Tutuma and the Hamsam/Swan

ramanafatherwifeself-300 (2)Urmila my sister-in-love, or Tutuma as we all learned to call her, married our eldest brother and came home one morning. The marriage was a fait accompli and we soon got to know her and to love her.

She was a very warm person and had a special soft corner for me. I stayed with her for fairly long periods as she created a home or maike (maternal home) for me. She was an artist and introduced me to the concept of enjoying objets d’ art. My lifelong interest in collecting beautiful things was inspired by her.

She travelled with my brother to some interesting pockets in rural India. Her delight was enhanced when she discovered Karaikudi and the little shops that sold things discarded by the Chettiar community from their huge collections…this was the time when the community was moving away from the old ‘bangalas’ (bungalows) and cleared out their homes. Many interesting things found their way to these shops that had still not been discovered by city boutiques.

Tutuma picked up wonderful stuff. She brought back to Bombay a handful of gold foiled glass paintings that we mistook for Tanjore paintings. She gave me the choicest of he pieces and I still have four or five. Only later did I find out that they were painted back to front on glass and then framed.

Glass paintings

Tanjore painting is a classical South Indian painting style. It takes its name from the name of the town of Thanjavur (anglicized as Tanjore). The art form spread across the Tamil country and is said to go back to 1600 CE when the Nayakars of Thanjavur under the suzerainty of the Vijayanagara Rayas encouraged art—chiefly, classical dance and music—as well as literature, both in Telugu and Tamil and painting particularly in temples.

The style of Tanjore painting originated in the Maratha court of Thanjavur (1676 – 1855). Tanjore paintings are panel paintings done on wooden planks that gave the art form its Tamil name—‘palagai padam’ (palagai = wooden plank; padam = picture). The paintings are painted in rich and vivid colours and the subject matter is usually images of deities and other heavenly creatures with human beings also represented. What makes it unique is the use of glittering gold foil overlaid on gesso work, a white mixture of chalk, gypsum and pigment bound together with gum. The images are embellished with glass beads and precious and semi-precious gems.


Mysore paintings are a similar art form. Both Tanjore and Mysore originate from from the same style of Vijayanagara paintings. The same artists, Chitragars and Naidus migrated to various places including Thanjavur and Mysore. You can see the degree of similarity between the two styles while many differences make it two distinct styles.

The glass paintings are an improvisation of the traditional Tanjore Painting. These paintings are done on the back side of glass.

Glass painting

In Karaikudi Tutuma also picked up some beautiful wooden carvings. Knowing my penchant for Ganesha, she got me a beautiful one. Amongst her own collection was a magnificent Hamsam..the traditional and mythological bird associated with Goddess Saraswathi. The hamsa is depicted as the ‘vehicle’ or vahana of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. A white swan is often shown sitting at her feet. The sounds of the air that we inhale is called ‘ham’; the air that is breathed out is called ‘sah’. So Goddess Saraswati is supposed symbolically to ride the very essence of being: our breath.


The Hamsa is a familiar leitmotif in Indian art, literature, sculpture and textiles. It is an aquatic bird that resembles a goose or a swan. It is reputed to eat pearls and to be able to separate milk from water and drink only pure milk. The Hamsa represents the perfect harmony between spirituality and life. The Hamsa is seen as a symbol of purity, detachment, divine knowledge, cosmic breath (prana) and the highest spiritual accomplishment. It is supposed to transcend the limitations of creation for it can walk on the earth, fly in the sky and swim in the water.

I fell in love with this depiction of the bird and Tutuma promised me that she would get me one on her next visit. Sadly she could not find another oe nor did I when I visited the town Karaikudi and its shops a few years later. I had been on the lookout for one but never found a piece that said “take me home”.

Seven years ago, Tutuma passed away and left a great big void in our lives. Last year my brother Ramana decided to downsize his establishment and as giving away stuff that had accumulated in his home. I sent in my application for the hamsa and he immediately packed it and sent it with other stuff to my nephew’s place.

The tale does not end there as my nephew relocated to another city in a hurry and did not pen the parcel from Pune. It took another year before he came back to his apartment in Chennai and opened the parcel. I was away in Bangalore and he delivered it to my husband and finally, I opened the parcel and unpacked the exquisite carved wooden hamsam.

