Long-distance Raksha Bandhan : Celebrating Sibling Love

RAKSHA BANDHAN; The name says it all. ‘Raksha’ means to protect while ‘Bandhan’ stands for the bond.  One of the deepest and the noblest of human emotions is the love of a brother and a sister. Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bond by tying a holy thread around the wrist. Rakhi, a thread, pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments. It means “a bond of protection.”  Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that’s evil.

While growing up, Raksha Bandhan was more loved because it used to be a holiday. Being a sister it was more like an occasion for receiving numerous gifts. Like every other sibling, I and my brother never went along while growing up. Now that we have shifted to different geographies and don’t stay together anymore, long-distance Raksha Bandhan keeps us connected.

The Rakhi envelope

When I pack Rakhi for my brother, it’s not just the Rakhi but a complete emotional package. I ensure that my parcel doesn’t look incomplete. I always keep a red teeka (kumkum), some rice, a pack of sweets and top the parcel with a small handwritten letter.  In the generation of internet and video calls, I cherish the joy a few old school ways give!

The ‘Rakhi’

On this special full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan, sisters ensure that their brothers should have a rakhi on their wrist. Rakhis are ideally made of silk with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi-precious stones.

Why Rakhi?

A Rakhi undoubtedly helps induce feelings of fellowship, it eases various societal strains, open up channels of expression, allow us to work on our roles as human beings and, most importantly, brings joy into our mundane lives.

The Rakhi ritual not only strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters but also transcends the confines of the family. The Rakhi tied on the wrists of closed ones, underscores the need for a harmonious social life, in which individuals co-exist peacefully as brothers and sisters. The Rakhi Utsav was popularised by the Nobel laureate and Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

Rakhi in History

Rakhi was the symbol of a strong bond that resulted in innumerable political ties amongst kingdoms and princely states. The pages of Indian history testify that the Rajput and Maratha queens have sent Rakhis even to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have accommodated their Rakhi-sisters by offering help and protection at critical moments to honour the fraternal bond. Rani Karnavati, the Queen of Sisodia dynasty of Chittorgarh, the capital of Mewar sent a Rakhi to Mughal Emperor Humayun, calling him a brother and asking for help.

Rakhi Legends

Rakhi was intended to be an act of worship of the sea god Varuna. Thus,  ceremonial bathing, offerings of coconut to Varuna, and fairs at waterfronts accompany this festival.

Some myths describe the ritual as observed by Indrani and Yamuna for their respective brothers, Indra and Yama. Lord Indra was vanquished in a long-drawn battle against the demons. To enhance his powers, Indra’s Guru Brihaspati tied a sacred thread on his wrist, who then attacked the demons with renewed force and destroyed the evil.

Thus Raksha Bandhan symbolises all aspects of protection of good from evil forces. In Mahabharata, we find Krishna advising Yudhishthira to tie the powerful Rakhi to guard himself against impending evils.

When brothers seek Rakhi parcels

The feeling of receiving the Rakhi parcel is a feeling unmatched from all other joys for the brothers too. Tying the Rakhi sent by their sisters gives a personalised touch to the special bond. In return, brothers bestow gifts upon his sisters and they vow to honour and protect her, no matter the circumstances

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Ashadhi Ekadashi 2019 : पंढरपूर वारी, वारकरी आणि विठ्ठलाची गाथा

Pune has witnessed people preserving Maharashtrian culture for ages.  Of various traditional practices, the ‘Pandharpur Yatra’ is a major event.  The Pandharpur Yatra is believed to be followed for more than a 1000 years now. As per beliefs, it is said that this custom was started way back in the year 1810.

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Source: http://bit.ly/2JbFTLK

Ashadhi Ekadashi being just a few days away, on July 12 this year, is a day of great importance at Vithal( incarnation of Vishnu)Temple in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. Pandharpur Yatra is a classic example of unparalleled devotion to a deity, a great aspect of Bhakti.  The young and old travel barefoot chanting the holy names. The Pandharpur Yatra is a perfect amalgamation of all castes, creed, rich, poor, young, old and children.

