There’s a reason why we hail spring, why it’s so widely celebrated, odes written about its youthful exuberance. Spring is the season of hope, it’s all about celebrating rebirth or rejuvenation. Spring celebrates life. The fresh green leaves shooting out of branch browned by harsh winter, the colourful flowers blooming all over, the singing birds – the world seems to have awakened from the winter hibernation. Song of Spring is a colourful melody expressed so beautifully by none other than John Keats:
And O and O,/ The daisies blow, / And the primroses are wakened;/ And the violets white/ Sit in silver light,/ And in the green buds are long in the spike end.
No wonder then Spring is blithely followed by lovingly playful Cupid. First, comes visiting Saint Valentine from the far West and we Indians paint the town red and pink to welcome him. Though many may not know who Saint Valentine is, Valentine’s Day has become the most important day on desi lovers’ calendar. It’s all about red roses and pink hearts or rather pink heart-shaped pastries and chocolates and trinkets and gifts followed by expensive dinners. Those already in love take a lot of pain to make their cherished one feel special. Those yearning for love, hope to find that special someone on Valentine’s day. While the florists and the bakers make hay, we are or imagine ourselves to be Cupid struck! Naysayers may cynically nod their head, but I feel great about dedicating a day to love. After all, love does make the world go around!
Then comes our very own Holi that encapsulates the fun and frolic of Lord Krishna with his beloved Radha and his favourite Gopis. Though Holi also signifies the victory of good over evil, the triumph of Prahlada over the evil king Hiranyakashipu, it is the image of fair Radha playing with colours of love and passion with her dark mischievous lover Krishna in Braj Bhoomi (Vrindavan) that captures the popular imagination. Holi celebrates the many colours of love, the divine love of Radha Krishna – love of Krishna for his married distant relative Radha that is considered to be the epitome of love and adoration. Ironically, our society that frowns upon love that doesn’t fit into its narrow norm of caste, creed and morality, celebrates and embraces the divine love of Radha Krishna.
Even today, Holi in Vrindavan reflects the amorous love of Radha Krishna. It could be the Raslila’s being performed in every corner, the songs celebrating the Divine Love or gulal in so many colours, Vrindavan’s Holi does create an aura of mischievous, defiant love. Red, yellow, pink, purple and green gulal floating in the air create their magic. For Holi is all about celebrating love, the many colours of love and the many hues of life, shades that often leave us confounded. We so often witness during Holi red, yellow, green and purple coming together to create a hue that flouts all definition. Holi, the Spring festival, the festival of colours celebrates these varied defiant shades of love and life!
Food does so much more than just satiating our hunger. From a basic need that nurtures life, what we eat and how we eat has become an integral part of our culture and tradition. As civilizations evolved, and looking for food was no longer an everyday struggle, meals, at least on occasions, transformed into an art reflecting the very essence of a community and a region. Every cuisine is blended with history, values that our forefathers held dear and our own memories. Bohra Thaal or Bohri Thaal that offers an aromatic journey through Arab, Yemen and Africa blended with the spices from India, especially Gujarat, is a case in point. A part of Shiitism of Islam called Dawoodi, Bohras or Bohris in India are an affluent community residing mostly in Gujarat and Mumbai. The community is said to have arrived at the port of Cambay in Gujarat, from Egypt via Yemen. Their cuisine, and way it’s presented, canvases their diverse cultural heritage.
Firm believer in the maxim, “The family that eats together, stays together” Bohras eat out of a thaal – one big platter with several dishes spread out that typically accommodates 8 people. “At one time the whole family would share a meal from one thaal, now it’s only during weddings and special occasions,” says my colleague and friend Dinaz who hails from the community.
Thaal is put on a tarakti (an elevated stand) placed on a square piece of cloth called a safra, laid out on the floor. Thaal should not be left unattended, so during a community meal, food is not served till all eight diners are seated. The portions served are just right for eight. Each dish is placed in the centre of the thaal and every member pulls his or her share. “During weddings we sometimes share a thaal with a complete stranger,” says Dinaz.
“For us it’s very important to have our heads covered and hands washed both before and after the meal. During any festivities or when guests are invited home, once everyone is seated, the host goes around with a chelamchi lota (basin and jug) and washes the guests’ hands,” adds Dinaz.
While researching about this unique style of sharing meals I came across an interesting blog post by Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom. Hailing thaal as the nucleus of Bohra community the post states that this style of eating traces back to the very origin of Islam, exemplifying human equality. The round shape of the thaal is significant as each person who sits around it, is equidistant from the food that is placed in the centre, that would be difficult to achieve in rectangular or square shape dining table.
