Pujo in USA

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga

The biggest festival that a bengali looks forward to, for the entire year, the Durga Puja 2016 is going on. It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. This is the time when the air smells of festivity. This year I had the opportunity of visiting the Durga Puja at Pittsburgh, USA in Hindu Jain Temple. Once inside the hall, I felt as if I was in India. The rituals, the decorations, the people and of course the food, all made it a lively place to be. Durga Puja is the time when people get together and discuss on all topics ranging from sports to food. Here also it was so, the hot topic of discussion was Pittsburgh Steelers. Simply proves no matter where they are, bengalis just love sports.

The Hindu Jain Temple

The Hindu Jain Temple

It was raining yesterday night and so the weather was cold from the morning. Thankfully it didn’t rain after morning. Once I reached the temple, the serenity of the atmosphere filled me with happiness. I offered my prayers with flowers. The most admirable thing was, the priest translated the meaning of the prayers to the people in English, thus explaining the prayers to everyone. After the puja we had the delicious meal(Puja Bhog) which comprised of Khichadi, fries, veggies and sweets. Also there was a small exhibition of clothes, accessories and jewelry. Cultural programs were held afterwards. The children were playing around dressed in traditional attire. It reminded me of my school days. I thank the Bengali Association of Pittsburgh(http://bengali-pitt.org/bap/) for keeping the culture alive so far from home. Happy Durga Puja to Everyone. May Goddess Durga bless everyone with happiness and fulfill all their wishes.

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Remembering the Forests

A Fairy tale entrance

A Fairy tale entrance

I came across an interesting site(http://www.visitpittsburgh.com/events-festivals/pgh200/events/) while browsing through the internet. I realized 2016 is an important year for Pittsburgh as its the 200th year of the city. One of the events on this occasion was the Butterfly Forest at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It seemed so unique that I called up my friends and we planned to go there next Sunday. It was a hot day, still we managed to start by 11:30 am. As it was a Sunday, traffic was comparatively less.

We reached within 40 minutes. As soon as we entered we were mesmerized by the decoration of flowers and trees in different sections of the Gardens. The royal gardens made us feel regal, the tropical gardens made us sweat, the sunken garden soothed us with its fountains and hanging flowers, the Japanese courtyard garden filled us with awe by its beautiful bonsai, the desert garden reminded us of the harshness of life with its cactus and the list goes on. I had never seen so many colors in my life. We were enchanted by the flowers in the Orchid gardens. Each flower was unique but its beauty became even more prominent when it was placed with all other elements of the garden, namely the leaves, branches and trees.
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Harshness of Life

Harshness of Life

A Chair of flowers

A Chair of flowers

Beautiful Mediterranean garden

Beautiful Mediterranean garden

As if this was not enough, we came across the Butterfly Forest. As soon as we entered, I felt as if I was in some magic land. There were so many butterflies. Each had its unique identity. One of them even opened its wings while I was taking pictures. We had to keep looking on all sides as every time a differently patterned butterfly rose from somewhere or other.

A butterfly posing for my camera

A butterfly posing for my camera

This whole trip just emphasized how important it is to maintain the forest. All this beauty will perish if we do not conserve forests. I was glad we visited the gardens in 2016. We even visited the souvenir shop which had eco friendly things for visitors. So the next time you are in Pittsburgh, make sure you visit the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Lamp in the middle of garden

Lamp in the middle of garden

A Fair to remember

The colorful entrance to the fair

The colorful entrance to the fair

This Friday a friend of mine messaged me about a fair going on in my city. I googled about it and found its the North American Martyrs Summer Festival in Monroeville, PA. We left around 7:00 pm. This was the first time I was going to attend a fair abroad. Once we reached there the biggest challenge was to find a parking place. After parking we thought we will have to walk a lot but there was a shuttle to the fair.