Today, it sits next to my chair where I chant my prayers, where I read and spend my time. It reminds me of the Goddess Saraswathi who has blessed me with many of her gifts and grace. It reminds me of the Tutuma, of her love and affection for me that anchored my being. It reminds me of my brother Ramana who brought Tutuma into our family and who shared this lovely piece of art work generously with me……and I share it with you all!

Posted in Heritage, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Varusha Pirappu—Tamizh New Year and Panchangam or Almanac

An Indian New Year’s Day is an occasion when generations come together to give and receive blessings and best wishes. Children also look forward to this day as it brings gifts and money from the elders in the family.

T New YearCalled Varusha Pirappu (Tamil: varusham =year; pirappu = birth), the Tamil New Year is the day that marks the beginning of the New Year in the Tamizh calendar.

Varusham in Tamizh means ‘year’ and pirappu is ‘birth’, the beginning of the New Year in the Tamizh calendar. The Tamil New Year follows the vernal equinox and the first day and month of the year invariably occurs on April 14th. The Tamil calendar is based on the solar cycle. It has a sixty years cycle and each year has twelve months. After the completion of sixty years, considered to be the “Hindu century”, the calendar begins anew with the first year. The Vakya or Tirukannitha Panchangam (the traditional Tamil almanac) is referred to as the almanac for all auspicious and celebratory days.

The month of Chithirai (April-May) is an auspicious one. Tamizh New Year’s day is celebrated with festivity and prayer. An important event on this day is the reading of the  Panchankam or almanac in most temples and people visit it to hear what the year ahead will mean in terms of prosperity. The Tamizh New Year follows the vernal equinox and the first day and month of the year invariably occurs on April 13th or 14th.

The Tamil calendar is based on the solar cycle. It has a sixty years cycle and each year has twelve months. After the completion of sixty years, considered as the Hindu century, the calendar begins anew with the first year. Each year has a distinctive name. This new year is called JAYA!

The special meal cooked on this day has dishes reflecting six different tastes called shadruchi— sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.

The Tamil Panchangam or Almanac


The month of Chithirai (April-May) is an auspicious one. Tamizh New Year’s day is celebrated with festivity and prayer. An important event on this day is the reading of the Panchangam or almanac in most temples and people visit it to hear what the year ahead will mean in terms of prosperity.

The Tamil Panchangam is a solar and sidereal Hindu calendar. Panchangam means five parts and it records five important features of any given day:

  1. Thidhi—the particular day in a fortnight after the New and Full Moon
  2. Naal –the star or asterism that the moon occupies
  3. Karanam—is half of the part of Tithi
  4. Nithya Yoga—an auspicious moment
  5. Vaara –day of the week

These features are derived from the position of the Sun and Moon. The Panchangam is used to find out these five basic characteristics, for finding the exact dates of festivals, fasts, dates to perform shraadh for ancestors and for finding auspicious dates for family functions. Astrologers use the panchangam to prepare horoscopes and predictions.

There are many Panchangams that are used as a reference by householders and astrologers.

The Vakya or Tirukannitha Panchangam is the traditional Tamil almanac.

The Madathu Panchangam is issued by Kanchi Kamokotti Peetham.

The Manonmani Vilasam Press has been publishing the Asal No.28, Pambu Panchangam from Kondithope in North Madras. It is available not only throughout Tamil Nadu but also in many countries where the Tamil speaking population can be found.

Srirangam Vakya Panchangam is the almanac used by Vaishnavaites. The Gowri Panchangam is also issued from Srirangam.

The daily calendar that is a tear-off almanac is found in many homes in the south. Each day’s astrological details and the festivals including famous temple events are given in detail. These calendars are issued as free giveaways by shops and newspapers on January 1st every year.

Vishu kani

Vishu kani

Vishu is an important festival for Keralaites and for people near the Kerala border. In many families, the Vishu kani is placed before the deities in the puja room. Seasonal varieties of fruits and vegetables with coins, silver and gold are arranged beautifully. People wake up in the morning and open their eyes to this bounty and hope that the year ahead will be as rich and fruitful. It is a kind of thanksgiving festival.

In homes feasts are cooked, the deity of the family is worshipped and elders bless the children wishing them health, prosperity and good times. The Day’s menu includes six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. The combinations of these essences have a tremendous impact on our digestion, absorption and metabolic rejuvenation that is so very important for well being according to Ayurveda.