Palkhi (palanquin), being a unique feature of the Maharashtrian culture, is a 1000-year-old tradition followed by the warkaris (people who follow the wari, a fundamental ritual). The Palkhis; Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu and Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi; start in the month of Jyeshtha (June) from Pune District.   The whole process lasts a total of 21 days and reaches Pandharpur a day before Ashadhi Ekadashi. 

The popularity of this ancient tradition has soared immensely along with time. A total of approximately 1.5 lakh devotees proceed along with the Saint Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu village, while a total of 2.25 lakh devotees march along with the Saint Dnyaneshwar Palkhi. This main procession is joined by other palkhis from other towns and villages carrying the images of saints. Saint Dnyaneshwar’s image is carried from Alandi, Tukaram’s image is carried from Dehu, Eknath’s from Paithan, Nivruttinath’s from Trimbakeshwar, Muktabai’s from Edlabad and Sopan’s from Sasvad.

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Source: http://bit.ly/2JmYqVJ

(I belong to a traditional Maharashtrian household. A question that constantly troubles me is why do people go through such severe hardship to seek the blessings of the Almighty? Why do the rest of us sit at our homes and observe a fast on the day of ‘Ashadhi Ekadashi’? A persuading explanation was given to me by my Aaji! Here, I have tried to put it in her words)

आषाढी एकादशी हा दिवस महाराष्ट्रात अत्यंत महत्वाचा मानण्यात येतो. अनेक वर्षांपासून सुरु असलेल्या या परंपरेवर देशातच नाही तर जागतिक स्तरावरही अभ्यास सुरु आहे.महाराष्ट्राच्या कानाकोपऱ्यातून ठिकठिकाणाहून भाविक विठ्ठलनामाचा गजर करीत पंढरपुरला पायी चालत येतात. सार्वजनिक भजनाच्या पारंपरिक पद्धतीमध्ये एक भक्त टाळ मृदुंगाच्या ठेक्यावर अभंग गातो आणि बाकीचे सर्व टाळकरी ती ओळ तशाच चालीने समूहाने गातात.   यामुळे भजनामधील सर्व अभंग त्यांच्या मुखातून वदले जातात. अशा प्रकारे वारंवार ऐकण्या गाण्यामुळे हळूहळू त्यांना ते अभंग पाठ होतात. त्याचप्रमाणे त्यातील भावसुद्धा त्यांच्या मनाला जाऊन भिडतात.

आषाढीच्या आदल्या दिवशी पालखी पंढरपूरला पोहोचलीकी वारकरी चंद्रभागेत स्नान करून विठ्ठलाच्या दर्शनाची आस लावून बसतात. आषाढी कार्तिकी एकादशीच्या दिवशी पंढरपूरला विठ्ठलाच्या दर्शनासाठी महाप्रचंड रांगा लागतात. त्यात दहा बारा तास उपाशी तापाशी उभे राहून वाट पाहण्याची तपश्चर्या केल्यानंतर विठोबाच्या पायावर क्षणभर डोके टेकवण्याची संधी मिळते. पहाटेच्या काकड आरतीपासून रात्रीच्या शेजारतीपर्यंतच्या कालात खूप कमी भाविकांना प्रत्यक्षदर्शनाचे सुख प्राप्त होते. त्यांच्यामधील बहुतेकजण विठोबाच्या देवालयाच्या शिखराचे किंवा पायरीचे दर्शन घेऊनच माघारी जातात. असे जर असेल तर मग ते तर घरी बसूनसुद्धा करता आले असते, असेच ना? त्यासाठी एवढे कष्ट घेऊन उन्हातान्हातून आणि भर पावसातून पंढरपूरपर्यंत पायी चालत जाण्याची काय गरज आहे असे आपल्याला वाटते. त्यामागे अर्थातच इतर कांही सबळ कारणे असली पाहिजेत!  एक तर परंपरेनुसार दरवर्षी वारी करायची हे ठरून गेलेले असते. दुसरे कारण म्हणजे आपण देवासाठी कांही करतो आहोत या भावनेमध्ये एक प्रकारचे समाधान मिळते. तिसरे आणि सर्वात महत्वाचे कारण म्हणजे भाविकांच्या दृष्टीने तो एक अविस्मरणीय असा सुखद अनुभव असतो.आजकालच्या वैज्ञानिक प्रगतीमुळे आपण सतत जगाच्या संपर्कात राहतो. पण पूर्वीच्या काळात एकदा दिंडीबरोबर घर सोडले की परत घरी येईपर्यंत रोजच्या सगळ्या विवंचनापासून मुक्त होऊन दिवसरात्र परमेश्वराचे नामस्मरण आणि संतांचा सहवास यात एका वेगळ्या सात्विक वातावरणात राहण्याचा एक आगळा अनुभव त्यांना मिळत असे.

