greed, anger, lust, etc. This festival is celebrated as the victory of good over evil.

In Gujarat, Goddess Durga is represented in the form of a perforated earthen or metal pot (silver, brass,steel) with an earthen lamp inside( which is kept lighted for nine days), called the ‘Garba’. The women worship the goddess in this form for nine days. At night they form a circle around the Garba or carry it on their heads, sing devotional songs for the goddess and dance(Garba)  to the beats of the drums while clapping their hands to the rhythm.

That was then. The festival grew out of the homes and small neighborhoods to bigger and better places. It took the form of the ‘world’s longest dance festival’. It has become more and more commercial with every passing year with traditional songs replaced by the more popular Bollywood songs, moved to bigger venues like clubs, farm houses, etc., more money being poured in to woo people to earn even more money from them, the dress code going from simple chaniya-cholis (long skirt, blouse and stoles) to more complex and costly chaniya-cholis and getting more fashionable. Emphasis has shifted, not totally but remarkably, from simple devotion to a parade. But since festivals are means of joyful expressions I won’t go too much into the criticism. It also happens to be one of my favorite festivals and I go Garba dancing almost all nine nights, aching legs not withstanding.

A Garba venue

 

Garba dancers at the venue

 

My friends and me(centre) doing the garba

The Shakti is worshiped as Navdurga (nine forms of Durga) on these nine days. The Navdurga are-

source: careermasti.com

First day- Shailputri (Shail-mountain, putri-daughter) Parvati is the daughter of Himvana or the Himalayas and is worshiped as such on the first day.

Second day- Brahmcharini (goddess of purity and celibacy)

Third day- Chandraghanta( Chandra-moon, ghanta-bell) The goddess here is adorned with a bell shaped moon.

Fourth day- Kushmanda. With eight hands and provider of glory, strength, and healthy long life.

Fifth day- Skandmata. Mother of Skand or Lord Kartikeya.

Sixth day- Katyayani. With four hands and riding a lion.

Seventh day- Kaalratri- Dark skinned,fearsome and the destroyer of evil, riding an ass.

Eighth day- Mahagauri- with four arms, white clothes, riding a bull. The Mahagauri, brings peace and prosperity to all.

Ninth day- Siddhidatri. She is the ‘Ardhnarishwar’  or half Shakti and half Shiva in form.

As I listed the above names I realized that the goddess is worshiped as a daughter, mother and a provider, all qualities of a woman. But sadly in my country this worship is restricted to these idols only. The living daughters, mothers are treated worse than animals. Everyday we read about female feticide, female infanticide, physical and mental abuse to girls and women, crimes like molestation and rape, brides burnt to death for dowries, and worse, women forced to end their lives for not producing a male heir for the family.

In news yesterday- One young woman burnt herself and her four daughters to death as she was harassed by her in-laws for not producing a male child.

Last month, my house help had to take sudden leave and rush to where her daughter was married, because she got the news that her daughter’s mother and sisters-in-law tried to kill her. Thankfully she was saved by her neighbors who also informed the mother. The in-laws are now behind the bars.

In news, again- female fetuses found dumped in a garbage can behind a dubious hospital. The doctors (or butchers?) are now behind bars, their licenses revoked.

Some more- In the last 10 years, 20 million girls have been lost to inhuman practices of feticide and infanticide.

And then people donate huge sums of money to the temples of the Goddess, build elaborate ones at their homes, go for pilgrims, and splurge on pujas. I wonder if the goddess is really happy with such a show of devotion while her daughters suffer. True Navratri will be celebrated only when the women get their rightful place in the society. And for that women will have to awaken the Durga within them.

 

Happy Birthday Bapu!!

Today, 2nd October, is Mahatma Gandhi’s 143rd birthday. Have been contemplating for the past few days to pay my tribute to the ‘Father of our Nation’ but couldn’t come up with anything good enough to do justice to the great man. I skipped through his autobiography ‘The Story of my Experiments with Truth’ ( I’ve read it before) for inspiration. I’ve always admired how candid he has been about his faults and failures in the book but I still couldn’t think of anything special. On a whim, I decided to visit his Ashram, on the banks of the Sabarmati river.

