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Category: Religion and Faith

Mumbai celebrates Navroz

The Agyaris and Atash Behram temples in the city buzzed with activity on the eve of Navroz or Parsi New Year, on Saturday, as hundreds of men, women and children belonging to the Parsi Community queued up to worship the holy fire. With two-thirds of India’s Parsi population living in Mumbai, the celebrations in the city were quite palpable.

The week before the Navroz is marked by a period called Mukhthad and Gatha.  The Mukhthad is a period of mourning for the community as it cherishes the memories of both joy and pain that the previous year bestowed upon it, while readying itself for a new year that would mark a new beginning.

“It is believed that during Mukhthad, our ancestors and those loved ones who have passed over to the other side, come back on earth to feast with us. We believe that it is they who grant us this New Year”, says Tushna Mistry, a final year student of Sophia College. During this period the fire temples are cleaned and decorated by those who maintain the premises.  Devotees throng the Agyaris to pay their respects to the departed. “I lost my aunt this year. So we went to Banajee  Atash Behram at Churney Road to pay her our respects. Usually, one leaves a silver vase with fresh flowers on the many marble top tables that the temples provide. One may also leave food and fruits for the souls. It signifies that we invite them to the feast”, adds Tushna.

The Mukhthad is followed by Gatha in which one does not cut nails or hair. This period is considered sacred and no part of the body no matter however miniscule must be shed. The day before the New Year is called ‘Pateti’. Pateti ends the period of mourning and the Parsis wish each other ‘Pateti Mubarakh,’ praying for good luck and a beautiful year ahead. The next day is what every Parsi awaits excitedly. It is a day of celebrating togetherness.

“Our Navroz begins at six in the morning unlike the midnight hour of December 31st that you guys celebrate every year’, says a smiling Mrs Anahita Mistry, a home maker. “We take a head bath early in the morning. Little children are bathed in milk and rose petals. New clothes are worn especially the Sadra and the Kasti. Sadra is a thin vest like silk shirt that is worn inside. Kasti is the holy thread that men wear. Much like the ones that Brahmins in the Hindu community don. The women in the house decorate the doors with garlands of flowers and glass beads called the ‘Toran’,” she adds.

The members of the Parsi community then visit the Agyaris and pay their respects to the fire. “Our God is the Fire. We call our God ‘Ahura Mazda’. Just like the Muslims, we do not have a picture of our God. But we worship our Prophet Zarathrushtra. On occasions such as these, the Agyaris are lit with lamps and decorated with flowers. You will not find a single artificial decorative in the entire temple”, says Mr. Kirsy Mistra, a resident of Mumbai.

The celebration immediately begins after the prayers. Members of families gather and have ‘Jashan’. “We Parsis love food. It is mainly the coming together of families and having toothsome delicacies that holds real significance on the New Year. Our breakfast consists of Rava or Sev cooked with sugar. The lunch is called Dhansak  in which we have Mutton Biryani, Mutton and chicken Dal and Kebabs”, says Pakshad Mistry, a school student.  “There are Parsi-Gujarati plays called Nataks that take place on New Year. Mostly belonging to the comedy genre, it is fun to watch them too”, he adds.

The Parsis are an adorable bunch of people. To celebrate the New Year with them teaches one a lot about their culture and traditions.

– Neelkamal Mishra

TYBMM Journalism

Sophia College for Women

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Deva Shree Ganesha

A take on one of the most awaited festival of the city

By Niyati Agrawal

The month of July and August bring a new wave of enthusiasm to Mumbaikars. With a list of festivals lined up, they gear up for Raksha Bandhan, Janamashtmi,  Friendship’s Day, Parsi New Year, Eid, to name a few. But with all this there is something else that excites them – the blue plastic tents with the plain mud-white unfinished Ganesh idols peeping out. The moment one sees those tents, they know Ganesh Chaturthi is round the corner.

The first time when this festival was celebrated is not known but the first time it was celebrated as an organized public event was in 1893. This act was initiated by Lokmanya Tilak with the idea of bringing together people from different communities. He also facilitated poetry recitals, performance of plays, musical concerts etc. that were spread over 10 days of celebration.

Even today, after 119 years this festival is celebrated with the same intention. Haters complain that this festival has been commercialized. They complain to the police if the bhajans on loud speakers are on in the afternoon or if the prasad that is served in the form of dinner goes on beyond 10 in the night and they cannot stand the clattering of utensils.

But is the festival really commercialized?

This festival is a huge event in the suburbs. Housing societies bring huge idols and organize a range of events for the members of the society to enjoy. These functions range from games to mata ki chowki to organizing competitions and even getting underprivileged kids or women and organizing lunch or workshops for them which would help them.

It is been noted over a lot of societies that Ganesh Chaturthi has the highest number of attendance compared to any other events or festival they organize. People attending aarti do not only comprise of ladies or old people. The kids also have an equal participation in it. Some societies have the youth organizing the entire celebration with minimal help from their parents and other people from the society and they end up doing a very good job.

