29 October, 2008

Diwali 2008 (26 Oct - 29 Oct)

Carl Gustav Jung once said “We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, but we cannot take from him/her, the need for mythology.”

We’ve been watching this interest develop in the nutty siblings. That need to delve into the legends, to understand tradition – all in their own way – with a multitude of “why’s, how’s why not’s, where’s ….”. What better way to explain to them the significance of the festivals that are celebrated, the substance and meaning of traditions that are followed than by introducing them to the vast world of Indian mythology.

As of now, they are rather enamored with and captivated by the legends that have given birth to all these festivities that we see around us in the modern world and all the festivals that are celebrated time and again. And since this blog is meant to be a mirror into the past, I’ve decided to pen down the essence of the mythological stories wherever possible, enabling the nutty siblings to garner a glimpse into the glorious treasure trove of Indian mythology.

The word Diwali arises from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali”. ‘Deep’ meaning ‘lights’ and ‘Avali’ meaning ‘a row’.

Dhanteras (26 Oct 2008)

Dhanteras or DhanTrayodashi essentially marks the beginning of the festival of Diwali. As is the case with every festival, there is a story explaining its significance. Legend has two mythological versions attributed to DhanTrayodashi.
The son of King Hima, it is believed, was doomed to die of a snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage, as per astrological predictions based on his horoscope. On the fourth day of his marriage, it is said that his wife laid out all the ornaments and gold and silver coins in a large heap near the door and lit numerous lamps all around the palace. She is then said to have gone around the whole palace narrating stories and singing songs. When Yama, the God of Death arrived there in the form of a serpent, he was totally blinded by the dazzle of the jewelry and the lamps that had been lit all over the palace. Lord Yama, in the guise of a serpent, is said to have climbed atop the large mound of jewelry/coins and sat there the whole night listening to the stories and the melodious songs being sung by King Hima’s daughterin law. And in the morning, since the fourth night had passed, Lord Yama is said to have left the palace quietly. Since then, DhanTeras also came to be known as YamaDeepan and in many households, lamps are kept burning through the night in reverence to Lord Yama, the God of Death.

The other mythological version states that DhanTeras is celebrated in honour of Dhanvantri, the physician of the gods. This story has its roots in SamudraManthan, during which the ocean was churned by the Devas and Asuras for Amrut or nectar. Finally Dhanvantri is said to have emerged carrying the ambrosia (nectar), which he then proceeded to distribute among the gods, which lead to the defeat of the asuras.

Naraka Chaturdashi / Deepavali (27 Oct 2008)

Naraka was the son of Bhudevi. According to the Puranas, Naraka had acquired immense powers due to a severe penance which resulted in a boon being granted to him by Lord Brahma. Narakasur then proceeded to make life miserable for the people in the villages and went on a killing spree.

Narakasur who is said to have defeated Lord Indra in battle. He then stole the earrings of Aditi (the Mother Goddess) and then proceeded to imprison the daughters of the gods and saints in his harem.

Unable to bear his tyranny, people prayed to Lord Krishna to save them. But Narakasura had a boon which stated that he could meet his end only at the hands of his own mother, Bhudevi. This is said to be the reason why Lord Krishna asked his wife Satyabhama (who was a reincarnation of Bhudevi) to be his charioteer during his battle with Narakasura.

Legend has it that during the battle that ensued, Narakasura met his end at the hands of Satyabhama. Bhudevi also declared that Narakasura’s death should not be a day of mourning, rather a day of celebration and rejoicement. Diwali is celebrated on Naraka Chaturdashi Day.
It is said that Lord Krishna returned home early in the morning on Chaturdashi and is said to have had a oil bath to wash off the blood splattered on him after the battle with Narakasura. This is said to be the significance behind the custom of taking a oil bath early in the morning on Diwali day.

In states towards the North of India, Diwali is dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama, who had been exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya for 14 years. Diwali marks the victorious return of Lord Rama to the kingdom of Ayodhya.

In the state of Bengal, the Goddess Kali/Durga – The Goddess of Strength – is worshipped. This reverence to Goddess Kali is also known as Kali Chaudas or Kali Chaturdashi.

