Tag Archives: india

April-2021 The Month of New Years

First quarter of the year has passed. There are a number of New Years in April in India. They are based on the Hindu Calendar. We visit each other, offer respect to elders by touching their feet and wish everyone. Its the time to eat home made sweets and wear new clothes. There are special songs dedicated to these days. In some places fairs are held on these days.

The schools close by mid April for summer vacation so these new years also mark the beginning of holidays. It is the time to grow beyond studies and be carefree for kids. As children of a cosmopolitan city, it used to be a month long celebration for us since everyday one or the other person had New Year. Personally I feel these traditional New Years give us an opportunity to rekindle our lives. It is common to lose motivation on the resolutions of 1st January. One can take this time to assess ones progress and motivation, if needed, can also modify the resolution. They give us an opportunity to assess the first quarter of the year and decide whether we want to spend the rest of the year in the same way or make changes. As the covid counts are rising again, it is time to assess our activities and be careful again, so that we can control the counts and beat the pandemic. Wishing everyone a very Happy, Safe and Prosperous New Year.

Enjoying with Colors

The festival of Holi happens when the season is about to change from Winter to Summer. There are warm days and cold nights. Many people fall sick. During my school days the final exam for an academic session used to happen in April. The month of march used to be full of internal assessment where our notebooks, workbooks and assignment books were checked. Falling sick had to be avoided because one may miss out on internal assessment.

On the day of Holi we used to prepare our bags with colors and pichkari. Pichkari is like a spray bottle. We would fill colored water in it and spray it on others. We would be given strict instructions to avoid water while leaving the house. Within 5 minutes of stepping out of the house, we would be colored and wet. In those days, cell phones were not common with kids so after 2 to 3 hours, it would be time for lunch. We would be so colored that it would be impossible to identify us. Calling up the neighbors to find out if we are near their house would not work. So our parents would come out in search of us. Once they found us, we would have to go home. That day we would spent long hours in shower. The rest of the day would be spent in instructions of being extra careful since we had exposed ourselves to the risk of getting cold by playing with water. The next day all of us would have colored faces. For a change, our school prefixes would be lenient in their checking. The amount of color on the face would show how actively one celebrated the festival. Although the festival of Holi would come right before the final exams, it would give us a colorful break from studies. I do pray those days come back again and we are able to meet everyone without the fear of getting sick. Wishing everyone a very Happy, Safe and Healthy Holi.

Celebration of Learning

Today is Vasant Panchami, a festival to welcome spring in India. It is celebrated on the fifth day of month of Magh in Hindu Calendar. It is either in February or last week of January. The celebrations are performed to welcome spring(Vasant). In East India, people worship Goddess Saraswati. Goddess Saraswati is called the Goddess of learning, music, knowledge and arts. We dress up in yellow, decorate the temples with yellow flowers. We put up our books and musical instruments at the house temple. With the exams scheduled for April, we pray to the Goddess to bless us with good scores. Community functions are organized where we all meet up. This is special for kids who are about to start schooling. A ceremony called “Hathe Khodi” is performed. The priest prays in the name of the kid and then helps him/her write a few alphabets with chalk on the slate.

During my school days we used to have drawing competition and poetry recitation competition making it a celebration of learning. The poetry competitions were very special. I learnt to face the stage from them. We used to be given a poem of one of the notable Bengali poets. The community hall used to be filled by members. We had to stand on stage and recite it. It used to be interesting to see different kids recite the same poem. The first poem I had recited was Lichu Chor. It describes the experience of a village lad while stealing lychee and getting caught. I was 8 years old. I could remember only 4 lines from the middle of that poem today. Funny part is these were the lines that I forgot while reciting on stage. There are music and dance performances. These events made me realize my love for performing arts. This year the celebrations were different with social distancing and mask rules in place. On this Saraswati Puja, I pray to the Goddess Saraswati the pandemic phase gets over and life returns to normalcy. Happy Vasant Panchami.

