Annakoot at Gaudiya Math, Allahabad

Annakoot — Mountain of food — is celebrated in observance of the episode in Sri Krishna’s childhood, in which He gave protection to the cowherd clan of Vrindavan from the wrath of Indra and humbled Indra in that process. The cowherd, their wives, children and cattle jubilantly surrounded Sri Krishna. They were awed by His superhuman accomplishment and celebrated Sri Krishna’s feat with a sumptuous feast. Thus began the tradition of Annakoot.

Gaudiya Math in Allahabad also celebrates Annakoot. Baba — Jaya’s father — planned to visit the temple at the Gaudiya Math with all the family members for the worship on the day of Govardhan Puja. It’s the next day after Diwali. This year, it was celebrated on October 24. Baba is a regular visitor to this ashram.

The Annakoot or the Govardhan Puja celebrations take place on the first day of the month of Kartik which is the first month of the Hindu new year — Vikrami Samvat. The Monsoon season has come to an end and new harvest has been brought in from the fields and grains and cereals are plentiful. To thank the Lord for the good year that has just ended, plenty of delicious foods are prepared and offered to the Supreme Lord.

According to legends, Lord Krishna taught people to worship the Supreme Controller of nature, God, specifically Govardhan, as Govardhan is a manifestation of Krishna, and to stop worshiping the God of Rains, Lord Indra. For Annakoot, a mountain of food is decorated symbolizing Govardhan mountain said to be lifted by Lord Krishna to save the people from the wrath of Lord Indra, the demigod in charge of rain.

Annakoot

Annakoot

The devotees gather in the temple and sing kirtans. A communal worship in the form of an Aarti is performed and then everyone enjoys a special meal which is prepared earlier.

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We all sat on the floor of the temple with other devotees and had Annakoot prasad, and bhog offered to Lord Krishna. We prayed to Lord Krishna and returned home. Baba was very happy that we all family members went to the temple and had the prasad and bhog.

Kojagori Lakshmi Puja

People of Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Orissa worship Goddess Laksmi on Kojagori Purnima night — the full moon night in the month of Ashwin of Bengali calendar, just four days after Vijaya Dashami or Dusshera — the last day of the Durga puja in the month of October.

It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth, and prosperity, visits every household on this full moon night and blesses them with sheer promise of wealth, fortune and good luck.

It is also a common belief that in order to guide goddess Lakshmi to the households, residents lit up deep, earthen lamps on the terraces or balconies especially to show the path inside the house.

It’s customary at our house to Lakshmi puja every Thursday and also on Kojagori purnima. After several years, all of us are at home on this day. It was nice that we all together performed the puja at our house. Babai drew alpana with rice powder paste, while I made all other arrangements and performed the puja. Jaya cooked the bhog.

Alpana refers to colorful motifs, sacred art or painting done on a horizontal surface on auspicious occasions in Bengal like Puja, wedding or community events. The art typically has some religious significance. This type of art is found on the Indian subcontinent. The word Alpana is derived from the Sanskrit alimpana, which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Traditionally in Bengal, alpana is strictly white since the liquid paste used for alpana is rice powder mixed in water.

Different items are offered to the goddess like fruits, grains, rice, naivedya prepared from milk products sweetmeats made from coconut and other stuffs. Lamps are lit to ward off evil spirits and devotional songs are sung in praise of Goddess Lakshmi.

After the puja is over, we ate prasad — offerings given to the Goddess. I was reminiscing our earlier days. This puja used to be a grand affair at our house with lots of friends coming to our house celebrate this puja and eat prasad at our house. Jaya & my mother used to prepare prasad and bhog for everyone. This time we didn’t make it a big affair as we are leaving for Delhi tomorrow morning. After puja at our house, we went to Maitraee Club, North Office Para, Doranda for Lakshmi Puja at our club. We had prasad there too. It was a nice evening.

Celebration of India´s Independence Day

Today is India’s 68th Independence Day and I am in Baghdad.

There was an invitation from the Indian Embassy, Baghdad for the flag-hoisting ceremony in the morning. We reached the embassy at 8:00 a.m. Soon the Indian flag was hoisted and the national anthem was sung. It was followed by customary reading of the President’s address on the eve of the Independence Day by Ambassador Ajay Kumar. A local Iraqi boy also gave a small, good speech. He gave a speech last year too.

