Friday, October 23, 2015

Straight from the East - Durga Puja in Orissa

Still in a state of inertia. Four amazing days gone in a jiffy and it is time to get back to the corporate humdrum but I am in a state of inertia. Durga Puja always does this to me, and I hate going back to the boring routine but guess one year wait for 4/5 days of awesomeness is worth it. And before you say – Every Bengali feels the same way – I am not a bong. But every Bengali, Oriya and Assamese sure feels the same way. You don’t believe me? Well a lot of my Bengali friends in Mumbai didn’t believe me either when I told them about the traditional Durga Puja celebrations of Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. So here is the list of five of my favorite Durga Pratimas of this year from the heart of Orissa which will do all the talking.

Durga Pratima in Bhubaneshwar
My personal favourite set up in Bhubaneshwar

Durga Mandap displaying silver filigree work

Chaudhary Bazaar Mandap in Cuttack - known for its silver work mandap
Most Creative Durga Pratima in Bhubaneshwar
P.S. With the availability of the fast drying and easy shaping Plaster of Paris, the traditional way of statue making in India is slowly dying. But Durga Puja in the east is still clinging on to the old ways. In olden times the Murtis (statues) were made of clay and jute and altars of either clay, jute or metal. While a lot of statues today are being made of Plaster of Paris and pose a threat to the environment, majority of Durga Pratimas are still made of clay cause of the belief that the visage of Durga Maa needs to be made from the soil on which beautiful girls walk, and hence are not a bio-hazard. Also, the metal altars and statues are never immersed and are reused every year with minimal or no modification and hence are environment friendly. Orissa specially follows this metal altar tradition and thanks to the famous Cuttack Silver Filigree work, silver altars and ornaments reign in Durga Puja. I seriously hope a similar culture takes over Ganesh Utsav as well and we have safe and fun festivals in near future.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Navratri, Dushera, Durga Puja and Much More

And my favourite time of the year is here! Well yes. Navratri started five days back but my favourite part commences tomorrow. And like every year, I am back with my customary Durga Puja/Navratri post. I always write only about Durga Puja cause of my Oriya/Bengali descent, but Navratri is so much more than just Durga Puja. I have been through a lot of foreign blogger accounts who consider Holi and Diwali to be the largest festivals of India. And not just the foreign bloggers, a lot of Indians also have the same thoughts. But if you ask me, I would say Diwali and Navratri are the biggest festivals of India!

India has been coloured uniformly in shades of certain colours in the past 4 days and will continue to be so for five more days. Yes India, and not just Gujrat or Maharashtra (don’t believe me, check Wikipedia – the colours are listed there as well). The Navratri festivities or, to be more precise, the Sharad Navratri festivities are not restricted to the west or east of this diverse nation, but is celebrated throughout the country in different ways but equal fervor and charm. A couple of my Gujarati friends and Bengali friends in Bangalore were missing their hometowns till yesterday. But yesterday they happened to visit Mysore and it all changed. In case you are wondering why, here is a list of places you should visit during Navratri and Dushera (the 10th day that marks the end of Navratri) and why.

1.   Kolkata or Cuttack for Durga Puja – Top of the list has to be Durga Puja. The idols of Durga with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya and Ganesha in vibrant, colourful and creative pandals, at every chowk, bazaar and ambience created with the haze of frankincense and sound of dhol – that is the picture of the East-Indian towns from the 6th day to the 10th Day of Navratri. Durga Puja is celebrated across India, and also abroad, but nothing beats the essence of the festival that grips people in West Bengal, Orissa and parts of Assam. Till early 17th century, Durga Puja used to be a house affair, where the celebrations were held at ancestral houses of the family, but after the first Sarvajanik Puja, which was held by the King of Bengal the festival kept growing, became more public and now has become a signature of the East.

2.  Ahmedabad or Vadodara for Garba and Dandiya – Colours, folk songs, heavy traditional attires and nonstop dancing all night. That is Navratri of the west! In Gujrat, parts of Rajasthan and Parts of Maharashtra the Navratri festivities bring the whole community together with very contagious high voltage energy level. (I know that was a very weird way of describing the energy level, but I seriously had no better words to match). The nine nights of Navratri used to be celebrated by people - with Garba dance by women and Dandiya Raas by men in concentric circles around the idol set up. The Idol set up have a statue or portrait of Amba, a lamp that is kept burning the whole night and a Kalash or Garba with soil. And guess what, the whole formation has a meaning too! The idol set up, being in the centre, represents the belief – God is constant and the world, human life, the universe goes around it. The circles represent the cycles of existence. I bet a lot of Gujratis didn’t know this either. Anyways, now a days Garba and Dandiya are played by all and this festival has gained a lot of global limelight, but thanks to Gujrat Tourism the Garba and Dandiya Raas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara are class apart.