Lakshmi Puja (28 Oct 2008)

Lakshmi Puja is celebrated on the third day of Diwali. It falls on the Amavasya day (new moon day). It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi walks amongst people and showers her blessings for an abundance of health and prosperity. Lakshmi Puja is generally performed in the evening.

Lakshmi Puja is also known as Chopada Puja (worshipping the books). The account books for the current year of business are tallied and balanced and new account books are worshipped for the coming year.

The nutty siblings also feasted on a galore of homemade mithais this year :). The mithai menu for this year’s Diwali comprised of Edible Diyas, Malai Laddoos and Kesar/Kaju Pedas.

Feast your eyes …..

And here's Diwali of 2008 in pictures .......

Once again, best wishes to everyone for the year to come. May the coming year be filled with Peace, Good Health, Love and Happiness.

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27 October, 2008

Happy Deepavali !!

Asato Maa Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amrutham Gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.

Lead me from the Unreal to the Real
Lead me from Darkness to Light
Lead me from Death to Eternal Life
May there be Peace Everywhere.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28)

Wishing all of you a very Happy Deepavali. May the coming year be filled with Peace, Good Health, Love and Happiness.
- The Krishnans

23 October, 2008

Tolerance - A Way of Life

When one takes a good long look around oneself, the people around us, the world in general – what does one see ?

Does one see Peace, Harmony, Equality or Does one see Discrimination Prejudice, Inequity ?

One look around – at the world scene, if one may – and it is only too evident that if there is one thing definitely on the increase, it is intolerance. Intolerance of all kinds. Racial Intolerance, Religious Intolerance – it is all around and seems rather omnipotent.

Disturbingly enough, of late, there definitely seems to be an increase in zealots promoting religious divides. And they do so with unabashed pride. They are uncomfortably brazen and brash in their attitudes which reek of intolerance. And sadly enough, the tentacles are spreading – slowly but very very surely.

Sometimes, there is nothing more dangerous than old ideas and attitudes. And Intolerance has always been a key factor – has been one of the oldest surviving dogmas. It has always been there, waiting to be rediscovered, repackaged and reused.

We have had our email inboxes bombarded with Power Point presentations time and again – reiterating the theory that Hindus all over the world are being targeted. And there have been instances where our requests to be unsubscribed from such emails have resulted in rather ugly, condescending replies landing in our Inbox.

As adults, it is far more easy to cold shoulder things and to decide for oneself as to what one believes in. But imagine a scenario wherein children are being targeted. It is appalling but true. Groups on Yahoo are at the receiving end of such inflammatory emails and some of the groups are those frequented by children. To even imagine the kind of havoc such emails can play with the rather impressionable minds of young children, is rather unthinkable.

“Catch them young” seems to be the order of the day. It feels almost obscene to watch a young child walk around holding a weapon of destruction as though it was a toy. And how many times has one come across such pictures in strife torn regions all over the world ? Way too many times.

I remember during my school days when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards – the whole nation was in shock, in mourning. There was this group of boys who used to play galli cricket (cricket on the road). That evening too, they had assembled there with their cricket bats, stumps and all the gear. It so happened that a couple of Sikh youths happened to be walking across the road. What followed was horrible – way too horrendous to be put into words. These group of boys, in their teens, just set upon those two Sikh youths with their bats and worse still, when calls went out to the police to intervene, they took their time arriving at the scene and much worse, did nothing. Now in what way were those two Sikh boys walking on the street responsible for what had happened with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ?

“Intolerance breeds Intolerance”. People start using it as a medium to express their hatred. And what intolerance thrives on is the already existing insecurities in the minds of people – insecurities which have been there for a long time or insecurities that are planted by people who specialize in power play. So much so that people begin to view intolerance as a very legitimate means of self-defense.

Very recently, virtually all the states in India celebrated the festival of Navratri – which embodies worshipping the divine feminine force Shakti. And at the same time, there was mayhem in the state of Orissa where women were being burnt alive, where women were being gangraped – all in the name of religion. There were also reports of women dying during childbirth because they were forced to give birth in extremely unhygienic conditions because they had been on the run from lynch mobs. What kind of sense does this make ?

