Food for thought #37

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau

 

 

“Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world–to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.”
Ayn Rand

 

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

 

 

 

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

“Fix your course on a star and you’ll navigate any storm.”                                                                                       Leonardo Da Vinci

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Attukal Pongala – one of the largest women gatherings in world

It was in 2016 when I witnessed Attukal Pongala for the first time and didn’t know the importance of this mega-event at that time! In 2017 I couldn’t attend it as I was away and this year, I made a point to not miss this festival. But why? Coz this ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day in 2009. The festival falls on Karthika star of the Malayalam month of Makaram or Kumbham, which usually falls in February of March, and is celebrated for 10 days. The Attukal Pongala takes place on the 9th day when women offer Pongala – a sweet dish to the Goddess.

According to a legend, the Attukal Pongala festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannaki, the divine incarnation of the heroine of the Tamil epic ‘Silappadhikaram’ while she was on her way to Kodungalur in central Kerala after destroying Madurai city to avenge the injustice to her husband Kovilan. It is said that she stopped at Attukal for a day’s rest where the local women offered her rice and jaggery for lunch. The temple, located in the heart of the city, is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathy, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki.

The Attukal Pongala fell on 02nd of March this year. One week before the commencement of this Annual festival, streets of the capital city of Kerala were lined-up with make-shift shacks selling mud pots, bricks, wooden ladles, the loud-speakers of all temples came alive, and many miniature shrines were erected at almost all the junctions. People from all parts of Kerala arrived into Thiruvananthapuram days in advance to secure a hearth close to the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple and mark their spaces to have their make-shift brick stoves on which they would prepare ‘Pongala’.

It was 05.00 hrs in the morning on 02.03.2018 and I started stirring up in my bed when the women downstairs started making their preparations. Almost all the men will be hooked up to their homes while the women would be on streets in their new golden bordered Kerala Kasavu sarees. When I stepped out of my home, a long row of brick-stoves with mud-pots and bronze vessels neatly placed on top of them caught my eye. After making my visit to the nearest Goddess temple, I made my way to my office by-passing the many women devotes who are waiting patiently on either sides of the road braving the hot sun.

I could see some of our staff along with other women ready with their hearths near to the Ganesha temple. All were busy with washing rice, grating jaggery and crushing cardamom while the temple authorities were keeping a check on their wristwatches and waiting earnestly for the auspicious time. The rituals actually begin when the chief priest lights up the main hearth of Attukal Bhagavathy temple with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Finally at around 10.15 hrs, the chief priest of the Ganesha temple lit the temple’s hearth and the fire has been passed on to the other hearths by the burning fronds.

The women were into immediate action. Soon the roads were covered with the smoke from the brick-stoves, women turned into a shade of pink due to the hot sun, heat emanating from their stoves and coughs stirred up. I myself found to have a running nose and eyes because of the smoke. Though the sun was blazing like hot molten lava, it couldn’t break the determination of these women devotes. As if pleased by their devotion, the sky was filled with clouds and a cool breeze started to flow. Breaking away from the temple road, I walked towards the junction.

Here too, the situation is more or less the same – women were cooking, volunteers were helping, police personnel were overlooking the activities. Few women started ululating when the contents of their pots were overflowing and praying silently. When asked a lady she went onto say that when the contents in the pot boil over, it marks prosperity and they ululate to thank the Goddess for that. Most of them started to rest after preparing Pongala, which is rice cooked with jaggery and coconut while few others went onto prepare few more delicacies like the Manda Puttu – a green gram delight, Therali Appam – a dish that is steamed in aromatic bay leaves and Aravana.

It’s time for them to go home. It was 14.00 hrs and I could still see the anticipation in everyone’s eyes as the time for the final ritual for the day was approaching. It’s the Nivedhyam (offering ceremony). When the signal came at 14.20 hrs, the chief priest sprayed some holy water over the temple’s utensil containing the Pongala and thereby making it into a holy offering which would be distributed later to the devotes. Later, he went onto spray the holy water over all the pots of the devotes marking the end of the ritual. I too took my share of ‘prashad’(holy offering) before I left to my home 🙂

Food for thought #36

“There are no great acts. There are only small acts done with great love.” – Mother Teresa

” Without the rich heart, wealth is an ugly beggar.” – Emerson

“The means to gain happiness is to throw out for oneself like a spider in all directions an adhesive web of love, and to catch in all that comes.” – Tolstoy

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.” – David Satrr Jordan

” The end of man is an action and not a thought, though it were the noblest.” – Thomas Carlyle

Food for thought #35

“Life is nothing more that a game of numbers – the more risks you take, the more rewards you will receive.”