It is a very good sight to see when someone who doesn’t know a word of Marathi offering the entire prayer in it, and understanding the meaning of what he or she is saying. This festival has also taught the younger generation the Marathi traditional folk dance – Lezim. It is not only the maharashtrians who perform it. Sure they perform it well but people from other religion also join in on the fun. Traditional food of different states is also offered as prasad in some societies.

Not only societies but several other non-profit organizations organize Ganapati pandals all over the suburbs. No road you walk on is without a Ganesh pandal. These are open the whole day. Anyone can go in and offer prayers. The organizers or care takers of these pandals will welcome you with a very warm smile. Religion, caste, gender, class are the words forgotten during the 10 days of this festival.

Competitions are organized these days for the Best Pandal or Best Idol. Most of these titles are given on the basis of how eco friendly the organization has been while celebrating this festival. So if these competitions are promoting eco-friendly messages and driving people to celebrate the festival in a way that it is enjoyable for all then there really isn’t a problem with it.

The city is alive for these 10 days. Colorful pandals, bhajans and music everywhere, people coming home early from work to take part in the festivities, the dancing on the road during the visarjan or while getting the idol home, staying with your friends and family till late hours in the night are just a few things to name that people do. The joys, the exhilaration, the excitement, the enthusiasm, the feeling of oneness, the celebration are just a few feelings that people experience over the festival. And once the visarjan is done, the city goes dull again. People have to go back to their regular routines, the only music is that of the car honking and colors are of the politician banners or cars.

The festival still brings together people of all age groups and religion. It promotes the age old culture of the country while adapting to the future. Depending on the organization, it is promoting eco friendly practices and helping the underprivileged.

So do you still think that this festival is commercialized? I think not.

PURI : THE LAND OF MYTHS, MIRACLES AND LEGENDS

 

As the gentle fragrance of Incense wafts along with the humid, slightly salty coastal breeze from the Bay of Bengal, the sound of prayers and shlokas (Verses) drift from myriad temples, filling the air with a very palpable religiosity.  Amidst the hustle bustle of “Bada Danda,” the biggest market complex in the beautiful city of Puri, stands the “Shree Mandir,” popularly known as the Lord Jagannath temple. Besides the “Ratha Yatra,” the great chariot festival of the trinity, namely Lord Jagannath, his brother Bala Bhadra and their sister Subhadra, that attracts millions of pilgrims and tourists from various parts of the world, this huge architecture housing innumerable sacred Hindu Gods continues to occupy its pride of place, both geographically and in the hearts of countless devotees.

Almost everyone, who has either been to the city or read about it in books, knows about the history of the great temple, its rituals, and the various stories associated with the Lords. But there are countless other riveting legends associated with the great city that only the inhabitants can relate with great enthusiasm.  Being a native of Puri, the land of unexplored myths and legends, I was always fascinated by the stories that my grandmother would tell me and my siblings during power cuts in the nights. We would all hear with rapt attention.

Among the very many lesser known legends, there is one that tells us about how Lord Jagannath, acquired his existence. The Skandha Purana, one of the most ancient books containing many Hindu Mythological episodes, reveals the origin of the Lord of the universe in a rather interesting story.

Hundreds and thousands of years ago, when Man and God walked the earth together, King Indradimna, the ruler of Puri, had a dream one night. He dreamed about a huge log of wood that had floated to the shore.   As he woke up the next day, he gathered his soldiers and walked to the shore. A huge wooden log was indeed lying at the same place. The King instinctively knew that the dream was given to him by God. The log of wood meant that the Gods wanted the king to build an idol of the Lord of the universe out of it.  But Alas! The king was after all a human being. To build the Lord’s idol was not in the capacity of an ordinary human but somebody with divine powers.

The king folded his hands and requested Lord Brahma to send somebody who could carve the idol out of the wood.  Thus came Vishwakarma, the Lord revered as the “Principle Universal Architect”, in the guise of an eighty-year-old man. He imposed a condition that he would need a chamber to himself where he would work relentlessly for 21 days without food or water. He instructed that nobody should enter the chamber before the completion of 21 days. The King did as he was told. A chamber was given to Vishwakarma, while guards waited outside the closed doors.

It was only within 14 days when the guards informed the king that the sound of hammer was no longer heard from the chamber. The King rebuked the soldiers asking them to respect the conditions put forth by Vishwakarma. No one should open the chamber before 21 days. But the queen began to worry. She pleaded with the king to open the chamber doors, as she feared Vishwakarma dead. The king finally agreed, and as they burst it open, a disappointed Vishwakarma told the King and the Queen that he would no longer continue with his work as they could not fulfil his conditions. With these words, he disappeared. Thus the idols remained half finished.

As we know, the idols of the trinity do not have limbs. The hands are not complete. The story above is the legend behind it. As we siblings were awed by the story that our Grandmother related, she went on to explain the significance of it too. “Why do you think Lord Jagannath, Lord Bala Bhadra and Goddess Subhadra are still worshipped in that form? It is because there is still a sense of completeness in those incomplete figures. The Hands are half made, because it extends to infinity, warmly embracing anyone who comes their way. Their eyes are round because nobody knows the extent of their circumference. After all they watch the universe.”

