Yellow Flames of Delhi May


Indian Bloggers

The temperatures in Delhi right now is hovering between 40 and 44 degrees C. It is difficult to get out into the open and walk around. The sun rays hit you with a vengeance and the hot and humid air treats you like hot oven. A 10 min walk would drain out the entire water from your bio-system!!

Amidst all this, there is reason to be happy. When I do venture out in the early morning for a quick walk, what delights me most these days are the yellow flames of fire! Yes, Delhi streets are dotted with these golden yellow coloured trees called Amaltas or the Cassia fistula tree.  It springs up on you as a sudden surprise.

Amaltas Tree

It is a beautiful sight to behold. The bunches of yellow flowers drop like raindrops, hanging and filling the entire tree. It is such a cool sight to behold in such hot times.

However, these flowers bloom for only a very short while. In about a week’s time, the color fades and almost becomes an off-white color and ultimately just drops off in huge yellow piles below the trees. And that is why I specially love going out these mornings to witness and gather in this beautiful sight.

 

Amaltas or Cassia fistula

The tree also called the Golden Shower tree however,  apart from exuding this beautiful elegance is supposed to have a whole host of medicinal value.

The leaf and fruit are used in various ayurvedic and medicinal preparations and is considered to be good for skin treatments, cancer, constipation, diarrhea, etc..   Well, it does have a soothing effect on my eyes!

Indian Art Forms and their Proponents

Odissi & Sharon Lowen

Sharon Lowen is one of the most popular faces in the sphere of Indian dance art forms like Odissi, Manipuri or Chau and is one of the most internationally recognized Indian Arts performer. Trained by well-known Guru’s, she has taken these art forms to greater landscapes and performed in languages like Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil and Oriya.

She has worked relentlessly in popularizing Chau dance in India and abroad presenting it on Doordarshan’ s National Broadcasts and international diaspora’s.


She has broken many barriers. Being the first woman soloist of a previously all-male form was no mean feat in India. She was also responsible for introducing Mayurbhanj Chhau to the United States at the 1978 Asian Dance Festival in Hawaii and later at the Olympic Arts Festival of Masks in Los Angeles.

Sharon has been trained since 1975 in Odissi by the doyen of the art, Padmavibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra; in Manipuri by Minati Roy from 1969 through 1971 and from 1973 by Guru Singhajit Singh in Delhi and Ranjani Maibi and Thangjam Chaoba Singh in Manipur; in Mayurbhanj Chhau by Late Guru Krishna Chandra Naik and in Seraikella Chhau by Guru Kedarnath Sahoo.

Sharon Lowen was born and brought up in USA and is a Fulbright Scholar with a Bachelors and Master degree in Fine Arts and Humanities, Asian Studies and Dance. However, from the time she has come down to India in 1973, she is more Indian than people born and brought up here.


Details of her performances and achievements are given in her website : www.sharonlowen.com

 

 

The Earth Connection

Man is made of dust and to dust he returns. We, human beings are so intimately connected to everything that is about this earth, the soil and the dust but in our utopia of cleanliness and neatness, we make all efforts to keep our pretension of removing them from our life day in an day out without realizing that they are woven into our very fabric of life. Whether it is the food we eat or the vessels in which we eat!!

Earthern vessels were a part of our daily life till some years ago. It has taken a backseat with all the wispy, feathery plastic and glass vessels taking its place in our kitchens and the showcases. But the taste, the aroma and the healthy aspects of earthern pot is still intact. It is rare to see people making and selling these pots now.

It was only a couple of decades ago, we used to store water in these earthern vessels called `Ghada’ in Hindi. In the golden days that were when people used to care about their fellow human beings, big Ghadas filled with water used to be kept outside big buildings and roadsides for quenching the thirst of passersby and the pedestrians. Commercialization has taken over this simple act of charity and converted this tradition to selling bottled water in its place.

 

There were earthern pots to suit different needs. There were pots in which we could cook vegetables and rice. These were used to set our curd and there was no need to hang the curd as all the water would ooze out automatically through the pores of these vessels and one could have a tasty, pure and healthy curd, thick in texture. These pots would also be used to churn out butter using wooden ladles.

Even tea was served in small glasses made from clay called “kulhad” in Hindi. These were made compulsory in Railway Stations some years ago to reduce the usage of plastic disposable glasses. However, it has become a rare sight.

There were other items too, like the little money pots, flower pots, clay diyas widely used around Diwali festival, craft items like elephants, idols of god and other little animals.

