A Kullad of Chai Please!!

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A cup of tea makes everything better but a kullad of chai makes everything the best.

tea stall chai TeeKullad Chai is what keeps you going in this cold, helps you hopping around, doing your chores outdoor and adds to the fun too. Tea in those plastic cups or even the glasses never tastes the same as one in kullad. Chai from a clay cup; that taste and smell of earth, mixed with sweet milky tea, yes that is the taste of India!! And not to mention the gratifying, childlike pleasure that comes with tossing the single-use clay cup and hearing it crack as it hits the ground and break into bits. In Uttar Pradesh, the common fun name for them in many of the station is, Pee-Ke-Phut. Pee Ke meaning drinking the tea and Phut meaning, the sound it makes when broken.

 

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Mural Paintings of Ajanta – Where Rocks Talk!

Ajanta Caves consists of a total of 29 Buddhist monasteries and sanctuaries belonging to the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions dating from 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. These caves were hidden away for thousands of years until British soldiers led by John Smith stumbled upon them while on a hunting mission. They were astonished to see the architecture, stupas and the wall paintings and murals. Unfortunately Smith vandalized the caves by scratching his name on these priceless mural paintings.

Lot of the paintings has deteriorated beyond repair and significant damage had been done to the architecture as well. Several attempts have been made in the past to preserve this wonderful architecture but the unscientific methods adopted in the past were not very successful. To make things worse, certain conservationists coated the murals with shellac (kind of varnish) in a later stage which has become very hard to remove.  Climate, Humidity, Ultra-violet radiation, Noise levels, Carbon Dioxide from the exhalation of humans, all such factors affect the conservation of wall paintings.  ASI and USESCO have imposed very strict norms to the visitors now. Number of visitors at a time has been restricted; camera flashes and tripods are banned as well. The natural light and at places tiny LED lights is what you get to capture the mural paintings.

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Majestic Himalayas and revered Kedareshwar!

The temple at Kedarnath enshrining the Jyotirling of Lord Shiva opens only 6 months a year (April-November). The priests then go to Urvimath, where the worship of Kedareshwar is continued during the winter season. The temple sits at the bottom of majestic Himalayas, peaks always covered under snow, it looks beautiful.

Amazing Ancient Architecture Engineering!

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Legend Behind Kedarnath Temple

Legend goes that Nara and Narayana – two incarnations of Vishnu performed severe penance here. Pleased with their devotion, Lord Shiva appeared in front of them and said that they may ask for a boon. Nar and Narayan requested Shiva to take up a permanent abode as a Jyotirling at Kedarnath so that all people who worship Shiva shall be freed from their miseries. According to yet another popular legend, Goddess Parvati worshipped Kedareshwar to unite with Lord Shiva as Ardhanareeswarar. Besides, the Pandavas are believed to have visited this area several times. Arjuna is believed to have come here to pray to Shiva to obtain the coveted Pashupata Astra. Continue reading

There’s Something Compelling about ‘Diyas’…

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There are fire crackers going off around me as I write these words even though Diwali is tomorrow. I took out all my diyas, collected last few years and kept safe. I have this habit of buying different kind of diyas, all shapes and sizes, some painted, others decorated with bright colours. And I keep few for next year.

 

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There is really something so compelling about these earthen lamps. Perhaps somehow they connect me to the earth. Lighting an oil lamp made of mud on Diwali, to me personally feels like somehow akin to rooted to mother earth. And not to mention that fragrance of oil, earth, soot and flame, I come across this smell in old temples that still use these oil lamps and haven’t yet resorted to ugly fluorescent lights. Continue reading

When the leaf falls, you know Maa is coming….

