Lohri – The winter festival of Delhi

If there is one festival in the thick of winter that people in Delhi look forward to, it is Lohri.  It is a time for people to come together in the evening and create an atmosphere of bonfire and bonhomie!

Even in a busy city like Delhi, people make an effort to gather wood from all around to make a fire in the evening – sometimes in their lawns, parks or even roads. In the evening, people gather around it and enjoy the crackling fire, eating rewris, peanuts and chikkis. Some sing songs and dance around the bonfire creating an atmosphere of mirth and celebration.

Why do people celebrate Lohri? Good question. Not many might be able to answer. There are cultural and seasonal twists to the origins of this warm festival.

One of the stories behind this festival is that this festival is celebrated in remembrance of Dulla Bhatti, the Indian version of Robin Hood who saved a girl and adopted her as his daughter. Children in some parts of North India sing his songs on this day. But why celebrate Dulla Bhatti on Lohri is a question that doesn’t quite have an authentic answer till now. “Why not” could be a very well put riposte to the question “Why?”

However, in Punjab where this festival is celebrated in its full glory and excitement, it is said to be a harvest festival. People take a breather from their farming as the rabi crop has been harvested and spend time to sit together and enjoy. Brightly attired young men, women and children dance to the drum beats, the famous Bhangra dance of Punjab!

The seasonal twist to this festival comes from the fact that in its early avatar, the festival was celebrated on the eve of the winter solstice, which essentially came around December 22-23. However, over a long period of time it shifted to the end of the month in the Bikrami calendar when the winter solstice occurred. The origin of the association of the sesame seeds with the festival also is in conjunction with this belief that after the festival, the nights would gradually becomes shorter by the “grain of one sesame seed.” Yes, that is a tough one to decipher, but then, aren’t most folklore ūüėÄ

Lal Quila – The Red Fort of Shah Jahan

Lal Quila or the Red Fort was the official residence of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built about 200 years ago in 1628.

For me, the whole experience of visiting Red Fort was like peeling off an onion.   The more you move into the inner realms of the fort, the more beautiful and whiter the buildings and structures would get.   Finally, it came to the one building that I admired the most in the whole complex and Amir Khusraw had most aptly described it as the paradise on earth.   His inscription is written on the walls of this white marble structure- If there be a paradise on the  earth, it is this, it is this, it is this РDiwan-e-khas!  I am still wondering what resplendent, what exciting and what colourful life it would have been then.

The boundary of the Fort and some of its buildings are built with red sandstone and the name Lal Quila or Red Fort comes from there. ¬† It is a well built, massive structure that encircles and secures the entire surrounding of the complex ‚Äď the official palaces, mahals, gardens and the many other small and little buildings it ensconces. ¬† ¬†There were trenches and channels of water all around to give the added security to the fort. ¬†The gates are massive and built to protect the citizens inside the walled city. ¬† The walls are built with holes in it for firing arms and ammunitions. ¬†The four posts at the four corners were used for keeping a vigil.

The front fa√ßade is used right now during the Independence Day celebrations by the Prime Minister to address the nation. ¬† However, the fort is just much much more than the front fa√ßade! ¬† There is another huge and massive gate as soon as you enter from the front with a metal door called Lahori Gate. ¬†This leads to a long covered path with arches and arched bays on both sides ‚Äď more like a market place where you have shops on both the sides of the road. ¬† It is called the chatta chowk which means covered bazaar. ¬† Even today there are shops where people are selling all kinds of wares ‚Äď jewellery, clothes, handicraft items. ¬†It was said that this used to be the case even during Shah Jahan‚Äôs time. ¬† He started this concept after he saw something like this in Peshawar. ¬† ¬† During his times, the market would be engaged in luxury trade ¬†of the imperial household and used to sell silks, brocades, gold, velvet and other expensive stuff.


After the Chatta Bazaar, there is yet another gate which takes you to a red building – the Diwan-e-Aam which means the ‚ÄėPlace of Public Audience‚Äô.

There is a long rectangular lawn with a water body in the middle that runs across to the Diwan-Aam and paths cutout on both the sides.  This is a place was used by Shah Jahan to meet the common public and hear their grievances.  The structure was made in red sandstone and in the centre  is a raised platform with the Emperor’s throne with a canopy all made in Marble with exquisite handiwork of floral designs inlaid with semi precious stones.

