Archive for February, 2014

A few trees that are entwined with Hinduism…

February 28, 2014

As I wandered around the kalyANa mantapam (festivity venue) at Chromepet, it struck me that there are so many trees that are inextricably entwined with Hindu rituals and customs…and I was lucky to be able to photograph some of them, right there. I am giving the Tamizh names and the link to the Wikipaedia entries about them, too.

One is the

pArijAtha or “pavazha malli” (literally, “coral jasmine” maram (maram is tree is Tamizh).

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The flowers of the tree are very beautiful:

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They fall like stars to the ground, where they are gathered up for worship by devout Hindus in the morning.

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Though the wiki entry mentions the mythology of the tree being the focus of a tussle between Rukmani and Sathyabhama, two of Krishna’s beloved, there is a story about Hanuman having his abode amongst the roots of this tree:

“AnjanEyam athi pAtalAnanam/ kAnchanAdri kamanIya vigraham/ pArijAtha tharu mUla vAsinam/ bhAvayAmi bhava mAna nandanam”.

My parents had a huge tree in the garden, and I would gather the flowers, distribute them amongst our neighbours, and take some to the nearby “vyAyAm ghar” (exercise place) where there was an image of Hanuman, and offer them there. My practice of reciting the Anjaneya Ashtothram (108 names of Hanuman) dates from the time I was 14 or 15…and in spite of my agnosticism, it’s something I never fail to do, till date!

Another tree that was common in gardens of temples is the

Vilva maram

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The fruit of the tree is used for both food and medicine, even today. In folklore, the tri-foliate form of leaves symbolize the trident that Shiva holds in his right hand.

The third tree, that is used everywhere in Hindu rites and rituals, is the

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana&quot; Banana or Plantain tree, called vAzhai maram

Every part of the tree is useful; the stem is used as a vegetable (yes, I cook it, too, and it’s one of my daughter’s favourite vegetables!) as is the raw fruit; the flowers are also cooked; the “petals” of the banana flower were often used as informal containers during meals; the leaves are an essential part of the south Indian feast…an “elai shAppAdu” (leaf meal) is a must, where the food is served on plantain leaves, with the “nuNi” (tip of the leaf) intact. (The leaf-tip must face to the left, I don’t know why that rule!)

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The banana stems are chopped, and the mantapam entrance is decorated with the leaves and the banana flower forming a graceful arch of welcome for the guests.

Many of our dishes are also cooked or steamed in banana leaves, which form a great traditional lining. Even today, I enjoy unwrapping the spiral of banana leaf which encloses the “kadubu”, a Kannada dish somewhat like an iddli. Kerala dishes made with jackfruit and rice flour are also steamed in plantain leaves.

I photographed a very huge variety of this plant at Lalbagh, on 080211:

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The plant was mis-labelled as “Crown of Thorns”, though. I also clicked the stamens, which are cooked after the pistils are carefully removed:

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In Coorg tradition, the bridegroom chops down several banana stems in symbolism for wild animals, to show his manly prowess. In Tamil Nadu, we sometimes had young women married to symbolic banana stems when the grooms could not be physically present. No, I refuse to go further with the banana symbolism!

Another tree that is always associated with Hindu rites is the

mA maram (mango tree).

The mango is considered the king of fruits in India, and the wood is used for cheap furniture; the leaves are an essential part of the “thOraNam” decorating doorways to homes, and the fruit, in its baby (mAvadu) and raw (mAngAi) forms are used in making delicious pickles.

In this photograph, taken before the varalakshmi pUjA, you can see both banana trees and mango leaves for sale, to decorate the goddess’ mantapams in people’s homes.

IMG_0183 Banana trees and mango leaves to decorate

I won’t write much about the

Coconut palm…thennai maram …as it is so ubiquitous!

You can see how palm fronds are used for decoration:

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In this pic you can see coconuts rolled up in dhotis, to be gifted to the priests:

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We cannot do without coconuts for any puja!
It’s a great pity that our strong links to trees seem to be getting diluted these days…and we seem to think of them not as living beings, complementing our lives, but hindrances to “development”, especially to the faster flow of motorized traffic!

Thoughts about homosexuality

February 27, 2014

Homosexuality has been around for as long as humanity has. Hominids and other primates exhibit it, too. As a naturalist, I find it prevalent in many other species as well. It’s only human beings who see the need to attribute moral values to certain forms of behaviour.

Heterosexual behaviour shades from rape,abuse, and casual sex on one side of the spectrum to committed, loving, long-standing relationships on the other. In my experience…so, too, does homosexual behaviour.

I feel that any behaviour (of any kind) that harms others is morally and ethically repugnant. But any expression of love between two consenting adults (of any kind) cannot be bad. Love is so difficult to find, why abominate any form of its expression?

And if we think that gays or lesbians do not exist in India, we are putting our heads in the sand.