Thaal is much more than a meal for the Dawoodi Bohra community. Dawoodi Bohras are believed to be an ethnic blend of Arabic, Persian, Yemeni, Egyptian, African Pakistani and Indian cultures and the cultural diversity is reflected in their exotic cuisines and flavours. “Our food will take you through the streets of Sana’a and Aden and give you an aroma of the Yemeni countryside. It will give you a glimpse of the indigenous rainbow cuisine that colours the streets of Africa, it will walk you through the fragrant Arabic, Persian and Egyptian suqs and snare your palette and back home it will capture the rich spices and tadkas that linger in every corner of India and Pakistan,” states the blog.
There’s something unique about the way Bohra’s serve the food. The meal begins with salt – a taste cleanser that activates all taste buds. “Salt is usually served by the youngest member of group,” says Dinaz. “Interestingly the first course that is served is a dessert, that we call mithaas.” Bohras consider it auspicious to begin their meal with a sweet dish. As they love ice cream it is served first, unless it’s celebration time, when the sodannu (cooked rice with ghee and sugar) comes first. Mithaas is followed by meat preparation called khaaraas or savoury dish.
In Bohra weddings, several courses of kharaas and mithaas are served alternately. On an ordinary day however, one round of starters and two desserts is the norm before the main course, or jaman is served. Jaman can include a meat dish, which is eaten with chapattis or parathas, and a rice dish that could be anything from a biriyani to kaari chaawal to dal chaawal palidu (lentil rice with curry). The usual accompaniment of a raita or soup could also be served with the rice. The jaman ends with another round of dessert. Dry fruits and paan (betel leaves) are a must. Salt is served again at the end of the meal to cleanse their tongues. Bohras believe salt can cure 72 diseases. “The last salt is served by the oldest member of the group,” says Dinaz.
Some signature mithaas are the malida, kharak halwa, thooli to name a few. While khaaraas comprises meat preparations which are fried or roasted rice dishes and more. A good thaal offers a combination of meat and rice.
Popularly served rice dishes are Bohra khichidi, kheema khichidi, Bohra biriyani, and of course dal chawal palidu, that draws on the Bohra’s exposure to Gujarati cuisine. Mughlai dishes like kebabs are also served at Dawoodi Bohra feast.
Bohra khichda, another authentic dish, is a fusion of flavours from the Hyderabad-i halem in which the broken wheat is cooked with meat and lentils.
Pehli Raat Thaal (New Years’ Eve Feast), served on the first day of Muharram, comes with 28 to 52 dishes. Bohra’s believe this distinctive tradition will ensure abundance in the following year.
Mumbai, home to many Bohras, has restaurants and food joints that have been developed around that concept of Thaal. The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) is the most famous one I am told. I plan to check out the place when I am in Mumbai next.
It’s Christmas time! There’s a Christmas tree everywhere – in malls, offices, even in our living rooms. December chill is succumbing to the fervor of festivities, parties are being planned, excitement around Santa or secret Santa – there’s something magical about Christmas!
And Christmas is not complete without cakes. When I was girl in Agartala, we would pick Christmas cakes from local bakeries, Laxmi Bakery and Sudipto Bakery, the leading bakeries then. The Christmas cakes were pretty basic, with some candied fruits and peanuts and a(supposedly) red cherry on top. The so-called cherry was Karamcha or Bengal Current sweetened in sugar syrup. I would go for that cherry (to my mom’s great displeasure) moment the cake was unwrapped. Both the bakeries are still thriving and have introduced many innovations in their cakes & pastries since.
Once I started baking, I would bake rich fruit cakes for Christmas. But this year I decided to bake a proper boozy Christmas cake. As I don’t like rum, I decided to replace it with brandy. The liquor shop guy suggested that I use Morpheus. As the name sounded grand and bottle looked fancy, I decided to go for it. It tasted quite good with hot water, honey and few drops of lemon juice (I had to sample it first before using it in the cake 😊).
Next step dry fruits. I ordered raisins, broken cashews, walnuts and cherries online. I had some fruit candies (tuty fruity) lying at home. I chopped the cherries, crushed the walnuts and cashews, put raisins, tuty fruity and all the other dried fruits in a flat bowl and soaked them in brandy, just enough to lightly soak the fruit. I also added a heaped spoon full of apricot jam to the mixture. When I opened the lid of the bowl next morning, I found the dizzy fruits nicely soaked in brandy. I added a little more brandy to the fruits that evening and let it rest. The dry fruits should be left in liquor ideally for a week, I could manage only five days. Each evening I would check the fruits eagerly as they were swelling up in warm brandy happiness.
Though I came across many recipes, where they just simmer the dry fruits with booze, butter and sugar, pre-soaking the fruits for 5 to 7 days or more gives a better flavor.