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I was sitting on the banks of Ganga at Belur Math. Far off I could hear the bells and conch. Bringing back many memories of many such evenings spent here. I was just back from Israel posting. A company which followed no human work hours, a boss who knew only to talk about codes, no holidays even to come home and top of it family & friends who felt I was deliberately ignoring them; all this had taken a toll mentally. And in this, for the second time my IPR was stolen by a colleague with blessings from top! There was numbness, memories flashing in slow motion. Boats passing by, crossing the Ganges ferrying people to Dakhineshwar but my thoughts were somewhere else. Continue reading

The Holy Lake Manasarovar!

Lake Mansarovar is a freshwater lake in the Tibet autonomous region. It is very close in distance to the sources of important rivers such as Brahmaputra, Karnali, Sutlej and Indus. The word “Manasarovara” originates from Sanskrit, which is a combination of the words “Manas” & “Sarovara”; manas meaning mind and sarovara meaning lake. According to the Hindu scriptures, the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma after which it manifested on Earth.

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When you reach Mansarovar Lake, the light blue expanse of water nestled amongst the high Himalayan Mountains looks heavenly.  One of the most serene and sublime beauty will be in front of you.  The first instinct was to go and touch the water and take a dip after the long arduous journey we had taken. Continue reading

The Treat of Eid.

If you are in any Muslim community place during Eid, and if you are a foody, then rest assured to get treated to some really delightful food. All through my life I had Muslim friends and would enjoy treats at their places. But its the street food in all such places which attracts me more. Visit Jama Masjid area during Eid. Or in Hyderabad. All such places to me looks heavenly place for food. I enjoyed Eid in Turkey when posted in Israel. 

And it was same even at Hotan. A Muslim dominated place in South China. And yes, the street food is really yummy!!! 

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Jhator -Gruesome but confronts Death directly!

Buddhist religion has three schools of thoughts or branches and all three have different focus but follow the basic teachings of Buddha. The first one is Theraveda Buddhism, the second, Mahayana Buddhism and the third being Vajrayana Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism, which is mainly followed by the Tibetans, is also known as the Tantric Buddhism due to its reliance on sacred texts called tantras. Of many other rituals, I will stick to one followed by them as part of burial after death, called as “Jhator”.

When death occurs, three forms of burial are used: cremation, water burial, and Jhator. Because of lack of wood/forest, cremation is almost absent in Tibet unless rich. Cities which have flowing rivers do follow the water burial. But majority Tibetans follow Jhator, which means “giving alms to the birds,” or Sky burial, a phrase coined by Europeans.

Tibetan Buddhists believe life is not over at death, but merely entering a rebirth. Monks emphasise this cyclical nature of existence to dispel the fear of death in Tibetan society and help people prepare for a new beginning. They believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. The spirit, or the soul, of the deceased has exited the body to be reincarnated into another circle of life. Tibetan people witness sky burial and confront death directly. They know the impermanence of life!!

Interestingly, this is the same teaching that Lord Vasudev passes on to us in Bhagavat Gita, Chapter-2, Verse-22. वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि। तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।। Meaning: As a person gives up old and worn out garments and accepts new apparel, similarly the embodied soul giving up old and worn out bodies verily accepts new bodies. Hence this physical body of ours is nothing when the soul leaves it. Continue reading

Journey of Swastika through years!

 The auspicious symbol of the swastika is very commonly used in Hinduism. It is usually a major part of the decoration for festivals and special ceremonies like weddings. The word ‘swastika’ is a Sanskrit word (‘svasktika’) meaning ‘It is’, ‘Well Being’, ‘Good Existence, and ‘Good Luck’. However, it is also known by different names in different countries – like ‘Wan’ in China, ‘Manji’ in Japan, ‘Fylfot’ in England, ‘Hakenkreuz’ in Germany and ‘Tetraskelion’ or ‘Tetragammadion’ in Greece.

The clockwise swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the sun god Surya. The anti-clockwise swastika (called a sauvastika) usually represents the terrifying goddess Kali, night and magic. However, this form of the swastika is not “evil” and it is the form most commonly used in Buddhism.