After the Diwan-e-aam lies the little gems of beauty Р domains where Shah Jahan and other successive emperors used to actually live and spend time. You would be greeted with an expanse of garden and green lawns and water canals with white marble structures spread across the expanse.   The water bodies at that time was an important part as they provided the needed water and air cooling for the entire place.

Three white¬†marbled¬†palaces are placed in close proximity to each other at the other end of the garden ‚Äď The ¬†Rang Mahal (also called Shish Mahal), Khas Mahal and Shah Mahal (or Diwan-e-Khas).

These were like 3 little pieces of jewels in that whole area.   Built completely in marble, they are a sight to behold!

Rang Mahal was the place where Shah Jahan used to entertain and be entertained.   It was painted in different colours from the inside and therefore derives its name from there.  It also had mirrors fitted on the top and therefore it was called the sheesh mahal though right now there is neither colour nor the mirrors.  This one actually looks faded and is the drabbest one out of the three.

The next one is the Khas Mahal where Shah Jahan had his bed chambers and the dressing room.

Diwan-e-Khas next to it was the place where he would meet people close to him.  This palace was truly amazing in its architecture and the structure.  Though faded and greyish and yellow in colour, the structure speaks of the glorious past.   The peacock throne was removed from this place by Nadir Shah who attacked Delhi and it is said that this throne is somewhere in Iran right now.

The opulence and the extravaganza was clearly visible in the luxurious setting of the entire structure.  The richness of the designs and the work on the structure was truly marvelous.  I was wondering if these structures look so good even today after the wear and tear of the last 200 years, then what would it have been when it was pristine white colour of the marble resplendent with all the other colours the buildings would have been painted with, the coloured drapes, the carpets and all the precious stones that were embedded in the building design.  It would have been truly mesmerizing and therefore What Amir Khusraw said about this building would have been completely true at that point of time.  It would have been a paradise to behold!

It is said that Taj Mahal was inspired by the Diwan-e-khas and its architectural designs.

There are other buildings too like the Mumtaz Mahal which is now converted to a museum and does not look like anything that was in the earlier days though one can see the arches and the carvings on the roof that are reminiscent of a celebrated past.

Then there are gardens and pavilions which would have been used by the Emperor, his wives and sons to relax during leisure times.

Tree of Life or Tree of Enlightenment?

This is one of the most revered and worshipped trees in India!  One can find this tree spread across the length and breadth of India.   In almost all the villages, there would be a platform made under this tree for people to sit and spend sometime in the shade before proceeding on their journey.   In Delhi, I have seen this tree attached to a temple or vice-versa.   If it’s not a huge temple, then atleast there would be a few photographs or idols of different Hindu diety kept under the foot of the tree.  People worship this tree to get success, removal of fear from devils and supernatural powers, to be happy, etc. etc.

In Hindu mythology, Krishna is said to be residing in this tree. ¬†He is also supposed to have ¬†laid down his life under this tree . ¬†It is also said that the Trimurti, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva reside in this tree ‚Äď Brahma in the roots, Vishnu in the trunk and Shiva in the leaves. ¬† Lakshmi is also said to be visiting this tree on Saturdays. ¬† Ladies tie threads around the tree and go around this tree worshipping for husband‚Äôs long life and even to be blessed with children.

The tree is also considered sacred for Buddhists as Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment while meditating under this tree and therefore it is also called the tree of enlightenment.

Scientifically, this tree is considered to be of huge medicinal value.  It is supposed to cure more than 30 ailments.  Its, roots, barks, trunk, fruits, seeds, milk and leaves are all considered to provide relief for various health conditions.

It is also said (though not a proven theory) that this is the only tree that gives out oxygen even at night! ¬†It is called by many names ‚Äď Peepal, Pippla, Bodhi, Ashwatha, Banyan, Ficus religiosa and many more!

I love the shape of the leaves.  They are beautiful heart shaped ones with a long tapering end.  It has been an inspiration for various art forms in India.  Most of them are very old and have roots falling to the ground from above.  It sometimes has a very scary and haunted look to it.

There is a peepal tree right next to our building and strangely I have been noticing some egrets perched up on this tree for the last couple of days. ¬†I’ve noticed quite a few of them come and nestle around its branches almost every day when I went out for a walk around the place. ¬†I was intrigued and looked around to see if they were inhabiting other trees also, but they seemed to be interested in occupying their space on this tree only. ¬†Do they also intrinsically recognise this is a sacred tree or is there some other reason, I wonder?