It must be remembered that festivals in the Hindu calendar are related to religious concepts. It is not partying like Western celebrations. It is about going to temples and meeting family and elders to ask for their blessings for a productive year.

Posted in Current Events, Heritage, Society, Spirituality | 1 Comment

The Garuda Story

Yesterday, my friend Pavitra Srinivasan put up a photo of a religious icon on Facebook.

garudaThe picture was so good that I requested her to use it as my Cover Photo. I inadvertently called the picture Dwarapalaka, a figure that can be found at entrances to temples and the shrines inside temple complexes.

Dwarapalakas (literally dwara=door; palakka=guards) are fearsome looking figures who guard the presiding deity of that temple. They are the devotees as well as the protectors of their masters and are typically envisioned as huge and robust warriors. The figure will tell you which god can be found inside the garba graham or sanctum sanctorum. Each Hindu God has specified figures.

The figure in this picture is Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu from the Hindu Trinity who is the caretaker and preserver of the universe. Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle’s beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun. Garuda is also the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila. The Brahminy kite and Phoenix are considered to be the contemporary representations of Garuda.

Brahminy Kite

This bird has appeared in my life many times and I considered it as a great blessing. By the way, religiously speaking, I belong to the Iyer sect of Tamil Brahmins..we call ourselves Sanathanis or Smarthas as we worship all representations of the divine from the six agamas (ways) of worship—Saiva, Vaishnava, Sakta (Goddess), Saura (Sun), Ganapatya and Kaumara (Muruga). We are given the choice to worship any one primarily or all. These are not purely theological divisions but include spiritual philosophy and methods of sadhana. Vaishnavas restrict their worship to all forms of Vishnu.

It was the early 90’s and we had moved to Chennai from Mumbai. My husband was refurbishing, renovating and rebuilding ANZ Grindlay’s Bank premises all over India. He had moved specifically to Chennai to redevelop their property in Haddows Road into an international hub for the bank’s activities. There was a branch of the erstwhile Grindlay’s Bank in Eldorado building and we would visit it for our banking needs. I was attracted to the over 7 foot wood carving of a mythical creature that was polished in a dark varnish. I found out that it was a representation of Garuda and I would make it a point of walking up to where he was standing, in a corner of the basement and visit with him.

When the new branch was built and inaugurated in Grindlay’s Garden on Haddows Road, my husband saw to it that this magnificent Garuda was given pride of place at the entrance with a earthenware uruli (flat bottomed wide, mouthed pot) with flowers floating in it.. And that is where he was until my husband retired. His secretary, Penny Smith, continued to be on the premises and would give us updates. Whenever I visited the branch, I would search for him for you see, even though he was wingless, he led a peripatetic life and was moved around quite a bit.  Nowadays, with internet banking, I do not visit the branch at all. Penny too moved out to OMR Road and I have no news of the Garuda….but he lives on in my mind, majestic, benign and spreading his blessings and good will.

Eagles are not a common sight in urban environments. We used to see vultures hovering around Malabar Hills, especially on the days there was a funeral in the Tower of Silence.


A couple of years ago, we were house sitting for a friend in Koramangala, Bengaluru. There was a huge construction going on outside our living room window that we could watch and monitor. There were enough pigeons and the occasional crow that visited us. One day I had just finished reading my regular chant of Vishnu Sahasranamam when I spotted an eagle/kite soaring from that construction and then landing on a corner of a floor. I did not have a pair of binoculars nor am I qualified to identify the bird species, but I made up my mind that it was indeed Garuda who had come to bless me. I saw the bird and its partner for a couple of days or so and then they disappeared.

Pavithra Srinivasan ‘s comment in Facebook, “Padmini: Indeed it (garuda) can. And they’re vehicles that carry you too, to the past.” Her picture of a Garuda Vahanam, a kind of chariot shaped like the vehicle of Vishnu that is used to carry the processional image of Vishnu around the temple on festive days, has truly given wings to my memories. Thank you Pavithra!