While we do see intolerance all over on a global scale, the feeling that tends to creep in on us unconsciously is one of “What can I possibly do to reduce intolerance. Nothing. (*sigh*) it is here to stay. Might as well accept it as another fact of life.”

Don’t we all have our fair share of intolerances ? It could be anything - ranging from intolerance towards the customs and traditions based on religion or intolerance towards people from the lower income groups or intolerance towards widowed ladies as per terms of the customs specified by society Intolerances towards the physically and mentally handicapped, intolerance towards those who wish to swim against the tide, against the dictates of the majority … the possibilities are never ending.

“Divide and Rule” and “Subjugation” seem to be the order of the day.

If Intolerance breeds Intolerance, cannot the same be said of the opposite. Is there not hope in hanging on to the belief that “Tolerance will breed Tolerance”. It does sound tempting enough to believe.

And by saying Tolerance, I do not mean just Tolerance in terms of religion, caste or creed. Tolerance can be cultivated on many different levels, as The Mad Momma writes beautifully in this post of hers. Tolerance, not only in particular to any given situation but Tolerance, as a way of life.

Tolerance, as I’ve begun to realize, is not something that the society of today teaches or doles out willingly. Tolerance is something that has to be cultivated. Tolerance is something that has to be learnt. Tolerance is something that needs to be nurtured, needs to be encouraged at many different levels, it needs to be worked on and yes – most of all – tolerance needs to be promoted.

And once one is open to the idea of Tolerance, one finds it within oneself to develop some much needed mutual understanding and mutual respect.

Joshua Liebman put it very aptly when he once said

"Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another's beliefs, practices and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them."

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21 October, 2008

Exactly how much does it take ........

....... to make one's day ?

Well, as economists would say, All Other Terms and Conditions Remaining The Same, It Does Take Very Little To Make Ones Day.

I realized how true this was – and this was something that had happened a few months back actually.

The number of ringtones that are available for download are absolutely mind boggling. You have rap, rock, jazz, instrumental music, bollywood hits ……the list is humungous. The one tune that we did want as a ringtone on our cellphones was the Chinese National Anthem.

The next day evening, we did download the ringtone and it was all nice and set on both our cellphones. I vaguely remember setting the ringtone to certain groups on my cellphone. Needless to say, given the fact that I am indeed growing increasingly senile, I quite forgot about the whole thing. There are so many ringtones stored in the cellphone and quite like those, this new acquisition too faded into the subconscious mind. Now that should really give one an idea about the number of calls I get on my cellphone !!

A few weeks later, on a weekend when we’d been on an outing, the inevitable happened. If you’ve read my earlier post on outings with kids and public toilets, you’ll know exactly what I mean !!

The younger sibling wanted to go to the loo and as is normally the case the request was classified as “very urgent”. Since there was no “gents toilet” on that floor of the mall, we had to head towards the “ladies toilet”. And of course, mommy had the dubious distinction of being the escort.
Not surprisingly, there was a long queue in the ladies toilet. A few seconds of waiting found the younger sibling remarking rather loudly “Why do girls take such a long time inside the toilet ?. What are they doing inside there ?” The elder sibling rolled her eyes heavenward with a look at the younger sibling that seemed to speak volumes in saying “God !! You’re beyond hope of any kind.” And then deciding not to stop at that, she was heard planting seeds of thought in the younger sibling’s head by saying “Well. Why don’t you ask them ?”.

Mommy was busy trying to figure out exactly which shade of red her face was at that particular moment, given the fact that her face tends to turn different shades of red when either one of the siblings bring on that “I wish the earth would open up and swallow me” moments !!

It was a while before it was our turn to head for a stall. We were in there when my cellphone started to ring. Vic had been wondering as to why we’d not headed back from the loo and he called my cellphone to check. It so happened that I’d set the ringtone of the numbers grouped under “family” to that of the Chinese National Anthem.

Right there, inside the washroom, with each and every other stall occupied, here was my cellphone – belting out the tunes of the Chinese National Anthem. Over the next couple of minutes, one could have actually heard a pin drop inside that washroom.

“Was there a total patriot in one of those stalls that day ?” Patriotic enough to stand upright at the tunes of the national anthem, irrespective of what the circumstance might have been inside of those toilet stalls ?”

I wonder. I do sincerely wonder. :D.

