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Chavath in Goa Day 2: Ganapati Bappa arrives!

We arrived in the ancestral home in our village Kalapur close to lunch time. Anookaka, who is my father’s older brother and was the senior most male member of the family present had gone ahead early and performed the pooja to ensconce our beloved Ganapati in his beautiful altar. When we walked in, we were greeted by his resplendent presence and beatific smile!

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My cousin Nimish in traditional attire paying his respects to the deity

My cousin Nimish in traditional attire paying his respects to the deity

Through the morning, male members of the Naik family offered doorva (a specific type of grass considered auspicious) to Ganapati as an offering. By tradition, an upanayan ceremony is performed for Brahmin boys about the age of 7 to formally adorn him with the sacred thread. All boys who had their upanayan ceremonies done took turns to change into traditional savle attire (dhoti, bare chest, sacred thread and angavastram) and offer dhruv to the deity. Last year, we attended Arnav’s upanayan in Goa. For those of you curious to see what that ceremony is like, here’s a link to my blog post from then.

We all sat around and talked some more. Then we assembled for the aartis, sang them and finally, ate lunch together. Lunch is a traditional spread, the few days in the year when Goan Brahmins remain absolutely vegetarian. Coconut, kokum, ambade and whole bunch of local seasonal vegetables are used to cook traditional delicacies like khatkhate, kokum kadhi, chanyache tonaak, phodi, bhaji, papad, etc.

Talking, playing on phones, giggling....

Talking, playing on phones, giggling….two generations of boys!

All set to sing!

All set to sing!

Fruits and modaks for prasad

Fruits and modaks for prasad

Unneer! The mouse who is Lord Ganesh's vehicle is sculpted out of flour. Kids and older people excited about this small artistic creation!

Unneer! The mouse who is Lord Ganesh’s vehicle is sculpted out of flour. Kids and older people excited about this small artistic creation!

Bonding on a full tummy.... :)

Bonding on a full tummy…. 🙂

Us with Ajjee!

Us with Ajjee!

Family portrait on the front steps

Family portrait on the front steps

Posing!

Posing!

Chavath in Goa Day 1: Dedicated to Gouri-Mahadev and easy bonding!

This is a day for bonding and easing into the celebrations. As per tradition, married ladies fast on this day, in empathy with Parvati or Gouri, Ganesh’s mother. This is a day dedicated to the Goddess and to Mahadev or Shiv, her husband and also our family deity.

My camera’s roving eye found various groups of people in conversation, in camaraderie over activities like cooking or decorating or, in the case of the children, on burning firecrackers! Looking back at the pictures I clicked, I see how the young and old come together, how barriers come down as people ease their guard, how the ritual activities of a family festival take over a rhythm of their own and individual moods, opinions and priorities take a backseat. It is this transformation that grips me each time I come to Goa for Chavath. I revel in the slowing down of the pace of life, in the inversion of priorities away from the self and into the realm of family, community, ritual and perhaps even faith.

Rashmi kaki creating a small, lovely rangoli

Rashmi kaki creating a small, lovely rangoli

Cousins posing....a series

Cousins posing….a series

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mamas, mavshis, kiddos...

mamas, mavshis, kiddos…

Favorite mama!

Favorite mama!

My little girl...

My little girl…

My aunts sat together, peeling and cutting vegetables and also sharing memories and planning the menu for the next two days. Ajjee sort of oversaw what they were doing, out of sheer force of habit because this is what she has been doing for the last forty odd years! We cousins swapped stories, clicked pictures and ‘Whatsapped’ them to each other and to other cousins far away.

All my kakis, working, chatting, having fun!

All my kakis, working, chatting, having fun!

Ajji the matriarch presided over the session!

Ajji the matriarch presided over the session!

All smiles!

All smiles!

Ajjee, no words, only a big big hug!

Ajjee, no words, only a big big hug!

As evening came, we gathered to sing together. The aarti, to me, is the crescendo towards which the events move. The chaal, best described as the rhythmic tune, in which we sing the aartiyo in Goa are distinct from those in Maharashtra. More musical and complex rather than merely chanted, participating in the aarti is as much about skill as gusto. We all enjoy this bit immensely, as you can see in this video. The kids particularly charm me with their enthusiasm!

Udai sitting right up front in the aarti config!

Udai sitting right up front in the aarti config!

Saurabh on the cymbals

Saurabh on the cymbals

The entire household, from the youngest to the oldest participates in the aarti

The entire household, from the youngest to the oldest participates in the aarti

The kids utilize the evening to do what they enjoy the most- Fog, or firecrackers! See the joy on their faces!

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Chavath in Goa Day 0: Matoli time!

Despite being from Goa, I never made it home for Chavath except perhaps one time during my childhood. I grew up barely aware of the immense importance of Ganesh Chaturthi to Hindu Goan families.

