Posts Tagged ‘hindu’

The Holi Full Moon

March 18, 2014

The full moon of


festival where evil is burnt up…..

She came up when we were visiting our friends.


She rose along the side of the buildings:


She told the children in the playground that it was time to go home:


She looked like a sandal-paste moon:



But later, she looked more prosaic:


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).


The flowers of the tree are very beautiful:


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


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


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="; 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!)


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:

euphorbia milii crown of thorns 080211 photo IMG_3146.jpg

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

crwn thrns flower 080211 photo IMG_3144.jpg

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:

thatch 271110 rghli photo IMG_7139.jpg

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


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!

Thyagarja Aradhana (thyAgarAja ArAdhA)…a music festival to venerate a saint

January 21, 2014

Today, 200114, is, according to the Hindu calendar, Bahula Panchami, and this is the day that


attained samAdhi on the banks of the river Kaveri, at Thiruvayaru, iean Tamil Nadu.

Over the years that I have learnt, and been interested in, Carnatic music, this has turned into a major, televised event called the

Thyagaraja Aradhana

I just finished watching it on DD Podhigai, it used to be televised on the Doordarshan TV, the official “Government” channel which was the only channel we had in the beginning of TV! Before that, in Kolkata, I would hear it transmitted over the radio.

Here’s the first of the “pancharatna” (“five gems”…the five special compositio ns by the saint that are the highlight of the musical worship), sung in 1986; you can see stalwarts like Maharajapuram Santhanam, and that towering musician, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer.

FB album by M D Ramaswami, with a very interesting narrative

Here’s all the “gems” being sung last year, from DD Podhigai (I must say, the shrill singing by ladies, who are trying to sing one octave over the pitch, which is set to suit men’s voices, is quite awful):

Though Thyagaraja was a saint, and his samadhi (and the singing) are supposed to be open to one and all, social prejudices prevailed for a long time. Gender discrimination, particularly, was quite bad, persisting until 1940. For the story of how

Bangalore Rathnamma

laid the foundation stone to the temple to the saint, only to be denied access (women were not allowed in those days),

click here

Carnatic music has also been the traditional bastion of the Brahmin community, with the very interesting exception that nAgaswaram, thavil and mridangam players hail from the Pillai community…Brahmins are a very “exclusive” caste and did not, earlier, even allow other castes into their homes…so this co-existence is intriguing.

My parents conducted the Aradhana in Kolkata, under the auspices of the Carnatic Sangeeta Sammelan, for many years. Apart from this, Rasika Ranjana Sabha (or RR Sabha as it was called) also conducted an event.

The event is also celebrated by the south Indian diaspora, in the US, at

Cleveland, Ohio

It has also developed into a major event–both a music and dance festival– for the south Indian diaspora, but it is not held at the actual time of the saint’s attaining nirvana; this year, it is from March 28 to April 7. Interesting, this year, to have a Thyagaraja festival dedicated to the memory of another of the trinity of Carnatic music, Maharaja Swathi Tirunal!

There has, of course, been a lot of politics surrounding the festival, and I just try to look past the human element to the divinity that still ensures that many people gather each year on the sandy banks of the Kaveri, and offer geetanjali (musical reverence) to this saint.

The irony, however, never fails to strike me…Thyagaraja was a man who was poor all his life, renounced the world and became a sanyAsi a few days before his death, and reached out to the masses through the simplicity of his songs…and today, he is a gold-plated statue,decked with garlands and jewellery, accessible only to those with “VIP” tickets…he is saluted by the rich and the powerful..and the poor, common people to whom he reached out can attend the concerts that happen over the days of the festival..but not many do. It’s still a bastion of the Brahmin caste/community, and a very “Hindu” event…old divisions continue to live on.

Navaratri (Nine Nights) Festival over the years…

October 9, 2013

I used to have small “golu” every year, until my daughter left home. By that time, it was difficult to set it all up by myself, without anyone to appreciate it, and even worse to put it away…so I gave up the yearly practice. (My golu dolls still lie in a trunk in the attic of my flat.)

I just received email invitations to several friends’ homes here, and I fell to musing on the festival…and I thought of this song from the movie,”Navaratti”, where Sivaji Ganesan plays nine roles.

Though I am not parituclarly fond of this rather contrived song, it shows the traditons of a few decades ago.

Golu, or Kolu

Apparently, the word means, “divine presence”.



is a post of mine, with a photo I took of my friends’ golus.


is a post I made about Navami (Saraswati Puja, in Bengali, Sorosshoti Pujo).

And, finally,


is a post from my blog on Citizen Matters, with a lot of photos associated with the 10-day festival.

Happy Navaratri to all my friends who celebrate it! I will be visiting some friends here in St.Louis over the weekend, and will share the photos, too.


April 9, 2012

sent me

this link

to the meaning and the rituals of Passover.

Her observation, that this rivals Hinduism for rituals, is very valid.

Conversation on philosophy

October 14, 2011

One of the things I did in college was to return my Economics books after a couple of months, and change my elective subject to Philosophy. The reason, then, was very simple; I found Philosophy interesting, and Economics less so. But…it meant that I had a liberal education before the term was invented…… it’s been a lifelong companion, this study (more often, musing) of philosophy. However, so many arguments for the different types of philosophy are compelling and acceptable, that i have come to being an agnostic. I do not know what is true (I suppose no one ever can know)…but though I do not like rituals any more, to me, agnosticism is not ……not knowing what to believe, but…willing to accept that any philosophical view may be valid, What I feel is…I simply do not know enough to embrace any one form of philosophy. And so often, philosophy shades into religion…so that, too, is a grey area for me.

