South India Temples and Street Markets

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Post Covid, the travel bug has bitten us too! We took this opportunity to visit some temple towns in South India. It was not only some spiritual healing and chanting time, but be a witness to the sheer grandeur of the temple architecture, find historical notes and of course …enjoy some suud suud kapi and south Indian breakfast!

Our first stop was at Tiruchirapalli (Trichi, for short) and I loved the warm air and small city feel at the airport itself! Eager to see the famed figures atop the temples and walk the expanse of the interiors we quickly changed into tradtional clothes and took an autorickshaw to the temple. Passing through many adorned arches we turned into a side street and stood at the south gate. Mesmerizing! and in awe at the towering, elaborate, magnificient Gopurams or gates that guarded the temple precints, one in each cardinal direction – North, South, East West.

Here, the south and east Gopurams were preferentially convenient, and we stood in the long winding queues for our darshan. We had to deposit our cameras and mobiles, no photo taking permitted inside. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, locally named as Sri Ranganathswamy, and there is a story to this.

Towering South Gopuram at Ranganathaswamy Temple, Trichy

Situated on the banks of wide river Kaveri, Tiruchirapalli is the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu, dating back to its importance in 300 B.C. established by the Chola dynasty. They were known for their archaelogical interest, stone carvings and inclination to Arts and music. The stone pavilions and ornate coloumns that form the mandapas inside the temple, speak volumes of this interest. Later the Pallavas and Vijaynagar empire added their contributions to this temple, expanding the boundary walls, high stone pillars that make a beautiful, jaw dropping interior maze! When the Vijaynagar empire collapsed in 1565, Trichy came to be occupied in turn, by the Nayaks of Madurai (another competing temple town), the Marathas, the Nawabs of Carnatic and finally the British. But it was under the Nayaks of Madurai that Trichy flourished and prospered. On all four sides of the temple walls one finds many old row-type, single story houses, with characteristic features of the history of that period. Today many of them have been converted into eating houses, souvenir shops and cloth shops. But an aura pervades the entire area around the massive temple complex of 156 acres!

I got lucky with a few photographs of temple interiors and ornate sculpting depicting various Gods and godesses, and protectors or a Yaani face figure at the topmost. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu,(one of the Hindu Trinity gods). It is considered one of the foremost of 108 Vishnu temples. Its expanse over 156 acres with 21 Gopurams makes it a very prominent Hindu temple.

There is an interesting story in Ramayana about the formation/establishment of this temple and how Vibhisana put down the idol of Sri Ram, on his way to Sri Lanka and later the idol refused to move, and stood fixed to the Earth. But facing southwards, as a blessing to Visbhisana the deity stayed here in the form of Sri Rangam, thus Ranganathaswamy temple.

https://www.tamilnadutourism.com/trichy/srirangam/temples/sri-ranganathaswamy-temple-trichy.php

Figure details atop the temple arch

One last look and some photo taking that permitted us to cpature the ornate horizontal sculpture over the mandapa and entrance, and we tried to decipher the mythology of Adi Shesh Nag and Vishnu stories that lay within this historical masterpiece.

Along the narrow radiating streets opposite each Gopuram were numerous shops selling myriad things for temple necessities – haldi and kumkum, flower and Tulsi leaf garlands (Tulsi plant is said to be dear to Lord Vishnu ( there is a mythological story on this), photo frames, coconuts for offering, beads and colourful glass bangles. Most women, traditionally, will shop for new set of 12 (or less) bangles to wear or take home or offer to consort Goddess Lakshmi at the temple, along with a saree of choice.

Shops selling stone and mortar pestles in small size for pounding red chilles and ginger was an interesting sight. South India is famous for its variety of chutnies, this temple town served ONLY vegetarian food at all the nearby eating places.

What was unique is the chequered designs on sarees and shirts! Many women devotees wore such sarees and we had fun counting at least 80 such! (Ha, ha..we were not praying then:) Multi hued, small checks and large ones, border or blouses, checks seemed to dominate the pattern. And look at the were a stack of coloured plastic chequred shopping bags! Have the designer tycoons Yves St. Laurent or Gucci been here as yet, we joked!

I hesitatingly stepped into the streetside saree shop or Kadai and asked to see some locally woven Chinalapatti cotton sarees and the popular Karaikudi Kandangi chequred sarees. Having seen many women devotees wearing this unique design of seamless checks all over, in mostly earthy tones and having contrast borders, this saree required some more historical and economic attention. Handloom weaving is big industry employing over 10,000 people in many small towns, dating back to history of establishing family looms, pit looms and use of wooden shuttles.

Did you know that place where the saree is woven, gets its identity? Like: Madurai Sungadi, Chettinadu bright cottons, Karaikudi checks, Kanjeevaram silks, Salem cotton sarees and towels …and more. Does it make for an interesting research topic? Or will the shopping be just a collection to your wardrobe?

Madurai Sungudi tie-dye cotton saree.

The saree lover within me, could not resist and I purchased this as an addition to my wardrobe and a gratitude to the weaver’s community.

Mounds of vermillion powder, for offering at temple or take home for prayers.

Rameshwaram: A taxi ride the southern tip of India

Geographically speaking, Rameshwaram is almost the tip on eastern India, a small islet across the Pamban river and bridge. Breathtaking for its uniqueness and expanse of blue ocean, it is mostly a fishing township but of immense religious importance for Hindus. It is one of the 12 JyotirLingams.

As the Ramayan story goes, Lord Ram and his brother Laxman, along with their monkey troops had to cross the vast ocean to reach Sri Lanka, where the demon or Asura Raavan had carried away Sita, Ram’s wife after some trickery. On their successful return, across the Sethu or bridge, Lord Ram and Sita are said to have sanctified this place and worshipped Lord Shiva here, and seeked his blessings. Thus, Rameshwarm gains importance as the confluence of Vaishnavism and Shaivisim, the two Hindu sects that have belief in worship of Vishnu and Shiva.

No Hindu’s spiritual journey is complete without a visit to temples both at Varanasi and Rameshwaram!

