Tag Archives: celebration

This Diwali, We All Could Use Some Light

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Dressed in an orange salwar kameez, donning a small black bindi, as I sat on the floors of the verandah in my maiden home in Begusarai, finishing the last bits of the rangoli, it suddenly dawned on me that this was my last Diwali here. I was getting married soon, later in the month of November, and I did not know for sure when I would get a chance to celebrate Diwali in my hometown again. Nostalgia struck and I could see a carousel of images flash in front of my eyes—vibrant speckles of light livening the colony and the entire town, little kids spinning in euphoria around the chakri or ghirni, girls twirling their sparkly ghagra cholis, boys playing around in their best ethnic attires and arrays of sweets spreading the aroma of desi ghee in the air. 

As my entire childhood flashed before my eyes, a drop of tear trickled down my cheek and smudged a petal off my floral rangoli. I quickly fixed it and heralded inside to clean up and get ready for the pooja. I decided to enjoy every bit of it, and cherish every moment with my family. We all got dressed, offered our prayers, lit diyas, and burnt a few ceremonious crackers. This was four years ago. 

This year, as we gear up for yet another Diwali abroad, I miss home. I miss the smiling faces of friends and families. I miss the special desi ghee laddu and barfi. I miss the ambiance of the festival in the air. But most of all, I miss the quintessential Indianness of coming together as a community.

India’s unmatched sense of community

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month of Kartika. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. 

One of the best things about growing up in a small Indian town is that you get to experience the sense of community at an altogether different level. For major festivals like Diwali, the entire town decks up and the air fills with ubiquitous love. Every shop, big or small, is decorated, every house, the poor’s or the rich’s, is lit with lamps, and people all over the town visit each other to exchange sweets and gifts.

One of the aspects that makes suburban and rural India unique and special, is the unmatched sense of community. Sadly, in big Indian cities, the essence of the community is slowly diminishing. Having grown up in a small town for 18 years of my life and then having spent a decade in the national capital, I can say this based on my personal experiences and observations. In the blind race to embrace everything modern (read western), we are becoming more and more closed. We have started living behind shut doors. We question all existing traditions and mock centuries-old rituals in the name of modernity. However, this notion cannot be generalized. 

Fortunately, there are still thousands of people who are keeping these traditions alive even while living away from their motherland. I know a lot of Indians, both friends, and families, based outside India in countries like Singapore, the UK, and the US who are actually more traditional than a lot of Indian friends living in cities like Delhi and Bangalore. Only last month, here in Singapore, I was invited to a friend’s place for Navratri celebrations where we offered prayers to Goddess Durga and enjoyed homemade traditional prasad.

On a personal level, I too try my best to celebrate festivals like Holi, Teej, Diwali, and Dussehra with my friends here in Singapore. We visit the temple together, cook traditional dishes, exchange gifts, and bask in the glory of our rich Indian culture. On that note, let me share how I celebrate Diwali in Singapore.

How I celebrate Diwali away from India…

Surabhi lighting a diya for Diwali.

Singapore is a multicultural country with a considerable Indian population. The mecca for Indians like myself looking for specific Indian supplies is Little India. So, naturally, all my festival preparations involve one or two trips to the markets to Little India where I get everything I need- from desi ghee laddu and pooja samagri to diyas and colorful earthen lamps. Besides, whenever I visit India, I make it a point to get sarees for myself and new clothes for my husband, keeping the upcoming festivals in mind.

As the festival approaches, I follow the drill that I grew up watching in my mom’s house. From thorough cleaning of the entire house to replacing old sheets and mats and buying new clothes and garlands for the divine images in my home temple.

Following a generations-old family tradition, one night before Diwali, I light the Jam ka Diya. This mitti ka diya is traditionally lit to keep the evil away and invite prosperity and happiness into the house. Lit at midnight, this diya is kept outside the main entrance of the house on a base of five essential grains or anaaj.

A day before Diwali, we celebrate Dhanteras, also known as Dhanatrayodashi. This day is dedicated to Lord Dhanvantari, Kubera, Yama, and Devi Lakshmi. There are several folk tales associated with this festival. 

One of the most popular ones is that of King Hima and how his wife laid all her gold and silver ornaments at the threshold of her husband’s sleeping chamber and lit an oil lamp in the evening upon hearing about the prediction of his death. The story entails that when Yama– the Lord of death arrived disguised as a serpent to kill King Hima, his eyes were blinded by the shining jewelry and the brilliance of the lamps. Yama returned without taking the life of King Hima. Another story goes that Dhanvantari-— the Lord of Medicine was born on this day following Samudra Manthan, a cosmic battle between Gods and Demons over Amrit or the holy nectar of immortality. 

