Culture


“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”

Culture, Heritage, Religion

The Tradition Of Vedic Chanting


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The Vedas comprise a vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. Regarded by Hindus as the primary source of knowledge and the sacred foundation of their religion, the Vedas embody one of the worlds oldest surviving cultural traditions.

The oral tradition of the Vedas consists of several pathas, “recitations” or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Such traditions of Vedic chant are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, the fixation of the Vedic texts (samhitas) as preserved dating to roughly the time of Homer (early Iron Age). The tradition of Vedic chanting is on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Vedic chant is the expression of hymns from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. The practice dates back at least 3,000 years and is probably the world’s oldest continuous vocal tradition. The earliest collection, or Saṃhitā, of Vedic texts is the Rigveda, containing about 1,000 hymns. These are chanted in syllabic style—a type of heightened speech with one syllable to a tone. Three levels of pitch are employed: a basic reciting tone is embellished by neighbouring tones above and below, which are used to emphasize grammatical accents in the texts. These Rigveda hymns are the basis for a later collection, the Sāmaveda (“Veda of the Chants”), the hymns of which are sung in a style that is more florid, melodic, and melismatic (one word to two or more notes) rather than syllabic, and the range of tones is extended to six or more.

The Vedic heritage embraces a multitude of texts and interpretations collected in four Vedas, commonly referred to as books of knowledge even though they have been transmitted orally. The Rig Veda is an anthology of sacred hymns; the Sama Veda features musical arrangements of hymns from the Rig Veda and other sources; the Yajur Veda abounds in prayers and sacrificial formulae used by priests; and the Atharva Veda includes incantations and spells. The Vedas also offer insight into the history of Hinduism and the early development of several artistic, scientific and philosophical concepts, such as the concept of zero.

A simple, numerical system of notation — together with an oral tradition that stresses absolute precision in text, intonation, and bodily gestures — has served to perpetuate this stable tradition and to ensure its uniformity throughout all parts of India. The Vedas are chanted today exactly as they were centuries ago.

Expressed in the Vedic language, which is derived from classical Sanskrit, the verses of the Vedas were traditionally chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily in Vedic communities. The value of this tradition lies not only in the rich content of its oral literature but also in the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests in preserving the texts intact over thousands of years. To ensure that the sound of each word remains unaltered, practitioners are taught from childhood complex recitation techniques that are based on tonal accents, a unique manner of pronouncing each letter and specific speech combinations. The insistence on preserving pronunciation and accent as accurately as possible is related to the belief that the potency of the mantras lies in their sound when pronounced.

Although the Vedas continue to play an important role in contemporary Indian life, only thirteen of the over one thousand Vedic recitation branches have survived. Moreover, four noted schools in Maharashtra (central India), Kerala and Karnataka (southern India) and Orissa (eastern India) are considered under imminent threat.

Reference

UNESCO (2008), Tradition of Vedic chanting.

Culture, Food & Drink, Friends, Religion

Keema & Rice in Office


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Our colleague Ibrahim today brought keema and rice from his home for us.

Keema is a traditional South Asian meat dish. Originally this word meant minced meat. It is typically minced mutton curry with peas or potatoes although it can be made from almost any meat, can be cooked by stewing or frying, and can be formed into kababs. Keema is also sometimes used as a filling for samosas or naan.

In Iraq, cooking keema during the month of Muharram is an Ashura ritual and often lasts until Arbaeen, 40 days after the day of the death of Imam Hussein, or the Day of Ashura. It’s believed here that people will be blessed if they serve food to food to pilgrims and neighbours during Ashura in honor of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Imam Hussein along within his relatives and his followers were massacred on the plains of Karbala in 680 CE. They had no food or water during their battle with the forces of Caliph Yazid. The food is meant as a blessing for the soul of Imam Hussein. Shiites ask forgiveness for Imam Hussein’s death and to atone for their own sins.