 

 

The Indian Chai

There are many rituals that we perform during the day.   A ritual is something that we have become so habituated in doing that we do it without giving a second thought.  It becomes a part and parcel of ourselves or that moment.   These rituals become a kind of comfort factor and help us to be rooted to who we are, where we are and where we belong.  It brings a sense of belongingness to the place, the moment and the space we are in.   Consuming tea in India has also become a kind of ritual. It has taken that space of mindlessness and comfort that one can’t live without.

In India, tea is consumed at various occasions and for various reasons, or rather there is particularly no reason required for having tea in India!‚ÄĚ

Starting from the one morning cup that wakes us up to the time we go to bed, it is an anytime and everytime beverage that gets devoured if we are feeling bored, if we have too much work, if we are tired or if we are feeling lazy!

On a cloudy or rainy day, a hot cup of tea with some pakora’s is something that everyone looks forward to..  Getting a hot cup of chai in bed early morning while we are still snuggling in the quilt is the most welcoming thing on a cold winter day.

If we have friends over at home, then we show our love to them with a hot cup of tea and snacks.  If we have friends in office and want to go out for a chat, it has to be over a cup of tea!!  Even marriages gets finalized over a cup of tea!

We need a hot cup when we reach office to start the day! ¬†It is also one of the main ingredients of our various meetings and discussions. ¬† The kind of tea or chai we get at our home, office and outside is all very different in flavour, aroma and strength of the tea leaves. ¬†The office tea that comes out of the vending machines don’t have the kind of flavour or aroma that a home-made one, boiled on a stove has or the one that is brewed continuously over and over again by the roadside vendor. ¬†To cater to the ever-present need, there are chai walla‚Äôs at every nook and corner of the country.

Chai is prescribed by most self-styled Indian doctors like a Panacea for all ills and moods.  A tea is recommended,  if we have a headache, stomach problems, cold and cough, etc.

From North to the South, West to the east, the chai is consumed in various ways with a lot of different infusions to it.  Some of the favourite infusions that Indians love is Masala Chai, Adrak ki chai (Ginger Tea), Elaichi Chai (Cardamom Tea), Tulsi Tea (Basil tea).

These days Green tea is becoming popular as a health drink too.  From slimming to anti-ageing, there are all sorts of stories surrounding green tea that are becoming a fad!

Whatever it is, we Indians love our chai and would be consuming it whether it is going to be good or bad for our health..  that’s how it has become part of our daily ritual!

Nehru Place – The IT Hub of Delhi

If you are a computer geek, then you definitely can’t miss being in the middle of all the cacophony of Nehru Place.   From a high end computer and laptop to any computer or mobile accessory, you can find solutions from company owned retail outlet to distributors to shady underhand pirated and cheap illegal stuff.  In short, there is a solution to everyone.

As we approach Nehru Place from the South side of Delhi,  we start seeing the high-rises of Nehru Place from the overbridge that starts from Sarovar Portico in Pamposh Enclave.

Nehru Place is a cluster of old buildings with outdated lifts and outdated structures which houses some corporates and business houses.

In the middle of these huge structures is one of the most happening  central plaza where you can find shops selling computers and mobiles, stationery items, computer accessories, printouts and photocopies, banks punctuated by some food joints and other facilities for people working around this place.

In the central arcade, we can find all sorts of small vendors with their different kinds of wares from belts, purses, bags, computer and mobile accessories, clothes and fabric items.

It was a pleasant surprise to find a section of the market dedicated now to garments and fabrics. There are more varied set of consumers who would be flocking to Nehru Place. As a woman, I used to find Nehru Place quite boring with only computer stuffs, but now there is more to look forward to during a trip to Nehru Place!

Nehru Place is now beginning to be more than just an IT hub.  It has multiple other options like Cafe Coffe Day, Epicuria food court and Fitness First gym giving multiple options and products for consumers to experience and shop.

There are big buildings of Microsoft with multiple hotels around Nehru Place.

A metro station with a full fledged food court has also come up at the other end which has made commuting to this hub quite an easy task for people working and shopping here.

Feeding The Feathered Friends

I think i’ve missed this spectacle at this intersection earlier in my commutes but recently when I was crossing this place I saw a huge flock of pigeons flying around.

In a tiny little triangular land wedged on the end of Malak Ram Issar Marg between the busy traffic square of Pamposh Enclave and Chittaranjan Park also called as C R Park, I saw hundreds of pigeons gathered and flocking around people feeding them.