I get really excited about this pre-festival celebration as we go out and buy gold or silver coins as a sign of prosperity to mark this day.  

On the night of Diwali, we deck our house with floral decorations, lamps, lights, and diyas, cook special dishes and offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha. I generally get my desi ghee laddu from Kailasa Parbat in Little India and try to make some sweets at home as well. We meet with some of our local friends and exchange gifts. I love dressing up in a saree and taking pictures for the families back at home.

Another key aspect of celebrating Diwali, or for that matter any festival abroad, is video calling everyone back at home and exchanging greetings and good wishes.

The next day, we celebrate baasi Diwali where we clean up the diyas that completely used up the oil and light the diyas that still have oil left in them using the baasi (old or stale) oil. This brings the three-day celebrations to an end and leaves us with lights twinkling in our eyes and smiles on our faces. I feel that as Indians, we are lucky to inherit a rich cultural heritage. Our traditions are thousands of years old and we must take pride in celebrating them no matter where we are. If we look at everything that is happening around the world right now—from natural disasters to health pandemics and increasing crime rates to the unnecessary spread of hatred—I think we all can use some knowledge over ignorance and some light.

May this Diwali enlighten us all with love, compassion, and kindness.

Shubh Deepavali!


Surabhi Pandey is a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

Coming Round The Mountain

“That was the age of inkwells and penholders with nibs that could be replaced. The fountain pen had only recently been invented, and it made quite a mess; biros, or ballpoint pens, were still in the future. What an antiquated lot we were! But then, Dickens wrote all his novels with a quill pen, and so did other great authors, and I was already something of a bookworm, reading Dickens and Stevenson and even Agatha Christie and P G Wodehouse.

There was no television in those days and, of course, no computers, but we could go to the cinema once a month. Everyone read comics—Batman and Superman and Green Lantern—but not many were reading books. We had to borrow one from the library every week, but these books usually went unread. I suppose it’s much the same today.”

It was 1947, and 13-year old Ruskin Bond was studying at a British public school—the Bishop Cotton School, Simla. In the wake of Independence, it’s the year when life was about to change quite dramatically for everyone. 

“It had been a momentous year—a year full of incident, of friendships won and lost, of memorable hockey and football matches, of tunnels and canings, of the coming of Independence, Partition and of the school in turmoil.”

To mark his 85th birthday, Bond launched this third part of his bestselling memoir Coming Round the Mountain. The book chronicles episodes of Bond’s days at boarding school, complete with visits to the tuck shop, pillow fights in dormitories, compulsory early morning PT, sticky lumpy rice, masters in academic gowns, short haircuts, floggings and canings, and grace before meals. 

Previous books in the series include Looking for the Rainbow‘ and Till the Clouds Roll By. The first describes the two years (1941-42) Bond spent with his father when he was nine years old. His father, Flt Lt A A Bond, served in the RAF during World War II. A happy time for Bond, it however ended abruptly with the loss of his father during the war. The incident left quite an impression on him as a young boy (“Do wars solve anything, or do they just lead to more wars?”). The second book elaborates further on the sudden change in Bond’s circumstances, and the effort he had to make to adjust to a new and very different life with his mother and stepfather. His closest friends at the time were a Muslim, a Parsi and a Christian. Each were completely uninterested in each other’s regional backgrounds, and friendship and loyalty were all that mattered to them—as was eating jalebis and figuring out how to beat their rival team, The Lawrence School, Sanawar, in a hockey match.

Against this innocent backdrop, the reader gets to perceive India’s independence from the children’s point of view. In pre-Independence days, writes Bond, there was a lot of uncertainty. Some of their foreign teachers were going back to their countries, and rumours were rife that all English-medium schools would be closing down. In a poignant scene, Bond talks to his friend Azhar who belongs to Peshawar, about the country being cut into two. “People are different, I suppose—unless they love each other. Friends must remain friends,” responds a naïve Bond. 

On the 15th of August, 1947, the students are treated to laddoos, halwa and samosas, along with a flag-raising ceremony and the singing of the national anthem. The changes that followed were “fast and frightening”—comprising everything from maps to postage stamps and railway timetables. Bond further recalls some of the horrors of Partition, particularly in Simla:

“There was a riot in Lower Bazaar, and another in Chhota Simla, the area close to our school. One of the school bearers failed to turn up for work one morning; his mutilated body was found in a gully near the bazaar. Another fled to Kalka to see if his family was all right; he did not return.”