इतके दिवस ज्या विठ्ठलासाठी चालत आलो ते अखेर भेटल्याने आनंदी झालेले हे वारकरी उपवास करतात. जे भक्त वारीला जाऊ शकत नाहीत ते या दिवशी उपवास करुन मनोभावे विठ्ठलाची यथोचित पूजा करतात.

म्हणूनच हरी नामाच्या गजराने जेव्हा अवघी पंढरी दुमदुमलेली असते तेव्हा आपल्याला घर बसल्या विठ्ठलाचे नाम स्मरण करण्यात काहीच हरकत नसायला हवी!

Vat Purnima Vrat 2019

Vat Purnima - Article ImageI’ve grown up seeing the women in my house worship the Banyan tree on a special occasion every year.  This ritual involved offering prayers to the tree and winding the sacred thread around its trunk.  As a kid, the sight of these white threads wound around several Banyan trees used to fascinate me!

As an adult, understanding the relevance of these rituals has become quite easy.  Now I know, the fun-filled Banyan tree festival is widely known as “Vat Purnima”.  Vat Savitri Vrat is an important observance for married Hindu women.  This festival falls on the no moon day or full moon day of the Hindu month Jayestha.

The story of ‘Vat Purnima’

Vat Savitri Vrat signifies the love and devotion of a wife towards her husband.  Out of various fasts and rituals associated with well being and prosperity of the spouse, Vat Purnima festival is observed by married Indian women with great dedication. 

The story of Vat Purnima is dedicated to Savitri, the brave wife of Satyawaan, who is believed to bring back to life her dead husband. Savitri was a charming princess of Madra Desh.  She had chosen Satyawaan, a prince in exile, as her husband.  The princess gave up the luxuries of the palace and started living in the forest with her husband.  She took up the responsibilities and aspired to be a devoted wife. 

One day, unfortunately Satyawaan fell off a tree while cutting its wood and died. When Yamraj, the Lord of Death, appeared to take away the soul of Satyawaan, Savitri begged and pleaded for his life.  She observed severe penance to please Yamraj.  When nothing seemed to shake Yamrajs determination in taking her husband away, Savitri decided to end her life.  Yamraj was moved by her sheer determination and brought her husband back to life.

The significance of sacred thread

In Maharashtra, the Vat Purnima festival has great importance. Vat means Banyan tree; it holds a significant place as it was under this tree Savitri got back her husband’s life from the clutches of death. The roots of the Banyan tree grow deep and spread across a wide area.  Married women worship this tree believing that the roots of the tree close by her in-law’s house might in some way connect to the tree that was close by to her maternal home.  This way a feeling of a deep connection and strength between people, homes, and relationships.

As a part of the ritual, a married woman walks 108 times around a Banyan tree tying an unbroken length of cotton thread around its trunk. 

Why the sacred cotton thread?

The cotton thread represents the fragile nature of life, love, trust, faith and all things that go on to make a relationship.  A single thread may be weak, but when it is wound 108 times around the trunk, it becomes strong.  It is no longer fragile and no longer easy to break!

By walking around the tree 108 times, the wife contemplates on these matters.  Love can only be strengthened by trust, faith, and a desire to make relationships work!  With each step, the woman strengthens her relationship with her husband.  She prays not just for her husband’s long life, but an enduring relationship that will last forever.