Paintings, stories drawn on sand and paper, religious ashrams, wood carvings, shell decorated souvenirs are plentiful. Hindu devotees visit here for a short 1-4 day trip. It is mandatory, that the devotees have a dip in the sea, a cleansing process (though the sea water was murky) and ONLY then proceed for worship.

Crossing the Pamban Bridge, Rameshwaram
Fishing trawlers on the coastline of Rameshwaram, near the fishing village

Tall, magnificient Gopurams could be seen from far away, all painted in the same subtle yellow, and facing the 4 prominent directions. The temple is famous for its very long corridor, adorned with row of pillars and figurenes that is every photographer’s delight! (Remember, no cameras allowed inside the temple).

East Gopuram, facing the sea, and the adjoining street is busiest, as it goes directly to temple interiors.

All along this route are many small ashrams and bhojanalayas or eating places, that serve traditional breakfast of idli, dosa chutney, and poori -sabji , rice dishes, in the afternoon. Of course, all food is only vegetarian, no fish permitted anywhere near temple areas. Traditional clothing for men, includes white or check lungi, wrapped around the waist, reaching the knees and a shirt or cotton vest is ample for this hot humid weather. The women folk are dressed as usual in saree -blouse.

Sea shells make decor pieces

Souvenirs, local craft, wooden carvings at roadside shop

Around the temple, the street markets open early at 8 am and wind down after 9pm, with a short afternoon quiet time, when devotees rest, as temple closes after lunch. Elaborate kolams or floor designs graced home entrances, temple entrance and corridors. We saw many young girls, tugging at their mother’s sarees, asking for a bowl of the Kolam powder, a white coarse powder to draw these patterns. This is such a healing Art, requiring only a bit of dexterity, discipline and little knowledge of math to draw around the measured dots. Sadly, in the busy city life, this is a dying art, practiced maybe during festivities.

For more on Kolam check here: http://episteme.hbcse.tifr.res.in/index.php/episteme5/5/paper/viewFile/152/41

Bottles and cans for collecting sacred water or sea water to take home.

One such Kolam design outside a Gujrati Bhojanalaya, eating house.

Kolam, floor Rangoli outside temple or home entrances

Rameshwaram- land’s end! We stood facing the sea, paying our gratitude and respects to our ancestors, people of the land, mythology stories written by many sages of ancient India, and a deep sense of satisfaction having come to this place to proceed on our own spiritual and travel journey. The numerous devotees that thronged the sea for a holy dip, some standing in the long queues to have darshan at the temple and yet others, walking along the streets or eating local food, made up the structure of society here, contributing to the economy of this region.

May Peace be with you all. Vasudaiva Kutumbam, where all mankind emerges from the One.

Do leave your comments in the box below, hope I was able to take you on this special journey.

Reblog: Summer season is Mango season

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In 2017, I wrote this post. I’ve edited bits, as I’ve grown in writing. But the essence of enjoying the fruit ‘virtually’ remains the same. see here

Do sit back, read and enjoy the taste. This evening I am going to the market to buy the fruit and sweet candies and take lots of photos for an updated Mango blog.

For a mango rich dessert see here

MahaShivratri Celebrations: Reblogged

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Once again it is the religious festival of MahaShivratri ( Maha= big, Shiv = One of the Hindu Trinity gods, Ratri= night). Shiv and Shakti or Shiv and Parvati, the symbols of love, power and togetherness is celebrated. There is a story in the Shiv Puran, of how Shiva married a second time, tis time to Parvati, as his earlier wife/consort passed away.

After the pandemic, life is abuzz once again, albeit with a bit of caution. This year I will visit the temple at night and say my prayers. The night will be long as devotees chant and pray, pour milk on the Shiva Lingam, as it is a very auspicious day/night. Many visit temples or make special visits to one of the 12 Jyotirlingas around India. A day of Jaagran – night long awakefullness to dispel ignorance, fear and negativity is observed on this very spiritual and meditative day.

Reblogging my earlier post ..see here

Post Cards from Sydney: Bondi Farmer’s Market

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Set in the suburb of Bondi in Sydney, the popular Bondi farmer’s market is just a stone’s throw away from the sea and sand. Think frothy waves on one side of the road and the market produce inviting you from the other side. Which one will you choose? Come, gather your basket (and your towel if you wish to swim) and come along with me. I chose the market first, had barley coffee and fresh baked cheese and feta puff for breakfast. Senses filled, I crossed over to the other side of the road to smell the salty air!

Getting here was easy. Hop on and off the bus from Bondi junction. The bus halts right outside the Bondi beach public school. The weekend (ONLY) market is held here, rain or shine from 9am to 1pm.

The impressive stone building of the school makes a characteristic backdrop with its green lawns at the entrance. We wandered around to the backside of the school, the bright mural on the wall was eyecatching and the children’s playarea made for a instant fun family outing. Notice the casual summer weekend attire?

“Care for some fresh brew …yes with barley seeds. No caffeine!” and ” some spice bread loaf baked by me at home?” inquired the stall holders. Sustainable, innovative, home fresh and healthy! that’s the key attraction of the farmer’s markets, unlike the produce at supermarkets.

The golden brown artisan breads dusted with flour were neatly arranged on the next stall. Just looking at their colour and freshness made me instantly hungry! The two young ladies were the ‘bakers’ and gladly spoke about their hobby to the visiting customers. ” Its meticulous, pratice and sourcing the freshest ingredients…that make our breads end up with low shelf life = FRESH!! ” they quipped. Soy bread, linseed, spelt flour bread, chocolate whirls, rye bread – what a warm choice awaited us. Regular customers came early, whereas families with children in tow strolled along, taking time to choose.

So join me for a feta cheese and spring onion puff, while my friend chose a deli style avocado and fresh lettuce sandwich at $ 6 each. I sunk my teeth into the crisp outer flakes, the crumbly feta ooozing out. Yummm….and we walked over to the green lawns to hear some country music band and watch the few children rolling on the grass. ( yes, Omicron is still lurking around, so social distancing was followed).

Well, there’s more to see or even buy. So we strolled back leisurely, turning once a while to stretch our neck to see the frothy waves from the distance.