I feel that life would be simpler if we accepted people as they are, without worrying about who they are sleeping with, or judging them for it. It’s always comforting to adopt a moral high ground upon which we stand and condemn others…but life would be simpler if we accepted our fellow human-beings as they are…and condemn only behaviour that harms others.

Well, that’s my opinion, and I understand that there will be many people whose views differ diametrically…or to different degrees.

Thank you for making me think about this, and articulating my thoughts!

sadAbhishEkam: celebrating a man’s entering his 80th year

February 27, 2014

My childhood friends, Rajamani and Savithri, celebrated their sadabhishekam on the 26th of February, at the Sankara Matham, Chromepet.

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Rajamani Anna (aNNA is “older brother”) was a cousin of the seven siblings who lived right opposite my parents’ home in Kolkata. He lived with them, and their parents, studying and then working, and the closeness has persisted through the decades. I have been quite close to his younger daughter, too, and jumped at the chance to attend the sadabhishekam.

The 60th and 80th birthdays are traditionally celebrated only when the husband attains those respective ages. Hopefully, we will start celebrating them for women, too, but as of now, the winds of change have not blown that strongly!

A beautiful “kOlam” welcomes everyone into the venue:

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Agni, the god of fire, is invoked in the homam (called “vELvi” in Tamizh), by the priests:

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This perforated plate is a new tradition (I’ve not seen it even 20 years ago), and gold ornaments are put in so that the purified water will pass over the gold, too:

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The thirumanjanam going on.

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Both of Rajamani’s daughters, Swarnamala and Bhavani, are holding the perforated plate.

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The couple, after the abhishekam:

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Friends and family gather:

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The fruits and flowers, and other offerings at the “hOmam”. The “paruppu thEngAi” (those two cones) are made of some kind of sweet:

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Rajamani’s sister applies the “nalangu” (turmeric paste) on Savithri’s feet, as decoration, and puts on the toe-rings:

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I was tickled by the juxtaposition of the age-old traditions of “thAmboolam”, ritual worship…and the modern newspaper, with a contemporary headline:

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The husband ties the sacred thread (mAngalyam) around his wife’s neck. The sadabhishekam is the third such occasion; the second is the shashti abdha poorthi, or “attaining 60 years”.

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The couple then seek the blessings of the audience, which is provided in the form of “akshatha” or ritually sanctified rice:

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(this kind of blessing-with-grain is probably the same in many cultures…I see many couples having confetti thrown over them!)

All hindu weddings have to be witnessed by Agni (fire), who is the ultimate purifier. Here, Agni has sunk into ash and embers:

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Arattai sabhai (gossip sessions!) go on:

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The lunch was delicious:

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“panthi vijArikkarathu” (enquiring hospitably about whether the food is good, and if the guest has had enough of everything) is done by the “host” family:

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Uncle and niece:

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Photographic documentation is obligatory now!

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I like this group photo because it also contains the family who are, today, like my family!

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These are four of the five sisters (the young girl on the left is the daughter of the one sitting next to her) who raised me, as a child. The lady who is sitting second from right is my music guru; she taught me for over 15 years!

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My guru, Meenakshi Rajagopal. How lucky I am, to have a sister-cum-guru!

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Let me close with two short videos.

This thirumanjanam, or ritual bathing in sanctified water. The traditional “gowri kalyANam” is being sung:

mAngalya dhAraNam, or tying of the sacred thread (sorry, I had to take stills, so this is VERY short!)

I hope you enjoyed the sadAbhishEkam as much as I did!

Excellent exercise for people of any age…

February 27, 2014

EXERCISE FOR PEOPLE OVER 60

Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side.

With a 5-lb. potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax.

Each day you’ll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer. After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb. potato bags.

Then try 50-lb. potato bags and then eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute.(I’m at this level.)

After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.

Three wishes…and no more

February 24, 2014

I wish we were like birds, with the ability to fly.

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I wish we were like plants , to make food directly from the sun.

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I wish we were like other beings, never questioning why.

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But we are just human beings, so my wishing is over, and done!

“World famous in Jayanagar!” :D

February 24, 2014

That’s a local saying, gently ribbing anyone who is getting their names in the news or talked about…it’s literally come true for me!

I always knew they’d run out of people to write about and would arrive at me….

Reading poetry in solitude….

February 24, 2014

These words occurred to me:

छोटे शब्द , और उनमें कितनी गहराईया। छोटे पल , और उनमें कितनी तन्हाईयाँ।

chhotE shabd, aur unmEn kitnI gehrAyiyAn. chhOtE pal, aur unmEn kitnI tanhAyiyAn…

In Tamizh: சின்ன வார்த்தைகளில் எத்தனை அர்த்தங்கள் . சின்ன கணங்களில் எத்தனை தனிமைகள்

chinna vArthaigaLil etthanai arthangaL. china kaNaNgaLil ethhanai thanimaigaL.

Both mean…

The depths in small words, the solitudes in small moments…

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Hosakote kere, Karnataka, 230213

February 23, 2014

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Kamal pinged me past 10pm yesterday…and off we went,early this morning, to Hosakote Kere, with Vasuki, and having picked up Binu on the way, too.

