Festival


“I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.”

Celebration, Festival, Food

Republic Day 2015 in Baghdad


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India celebrates January 26th every year as her Republic Day to mark the date when the Constitution of India came into force. The constitution was adopted on January 26th, 1950 with a democratic government system. It was this day in 1930 when the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress.

The Indian embassy in Baghdad organizes the flag hoisting ceremony on the morning at the embassy residence and a reception in the afternoon. I received emailed invitation to attend the ceremony and reception a week ago. The Indian embassy and the residence are in our neighbourhood. I walked from my office to the embassy residence for the Flag hoisting ceremony scheduled at 8:30 am.

Today is the 66th Republic Day of India. The Flag hoisting ceremony started with hoisting of  the Indian flag by Ambassador H.E. Ajay Kumar followed by singing of national anthem by all the Indians present there. There is a very small Indian community in Baghdad. Most of the Indians in Iraq are in Kurdistan region. 

Flag hoisting at Indian Embassy in Baghdad on Republic Day. #26January

A photo posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

It was then followed by reading of the President’s message to the Nation by the Ambassador. The printed message of the President to the Nation was also given to the attendees. The embassy arranges for breakfast for the guests of the ceremony. They served us nice hot pakoras, falafel and tea. We had some small chat with Ambassador Ajay Kumar, HOC DV Singh and others and then I returned to my office. 

With Indian Ambassador and HOC at Embassy residence in Baghdad after flag hoisting on #26January

A photo posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

This time the reception is scheduled at 5:30 pm. For last several years the reception was from 3.00 pm. I went to the embassy residence at 5:20 pm for the reception. The reception was attended by dignitaries from other embassies, Iraqi political establishments and a tiny cross-section of the local Indian community in Baghdad. National anthem was played. Speeches were delivered on India-Iraq relationships. The function ended with Indian dinner that included Chicken Butter Masala, Chicken tikka, Paneer, Dal, Pulao & Paratha besides other side dishes. The meal was supplied by a restaurant run by our friend Vivekanand inside International Zone.  We also had a nice chat with our friend Akhtar as he was waiting for his car to arrive. Akhtar is a frequent visitor to Baghdad as he is running a business here.

I walked back to my home in the evening. It’s a very sad evening for me as it was this evening ten years ago when my mother left us for her eternal abode. We were then staying in Jamshedpur as I was then posted there. I miss you, Maa!

I wish Happy Republic Day to all my fellow Indians. Vande Mataram! Jai Hind!

Festival, Nature, Religion

Makar Sankranti Is Not Uttarayana


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We celebrate January 14th as Makar Sankranti — the day on which the sun begins to rise in the Makara Rashi (Zodiac Capricorn), Sankranti meaning entering. There is a common misconception that Makara Sankranti is the Uttarayana (winter solstice).

From time immemorial, the days on which the sun touches its northernmost and southernmost points are noted. These are called solstices — winter or summer. In Sanskrit, the journey southwards is called Dakshinayana, and the one northward is called Uttarayana, ‘dakshin’ and ‘uttar’ being south and north respectively. The winter solstice falls on December 21st, and hence Uttarayana begins on that day, while the summer solstice falls on June 21st, when Dakshinayana begins.

While the exact day on which the winter or summer solstice occurs remains steady (within one day error), there is a slight change in the way the Earth’s rotation axis is aligned to the sun. Due to axial precession of the earth, the date of Makar Sankranti is shifting away from the actual season. In astronomy, axial precession is a gravity-induced, slow, and continuous change in the orientation of an astronomical body’s rotational axis. In particular, it refers to the gradual shift in the orientation of Earth’s axis of rotation.

Every year equinoxes slide by 50 seconds i.e. approximately 1 day in every 70 years due to precession of equinoxes, causing Makara Sankranti to slide further. As a result if Makar Sankranti is considered as Uttarayana then as it is sliding. Makar Sankranti was on December 31st in ca. 1000 CE. The Makar Sankranti and Uttarayana coincided during the times of Aryabhata, around 1,500 years ago.

Now Makar Sankranti comes on January 14th, however it continues to hold the importance in Hindu rituals. It marks the beginning of auspicious times. On this day, thousands of devotees take a holy dip in river Ganga and other holy streams. Many Hindu devotees take a holy dip at Ganga Sagar, where river Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal. 

 Makar Sankranti is about nature, energy of the sun, harvest of new crop, and progress of mankind. Happy Makar Sankranti!

Reference

Vahia, Mayank,  Why do we celebrate Makar Sankranti on January 14 every year? DNA (March 9, 2014)

Family, Festival, Food, Religion

Annakoot — Mountain of Food


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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 (pronounced as Mutt) 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’s celebrated on October 24. Baba is a regular visitor at 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 gathered in the temple, listened to religious discourse given by the swamiji maharaj and sang kirtans. A communal worship in the form of an Aarti was performed.

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We all sat on the floor of the temple hall with other devotees in rows and enjoyed the 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.

Annakoot at Gaudiya Math

A photo posted by Jagrata Roy Choudhury (@jagrataroychoudhury) on

Art, Celebration, Family, Festival, Religion

Kojagori Lakshmi Puja


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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 — feeling blessed.

Lakshmi Puja

A photo posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

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।

Family, Festival, Religion

Durga Puja 2013


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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 my transfer back to Ranchi from Jamshedpur in 2005, we are 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. Jaya, 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. Jaya 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 Jaya stayed back there for preparation of the cultural programme. I 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 pandal, decorations and pratima besides having our 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.

Protima of Swarn Vihar, Jamshedpur

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.

Mukherji-da during his play

Rain is continuing in the evening. We dared out to see the pratima, pandals of CH Area and Aambagan in Sakchi.

Some boys were dancing to the tune of dhak at Aambagan pandal.

Dancing to the tune of Dhak

A video posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

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.

Pandal hopping~ a favorite Puja pastime

A photo posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

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, Babai & I 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 dancing in merry on the stage at the conclusion of the 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.

Subarnarekha was overflowing after heavy rain

A photo posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

In the morning of Vijaya Dashami, Babai and others danced to the tune of Dhak on the stage.

Judhajit dancing to the tune of Dhak

A video posted by Indrajit Roy Choudhury (@iroychoudhury) on

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

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.

Festival, Religion

First FDI in Durga Puja!


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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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!