“Fortune is not on the side of the faint-hearted.”                – Sophocles

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”                       – Andre Gide

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”       – Peter Drucker

“So long as you live, keep learning how to live.”                         – Roman Philosopher Seneca

Food for thought #34

“Deal only with things that are good. If you trade coal, you will be covered in black soot. But if you trade musk, you will smell of perfume.”

 

“Live totally, and live intensely, so that each moment becomes golden and your whole life becomes a series of golden moments.”

 

“When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world, sick of its business, of its pleasures tired, how gracious, how benign is solitude”.             – William Wordsworth

 

“It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is what are you so busy about?”                            – Henry David Thoreau

 

“We don’t laugh because we are happy. We are happy because we laugh.”       – William James                             

Food for thought #33

“People who only listen to their hearts usually fail. On the other hand, people who only use their heads tend to be selfish. Only the heart can make you think of others before yourself.”

 

“Running away is never the solution. Confront your problems. Manage them. That is the way of the warrior.”

 

“Misunderstandings are malignant: they spread and seep, corroding one’s mind and eating into emotions.”

 

“The quivering, wavering mind, Hard to guard, hard to check, The wise one makes straight, Like the bowman his shaft”

 

“Sow flowers, so your surroundings become garden. Don’t sow thorns; for they will prick your feet. We are all one body, whoever tortures another, wounds himself.”

 

My Gastronomical affair with Jaipur

22.10.2017:

It was noon by the time I completed my visit to the City Palace, Jantar Mantar and the Hawa Mahal. Am hungry! Jaipur is not only famous for its palaces, architecture and bazaars, but also for its rich cuisine and hospitality! The streets are filled with roadside ‘tapris’ selling hot chai and doodh-jalebi and the restaurants selling their famous kachoris and ghewar. The other day when I asked my auto-wallah to suggest me a good place to have my lunch, he asked me to go to ‘LMB’. Frankly, I don’t know what this LMB stands for! :-p

When searched over the internet, the search will throw a list of famous restaurants of Jaipur like  Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar (LMB), CM Karodia Namkeen and Gopi Kwality Sweets at Raja Park, and bars and cafes like Anokhi Café, Polo Bar at the Rambagh Palace hotel and Chaandi at the Hilton Jaipur. This is from where I recognized that LMB stands for Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar :). Soon after coming out from the Hawa Mahal, I saw a street hawker selling hot pakoras on his cart and I bought some pakoras. They were served hot with a spicy green chilly and mint chutney. I strolled through the market lanes surrounding Hawa Mahal eating those hot pakoras! 🙂

The streets around Hawa Mahal are also good for shopping. And to my relief, LMB is also near to this Johari Bazaar. I took a tuk-tuk to get dropped at this famous eatery and the tuk-tuk wallah charged me Rs. 10/- from Hawa Mahal. The entrance leads us into the sweet section of this franchise and a further doorway leads us into the restaurant. The restaurant was dimly lit with moderate furniture and the staff are in their traditional headgear! They gave me a warm welcome and placed a high priced Menu Card. The restaurant is a vegetarian one and they serve the typical Rajasthani food along with continental dishes too!

Ofcourse I know that no trip to this beautiful city would be complete without having an elaborate Rajasthani meal and LMB offers one such incredibly authentic meal. Also equally famous is the Marwari thali, which includes bajre ki roti, dal bhati churma (which is composed of a lentil curry, mopped up with a bhati – a roundel of stuffed flour that’s baked in a charcoal fire or oven), pyaz kachori and other local varieties. But the quantity would be too much for me. So I chose a simple menu – Bajre ki roti with paneer makhani.

There are few other restaurants like the Chokhi Dhani, a village a little outside the main city, which offers an ambience akin to a typical Rajasthani village and fair, complete with thatched roof huts, bangle and jewellery sellers, camel rides, elephant rides. Customers are served traditional Rajasthani recipes prepared in pure ghee in a manner similar to the locals and make the guests feel the true heritage hospitality. Though the people at my hotel suggested me this option, I dropped this from my list as I was running short of time! 😦

Having had my lunch, I returned to the sweet shop 🙂 The first dessert which I picked up was the Rasamalai – it’s yummy! The others to follow are the raj kachori and mawa kachori. Finally before leaving the place, I got some Rasa Malai packed 🙂 I have left out a lot more stuff which I would be trying the next time I visit Jaipur! 🙂 My bus is waiting to drop me in Delhi!!

Icon of Jaipur – Hawa Mahal

22.10.2017:

12.15 hrs – Time to visit the signature building of Jaipur – the b! Hawa Mahal is about 10 minutes walk from the Jantar Mantar. I preferred walking over a tuk-tuk since its the best way to explore a place 😉 I came across a Pol or gate which actually leads into the City Palace area. Jaipur is one such place which needs to be explored by walking around the surroundings to immerse ourselves in it’s architecture and culture. Hawa Mahal is surrounded by a cluster of buildings whose architecture is a blend of Mughal, Rajput and European styles. The market area here is also a fine one to hit at!