Posted in Environment, Society, Spirituality | 9 Comments

Velvet Dosai and Kaakaa Chutney

Velvet dosai, Kaakaa Chutney and its ingredients

Velvet dosai, Kaakaa Chutney and its ingredients

This is a trip down memory lanes..literally as my mother used to make the velvet Dosai and chutney and pack it up to be eaten at trilling canals and shady tamarind trees with fresh Nongu (Tadgole/palm fruit) as we meandered our way in cars to Sirgazhi, Nelpathur and Mayavaram.

Velvet dosai is what is popularly known as Kal dosai. The dosai is so soft that they resemble a velvet handkerchief that can be folded with layers of the chutney.


3 Cups                        Raw Rice
1 Cup                          Urad/Black Gram Dhal
½ Teaspoon              Methi/Fenugreek Seeds
1  ½ Teaspoon           Salt
½ Cup                        Sesame Oil


1. Heat a wok/kadai and sauté the rice until the rice is just warm but not roasted.

2. Switch off flame and immediately add methi/fenugreek seeds and water to cover the rice.

3. Let the rice soak for one hour in the same hot kadai.

4. When it has cooled down, drain the rice and fenugreek seeds and grind to a smooth paste adding fresh water.

5. Mix in salt, cover the vessel and set aside.

6. Soak and cover urad dhal in another vessel. Let the rice and dhal stand overnight.

8. Next morning blend the urad dhal until smooth and fluffy.

9. Blend the rice/methi batter separately and mix in the dhal batter thoroughly. This dosai batter should have dropping consistency.


The kal here refers to the heavy cast iron griddle that is still used in many households. I use a heavy bottomed non-stick saucepan that I can cover tight with a lid.

1. Heat a well oiled (sesame oil)  tava/Dosai Kal and reduce to a medium flame.

2. Pour a ladle of batter and spread into a thin round dosai/crepe.

3. You will see the batter bubbling and holes will appear on the dosai. Cover it with a lid.

4. Let the dosai cook in this steam for two minutes.

5. Remove the lid and wait for twenty seconds and then gently lift up the dosai with a broad spatula. The dosai need not be flipped and cooked on both sides.


This dosa is very similar to the kal dosai. It is made out of rice, unique to the region of Dakshin Kannada and Udipi District. The word ‘neer’ means water. The dish is named so as the batter is wattery. Serve with chutney or sambhar or for a change with jaggery mixed with grated coconut.

This dosai is actually made into a thick adai in Palghat Brahmin homes where it is called ‘Verum arisi adai”….or plain rice adai. The food value of this dish is greatly enhanced when drumstick leaves or murungai elai is added to it.


1 cup                         Raw rice
1 tablespoon           Grated coconut
½ teaspoon             Salt
Oil                            For greasing the tava/griddle


1. Wash and soak the rice in water for at least 2 hours.

2. Add water and grind with the grated coconut to make a very fine batter.

3. Set aside for about 30 minutes to an hour! Add more water if necessary to make a thin batter of pouring consistency.

4. Heat a heavy bottomed griddle or non-stick tava and sprinkle a little water on it. It should steam immediately. Wipe hard with a slice of onion or potato.

5. Grease the tava with a little oil and pour a ladleful of batter from six inches above the hot griddle and give the tava a twirl. This will let the batter spread thinly on the surface of the tava.  The dosa will have plenty of holes and be careful not to fill them in by spreading the batter with a spoon.

6. Cover and cook the dosa on one side only with its own steam. Do not brown the dosa and open the lid and flip the dosa twice to make a triangle shape.

7. Use up all the batter to make dosas and serve hot.

Kaakaa Chutney!!

Why this deadly chutney was called Kaaka Chutney is lost in the mists of time. Kak is a surname, kaaka in Tamizh means crow and kak means yoghurt in Konkani—and this chutney does tend to be dark in colour. It is a simple chutney to make from common ingredients in your larder.


2                         Long (2”) red chillies
1 teaspoon       Jeera/cumin seeds
1                         Onion
4 cloves            Garlic or asafoetida
1                       Tamarind–Ping pong ball sized ball
1 tablespoon    Gur/vellam/brown sugar
1 teaspoon        Sesame oil


1. In a saucepan or seasoning ladle, roast the red chilli in til/sesame oil to a dark brown. If using asafoetida roast this along with the chilli.

2. Quickly sauté the chopped onion and garlic pods with the chilli for just half a minute.

3. Switch off the flame and add the ball of tamarind.

4. Cool and blend with salt and gur/vellam into a chutney.

5. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for a week.