There is another very striking feature about the Shree Mandir and its kitchen. Thousands of people flock to the temple to eat the “Maha Prasad”, the food touched by the Lord. Radhu Mishra, a resident of Raurkela, who frequents the Shree Mandir, says, “The way rice is cooked inside the Shree Kitchen is amazing. I have had a chance to visit the kitchen once myself. About 8 to 10 pots of uncooked rice with water are put one on top of the other. The stove is lit under the bottom most pot with all other pots tapering to the top. The stove is extinguished after a period of time. The rice contained in the top most pot is boiled to the same extent as the rice in the bottom most pot. I’m sure this is unprecedented, but quite true. ”

The architecture of the Lord’s temple is exquisite. One can see a huge metallic wheel, referred to as the Neela Chakra, the blue wheel. Its height is over 11 feet with a circumference of about 36 feet. The wheel is said to be Lord Vishnu’s most powerful weapon, Sudarshan Chakra. Attached to the wheel is a deep red and yellow flag about ten yards long that proudly flutters in the air. Another famous sight in Puri is the huge ‘Digabarini’ Pole on the sea shore.  This humongous pole has a light mechanism at its top that guides lost boats and ships the shore. There is a legend connecting the two that almost every inhabitant of Puri knows about.

The 1999 super cyclone in Odisha had shaken the entire world. It was one of the deadliest Indian storms since 1971. The city of Puri was on the verge of submerging in the waters of the Bay of Bengal. There indeed was no hope. As Dr. Kalyani Mishra, one of the local residents, recalls that deadly night, “The city was enveloped in darkness for over three days. It was the fourth day of the storm when the raging sea waters completely drowned the sea shore and the waves advanced into the city, flooding the roads. I recall that night with absolute terror. We had started saying our prayers, as we knew there was no hope of survival. Suddenly, in the morning as we woke up, we received the news about the waves having retreated by a hundred meters. The rains had stopped. There was a crowd that had thronged on the streets. They talked about the huge yellow flag that had slipped from the Neela Chakra, flew all the way to the shore along with the air current and wrapped itself around the ‘Digabarini’ Pole. The flag was later taken down and tied to the Neela Chakra. We believe Lord Jagannath saved our lives.”

The Lords are revered with deep devotion but treated as humans at the same time. They are loved, pampered, fed and lulled to sleep with songs from the “Geet Govinda”, written and compiled by Jayadev, a profound Odia poet of the 14th century.

After every 12 years, the idols are buried and new idols built. It is a phase of “Naba Kalebara”, meaning a new body. Just as humans give up their earthly bodies after their term on the earth is over and go on to acquire a new body, so do the Lords. Until the new idols are built, the period is marked by grief. The people believe that the Lords have their life inside their “Naabh” meaning belly button. The new wood required to build the new idols is hard to find and follows many rules and regulations. For instance, the wood must be taken from a tree that has a huge ant hill at the base of it sheltering a black serpent. The tree must have no bird nests on its branches and so on. When the time comes for transferring the life from the Naabh of the old idols into the Nabbh of the new ones, the head priest of the temple, who conducts the ceremony, is blindfolded. The people there believe that the Lord’s Naabh emanates a blinding sacred blue light that must not be seen. The temple premises are shut and the electricity supply to the entire city is cut off for an hour, usually during the wee hours. The residents instantly know the reason and pray to the Gods.

The day following the “Naba Kalebara” sees myriad articles across almost all local newspapers, reporting on how the idol of Goddess Vimla, who is housed in a temple close to the Lords’ temple, has tears spewing out from her eyes. The source of the water is still a mystery and almost every resident of Puri has witnessed this event.

I would like to end this essay with one of the most beautiful yet unfortunately less observed features of the Lords’ idols. Sure, many devotees and pilgrims come to worship the Lords. Sure, the Brahmins in the temple strictly forbid the entry of people belonging to other religions. Yet, how many of us have noticed that the trinity defines brotherhood cutting across race and religion? Lord Jagannath, has a dark complexion, Lord Bala Bhadra, white and Godess Subhadra, a yellowish brown colour. The fact that they come together to be worshipped as brothers and sisters, irrespective of their skin colour, gives us a message of brotherhood that is often drowned out in the fanfare. A message that needs to be learned by all of us.

Long live Lord Jagannath.

NEEL KAMAL MISHRA

TYBMM JOURNALISM

SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN

referred to this link for the photos and for information: http://www.harekrsna.com/sun/features/04-08/features971.htm

picture credit: Sun correspondent

The Pious ‘Stringer’ – A Rustic Musician on the streets of Mumbai

Ram Ghorpe and his most prized possession – the veena.