While nearing the Hawa Mahal I came across a street photographer whose name is Tikam Chand. His prized possession is a 1880’s Carl Zeiss Wooden Box camera with which he takes the old-fashioned black-and white portraits. Though he offered me one, I simply denied but requested him that I would like to peep through it’s viewfinder 🙂 and Tikam Chand happily agreed 🙂 Bidding a bye to Tikam Chand, I walked into a narrow pathway which leads to the ticket counter of Hawa Mahal. The entry ticket costs Rs. 50/- for Indians.

If Jaipur is synonymous to anything else, it is this unique piece of architecture – the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. It is a five-storied Palace built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh under the supervision of his able architect Lal Chand Ustad. The entry to this building is through AnandPol and there is another entry further called the ChandraPol which leads to a spacious courtyard in middle of which there is a water fountain without water :-0 surrounded on the three sides by two-storey buildings. In the courtyard, there is a also a souvenir shop selling various souvenirs and postcards and also Cafe Coffee Day for refreshments.

The Palace is constructed in red and pink sandstone and is in the form of the Hindu God Lord Krishna’s crown. Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who is a great devotee of Lord Krishna had dedicated this Palace to him and worshipped him at the Vichitra Mandir.  There are no staircases available to reach the upper floors, but ramps connected all the various floors. It is said that the main motive behind having these ramps is to facilitate the movement of palanquins of the queens! What a royalty 🙂

There is something unusual about this palace. Firstly, there are no staircases which should be the common case in a five-storied building; secondly, though each floor is named uniquely as Sharad Mandir, Ratan Mandir, Hawa Mandir and so forth, we can’t literally see a mandir or Palace as such. The base two are courtyards, while the top three are just a single room thick. And the most important feature of this structure are the ‘Jharokhas’ or windows adorned with intricate designs. It is said that there are 953 such Jharokhas throughout the Palace.

There are two motives behind having these Jharokas or windows – one was to make the royal women enjoy freedom of watching the royal procession on the streets through these windows without being seen in public and the other is for the wind circulation throughout the palace. But in totality, the Hawa Mahal was built as an extension of the Royal City Palace to allow the women of the royal household to witeness the street festivities without being seen 😦

The Ratan Mandir is perhaps the only one which has got intricate glass work and to climb up to the Hawa Mandir which is the last floor of the palace, I had to wait for 10 minutes as there is no much space up there and I can enter only if someone gets down! From the top, we get a view of the neighboring Jantar Mantar and the bustling streets of Badi Choupar. The Palace is an excellent blend of Rajput and Mughal architectures. While the former style is palpable from the fluted pillars, floral patterns and domed canopies, the arches and stone inlay filigree work are manifestations of the latter style. The palace also has an archaeological museum.

The exit is through another dimly lit and long narrow passage. Passing through it, I almost felt that entering Hawa Mahal is far more easier than exiting it! 😀 Soon, I was on to the outer courtyard and I moved out through the other gateway which directly opens into the Market area!

Jantar Mantar – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

22.10.2017:

11.15 hrs – The place started to get crowded as more and more tourists are venturing out to have a look at the City Palace. I headed towards yet another important structure in the heart of the city which is in contrast with the intricate carvings and the ornate pols or gates of the City Palace – The Jantar Mantar. The entry ticket costs Rs. 50/- for Indians! Grabbing my ticket, I walked towards this most impressive and fascinating astrological marvel, which is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of medieval India. In 2010, Jantar Mantar has been granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II who is fond of astronomy and used to study works of celebrated astronomers all over the world constructed a range of astronomical observatories throughout North India in between 1724 and 1730, called the ‘Jantar Mantars’. Out of the five Jantar Mantars in Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura (which no longer exists), the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is the largest one. In fact, it is said that some of the instruments here in Jaipur are constructed by him and he constructed it so near to the City Palace so that he can make all the observations by his own!

The term ‘Jantar Mantar’ is derived from the Sanskrit terms ‘Yantra’ and ‘Mantra’ meaning ‘instruments’ and ‘formula’ respectively. I hired a guide here who knows a lot about the instruments present here. Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 fixed architectural astronomical instruments that offer precise measurements of time, the azimuth, declination of the sun and the positions of constellations, along with several other astronomical phenomena.