Rituals during Vat Savitri Vrat

Women wake up early and take a bath in Brahma Mahurat. Then they wear new clothes, apply sindoor and wear new bangles. Prayers are offered to the Banyan tree as it is symbolic to ‘Trimurtis: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.’   According to legends, the roots are considered as Brahma, stems are considered Vishnu and the upper portion is considered to be Shiva.  Paintings of a banyan tree on a plate of wood are also made with the application of turmeric and sandalwood paste. The untold glories of the Vat Savitri Vrat are mentioned in several Hindu Puranas like the ‘Bhavishyottar Purana’ and ‘Skanda Purana’.’Bhog’ is offered in the form of wet pulses, mango, rice, jack fruit, banana, and lemon.  The fruits offered as prasad can be consumed. Later in the evening, one can consume sweets.  All the rituals are observed with lots of zeal.

Akshaya Tritiya : A Popular Hindu Festival

Akshaya Tritiya is a highly auspicious Hindu festival.  Akshaya Tritiya is considered one of the most sacred days because the Sun and the Moon are at their height of brightness on this day.  It falls on the third lunar day (Tithai) of  the Hindu month of Vaishakha.

Akshaya means endless or that which never diminishes. As per Vedic Astrology,  this special lunar day does not need any Muhurta for starting  new ventures as this day is free from all malefic effects.  Hence, there is no need to check the auspicious time for good deeds as every moment is propitious.  Any endeavour started on Akshaya Tritiya is believed to bring prosperity. Starting new ventures such as a business, construction of a building and purchasing gold on this lucky day is considered highly meritorious.  Akshaya Tritiya is believed to confer prosperity and happiness in households. Since gold is the incomparable symbol of prosperity, buying gold is believed to bring unending success and good fortune. 

The myriad stories of Akshaya Tritiya

  • The story of Akshaya Tritiya states that the God of Wealth and the treasurer of all deities, Kubera, prayed to Goddess Lakshmi on this special day, and was granted the gift of perpetual wealth and prosperity. In many households, a daylong Kubera-Lakshmi puja is performed on this day.
  • Another story of Akshaya Tritiya also states that the God of Wisdom, Lord Ganesha started writing the Mahabharata epic on this day with his tusk as the pen.
  • Owing to the prayers of Bagiratha, the holy Ganges descended on the earth on this day.
  • While the Pandavas were in exile, it was on this holy day that Lord Krishna blessed them with the Akshaya Patra or the vessel that never goes empty.
  • Yet another story of Akshaya Tritiya that is widely believed is, once Sudhama, Lord Krishna’s childhood friend, wanted to meet him. Sudhama knew that Krishna was very fond of Poha. But as he was suffering in poverty, he managed to bundle only a small portion of Poha and set out on a long and tedious journey to Krishna’s abode. Krishna gave his friend a royal welcome and had three mouthfuls of the Poha that Sudhama had got for him.  Sudhama did not ask for any favour during that time and returned home. To his utter surprise, the entire household was transformed. It was overflowing with all the wealth and prosperity that would suffice for more than a lifetime. Thus, it was on Akshaya Tritiya that Krishna blessed his devotee with such incomparable wealth. 
  • Goddess Madhura got married to God Sundaresa (an incarnation of lord Shiva) on this day. Therefore, the couples who get married on this day are blessed with eternal prosperity and bliss, by the Gods themselves. On Akshaya Tritiya we see an unprecedented rush in the number of marriages taking place in the country.

Thus, Akshaya Tritiya is considered as a Golden Day for Hindus. This day is great to make new beginnings, be it professional or getting tied in the holy bond of matrimony.

Gudi Padwa: ​The treasured tradition of hoisting of the Gudi

Life has become pretty fast.  That evening, when I returned home from work exhausted, I realized that I barely find time for myself! ( While I was still pondering over my busy schedule, my cellphone beeped. I almost jumped off the couch feeling elated.  A long lost college friend of mine was calling…)

Me: Hey hi! What a pleasant surprise Vishakha! How have you been? I’m so glad you called. (I couldn’t hide my excitement) 

Vishakha : (I could visualize her poker face; she spoke with a neutral voice) I called to inform you that our gang; that’s how we lovingly address our friends circle;  has planned to crash at your place this Gudi Padwa.  Please make sure aunty makes some extra Puranpolis! 

(Both of us laughed out loud…The entire gang could resist anything, but food! Gudi Padwa had come like a blessing in disguise. This sweet reunion was all we needed)

As planned, the gang reached my home a day prior to Gudi Padwa.   It was 5 am in the morning and we were up and about already.  