In a sea of Mumbai’s multitudinous humanity, it becomes difficult to look upon one among thousands with any great degree of interest. Individuals, however peculiar in form, are all one or all nothing, depending purely on perspective when observing a horde. But on occasion, every once in a while, you see a sight that draws you in. It need not be something startling or wondrous. Yet, its distinct incongruity emerges from the crowd and perks your curiosity.

Not long ago, a fascinating sight caught my gaze. He was an old man, dressed in saffron. It was a colour of religious devotion but not quite that shade of dark orange. He carried with him a two-stringed veena, which seemed to be his sole possession. His chosen spot of rest was the signal next to the Bombay High Court. It was to be a busy day for me but I halted in my steps. I wanted to know more about this man. I wanted to know his story.

He rose to his spindly legs, walking into a lane. I followed and watched as he helped himself to a glass of cutting chai. He seemed amiable and kind. Essentially, approachable. I smiled at him. He regarded him with a curious glance. I broached my questions cautiously, only later introducing myself as a media student. Something about the word ‘media’ (note how far-reaching are its connotations) caused him to believe that I was a journalist. An impromptu photo-op convinced him that he was going to appear in a local newspaper. This was a declaration he began to make to every passerby that walked past. I did not have the heart to burst the proverbial bubble of his joy. Deeply flattered that he was, Ram Ghorpe (as was his name), spoke a little about himself.

He hails from Pune. Or somewhere from around there (he seemed unsure and merely gave a head-shaking grunt on being asked again). “Travelling musicians like him are called ‘varkaris’,” a female cowherd helpfully offered. She was seated nearby (and is also present in the background of the picture above), interpreting the musician’s yokel dialect for me.

“Where did you get your veena from?” I asked.

Ghorpe said something in reply which sounded like “Pandharpur”. An enquiring look at the cowherd confirmed what I had heard. Pandharpur is a small pilgrimage town located in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. The Vithoba temple attracts countless devotees during the Pandharpur yatra during spring. I am aware of this, as my house help is unwavering in her devotion and her annual visit to the holy spot.

Ghorpe has no family, explained the girl, and therefore travels freely through villages. He sings bhajans and kirtans (religious songs) as he wanders. “Money is not important for me,” he said. The cowherd elaborated further on his drifting. “He says he sings devotional songs for any religion. Devotion matters to him, not God.”

“That is a very big thing to say,” I smiled.

I am not sure if he knew that there was more where my admiration came from.

“I taught myself to play the veena,” he said with pride.

“Are you trained in singing bhajans?” I persisted.

“No!” he exclaimed, more proudly still. “I sing anyway I fancy! I sing anything!”

On my insistence, he sang a few strains on his veena. The notes were discordant at the edges. I believed his claims of self-tutoring. His scraggly hands strung the veena as his untrained voice made by-standers out of passersby. Some handed him loose change. I gave him a fifty-rupee note for questions answered and services rendered.

Before I turned away, he proudly displayed the ‘tulsi mala’ he wore around his neck. It was made of seeds from the tulsi plant, a mark of religious belief. I thanked for his patience and left to catch the Virar Fast home. And all the while, I could not help but marvel over the rustic musician’s belief. An untrained villager survived on the basis of an unacquired skill, a two-stringed veena and a single octave voice.

He lived on the pennies of his listeners and the mercy of the One above. Either way, the Lord Almighty works in strange ways, with stranger people as his conduit. And some, like Ghorpe, were a living example of faith and devotion.

NIHARIKA PURI
TYBMM JOURNALISM
SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN

RELIGION AND FAITH

RELIGION AND FAITH

Ganesh Chaturthi

People of different religion and faith live in Mumbai.  And so there are different festivals that are celebrated. And every festival is of paramount importance. Every festival brings happiness and people await for festivals. It is a time when people forget all their misunderstandings and problems and greet each other to start a new beginning. Among those, one festival is the Ganeshotsav festival. It is a festival of  the Hindus. But in Maharashtra not only Hindus, but people from other religions participate in the celebration like Muslims, Jains, Christian and others.

I remember those days when my grandmother used to take me along with her to see the colourful statues of lord Ganesha and how we used to join are neighbours and friends to help them celebrate their festival. The festival was celebrated with  great respect and the devotees believed that all their prayers and petitions would be answered.

The devotees strongly believed that  lord Ganesha who is also called Vinayagar is the son of Shiva and Parvati. This festival was celebrated with the believe that Ganesha bestows his presence on earth. They believe that he is a  the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. The Ganesha models were made of Plaster of Paris two to three months before the festival. The size of the statue varied from household to household. The statues were colourfully decorated by the devotees themselves.

People had pandals outside their houses. They decorated their pandals and placed the staue of Ganesha there. The pandals were specially decorated during the festival by using garlands, lights etc. with the theme that depicted religious themes.  Devotees worshiped lord Ganesha for 10 days. And on the 11th day the statue was taken in a procession by the devotees singing, dancing and chanting to immerse it in the sea or river.  The devotees believe that  lord Ganesha in his journey takes away with him their misfortunes. Some  devotees immersed him on the third , fifth or the seventh day as per  their family tradition. The devotees  with a lot of  faith joined the final procession shouting “Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya and “Ganesh Maha Raj ki, Jai”. They also prepared sweets for the festivals called modak and distributed among their friends and relatives.