Heavenly scents of fragrance lifted our senses as we admired the craftsmanship of colourful hand made soap bars by Toby and Rosie. They were almost edible looking! Feel rejuvenated or relaxed, scrub or exfoliate, wellness soap bars and fragrant oils. Check out their blog @ http://www.toby&rosie.com.au/blog.

Pamper yourself with a multicoulured bar of orange, honey and cream or green tea and cucumber, or just soft lavendar. Can you make up your mind, quickly? Its $13 a bar or $ 25 for a big one. Indulge!

Attending a birthday, a wedding or an anniversary? Pick up the freshest bunch from the flower stall. Big tubs of water stood firm under the red and white striped canopy making the area so colourfully prominent. Stalks of the Australian natives – Protea, Grevilllea, dry bunches of Banksia and tall reeds or dry lavender to spike up a table. Summer flowers like big face yellow sunflowers, blue and white Hydrengeas, pink and white lilies, multi coloured, long petalled gerberas or dainty pink blooms, what a choice! No florist can forget to keep a bunch of red rose buds, dont they come in handy as a love note, anytime? Which one will you choose?

Our final stop was at Rita’s Farm – very popular as they stocked the fresh vegetables and few fruits grown pesticide free and even an organic produce stall. Well, Bondi is a high and well heeled suburb where the crowd can be quite fussy and choose electic and natural growing stuff. Bondi is also popular with the tourists as the famous beach and cafes that dot the area are so inviting. So this market is a statement unto the needs of this locality.

The abundant summer fresh vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, zucchini and mangoes and pears were a delightful buy. The long snaking queues proved the popularity and value customers rated this stall /market. People clutched their heavy bags holding them with two arms and stood in the queue, others with families and children went back and forth. If it’s farm fresh – it has to be brought at Rita’s farm! was the unuttered catchphrase.

Time to carry our bags to the beach now. Won’t you come along?

Have you ever been to a beachside market? What special differences or effects caught your eye?

Want to browse another Sydney open air beach side market see here. Catch the candle stalls, book lovers stall and get lost walking the lane selling some beach wear at Manly suburb.

‘Akshar Abhyaas’ or Study of Alphabet commencement at Saraswati Temple, Wargal

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Saraswati Namas Tubhyaam Varade Kaam Rupini, 
Vidya Rambham Kasrishyami, 
Siddhir Bhavatu Me Sada. 
Padma Patra Visalakshi, Padma Kesari Vaarnini, 
Nityam Padmalaya Devi Samam Paadu Saraswati 
Bhagawati Nisyeshya Jadya Paha

This is a hymn or shloka to Goddess Saraswati, goddess of learning and wisdom invoking her blessings for granting 'vidya' or learning and keeping a benevolent eye upon us, always. The goddess is described as seated always on a white lotus (that symbolizes purity and moksha), and our heads bow to her.

Well, since the pandemic time, I embarked on two journeys with some gusto. One,the spiritual inward journey of reflection, meditation and chanting. It's a long road indeed!
The other journey, is revjuvenating myself through storytelling. Virtual platforms, new virtual friends, increasing my repertoire of stories, improving recall memory, getting creative and learning technology to aide the telling process! Another long road indeed!

That was the calling! I wanted to visit the famous Saraswati Temple, at Wargal, near Hyderabad. Saraswati is the Hindu Goddess of Learning. 
The temple is situated on a large hillock, the big stone boulders made a landscape that this region is famous for. A large imposing statue of the goddess seated on a pink lotus, holding the Veena, a multi stringed musical instrument, greets devotees near the temple entrance. 

Here is an interesting creation story of the birth of the goddess. She was created by Lord Brahma, one of the Hindu Trinity gods. 


Sarawati temple, Wargal, Telengana

She is also called Veena Vadini or the one who plays the Veena, a musical instrument or called Vagdevi, the goddess of speech and Sur. Thus the goddess is worshipped for knowledge and music. Many children are initiated for formal school education with a simple yet symbolic prayer that is offered at this temple. Devotees might also distribute books and slates to other children, marking this important day in the life of their child.

Saraswati represents knowledge, music, Vedas, akshaar or alphabet. Simple prayers are offered in various parts of India, though ways and traditions may differ. Even craftsmen put down their tools during the auspicious Navratri festival time. Paintbrushes, chisels, cutting knives and masonry tools, music instruments are all worshipped.

Many young children and families were seated in the front hall of the sanctum sanctorum. We chanted shlokas and waited in meditative slinece to get darshan or sighting of the idol after the ceremonial puja. Bathed in a paste of turmeric and sandalwood, holding the Veena in her one hand and the Vedas or books in the other, the idol was dressed in pure white saree and white flowers and decorated abundantly! It was the 5th day of Navratri puja, which is the auspicious days of Devi Puja in the Hindu calendar, during October.

The moment had arrived! Time to fill my eyes, resting them upon the idol of the Goddess. A sense of calm and happiness filled my heart, a wish fullfilled! I remembered all my storyteller friends and family and seeked blessings to remain on this learning journey.

Many young children were seated with parents or maternal uncles. They had either a book/pencil in hand or a slate and chalk, or a music note book, to be blessed for thier formal education. This tradition is called Akshar Abhaaysa, Akshar means Alphabet in Sanskrit and Abhayasa is practice. In the olden days, the simple puja was done at home. A plate full of rice grain was spread out and the father would hold the right hand of the child and write AUM on it, symbolically initiating the education. Such deep meaning is hidden in these traditional customs, that are so overlooked or frowned upon today. Such small steps became pillars of an ongoing learning journey, both physical and spiritual, right from the young age of 5 years!

On the way home, lush green paddy fields on wither side of the road, was a welcome respite from the urban building chusters in Hyderabad. And some maize fields spread out too. What a delight to see the tightly bundled maize shoots peeking out from the leafy stalks. Telengana region grows plenty of maize and millets that suit the dry, arid climate. However, the rice fields are irrigated with tube wells and canals.

A group of three young children sat by the roadside with a huge spread of marigold flowers, pom pom size in orange and yellow bursts! We stopped, chatted, saw the twinkle in their eyes and big smiles on their faces. The urban /rural divide amongst us was absolutely clear! The fields and birds that we dilighted in, the permission to wander into the flower fields and pluck a few pom poms ourselves was meted out with sheepish grins on the children’s faces. The young boy, ran ahead as he talked about the planting, growth and seasonal sales of Marigolds, the traditional flowers used for garlands and puja and door decorations.

