Yoga, Spirituality Series – Part II Addendum

Addendum to Kolam  

I came across this interesting piece of information when I was browsing the net for some related information. Thanks Karthik, for sharing this Sudoku-like kolam for prosperity in your website.

My mom draws this floor painting called Kubera Kolam everyday in the pooja altar. She Kubera Kolam IKubera Kolam Idraws a 3X3 square, writes some numbers on it, keeps one rupee coins on the number, puts vermilion on the coins and finally some flowers on them.

Kubera Kolam I    Kubera Kolam II   Kubera Kolam III

When I asked her about the significance of it, she told me it’s called Kubera Kolam and believes that the house will never be short of money. I am not interested in her belief but now more interested in the numbers. The numbers are from 20-28. When we sum the numbers across the rows and columns they always end up in 72, which again boils down to 9 which is considered a divine number.

There is a variation to this called “The Lo Shu Square”, originated from china. This is also a 3X3 matrix that has numbers from 1 to 9. The sum of numbers across the rows and columns is always 15. If you add 19 to every number in the Lo Shu Square you get Kubera Kolam. There is also a big story to it. You can read it here.

Yoga, Spirituality in South India Series – Part II

Guests, Soul, Kolam…… 

Unlike in other parts of the world, guests often show up without advance notice in South Indian homes. So, one need to be prepared for guests anytime of the year, anytime of the day. It will be quite understandable if you think of it this way – When does God visit your house? Do you know ahead of time? We should always be prepared to let God in when He visits. Do you know what God looks like? Are you sure you will recognize him when He appears in front of you? He could come in the form of your friend or relative. That is why any guests who come to your house are treated with respect. In fact, it is expected that you enquire the wellness of your guest, get them seated comfortably, feed them if they are hungry before you ask them of the reason for their visit.

For the same reason, you would not keep the front door of your house shut. You do not want to keep God / Guest waiting at the door. They might get tired of waiting for you to open and leave. Old houses in South India were built in a linear structure – that is there will be room after room in a line. From the front of your house, you can see the backyard. For that reason, you need to keep the backdoor shut. You do not want the Godliness that has entred your house to escape through the back door before blessing you with health and wealth. This is true for your soul as well. Keep your soul pure and open for God. Be aware of the evil forces who do not dare to enter your soul through the heart.

 

Everyone in the household is expected to wake up early in the morning which is usually before the daybreak. The first thing to do in the morning would be to take a bath and cleanse your body of sins from the previous day. You are not supposed to eat or drink anything before your bath. My mother was very strict about this rule and made no exceptions even when we were feeling sick.

Water is considered to be holy and sacred in Hinduism. It could also be considered as analogous to Baptism in Christianity. Hindus travel to the River Ganges in Varanasi to take a dip in the holy waters and wash away all of their sins. Not everyone can travel to Varanasi in their lifetime. So the holy water is bottled in copper urns and brought back to those who are unable to travel. The urns are sealed and the water is sprayed on the head. The urns are also opened when someone in the household is nearing their death. The urn will be opened and the water will be offered as a drink. This is supposed to help the dying travel directly into heaven without any re-births. The ashes of the dead are also taken to the Ganges and drained into the river for salvation of the dead.

There will be a small verandah or something of that sort in front of most of the houses. This space will be dusted and washed with water everyday in the morning and evening. So, after the bath, the female folk of the house will decorate that space by drawing designs with a fine powder of rice. This is called ‘kolam’ in some of the South Indian languages – also known as ‘Rangoli’ in Hindi. Rangoli is colorful whereas kolam is just with white rice powder. There are some standard patterns that are used by people most of the time. The deisgn gets bigger on special days and occasions. Kolam is considered very auspicious. If a house verandah is not cleaned and does not sport a kolam then, that is probably due to a recent death in the household. So, that is probably not a good time for casual visits and an indication to the guests arriving without advance notice. Old folks say that you should always begin your day by doing a good deed. What is a better deed than feeding hungry?  By putting kolam, ants in the earth get their food for the day since it is rice powder! Also, the posture you need to take to complete this design on the floor could be considered Yoga.