Let me take you on a tour around the chaotic bustle inside the house.  We have Vishakha sitting amidst a heap of marigold flowers; she is struggling to weave the flowers into a garland! She herself volunteered for the difficult task!  Kaustubh and Nitin are busy cleaning the pole on which the Gudi will be raised.  My mom is in the kitchen; making some fresh offerings for the Pooja.  I’m showcasing my best skills with the Rangoli.  My dad is grinding the Neem leaves and jaggery; mom has instructed him to make a fine paste.  

Vishakha : ( As she cannot stay silent for a long ) “Uncle, why do we celebrate Gudi Padwa”? 

Dad: “Well Beta, so that foodies like you can crash at their close-friends place and eat Puran Polis”! 

( All the busy heads around paused. Everyone including Vishakha unleashed stomach-hurting laughter!)

Dad : (Ceasing his laughter and interrupting ours)  “Jokes apart!  Gudi Padwa has an age-old legend that signifies its importance like any other Hindu festival.  It is the New Year Day for the people of Maharashtra.   Celebrated on the first day of the Chaitra month, Gudi Padwa falls sometime at the end of March or the beginning of April according to the Gregorian calendar. It is also the first day of the Marathi Calendar”.  

Mom: “Just like all other festivals, Gudi Padwa marks many prehistoric incidences to underline its significance. Mythology calls it a day when Lord Brahma recreated the world after deluge or the Pralaya. So this day symbolizes the beginning of the calendar and initiation of Sat-yuga. This day is very auspicious to begin something fresh. It is that rare occasion when every moment of the day is a ‘Muhurt’”.

Kaustubh : (The most sensible and intelligent of us all gives his valuable inputs) “When gathering information about Gudi Padwa, we must talk about a few other pertinent facets too. The intersection of the equator with the meridians is a major scientific event at the beginning of Chaitra. This intersection is known as Vasant, the pleasant season. When spring begins, nature invigorates itself by spreading a distinct charm and gratifying atmosphere all over. This naturally blissful period is worth a celebration and Gudi Padwa aptly represents this pleasing seasonal alteration.

Nitin : ( Who believes that he embodies Google) “Celebrations are the very essence of India and festivals are the most prospective way for Indians to connect, given their inherent jovial mood.  In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the festival is celebrated as Ugadi, as Yugadi in Karnataka, as Poila Baisakh in West Bengal and as Bihu in Assam. The Konkanis and the Sindhis observe the occasion as Sanvsar Padvo and Cheti Chand respectively.”  

(Mom was lost in her childhood memories and overhearing our banter, hurriedly added)

“When we were kids, on a festive day, people in our village used to rise early in the morning and take an extensive oil bath. Then they swept the courtyards of their houses and plastered it with fresh cow-dung. Women drew beautiful rangoli designs with meticulous detail on their doorsteps. The strikingly colorful patterns captured the mood of the spring season and brightened up the festive ambiance.  People wore new clothes, adorned their houses and offered oblations to God, praying to Him for a prosperous new year. So let’s get the Gudi up and let your father do it”.

Dad: “The hoisting of the “Gudi” is the main ritual of the festival. The Gudi is a long bamboo pole at the tip of which bright green or yellow silk cloth with brocade (zari), is tied. Over this is tied gathi (a type of sweet), neem leaves, coconuts, a twig of mango leaves and a garland of marigold flowers that signify a rich harvest. On this is placed an empty, inverted jug of water (tambya), made of brass, copper or silver and held up to the sky. The people of Maharashtra follow a tradition of erecting Gudis next to the right side of the main entrance of their houses.  Gudi is a symbol of victory and prosperity. It is believed that hoisting the Gudi outside ones home wards off any evil influences, making way for good luck and prosperity.”

Kaustubh was distributing the paste of neem leaves and jaggery, (one thing I hate about Gudi Padwa is this bitter paste), and added his two bits…

Kaustubh: “Gudi Padwa is considered to be an auspicious day to start new business and ventures. For farmers, it is the time to plough their fields and distribute food to labourers. This day also marks the end of one harvest and the beginning of a new one. Gudi Padwa is celebrated at the end of the Rabi season.  Indian society is largely dependent on agriculture and that is the reason that harvests are celebrated with much fun and frolic in the country.”