Iraqis make keema from chickpeas, meat, tomato paste, spices, salt and dry lemons – known locally as Basra lemons  in large pans and distribute the food to friends and anyone passing by.

Keema was quite tasty and nice. Thanks Ibrahim! 

Activism, Culture, Opinion

Are We Indians Racists?


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This is the sad truth that we are guilty of racism: not always but distressingly often. It’s shameful. Yet, we are blissfully unaware and unconcerned.

“Racism is a mindset of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry” — Ayn Rand.

Traditionally we’re not racists. We are continuing with the same old British education system and the history taught to us by the British. Their education system was divisive and most suited for continuity of their imperialism.

“Many hundreds of years before the coming of the English, the nations of India had been a collection of wealthy and highly civilized people, possessed of great language with an elaborate code of laws and social regulations, with exquisite artistic taste in architecture and decoration, producing conceptions which have greatly influenced the development of the most progressive races of the West.” — Henry Mayer Hyndman, 20th Century British politician.

Since independence, there has been no serious effort to create the Indian-ness. Sadly, the vote-bank politics is widening the social divide.

India is endowed with the beauty of diversity in languages, geography, features, habits, cultures, religions, ethnicity and origins. We were not like this before. We accepted everybody with open hands. We lost that tolerance, that sense of acceptance. Before British, whosoever came to India became a part of it, from Shaka, Hun, Pathan, Mughal, Parsis, et al. They all settled in India. With them they brought here their culture, tradition, foods, and knowledge. India was the great mixing, melting pot. There was social cohesion. Rabindranath Tagore developed the idea of Indian civilization as a composite culture

“Shaka, Hun dal Pathan, Mughal ek dehe holo leen…”

It now seems that the great pot is broken. It’s the time again for rebuilding the social cohesion. We must teach our children the history of India, cultures of India, festivals of India and accepting the diversity. Tolerance is our strength and not weakness. Then only we can learn to respect India and its Indian-ness – the rich diversity, the greatness that is only peculiar to India. Indian-ness is an idea, a thought, a mindset that accepts and respects the diversity that makes us special, that makes us believe and understand that we are only Indians.

I again quote Rabindranath Tagore and we should strive to realize his dream of our great country —

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action …
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Culture, Festival, Religion

Vasant Panchami


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Today is the Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami, also known as Saraswati Puja, Shree Panchami, or the Basant Festival is a popular festival to seek blessings from the goddess of wisdom, knowledge, music, art and culture. Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami with great fervor in temples, homes and even schools and colleges. Saraswati’s favorite color white assumes special significance on this day.

This day has a great impact on my life as I started writing for the first time in my life this day 48 years ago. In Baghdad, I just remember this day and pray to the Goddess to keep my thirst for learning alive forever and I may attain enlightenment in my life through knowledge. I celebrate this day in Baghdad in absolute solitariness.

Vasant Panchami is an important Indian festival celebrated every year in the month of Magh according to the Hindu calendar. Celebrated on the fifth day of Magh, the day falls somewhere in the months of February or January according to the Gregorian calendar. The significance of the day lies in the worship of Maa Saraswati, the goddess of learning, wisdom, knowledge, fine arts, refinement, science and technology. People worship Goddess Saraswati to attain enlightenment through knowledge and to rid themselves of lethargy, sluggishness and ignorance.

According to the popular belief, the origins of this festival lie in Aryan period. Aryans came and settled in India through Khyber Pass, crossing the Saraswati River among many others. Being a primitive civilization, most of their development took place along the banks of the River Saraswati. Thus, River Saraswati began to be associated with fertility and knowledge. It is then that the day began to be celebrated.

A popular legend associated with Vasant Panchami is a story about the great Sanskrit poet called Kalidasa. Kalidasa had somehow ended up marrying a beautiful princess, who kicked him out when she realised he was foolish. In despair, Kalidasa was planning to kill himself when Saraswati emerged from the river and told him to bathe in the waters. When he did, the water gave him wisdom and led to him writing poetry.