Check this website out for more details on Kolam: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolam

 

Pooja, Chanting, Mantras, Prostrations……….in Part III

  

Yoga, Spirituality in South India Series – Part I

Yoga and Spirituality in typical middle class Hindu homes of South India 

I was recently asked by a friend whether we (Indians) always practiced Yoga at home and whether we were taught this as young children. We discussed in great length about Yoga and Spirituality in India. I decided to make some random notes about my thoughts on this topic and spiritual practices we had in my home when I was growing up. I will be publishing tids and bits and decided to do it as a series.

My home in India was a typical South Indian Hindu home which belongs to the middle class tier of the society. Most of our neighbors, friends and relatives also fall into this category. My observations and understandings are based on the community that I have described above. There is also a huge difference in culture between the families in South India and other parts of India.

 

In South Indian Hindu homes, Spirituality and Yoga are instilled in the daily activities and they don’t stand separately from everyday lives. Most of the people do not sit down for a Yoga or meditation session. It should also be noted that most of the customs and rituals of everyday life is multi dimensional – it would have more than one meaning to it.

Someone asked Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation about Yoga. He said we all do yoga everyday – we just don’t realize it – when a baby is in the womb, it curls up in mother’s tummy – that is yoga. When the baby is a few months old, it kicks up the legs in the air – that is yoga. When the baby is 6 months or so, it gets a hold of its feet and brings it to the mouth – that is yoga.

 

Guests, Soul, Kolam…….in Part II

Global Road Safety Week

accident_india.jpg

We are all aware that India is working hard to become a Global leader alongside USA and Canada. Trade between India and other global countries are booming and many companies are either starting up units in India or are thinking about it. It is ironical that the automobile industry has seen a great shift to the Indian scene with more and more automobile giants like Ford establishing manufacturing untis in India. The Indian diplomats are very busy these days with visiting delegations and working on trade relations with countries around the world. While this is exciting, it is now time to think about some of the challenges that exist in India.
 

It is Global Road safety week and the infrastructure supported by India is in a bad condition. A report released by UN shows that India ranks second in death by raod fatalities only next to China. Around billion people die every year from road accidents and a million of them died in Indian roads. There are far less vehicles that traverse the Indian roads than the US, bu the fatalities are totally out of proportion. You can read more about the UN report here .

India does not have a great ambulance system that gets the victims to the hospitals in time to save the lives. The demand is higher than the supply owing to the population. The raods are too treacherous and very few drivers follow the safety rules. The police are not viewed as a friendly force like other countries and thus people are scared to come forward, take responsibility and offer help to victims. Private hospitals are not enthusiastic to offer care for accident victims since the involvement of police and courts will directly hit their ratings.

By not thinking about road safety, India is losing one of its biggest assets on which it is building its dreams – its resources. There is no one solution to the situation, but it is a good time to think about following the safety rules and driving sensibly to avoid accidents. A single step taken by a single individual will go a long way in the right direction. Creating awareness about road safety is one of the solutions that can also help to improve the situation.

The first UN Global Raod Safety week is being celebrated from April 23-29, 2007. The theme for this year is young road users. Many youngsters from around the world will participate in a Youth Assembly and discuss how they think the roads can be made safer. More details about how UN is organising the activities for the Global Road Safety week can be read here.

My celebrity look alike

Everyone likes to look like celebrities. But some people naturally have the looks of a celebrity even though they may not be one. Take my case, this website says I am a Aishwarya Rai look alike. What can I say –  I dont want to depress them 🙂

What if G.C is “the G.C”?