Unfortunately, things are not the same as I used to see before. Last year during the Ganesha festival, the society opposite my house had brought the staute of  lord Ganesha. On the final day when they had to take the idol for immersion, the boys and girls in the procession were playing songs like Munni Badnam Hui, Jalebi Bai, Sheila Ki Jawani and all other item songs. I was very surprised and upset. On hearing this, I recalled those days when I used to go along with my grandmother. And I said to myself, “ things have changed!”.

I believe that it is highly disrespectful. This tells us that the celebration of  festivals has been changed over time. People are celebrating festivals from the point of enjoyment rather than the spiritual point of view. We must enjoy our festivals but we should not forget the real meaning of it. We should realise that festivals are not only meant for enjoyment but they also have some religious sentiments attached to them.

 NAKITA VADASSERY

TYBMM

Death of Religion and Community during Festival

Ganesha Chaturthi

Festivals are primarily religious in nature and significant. They bring joy and happiness in one’s life and it is the time when families reunite and celebrate. Like every year, last year Ganesha Chaturthi festival was celebrated. It is a Hindu festival of God Ganesha. Ganesha is widely worshiped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture.

During the time of Ganesha Chaturthi, people are excited to celebrate this festival and they bring Ganesha idols at their places. Lord Ganesha is worshiped for 10 days and on the 11th day the statue of Lord Ganesha is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing and singing and, is immersed in a river or the sea which is called Ganesha Viserjan.

Since a long time, I have been noticing that as time is passing, the meaning of religious festivals is changing. For instance, during Ganesha Chaturthi festival, Eco friendly Ganesha idols are made. Secondly, the kinds of songs that are played during the festival are not religious songs or prayers but they are item songs like Sheila Ki Jawani, Munni Badanam Hui and so on. According to me, the change that is taking place is for worst because item songs, eco-friendly idols, water pollution, noise pollution and traffic jam are increasing.

For the first time, when I heard item songs being played during Ganesha Viserjan, I was astonished. For days, I kept wondering why people play such kinds of songs during festivals. According to me, festivals carry certain meanings, beliefs with it. It is an insult towards a particular religion and a community when item songs are being played. Such act seizes the religion and community factors.

To figure out why people play such songs during festival, I asked my friend, Sumit Roy, who celebrates this festival every year. I asked, “What the reason is behind playing item songs during festivals?” He said, “Humara Josh Badhane Ke Liye Hum Aise Gane Bajate Hain. Agar Aarti ya Purane Gane Baajaye To Humme Josh Nahi Rahega Aur Itne Purane Gaane Bhi Kaha Hain Joh Hum Is Festival Mein Baja Sake” His this statement blew me off. If people think like this there’s nothing that can prevent the death of religion and community during festivals.

When I argued on his statement, he seemed to be so rigid and was not ready to accept the fact that it’s not correct to play such songs during festivals. I felt as if I was banging my head against the wall.

After having a word with him, I kept thinking that why do people need “JOSH” for celebrating a particular festival? Aren’t they already excited to celebrate their festival? I think, they can play subtle songs during Ganesha Viserjan and can happily immerse Lord Ganesha in the river or sea.

The whole meaning of celebrating festival is gradually changing. People are celebrating festivals only for their pleasure. There are no religious sentiments attached to it. In olden days, Ganesha Chaturthi festival was celebrated in large groups of hundreds (like a joint family). Now-a-days, it is just the opposite. Every family brings Ganesha idol at home and they celebrate it in the way they want too (like a nuclear family). In my opinion, this leads to the loss of social gathering between families.

During the time of Viserjan, on the roads, every 0.5 km, I notice many small families carrying Ganesha idol with them and dancing on their own tunes. This creates road blocks, noise pollution and traffic jam for other people who live there.

To avoid the death of religion and community during festivals, I think, a particular society should get one Ganesha idol in their society and all the members of the society should celebrate the festival together. Like this, they won’t be harming the environment by viserjing thousand’s of Ganesha idols and the idea of celebrating it to together (belonging to one community) will remain constant.

I personally feel that Individuals must realize the importance of celebrating festivals together and they must follow the old tradition of celebrating the festival (prayers or religious songs, like a joint family).

T.Y.B.M.M.- Ruchi Nandu

Among Other Things.

-Niharika Pandit

Quite recently, a Muslim friend of mine had invited me over for Iftar. The idea of what it is to be like in a non-Hindu home amused me. I readily accepted her invitation.

Like other kids, I had formed images of Muslims as being the ‘other’ and different from us. Thanks to the media and our course books which constantly tag Muslims differently, by the process of ‘othering’. And pathetically generalising it to all. But I hadn’t known the irony of these statements until I grew up and began to think for myself.

Back in school days, I did have Muslim friends but my affinity towards them had remained limited to everyday salutations only. And here was the opportunity to explore the unknown, disregard the stereotypes. And my friend Aamina welcomed me aboard. I seized the opportunity.