Amazing rides

Amazing rides

As soon as we reached there, I was reminded of my school days. There used to be a ‘Summer Mela’ in my hometown Baroda. Visiting that fair used to be in the wish list of every child. It used to be a colorful fair with rides and delicious food stalls. This fair had all these elements. All the stalls were decorated with colorful balloons. There were rides, games and food. The aroma of fresh fries and cold ice-cream just aroused our taste buds. Everywhere kids were running, playing and shouting. To make this entire fair musical a live band played songs from 50s, 60s and 70s. I loved the rock and roll songs.

Live band in fair

Live band in fair

In this age of high tech entertainment, nothing equals the satisfaction of attending a fair. They seem to have fun for people of all age groups. The presence of family brings in security. It also allows us to spend quality time with our family. These are the opportunities when all the generations of the family come together and have a great time. By the time we returned it was late night, but we were so rejuvenated that we walked till the parking lot. Next time you visit a new place, make sure you attend the local fairs.

Food stalls

Food stalls

Vasant Panchami

Goddess Saraswati

Goddess Saraswati

Today was Vasant Panchami. It means the fifth day of spring. In eastern side of India, it is celebrated as Saraswati Puja and falls generally in the month of February. The academic session in India begins from June and ends in April. The tension of exams starts clouding from February. Goddess Saraswati is the Goddess of learning. Hence Saraswati Puja is very important for every person learning something be it studies, music, art, etc. It is a very special day for 3 year olds. They are dressed in traditional attire of dhoti or saree. The priest makes them write a few alphabets on a slate with chalk. This is called ‘Hathe Khodi’. It marks the beginning of education in a person’s life. During our school days we used to dress up in new clothes mostly yellow and go to the venue with our school books. We offered our prayers with flowers to Goddess Saraswati. Then we used to have competitions for drawing, poetry recitation, etc. The flowers used for the ceremony were often taken by the students to be kept in books. I used to make sure those flowers are placed in all my textbooks, particularly those of mathematics. I still remember once a classmate in college started teasing me when a rose was found in one of my books. But the entire joke came to an end when I said its the flower from the Saraswati puja ceremony.

Detailed view of decorations

Detailed view of decorations

This year I wanted to attend this ceremony. It was going to be organized by the Bengali association of Pittsburgh. I was glad when my friend Sahana said she too was also going there and I can join them. It was -12 degrees Celsius as we drove. All the way there was snow on both sides of the road. I was reminded of my school days as soon as we entered the hall. The goddess was decorated with bright flowers. People were dressed in their traditional best. The kids looked elegant in their cute dresses. Everything was just as I had always celebrated, the prayers, the flowers and ofcourse the food. It was the super tasty khichadi with mixed veg curry, chutney, sweet, papad and fruits. We immediately felt at home inspite of being strangers. Below is my platter:

The delicious prasad

The delicious prasad

I am very thankful to my friend Sahana for taking me there. Kudos to the Bengali association of Pittsburgh for organizing this event so far. I just hope Goddess Saraswati blesses us all with knowledge. Happy Vasant Panchami and Happy Saraswati Puja.

A new Beginning

Today is First of January. The day everyone around the world wishes “Happy New Year”. Both 31st december and 1st January have always been unique even though they are not a festival. During my school days, when we only had Doordarshan, this was the only day when there were programs to watch till 1:00 am. In fact, entire family used to watch togather. I used to start asking for cakes right from 27th of december. My mother always found time to make one on 31st december. Generally the cake used to be ready by 10:30 pm and we used to have them at 12:00am. I miss those cold nights sitting togather with the entire family and having fresh cakes. With the advent of cable, different channels had different programs, so another activity of channel surfing got added to this day. Now as the day starts approaching we start getting invites for different events like fireworks show, DJ night, etc.