I had to do it – there was no other way to save my family. I had to take the plunge for I couldnt rely on anybody else to keep my enemies away. They were attacking my husband’s health and also trying to lure him for higer stakes. I have to be in my husband’s blind spot to watch out for any incoming attacks just in case he forgets the shoulder check.

Let me tell you why I feel that our lives are being targeted. My husband (Vee) and PB has a lot of common ground under their feet. This made Vee an easy target for them. It was a great opportunity to introduce Vee to this underworld when he mentioned to PB his new business idea. Since then Vee has been hooked. They started writing on the walls and exchanging coded messages.

They have even targeted Vee’s health and mind – got him addicted to the “dark brown” things. They lured him by offering him the “dark” things in many different shapes – round, squares, sunny shaped and even bunny shaped special ones over Easter. PB recently started thinking like Vee……..mind blowing……

PB introduced Vee to GC recently. GC and PB think Vee is a cool guy and can easily be trapped. They dont know that I am watching out for him. What if G.C is “the G.C.?” Everyone knows that this guy doesnt care about his life. He has been going around telling everyone that he wouldnt mind if he got hit by a truck tomorrow.  I also know that he recently tried to get a young and newly married couple killed.

I tried telling Vee to stay away from this gang. But he is hooked to the high stakes games they keep talking about and the “dark thingy”. He cannot stop writing on the walls. And he thinks it is cool to hang around with G.C.

Well, now you see why I had to what I had to do. I registered myself in the online community to spy on my husband and also enjoy the conversations. They are not sharing the “dark brown things” with me and I had to get back at them somehow. I am sure you would agree that George Clooney is indeed a sexy guy and I wanna be friends with him too!

Jana gana mana

India Flag

All countries have a National Anthem. National Anthems symbolise the values of the country it represents and are as sacred as the National Flag. Jana gana mana is the National Anthem of India. It was authored by the Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore. The music score to the poem that was originally written in Bengali was also composed by Tagore. It was instituted as the national anthem of India in 1950. It is interesting to note that another poem by the legendary Tagore is the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

Jana gana mana describes the vastness of India and hails victory to India’s destiny. In India, the Anthem is sung in schools before the bell rings to mark the end of the school day. The Anthem concludes all public events. Movie theatres and theatrical plays used to play the National Anthem after the show is over. People would raise and sing along and then leave the hall. Today, nobody even cares to stay back for the credits at the end of the movie. Youth festivals conducted every year for school kids even have competitions in rendering of the Jana gana mana. Different countries follow different traditions when the Anthem is played. In Canada and US, you put your palm on your chest and sing. In India, you have to raise, stand in attention with arms on the side and look ahead with your head held high.

The poem was written before the partition of India. There are references to the Sindh regions in the poem which are now part of Pakistan. There have been pressures to remove references to these regions from the Anthem and substitute them with Kashmir. But the Supreme Court of India ruled rightly that the wordings of the poem cannot be changed. There are other controversies too surrounding the national anthem regarding whom the poet dedicates the poem to. Those are subject to lengthy discussions on their own entirety.

Indians are said to be most patriotic when watching Cricket matches and when they are watching movies related to the subject. All jokes and controversies aside, the National anthem stirs something inside you, pulls a string or two in your heart and fills your mind with patriotism when you hear it or sing it.

Jana gana mana has been adapted in several ways in bollywood movies, dramas and albums. You can watch a beautiful adaptation of the song in Google produced by Bharat Bala productions and A R Rahman. You can watch this star studded historic album here

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7399792002477900458&q=jana+gana+mana

A bollywood adaptation of the song can be watched here http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2564318558656235140&q=jana+gana+mana

Jai Hind

Love that ringtone!!

Old lady on the mobileMan on mobileKids talking on mobile

 I was in India recently and was amazed to see how people used and relied on their mobile phones in their daily lives. Each person in every household had at least one instrument to take with them. The instruments themselves were very compact, attractive, had accessories and versatile. Nobody bothered about the land lines and depended on their mobile much more. One of my cousins cooked up a festive dish without a recipe and all the time on the phone with her aunt giving instructions. Even the ingredients to the recipe were bought from the stores with live assistance from aunt on the phone.