Tasty Tip: You can make dosa sandwiches with this chutney. Spread the velvet dosai and brush with til/sesame oil and then apply chutney. Pile one dosai on top of another or make each one into a sandwiched dosai. Ideal for picnics, travelling and break boxes.  



Posted in Food and Beverages, Holistic Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

My top five songs

This topic is Shackman’s choice and I am posting it quite, quite late…………..but that is fine with my LBC blogging cool pals!

An all time favourite—this song was sung by the Nightingale of Classical Music of India—M S Subulakshmi. In my list, it is top!

Kurai ondrum illai


Lyrics : Dr. Rajaji

Singer : M S Subulakshmi

Kurai ondrum illai marai moorthy Kanna!!

No worries, dear lord of Wisdom!!

Kurai ondrum illai Kannaa!!

Kurai ondrum illai Govinda!!! (2)

I have no worries, no complaints, no needs dear Kanna, Oh lord of wisdom!


Kannukku theriyaamal nirkindraai Kannaa

You are standing somewhere where I cannot see you, Kanna!!!

Kannukku theriyaamal nindraalum enakku,

However, even if I cannot see you

Kurai ondrum illai, marai moorthy Kanna

I have no worries, no complaints, no needs dear Kanna, Oh lord of wisdom!


Vaendiyathai thanthida Venkatesan endrirukka
When there is Lord Venkatesa (Vishnu) who will grant me all that I want

Vaendiyathu vaerillai marai moorthy Kanna! Manivanna! Malaiyappa! Govindaa! Govindaa! (Names of Lord Vishnu)

There is nothing more I want to ask for, dear Kanna. (Rest are the different names of Lord Vishnu)

Thiraiyin pinn nirkindraai Kanna!! Kanaaaah…

Oh Lord! You stand behind the curtain!

Unnai marai odum gnaniyar mattumaey kaanbaar!

Where you are only visible to learned people

Endraalum kurai vondrum enakillai kanna!!! (2)

I have no worries, no complaints, no needs dear Kanna, Oh lord of wisdom!
Kundrin mael kallagi nirkindra Varada! (2)

You are standing like a statue on top of the hill, Varada (Boon giver)

Kurai ondrum illai marai moorthy, Kannaa!!!(2)

I have no worries, no complaints, no needs dear Kanna, Oh lord of wisdom!

Manivanna! Malaiyappa! Govindaa! Govindaa!!!!

(The other names of Lord Krishna)
Kalinaalu kirangi kallilaey irangi nilayaaga kovilil nirkindrai Kesava!!! (2)

For the people of this ‘Kaliyug’ you have become a statue and sit motionless in the temple!

Kurai ondrum illai marai moorthy Kannaaa!!

I have no worries, no complaints, no needs dear Kanna, Oh lord of wisdom!

Athai yaarum marukkaatha Malaiyappaa!!!

No one can deny this dear lord,

Un maarbil aethum thara nirkum karunai Kadalannai!

When there is always the generous Goddess (Lakshmi) seated on your heart

Endrum irunthida aethu kurai enakku (2)

You are ever, So I have no worres, my Lord!

Ondrum kurai illai marai moorthy kanna (2)

I have no worries, no complaints, no needs dear Kanna, Oh lord of wisdom!

Manivanna! Malaiyappa! Govindaa! Govindaa! Govindaa! Govindaa! Govindaa! Govindaaaa!


Names for Lord Krishna

Manivanna    -   Dark in colour (like the rain clouds)

Malaiyappa   -   Resident of Hills

Govinda       -   Friend of cows


The other songs that I choose are from English—my repertoire is limited but I still love some songs.


2. All songs from Sound of Music


3. Strangers in the night—Frank Sinatra



4. People by Barbara Streisand



5. Those were the days my friend—Mary Hopkins


Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Anu, Ashok, Conrad, DeliriousGaelikaa,  GrannymarMagpie11Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, Shackman and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get  different flavours of the same topic.

Posted in Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

When I was young

It is raining in Chennai as there is a depression in the Bay of Bengal.

On this rainy day, I was just thinking how nice it would be if we ate some bajji/pakodi (Indian tempura). This is a typical reaction to cold and rainy weather…the deep fried food acts as a fillip to dull moods.