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17 October, 2008

Navratri 2008 (30 Sep - 09 Oct)

What is the story of Navratri ? queried the nutty siblings. Why do we celebrate Navratri ? What does it stand for ? - the questions kept flying fast and furious on a early Sunday morning.

Perched on the floor with a hot cup of coffee on one hand, mommy launched into the story of how and why Navratri is celebrated and what its significance is. In attendance were two very earnest little faces, listening and hanging on to each and every word with rapt attention. They were so captivated and fascinated and geared up about listening to the story and the significance of Navratri that Mommy could not help but tell them the story in detail – all complete with the requisite sound effects and facial gestures. They loved it – so much so that the younger sibling took it upon himself to narrate the story to his teacher the next day morning at school.

Navratri essentially means Nine Nights. And the festival of Navratri spans Nine Nights of worship dedicated to Shakti – The Divine Force. Over nine days, the Holy Trinity of Goddesses – Durga (The Goddess of Valour), Lakshmi (The Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity) and Saraswati (The Goddess of Knowledge) are worshipped.

The story associated with Navratri is said to find its origins in the Markandeya Purana. In the Markandeya Purana, there are chapters which talk about the slaying of the demon Mahishasura by Goddess Durga. These chapters are also known as Devi Mahaatmyam or Chandi Paath or Durga Saptasati. Devi Mahaatmyam essentially symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

MahishaSura – literally translated means “The Buffalo Demon”. It is said that Mahishasura worshipped Lord Brahma, performed penances and observed strict austerities. Lord Brahma, who was pleased with Mahishasura’s penance, granted him a boon. Mahishasura obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that he could not be killed at the hands of any male. Chauvinist by nature, Mahishasura, like many others, did not even entertain the possibility of a female being able to slay him. Hence, once he obtained the boon from Lord Brahma, Mahishasura started going on a rampage.

Very soon, Mahishasura turned his attention to the heavens and started defeating the gods too. The panic stricken devas in turned to the Holy Trinity – Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Protector) and Shiva (The Destroyer).

The Holy Trinity were angered by Mahishasura’s actions and it is said in the Devi Mahatmyam that the anger emerging from Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva converged and took a new shape – that of Durga. The gods also equipped Goddess Durga with divine gifts. The Trident from Shiva, The Chakra from Vishnu, The Conch from Varuna (The Lord of the Seas), The Spear from Agni (The Lord of Fire), The Bow and Arrow from Vayu (The Lord of Air), The Thunderbolt from Indra, The Scepter and the Sword and Shield from Yama, The Axe from Vishwakarma. Himavan, the Lord of the Himalayas gave Goddess Durga a mountain lion as her Vaahan (vehicle).

The battle between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura is said to have raged for ten days and nine nights and it was on the tenth day of battle that Mahishasura was slain by the Goddess Durga.

So essentially, the festival of Navratri symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

Navratri this year too saw a rather busy social schedule. Ladies dropped in for Vettalai Paaku. We went over for Vettalai Paaku. For the elder sibling, it was the ideal time to bring out those salwar kurtas and the accessories – the bangles, the bindis, the hairclips, the dainty slippers :).

On the menu on Vettalai Paaku day was the traditional Sundal, Gajar ka Halwa and Almond Pedas.

For the younger sibling, it meant a whole lot of aunties coming home and of course, he had a nice time chatting most of the aunties up. There were lots of kids too this time around and while we ladies chatted and generally caught up on what was happening with each of us, the kids were having a whale of a time in the kids’ room. So much so that the self-appointed photographer completely forgot about the camera. She realized, late at night, that she’d not snapped up any pictures.

Navratri ended with Saraswati Puja and then Dassehra the next day. Two pairs of little hands paid their obeisance to the Goddess of Knowledge by tracing with their finger, on grains of rice spread out on a platter.

Vidyarambham – which literally translates into “the beginning of the journey towards acquisition of knowledge”. For the wee little children, on their very first Vidyarambham, it means exactly that – an initiation into the world of learning, into the world of knowledge.

“Why do we do this every year ?” “We have already started learning, so then why do we write on rice every year ?” queried the siblings.