Aamina was based in Mazgaon, a Muslim-dominated area. As I entered her 2-BHK apartment, the place seemed comforting; all women in her house were busy cooking delicacies in the kitchen while her father and brothers just returned from the mosque.

As per the ritual Tarabi during Ramadan,all men go to the mosque and recite the Quran along with the maulvi while women pray in their houses.

Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان‎) is the most auspicious and pious month in Islam. The word derives its meaning from the Arabic root ‘ramida’ or ‘ar-ramad’ which literally means scorching heat.

Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states:

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.

Iftar party

And Iftar is a tradition followed in the month of Ramadan as a sign of breaking fast post-sunset.

With food ready to be served, all of us sat around the dining table. The family prayed in silence, thanking the lord for all that he had bestowed on them. I sat their questioning its presence, God’s presence. Soon followed the family bonding. Yes, Iftar was not an everyday chore. It was an opportune moment where the entire family would sit together, talk, discuss and deliberate over issues. Something I had constantly missed in these nineteen years of my life.

Dinner timings at our place had never been fixed. My father often came home late from work; my brother and I would be done with dinner till then. And we never had the opportunity to eat together; a family bonding in form of a ritual. It was rare.

But here I was, with strangers in a strange land who asked me how my day was. The sheer sense of belonging to someone was something I dearly cherished after staying in hostel for three years. I was very much a part of their family. Aamina’s family.

So many things remain unobserved, I pondered as I stepped into the hostel. The next thing was to talk to my fellow Muslim hostellers.  A friend of mine Askeya told me “Ramadan is not only limited to fasting. It is a fair lesson for us to be humane and patient. If you speak ill about anyone, the purpose of the fast is dissolved.”

Until now, I had never observed that my fellow Muslim hostellers had their Iftar together; they cooked, they prayed, they ate.

Another friend, Samreen Salehjee said “The month of Ramzan is to cherish and feel privileged with what we have. Every family, depending on their income has to spend an amount for charity; Zakat, to an impoverished individual. That helps us become responsible people.”

This was the opportunity to know them, their rituals and to know individuals. Something I couldn’t let go of. Hence, I joined them for the next Iftar and all those which followed.

Bhagava (Saffron) Rang: Aatank (Terror) ka Nishaan ya Tirange ki Shaan

Yun toh kehne ke liye humare jhande ka bhagava rang doosron ke liye tyaag aur balidaan dene ka prateek hai lekin wahin doosri aur yahi rang kaiyon ke dil main khauf ko jaga raha hai, aur unki maut ka karan ban raha hai. Shuru se hi Bharat main Hinduo ki sankhya zada rahi hai, isliye shayad iska ka naam “Hinduo” ka “sthan”, “Hindustan” hai. Jiske chalte alpa-sankhyak (minorities) hamesha kahin na kahin khud ko asurakshit mehsus karte aaye hain. Uske upar se kuch gine-chune Hinduo ke bahubal ke karan halaat aur nazuk hote ja rahe hain.

“Bhagava Aatank” (Saffron Terror) shabd un logon ke liye upyog kiya jata hai jo sirf apne aur apne jaise aas-paas rehnewalon ko swikarte hain, aur kissi anya ko apne shetra main aane se rokne ke liye saam-daam-dand-bhed bhi apnane se nahi piche hatate. Iska aatank pehle se hi tha par sabse pehle “Bhagava Aatank” shabd ka istemal, desh ke saamne 25 August, 2010 ko Bharat ke Grehmantri, P. Chidambaram, ne kiya tha. Inn logon par kai aatankwadi hamale karne ka aarop hai jaise Malegaon dhamaka (2006), Hyderabad Mecca masjid dhamaka (2007), Samjhauta Express dhamaka aur Ajmer Sharif dargaah dhamaka (2007). In “aatankwadiyon” ka ek hi irada hota hai ki ek Hindu ki jaan ke badale 10 Musalmaano ko mara jaye. 2006-07 main Bhagava Aatank apni charam par tha aur police bhi iss par kaabu pane main nakamyab dikai de rahi thi. Hairani ki baat toh ye thi ki aam janta ke dimaag main ye tuch baatein bharnewale koi aur nahi unke beech se nikale hue hi log the, phir chahe woh Gorakhpur, U.P, main Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) ke Yogi Aditiya Nath ho ya Swami Aseemanand ya Abhinav Bharat ho.

Iss tarah ki ladai ladne wale log isse danga nahi Hindutva ki ladai kehte hain. Unke anusar Bharat desh ko Hinduo ka desh banana chhaiye aur alpa-sankhyako ke saare adhikaar cheen lene chhaiye. Inn logo ka toh yahan tak maanana hai ki desh main Hinduyon ka senyakaran hona chhaiye. Hinduo ko sena mein bharti karke unhe yudh ke liye taiyar karna chahiye. Par ek sawal jo mere jehen main uthta hai woh ye hai ki Hindutva ko chahane wale ye kattarwadi log, Hinduo ki sena banana chahte hain, unhe yudh ke liye taiyar karna chahte hain lekin woh ye jung kiske viruddh ladh rahe hian? Kiske khilaf woh ye sena chahte hain- samaj ke, alpa-sankhyak logon ke, khud ke, aakir kiske khilaf? Aur iss tarah masoomo ka khoon bahane aur aatank machane se aakhir unhe aisa kya hasil ho jayega jo shanti se baat karne par nahi milega?