Plate of potato, onion, eggplant  bajji

Plate of potato, onion, eggplant bajji

My mother was a great hand at making this (as she was in so many other dishes) and when I was young,  Mumbai Monsoon gave us many days of bajji bingeing. She was innovative and used different kinds of veggies to make the fritters. Once she even used the gooey okra/ladiesfinger in a rural household. There was a young lad in that family who was so enamoured by the dish that he would set up a chant for it in Tamil, “Vendakkai bajji”!

A wok with frying bajjis

A wok with frying bajjis

The big chilli bajji was a great favourite which is associated with our days as kids in Hyderabad. The Mirchi (Chilli) Bajji is world famous and we would eat it in roadside stalls. The green chilli was deseeded and stuffed with a tamarind and onion paste, dipped in green gram flour and fried to perfection. Strangely enough, when I went to that city a few years ago and had it, it was so spicy and pungent and tasted totally different—maybe the cooking medium/oil had changed or my tongue and stomach could not take that heat.

Green chilli bajji

Green chilli bajji

When we went to Mauritius, my kids, who would stick up their nose at spinach, fell in love with the spinach bajji and would demand some of it. Making bajji was a regular date in our weekly calendar. My mother and mother-in-law were with us and they would chop up raw banana, cauliflower florets, sliced brinjal (eggplant), onions and potatoes. We experimented with cayote squash too and it was a big hit.

Raw banana bajji

Raw banana bajji

In Mylapore—an old part of Chennai, my city—there is a lady who sits on the road in front of a huge wok near the famous Kapaleswarar Temple. She is placed near the wooden chariot used to take the deities around the four streets surrounding the temple on festive days. She is famous all over the city for her hot bajjis. I see her, but I have never had the guts to taste her products as she sits in the open.

Lady bajji seller

Lady bajji seller

It is many months, even years, since I made bajji…for fear of indigestion in aged bodies. But I will give you the recipe that takes me back to when I was a child……………..



Slices                    Potatoes, raw banana, cauliflower florets, sliced brinjal (eggplant), onions                                 (all or just one or two veggies)
1 cup                    Besan /Bengal gram flour/ kadalai mavu
¼ teaspoon        Chilli and turmeric powder (add more chilli/paprika if you like it spicy)
A pinch                Asafoetida
1 teaspoon          Salt
1 tablespoon      Hot Oil
1 cup                   Oil (sunflower, peanut, sesame, corn) for deep frying


1. Wash the vegetables, slice them like wafers or into long and thin pieces. Place them in cold water to prevent discolouration.

2. In a bowl, mix together the yellow gram flour/besan, chilli powder, salt, asafoetida and the 1 tablespoon of hot oil.

3. Add ½ cup water and beat the batter with a fork or whisk till it is like custard. Taste for salt and spice and add if necessary.

4. Heat oil in a wok. To check if the oil is hot, drop a globule of the batter into the heated oil. If it rises to the surface immediately, then the oil is hot enough to fry the bajjis.

5. Reduce the flame to medium, dip a potato slice into the batter to coat it completely and drop it gently into the oil. You can fry 3-4 bajjis at a time depending on the quantity of oil in the wok.

6. Cook both sides of the fritter until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain off the excess oil in a colander and then on a paper towel.

7. Gradually fry all the veggies in this manner.

The fun of eating bajji is when it is served piping hot with green or coconut chutney or ketchup.

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Anu, Ashok, Conrad, DeliriousGaelikaa,  GrannymarMagpie11Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, Shackman and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get  different flavours of the same topic.

Posted in Food and Beverages, Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

In to the night–Diwali-Deepavali story

Lotus Diwali


Diwali is the biggest festival for Indians…it is like Christmas but has been in practice for more than 3000 years approx.

The festival is associated with three stories. The one which we celebrate in South India—the TamBrams especially—is related to the story of a demon and how his death is celebrated as the victory of good over evil.

Narakasura or Naraka was the asura son born to the earth goddess Bhudevi (Bhumi-earth) and Lord Vishnu when he had taken his incarnation as a boar Varaha Avatar to rescue her from the great deluge. Some texts say that he is the son of the asura Hiranyaksha. Naraka is said to have established the kingdom of Pragjyotisha in Assam after overthrowing the last of the Danava king Ghatakasura. It was foretold that he would be destroyed by a later incarnation of Vishnu. His earth mother sought and was granted the boon from Vishnu that her son should be all powerful and have a long life.