 

 

Basant Panchami – The Onset of Spring

February is a beautiful month to be in Delhi when winter starts retreating and the spring season is set to emerge in full splendor.

The indications of a full bloom is everywhere – parks, gardens, busy traffic roundabouts, homes, etc..   Small bushes with budding flowers are waiting to bloom forth in full glory!

It is definitely a season to be out in the open enjoying and experiencing these new beginnings.   It is a sight to behold as the buds are impatient to gush out of their cocoon and show off their beautiful shapes, shades and colors that God has beautifully conferred upon them.

Basant Panchami which initiates the spring festive cycle was celebrated on 1st February.  It literally means fifth day of spring (Basant – spring, Panchami – fifth).   The other festival that people await very eagerly in Delhi to celebrate the spring season is Holi.  It falls right in the middle of the spring season in the first week of March (March 13 this year!) and people eagerly await this festival to play out the different colours to match the natural background.

Some worship Goddess Saraswati on this day.  In ancient Indian literature, this festival is associated with Shringara Rasam which is associated with love, beauty and attraction.   People honor Kamadeva with his wife Rati and his friend Vasant on this day in some parts of the country.

People wear yellow dresses and display or wear yellow flowers to mark this spring festival.  Yellow mustard flowers bloom across the Punjab belt of North India and is a beautiful sight.

 

Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi

Sarojini Nagar Market is the all-weather all-season market that caters to the needs of the entire South Delhi.   If there is one market that can satisfy Delhiwala’s appetite for shopping, it is this market.

Sometimes I have a feeling that people come here with the sole intention of testing out their negotiation and bargaining skills.   I used to hate bargaining and would simply feel quite magnanimous in handing over the price the vendors asked for.   But some of my visits with my husband, a hardcore bargainer have made me realize that the vendors kind of look down upon people who do not negotiate because as the norm goes, they hike up the price by atleast twice or thrice the original price so that they would still be left with some margin when the deal is finally done.

However, there are fixed price outlets and wares where you can select garments in the same range starting from Rs. 100, 150, 200, 250, etc..

I have been visiting this market from the time I got married about 20 years ago and came to settle down in the south side of Delhi.   From then onwards, if I have anything to buy from children’s clothes to shoes, bags, undergarments, hosiery items, bed sheets, covers or even curtains, etc., I head to this haven.   There are even shops for buying vegetables, grocery items, household items and kitchen utensils in case you need such items.

 
Babu Market is another complex that lies in the same vicinity and has approximately 4 rows of shops that again caters to mostly garments with some jewellery shops and accessories and all women’s stores thrown in.
 
All said and done, this market offers decent products at affordable rates.   You can find things you would not find anywhere else – children’s fancy dresses for their school competition, from paalak to a fairy, these shops can change their personality.  They can even loan you these dresses for a day or two!  What else would you need.
A word of caution though – On Sundays, only those who have some really good patience, focus and crowd management skills should attempt to attack this market.   On Saturdays and Sundays, this market can be so crowded that you just need to stand at one place, the crowd will pull you to all directions.
Recently there has been an addition of a multi-storied parking plaza which has turned out to be semi-modern building in the vicinity with Haldiram’s and other food joints like McD and Subway catering to the hungry public!

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 😀

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 – Diwan-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 – 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 façade 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 façade!   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 – 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 – jewellery, clothes, handicraft items.  It was said that this used to be the case even during Shah Jahan’s 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 ‘Place of Public Audience’.

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 –  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 – 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 – 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’s 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 – 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!”

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’s 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!

Christmas in Delhi

December is a pleasant month in Delhi though it can get to be a little bone chilling towards end of December around Christmas and New Year.  The trick to beat the winter is to keep busy, get out in the open and enjoy the sunshine whenever possible!

Christmas time can be lot of fun.  For Christians in Delhi, it is one of the busiest time of the year.  From learning Christmas carols to baking cakes and going around door to door singing, wishing people Christmas, and looking around at the Christmas decorations!

These days, Christmas has come to be recognized as a common festival. Festivities and decorations are done in quite earnestness by malls, hotels, airports and even small shops.  They compete to stand out and attract attention by placing a Christmas tree, have Santa cutouts, and hang stars all around.  

The Christmassy red, green, white, gold and silver colors make the whole place look cheerful.   The celebratory mood is visible though this time I should say the mood for spending has been a little less because of the demonetization problems.  People are only spending for what is the basic!

Celebrations, therefore are a little restrained but there!!