There were some 30 Indian nationals also, who are returning to India tomorrow through Indian embassy. They are staying now at the premises of the embassy.

The embassy served us traditional Iraqi breakfast items — samoon and falafel.

A samoon is a rhombus shaped bread baked in brick oven. It is made with flour, yeast, water and salt. Quite conducive to stuffing as the interior is a bit more airy.

A falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and sometimes with broad beans also. Falafel is a common dish eaten throughout the Middle East.

Ambassador Ajay Kumar has joined the embassy a couple of months ago and this is our first meeting. We had a long chat with him after other guests departed. We walked back to our home at 11:00 a.m.

Happy Independence Day! Vande Mataram! Jai Hind!

Happy birthday, Jaya!

Today is Jaya’s birthday. I sent her flowers and cake to her as I am in Baghdad now through Ferns N Petals.

It was delivered by afternoon. Jaya called me immediately as she got the bouquet and the cake. She was very happy as she was missing me and our son, Babai. She cut the cake in the afternoon and posted her pictures to me.

With as much love, as I can share, I wanted to let you know I care enough to send some love your way, Happy Birthday, sweetheart! I am missing you.

My birthday 2014

I am on vacation during my birthday after a long time. I am with my family but  we three of us can’t be together on my birthday March 21, 2014 as Babai is in his institute in Gangtok. Jaya & I are undergoing medical checkups and consultations at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital in Kolkata.

GANGTOK

We visited our son Babai in Gangtok for couple of days and to be together during the auspicious occasion of Holi. We reached Gangtok from Ranchi on March 15, 2014.

To our surprise, Babai arranged a small, nice cake as we reached our hotel to celebrate my birthday. He arranged this as he would not be with me to celebrate my birthday. It was so nice of him.

Thanks Babai. God bless you!

KOLKATA

On March 21, Jaya’s friend Rina invited us at their house. After our consultations with the doctor at Apollo Gleaneagles Hospital, we went to their house. On the way, Jaya bought a nice cake from Flury’s at Park Street, Kolkata. Also, Rina’s husband Subhro brought another cake! I cut both the cakes.

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This time, it’s a lot of celebration of my birthday! The cutting of cake was followed by lovely dinner prepared by Rina. Thanks Rina and Subhro for celebrating my birthday.

Indian Republic Day in Baghdad

Today is the 65th Republic day of India. In India, Republic Day honors the date on which the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950 replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document of India.

On every Independence Day & Republic Day, the national flag is unfurled at every public office and institution in India followed by singing of the national anthem. We have been observing these days since our school days. It’s really a proud moment for every Indian.

Like every year, the Republic Day is celebrated at the Indian Embassy in Baghdad. I received their invitations by email and phone several days ago. I went in the morning to the residence of the Indian Ambassador, where the Indian Tricolor was unfurled by the Indian Ambassador. Several other Indians in Baghdad also arrived there for the flag hoisting ceremony. After the flag was unfurled with singing of the national anthem, the address of the President of India to the nation was read by the Ambassador. Then the breakfast was served. Some hot pakoras, halwa and tea. We had some nice chats for a while before returning to our office.

Standing under the Indian flag along with the Indian Ambassador

The main function was scheduled from 3.00pm. The Indian Embassy and the residence of the Ambassador is next to our head office. For security reasons the road was sanitized and movement was restricted. This caused hardships to many of our staff members. The bank therefore declared closing of head office at 2.00pm. I again went to the Embassy at around 3.00pm. Many dignitaries, ministers, members of Parliament, government officials, diplomats and local businessmen were invited. There were customary speeches followed by lunch.

We walked back to our residence in the evening. It’s the day to remember the sacrifices of the freedom fighters and their families.

The evening of the Republic Day is a very sad moment for me and I prefer to be alone in this evening. As the dusk was settling down on the city of Jamshedpur 9 years ago my mother left us and went on her journey to her eternal abode. She was feeling uncomfortable in the afternoon. We rushed her to the hospital. As I was getting her admitted there after the doctors recommended for her admittance, she passed away. I feel very sad that we couldn’t do anything to save her as the time ran out so fast. I always remember you, Maa and miss you very much.