During Vasant Panchami, the advent of spring is felt in the air as the season undergoes change. New leaves and blossoms appear in the trees with the promise of new life and hope. The colour yellow is strongly associated with Vasant Panchami, representing the fields of mustard which a common sight in the village areas at this time of year. Kite flying is also commonly associated with this festival. Children as well as adults fly kites on this day to celebrate freedom and enjoyment.

Another tradition associated with this day is that of initiating studies in the young. Young children often begin learning on this day, which is believed to be the reason why the school sessions start in India in the month of March. Sweets with a yellow hue are also distributed on this day and people can also be seen donating books and other literary material to the poor.

जय जय देवी चराचर सारे, कुचयुगशोभित मुक्ताहारे,

वीणारँजित पुस्तक हस्ते, भगवती भारती देवी नमस्ते।

Culture, Family, Religion, Travel

The Call of Eternal Ganges


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In Hindu tradition Triveni Sangam is the “confluence” of three rivers. Sangam is the Sanskrit word for confluence. The point of confluence is a sacred place for Hindus.

A bath here is said to wash away all of one’s sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth. One such Triveni Sangam, in Prayag (Allahabad) has two physical rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and the invisible or mythic Saraswati River. The site is in Prayag (Allahabad). This is also the place we visited in February 2013 for Maha Kumbh Mela.

The Triveni Sangam is believed to be the same place where drops of Nectar fell from the pitcher, from the hands of the Gods. So it is believed that a bath in the Sangam will wash away all one’s sins and will clear the way to heaven. Devout Hindus from all over India come to this sacred pilgrimage point to offer prayers and take a dip in the holy waters.The three rivers maintain their identity and are visibly different as they merge. While the Yamuna is deep but calm and greenish in colour, the Ganga is shallow, but forceful and clear. The Saraswati remains hidden, but the faithful believe that she makes her presence felt underwater. The distinct colours can be seen at the confluence.

As the monsoon has started, the rivers are in full flow, the confluence of the rivers is seen clearly due to the force of the water, but the same force makes having a dip at the confluence difficult. The river banks are muddy and slippery. Also, it was raining then.

We went to Triveni Sangam in the morning for some rituals on the river bank a day before the Shraaddha for Jaya’s mother.

In the Hindu religion, Shraaddha is the ritual that one performs to pay homage to one’s ancestors, especially to one’s dead parents. Conceptually, it is a way for people to express heartfelt gratitude and thanks towards their parents and ancestors, for having helped them to be what they are and praying for their peace.

After that we went to sangam for bath. As the river is around 40 feet deep there, some boats are anchored there and they put a wooden platform tied to the boats to enable the pilgrims to take dip in the river at the sangam.

It’s a holy experience. This was my second occasion that I took a dip at the sangam.

Culture, Festival, Nature, Religion

In office on a Public Holiday


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Today has been declared as a public holiday in Baghdad to commemorate the death of Imam Moussa ibn Jaafar al-Kadhim, the seventh of 12 principal Shiite imams, who died in 799. Shiites walk for hours, and often for days, from across the country to reach the mosque in Kadhimiyah, known for its twin golden domes. The mosque was built atop what were believed to be the tombs of Imam al-Kadhim and his grandson – Imam Muhammad al-Taqi, the ninth of 12 principal Shiite imams.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims converged on the golden-domed shrine as security forces tightened security after a wave of deadly attacks across Iraq. Many of the main streets in Baghdad were closed in recent days to prevent attacks on the pilgrims, who travel on foot.

The traffic restrictions caused hardships to many of my colleagues. Many of them couldn’t come to the bank yesterday. The working hour was reduced by one hour since Sunday. Yesterday, it was decreased by two hours so that all the employees could reach home safe and in time.

