Friday, January 29, 2010

Tiger, tiger, burning bright.........

An interesting operation was carried out recently by the Wildlife Institute of India: certain areas were selected to verify data given by the forest department, using the "camera trap imaging method". This was to get a census of the tiger population, which lasted for six days, and was carried out with the help of volunteers. This year there were 450 volunteers, double the number of participants in 2006. Emails and sms played a major role in spreading awareness of the program, and was a novel and enriching experience for many. The inexperienced wild life lover got a first hand experience of animal behaviour and the ways of the jungle, scientists collected samples for analysis, photographers got rare shots--all guided by competent guides. The results so far are heartening-- in time for the World Tiger Conference in Ranthambore (the site of a major tiger sanctuary) in October 2010.
Source: The Times of India, Bangalore, January 28, 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pongal.....the harvest festival of south India

The equivalent of Lohri in the north is Pongal in the south, especially in the state of Tamil Nadu. Like Lohri too, it heralds the sun’s apparent movement northwards. Pongal is very colorful and traditional, especially in the villages.
The celebrations last for three days, January 14 being the main one. The farmer’s harvest depends on the sun, rain and his cattle, so they are honored and thanked on the different days. This is the season when rice, cereals, sugar cane and turmeric are harvested, so these are essential ingredients in the rituals.
The first day is in honor of Indra, the lord of clouds and rains. An interesting ritual, symbolizing new beginnings, is the throwing of obsolete household articles into a bonfire made of firewood and cow dung cakes.

The next day is the main one, when the Sun is worshipped with prayers and offerings in acknowledgement for a good harvest. The fruits of the harvest are used to make a special dish of “sweet” rice, called Pongal, and this rice and milk dish is offered to the sun. Pongal literally means “to boil” or “boiling over” of milk. It is cooked outdoors, in a new earthenware pot. Other offerings include sugarcane, bananas and coconuts. Sugarcane is an important part of the decorations too.
An interesting feature is the importance given to cattle, especially cows, on the third day. They are bathed, decorated and worshipped by farmers, and fed with Pongal in gratitude for their role in ploughing the land. Their horns are often painted and decorated! Houses are cleaned and decorated, while elaborate designs called “Kolam” are drawn with rice flour outside the doorway. In some places, special bull fights called Jalli Kathu attract contestants. This is because bundles of money are tied to the horns of the bulls, and unarmed men try to wrest these! (This can also turn dangerous). This is followed by a community meal made from freshly harvested produce.
In Tamil Nadu, the fourth day is devoted to brothers, when women perform rituals and pray for their prosperity.
The photos (taken in Bangalore) highlight the symbols of Pongal: products of the harvest (sugar cane, flowers and fruits), the Pongal pot, the cow..and finally, the potter at work.

Lohri ...the harvest festival of north India

Many Indian festivals herald the change of seasons, or celebrate the harvest. One such festival is Lohri, celebrated in north India on January 13. This is the time when the biting cold begins to wane, and farmers get ready to gather the harvest. Lohri celebrates the changing season, hopes for a good harvest, as well as a natural phenomena--the beginning of the sun’s upward journey towards the northern hemisphere! Lohri is celebrated specially as the harvest festival by the people of Punjab (a state in north India); Punjab is the breadbasket of India, so the focus of the festival is on food and thanksgiving. The winter crop of wheat is actually harvested in March-April, so this is a period when people are relatively free to join in the festivities.

The main celebrations take place around bonfires. Fire, or “Agni” is worshipped and plays an important role in rituals and festivals. People circle the bonfire thrice, while singing traditional folk songs and throwing in food items like fruits, sheaves of barley, sweets, peanuts and popcorn. This is done as thanksgiving as well as prayers for a good harvest. It is a celebration of fertility, and an acknowledgement of the gift of warmth and light from fire. The highlight in rural Punjab is the performance of folk dances around the bonfire, to the beat of traditional Indian drums.

Special sweets made of sesame seeds, or peanuts and jaggery are popular at this time---these are not just healthy and tasty, but considered “warm” foods for the winter.

Most parts of north India celebrate Lohri with fervor as a community festival, when differences are forgotten and people gather to greet each other and take part in the celebrations.

A Merry Christmas!

A very "late" post! but better late than never! so some glimpses of Christmas in the Sacred Heart Cathedral...the photos say it all!

Due to the big crowds, midnight mass and the masses on Christmas day are held outdoors.

And specially for my online friends--the (Japanese!) restaurant where we had Christmas lunch, and the Christmas corner at home!