In Mumbai, where I stayed through ages 6-11, Ganpati was all about visiting countless pandals with enormously elaborate statues of the Elephant God as well as interesting tableaus telling stories from the scriptures or even commenting on current politics or sports! We sang the evening aarti with great gusto, running from one community celebration to another to catch the aarti and collect the prasaad, usually sweet modak or laadu.

In 2008, I first attended chavath in Goa, where the festival plays out within the domain of the family rather than in the community or saarvajanik form. I was mesmerized by the numerous ritual and activities that went into the two and half day festival and fell in love with the feeling of family bonding that I experienced. My children were very small then, Udai was four and Aadyaa was a few months old. I felt Goa and family exert an unmistakable pull on my heartstrings and I came back for more, in 2011 and now in 2013. The next few posts on this blog are an attempt at describing the festival as it is celebrated in my ancestral home in Calapur, a few kilometres outside Goa’s capital city, Panaji.

We reached Goa on Saturday, 7th of September. Rahul, the kids and me. All enthused to participate. This was the day the family prepared for the festival. As we entered the home, we saw that the matoli had been put up. On our last visit, we had been in time to actually hang seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers on the wooden grid (usually made of bamboo or wood from the betelnut palm) that is permanently suspended from the ceiling in the puja room. Ganesh Chaturthi, like Onam in Kerala, is also an autumnal festival, celebrating new life that you can see all around after the three months of rain. Typical items that are plucked (or bought nowadays, the bazars full of these typical seasonal items that would go up on matolis in ancestral homes across the state) and hung are chibud (a cousin of the cucumber), nirphanas, torand (grapefruit), ambade, coconuts, betelnuts, bananas, local yam and bunches of wild fruits and flowers. These are interspersed with mango leaves, considered auspicious in Hindu culture, and tied together using a local vine.

The stage is set for the most popular and fun festival of the year!

The completed matoli....vibrant, symbolizing nature, life...

The completed matoli….vibrant, symbolizing nature, life…

In 2011: My cousin Rohit putting up the matoli and a different decor for Ganpati in the background

Flashback to 2011: My cousin Rohit putting up the matoli and a different decor for Ganpati in the background

 

We also got a glimpse of this time's fantastic decoration around Ganesh's altar. The artist in the family is Rashmi kaki (in the corner), who outdoes herself every year!

We also got a glimpse of this time’s fantastic decoration around Ganesh’s altar. The artist in the family is Rashmi kaki (in the corner), who outdoes herself every year!

Guru, guidance and learning #selfimprovement

It is Guru Poornima today, the full moon and last day of the Ashad month in the Hindu calendar. Widely celebrated to honour Guru Vyas, it is also the time to pay respect to the guru.

Who is your guru? Or who are your gurus? It’s open to interpretation, what a guru means to each of us. A teacher, a guide, a mentor, someone you look up to for guidance, someone whose benevolence is in itself a teaching, someone who is free to tell you the blunt truth, in front of whom your ego does not exist. Above all, someone who helps you change for the better, define your goals, achieve them, then redefine them yet again. A guru keeps you on the path to self attainment, saves you from yourself when you lose focus and give up.

We all need a guru or more to face up to the challenges life throws us. Yet, we are taught to be self sufficient to the extent that seeking help or speaking of our fears are seen as a sign of weakness. My first lessons in humility and self introspection came from my parents, who are regarded as the ultimate gurus in the Hindu tradition. I remember clearly my mother asking me if I was vain when she caught me preening constantly before the mirror when I was maybe nine or ten! In her criticism of my lack of focus or her rebukes for my lack of organisation, I see now her attempts to guide me. By setting high standards herself, she ignited in me a passion for life, a hunger for information and analysis. Daddy taught me balance, that quality he had in plenty and that he patiently inculcated in those around him as well. The ability to listen to others, to empathise, to always be ready to learn. I saw him practice these and imbibed as much as I could.

So many role models! My grandmothers Ajji and Amamma, both strong intelligent wilful women ahead of their times in many ways. Today I feel like they still have so much to teach that we, caught in our lives, are failing to learn. My grandfather, Vava, a man of learning and passion, who took me under his wing when I was very little. Aunts, uncles, cousins, relations.

As I grew older, friends became gurus too. One taught me the art of keeping secrets, another inspired by his selfless sharing of knowledge. A friends reckless spirit drive me to discard inhibitions. Another taught me to love unreservedly. Every day, Rahul inspires me to not judge my loved ones. I can go on and on.

In the arts, the status of the guru is more defined, especially for those of us who learn any of the classical Indian art forms where ‘guru shishya parampara’ is still a live tradition. My music gurus, Aaba Thali, Milon Debnathji who will always be Masterji to me and now Shanta Mishraji, I am eternally indebted to you for the gift of Sur, Taal and Sadhna. My kathak guru Jayashree Acharyaji deserves a special mention, for the immense positive energy that she brings to my life.