On D day, Sunday the 22nd I embarked upon the task of baking Christmas cakes. I was little nervous, but the end result was quite satisfying. Here’s how I baked my Christmas cake…
Chop all the dry fruits and soak them in brandy or rum. Mix a heaped spoon apricot jam to it. Leave it for a week or more. Add some more after a few days as the fruits will soak up the booze.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/150°C/130°C Fan/300°F). Line the sides and bottom of a deep round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper (parchment paper) or foil paper. The greaseproof should be higher than the sides of the tin. It will keep the cake from becoming too dark around the sides and top. You can use deep cake moulds as well
Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and the spices. Sift the mixture
In a saucepan add softened butter and sugar (You may want to melt the butter & sugar and allow it to cool as it’s difficult to soften butter in winter). In a separate bowl beat 3 eggs. Now, add the beaten eggs to butter & sugar and beat till fluffy. Fold in soaked dry fruits and flour. Add lemon juice and honey.
Pour the fruit cake mixture very carefully into the prepared cake tin or cake moulds.
Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour 10 mins, by which time the top of the cake should be firm and dry and will have cracked a little. If you insert a cake tester into the middle of the cake it will still come out a little sticky.
Put the cake on a cooling rack Unmould it from the tin and wrap the cake well in a layer of greaseproof paper and then foil
You can store the cake for a couple of months well wrapped and in a cool dark place. If you want more boozy flavour you can feed the cake with 3 tablespoons more brandy/rum as soon as it gets out of the oven. Just pierce the top of the cake several times with a fine skewer, spoon over the rum and let it sink in.
The cake was quite a hit and there was complete Christmas spirit in the office. Abhishek baked red velvet muffins whole Manaswi surprised us with chocolate muffins.
Delhi and most of North India is still hung over from the Diwali revelries. The end of four-day partying, drinking and other festivities does leave a vacuum, on top of it the trauma of returning to work. The depressing fog caused by post Diwali pollution and crop burning doesn’t make things any easier.
Diwali or Deepavali or the Festival of Light is the most important festival in India, celebrated across the country with much pomp and show. According to Hindu mythology, Diwali is celebrated to commemorate the homecoming of Lord Rama after vanquishing Ravana. To celebrate the victory of Rama over Ravana and welcome their king back home along with Lakshmana and Sita, people of Ayodhya lit up the city with earthen lamps, diyas.
As per another popular belief, Lord
Krishna killed the Demon Narakasura, the evil king of Pragjyotishapura, near
present-day Assam and released 16000 girls captivated by Narakasura. In Karnataka
Diwali is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdasi, triumph of good over evil, observing
Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura. Interestingly, both Rama and Krishna
are incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Across north India, Goddess Lakshmi
and Lord Ganesha are worshipped on the night of Diwali. Houses are cleaned and
lit up. Though artificial lights are more popular nowadays, people still light diyas.
New clothes, feasts, card parties, rangoli, flower decoration, crackers are
important part of Diwali celebrations. However, there are lot of variations
even here. For Marwaris it’s not just Lakshmi and Ganesha, they worship gold
and silver coins on the night of Diwali. “Every Dhanteras we buy coins and add
to our existing collection that are kept in the puja room or asana along
with the deities. We worship Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha, and these coins
on Diwali night,” says my Marwari friend Poonam. Largely a trader community,
Marwari’s observe Bahi Khata Visarjan on Diwali (closing the old ledger
and opening a new one). Thus, Diwali marks the beginning of a new financial
year for this community. Marwaris also light up diyas with different
oils on each day. “On Dhanteras we light up diyas with ghee, on Choti
Diwali sarso ke tel ke diya and on the day of Diwali we light up diyas
with teel tel.” says Poonam.
For us Bengalis, Diwali is about Kali
Pujo. We worship the fearsome incarnation of Durga on the dark Diwali night. We
do follow the tradition of decorating the house with diyas and lighting
crackers. After moving to Delhi, I started buying clay idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh
and decorating the house with flowers on Diwali. Assimilating whatever appeals
to us, brings about a feeling of positivity, that’s the beauty of our traditions!
In Rajasthan, Diwali is a five day
affair that starts with Dhanteras and ends with Bhai Dooj. Diwali in the cities
of Rajasthan is an unforgettable experience. I was in Jaisalmer this Diwali,
the golden city lit up with diyas was a sight to see. Diwali in Jaipur is
a grand affair.