There were 2 or 3 sellers sitting at each corners of this triangular median with grains for people to buy and feed these birds.

It was delightful to see so many pigeons gathering up and scampering towards the people who were throwing out corns and other grains at them.  They looked quite content and peaceful.

It was a pleasant sight and nice to see people feeding birds but there are very differing views on bird feeding.  Some people do these out of religious sentiments and some for their emotional and spiritual gratification.  It is supposed to bring good luck and success according to some religious and astrological views.

However, environmentalists and ecologists are of the opinion that this is harmful to the natural eco system and only promotes the birds to lose their natural instinct to prey and survive.  The population of pigeons in the city therefore increases to a larger proportion than it ought to be.  Since they are fed on only grains day in and day out, they lose on important nutrition from other sources that are very essential for their survival.

Book Review – The 3 mistakes of my life

 

The 3 mistakes of my life –¬†Third book of Chetan Bhagat.¬†¬†

What I liked most was the fact that Chetan Bhagat has narrated the story in a way that almost looks like an auto-biography with the author himself getting involved in the story.  This style definitely increases the credibility of the story.

The story revolves around 3 boys who are good friends and their all-encompassing passion with the national hobby ‚Äď cricket.¬† They recognize a great talent in a small boy who has the potential to become a national hero.¬† It is now their common desire to help and protect this young kid to help achieve this goal.

Based in Ahmedabad and set in the background of Godhra Violence, this story depicts the way emotions and allegiances change in turbulent and violent times.  How people go mad with religious sentiments to shed lives that they have never thought of before.   It brings the worst out of humanity with people killing their own !!

A tale of continuous struggles of these young and budding entrepreneurs and cricketers from a small town and meagre means who have talent to make it big.  Mix it with a little emotional tangle and love, caste and religious differences which pop up even amongst close friends who would have otherwise laid down their life for each other.

Overall a very easy read, written in simple language so everyone can understand with the usual masala’s to make an Indian reader tick.

Rating : 3/5

Sanderson’s Sundial at Qutub Minar Complex

It was a lone form standing amidst tall and imposing structures! It looked like it did not belong there. Slightly out of place and standing alone is this Sundial which did not gel with either the giant monuments spread across the vicinity nor the architectural family of Qutub Minar complex.

But its significance in the history of the preservation of our heritage and architecture is immense.

It was built as a memoir for the immense contributions made by Gordon Sanderson who was the superintendent of Archeological Survey of India during the British times. He led the excavations around the Qutub Complex. He has documented many books on the history of Delhi and its monuments.

The marble structure has a blade fitted on top. The shadow of this blade keeps rotating according to the angle of the sunlight.

We were however robbed of this opportunity to see the shadows rotating as there was no sunlight when we went and therefore, no shadows!

This sundial in its simplicity expresses the fact that the shadows keeps coming and going but the light remains (which is the meaning of the words written on it – Transit Umbra, Lux Permanet).

 

 

The Qutub Minar Complex – Tomb of Iltutmish

  

Shamsu’d-Din Iltutmish succeeded Qutub-ud-din-Aibak on the throne of Delhi and therefore he was the second Sultan of Delhi. He was the one who took over the construction work of Qutub Minar and managed to complete 3 more floors after Aibak’s death.

The tomb of Iltutmish was constructed by himself. It has a tomb chamber with a central cenotaph. There are exquisite carvings at the entrance and the interior walls of the tomb. Kufi and Naskh character inscriptions can be found on the inside walls. There are 3 mihrabs on the west side of the tomb and the central one is made with marble with exquisite carvings and inscriptions.

  

Like Aibak, Iltutmish was also a slave. He was bought by Qutub-ud-din-Aibak and grew in stature and position during Aibak’s rule. He married Aibak’s daughter and became the Governor of Badaun. When Aibak died in a polo accident and Aram Shah whose relation to Aibak was shrouded in mystery tried to take over the Sultanate, Iltutmish was invited by Qutbi Amirs to take over as Sultan in Delhi.

He acquired a great nation and is credited with consolidating the power of Sultanate in India. However, he was not able to hold all of them together. Slowly one by one he kept losing parts of the country as rebellions broke out and the Hindu Maharaja’s asserted their dominion over the captured regions. Even his own people in different parts of the country left allegiance to him and started their own Sultanate!