Vasant Panchami

Today is the Vasant Panchami. 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.

It is believed that on this day goddess Saraswati was born. 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.

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.

In today’s times, the festival is celebrated by farmers as the on-coming of the spring season. The color yellow is another predominant color associated with the festival, the origins of which are supposed to be the fields of mustard during this period. 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 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.

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.

Durga Puja

For last several years, we are going to Jamshedpur during Durga Puja on the day of Maha Ashtami to celebrate the Puja there for the remaining days and return to Ranchi on the day of Vijaya Dashami. This year also we planned the same.

We were in Ranchi for Durga Shashthi and Maha Saptami. We are involved mainly in the Maitraee Club puja in North Office Para, Doranda. During our earlier stint in Ranchi from 1997 to 2001, we were staying in North Office Para and were involved in this Puja.

On Jit’s transfer back to Ranchi from Jamshedpur in 2005, we were staying in Bariatu. Although it’s quite a distance between Bariatu and North Office Para, we revived and maintained our connection with Maitraee Club.

Babai came home on October 10, the day of Shashthi in the afternoon. Jit, Baba and I went to the airport to receive Babai. Due to some re-scheduling of flight timings, Babai’s flight came 35 minutes beyond the earlier declared time. We received Babai at the airport. It’s our family re-union after a long time and hence the most pleasurable moment for three of us.

In the evening, we went to Maitraee Club. There were some games being organized by the club. Jit and I both won a prize each.

Babai tied up with his old school friends for the Maha Saptami day to spend time with them.

We had Prasad & bhog there at the club. Today’s main bhog was sponsored by us. After having Bhog I stayed back there for preparation of the cultural programme. Jit returned back home and came back in the evening with Baba & Babai. The club members presented a good cultural programme.

After the programme, we went to Mecon’s colony Shyamali for seeing the puja and dinner. It was almost midnight then. We returned home after having dinner there.

In the morning of October 12, we left for Jamshedpur. So far, the Puja days were good, but there’s a weather forecast of heavy rains and strong winds from the evening of Maha Ashtami as the Cyclone Phailin was scheduled to hit the Indian shores near Gopalpur. It’s a 4-category storm and hence a huge one.

The sky was overcast from the morning. We reached Swarn Vihar, Sonari in Jamshedpur, where we participate in the puja.

Mukherji da and boudi kept the Maha Ashtami bhog for us. We went to their house and had the privilege of the bhog. They are very nice and sweet couple. They love us a lot.

This time the Sandhi Puja was in the afternoon. So after bhog, we returned to the puja pandal for the Sandhi puja.

After witnessing the puja and having the prasad, we went to our hotel – The Sonnet in Bistupur. It had started drizzling by then. We took some rest and then got dressed up for the evening and went to Swarn Vihar again for the cultural programme. Mukherji da participated in a comic play.

Rain is continuing in the evening. We dared out to see the pratima, pandals of CH Area and Aambagan in Sakchi. We also had some foods in the stalls in CH Area and ice candies in Sakchi despite the rains! We returned to the hotel. It rained heavily in the night.

We reached the Swarn Vihar puja pandal on the day of Maha Navami to find the place flooded. It’s raining then also. We offered Pushpanjali. Efforts were made to drain out the water. After the puja of Navami, Jit, and Babai joined in the homa. Then we had bhog. Due to rains, we returned to hotel.

In the evening, we went to Swarn Vihar again for the cultural programme and the dinner arranged by them.

Babai danced in merry after the end of cultural programme

Because of heavy rains, we could not go out and also Baba is scared of rains. We returned to hotel in the night.

On Vijaya Dashami, October 14 we found that many low lying places were flooded. Swarnarekha & Kharkai rivers were swollen.

Swarnarekha flowing to the brim

After the protima baran and sindur khela, we returned to Ranchi after having lunch there.

Pratima baran

We stopped for a cup of tea at a roadside motel near Deori temple. It was raining then.