I fill my life with gurus because they help me stay centred and fulfilled, but also because they do not let me get complacent. However modern life gets, certain simple gestures and traditions always affect me profoundly. Touching the guru’s feet, for instance, might seem old fashioned to many. But in that instant, when I bend and submit myself, I let go. And when I rise and my guru beams back a smile, I am filled with light and pride. I know all is well with the world!

Traditions still live on: A temple festival in Goa- Nov1

I am here in Goa for Tehelka’s Thinkfest. While this media blitzkrieg is being inaugurated at the posh Hyatt at Bambolim, I am sitting at a local temple near where my uncle lives, hearing some beautiful music!
Goa never fails to surprise.
Tonight, I have the opportunity to experience a temple festival of the Shri Pimpleshwar Dutta Mandir in Talegaon, a municipality close to Panjim, Goa’s capital city. Dattatreya is the Trimurti, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, much worshipped in these parts. The festival features three local singers, artists of some calibre and plenty of confidence. Akshay, a young vocalist blessed with a mellifluous voice impresses me with his confidence and complete mastery of sur. Tanvi Valavalkar, also young, excelled at devotional music and her classical training comes through in her strong renditions. An older lady, whose name I did not catch, leads the group and has been singing in temple festivals for some forty five years! They carry on the vocal tradition of this region that has produced famous musicians and singers including the famous Mangeshkars.
The master of ceremonies is a colorful personality who fills the interludes with devotional stories, and quotes from a variety of ports and saints in a truly dramatic and traditional style of oration. A crash refresher course in Marathi for sure!
Temple festivals have been a long standing tradition in these parts. It is always heartening to see the strong sense of community in Goa. Today, I see the young and old, men and women, entire families with kids, the rich and the poor, even the resident dog gathered here. Most are truly enjoying the music, some are getting exposure to it. The music is semi classical and offers an opportunity for upcoming artists to showcase their skills to a relatively non judgemental audience.
This is a society bound by convention, faith and common interests. Shared beliefs and ideologies. Shared spaces. Shared rituals. Shared enjoyment. A society in which the whole is a bit more than the sum of its parts.

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Finding happiness in dance: Vignettes from my kathak journey- Oct 15, 2012

My weekends are intensely cultural these days. That’s because I learn kathak on Saturday mornings and Hindustani classical vocals on Sunday afternoons. It’s been a long cherished dream for me to get back to both dance and music and once I had decided, there was no stopping me from soaking it all in!

Fortunately for me, I have found patient, good-natured and excellent gurus in Gurgaon. Learning under the tutelage of someone who not only excels at her art, but also is passionately in love with imparting its nuances to her students takes the experience of learning to a whole new level. I find that the informal interactions we have with our kathak guru Jayashree Acharya on art, culture, attitudes to life, how we deal with change in our society, values and a whole range of issues, have a direct bearing on our understanding of kathak as a dance form and the importance of pursuing and practicing the classical arts in modern urban Indian society.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of watching Jayashreeji perform at the India Habitat Centre as part of ‘Tasmai’, a festival organized by the Aakriti Foundation. What struck me, besides the mastery she has over her art form, was her high comfort level on stage, her easy interactions with the audience as well as with all her co-artists who were supporting her. I felt like I was part of her performance, not someone watching from the outside.

My guru, Jayashree Acharya. She is a disciple of the famed kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj and a superb dancer and teacher herself. Photo: Avinash Pasricha

Her students, aged between six and fourteen perhaps, performed a dance ballet ‘Paratatva’ at Gurgaon’s Epicentre a couple of days later. In terms of the theme, Paratatva dwelt on the importance of balancing the five essential elements of nature as a way to ensure the continued prosperity of our world. The raw power and beauty of nature, its sounds and rythms, its cascades and cadences were beautifully expressed by the children who performed via a skilfully choreographed ballet. Subtle costumes representing the colours of the elements-grey, orange, blue, green, brown- and a melodious background score added to the impact.

A capture from the dance ballet Paratatva

I enjoyed the overall effect of the dance compositions I saw, but also revelled in the joy of understanding some of the intricacies and even recognizing patterns (both tukdas and footwork) that we have learnt. A friend asked me whether I would be on stage some day and I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve always been the sort of person who craves the spotlight. I’ve performed many times- music, dance, drama, elocution….through school and college. I fancied myself quite the star, the diva.

But now, in my thirties, life has taken on a very different rhythm, a very different meaning. I savor the pleasures of learning and being taught without the bother of that competitive edge nor the bitterness of regret or failure. I enjoy both music and dance as art forms as well as ways to give myself the me-time I need. I have high expectations of myself, but I do not set boundaries or deadlines that stress me out. Now, in this way, I am truly enjoying the classical arts as they deserve to be enjoyed. No wonder, the good old traditions of yore placed the student at the feet of the guru, to learn, evolve and grow, bit by bit, over many years till maturity was attained, and beyond.