Mounds of rose petals and marigolds

More smiles, giggles and weighing of the floral blooms.1 kg = 80 Rs. and our basket was filled. We had enough to decorate our puja doors, make garlands for our home and car, and spill some on the floral Rangoli for the upcoming Dussera festival.

To these rural children, education came right at home, on the fields, being one with Nature! They were amused as we looked at the changing colours of the sky, spotted twittering birds on the fields nearby and pointed out to the beautiful blue kingfisher sitting atop a branch.

Simple flower Rangoli

Learning begins at home, and everywhere. Only the mind need to be receptive. And… learning should never stop!

Do you have any traditions around puja or education initiation? Have your ever witnessed any prayers around this festival or traditions in your home?

Post Cards from Vile Parle: Snapshots of History, Buildings and Culture

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Simple living, flawless character, value of cultural traditions, an educated middle class, hobbies like reading, gardening and attending dramas and music performances, a ‘Tilak school of thought’ is the best way to describe Vile Parle and its inhabitants, the Parlekars.

Vile Parle, a suburb of Mumbai, is proud of its history. The narrow by-lanes were lined by tall trees and cobbled roads. When south Mumbai got crowded, the middle class Marathi manoos began living in clustered residential housing estates, that stand test of time. Vile Parle also boasts of bungalows in old art deco style, each vying for a place in history with elaborate shuttered windows, coloured glass panes, oval balconies and green area.

This small township took its name from Idlai Padlai villages. These villages of the 1800’s were formed out of Idlai, Irle and Padlai, fishing and farming towns adjacant to Bandra and Santacruz. Later the railway line cut through the area demarcating east and west Vile Parle.

Vile Parle (east) holds a special place in our heart. My mother spent her childhood days in a large bungalow when space was not a constraint and attended the much renowned school. At age 85+ her eyes light up, and she radiates a big grin just hearing about Vile Parle! A trip down memory lane and a small purchase of a traditional item was the excuse of heading towards the market, furing this pandemic time.

Vile Parle has a much contemporary look, but still trying to retain its old bungalows and cultural identity. Real estate is soaring, and old meets new, its a melange of two distinct communities – the Maharashtrian and the Gujrati (with a few Catholics and fisher folk community).

A gentle walk along the by lanes seems the best way to walk past the school, old bungalows, neighbourhood tailor and grocery shops as well as look at the new apartment blocks with large window panes and grills to keep out birds.

Passerby’s notice my touristy nature snapping photos of details: street vendor selling fruits, flowers, or newspaper and masks too! In the yesteryears, the residents kept an eye out for each other, you would inevitablly bump into someone. People knew you by name, fame or profession. And the ineveitable happened, just when I was taking pictures! An elderly lady in saree, walked past and turned ‘Do you live in …that building? I’ve seen you, my sister lives there.’ A quick exchange of conversation and said ‘Take care, lockdown begins at 4:00 pm.’

Parlekars were mostly Maharashtrians with a distinct Puneri flavour and mindset. But as the old timers collaborated with arriving Gujrati communities to set up business ( check out Parle biscuit factory…yummm) change was ineveitable. Shops were flooded with textiles, fancy garments,fashion accesories, Gujrati food and festival needs. Tailors and parlours sprung up. The simple, Marathi manoos, began feeling the pinch in his pocket and dilution of cultural identity, as prices soared.

The market was renamed. The street market extended at both ends, almost touching the residential areas. Traditional food items like puran -poli, besan laddoo, rajgira pohe and jewellery and Marathi sarees were pushed into corner shops. The business minded Gujratis dominated, Their food items like khakra, gathia, sev puri took up shelf space.

Wait, look at the different flowers!

@Button Marigold -used for door decorations, wedding pandals.

@White jasmine and white mogra – used for hair garlands called gajra, especially during puja

@Red rose and red Hibiscus – favourite flowers for Ganesh puja

@ yellow Champa – for hair decor and puja

The intricately woven flower veni is different from the gajra. The veni is tightly hand woven using a highlighter thread, the gajra flowers are tied at spacings using white thread.

I noticed the freshly painted art deco building. The stand alone bungalow has been converted into ‘Music house.’ Parlekars pride themselves for their cultural roots and quality education. Many temples have been built providing a community space for spiritual development for both men and women, and children. My mother used to attend an evening bhajan class, a good way of social networking in a cultural space.

Graciously this Bai, woman smiled and chuckled to get included in the photo. ‘ Are you going to make me famous? will I get more customers? she laughed. Her husband was weaving garlands in the back corner.He picks up the flowers each morning at 3 am at Dadar Wholesale Flower market. Living on the outskirts of Mumbai, where housing is cheaper, they commute daily by the suburban train, one hour each way, every day!

The pandemic and lockdown had its effect on this hyper bustling market. It seemed eerily deserted. The vivid hues on the blouse pieces, sort of made up for the street colours. Standing as if in defiance to time, these colourful blouse pieces are bought mostly by a small segment of womenfolk, as the younger women don fashionable one off saree -blouse wear or alternate clothing. Today the mix and match colours and designs imitate Bollywood fashion. The neighbourhood tailor exists albeit, smarter, splashing a fashion book as he awaits the fancy details and splurge of money for designing and stitching a blouse. Move over simpleton Marathi manoos, other communities have a more lavish dress up style!

Finally, I head towards the shop of the family jeweller. No, no! Not the authentic gold jewellers that Parle is famous for (Musalankar, Pendharkar, Gadgil, Pethe – the Maharashtrian business men who carved a niche and name for themselves for over 100 years!)

Tight on budget and just want an occasional wear of the traditional Marathi Nath, nosering- so imitation jewellery is the need. The traditional Marathi Nath was popularized by the women of the Maratha rulers and Peshwas. It is set with pearls and dotted with green emerald or a red ruby at the centre, and usually curved like the shape of paisley or a mango. Taking on a contemporary look, they now come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The Nath is a MUST HAVE be it festive or for a stage event and for a bridal trousseau.