However, has been having a discussion with me..and several others..on her readings in philosophy (giving up precious sleep, of course.) Here’s an interesting verse she sent, supporting the Charvaka philosophy:

Part of Hindu culture, inasmuch is it was a response to Vedic traditions, it was prevalent in India, and seems to have died out (formally) in the mid 15th century. It was about materialism, naturalism (Atheistic), and hedonism. No castes or dharma, or reincarnation or life after death, it still believed in the independent soul. It also holds that Brahmins have created a bunch of rituals for their own livelihood, particularly that related to the dead. And that religion is entirely man made.

That the pleasure arising to man
from contact with sensible objects,
is to be relinquished because accompanied by pain—
such is the reasoning of fools.
The kernels of the paddy, rich with finest white grains,
What man, seeking his own true interest,
would fling them away
because of a covering of husk and dust?
While life remains, let a man live happily,
let him feed on butter though he runs in debt;
When once the body becomes ashes,
how can it ever return again?

(The shloka in Sanskrit for the last verse:
ṛṇaṁ kṛtvā ghṛtaṁ pībet yāvaj-jīvet sukhaṁ jīvet
bhasmī-bhūtasya dehasya kutaḥ punar-āgamano bhavet)

I give it here, as a beautiful poem. I see value in penance and self-purification, too., in NOT “feeding on butter though he runs in debt” (which I think is non-sustainable). I don’t usually propound philosophy, because I feel that each person’s philosophy of life is intensely personal, and private. What works for me may not work for the next person.

A rare political statement

August 20, 2007

I almost NEVER express my views about politics. I am in general an apolitical person and also regard most politicians as rogues and scoundrels…and I like writing the small stuff, as there are others, far better than me, who write about suchlike earthshaking topics…

But I do have SOME opinions and one of them is that the “123” agreement on nuclear power that our Prime Minister wants India to sign with the US is a Good Thing, as idahoswede would put it.

So the editorial in a daily newspaper really riled me…. it was about the Left parties opposing the signing of the “123” treaty with the US, and the Prime Minister adopting a stance of “either we sign, or I go”. The editorial talks about the necessity for “all the parties concerned” to shelve the project as of now, and “discuss pros and cons” until a consensus can be reached. Does not the learned editor know that delay is often death in politics? Many of us feel that the Prime Minister has really achieved a remarkable, pragmatic agreement and has worked towards it..we cannot be sitting in our nationalistic cocoons and yell that in all our dealings with the world, we might get taken advantage of…and they seem to suffer from some kind of US-phobia, even as only the worst of that country, in the form of burgers and coke, invades our culture and not the good things such as the great work ethic or the lack of casteism in general society.

Every time India wants to take a step forward, we have short-sighted, jingoistic, visionless politicians who want to keep the country mired in the morass of imagined self-sufficiency and protectionism, citing “dangers to the country” as the reason for not going ahead and taking bold, realistic steps to make progress out of the dark ages of the socialistic, licence-raj days that have cost us so many decades and put us so much in the rear of the race to be a power in the eastern arena. We are making progress in India in spite of our politicians…I wish some of them would try and experience the loincloth poverty that their blind policies relegate the common man to. And waffling in the way the editorial suggest will only add hypocrisy to the list of sins that the politicians are guilty of.

I am so glad to get back to my birds and animals and trees…politicians rate far, far lower than the nastiest slug that I could find under a stone. The slug is just being itself and causing no harm…a better comparison, actually, would be with the leeches that stick to us when we are on a wildlife trek.

Review of a review

August 20, 2007

Yesterday, we went to a north Indian classical concert, sponsored by a city newspaper. Two artistes, an instrumentalist and a vocalist, were featured.

The program started about 20 minutes late.

The instrumentalist presented a polished, superb performance. At the audience’s request, he played another piece which was just as good.

The vocalist was eagerly awaited, but the ten-minute break took 30 minutes, and then the vocalist spent another 15 minutes tuning up the surbahar, which north Indian vocalists strum while singing.

The vocalist was the one who inspired my last post about artistes who should realize when they are past their prime. Amazingly–because north Indian music rarely goes off key– the vocalist went off key several times, the voice was trembling and lacked melody and timbre.. several members of the audience, including ourselves, walked out as the music grated on our ears.

So….this morning I opened the newspaper…and saw the review.

The vocalist was praised in such fulsome terms that it was staggering. How could the reviewer not know when the pitch had strayed? “There was not a flat note in the entire concert”, the review said. Opinions can differ..but a false note is an objective thing…surely, the newspaper sponsoring the concert could not change the facts?

But still, on that issue, I felt that perhaps the reviewer and I had different opinions, which each of us were entitled to. The shocking thing was..that the instrumentalist, one of the two artistes featured in the program…was not mentioned AT ALL.

And even in that laudatory review, the name of one of the disciples of the vocalist was given wrongly.

How can a reviewer, a journalist, do such a thing?

My opinion of the newspaper, and its reporting, has gone down a (further) notch…

This is also because of the editorial today, and that’s another post…and it will also be a letter to the newspaper.