The appeal of Diwali goes beyond
religion. It’s a festival which has different cultural connotations, yet the
spirit of festivity and optimism is something that is celebrated across the
country, amongst different communities, a festival that is eagerly awaited each
Goddess Lakshmi, is she the milder manifestation of Durga or
is she her daughter? There are various interpretations in Hinduism. Durga –
also knowns as Parvati or Kali (in more awe-inspiring form) and, Lakshmi &
Saraswathi are considered to be Tridevi in Shaktism. They are the consorts of
the Trimurti – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and
Saraswathi the goddess of learning, are the milder manifestations of Adi
Parashakti, Devi. We Bengali’s however consider Lakshmi and Saraswathi to
be daughters of Durga. Daughters are manifestations of their mothers anyway, so
I don’t see a problem with either interpretation.
In Bengal and other eastern states Lakshmi or Kojagari
Lokkhi is worshiped on the full moon night that falls after Dashami or
Dussehra. On Diwali, when Lakshmi and Ganesha are worshipped in North India, we
worship the formidable Kali on Amavasya – the night of the new moon. Since this
is the month of the Goddesses, Shakti or women power, I decided to pen a post
on the apparently mild and quiet Goddess Lakshmi or Ma Lokkhi.
She is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, hence she is
worshipped and sought after by all. Traditions may be different, rituals may
vary, but Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped by Hindus, Buddhist and Jains across
India. And don’t go by her benign smile and her quiet grace, she is one of the
most whimsical goddesses’. Known as chanchala she doesn’t reside is one
place for long. She needs to be constantly sought after, worshipped. She maybe
seen sitting quietly at the feet of her consort Vishnu but don’t mistake her
for an obedient wife. While Vishnu is all for Dharma, Lakshmi will grant her
blessings on whoever she pleases. She doesn’t care if her devotee is an asura
or a sinner. We all know that the demon king Ravana lived in a majestic palace
made of solid gold.
In Bengal, this whimsical Goddess is worshipped on the night
of Sharad Purnima or Kojagari Purnima. Ma Lokkhi is worshipped in pandals that
lie lonely after the departure of Ma Durga and in most Bengali households. Her
presence brings back the festive cheer, fills the vacuum that we feel once the four-day
Durgotsav comes to an end. Ma Lokkhi, we worship has two hands. Dressed in red,
with a benevolent smile she comes riding an owl, holding a gachkouto (red
coloured pot filled with sindoorand a silver coin) in one hand and
blessing us with the other. The golden goddess is known for her beauty, her
aura lights up the world.
Lokkhi Pujo was an important part of my growing up years. I
remember going to the market with my uncle and cousins to pick up the most
beautiful idol of the goddess. The house would be cleaned, we would put rangoli
or alpana with rice powder paste all over the house. Feet of Ma Lokkhi
would be drawn at each doorstep to ensure that the Goddess visits the
household. The elaborate bhog would consist of nariyal naru, chirer
moya, fruits, sweets, lucchi, khichdi, labra, chutney and kheer, and
of course pan supuri (beetle leaves & nuts). Mom would decorate the
vedi with flowers, a kalash with nariyal and amra pallab (nascent
mango leaves) would be placed before the Goddess. The room would be decorated
with alpana and flowers.
Mom and other aunts would wear fresh clothes, usually a red
sari, comb their hair, put on sindoor, bindi and alta (red dye applied
on the feet). Ma Lokkhi likes cleanliness, she likes well-dressed people, she
likes peace and quiet. Fearing that the goddess may flee at the sight of
anything untidy the whole house would be cleaned and decked up. As a little
girl I would excitedly watch the preparations of the pujo, helping with the
decorations and alpana. I would beg mom to put some alta on my feet and
she would eventually oblige. Ladies of the house would observe fast on the day
of the pujo that would be broken with Chipitak Bhakhan (coconut water and
chire) after the pujo. Though the bhog laid out for the goddess is
vegetarian, married women are supposed to eat fish after the pujo. According to
Hindu mythology the goddess visits her devotes only very late at night, so we
would wait up for her.
Though I have stayed away from home for a while, not been
part of Lokkhi Pujo in years, I feel the same excitement on the day of the
Pujo. I am not greedy for riches; I pray to Ma Lokkhi to bless me with enough
wealth, wisdom and strength to take care of myself and those around me!