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Image source: Sharangdhar.com

 

( By now everybody was looking forward to the Puran Polis. We sat across the dining table and waited for Mom to serve us our fair share of the delicacy)

Mom: “Traditionally, Maharashtrian families prepare Puran Poli and soonth panak to celebrate this occasion. A unique custom related to the festival is eating the bittersweet leaves of the neem tree. Sometimes, a paste of neem leaves is prepared and mixed with ajwain, gul (jaggery), and tamarind. The consumption of the bittersweet neem leaves is supposed to begin the festivities and believed to purify the blood and strengthen the body’s immune system against diseases.” 

Vishakha : ( Looked at us and yelled at the top of her voice) “Hold it, everybody! The whole point behind knowing the reason to celebrate Gudi Padwa was to know how often can we have Puran Polis. I’m terribly hungry!”

(The whole house lit up with laughter once again. Soon, in no time silence descended across the dining room. We got busy relishing the mouth-watering Puran Polis!)

 

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Image source: Freepressjournal.in

 

 

References : 

https://www.sanatan.org/en/a/167.html

https://www.utsavpedia.com/weddings-festivals/festivals/gudi-padwa/

Holi : The Festival of Colours

Holi The Festival of Colours

In another few days, revellers will mark the arrival of spring by throwing powdered colour with gay abandon, spraying water on each other and the streets will resound with laughter and fun.  Holi may traditionally be a Hindu festival, but during this festival caste and class lines disappear, people and the colors of Holi mingle, to celebrate this festival.

The festival Holi is an ancient celebration and mentions of it can be dated back to fourth-century poetry.  Further mentions are made in a later 7th-century play called ‘Ratnaval’:

“Witness the beauty of the great cupid festival which excites curiosity as the townsfolk are dancing at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns. They are seized by pretty women, while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating. Everything is coloured yellowish-red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over.”

Colourful parties of people grooving to the beats of  “Balam Pichkari”, a Bollywood track of the younger generation.

 Beyond the dancing and colourful chaos lies a unique culture and deeply rooted traditions. Here’s what you need to know about Holi.

Good Triumphs Over Evil

The night before, on Holika Dahan, Hindus light dung and wood to symbolically commemorate the demise of Holika. People throw coloured powder on Rangwali Holi, the second day of the festival. 

Holika Dahan gets its name from Holika, the demoness sister of the evil King Hiranyakashyap in Hindu mythology.  As the story goes, the villainous king tried to forbid his son Prahlad from worshiping one of the Hindu gods, Vishnu.  But Prahlad persisted despite his father. So the king ordered Prahlad and Holika (who was immune to fire) to sit on a pyre, a wooden structure for burning a body as part of a funeral or execution. When the flames struck, Holika burnt to death in spite of her immunity to fire, and miraculously Prahlad prevailed because he called on the help of Lord Vishnu. So, Holi celebrations serve as a reminder of the triumph of good over evil, reflecting the Hindu belief that faith and devotion lead to salvation that can be attained by everyone who believes.

Why the Dye?

As for Rangwali Holi, the legend goes – a child, Krishna felt jealous of his beloved friend Radha’s fair skin, much lighter than his own blue face. When he complained to his mother Yashoda, she teasingly replied for Krishna to paint Radha’s face.  So, on the advice of his mother, he went and playfully painted her face so it was the same colour as his. It is said that lovers often celebrate Holi in this tradition, by colouring their faces the same colour during the celebrations. Hence the flying multihued pigments, called gulal, remind us of the story of Krishna.

However, Holi is mostly seen as a time for people to get together and enjoy themselves. It is purported to be a time when friends, families, and communities can get together without any concern for caste or ethnicity, although how much this holds true in reality is debatable. That said, there are certain groups that take their religious elements more seriously than others.

Synthetic Dyes? A big ‘NO’!

Back in the day, gulal was made from flowers, spices and other natural materials like the brilliant Indian Coral Tree and the Flame of the Forest plants, offering medicinal properties and benefits for the skin. Synthetic dyes became common in the mid-19th century, offering higher profits. Today, most gulal used during Holi is synthetic from China, although the Indian government promotes national products and promotes a return to plant-based dyes. The synthetic dyes used do us no favors, as in 2012 around 200 people were admitted to a Mumbai hospital suffering from colour poisoning.