Vande Mataram! Jai Hind!

First evening of 2014

We planned to have dinner outside to celebrate the New Year. Today’s a holiday in Baghdad. But some of my colleagues went to office in connection with annual closing of books. This time I didn’t plan to visit office as I thought they would manage themselves. This would have been my first annual closing day in bank since 1986 and I am at home. But, this record could not be created as I had to go to office today in the afternoon. My colleagues were having some confusions and problems. So, I had to visit office for just a couple of hours.

In the evening, we went to Mansour Mall for some loitering in the mall followed by dinner there. There’s a huge crowd on the road leading to the mall and inside the mall. Police closed the road to the mall and so we got down from the car near Al Rowad and walked down.

IMG_20140101_201222Lots of people are there in the mall to enjoy the first evening of this New Year like us. We slowly reached the top floor, which houses the food plaza after walking around on each floor. It was jam-packed. I enjoy crowd and love lots of people around.

CAM00223There was not a single table available. People are also eating standing. We managed to find some space on the counters around the pillars. We had a pizza there. Then we ordered burgers and wrap for takeaway. We thought that it’s better to eat them at home. We then walked down to Al Rowad again to board our car to return home.

We ate our burger and wrap with whiskey at home while enjoying watching TV. This was quite a nice way to begin the New Year in Baghdad.

Happy New Year!

Of all sound of all bells… most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year. Goodbye 2013!

And we welcome 2014, the New Year, full of things that have never been. New Year comes with glows of hopes in our mind. It gives us new confidence and courage for a fresh start.

Wishing everyone a great, prosperous, healthy, delightful, and safe 2014 with full of great achievements and experiences. Today’s New Year morning sunshine will be full of new energy. Let all the woes be in decline, and bring all the good vibes, in synergy.

Our Wedding Anniversary

Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary. My wife and I have been married for 22 years. The day was 22-11-1991.

Now that I am in Iraq and she’s in India, I am not doing anything particular to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I am just remembering our wonderful wedding weekend. I do think how happy I am to be married to the person to whom I am married.

I sent her a cake and a bouquet of flowers through Ferns N Petals along with an anniversary card with message:

This day reminds me that God really loves me
For He gave the most wonderful person
And chose her to be my lifetime partner
I will always be grateful
Happy Anniversary to you, sweetheart!

20131122_003214I also tweeted her at the stroke of midnight.

I married her when she was just 22.  Through the ups and downs we have stuck it out.  I have now taken the best years of her life away from her.  Now I get to spend the rest of them with her too!

Being with you is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t imagine my life without you by my side. I love you dearly. Happy Anniversary Jaya!

Colleague’s wedding

Mustafa, a young colleague in my department got married today. They arranged the wedding function at the Iraqi Hunting Club, Baghdad.

Ibrahim said that they would reach the club at around 5pm. He called me at 4.50pm to inform me that he had reached. So, we got ready and reached the club at 5.30pm. Mustafa and his wife Sara also reached there then. I met him and congratulated him at the portico.

We went in. It was a bit early as the guests were then just coming in. The main hall was decorated for the wedding ceremony. A few of our colleagues had also arrived by then. We sat on a table. Other guests and colleagues started walking in.

006Mustafa & his wife walked in the hall with some small display of fireworks inside the hall. They danced in the middle for some time. Others joined there. It was followed the ceremonial cutting of cake. The dance continued while the DJ was playing some Arabic songs & music.

Local traditional musicians also came and played some songs & music to which many men & women danced and sang together. Although I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I liked the beats of the music.

The newly married couple then went to the stage, where the bride was put on some gold ornaments by the groom. While we were watching this and talking among ourselves the cake pieces were distributed and then the salad was served.

Photo-session started thereafter. The friends and family members were getting them photographed with the newly married couple. We colleagues from our department also went to the stage to bless the new couple and for a snap with them.

Then the dinner was served. It started with bread and kebabs. Subhash only eats vegetarian foods on Saturdays. So, we took leave from our friends and went out. We went to City Center restaurant in the club premises and had a vegetable pizza and then returned home.

It was nice that Mustafa got married and also this is the first wedding ceremony that I attended in Iraq.

May the God bless the new couple and their married life!