I came across the Nadivalaya (the equatorial instrument), the Krantivritta (the ecliptic circle instrument) used to measure the longitude and latitudes of the celestial bodies, the Laghu Samrat Yantra (Small sundial), Shastana Yantra (sextant instrument) with which the variation in the sun’s diameter can be accurately measured and many more. But the centre of attraction here is the Vrihat Samrat Yantra (the ‘Supreme Instrument’ or Large Sundial), which is 90 ft high and measures time to an accuracy of two seconds is the world’s largest sundial.

My guide explained me about each and every instrument with perfect examples and I was awestruct when he explained me about calculating the time on Laghu Samrat Yantra and asked me to check the time he told on my watch and to my sheer surprise, it’s accurate! So far, I found Jantar Mantar as the most significant, comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories. And people who are interested in astronomy, here is your best bet if you want a scientific holiday 😉

Fusion of three architectures – Jaipur’s City Palace

22.10.2017:

07.30 hrs – My day started quite early :-p Finishing off my daily chores, I headed for my breakfast which is complimentary 🙂 The day’s menu was comprised of Puri Sabji, bread and butter – not bad! Having had my breakfast, I headed to perhaps the most cherished attraction of the city – The City Palace. Uber again! Their services are too good in the city 🙂

09.40 hrs – My cab stopped in front of a huge gateway which is so grand in nature! The gateway is made of lattice work, painted marvelously and two canons were placed on either side of the gateway. Just after passing through this gateway there is a ticket counter to get an entry ticket into the Palace. The ticket costs Rs. 130/- for Indians and Rs. 300/- for foreigners. There are also composite tickets available here, on which we can visit four to five places in the city!

The City Palace was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II when he wanted to shift his capital from Amber to Jaipur during the 18th century. The chief architect of this palace is Vidyadhar Bhattacharya (who also designed the Madhavendra Palace at Nahargarh Fort) along with Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob! The Palace was designed and constructed according to the texts of Vaastushastra, the ancient architectural science of India and was infused with a mix of Rajput, European and Mughal styles of architecture!

The entry into this palace can be through two gates namely the Udai Pol or Atish Pol and Virendra Pol. There is also a third entrance called ‘Tripolia Gate‘ which is only for the royal family! I chose Udai Pol and this leads us to a pink structure called the Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience, where the king used to meet his ministers, official guests and other important people. The main attraction of this Hall is the huge silver jars made by melting 14000 silver coins and were used to store the waters of the river Ganga. It’s said that they are the biggest silver urns in the world as per the Guinness Book of World Records! Also one can find huge crystal chandeliers and a collection of arms here in this hall!

The Sarvato Bhadra or Diwan-i-Khas is almost as if situated in middle of a red sandstone square courtyard! On one side we can the clock tower which can be seen from a distance from many places in the city and on the other far end is a doorway that leads to the seven storied Chandra Mahal or Moon Palace, which is the residence of the royal descendants. A gateway called the Riddhi-Siddhi Pol leads us to the most stunning part of this palace called the Pritam Niwas Chowk or “Courtyard of the Beloved”. A narrow hallway leads us to this courtyard.

This courtyard is used by the royal family for festive occasions and ceremonies and perhaps there is an upcoming event for which the arrangements were being made by the time I entered the courtyard! This is truly a architectural delight and would be every photographer’s choice! The courtyard has four beautiful doorways depicting the four seasons and each one is uniquely named. The Mor Gate or Peacock Gate represents Autumn, the Lotus Gate represents Summer, the Leheriya Gate or the Green Gate represents the Spring and the Rose Gate represents Winter!

It is said that the king used to enter the Chandra Mahal through the specific gate in the specific season. Though the 3D peacocks on the Mor gate attracted me a lot, I started to stare at the Leheriya Gate for a long time trying to recollect where I saw it! After a few minutes I fished out my mobile and checked for the cover page of the book ‘The Palace of Illusions‘ – and there it is! 🙂 Not a bad memory huh 😉

Walking out of this beautiful place, I moved towards a marble gateway named Rajendra Pol which leads to the Mubarak Mahal or Welcome Palace which is the last addition to the City Palace. Mubarak Mahal is truly a confluence of all the three architectures – Rajput, Mughal and European! This two-storied building has richly carved arches and doorways and hosts a museum displaying the textiles and costumes used by the royal Rajputs in the past. There is also a souvenir shop here 🙂 Moving out of Mubarak Mahal, I headed to the opposite side where there is an art exhibition being held and one can watch the local artisans at work!

There is also another boutique being run in the same complex and it has got a huge collection of paintings and antiques! My exit is through the Virendra Pol which is just beside the Mubarak Mahal. City Palace is yet another awesome specimen of architectural brilliance in the city of Jaipur 🙂 Before visiting this palace, I had Nahargarh hangover and now it’s City Palace hangover 😀