The legend of Narakasura is important in the history of Assam since Narakasura is said to be the progenitor of many dynasties that ruled Kamarupa in historical times. A hill, to the south of Guwahati is named after him. He is also associated with the myth of the Shakta goddess Kamakhya.

As promised to Mother Earth, Narakasura enjoyed a long reign. Naraka wanted to marry Devi Kamakhya. When he proposed, the Goddess playfully said that if he would build a staircase from the bottom of the Nilachal Hill to the temple in one night’s time and before the cock crowed to indicate Dawn, then she would surely marry him.

Naraka tried to accomplish this huge task and nearly succeeded. When Goddess Kamakhya Devi got this news she became panic-stricken and so strangled a cock. The bird crowed before Dawn. Duped by the trick Naraka thought that he had lost and deserted the task but he did chase the cock and killed it. Now the place is known as Kukurakata situated in the district of Darrang, Assam. The incomplete staircase is known as Mekhelauja Path.

Narakasura became more and more evil and he associated himself with another demon called Banasura. Drunk with power for he thought himself to be invincible, he brought all the kingdoms on earth and Swargaloka under his control. Even the mighty Indra, King of the Heavens could not withstand the assault of this son of Earth and had to flee the heavens. Narakasura had become the overlord of both the heavens and earth. Addicted to power he stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess and mother of the Sun. Naraka usurped some of her territory and kidnapped 16000 women.

All the Devas, led by Indra went to Vishnu, to ask him to deliver them from Narakasura. Vishnu promised them that he would do so when he would be come to earth as Krishna.

When Vishnu was born as Krishna, Aditi approached his wife Satyabhama for help. When Satyabhama heard of Narakasura’s ill treatment of women and his behaviour with Aditi, she was enraged. Satyabhama approached Lord Krishna for permission to wage a war against Narakasura. As promised to the Devas and Aditi, Krishna attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with wife Satyabhama. The battle was furiously fought. Narakasura possessed 11 Akshauhini (a division of the army), that he unleashed on Krishna. However, Krishna defeated them all and also killed Mura, Narakasura’s general. That is why Krishna is called ‘Murāri’(the enemy of Mura).

In desperation, Narakasura launched his great weapon, sataghini (a thunderbolt) on Krishna. However, it made no impact whatsoever on Krishna. At last, when Narakasura tried to kill the Lord with a trident, Krishna beheaded him with his Sudarshana Chakra (discus).

Before dying, the Asura realised that he had been depraved and wicked and asked for a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. This day is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’ and is the second day of the five day Diwali festival.

In another version, Narakasura had gained a boon from Brahma that he would die only at the hands of his mother. On the day of the war, Satyabhama became the charioteer for Krishna. During the battle, Narakasura aimed at Krishna who fell unconscious in a preordained, divine plan that empowered Satyabhama. Seeing Krishna, Satyabhama, who was the Earth mother Bhumadevi, doubled her attack on the demon king and finally killed him.

Before Narakasura’s death, he requested his mother Satyabhama to establish a custom that everyone should celebrate his death with colourful lights, sweets and joy.

The custom is to get up in the early hours before dawn, in the night and have an oil bath. This custom fortifies a belief that having an oil bath in the morning on the day of Diwali is equivalent to taking bath in the Ganges. Before the bath, elders in the house apply medicated sesame (til) oil on top of the heads of the younger members. The time of Diwali is rainy season and this oil helps to ward off chills and colds!

Lord Krishna was born at midnight. Lors Shiva is also supposed to be very powerful and energised in the night and early hours of the morning.

In the Vedic tradition, the Brahma Muhurtham (three hours before sunrise) between 3AM and 5 AM is auspicious for meditation and communing with the divine. Naraka Chathurdasi (the 14 day after the Full Moon) celebrations are during this hour! Of course, this quiet and divine hour is greatly disturbed by the sound of firecrackers!

Anyway, it is only for one day….Happy Deepavali!

This post is part of the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium initiative where eight of us write on the same topic. I am coming in after some time. Today’s topic has been chosen by Will Knott. The other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order,DeliriousgaelikaaGrannymarMaxiPaulShackmanThe Old Fossil.


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