Bijoya Dashami! Time to bid adieu to Goddess Durga, the all-powerful Mother. The day brings back memories of Dadur Barir Durga Pujo (Puja at my maternal grand father’s ancestral home). Ladies would gather before the Durga idol since morning, feeding her sweets, wiping her tears with pan (beetle leaves), trying to catch a glimpse of her feet in the water. This would be followed by Shidhur Khela – married women smearing each other with red sindoor. Once the rituals of Dhashami Pujo was complete the male members would get the Ek Chalar Durga Pratima out of the huge puja ghar. Every year the puja ghar would be decorated and a vedi would be made for Ma Durga and her children. Getting the idol down from the vedi and out of the puja ghar took a lot of maneuvering.
would be then placed in the huge courtyard. Sound of dhak, kashor, ghanta,
conch, smell of dhoop would fill the atmosphere. The whole extended
family danced around Durga, teary eyed – ‘Aami daaki ma ma, mai toh kane
shone na’ (I keep calling out to Mother, but she has turned a deaf ear to
to let go. The idol of the Goddess would be immersed in the pond that lay at
the backside of the courtyard. Ma Durga along with her entourage being lifted
deftly and carried to the pond, following the procession eagerly with a heavy
heart, scampering for her jewelry and her weapons as the Goddess was immersed
in the water, crying out loud as the Mother Goddess let herself be devoured by
the water body…
Those were the
pre-mobile camera days. Unfortunately, I have no photographs to share but the
images are firmly etched in my memory…
Bijoya Dhashami, may Devi grant us wisdom and peace of mind!
The golden sunlight, the clear blue sky, the white cottony clouds
The gentle cool breeze, the sweet smell of shiuli, or just the memory of that smell whiffing through the air
Ears straining for the sound of dhak, the excitement of dhunochi dance
Absurd heart yearning to soak up in the spirit of Durga Pujo and the festivities
To while away the mornings, the afternoons and the evenings idly busy in the pandal
To feel purposeful, yet do nothing
To feel the nearness of the soft glow of the divine power
The positivity, the optimism and the cheer
Dressing up in best saris, suits and jewelry
Showing ourselves off in the radiance of the divine glow
Sampling the choicest delicacy
Hopping from pandal to pandal as if nothing else mattered on those four days of Matri Pujo
The carefree Pujo days while we were growing up
Memories come flooding back with the gentle breeze, the soft dew, the all forgiving smile and the golden aura of Devi
“Devi arrived on ghatak (horse) this year, that’s bad omen,” exclaims my mother
The all-powerful Mother Goddess can only be the harbinger of hope, of all the good that awaits us, protests my absurd heart!!
Goddess Durga is getting ready for her annual earthly visit to grace the Sharod Utsav or Durga Puja that is celebrated with much gusto in West Bengal, Tripura, Orissa, in C R Park in Delhi, and in smaller scales across India. According to mythology, Durga was first worshipped in spring (Basanti Puja) by King Surath. Advised by Sage Medha, the exiled King Surath invoked the Goddess to win back his lost kingdom. Though Basanti Puja is still celebrated, Sharod Utsav has assumed far grander proportions. Goddess Durga was first worshipped in autumn by Lord Rama who sought her blessings to defeat the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama’s ‘Akalbodhan’ (untimely awakening of the Goddess) is what has captured the popular imagination. Durga Puja or Sharod Utsav is the biggest festival in Bengal and the East.
This year, however, the Goddess seems to have lost her usual enthusiasm for her annual earthly sojourn. As she packs her bags with her best saris and jewellery listlessly her husband Lord Shiva enters the bedroom.
Shiva: Is everything all right with you
Devi? You are usually so excited about these annual trips?
Durga: My Lord I do enjoy my earthly sojourns, but of late I have started feeling its more pomp and show and the real spirit is missing. So much money is spent on huge pandals built on innovative themes, elaborate light work, decorations and loud music. But not enough attention is paid to the pujo, following the rituals and the traditions. I miss those simple ek chalar pujo (the idols of Durga and her children in one simple frame). People would make idols with clay and natural colours and adorn with shola (milky-white sponge-wood). I yearn for the beats of dhak and kashor, the deep blow of the conch. This loud music played on the music system is deafening. I can’t even smell shiuli phul (night flowering jasmine) in most places.
Earlier, before my arrival, the ground used to be strewn with shiuli phul. I hardly see those plants anymore. My pujo was mostly performed in households and women of those houses would get up very early to make all the preparations and to cook an elaborate bhog. There would be lotus, shiuli and so many other flowers. Dhakis would compete with each other, everyone would participate in dhunochi dance in those simply decorated pandals. The whole community would get together for my pujo.
Now women have
no time to get into all these. They just get dressed and come to the pandal.
Everything else is outsourced. People are more interested in eating rolls,
chops and biriyani than bhog.
sighed and sat on her bed.
Shiva: My dear I agree a lot has changed. Not many people have the time to perform elaborate pujo or even offer Anjali to you. They are too busy with their day-to-day lives, their jobs. Life is more complicated now than it used to be a few decades ago. But no matter what, your pujo infuses a spirit of festivity and celebration. Regardless of how busy these people are, they take time to visit you in new clothes, forget their worries and look forward to the future with optimism and hope.