Vedas are possibly the oldest sacred texts and you find mentions of Swastika in Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and even Yajur Veda. Swastika has always been with the sanatan dharma. But when you do research on its journey, you realise how this has been prevalent from ages in different religion and civilizations. How and why did so many diverse countries and cultures, across many eras, use the same symbol and apparently with the same meaning, I do find it intriguing. In West, Swastika is now more associated with Nazis and Hitler. But use of it can be seen long before that and by different religion. What was common was the fact that everyone considered it as symbol of good luck. And it do proves a point – Humanity brings every religion together.

North Pole Star is called Dhruva Nakshatra in Sanskrit literature. Saptarishi are seven stars of the Big Dipper named after seven Rishis in our Vedic scriptures. North Pole Star is the center of Kalachakra around which Saptarshi Mandala revolves around a fixed centre on clockwise direction. Through the four seasons, the SaptaRishis form a swastika in the sky. I think this is the first Swastika of this planet earth.

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Mathematics Behind Dwadash Jyotirlings

When you look nature closely you realise Nature is more of an animated mathematical constructs. And when you start understanding and pondering on it, it leads to a new beauty and astonishment. It leads to a greater understanding of my place in the scheme of things in this creation! It’s hard to wrap your head around that animals, flowers, trees, mountains and galaxies and universe; even our bodies are nothing more than self-replicating fractals of an interactive biological software program. Yes that is how it is!!

Bee hive has a geometric pattern, migrating birds travel in perfect formation just as schools of fish do in the ocean. Most of all these blueprints are based on the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci spiral in this creation. The Golden ratio and the Fibonacci spiral Fibonacci_Spiraloccur everywhere in nature: in the spirals of DNA and in the dimensions of the earth and moon and planets. (Click Here to know about Fibonacci Numbers – LINK)  No matter where we look we see fractal geometry. An interesting example of fractal geometry is the human finger. A finger has three joints and is a fractal of our arm which also has three joints; and so it goes, big or small, repetitive fractal patterning is the same. Personally I feel nothing is random in nature, and nothing happens by chance. Continue reading

Five Kailash Yatra!

For past many years I had this wish of visiting all the five Kailash. It is said this gives you salvation. Frankly speaking I don’t think just visiting these Kailash can give you salvation, there’s lot more you’ll need to do. Getting salvation I feel is not so easy.

The Five Kailash Yatras are able to transfer devotees’s physical journey into a spiritual experience, a journey in search of truth. The five Kailash Yatras is perhaps one of the most arduous calling pilgrimages. It entails long pilgrimages to five holy sites in upper reaches of Himalayas to seek the blessing of Lord Shiva who, as per the Hindu scriptures and legends, supposedly reside on the holy mountain peaks. Surrendering yourself through Bhakti lets you experience the oneness of “Jiva and Shiva”, the union of jivatma with parmatma!

  1. Shrikhand Mahadev or Shrikhand Kailash

When Bhasmasur got the boon from Lord Shiva that he can turn anyone into ash by placing his palm on anyone’s head, the Asura wanted to test if the boon really works by testing it on Lord Shiva. So Lord Shiva started running from this Asura. Finally Lord came to Shrikhand and sat down in meditation in the 50ft stone shivling till Lord Vishnu came and killed Bhasmasura by tricking him in putting his hand on his own head. Later Mata Parvati did long Akhanda Upasana to break his Samadhi, whereby she filled Nainsar Lake with her tears; Lord Shiva came out after breaking the shivling. Shrikhand Mahadev is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva. Its peak is 5155 meters high from main sea level. The journey passes through beautiful mist-laden forests filled with beautiful flowers and huge trees. Then the journey enters the difficult Himalayan terrain where you need to even cross few glaciers.

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Shrikhand Kailash

  1. Kinnaur/Kinner Kailash

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Adi Kailash – Lord Shiva’s oldest adobe!