As parents of students from what is now Pakistan got increasingly worried about their children’s safety, it was decided that the Muslim children would be evacuated—roughly one-third of the school’s strength. A few army trucks were provided by the government and manned by Indian and British soldiers. The convoy left at midnight. Bond tearfully bids goodbye to his friend Azhar, hoping to see him again.

A collector’s edition, the book has lovely illustrations by Mihir Joglekar. An evocative trip down memory lane, it’s a must-have for every Bond fan!

‘Coming Round the Mountain’ by Ruskin Bond. Publisher: Puffin Books

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com

Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi Temple July 2019 Events

Thursday, July 4th: Independence Day weekend timings.

Monday, July 8th: Aani Thirumanjanam. 

Evening at 8.30 PM, Sukla Sashti vratha, Sri Valli Deva Sena sametha, Sri Subramanya sahasra nama archana.

Sunday, July 14th: Evening at 4.00 PM Pradosham Shiva Sri Rudra abhisheka, Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi abhisheka, Sri Valli Deva Sena sametha, Sri Subramanya abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.

Tuesday, July 16th: Evening at 5.00 PM, Shiva abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa. 

Evening at 6.00 PM, Pournami vratha, Guru Poornima Vysa Pooja, Sri Sathya Narayana Swamy pooja / vratha, aarati and manthra pushpa. All are welcome to participate with family.

Wednesday July 17th: Dakshinayana punyakalam.

Saturday July 20th: At 12.00 noon, Sri Nava Graha homa, Sri Saneeswara Graha homa, Sri Nava Graha abhisheka, Sri Saneeswara Graha abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.

Afternoon at 2.00 PM, Sri Venkateswara abhisheka, continued with Sri Vishnu sahasra nama chanting, aarati and manthra pushpa. Sri Sankata Hara Chathurthi. 

Evening at 4.30 PM, Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi homa / Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa

Friday, July 26th: Evening at 5.00 PM, Sri Bhuwaneswari / Sri Lalitha Devi abhisheka, continued with Sri Lalitha sahasra nama chanting. 

Evening at 6.00 PM, Aadi Kritika vratha, Kavadi festival, Sri Valli Deva Sena sametha, Sri Subramanya abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.

Monday, July 30th: Evening at 6.00 PM, Soma Pradosham, Shiva Sri Rudra abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.

Saturday, August 3rd: Thiruvadi Pooram. 

Evening at 4.00 PM, Sri Devi, Sri Bhoo Devi sametha, Sri Venkateswara abhisheka, Sri Venkateswara / Balaji abhisheka, continued with Sri Viushnu sahasra nama chanting, aarati and manthra pushpa.

 

Yoga Day Celebrations and A Yoga App!

International Yoga Day is right around the corner, on June 21st, the same day as the summer solstice.

Doing yoga every day has many benefits for physical and mental health. Tracking these yoga habits can also prove beneficial. Here’s a way for you to start your yoga practice with a high tech way of keeping track.

Yoga Bharati recently created an app to help track your yoga practice. The app was created in accordance with their 2019 Yoga Yagna. The Yoga Yagna is a challenge to do yoga and track your yoga habits for 21 days, until the summer solstice, because it is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit.

Yoga Bharati will continue hosting the app even after Yoga Yagna is over.

The app is extremely easy to use, and with a simple click of the ‘I Did Yoga Today’ button, your exercise habits can be tracked.

Through the app and website, you can join a number of different groups based on which yoga habits you would like to track.The link below will guide you in how to use the app and the benefits of tracking your yoga habits.

https://yogabharati.org/yogayagna

Washington, D.C. also celebrated International Yoga Day. While the holiday falls on the summer solstice, June 21st, the celebration took place on June 16th at the Washington Monument.

The Indian Embassy in D.C. partnered with Friends of Yoga to give everyone, no matter their yoga experience or age, a chance to bring out their inner Yogi or Yogini.

Participants of the celebration were welcomed by Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who noted how yoga has been adopted all over the world. The Ambassador’s welcome was followed by a guided yoga session led by Dr. Moxraj, Teacher of Indian Culture at the Embassy of India. Afterward, an Indian food festival took place at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art. Your health and wellness are important, not only on International Yoga Day, so celebrate with us – but continue on with your yoga journey. And don’t forget to track your yoga habits!

Here are 3 videos to help you do the surya namaskar!