And if you look closely you will observe a lot of positive changes, especially in women. Most women today are well educated, have a good job. They are conquering outer space, running companies, performing lifesaving surgeries. They are the very manifestation of your shakti. They may not have time to perform all the rituals of the pujo but they worship you with their spirits. Be it a pandal in Kolkata or Agartala or Gurgaon, women still gather to dance to the tune of dhak or perform dhunochi dance in a traditional manner.
of Kumartuli and light artisans of Chandannagar wait eagerly for your arrival every
year. Their bread and butter depend on you. With so much buying, selling and
festivities you infuse positivity, you symbolize hope.
Durga: What you are saying is true. Not that I mind all the glitz and the glamour that is associated with pujo now. But with so much technology I sometimes miss the real connection. Even after coming to my Pandal people are glued to their phones. They are more interested in taking their selfies and videos with me and posting them on Facebook or Instagram. They are so governed by social media likes.
Look at our
children, these trips to the earth have got them addicted to social media.
Ganesha is forever showing off his wisdom on Twitter and Karthik can’t stop
posting pictures on Instagram. I am told he’s trying Tik Tok now, our Karthik
wants to be a Tik Tok celebrity. Lakshmi is hooked to online shopping and
Saraswathi is doling out knowledge capsules on Facebook. They are preoccupied
with their phones and ipads; they don’t even have time to talk to me anymore.
Shiva: My dear social media is a form of
communication now; it is a good way to connect with the youth. But I do agree
this generations’ focus on social media is excessive and they need to strike a
balance. Maybe our children, through their posts, is trying to help them
achieve this balance.
Durga: Also look at all the artificial,
colours, chemicals and POPs used for my idols. Look at the pollution they are
causing. My heart bleeds to see what’s happening to Ganga, Yamuna and the other
water bodies. They are choking, they are dying.
Shiva: On that, I entirely agree with you. But I am also hopeful they will change their ways before it’s too late. They have already started talking about environment-friendly idols and natural colours.
Durga: They better change soon, or they
will witness your thandav, maha pralay.
Shiva: Go give them the strength and the wisdom to change for the better.
Durga: Yes dear, you are right. Mankind
has indeed achieved a lot. Instead of focusing on their mistakes might as well
inspire them to build a better future.
up and starts packing eagerly. Mahadev smiles, bows at her and leaves the room.
Ganesha outwits Karthik – shared by Puja
delivers a mango from Lord Brahma to Lord Shiva for his son – it’s no ordinary
mango, one who eats it would gain knowledge and wisdom. Lord Shiva is faced
with a dilemma as both his sons want the mango. To solve this Shiva, after
consulting Durga, decides to hold a competition between his two sons – whoever
finishes circling the world thrice first will win the mango. Go getting Karthik
immediately sets out on his peacock. Plump Ganesha on his rat stands no chance.
Ganesha requests his parents to sit together and circles them thrice with
folded hands and then demands the mango. “My parents’ are my world,” says
Ganesha. Touched, Shiva hands him the mango.
Durga Puja marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting buffalo asura, Mahishasura, epitomising the victory of good over evil. As per Bengali traditions, Durga visits her natal home with her children – daughters Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth, prosperity) and Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music) and Ganesha (the god of wisdom and good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war).
In Shaktism, Durga or Parvati, Lakshmi and
Saraswati are the manifestations of goddess Yogmaya also known as Adi
Parashakti. Durga represents the transformational power of divinity, the power
that dissolves the multiplicity of the Hindu gods into their unity. She is the
direct incarnation of Adi Parashakti.
According to Vishnu Purana, Lakshmi is the
daughter of Sage Bhrigu and Khyaati and consort of Lord Vishnu. In Rigveda,
Saraswati a river also personifies the Goddess, she is the consort of Lord
Bhrahma. Goddess Durga is Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Saraswati in her mild form
– the Tridevi.
Joy Mitra, a leading designer and a dear friend, weaves magic with his anarkalis, lehangas, kurtas, dupattas and Indo-western wear. Most of all I love the saris that he designs. He takes the traditional Indian weaves like ajrakh, kalamkari or handprinted cotton and silk and turns them into masterpieces. Being a sari lover myself I decided to talk sari with Joy
you think about saris? Why do your work with saris?