The holiday has been declared today only in Baghdad province. Therefore, all our branches outside Baghdad province are working as a normal business day. So, the banking system will be fully operational today. The branches need support from head office as well as some transactions need authorizations. All routine checks are to be carried out to ensure the transactions are booked and recorded properly. So the back office is open today.

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An empty Baghdad road

I am in the office to supervise the back office work and for authorizing the required transactions. I stay in the office complex and hence it’s not a problem for me. Mustafa stays close by and so he has come. Ibrahim also can manage to come to office walking, so he too has come today. The vehicles are not allowed on the road today in Baghdad. As the Baghdad branches, and Head Office are closed, so the volume of work is much less today.

“If you have a work instead of a job, every day is holiday” ― Paulo Coelho

Happy World Environment Day to everyone! Today is also World Environment Day. Let’s make it everyday.

Culture, Festival

Shubho Nababarsha 1420!


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“নির্মল করো, উজ্জ্বল করো,
সুন্দর কর হে।
জাগ্রত করো, উদ্যত করো,
নির্ভয় করো হে।”
অনন্ত শুভকামনা ১৪২০এ সকলকে।

Happy Poila Baisakh!
Shubho Nababarsha 1420!
Happy Bengali New Year 1420!

Culture, Family, Festival, Religion, Travel

Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad


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Maha Kumbh mela is considered as the biggest festival of Hindus in the entire world. This was amply proved by observing a sea of more than 30 million Hindu devotees gathered at the confluence of 3 rivers (Triveni Sangam) at Allahabad (Prayagraj) on 10 February.

The tithi (Auspicious day) of Mauni Amavasya began from 3.15 p.m. on 9 February. Since then, a sea of devotees had gathered on the 22 ghats (banks) of river Ganga and confluence to take a Holy bath.

 

Mauni Amavasya is considered the holiest of the 56-day festival. Millions of Hindu holy men and pilgrims descend at the Kumbh mela site for a bracing plunge in Ganges to what they feel will wash away sins; many of them walked miles before they reached the river bank. According to ancient religious scriptures, Mauni Amavasya is the day on which Manu sage appeared in this world, millions of years ago. It is believed to be the day when the universe was created. On this day, the Sun and the Moon enters into the Capricorn sign.

 

Practising austerities is believed to purify an individual’s existence and observing the vow of silence is apparently the simplest way to do so.

 

The day holds extreme religious importance and taking bath on this day in the holy waters is deemed significant and auspicious.

 

Besides the bath, meeting so many sages and sanyasis in one place is a great experience. One can listen to so many satsangs being organized at different camps and akharas.

An auspicious coincidence occurring after 147 years

On this Mauni Amavasya, the planets Shani (Saturn) and Rahu have come together. This is a rare occurrence and happened after the lapse of 147 years. During this period, the sun and the moon will travel together in their orbit. It last happened in 1865. Therefore, this period is considered as very beneficial for taking a bath, donation, and shraddha (Special rituals performed for the departed ancestors). This special occasion also caused the rush of devotees in an increased proportion.

 

I along with my wife, Jaya and son, Babai have come to Allahabad for taking bath in river Ganga on the auspicious occasion of Mauni Amabasya. We reached Allahabad by train via Kolkata on 6 February.

Jaya with Guttu and Boudi

 

It was Kumbh flavor everywhere – from Howrah station to the train journey. There were some women singing kirtans. Jaya also joined them briefly.

 

Our Guruji also reached Allahabad on the nights of 8 February from Varanasi for the bath with us. He had to walk around 16 kms to reach our home due to stoppage of traffic in the city. 

In fact, we were privileged to have bath with our Guruji. We started our journey for the bath from the home of Jaya’s parents at 11.30 a.m. of 9th February. We joined the sea of humanity walking slowly towards the Triveni sangam. We reached the ghat at around 2.30 a.m. of 10th February. At first, Jaya, Boudi, Guttu and I took our dips with Guruji, while Babai & Prasanta was guarding the clothes. Then Guruji and I took them to the ghat for their bath. It was quite a cold night with temperature dropping below 8°C.