The fury of the cyclone was felt more in Ranchi with many trees and electric poles uprooted. The power supply was stopped for almost two days to preempt accidents. The power was resumed in Ranchi just before we reached Ranchi. Thank God! The traditional vijaya sammelan at Maitraee club was postponed due to inclement weather conditions.

With the grace of the Goddess Durga, we enjoyed the puja a lot despite such an inclement weather. It was primarily because three of us were together.

First FDI in Durga Puja!

France will sponsor a Durga Puja in Kolkata this year – the first foreign country to do so – creating a milestone of sorts. I just read this in Hindustan Times.

The puja that has been selected for the honour is Pallimangal community puja that is in its 54th year. It is located on Anwar Shah Road, a mere two blocks away from South City shopping mall.

Besides giving funds, France will also send two artists to work with local ones to create a theme around 100 years of Indian cinema, one of the most prominent vehicles of cultural exchange between the two countries. There are also plans to bring a member of the French World Cup soccer team to inaugurate the puja.

Alliance Francaise, which is funded by the French government, is bearing the expenditure of this puja. Though the budget is relatively small at Rs. 4 million (USD 68,000), the organisers are expecting it to open up the pujas to a growing western audience, which in turn, throws up a vast tourism potential.

The French sponsorship of Pallimangal community puja is the culmination of a 20-minute documentary shot about the puja by a French journalist for France TV II, a national channel in France. The programme evinced interest in France and a team of visitors came to Kolkata in October 2012 to see the pujas.

It’s a public holiday today in Baghdad, but we are in office

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.

Shubho Nababarsha 1420!

“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!

Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad

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.

People going for bath and also coming out of Kumbh mela

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.

Devotees waiting for their free food being organized by many camps and bhandaras.

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.

Millions going for bath

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.

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A sadhu doing satsang for his followers and other visitors. There are many such satsang camps in the mela area

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.

Sadhus seeking bhiksha

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.

One yogi sadhu practising his tapasya with one hand lifted upward!

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

A Naga sanyasi with his followers

Our Guruji also reached Allahabad on the nights of 8 February from Varanasi for the bath with us. He had to walk around 16kms 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 11.30am of 9 February. We joined the sea of humanity walking slowly towards the Triveni sangam. We reached the ghat at around 2.30am of 10 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.

Millions have assembled at the mela area for days

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.

Huge crowd on Mauni Amabasya day seen outside Gaudiya Math

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!

Kumbh Mela begins tomorrow

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!

Maha Kumbh Mela

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.

Diwali 2012 at Allahabad

Jit left for Baghdad to resume his duties. Babai left a week before Jit. Naturally, I would be feeling very sad, so Jit planned for my visit to Allahabad to my parent’s house for 10 days, so that I can attend Diwali, Kali Puja and Bhai phota there.

Boudi and I spent the Kali puja night at the Kalibari as this puja begins around midnight and it continues until it’s almost dawn. We also visited the house of my aunt – Kakima and cousin brother. We also went to see a horror movie in one of the nights – 1920 Evil Returns. I also met my college friend Lakshmi, who also stays in Allahabad. Boudi and I went to her house to meet her and then to the house of Babua, brother of Boudi.

Lost my Debit Card!

We went to Civil Lines area for some shopping and dining. As I was to pay at the shop, I found my HDFC Bank Debit card missing. OMG! I last used it at an ATM of HDFC Bank two days ago. May be I misplaced it there. I paid at the shop in cash. I felt damn disastrous.

We rushed to that ATM but the guard said that no card was found there. He also checked the register. Next day was Diwali and so it’s a bank holiday too. We went to the HDFC Bank. The officer was a nice gentleman. He advised that it was too late for him to do anything and advised us to call him on the next day after Diwali. We went to him in the morning. He checked his records and found that there was no such card reported lost so far. He then helped me to hotlist the debit card and immediately issued me a new Platinum debit card, which would be activated after 48 hours.