When I say
sari, I mean drapes – the basic attire of the subcontinent that probably evolved
5000 years ago. We all know that very state has its own drape, its own way of
wearing sari. The modern way of draping sari evolved 100 years ago, made popular
by the women of the Tagore family. It’s a beautiful attire that complements the
Indian body type.
over the years we have seen a dip in the popularity of sari. There was a time
when Indian women flaunted sari. Even girls of senior schools and colleges
would wear sari, were encouraged to wear sari. This changed 80s onwards with
sari becoming just another outfit. And now I hardly see modern city women wearing
sari, it has been reduced to a costume for special occasions. There are various
reasons for this change. Modern city life doesn’t encourage sari. Many women
don’t know how to drape a sari anymore, western outfits are much easier to
wear. Therefore, it is important to first understand a sari, own a sari, fall
in love with it. Give sari a chance and you will see how much it can change
you, add to you.
But coming back to saris, they will always be there. The number of people wearing sari may vary, the number of sari lovers may rise or fall, but sari will never die.
seen 100-day sari challenge bringing back some excitement around draping a sari
always excitement around any movement, be it bringing back the handloom, or
planting more trees or saying no to plastic. We create excitement around things
or issues that we as a society want to push, to make them for relevant for the
time. Of course, there is a group of people who love sari, swear by sari and
want to wear a sari. They want to bring back excitement around saris, not only
because it’s a beautiful outfit but also to encourage our weavers. Our banarasi,
kanjivaram, ikat and tangail weavers. That is also our job as a society.
When you started, and I have seen you right from your first show, you used to make those beautiful cotton saris in ajrakh and kalamkari. I absolutely loved then, but then you stopped. So, it’s good to see you bring them back again. Can you tell me about your kind of saris, what makes them different?
I like working with traditional saris, I have a very earthy taste. I love these rustic Indian colours, natural dyes, Indian prints, block prints, kalamkaris and ajrakhs, these have always been my first love. Of course, I am also in the trade, in the business of selling garments so I keep changing and evolving and coming back. It’s a cycle. It’s not that I stopped, it’s just that I was not doing that many ajrakhs and kalamkaris for a while. I am back to ajrakhs, kalamkaris, sanganeri and bagh prints again because I genuinely love them.
a taker, especially in a place like Delhi where we see more georgettes and
That can be a challenge. I invest a lot of money in some cotton saris, I find them so beautiful. But most of my clients would say ‘that but that’s a cotton, why will I wear a cotton sari for a wedding or a festival?’ And the funny part is if I don’t tell them and a show a picture after I have done a shoot, they immediately want that sari. This psychology that cotton can’t be expensive, cotton can’t be worn to weddings annoys me. I work with chanderis, silks and georgettes as well. Each has its own appeal. But as a designer, I am more inclined towards silks and cottons.
different about the kind of work that you do with your saris, and the kind of
blouses you team up your saris with?
I need to
do something different, something that inspires me. However, I should be able
to sell my pieces as well, it’s a process. For me it’s not about being
different, it’s about making something truly beautiful, that’s all that
I am often asked ‘Is this in?’, ‘Is that out?’ ‘Should I buy that?’, again these questions upset me. For me, a garment is either beautiful or not. If I like something, I will like it even after 10 years unless my taste has changed completely. What is beautiful is always beautiful. You don’t go to Taj Mahal and say ‘Oh, Taj Mahal was so beautiful 10 years back now I have outgrown it.’ It will always remain beautiful. Especially the Indian weaves and textiles, they are timeless.
Another worry, a lot of these prints are replicated by digital printing, which of course is faster and cheaper, and more people can wear them. But the essence is dying. The whole process to make ajrakh sari takes 40 to 60 days – so many kinds of layering and dying. Digital machine replicates it in a day and that hurts me. That’s the reason why so many of these weavers are leaving their jobs, looking for other work. I feel it is our responsibility to promote these traditional textiles and prints. Sustainable fashion it’s not just about promoting cotton or certain fabrics or a craft. It’s more challenging, it’s about sustaining the society, this whole ecosystem of weavers and dyers, all of us have to work towards it.
has a very strong tradition of saris from tant to baluchari. But you don’t work
with those saris?
I do, I work with these saris from time to time. Maybe if you come next month you will see many tangails and balucharis. I love these saris.
people feel balucharis are not in vogue, and I feel sad about it. Any
particular reason for that?
see the real balucharis anymore. The whole palla and border of a real baluchari
would tell a story from Ramayana, Mahabharata or Panchatantra. It was not a
repeat border, the whole sari had different patterns depicting a story. Thus,
weaving a baluchari took a long time and making it a very expensive affair.
looks almost like a banarasi, just that banarasi uses more zari while baluchari
is more resham. Both these saris come from the Indo Gangetic plane. Banarasi is
woven near Banaras, then comes the famous bhagalpuri silks and cottons from
Bhagalpur. Further down in Bishnupur where balucharis are woven and then you
have the dhakais and jamdanis of Bangladesh. The whole belt is rich with
variety of weaves and textiles that vary with changing atmosphere and culture.
were too expensive and the dazzle of benarasi was much more making them a popular
choice. Baluchari was made popular by the rulers of Bengal, but this beautiful
sari somehow got lost and is still dwindling. Also, baluchari appeals to a
certain taste and that’s another problem, you have to understand a Baluchari.