Many think the Om Parvat is in itself the Adi Kailash. That is not the case. Om Parvat is located near Nabhidhang while Adi Kailash is located at different place, near Sin La pass and near Brahma Parvat. As per mythology, Pandavas had stayed here with Sage Vyaasa and meditated for a long period. Even Ravana, a great devote of Shiva, is said to have come from far off Lanka to pray to Lord Shiva here. This Kailash is considered to be the oldest adobe of our Lord Shiva and Parvati.

Adi Kailash area is full of great natural beauty, peace and serenity. Though in a very remote area, the Darshan (view) of Lord Shiva’s abode is well worth the effort it takes to get there. With the roar of urban life receding to the background one finds the healing quietude of this region conducive enough to turn inward and be one’s own listener.

The trek was really treacherous at places especially when you reach Budhi passing Malpa. It was like a test of our endurance. At Malpa we did stop for few minutes to pray for the souls of all those travelers who died while in sleep during the Uttarakhand deluge after a cloud burst.

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Art on Varanasi Ghats

Unsanctioned arts on streets have been condemned too many times. But for me they are always piece of art. Something we need to appreciate. I had earlier posted about same in Israel. Israel Graffiti. Now for another place!

The ghats of Varanasi have always been an attraction to visitors. You always find it buzzing with people busy in different activities. The boat rides along the colourful and lively ghats, funeral pyres by the river’s edge, twisting lanes full of people, cows, bicycles and hole-in-the-wall shops selling tea, local sweets, spices and devotional bling, that’s what you see here. And in all this you invariably fail to notice many wall arts on the ghats.

Though many like me might like these arts/paintings but they might get removed from the ghats soon. Varanasi is considered as the heritage city of India. There are many heritage buildings on the ghats. The ghats itself are considered to be part of heritage status of this city. Defacing century’s old stone walls of the ghats along the Ganga by random graffiti, paintings and designs made of harmful chemicals is causing harm to the structures. Removal of these paintings has already been initiated with ASI, BHU and few other organization joining hands. Continue reading

The Little known Masroor Rock Cut Temple!

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30 odd km from Kangra town, there is this rock cut temple, which is hardly known to even people of that district. It is the Masroor Rock Cut Temples which many call as Himachal Pyramids or Elloras of Himachal.

These rock cut temples of Masroor have been carved out of the sandstone monoliths which make up the landscape. No one seems to know who carved them. There are many legendary stories that go round.  Few locals say it was built by Pandavas. There’s another legend attached to the construction of this temple, it is said that these temples were carved out at night, and work had to be halted when it was morning, which is why some shrines remained unfinished. Historians have identified that sculptures in the Masroor temples have been shaped in late Gupta style, most likely in the second half of the 8th century. There are not known inscriptions in the temple and no written accounts about this temple – thus it is rather a guess.

Legends apart, it is the architecture of the temple that is awe-inspiring. It has been built in Nagara style. This is very important style in Hindu temple architecture, with characteristic beehive formed towers. Every design is intricately carved. The temple has black stone idols of Ram Lakshman and Sita. But in the centre of the temple is a figure of shiva which brings a theory that possibly the temple originally was of Mahadev. The shikhars of some of the temples remain standing and are a supreme display of the craftsmen of the 7th -8th century who overcame the limitations of the existing rock structures to shape and carve their creations. The rock-cut style started in the reign of the Pallava King, Narsingha Varman (630-668 AD) during the 1st half of the 7th century.  It reached its climax in the Kailasha Temple at Ellora.  Though rock-cut caves are common in South India, yet, temples cut out of free standing rocks, known to archaeologists and art critics, are only 4 in number – Rathas of Mammalapuram, Kailashas at Ellora, Dharmanatha temples in Dharmnar and this one as Masroor. The Rathas & Kailashas are built in the Dravidian style, whereas the Masroor and Dharmnar ones are in the Nagara style. Continue reading