One could set different ring tones for their contacts which can be movie songs, spiritual songs, pop or rock. The instrument makes it is so easy to download the latest ring tones. Popular songs are available as ring tones soon after they are released. When you dial a friend, you can hear your friend’s ring tone. Here is something that is even neater than that – you hear a friend’s ring tone, you like it – you catch it in your phone – it’s that easy.

The television shows these days are very interactive with the viewers. In fact most of the shows are driven by the mobile phone service providers. Viewers send their reactions or send answers to the quizzes by SMS to the TV show. One can send their reactions as many times they want and what better way to promote the service! My cousins send SMS to their friends, relatives, teachers and neighbours at any time of the day. One can even prepare messages and set a date and time in the future for it to be sent out – do it while you remember!

The cost of the instrument and the service charges are very friendly that even the lowest strata of the society are able to afford it. The trend now is to have mobile phones only and discard the land line and its service. During my stay, I was able to hire auto rickshaw for my transportation with the help of the driver’s mobile. It would take me hours otherwise to get anywhere given the location of my house.

The service providers also do a great job of making sure their service is available in most of the remote places. Another great service I really enjoyed was, the instrument displayed the nearest tower to which your service is connected to. It also gave me a sense of location when I was travelling in unknown parts of the state. SIM card is another great feature if you have an instrument that uses it.

Games, camera, contact book and all the other standard features are also available in almost all the phones. All these features of the mobile make the use of it in India an enjoyable experience. Communication is a key factor to the coherence of the society and today the mobile phones play a great role.

The mobile services provided by companies in India have effectively extended it to many countries of the
Middle East like UAE and Bahrain. The instruments from these mid east countries also are very compatible with the services in India. The fancy and cheaper instruments available in the mid east make the mobile phones even more lucrative to India.

In North America, I find that people are connected more through computers and online messengers. Mobile phones and their services are not attractive enough. Many of the service providers do not offer ring tone downloads or they are expensive. Phone to phone text messaging is available with a few providers, but again it is expensive.

USA and Canada being part of North America lead the world in global economy and are always eager to adapt to the ever changing technologies. I wonder why the mobile phone service industry is still not attractive and expensive. Could it be that the development of this technology and services is being withheld by the big brothers for their own political reasons? Could it be that people find computers more practical than the phones?

Maybe someone reading this blog have answers and can help me understand why it is the way it is. I am looking forward to the day I can pick up my mobile and dial a friend without thinking about my long distance charges during weekday daytime and the free minutes left in my plan and of course hear one of my favourite tunes………………..

What’s next in the mobile phone industry in India? It is ‘cellivision’. That’s right; Mobile TV is on the cards right now and is expected to be launched in May. Next time I go to India, I can take my TV everywhere I go.

For more details – http://ia.rediff.com/money/2007/mar/22tv.htm

Exposure to Internet

I recently joined one of the online networking community to revive many of my old and lost friendships. It was easy to join and they had many communities to which I could belong to and have discussions. I found some of my batchmates from my Engineering days and even found some high school friends. I was delighted to connect with them and know more about their lives today. I found neighbours, relatives and guys and gals I have only heard of.

One should really join one of these communities to feel the adrenalin flowing when you have found an old friend and is waiting for them to approve your ‘Add as a friend’ request. I got addicted to this within a few days. I can let the whole world know about my affiliation for the person on the other side. I can see pictures, videos of my friends, their spouse and kids. Heck, I can read notes left for my friend by other people!

I decided to start my own community for like minded folks!! How should I name the community? Should I allow only people I know to join? Wouldnt that restrict the free flow of information and tips from other members? Maybe I should search the site to see if a similar community has already been formed. I am sure if I can think of an idea someone else sure would have thought of it before. I searched with the keywords and found hundreds of sites………..