What sprung to mind immediately was something I’d once read somewhere. For those who have already begun the journey – one of acquiring knowledge – it could be viewed as a gentle reminder that one can learn more by having an open mind. Because when one begins something, one always starts with a fresh slate and is thus more receptive and open to absorb more knowledge.

Vidyarambham - A Tradition that we remember from our childhood days, a tradition that we’ve chosen to carry on with our children too.

It also reminded me of what Gautam Buddha had once said about Traditions.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you’ve heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers or your elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

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15 October, 2008

I need to go Now, Now, Nowww !!!!!

Outings with kids are such huge, wholesome fun – right ? I mean, who can disagree with that statement. All that could possibly differ is the way one defines “huge, wholesome fun” !!! :D

Outings can be broadly divided into two categories.

The Outdoors - lush greenery, sweet music being orchestrated by the various insects chirping away merrily, the warmth of the sun rays mellifluously warming not just the physical being but also ones heart, the flora, the fauna and last but not the least, fresh air.

The Indoors - the cool interiors of a shopping mall – oh ! the glitz, the boutiques with shoppers and window shoppers alike sauntering in and out, the steady hum and buzz of people conversing, the glamsham displays, floors shining like mirrors …..

When the nutty siblings were a lot younger, we had a kind of mental map in place. Not just of the place that we were to visit but more importantly, of the washrooms/toilets in and around the place we were visiting. Nature would ring in its calls on the nutty siblings at the most inopportune of moments and they would simply resort to saying “I have to go to the toilet and I have to go like NOW !!!”. Those words were enough to make us sprint and dash as though a whole keg of rocket fuel had just ignited on our backs. The Usain Bolts and the Shelly Ann Frasers should try taking on parents (dragging a child who needs to visit the loo, of course) for a 100 m dash to the nearest toilet. Under such circumstances, the parents would probably give the Olympic gold medalists a run for their money !!!!

There is absolutely no mistaking that wild eyed, panic stricken look on a parent’s face – with a rather squirmy little child hanging on to the parent’s fingers. And of course, how can Murphy’s Law not take effect in a situation like this ?

The queues in the ladies toilet are directly proportional to the urgency of the child’s need to use the toilet. Serpentine queues on the one hand and a foot-stamping child on the other – feet being stamped one after the other to a staccato beat. A beat that is accompanied by a whiny “I need to go now”. In just a few seconds, the staccato thumping of the feet changes to a hop all around the washroom – frenzied hops that would put a kangaroo to shame. The whine somewhere near its crescendo “I need to go now now now”.

Phew !! That is a scenario which comes with a 100% guarantee - to give parents frequent and recurring nightmares.

This nightmarish scenario gets compounded exponentially when the said request to use the toilet occurs when one is using any mode of public transport. When it comes to trains – there are no toilets even in the train stations. Which makes it an extremely dicey affair when one is travelling with a child whose need to use the toilet is always an Emergency Request. If one sees an adult running helter skelter, weaving in and out of the crowds, jumping over the turnstiles with a kid in tow, one can be pretty much sure that the adult is looking for a toilet and that the child has indeed pressed the Emergency Button.

We’ve kind of outgrown this stage. This fact struck home the other day when we were out shopping and when we were about to leave the mall, we asked the siblings if they wanted to make a trip to the toilet.

The answer from the younger sibling was a casual “no” and a more serious “you don’t have to ask – if I want to go to the toilet I’ll tell you, you know.” The elder sibling just looked as though we had a hole in our heads and finally, realising, much to her horror, that Mommy was still waiting for a reply, managed a "NO" with about as much exasperation as she could inject into those two syllables !!!

Now when we look at parents in similar circumstances with that same frantic, harried look on their faces, as they race against time to find a loo for the youngster they are shepherding along, it does make us wonder as to how we survived those close calls.

But of course, like the saying goes, an outing with a kid in tow is never exactly a breeze. When they outgrow one stage, they just simply step into another. And that means nothing other than a whole new set of “joys” for the parents involved.

Parenting is indeed bliss . It does take one a step closer to heaven, time and again !!!!!. The only thing that probably differs is the route and the pace at which one makes that trip to heaven and back !!!

Like Ed Asner once said

“Raising kids is part joy and part guerilla warfare.”

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