It’s like a paithani, a very expensive and a beautiful weave that not everybody
would like to own. Or a real kanjivaram with gold work. Sadly, there are not
many takers for these saris. People are going for digital, from pure to
artificial, so these real saris and the real crafts are dying
remember our mothers had 4 to 5 expensive saris that they would wear for all
occasions. Now you need a different outfit for every function.
That culture has died, and that’s not just for sari, that’s for all outfits. Our life is like Facebook, we constantly need to put something new. We can’t tell the world we have the same sari. We are fishing for something new to post every day. And that’s why we opt for those easy, faster and cheaper variants. It’s like a fast-food culture, it’s a fast-food lifestyle
still have sari lovers
There will always
be, though the number may have reduced over the years. Maybe lesser women are
wearing saris now due to financial or cultural reasons, or just practicality. But
sari will never die
who inspired you to do sari, or you love to see in sari.
I am from Bengal; I have seen my grandmothers and mother wear the best of saris and that’s how I developed a taste for sari. The range and the variety of saris that we have are just fabulous. Even today when a client comes to me with an old traditional sari and asks me to highlight it or do some work on it, I shy away. They are so beautiful. I ask them to keep them as they are and pass them to the next generation. I want more people to love sari.
with your saris will revive that love
I hope I do more saris, all kinds of saris not just handloom. Every sari looks different on different body types. I want people to experiment more with sari and drapes. It could be a cotton sari, silk or georgette, start wearing saris, start developing a taste for this beautiful drape
drape is beautiful. And of course, being a bong, I like the Bengali way of
wearing a sari. I have used this drape in many of my shows. I find it very
beautiful and elegant, effortlessly sexy.
Joy, I hope more women start wearing saris after reading this interview.
While catching up with my friend over Saturday lunch I found her little daughter busy at work. “What are you doing?”, I asked nine-year-old Prapti busy cutting coloured papers in shape of flowers. “I am making rakhi for bhaiya and dadu,” she replied excitedly with a twinkle in her eyes. My friend smiled, “She loves making things, so I thought I would encourage her to make rakhis.” With the help of her mom, Prapti made beautiful rakhis. “This is for dadu and this one for bhaiya,” she said smiling happily. “And Mamma you and Papa have to come to my school on 14th,” she added in the same breath. Independence Day celebrations in the school that she was participating, in I was told.
While catching up with my friend over Saturday lunch
It was my turn to be quizzed then, “Do you know who designed our national flag? What does colour green in our flag stand for?” Of course, I didn’t know. I tried to look at my phone stealthily to google the answers. “No, no you can’t google. Papa did that too and that’s cheating,” came the sweet retort. “Ok Prapti, I don’t remember,” I admitted. “Our national flag was designed by Pingali Venkayya, and green stands for growth, saffron symbolizes strength and white peace,” said Prapti with a proud smile. Immediately after the quiz session she turned to her mom and pleaded with all cuteness she could muster, “Mamma can I please put mehandi for rakhi?”.
Looking at Prapti, brimming with excitement for Rakhi and Independence Day, (both on the same day this year so double whammy for her), I tried to remember the days when I was as excited about festivals. Nowadays, festivals mean a few extra hours of precious morning slumber on a weekday., “Mid-week holiday, yay!!”, everything else can follow. On Rakhi I would get up early enough though to cook lunch for my cousins like I do every year. It’s always a fun, relaxed family lunch, something that we look forward to. An occasion to meet in our otherwise busy life and that does make Rakhi special. There would be tying rakhi, exchanging gifts etc. Though it comes nowhere close to the exuberance of Prapti, preparing for Rakhi days ahead, the love and the effort that goes behind each rakhi she makes.
For all my
patriotism and love for my country, I don’t remember when I last attended a
flag hoisting ceremony on Independence Day. I don’t even bother to switch on
the TV now, just happily sleep through it. Yet there was a time when out of
excitement I would hardly get any sleep on the night before Aug 15th. For we
would join our father to his office for the Independence celebrations. My
father would hoist the national flag, give a brief speech to his staff and we
would salute the national flag and stand in attention to sing the national
anthem. What a proud moment that was! After that, we were given snacks and
sweets as refreshments. Those simple snacks tasted so delicious. As I grew up,
moved out of home, I somehow left behind that excitement that comes with
Independence Day or any festival for that matter!
Prapti, dancing around in excitement, reminded me of what I have forgotten, how
much I have left behind!