Jayashreeji’s students receiving their guru’s love and blessings at the end of the show

At home in Fort Bharatgarh! Oct 3, 2012

Where did you stay? That was the question I got asked most after returning from the trip to Anandpur Saheb and Bhakra Dam. Well, where we stayed was certainly a most memorable part of our journey. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Kiran, to whom we all owe this wonderful little sojourn (she runs Birdsong and Beyond, a niche travel venture), we got a peek into the life of the landed royalty of Punjab, in the quaint comfort of their own home.

Bharatgarh is nestled atop a hill in a landscape full of rivulets and ravines, a mini Chambal with a lot more greenery you could say! Located near Ropar at the foothills of the Shivaliks, the fort offers stunning views of the landscape around. From what I understood, it has the distinction of being the only royal residence in the Punjab that has been occupied continuously since it was built. Eleven generations of the Singhpuria Misl of Jat Sikhs have lived here, a clan that was started by Nawab Kapoor Singh in 1763. He is well known in Sikh history as a man of valor and he had the honor of laying the foundation stone of the rebuilt Harimandar Sahib, better known as the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar.

Approaching the fort

Grand entrance

Each time we passed that door, we said Anaarkali!

The current inhabitants of the fort, Sardar Deepinder Singh and his wife Sardarni Maninder Kaur, run a discreet, simple and elegant home stay in three refurbished rooms in the heritage wing of this delightful little fort residence. It is clearly renovated and maintained with painstaking love and care, and considerable taste. At the same time, it isn’t over the top. Living in Bharatgarh felt like you were within  slice of history, yet it felt like home. The warm hospitality and home cooked, simple food meant we could relax completely, explore the fort freely. The hostess especially came across as a cultured and gregarious person, sharing with us stories of their life, their world view and their attitude, how they achieve the careful balance between the pace of modern life and royal legacy and tradition it is their duty to preserve. Just before we left, we were honored by a peek into their own private quarters, which at this time are being renovated in preparation for their daughter’s engagement, to be held later this year within the fort premises.

Courtyard and entrance to the heritage wing

Living room

View from our room

Our friends for the trip

Sunrise over one of the turrets…The foothills of the Himalayas in the distance

View of Bharatgarh village

Exploring the turrets

Family weaves…traditional baagh

Waving goodbye to the formidable ramparts….

Tradition, ritual, family: Devkare ceremony in Calapur, Goa- July 28, 2012

A day before any major life event, there is the Devkare. Today, we appeased the Gods a day ahead of Arnav’s Upanayan ceremony. Arnav is my cousin brother Ashish’s son. Ashooda has the clear distinction of being my favourite brother, sans competition. Arnav therefore had a special place in my heart. That he is only a year older than Udai and we have been fortunate enough to have spend time with each other as family despite living a few continents apart, is our good fortune. It is truly delightful to see the kids play and spar together. We relive our childhood experiences through them, those good old summers when we all visited each other, teased, laughed, cried together (i did a lot of the crying) and drove the parents crazy!
Anyway, there were many special aspects to today’s Devkare. It was held on the top floor of the family home in Calapur. A space we all remember well, but one that has fallen out of use. Being together in that old huge house has a special significance for family members. Besides the nostalgia, we are all aware that there are these few precious occasions remaining that still continue to bring us all together. Soon, it shall become harder for us to organise ourselves to come together like this from different parts of the world. The old home shall, eventually and inevitably, crumble. And along with it an entire era.
I was particularly happy to see Ajjee so excited. Nearing on a 100 years in age, my grandmother is truly remarkable. She admitted to feeling very fortunate to be able to see her great grandson take an important next step in his life. She handmade sheviyo (a type of noodle) that was used in today’s payas (sweet preparation). As well as badiyo (small balls of lentils cooked and dried) that were added to one of the vegetable preparations. Despite being very tired, she watched most rituals and interacted with everyone who came. Remarkable what love and will power can do. I must appreciate the important role traditions and rituals play in making the elderly feel relevant, making their guidance necessary and appreciated by us, who otherwise think we know it all!
Aadyaa and Udai, who have been to this home several times in the past few years, each time for a family ritual, are now comfortable with their cousins, the spaces and the general manner of conducting ourselves with family members. Today, Udai dutifully played the role of dhedo (companion) to Arnav and sat through all the rituals Very seriously Despite not speaking Konkani, the kids seem to have made themselves at home. I now have to keep the tempo of interaction going!
Tomorrow is the moonz (Konkani for Upanayan) when Arnav gets his sacred thread and symbolically adopts Brahminhood. Much buzzing activity, planning and organising has gone into this. I am excited to see what it entails. And of course, meet more people!

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