 The sites were not discussing what I had in mind. Most of the sites were adult content and discussed disgusting stuff – even to the most porn savvy guy. This is the internet and it is a free platform to express your ideas. I should have known that, but it stuck me like the lightning. I was totally not expecting these results with the sacred keywords I used to search.

Any kind of search or browsing on the net always provides the reader with the opportunity to read unrelated/adulterated content. Nothing wrong with reading explosive materials as long as it doesnt put wrong ideas into the reader’s minds.

Curry – Dish or blend of spices?

Whenever I talk to my North American friends about Indian food, they ask me whether I make curry. Of course, not only I make curry but I cook a variety of curries. Curry is not just one dish that Indians make which seems to be the general notion. Curry is a blend of spices which we add to our dishes to make it tasty.

Curry is known as Garam Masala in India. Garam means ‘hot’ and Masala means ‘mixture’. A variety of spices are ground and blended depending on the dish to which it will be added. Generally, garam masalas have cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, coriander, cumin, black peppercorn and bay leaf in them. Turmeric, cumin, asafoetida, cardamom are some of the unheard and rare spices that are used in the Indian recipes. These spices are used for their color, fragrance and taste.

Turmeric is the root of the plant and it belongs to the ginger family. It grows in lush tropical regions. It is said to have many medicinal values including uses as antiseptic. Many researches are being conducted to find other medicinal properties of this spice. The root is dried and ground to be stored as turmeric powder. It is yellow in color and very fragrant. Women of India apply turmeric paste to their body to enhance the beauty of the skin. Turmeric is also considered very sacred in Hindu culture. It is extensively used in Indian dishes.

CardamomCardamom is another rare spice that is used extensively in India. Anyone who has had Indian Chai from an Indian restaurant has had it. It is one of the major components of the spiced tea. Cardamom is considered the Queen of spices due to its exotic nature. It is the fruit of a perennial tree that grows in humid climates. The special cultivation techniques make this spice unique in aroma, flavour, size and color. The dried fruit is pale green color and has to be peeled to get at the seeds. The peels are also very aromatic and can be added to your tea canister to lend the flavour to your tea bags. The black seeds can be ground easily and can be added where the recipe calls for it. This spice is mostly used in Indian sweets like the Gulab jamun, drinks like Kheer, other desserts like custard. When cardamom is added, it sure gives the dish a festive feel to it.

Cumin is dried seeds from the cumin plant. Cumin seeds are small and shaped like long grain rice. They are always confused with fennel seeds and coriander seeds. They are very fragrant and are darker in color than the fennel seeds. These seeds are extensively used in Indian, Mexican and Thai dishes. Cumin is believed to provide relief from gastro-intestinal problems of your body. In India, cumin seeds are added to boiling water which lends a pale yellow color and taste to the water. Cumin seeds are either used as such in dishes or dry roasted and powdered form in other dishes.

Asafoetida also known as Devils dung is the resin or gum extracted from the sap of a perennial tree. It has an aroma which some people classify as disgusting and others as fragrant. Either way, its aroma and flavour are very strong. If your recipe calls for it, add the ingredient sparingly. It is available in stores as a block or in cans in its powdered form. The block when ground fresh will have stronger flavour than the powder. Due to its nature it should be stored in air tight containers. When cooked the flavour becomes mild and adds to the taste of your dish. It is known by the name ‘Hing’ in India and mostly it is used in the recipes of Hindus and Jains. Hing is added in mild quantities to the dishes owing to the digestive properties of the spice.

Spice ContainerThe spice jars used to store the spices is as interesting as the spices itself. It is a round box with inner jars. They come in a variety of sizes and may or may not come with individual lids for the smaller jars. There is a small plate above the jars which is used to store red chillies and there is a lid to the base container.

Happy Cooking!

Vani Viswanathan

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