The Nath is always worn on the left nostril, representing Ardh Naari, and feminity. It has been the source of many a poem and dance, and has deep cultural and artistic roots. Each region of India has its own Nath, the shape and size is a tell tale sign of the region and rulers.

To portray the character of a Maratha woman for a story event, the Nath will mark the true style. And the walk down memory lane compliments the yester year time. After all, it was from ‘ Aamcha Parle’ our Parle, as my mother would proudly say, with a twinkle in her eye!

Do you have a special piece of jewellery that you purchase from a particular region or country? Do leave your comments and make this space richer.

World Palate Recipes: Mango Rava Kesari ( Mango semolina pudding)

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Come summer, most Indians young and old look forward to the mango season. To the young, the fruit brings loads of nutrition and necessary sugars to beat the heat, to the street children it brings fun and naughtiness to pelt stones at the big branches and try catch that hanging raw mango only to munch on its sour, sweet taste! To me, it brings back memories of my own childhood at my maternal uncle’s home. They had 3 mango trees. Yes, THREE mango trees! That’s what the summer holidays were all about. We cousins used to climb the sturdy branches to pluck off fruit…or rather be bitten by flurry of red ants! Often, my maternal uncle used to complain to my mother about my naughtiness:).

But that proximity with nature, the nests on the tree, the smell of the intoxicating blooms and hugging the branches, scratching our arms while climbing, seeing the red dry Earth from above and stretching our small hands…just for a grab at the green fruit! It brings a smile to my wrinkling face now.

Mango tree and fruit. Photo courtesy: Tropical plant-flowers-decor

The arrival of spring is heralded by the Indian koel bird, the cuckoo who sits on the mango flora, calling out in loud cresending tones for a mate. Rabindranath Tagore, Wordsworth and Maithili, Sanskrit poet Vidyapathi Tripathi have penned many a poem on cuckoo bird.

Tagore writes: (taken from the monk)

From a great distance, comes with the wind, the sweet tune of the flute.

There is no one left in town, all residents have gone to the pleasure-grove to celebrate the festival of flowers.

Seeing the city totally deserted, silently smiles, the full moon of night.
In the lonely road under the light of the stars, the monk is the lone passer-by

Overhead there is the avenue of trees.

The cuckoo is cooing again and again At long last, has the night’s love-tryst eventually arrived for him?……….

There are so many varieties of mangoes, depending on the soil, sun heat and manuring/ watering process. Each state has its own jewel mango! But, I love to taste all the different varieties of seasonal mangoes be it King Alphonso, Niloufer, Dusseri, Mulgoa, Langda, Baganapalli, Sindoori, Badami or whatever a friend brings from their farm.

Visit here for the different types

http://www.walkthroughindia.com/nursery/top-12-famous-different-varieties-indian-mangoes/#:~:text=%20Top%2012%20Most%20Famous%20Varieties%20Of%20Indian,basically%20grown%20in%20North%20parts%20of…%20More%20

Today I made a simple twist to the rava kesari prasadam / semolina pudding offering.

Instead of banana I added mango pulp. The colour and taste were Divine! After offering to the Lord, I shared it with neighbours and fed spoonfuls to the children playing around. Such joy, lip smacking fun, boredom relief from the lockdown.

Ingredients

1 cup roasted rava / semolina (fine variety)

¾ cup ghee /clarified butter

1 cup water

¼ cup milk

8-10 broken bits of cashew nuts

1 cup (bright coloured sweet) mango pulp

¾ cup sugar

2-3 tsps. Grated fresh coconut

Tulsi leaves for garnish

Method:

Roast the rava /semolina in a big kadhai or heavy bottom pan. The roasting should be on medium flame, else rava will burn, and the delicate aroma wafting will give a burnt smell. Keep stirring while roasting. Set aside on plate once golden brown.

Heat the ghee in the pan, fry the cashew nuts, add the roasted rava. Stir. Add sugar, milk. Add water slowly, to bring out the consistency. Add mango pulp. Cover, cook on slow flame. Check after 3-5 mins, add water if necessary, cook further for 3-5 mins. The Kesari will get a beautiful orange colour and the kitchen smells wonderful with the aroma. It will slightly harden once cooked. Switch off and remove into container.

Before serving, add an extra spoon of ghee, garnish with coconut flakes and some Tulsi leaves.

Its ready for offereing at the altar. Or just on the table to serve family and friends. Don’t forget to feed little children, they need all the sugar, ghee protein and flavour of sweet fruit!

Would you like to share a mango infused recipe? Please contact me at seethepalliv@gmail.com, especially if you have an eggless pudding or cake recipe..yummm!

Guest Blog 7: Expat Life in Abu Dhabi

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Memories of our expat life in Abu Dhabi always surface around Ramzan Id time. We got a taste of not only the culture but taste the variety of Dates, both local and regional, stocked high on the supermarket shelves. Out short stay in Abu Dhabi was richly rewarded with a definitive taste of Middle East culture. Food, climate, clothing of local Bedeouins as well as the expat population and their work cultures. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are quite modern in their outlook, when compared to other Middle East cities. Both boast of plush air conditioned malls, wide roads, multi national schools, Date palm lined expressways mostly funded by the wealth brought in by liquid gold – the oil! As many expats come here to work, families including children need the infrastructure of schools, hospitals and food facilities. It was a wonderful chance for us to meet many expats from European countries, as well as Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Phillipines.

The mild winters brought out a variety of outdoor activities as well as local shopping. Cycling, walks along the Promenade, crusing the marine waters, crochet and knitting clubs, as well as plenty of barbeque nights. I often visited the local market near Al Mina, and had an impromtu conversation in Hindi with many of the Afghani or south Indian vegetable vendors.

See here for a very popular earlier post on the people in the market.

Other migrants to the city were from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Beirut, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka and also the Phillipines. Interacting with the migrant people in various jobs, it became clear that positions were quite compartmentalized to each community, an unwritten rule.

