Posts Tagged ‘Indian culture

15
Jan
09

makar sankranti.

kite string.

Today marks the festival of Makar Sankranti, the much loved kite-flying festival celebrated across India.  Last year we enjoyed watching the preparations leading up to the festivities.  You can read more about the festival and see some colorful photos by checking out this post.

28
Oct
08

the legend of diwali, festival of light.

Once upon a time, King Dasaratha ruled the prosperous kingdom of Ayodhya.  The King was blessed with four sons from his three wives: Rama, son of Kaushalya, was the eldest boy and heir to the throne of Ayodhya.  Bharat (son of second wife Kaikeyi), Lakshman and Shatrugan (twin sons of Sumitra) enjoyed the strong bonds of brotherhood.  Together the four boys mastered the mental and physical challenges presented by their teachers.

Eventually the King became too old and weak to rule the kingdom, so he named Rama as his successor.  All the citizens of Ayodhya were elated as they prepared for the coronation ceremony.  Second Queen Kaikeyi, however, was jealous that Rama would receive all the glory while her own son Bharat would have nothing.  Kaikeyi began scheming and plotting a way to have her own son crowned king. 

On the eve of Rama’s coronation Kaikeyi called King Dasaratha into her chambers.  She reminded him that he had vowed to grant her two wishes after she had saved his life many years ago.  The king remembered his vow, of course, and pledged once again to grant her wishes.  Kaikeyi then calmly told the King she wanted him to banish Rama for fourteen years and name her son Bharat as ruler of Ayodhya.  King Dasaratha was filled with sadness.  Although he did not want to rob Rama of his birthright, he was compelled to fulfill his promise to Kaikeyi.

Upon hearing his father’s decision Rama calmly accepted his fate and promised to fulfill his dharma (duty) by living out the term of his banishment.  Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshman insisted on following Rama into exile, so the three began their journey south into the wild forest where they would live for fourteen years.

During their long exile Rama, Sita, and Lakshman fought many battles and performed countless heroic deeds.  They cemented alliances with the tribes and animals living in the forest.  Their reputation spread until nearly everyone had heard of their courage and fairness.

Fourteen years passed and finally the time arrived for the threesome to begin their journey back to Ayodhya.  But on the eve of their departure a great tragedy occurred.  Sita was captured by Ravana, the evil Lord of Lanka, and was taken to his lair in his kingdom south of India. 

When Rama and Lakshman discovered that Sita had been kidnapped, they appealed to their friends in the forest for help.  Legions of humans and animals came to their aid, building a great bridge across the sea to the land of Lanka.  In a bloody and violent battle that lasted more than ten days Rama and his army defeated Ravana, Lord of Lanka.

Finally Rama was reunited with his wife Sita.  Together with Lakshman they began their journey north to claim Rama’s rightful place as the King of Ayodhya.  Word of their glorious victory had spread and they were greeted by celebrations in every village and city they entered. 

 The kingdom of Ayodhya had planned an elaborate festival for the return of the King, his wife, and his brother.  The entire kingdom was ablaze with light as every building and home was decorated with lamps and candles.  There was a great feast that included dancing and fireworks.

During the festival of Diwali we remember Rama’s triumphant return to his kingdom.  We celebrate his faithfulness and courage.  As we light candles and hang lamps in our windows, we welcome the light of knowledge and virtue into our homes and hearts.

28
Oct
08

holiday: gangtok, sikkim.

Gangtok, the capital of the state of Sikkim, is nestled in the Himalayas in northeast India.  

 

 

   The walkway approaching Buddhist monasteries is often lined with prayer wheels inscribed with the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”.  Through the practices of meditation and chanting this mantra Buddhists identify with the Buddha of Compassion, gradually expanding their compassion to include all sentient beings.  Spinning the prayer wheels accumulates the same merit as chanting the mantra, sharing the intention that all beings become free from suffering.

 

 

 

 

Prayer wheels at monastery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            the mall at Gangtok

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

Gangtok at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Every morning I awoke to see this woman performing her morning prayers on the terrace.

 

   

 

 

 

    

 

   We bounced along mountain roads, sometimes just inches from a 5000-foot drop.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake, altitude 12,400 feet.

 

Yes, we rode on yaks.


29
Sep
08

adalaj.

 

 

 

 

29
Sep
08

adalaj ki vav (stepwell).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

adalaj ki vav (stepwell).

Originally uploaded by mbdoctor

 

22
Sep
08

five pillars.

 

We are nearing the end of Islam’s sacred month of Ramadan, a time devoted to fasting and purification of the body and soul.  The Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Mohammed through the archangel Gabriel in the sixth century during a period of lawlessness and social chaos.  The Five Pillars of Islam are the foundation of Muslim life.  The testimony of faith professes that there is only one God (Allah) and Mohammed was his messenger.  Muslims pray facing the holy city of Mecca five times a day: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night.  Islam teaches that material possessions are purified through sharing with the needy; therefore, charity is an essential practice of Islam.  Fasting during the month of Ramadan is a means of purifying the body and soul.  Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset, but also abstain from sexual relations, gossip, and slander.  Able Muslims are required to make the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in their lives.

18
Sep
08

mani’s hands.

Learning how to prepare cuisine from different regions is one of the pleasures of living in India.  Although my attempts do not taste very authentic I still enjoy experimenting and Sam enjoys eating.  I arrive early for family meals, hoping to improve my cooking skills through observation.

Last night we had dinner with Sam’s grandmother, Dadi, who was eager to teach me how to prepare a few items.  One of the staples of the Indian diet is rotis, or round flat breads, which are made from wheat flour.  Sam’s family often makes rotlas from rice or millet flour for me because I don’t eat wheat.  Dadi asked her cook, Mani, to prepare the rotlas in my presence last night.

Conceptually, rotlas are not difficult to make.  By slowly adding water to the millet flour you knead the mixture until the dough is soft and pliable.  Then you take a small handful of dough and shape it into a ball, again kneading it a little.  Finally, with your hands you flatten the ball into a pancake shape and cook it on a very hot pan.  When the bread is mostly cooked, remove it from the pan with tongs and hold it over the stovetop flame until it puffs.  Done.

In theory this is easy enough, but I just can’t manage to get it right.  I watch Mani with complete admiration as she expertly mixes and kneads the flour in the bowl.  Her hands move with the assurance only an experienced cook possesses.  Her body is relaxed, face smiling as she explains what she’s doing.  This is a sharp contrast to my own experience: temperature rising, mind filled with self-doubt, hands frantically trying to correct the proportion of water to flour.

Mani’s hands are strong and sure, and she commands the dough with authority.  Pushing down with her palm and bending it back with her fingers, the dough obeys her every command.  She shapes a ball and begins to flatten it on a round marble slab dusted with flour.  Tap, tap, tap, turn.  Tap, tap, tap, turn.  The rotla takes shape; it’s a perfect circle with even thickness and nice plump edges that stay firm.  (Mine often crumble).  

Mani’s hands craft one rotla after another, in an inviting rhythm that hints at years of shaping raw ingredients into simple feasts.  She wipes her hands on a cloth after placing the last rotla on a plate.  Then Mani picks up a knife and a cutting board.  She smiles and asks if I’m ready to make the vegetables.