Celebrating the Republic Day

My mother was surprised to see me awake early today before 5:00 am. I told her its 26th January and I am at home. 26th January is celebrated as the Republic Day in India. The Indian Constitution was created after Independence. The new constitution came into force on 26th January 1950. From then onwards, every year this day is celebrated as the Republic Day. This is one of the special events of winter. My school used to start at 7:30 am. We used to start practicing march-past 2-3 weeks before republic day. For this practice we used to reach school by 6:30 am in cold. I used to get up before 5:00 am to reach on time. Maybe this was the reason I woke up early today. The house captains used to align us based on our heights. The school band used to play the drum and we would practice march-past for days. “Haven’t you seen the march-past of Republic day!” This was the ending statement of every scolding of every teacher and captain for every mistake during the practice.

We used to have a dry run of the entire ceremony on the previous day. Before the Republic Day, I used to iron my uniform and polish my shoes. On 26th January, I would wake up early to dress up in freshly ironed uniform and put on the polished shoes. Then my mother would tie up two tight plats. We would reach school on time, stand in our designated positions. Then the march-past would begin. We would walk a path across the playground. Then the principal would come and unfurl the flag. As soon as the flag unfurls, we would sing the national anthem. The event used to complete by 8:30 am. We used to rush home, to catch the Republic Day Parade at the capital New Delhi. The defense parade is followed by the tableau of different states and national organizations. We used to discuss about our favorite tableau for the next few days. Our Constitution gives equal opportunities to everyone. We have leaders who have come from humble backgrounds. They have proved themselves through their work. They always inspire me to strive to be better. This year I watched the entire parade like school days. As the day comes to an end, I hope everyone is inspired to do their best and make 2021 a great year. Happy Republic Day.

Support for festivals

Flowers at my house

Today is Diwali, the festival of lights. It always brings amazing memories for me. The house used to be cleaned thorougly before the festival. In the morning all the coushion covers and sheets would be replaced. The house would be decorated with lights and lamps. Special ceremonies would be conducted. One of the key requirements of any ceremony are flowers. My grandmother planted flower trees for this. We were scolded everytime we climbed those trees or hanged on their branches. During festivals, my grandmother would get up early, cleanup and pluck flowers for ceremony. We were not supposed to bother her at that time. The first few days were fine but after 4 days, the flowers at the lower branches were not there. At that time we were called to provide support for the festival. Then all the skills of hanging on the branches and climbing the trees would come handy. We would manage to bring the branches with flowers within her reach.

Flower tray for the Ceremony

Today my mother called me for the same purpose. I felt like a school girl looking for the higher branches with maximum flowers and then calculating how to bring those branches within reach. It filled me with an amazing energy and excitement. Co-incidentaly today is also the Children’s day for India. It just reminded me how important it is to keep the child within ourselves alive. The enthusiasm to find new things fills life into the dullest of days. Keep discovering. Its never too late to start learning. Go back to your school days, pick up that skill you wanted to have and go for it. Today all classes are available online. Also the day after diwali is the New Year in many parts of India. The best time for beginnings. Get all the blessings and start working towards a better version of yourself. May this Diwali fill everyone’s life with lights of happiness. Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous Diwali.

Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations 2020

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi. Lord Ganesh is the lord of new beginnings and remover of obstacles. We celebrate his arrival from Kailash. People bring idols of Lord Ganesh in their homes. The entire house is decorated. The days are celebrated with Aarti (ceremonies) and prasad (sweets) are distributed. My home towns of Vadodara and Pune used to come alive with beautiful decorations of community ceremonies. Here the idols will be large and a pandal(temporary stage) would be set up. These festivals gave us an opportunity to meet our neighbors. Many people prepared the sweets for Aarti at home. We also have dance and music performances within the community.

The community festivals are for 11 days. There are many memories associated with this festival. My father would take my sister and me for a visit to all the Pandals in our area. My mother’s colleague used to send her home made sweets for us. If I came up with any resolution after June, I would wait till Ganesh Chaturthi and begin from this day. Praying to Lord Ganesh before starting anything is a part of life. I share my love for modak(sweets) with Lord Ganesh. The sweet shops would make different kinds of modak and put up for display. I used to visit all the sweet shops near temple and get the most unique modak. This year the community festivals are being conducted at a smaller scale because of the pandemic. This has not stopped the devotees but has increased their creativity. People have come up with different ideas of creating their own idols. Many of us have learnt to perform the ceremony ourselves and prepare modak as well. Let us come together and pray a vaccine is found soon, the sick are cured and we are all able to overcome this difficult phase. Happy Ganesh Chaturthi.

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.

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.

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.