Date Palm fronds bear green cluster of fruit
Ripened Berhi dates

Here is a guest post by my dear friend Firoza, with whom I shared many a cup of chai and pakoras during the mild winters. At times we did window shopping and saw the expensive watches, bridal gowns, cutlery or ladies handbags at one of the many airconditioned malls. The well heeled local and expat population feasts on the luxury items, and that in return brings in renenue for the state. To soothe the aching feet we would sit down at a French bakery and pour out giggles and endless chatter.

But to taste her delicious Parsi dessert see here. I had to visit her home and indulge.

Parsi Sev (Vermicelli)

Covid- 19 & Life in AbuDhabi, UAE

The turn of the decade, turned lives across the globe 360 degrees. UAE was no exception. 23rd March 2020, a very exceptional scenario of a ‘Lockdown’ caged us in our homes. In Abu Dhabi, we experienced an unusually comfortable lockdown. Supermarkets and restaurants, were the only places doing brisk business. Hospitals and pharmacies, can’t say were overwhelmed with people but there was an initial surge. Insurance companies still were not so badly off.

 Malls witnessed queues for the first time! Else the expanse of space and airconditioned shopping experience were a luxury in the desert. People stocking up food and hygiene products made snake like queues, unheard or unseen here. A futile exercise. Salute, to the country for not allowing anything to go out of stock till date. This scene remained for the first three months. Curfew from 8pm to 6 am was even more scary ,as we saw only delivery boys zipping around as if they owned the streets on their risky bikes. It was a ghost town. Food parcels were the only entertainment for all the residence.

The fashionables thronging the cafes, were having their expensive drinks in disposable cups. Pitiful indeed! Mall culture, even today has not gotten back its luster after a year and two months. How can that be even possible, as most of the expats have been asked to go back to home countries. Remember, Abu Dhabi has a small local population, and the city state has sprung up much due to the migrant population. Expat life here, both for the blue and white collar workers makes up a major transient population. Companies want the bottom line to look good , so they provide the easy targets. Lives of the school going children and our future is at stake but the businesses and banks need to show a good balance sheet. So the scene is the same here, as the world over today. 
2020 slapped us with another reality too. Folks who had bought themselves safe havens ( foreign investments are permitted at certain exclusive areas) here were not allowed to return home after their 3 days 4 nights vacation in March, for a good three months. Some expensive and regrettable holiday indeed for those who travelled to home country!  Other travel woes are that today, we may not travel as freely between the other Emirates from Abu Dhabi due to many PCR test compliance. )which means for me, I cannnot visit my family in Dubai, as often). But business is as usual. Only the city has become more quiet. However, except for this hiccup UAE and specially Abu Dhabi, its capital have done a marvelous  job  keeping us safe.

Strict rules and motherly care, vaccinating most of its population without much ado. Hats off to their foresight and good governance the administration has done an un parallel job till date. Hope and prayers are the same as across the globe. May lives get back without masks and kids resume schools and classes, and have fun alongside other children. Universities thrive churning out brave and honest talent. Importantly, businesses start and employment brings smiles back on the faces of the very frightened expat population here. The livelihood of those workers in constuctions, hair saloons, catering and tailoring all come from a population that need to send money home to their respective countries, where living conditions are much poorer and less sanitation than here. So, let’s pray and hope for all those lives in trouble. Till then, stay safe everyone, be thankful for what you have in hand, be kind to your neighbour. 

Thank you Firoza, for summing up the life of an expat now to my memories of our stay there. I’m lucky to be living back in my own country, phew!

Till then, prayers and gratitude for all people, everywhere.

If you wish to write a guest post for me, please do share your topic, write up and short brief about yourself and send it to seethepalliv@gmail.com. Variety brings a different perspective.

World Palate Recipes: Simple, Traditional Pohe (flattened rice)

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If you ever happen to meet a Maharashtrian friend, invariably you will be invited over for a ”Chaha/chai and Pohe‘ meet. In fact, in the olden days, when the to- be groom and family visited the prospective bride’s house –the viewing and discussions would be over a table laden with Chaha and Pohe! Be it breakfast time or evening teatime, pohe have stood the test of time.

Pohe, Poha or flattened rice/beaten rice is one of the most popular and traditional snacks all over this western state of India. Myriad ways of making this nutritious cereal have changed through the time of Sivaji Maharaj, the Maratha empire leader, to present day fusion food. Today, traditional meets mix and experiments new flavours, regional authenticity and competition (Pohe from Nagpur, pohe made in Pune, pohe made on coastal Maharashtra for example, have distinct additions and spices). The western packaged cereals boxed up on the supermarket shelves have no competition with Indian traditional breakfasts that are hand me down recipes involving nutrition, Ayurveda, simplicity and even some history.

Essentiallly pohe are made from pounding rice by hand or mill, another way of utilizing and storing paddy for later use. Maharashtra has two distinct regions – the sea side Konkan (fertile with rice farming) and the Khandesh or Vidarbha on Deccan plateau, (semi arid with plantations of sugarcane, cotton, peanuts and millets). As the land, so is the cuisine, different.

Story: Have you heard the legendary story of friendship and karma between Lord Sri Krishna and his childhood friend Sudama, over a fistful of pohe? Well, almost every Indian mother will lovingly narate such educative tales while feeding her child. Stories are a great way to better mind, body and interpersonal relations.

Some may wonder how a handful of flattened rice would be enough to grant good karma spanning over several lifetimes as happened to Sudama, who slyly stole and ate up Krishna’s share of pohe that would keep them nourished in the jungles, while collecting fruit and sticks for fire for the Guru’s wife/mother. Though Krishna, the Godhead, had seen Sudama, take his share, he did not interfere, and permitted him to complete his karmic actions. This debt of food would then lead to another set of actions later in life. As the story goes, Sudama married and had children, but was never interested in material gains, rather always devoted to the Lord. Once when he visited friend Krishna, who had then become King of Dwarka, he meekily offered ‘a handful of pohe’ to him, with love and they chatted about the childhood incident.

Sudama had unknowingly done the greatest deed of feeding the Universal Form of the Lord Himself. With this handful of the rice, Krishna, in his Universal Form, fed all the creatures of the world. This act of Sudama wiped out all his negative karma in one single moment of time; whilst also earning him enough good karma to last several more lifetimes! Krishna in return for the handful of poha, restored wealth and benevolence upon his poor friend Sudama, says the story.