Bhai-phota

Diwali is a five-day festival starting with Dhanteras and ending with Bhai Dooj or Bhai phota. I could not realize how the days went by and the last day of Diwali came. The last of Diwali celebrations is the day dedicated to the bond between brothers and sisters. On this day known variously as bhai dooj, bhai phota, sisters pray for the long life of their brothers, by performing the ‘tika’ (red mark on the forehead) ceremony. In return brothers give gifts to them. It’s a day of bonding for brothers and sisters.

Maa & Baba

The origin of the festival is not too clear but popular legend says that after killing the demon, Narkasur, Lord Krishna visited his sister Subhadra, who welcomed him with sweets and flowers. She also applied ‘tika’ on his forehead. Another legend says that when Lord Yama (God of death) visited his sister Yamuna, she applied a ‘tika’ on his forehead and offered him sweets and special dishes. The day is also known as Yama Dwitiya.

I performed bhai phota for dada and my other two cousins. We had a party at our house yesterday on the occasion of Bhai phota. It’s a family affair. Also, Babua, brother of Boudi joined us with his family.

I am leaving for Ranchi today as I have to attend a wedding near Kolkata on Sunday. I am feeling sad to leave my parents. The elder daughter Monika of our “gurubon” Nupurdi is getting married on Sunday. Nurpurdi and we have common guru.

I am planning to visit Allahabad again in February 2013 to participate in the Maha Kumbh Mela with Jit and Babai. I hope that the God will make everything possible as we are planning.

Durga Puja 2012 – Mahashtami & Sandhi Puja

We arrived Jamshedpur yesterday from Ranchi in the afternoon. On the way, we stopped for a while at the Deori temple in Tamar for praying at the Durga temple.

Deori temple

We went to Swarn Vihar, where we attend the puja in Jamshedpur.

Durga pratima at Swarn Vihar, Sonari, Jamshedpur

After praying before the Goddess Durga, we went to the house of Mukherjee da. He is like my elder brother. We had our bhog prasad there. Boudi had kept some for us when we informed her that we are coming. We had some small chat and then we came to Hotel Sonnet at Bistupur. We normally stay here. Then in the evening, we went there and also to C.H. Area. It’s a big puja and rush there. There are many food stalls there too. We had our dinner there.

C.H. Area puja mandap
Order placed. Waiting for dinner to be served.

After dinner, we returned to Swarn Vihar at around 11.0pm as preparation for Sandhi puja was to begin then. Sandhi Puja is an integral and the most important part of Durga Puja. This puja is performed at the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day (Mahaashtami and Mahanavami). Sandhi puja lasts from the last 24 minutes of Mahashtami till the first 24 minutes of Mahanavami. During this juncture, called the Sandhikshan, Durga is worshipped in her Chamunda form.

The legend behind worshiping Durga as Chamunda devi says that while the Goddess and Mahishasura were engaged in a fierce battle, the two generals of Mahisha, Chanda and Munda attacked the Devi from the the rear. From her third eye then emerged a Devi with a large falchion and a shield. She had a large face, bloody tongue and sunken blood shot eyes. She was Chamunda. With a bloodcurdling shriek she leapt forward and killed them. This moment was the sandhikshan of the 8th (Ashtami) and 9th (Navami) lunar day.

This year the sandhikhshan was from 12.16am to 1.04am. Sandhi Puja requires 108 lotus flowers, a single fruit, dry rice grain for “naivedyam”, 108 earthen lamps, clothes, jewelry, hibiscus garlands and wood apple (bel) leaves. The almost non-existent rituals which underwent changes with the changes in the society can still be seen in some of the old Pujas.

Saree is being offered to Maa Dourga
Flowers for Sandhi puja
108 earthen lamps were lit

Sacrifice (Bali) is done before the goddess to symbolize the killing of demons. It used to be a sacrifice of a buffalo or a goat. But, nowadays, these are replaced by sugarcane or pumpkin, banana etc at most of the places.

Ready for the sacrifice to be offered to the goddess to please her. In Bali, it is to be cut in a single blow.

Then the aarati and pushpanjali to pay respect and to surrender to the goddess.

Aarti
Pushpanjali

We returned to our hotel at around 1.45am.