But the sheer excitement of the event did not make us feel that the night and the water were so cold! We jumped into the river Ganga in search of “Amrit” at the Amrit Muhurt of Mauni Amabasya 10 February 2013.

 

We walked back to home with huge mass of people around on every road and corner.

People were coming in and moving out. The police was doing a good job there and I found them very polite, to my surprise! We reached home at around 5am.

 

It was a really out of the world, divine experience. It can just be experienced and not be defined by any logic or knowledge based explanation. Clearly, the world’s biggest religious gathering happens when faith meets the collective.

Har Har Gangay! Har Har Mahadev!

Culture, Festival, Religion

Kumbh Mela Begins Tomorrow


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Kumbh Mela, which takes place once in every 12 years, is billed as the biggest gathering of humanity on the Earth. In 2001, more than 40 million people gathered on the main bathing day of the festival, breaking a record for the biggest human gathering.

I was talking to my father-in-law yesterday. My in-laws stay in Allahabad. He was telling me that Allahabad has been preparing for the festival for months and a vast tented city has grown up around the river. Lots of vehicles and millions of people have reached there already. During the 55-day festival, more than 100 million people are expected to visit the city. The report says that the festival is expected to draw over a million foreign tourists too.

The festival will formally start at dawn on Monday, 14 January with groups of naked, ash-smeared Naga Sadhus sprinting into the waters at Sangam – the point at which the rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati converge – followed by millions of other pilgrims.

14 January is an auspicious day of Hindu calendar. It’s called Makar Sankranti. On this occasion, the Sun transits from Sagittarius and enters Capricorn. It also commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the north-east monsoon in South India. Here is a link for some of the images of Kumbh mela.

I am also reaching Allahabad at night of 6 February for the Kumbh Mela and of course for the main bath on 10 February.

May Makar Sankranti be harvest of prosperity, success and happiness in our life. Happy Makar Sankranti!

Culture, Family, Festival, Religion

Maha Kumbh Mela


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Kumbh Mela is the greatest pilgrimage and festival in the Hindu religion. The event is a religious and cultural spectacle which occurs once in 12 years attracting participants from around the globe to take a dip in the holy waters of Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati.

As per the legend, in the mythological times, during a waging war between the demigods and demons for the possession of elixir of eternal life, a few drops of it had fallen on to four places that are today known as Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. It is believed that these drops gave mystical powers to these places. It is to make oneself gain on those powers that Kumbh Mela has been celebrated in each of the four places since long as one can remember. The normal Kumbh Mela is held every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is held every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag) while the Purna (complete) Kumbh mela takes place every twelve years, at four places Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik, based on planetary movements. The Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated at Prayag after 144 years (after 12 ‘Purna Kumbh Melas’).

Depending on what position the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter hold in that period in different zodiac signs, the venue for Kumbh Mela is decided. The next Maha Kumbh Mela is set to be held in the city of Allahabad (Prayag) in the year 2013. It will commence from 27 January 2013 and will continue till 25 February 2013.

The Kumbh Mela is a life changing experience where a person can fill the spiritual void he or she experiences in the humdrum of busy urban life. Kumbh Mela is a platform where ordinary men can interact with saints and priests and imbibe the knowledge possessed by the latter. It is an opportunity for everyone to dissolve the worldly stresses and flow in the cultural and religious effervescence of the festival. Visiting the Kumbh Mela to take a dip in the holy waters and cleaning the sins committed in a lifetime is, in fact, a very superficial motive to attend the Kumbh Mela.

Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 is speculated to be one of the biggest congregations in the history of civilization. Last Kumbh Mela witnessed the participation of 70 million people. After visiting Kumbh Mela in 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.

I am also planning to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela with my wife and son this time in February 2013. Also, Jaya’s parents stay in the holy city of Allahabad. So, we can visit them while attending the Maha Kumbh Mela.