Lord Krishna Washing His friend Sudama's Feet - Phad Painting
Phad painting of Krishna washing Sudama’s feet – act of hospitality and respect.

Source: internet

Anna he poorna Brahman’ which translates as Food is Brahman, the seed lies in the grain itself. It is said that Annadaan, or the act of offering food is the greatest ever charity man can perform in his lifetime.

What other stories or experiences have you heard about the simple grain of rice or about pohe?

Even traditional Maharashtrian bridal jewellery is inspired by the simple grain of rice, or by pohe! When the Maratha empire at its height was wealthy, the Kolhapur region was the seat of power, temples, wealth and craftsmen. Kohlapuri chappals or leather slippers have withstood the test of time, fashion and simplicity. So too the Pohe Haar, neck piece garland, crafted in gold or silver.

Traditional Pohe Haar – inspired by grain of rice

Shall we get to the kitchen now?

Ingredients:

1 cup flattened thick rice flakes (brown or white) (most Indian stores will stock this)

1 medium potato

1 medium onion

few green chillies / or chilli flakes, if you wish

salt

1/2 lemon for juice

1 spoon sugar

2 spoons fresh grated coconut / or soak dry coconut flakes in some water

1/2 cup roasted peanuts or sprouted mung beans (optional, to raise nutrient content)

For tempering:

2 tbsps cooking oil (tradionally peanut oil, as groundnut is the crop)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric

2-3 sprigs of curry leaf /kadipatta (high content of nutrient minerals)

2 varieties of pohe /flattened rice -thick and thin.

Method:

Wash the pohe and drain entirely all water, keep aside. Chop the onion and potato (optionally add peas, carrot…but becomes sweeter). Prepare ingredients for tempering and garnishing.

In a big wok or kadhai, heat up the oil, add the tempering, stir.

Add the chopped potato and onions and any peanuts if using, Add some salt to cook faster, cover with lid. After a minute, stir and sprinkle water to cook further. Add the pohe, salt, lemon juice, sugar, chillies, torn leaves and stir well. Adjust salt and chillies to taste. Sprinkle little water if required, cover and cook.

Careful, it cooks quick, so dont get it mushy! Switch off gas, turn it all into a container. Garnish with curry leaves and fresh grated coconut. ( to add texture, garnish with a pappadum!)

Chala…pohe taiiyaar ahet, ya khavun ya sarve jana’ translates the Marathi invite to call everyone to sit at table and eat the warm, pohe.

Recipe 2: In the photo below, is a small container with dudh-dahi pohe, an ideal quick mid time snack. Just a fistful of pohe added to 2-3 spoons of yoghurt + 2 -3 spoons of milk + pinch of salt and some cumin powder for taste.

Do share how you make pohe or any stories you remember, any childhood moments of nourishment.

Re Blogging: New Zealand Art’s Centre Market and Some Recipes

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Covid has been disconnecting people, yet connecting them too – but virtually. The pandemic and lockdown continues to create anxiety, tensions and non- social boredom or fatigue. We all pray for each other, our loved ones may be staying far away,and even if they stay in the same city, it’s tough to visit them. So stay safe, stay alert! Pray for the community.

Few friends from far, far away in New Zealand have recently sent me messages, emails, some lovely picturesque photos too via social media. It brought back wonderful memories of our stay and unique experiences in the country.

Culturally is was different from India but the pleasant mannerisms and helpful attitude of citizens was welcoming. We enjoyed winter soup and sandwiches, in return spicy dal and crisp Roti was exchanged with the local families. We indulged in sparkling wine and variety of cheese, and not to mention the assorted breads both sweet and savoury were a treat! Adjusting to our first winter, witnessing snow and donning warm jackets and shoes to enjoy the brrr….cold was surely unique and bit tough. I remember a friend dropping by and suggesting ” Eat lots of nuts and chocolate this winter, you ‘ll survive better” she chuckled. One winter, I even raked some snow and made snowman at Hagley partk in Christchurch! On the language front, learning Maori language and songs was totally heart warming, connecting me to my own mother tongue in many ways.

Titiro mae na iwi, tataou tatoau e……was one such popular Maori song.

Till I write up my next blog about New Zealand’s countryside, gardens and old churches with some history. . . I leave you with some older posts.

My most favourite part of Christchurch city was of course the Hagley Park and nearby Art’s Centre. The Edwardian architecture in stone and spires, brought home memories of my childhood city Mumbai and its colonnial architecture. The Art’s Centre came alive each weekend with a buzzing market.

Home fresh Carrot cake by my friend see here

At the Christchurch college, my student batchmates and myself used to love the winter broth served at the canteen, and had to make an early dash, in case we got served left overs.

Till then, wait a while… hope to get some lovely photos from my friends in New Zealand!

Guest Blog 6: Therapy in Water Colour Painting

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Do you have a hobby? How do you re-juvenate yourself away from the challenges and meanderings of the daily life? Recently, we celebrated World Story Telling Day on 20th March, 2021 and the theme was ‘New Beginnings.’ The pandemic and lockdown has had its postive effects too – people are indulging in new hobbies, re learnings enrolling into new online courses, or taking up cooking with earnest at home, baking bread and cakes. In creative arts be it music, dance, poetry writing or telling stories there has been a surge of interest to use the ‘at home’ time effectively.

New beginnings happen every day, don’t they? It’s how we reflect for a moment and change our course, our thoughts, our actions. I kept aside my crochet yarn and needle and delved into storytelling and writing personal narratives. Telling on zoom sessions was an opportunity to connect with other storytellers.

That’s how I met K, an amazing storyteller, with plenty of fresh ideas and technological expertise.

Here is one of her recent water colour paintings – and her mind raced to Australian bushfires last year, thinking how the animals may have been affected.

Once K began painting with water colours, creatively using her lockdown moments, she showed her work on Facebook. ‘Why don’t you write a guest post for me?’ I pressed, loving the delicate, pastel shades “I often find in THAT stillness and quietude, is the seed for my creativity, that’s how a hobby is a blessing” I told her, citing examples of churning out my blog narratives, when my mind is most calm.