Another topic of discussion is RESOLUTIONS. This is the first thing that one asks after wishing new year. The biggest joke is they are made to be broken. On a serious note, we humans are never satisfied with whatever we have or are. We always want to improve. The concept of resolutions symbolizes this behaviour. We often set very high goals which require continuous dedication and sacrifice. Again most of us are too lazy to stick to it and so the resolutions are often broken within the first few days. This year I thought of welcoming the new year with lots of colors. It was too cold to go out and buy flowers. So I thought of creating my own flower. I always admired my mother’s ability to make beautiful things using crochet. So I tried my hand at crochet. After 4 hours of struggle, I was able to make the flower below.

My first colorful flower of Crochet

My first colorful flower of Crochet

I just wish all of our lives are as colorful as the petals of this flower. I was so happy that I also decided to make cake. This was another challenge as I had never made one before. Since its the new year, let it be a new beginning of my culinary skills (which need a lot of polishing). Below is the outcome of my effort.

My first cake

My first cake

The blurred face on cake symbolizes the unknown things that future holds for me in the year 2016 and that I will try to welcome them with a cake. Both these experiments just made my day. I hadn’t done any of these before all on my own. The best thing was I was doing it for myself. A learning from this is anything you do will be successful if you do it only for yourself.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Celebrate the Change

Yesterday evening, it started snowing. It was the first snow of this winter in Pennsylvania. My room had become so cold that I lied down underneath the blankets. After a few minutes I called up my aunt and mom to tell them about the snow. Both suggested making Khichadi. Its a dish made of rice and lentils. The very name of Khichadi brought pleasant memories. During my school days, my mom used to make khichadi regularly in winters. As I was not fond of vegetables, she used to add them in the khichadi. I still remember the hot smoke from freshly made khichadi along with fried fish and tomato chutney.

Finally I got out of the blanket and started cooking khichadi. As a tribute to my school days, I also added some veggies. The aroma and the warmth of kitchen removed the laziness of cold. I made up my mind to enjoy this change of weather. I was so energized that I fried prawns and eggs too. Here is the platter after cooking.

Celebration of first snow with hot Khichadi

Celebration of first snow with hot Khichadi

The aroma seemed to warm up the entire room as I sat eating. I went near the window and saw a beautiful sight where the snow covered cars seemed to shine in moonlight.

Had I continued to stay inside blankets, I would have missed such a great sight. On a philosophical note, like season changes, we also face sudden changes in our lives be it work, friends or family. It all depends on us whether to hide inside blankets and resist it or celebrate it with hot khichadi. So how did you welcome the climate change at your place.

Shubho Mohaloya (Happy Mahalaya)

Jai Ma Durga

Jai Ma Durga

Yesterday night, before going to sleep, I told my mother to wake me up before 5:30am. It was Mohaloya, the first day of Navratri. As a school girl this used to be a yearly ritual. We used to get up early and watch the Mohaloya presentation. Every year the story of Goddess Durga destroying the evil Mahishasur was presented with songs, dance and chandipath. It used to begin at 5:30 am and get over by 7:00 am. I always felt watching the programme made a pious start of the day.

The most amazing part was the Mohaloya Chandipath recited by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. His recitation is so unique that even today the same recitation is played in all the channels. All the songs of the program made me feel that festivity is in the air. I was brought up in Gujarat in western part of India. The festival of Garba begins from Mohaloya and continues for the next 9 days. In east of India, today is the day when the sculptors paint the eyes of the Goddess Durga. The markets are flooded with traditional clothes of various designs. The beating of the dhak(traditional drums) would give a feeling of the arrival of good times when we would be with friends and family. The tension of studies would be placed aside for a while. It would seem as if festivity is in the air.

In my school days it was only national television Doordarshan. Today different channels have different representations, each leaving its own signature on the event. I would like to show this to all the people who say culture has gone for a toss. Even today, entire families get up and watch the mohaloya presentation. The demand is so much that all the channels take the initiative to create their unique presentations, thus generating opportunities for creativity. With this year’s dhak I want to wish every one a Happy Mohaloya.