Ye kattarwadi hindu Musalmaano par ilzam lagate hain ki woh apne bachho ko bachpan se hi Hinduo ke khilaf bhadkate hain, ye Hinduo ke ma-beheno ke saath durvyawhar karte hain. Hindustan main rehne ke baawjood Hinduo ke prati nafrat karna sikhate hain. Par main unse kehna chhahti hun ki woh apne andar jhank kar dekhe aur puche apne aapse, kya woh kuch alag kar rahe hain? Agar unhe lagata hai Musalmaan apne bachho main nafrat ki aag bhadka rahe hain toh kya woh apne bachho main Musalmaano ke khilaf ghrina aur nafarat ke beej nahi bo rahe hain? Agar woh doosron ki ma-behen ki izzat nahi karenge toh unki ma-behno ki izzat koi kyun karega? Bachhe jinhe hum desh ka bhavishya kehte hain, unke khud ke bhavishya ka koi ata-pata nahi hai. Unhe bachpan se sikhaya jata hai, hum Hindu hain, hum brahman hain, hum uche hain, hume Musalmaano se dur rehna chahiye, aadi. Jo khud ghrina ki ek khatarnak jung ladh rahe hain woh kaise kisi desh ke bhavishya ko nikhar sakte hain?

Ek baat jo ab hume samajhni padegi woh ye ki jitna hum Lashkar-e-Taiba ko tavajjo dete hain, kyunki hume lagta hai LeT se humare desh ko khatara hai, utna hi hume iss Bhagva Aaatank ko tavajjo deni hogi kyunki isse hume aur zada khatara hai.

Jis tarah se Bhagava Aatankwad badhta ja raha hai, Bharat main khatare ki ghanti baj rahi hai aur hume isse nipatne ke liye thos kadam uthane padenge. Ek baat hume hamesha yaad rakhni hogi aatank ka koi majhab nahi hota. Aur aatank ko kissi rang se joda nhi jana chahiye, fir chahe woh rang Bhagva ho ya Hara.

Just a NAMU-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO away

Come! Behold This World (body), Which Is Like a Decked Royal Chariot, Wherein the Foolish Immerse Themselves; But for the Wise there is no Attachment – Dhammapada 13/5

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As the ropes of timeless urgency bind our beloved city, the one and only buddhist temple amidst the chaotic Worlinaka provides peace, tranquility and a chance to unwind, to the those who desire it. Unlike the usual setting for a temple of such sorts, this one breaks the stereotype of a large compound and architectural excellence.

The Nippozan Myohoji Japan Buddhist Temple was built in 1952 by the charity of Raja Mohandas Baldeodas Birla’s family. The 13th century by a Japanese monk, Maha Bodhisattva Nichiren said that the ultimate salvation of humanity lay in India. In 1931, Japanese monk, Nichidatsu Fuji, founder of the Nippozan Myohoji order, arrived in India with a mission to fulfill that prophecy and founded the temple in 1952. It is open to all sects of people, which, at that point in time, seemed rather broadminded. Harijans, and followers of other forms of Buddhism were welcome, back then. Only those with contagious diseases where asked to refrain from entering the temple, which isn’t such a bad request. The caretaker of the temple, Bhikshu Morita, has been in India spreading the message of peace and love for the past 36 years now. He alone walked the deserted and destroyed streets of Mumbai during the communal riots of 1992, with nothing but a drum-and-stick in his hand, chanting namu-myoho-renge-kyo. Some may call it foolishness, but the purity of his intentions in turbulent times is what drew the people to him. He sits at ever prayer session, to this day, in simple cotton clothes and a drape one one shoulder, the look of of calm on his face.

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The simplicity associated with the temple is what attracts the few who trickle in during the prayer hours between 5-7 am and 6-7.30 pm. The gold statues of Gods watch over the pure white bust of the Buddha illuminated by a few diyas and a tube light. Paintings depicting the life of Buddha adorn the walls along with preachings from the Dhammapada engraved into the walls. Stone beams separate the various sections of the temple while the soft carpet invites all to sit and pray as one. Minimal paraphernalia and statues are neatly arranged around the temple so as to help the devotees un-clutter their minds.Neo-buddhists and believers do their tiny bit by coming to the temple during the prayers hours by beating an enormous drum with a curved stick, chanting Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo. The steady drone of the drum-beat and the low hum of the chanting along with the temple’s holy fragrance surely assists the main purpose of coming there. The structure has two main sections, the front the temple, and the back where the monks now reside. Surrounded by banyan trees and other beautiful plants, the boundary walls separate the meditative environment from sheer chaos.