The ashram was built in 1917 on the banks of the Sabarmati river. Initially it’s name was ‘Satyagrah Ashram” but  later came to be called the “Sabarmati Ashram”. It was home to Mahatma Gandhi from 1917 to 1930. ‘Khadi’ was born here and it served as the main center for freedom struggle. It was from here that Gandhiji launched his famous “Dandi march” on 12th March,1930. He walked 241kms to the port town of Dandi to break the ‘Salt Law’. On the same day, Gandhiji vowed never to return to Ashram till India attained Independence. Although India achieved Independence in 1947, he was assassinated in 1948 and thus never returned to the Ashram.

When I reached the Ashram, it was teeming with people, both from India and other countries. All there to try and understand the Mahatma that he was. The place itself is well preserved. It is fascinating to imagine the part History played here. How Gandhiji would have gone about doing his daily work around the Ashram, how he would have met leaders and people in his room and planned strategies for the Independence movement. Just thinking about it all makes you feel like a part of the history.

some pictures-

the front view of Gandhiji’s cottage at the Ashram

the rear side of the cottage

the central courtyard inside the cottage

 

 

Bapu’s room(office) where he met leaders, politicians, British officials and people

 

Ashram Rules- the topmost row has the rules handwritten by Gandhiji in Gujarati. The subsequent ones are typed in Gujarati, Hindi and English

Steps leading down to the Sabarmati river

The Sabarmati

 

Some more buildings of the Ashram-

 

 

 

 

A few things belonging to Bapu-

 

this one is a replica

 

 

 

The other part of the Ashram is the new building that houses a museum dedicated to the life of Mohandas Gandhi.

 

Picture of Bapu and Kasturba

 

A photograph of Gandhiji’s signatures in all the major languages of India

 

Hand-written notes by Gandhiji

 

Picture of Mahatma Gandhi with Rabindranath Tagore

 

A beautiful message by Mahatma Gandhi

 

And to close this post with-

Welcoming The Lord Of the People- Ganesh

Its that time of the year again when people gear up to welcome their favorite God- lord Ganesh in their homes. Lord Ganesh is the ‘Elephant-head God’, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is the remover of all obstacles, the God of prosperity and entrepreneurship. He is the first God to be worshiped before starting any new business and on all auspicious occasions like marriage, moving into a new home or office premises, etc. Today is ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ the fourth day of waxing moon in the month of Bhadarva. On this day the Lord comes to visit the common people to take away their troubles and bless them. He stays with them for one, three, five, seven or ten days as the families wish and then goes back to his heavenly abode.

There are many stories about Lord Ganesh, specially ones associated with his birth and about how he got his elephant head. But today I will tell something else about him and what he teaches us.

Lord Ganesh is said to be the god of entrepreneurship and hard work. He hates to sit idle. He has two wives- Siddhi (spiritual power and aptitude) and Riddhi (prosperity). He has two sons Shubh (auspiciousness) and Labh (profits). Once on Rakshbandhan they wished for a sister. Lord Ganesh fulfilled their wish and Godess Santoshi (contentment) was born completing the family.

A simple story, you would say. Nothing extraordinary. But an extraordinary message lies within it.

When entrepreneurship and hard work comes together with spirituality and aptitude it brings prosperity. This prosperity comes along with profits that is auspicious and pure and so long as people work hard using their skills and knowledge  to their maximum ability, their prosperity continues to grow. But when contentment arrives it takes away all the desires from man and makes the person and his life ‘Whole’.

The night before yesterday I went to that part of the town where the Ganesh idols are made for the people to take home. This place at any other time of the year is a slum area with people living in shanties and poor conditions. They make idols of Gods or any other type on order for the people who want to decorate their homes or gardens.But a month before this day the activity starts in the earnest. All the families get busy with preparing the idols with every member chipping in. And that night, the place had transformed. Every inch of space was occupied by Ganesh himself and just as the people were impatient to take him, their beloved God, to their homes, he seemed equally eager to be with them.

 An idol this size takes more than month to complete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 waiting to go to people’s home

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

not yet ready

   Artist putting final touches to the idol

So here’s wishing everyone a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi. May Lord Ganesh take away all your troubles and bring prosperity to all.

P.S.-all pictures here belong to me. Not the best of pictures but this was the best I could do with all the crowd around me and not much light.