Getting Stuffed

Families across India lovingly prepare gujiya, a dumpling-like sweet that is filled with dried fruits and nuts spiced with cardamom. Countless variations exist, but common fillings include pistachios, cashews, coconut, and raisins, which everyone enjoys during fiery Holika Dahan.

Toasting With Cannabis Milk

Some people toast Holi with bhang–a milky beverage mixed with a paste of buds and leaves of the cannabis plant, that is grown high in the Himalayas. Consumed for the last 3,000 years, this weed milkshake has a connect with mythology to the powerful monk God, Shiva – and is sold in government-run bhang shops.

Meaningful Colours

Much more than painting a pretty picture, the colours hold special significance. The red dye symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony. Blue represents Krishna while green stands for new beginnings and so on!

Cleaning Up

To preempt disaster, people are advised to moisturize their hair and skin well to help prevent the gulal from staining. Clothes typically do not survive and need to be chucked away after the celebrations. 

Joining the Fun

One necessarily doesn’t require an invite to celebrate Holi.  Just grab the natural colour of your choice and paint the faces of your close ones!

Wishing you all a happy and safe Holi!

Vasant Panchami:​ The festival that honours Goddess Saraswati

The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which means river. Thus, people living in the Indus Valley of the Indian subcontinent were referred to as Hindus.  The Hindu pantheon includes many deities.  Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of life and look back on a common history. 

The Hindus are divided by cultures but united by religion.  Most Hindu festivals fall in either of the two seasons, summer and winter. The festivals are marked around those points of the year which are at or near the SUMMER SOLSTICE and WINTER SOLSTICE, during which light and warmth begin to increase and decrease,  respectively.  In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure that they celebrated all the seasonal changes. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

One such seasonal event is Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami is an important Indian festival celebrated every year in the month of Magh according to the Hindu calendar. Celebrated on the fifth day of Magh, the day falls somewhere between the months of February or March, according to the Gregorian calendar. The significance of the day lies in the worship of Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning, who bequeaths the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge. Mother Saraswati is the consort of Lord Brahma, the Creator. The divine couple together engages in creating mankind and imbuing self-awareness and intelligence in mankind.

Hindu mythology describes Goddess Saraswati as a lady dressed in pristine white attire, white flowers, and white pearls, sitting on a white lotus set in a wide stretch of water. The Goddess also holds a Veena, a string-instrument, for playing music.  The four arms of Goddess Saraswati represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. She rides on a white swan. The swan is known for its peculiar characteristic of separating water from milk, indicating that one should possess clear vision and knowledge to discriminate between good and evil. Children are taught to read and write their first words on this day.  It is considered auspicious to begin a child’s education on Vasant Panchami. The grown-ups are educated about the oldest of the Hindu writings – The “Vedas”.

The word “Veda” comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from oral traditions contain hymns, instructions, explanations,  chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. Students keep their notebooks, pens and educational items near the statue of Goddess Saraswati and chant Ma Saraswati shlokas to get her blessings. They distribute sweets among the devotees and share their joy of winning Ma Saraswati’s blessings.

‘Yellow’ is the dominant colour of this festival as it signifies the ripening of fruits and crops. The mustard fields in North India bloom during this season giving a yellow coat to nature. People wear yellow clothes, offer yellow flowers to the Goddess and put a yellow, turmeric tilak on their forehead. They visit temples and offer prayers to various Gods. New clothes are purchased for this festival and many delicious dishes are specially prepared for this particular occasion. The colour yellow is deeply associated with teachers, with wisdom and also with auspiciousness. The other Gods who are shown wearing yellow attire in Hinduism are Lord Dakshinamurti, Lord Dattatreya and Brihaspati or Guru (Jupiter). Notably, all these God forms are associated with imparting wisdom. Hence we find that associating the color yellow with Mother Saraswati has a deep significance of portraying Mother Saraswati as the Goddess of wisdom.

And last but not the least, let our prayer go: May Maa Saraswati bless us all to attain enlightenment through knowledge and rid ourselves of lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance. Happy Vasant Panchami!