The paradox of its existence in one of the busiest places in Mumbai definitely calls for everybody, Mumbaikar or non-Mumbaikar, to take a look at it themselves. The sound of the drums, the hum of the chant or the fragrance of the temple vanishes as soon as one steps out of the temple. What remains is the sublime feeling of peace and instant gratification.

Because one has banished evils, one is called a Brahmin, and, One is called a Monk (Samana) by just conduct. Because one has discarded one’s impurities, Therefore, one is called a Recluse (Pabbajita) – Dhammapada 26/6

-Disha Deshpande

The Urban Indian Witch

Gone are the days when a witch meant a cruel, old woman who wore a pointy hat, pointy shoes, flew around town on a broomstick and brewed poisonous potions and tricked people into drinking them. Over the years, witchcraft has evolved from being a taboo-ed practice to a faith, a healing, a culture, almost a fad. And witches, over the years, have evolved from being that creepy woman who lived in that haunted house, all by herself, to an educated woman who, for all we know, must be the one sitting next to us in the local train, or living in the adjacent apartment. The witch of today uses Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about her faith and attract more and more people to follow it.

But this of course, is the urban Indian witch. The plight of witches in rural India is very sad. Every year, hundreds of women from remote villages, especially in Orissa, Assam, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh are tortured, raped, paraded naked and also, in some cases murdered for practicing witchcraft.

In India, witchcraft dates right back to the Iron Age. The Atharva Veda is a collection of spells and charms that were used to harm the enemy or win the heart of a loved one. But the urban Indian witch seldom follows this traditional form. The urban Indian witch follows the ‘Wiccan’ faith. Wicca is a modern religion based on the reconstruction of an ancient European religion. It is also known as ‘the craft of the wise’. Wicca is about an intense love and worship of the elements of nature. People of all faiths, religions and backgrounds are welcome to study, join and become a part of this faith, say its practitioners.

Rev. Swati Prakash, also known as Lady Astra is the head of the ‘Global Wiccan Tradition’. ‘Global Wicca’ is the first Wiccan tradition to originate in India. Based in Bandra, Mumbai, she teaches enthusiastic students about the Wiccan religion and culture. Rev. Swati Prakash owns ‘Magick’- India’s first Wiccan temple and store. Located in Bandra, this store offers the buyer various products like energized gemstones, books, incenses, talismans, energized oils, tarot card kits, services like Tarot reading and also courses in Tarot reading and Wiccan studies. Apart from that, Rev. Swati Prakash also blogs, manages a Facebook page and tweets her views, ideas and about the events organized by ‘The Global Wiccan Tradition’ where they conduct healings and encourage people to learn more about the Wiccan faith.

Magick- India’s first Wiccan temple and store.

Just like Rev. Swati Prakash, Sangeeta Krishnan is another Wiccan who promotes and practices witchcraft in Mumbai. She holds monthly rituals at various venues across the city, one of them being the Gateway of India, where she, along with her followers and students, honors The Sun, The Moon and The Earth. They caste group spells and celebrate Wiccan festivals like the Esbats (changing phases of the Moon) and the Sabbats (turning of the year) among many others. Sangeeta Krishnan started a group called ‘Astralhub’, where followers of the Wiccan faith and all those who are interested to know more about it have conversations on various topics ranging from the Wiccan faith, Astrology, Tarot reading, Healing and many more. This group, apart from its monthly meetings, interacts with each other over the internet so as to include people from cities other than Mumbai in their discussions.

Wicca comes with some ethics that every Wiccan has to follow. The Wiccan faith is strictly anti black magic. The Wiccans are staunch believers of Karma. Thus, the ground rule of Wicca is not to cause any kind of harm to anyone. Also, for the Wiccan, nothing comes easy and quick. Patience and complete faith in oneself and one’s prayers are required to achieve one’s goal.

However, in spite of the fact that these witches practice Wicca amidst an urban, educated crowd, there is still a terrible stigma that is attached to the word ‘witch’. Witches like Sangeeta Krishnan and Rev. Swati Prakash are constantly dispelling the myths like flying broomsticks, the relation between witches and the devil etc. These modern day, urban Indian witches are very similar to ‘Athena’ from Paulo Coehlo’s ‘The Witch of Portobello’- just like you and me, but with some strong faiths and an extremely powerful sixth sense.

Ipshita Roy Chakraverti, a leading Indian Wiccan, also known as ‘the lady in black and silver’ once quoted, “we believe that nothing is inanimate. So tap that energy. Use it. Sensitize yourself to Nature’s hidden gifts. Make it work for you. Sometimes you feel life is one dull day following another. But it’s not so if you know how to bring the magic back. Yes, you can make magic happen in your life in simple ways.”

Picture courtesy: http://www.globalwicca.com/globalwicca.htm

Ipshita Roy Chakraverti’s quote courtesy:http://www.lifepositive.com/spirit/traditional-paths/wicca/ipsita.asp

-Shruti Shenoy.