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At the MCS (Mandatory Chai Stop).

We stopped at the bund of Hosakote Kere, with the sun still low in the eastern horizon, silhouetting the swallows…

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A

BLACK-WINGED KITE

sub-adult seemed to have wings of black…and silver…

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There were already other photographers at the kere:

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And we joined them:

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The marshy area of the kere was aglow with green algae:

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I followed some PLAIN PRINIAS through the bushes:

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Several WOOD SANDPIPERS waded around:

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It seemed as if this GREATER CORMORANT was lifting its wings in benison:

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PHEASANT-TAILED JACANAS strutted their paisley shapes about:

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a vee-formation of Cormorants went past:

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At full zoom, my camera caught these two SILVERBILLS on a little pot!

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A GREY-BELLLIED CUCKOO delighted us very briefly:

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A GLOSSY IBIS sat in the reeds

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All of a sudden, a huge flock of ducks appeared in the sky, wheeled around, and came to settle in the waters of the kere. We watched, spellbound:

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Two SPOT-BILLED PELICANS landed, and floated lightly about:

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BLACK-WINGED STILTS were in plenty:

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It was a stunning sight when at some mysterious signal they all took off:

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There were many LITTLE GREBES:

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A great sighting today by Kamal was of the

GREAT REED WARBLER

in the reeds of the lake. Alas, he could not get a shot.

There were many fishermen on the kere, in plastic coracles (though I saw the traditional bamboo ones on the bank, too.)

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The trishool of the Gangamma temple was decorated:

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The temple is the Om of the Goddess!

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You can see Shiva sitting with Parvati, with Ganga on his head:

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Everywhere, TENT SPIDERS had spun a mist:

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We took a breakfast break, and went to Sri Krishna Upahar on the main highway:

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On the bund, a borewell was being dug, and rice and freshly-caught fish were ready for cooking:

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Birds:

Babbler, Jungle
Bee-eater, Small Green
Bulbul, Red-vented
Bushchat, Pied
Bushlark, Jerdon’s
Coot, Common
Cormorant, Great
Cormorant,Little
Coucal, Greater
Crow, House
Crow, Jungle
Cuckoo, Grey-bellied
Dove, Laughing
Dove, Spotted
Drongo, Black
Duck, Spot-billed
Egret, Cattle
Egret, Great
Egret, Intermediate
Egret, Little
Flowerpecker, Pale-billed
Francolin, Grey
Garganey
Grebe, LIttle
Harrier, Eurasian Marsh
Heron, Grey
Heron, Indian Pond
Heron, Purple
Ibis, Glossy
Jacana, Pheasant-tailed
Kite, Black
Kite, Black-winged
Kite, Bramhiny
Koel, Asian
Lapwing, Red-wattled
Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow
Moorhen, Common
Moorhen, Purple
Myna, Common
Myna, Jungle
Oriole, Eurasian Golden
Parakeet, Rose-ringed
Pelican, Spot-billed
Pigeon, Blue Rock
Pipit, Paddyfield
Prinia, Ashy
Prinia, Plain
Robin, Indian
Roller, Indian
Sandpiper, Green
Sandpiper, Wood
Silverbill, Indian
Sparrow, House
Starling,Rosy
Stilt, Black-winged
Sunbird, Purple
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Red-rumped
Swallow, Wire-tailed
Swift, Asian Palm
Tailorbird, Common
Wagtail, White-browed
Wagtail, Yellow
Warbler, Blyth’s Reed
Warbler, Booted
Warbler, Clamorous Reed
Warbler, Great Reed

Sorry, didn’t keep track of butterfies today. Was somehow tired and a little sleepy, off my form!

Photos on my FB album,

click here

I took two short videos; one, of a shimmering black line of Swallows, and a white line of Egrets:

Another of a flight of ducks, swirling over the lake, not landing but wheeling around:

Let me close with a pic of this bAginA (offering) that someone had made. A baagina usually contains a packet of arshina (turmeric), kumkum, black bangles, black beads (used in the mangalsutra), a comb, a small mirror, baLe bicchoLe, coconut, blouse piece, dhaanya (cereal), rice, toor dal, green dal, wheat or rava and jaggery cut in a cube form. The baagina is offered in a traditional mora (winnow painted with turmeric).

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Peace and quiet

February 21, 2014

I thought it must be lovely to rest, with the winds from the field blowing one’s way, the sun shining around, and open to the elements:

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When the colours are washed out, it’s not monotony, but a serene, peaceful monochrome.

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But then, I felt that the departed soul might mingle with the Everlasting, and might not identify with just one spot. The memorial is not for those who are gone, but for those in whose memories the departed live..

Brother’s bucket bath!

February 19, 2014

I’d posted

here

about KTB’s (and other creatures’) baths….here’s KTB’s brother, The Booda, having HIS bath!

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Children and water are always affinities…