Even if things don’t unfold the way you expected, don’t be disheartened or give up. One who continues to advance will win in the end.”
― Daisaku Ikeda

Thanks K, for accepting to pen a post. You are a storyteller, techno geek, a budding artist and now. . .you are emerging as a butterfly in writing! Readers, do connect with K on her YouTube channel ‘Storytime with Kajal.’

If wishes could grow on trees, I would pluck them and fulfil all my wishes.

As a child or as an adult, I wished I could do this and that. Singing, Crocheting, Gardening has never been my forte, just like art or drawing or painting, yet I am very persistent in trying all of them.

I clearly remember as if it was yesterday, the very 1st month into my first year of college the Zoology sir called me over and asked – “Kajal, are you sure you wish to continue in Microbiology as you would have to draw a lot.” Drawing was one reason I jumped ships from Biology to Mathematics.

Coming to the present, randomly I ended up creating a master piece of my own in painting, but that was rarest of the rare occasions! I always wished I had the flair of a painter, over the years I tried to wake up that painter within me, alas without much success.

They say a chance encounter can change it all, my encounter was a video on YouTube by CEECEECREATIONS. Her easy ways of doing water colouring were inspiring. Water Colouring was something I hadn’t heard much about, aptly so, as its one costly hobby if you wish to go beyond the chalky grade student watercolour.  

My tyrant with watercolour started with her videos, the flow of colour on the wet paper and amalgamation of various colours was so soulful, I was hooked! Lock, stock and barrel. And there has been no looking back, I can finally say – Rise! Painter within me, Rise.

A variety of cards painted in fresh water colours, bringing the gaiety of Nature indoors.

Still in infancy stage of learning the art, I can rightfully say that watercolouring has not only helped me calm down but has constantly worked as a medium of going in to ‘mindfulness.’ It’s like being in meditative or Zen like state whenever I watercolour. Pictures that were inspired from artists who posted in Youtube or Pinterest has helped a novice like me to achieve one of my wishes with multiple benefits. I find it has successfully helped me calm my mind and helped me sort between the ideas that rage through my mind.

So, what have YOU to say about this budding artist? Or do you have a hobby that brings about mindfullness in you, why?

Some of my hobbies include crochet, quilting and gardening. You will find them here and here. With my latest passion of storytelling, even blogging might take a back seat. But see the journey here. It all began few years ago. Do keep me motivated by being my audience.

World Palate Recipes: Garden Fresh Flat Beans Stir Fry Vegetable

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There is nothing better than a story from the kitchen garden! You are in for a sensory experience.

From the wet, brown soil after watering to the expanse of the green creeper, growing almost wild and taking up every inch of space with its long tendrils, the visual and nasal appeal in the kitchen garden is sensorial rich. Stand under the canopy created and gaze at the little purplish white flowers, some maturing to little pods, other pods stout and ready for harvest. Wonder how the plants grow, spring forth leaves and flowers, and why only certain have this colour? Nature even sends forth the correct bird or bee to match the flower! On the pomegranate’s ruby red flower tweets the tiny indigo coloured Sunbird, its long beak stuck inside the flower to extract the sweetness. On the bean creeper comes the large indigo Bumble bee. It hovers aound the flowers pollinating them in the process ‘zeee zeee, hmmm…’ as if to say “don’t disturb the harmony and let nature do its work.”

Next comes the joy of harvesting! pluck, pluck, snap. . . Tuck the pods into the container, bring the bounty to the kitchen counter. Take a deep breath, run your fingers through the shiny bean pods. Look at their colour and tender skin. There is NO fragrance to the bean or flower, but ever wondered how the bee or bird got attracted to the flower?

See the bean cluster pods and trifoliate leaves of the creeper

Back in the kitchen, continue the sensory titilation and mindful cooking.

Sit down to string the beans from both ends. open the pods to release the young seeds. As they are home grown they may not have insects inside (but ones form the market, be careful to discard pods with caterpillars crawling inside). Wash and dry the opened pods well, keep aside. Prepare other ingredients. Google check the different names these beans have (Chikudkaya, ghevda, papdi , Fava beans …).

They are extremely nutritious with loads of iron, potassium and fibre. These legumes generally grow in mild winters and the ‘seed to crop’ time is about 3 months. Being a legume variety, they enrich the soil, rather than taking away nutrients…so cut back the roots and leaves after harvesting and dig them back into the soil to fertilize it. They are hardy, and dont need much manure, but need plenty of winter sun. The creeper grows fast and wild, be prepared to make a canopy in advance, place a net over it, to allow the tendrils to hold on. The tri foliate leaves are slightly rough, tending to hide the pods under them.

Ingredients for the stir fry vegetable

500 gms. flat beans /pods opened/seeds retained

1 or 2 brinjals or carrot

1 medium size onion

1 cup coconut grated fresh or dry powder

100 gms roasted peanuts or bengal gram (optional, only for nutrition and texture)

3-4 sprigs of curry leaves (or coriander, optional)

masala of choice (roasted and powdered cumin, coriander, sesame seeds is my choice)

4-5 dry red chillies or adjust

salt to taste

1/2 spoon jaggery or sugar ( to cut out any bitterness)

Tempering – with 1 ladle of cooking oil + small spoon mustard seeds, cumin seeds, 1 spoon turmeric powder)

Method

Par boil the stringed beans with the seeds in 2 cups salted water for 5 mins, drain and keep aside.

Prepare the tempering in a heavy iron wok preferably (to add minerals to our food) or use traditional pan or kadhai. Heat the oil and add the tempering, to splutter. Add the chopped brinjal or carrot, salt, curry leaves, peanuts, dry chillies and stir fry for 2-6 minutes. Add the par boiled beans, adjust salt, jaggery and add few spoons of water if required. Beans contain fibre and iron, take a while to cook. Do not cover, the green colour may diminish.

Keep stirring and cook till edible or tender. Switch off gas, remove. Add grated coconut and mix. This adds to texture, flavour and nutrition. Serve hot with warm rice or as side dish with Roti.

‘Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, soil and sky as canvas

Elizabeth Murray

What’s growing in your garden or terrace pots? How do you cook these legumes? Do you like gardening, why? Let’s hear and share some photos.