3.  Varanasi for Ram Leela and Ravan Dehen – Never been there but it is totally in my bucket list. I had attended a Ravan Dehen (Burning or Ravana’s statue to mark the fall of evil) in Patna long ago and Ram Leela is something that happens every year in my native village in Orissa during Vasanta Navaratri. But little did I know that both the traditions had originated in the oldest religious town of the world – Varanasi. And being the oldest religious town, Varanasi has to have a significant Dushera tradition right? Ram Leela is a dance-drama which is performed to enact the lives of Ram, Sita and Lakshman in exile and ends on the 10th day with Ravan Dehen and Bharat Milaap. Though the entire city has numerous Ram Leela Mandals, Ramnagar, at a distance of 15 km from the city, has one Leela which is considered to be the oldest one and hence the place is famous for this event. The recitals of Ramcharitamanas reverberating on the Ghats of the Ganga for nine days, put the whole town in a spiritual trance, or so people say. Hence I would really want to observe the celebrations of this city one day soon and you should too!

4.  Mysore for Nadahabba – Also called the Mysore Dushara, this 400 year old tradition, sees the maximum number of tourists in Mysore and that is where friends went yesterday. This tradition was started by the Wodeyar/Wadieyer family of the Vijaynagar Kingdom and despite the fall of Monarchy, the tradition has been going on till day. Dushera or Vijayadashami denotes the victory of truth over evil and was the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari (Durga) killed Mahishasura and Mahishasura is the demon from whose name the name Mysore has been derived. So basically it is Durga Puja of Karnataka. During the nine nights of Navtratri the Mysore Palace is lit up by almost 1 lakh light bulbs and Mysore city is decorated in Royal colours. On the day of Dushera, a procession of the goddess is held in the town in which the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed on a golden mandapa on the top of a decorated elephant after being worshipped by the royal couple. Colourful montages, dancers, music bands, decorated elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and closes at a place called Bannimantap where a very old Bannitree is worshipped. It is said that this tradition did not stop even when Raja Wodeyar’s only son had died just a day before Navratri. So imagine how important this festival would be in Mysore!
5.  Tamil Nadu for Kolu – Navratri is the festivals of dolls in the south. Known as Bommai Kolu in Tamil Nadu, Bombe Habba in Karnataka and Golu in Kerala, this festival is mostly a home affair or limited to temples in the south and is observed mostly in rural areas. Women of the house set up wooden racks of odd number of shelves and display dolls from themes of everyday life to historical or mythological events along with statues of Gods and Goddesses. The set-ups are dedicated to the three Goddesses – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, three days dedicated to each. In traditional practice all setups have wooden figurines of the bride and groom together, called 'Marapacchi Bommai'. In south India bride is given the 'Marapacchi Bommai' during the wedding by her parents as part of wedding trousseau to initiate the yearly tradition of 'Navaratri Kolu' in her new home. On the last day of Kolu i.e. on Dushera, one of the dolls is symbolically put to sleep and the other dolls are packed away, to be used during the next Kolu.

Apart from these, Dushera Celebrations are also very famous in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh and Bastar, Chhattisgarh, but I did not include them in the list as I have absolutely no idea about the traditions there. If you know of any other Navratri Traditions do let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Offbeat Goa - Fontainhas

Old Secretariat at Sao Tome, near Fontainhas 

Early morning, lazy mist, cool sea breeze, enthusiastic shutterbugs and a splash of colour everywhere – this was one of my ideal mornings in Goa during my recent visit. Ideal yes, cause like I had said in my earlier post on Goa, this old colonial state has so much more to offer than just sun, sand and sea.

Splash of Colours - Fontainhas
In the heart of the sleepy and jolly town of Panjim there is an area with narrow lanes dotted by picturesque houses painted in vibrant shades of red, blue, green and yellow. This area is known as Old Latin Quarters or Sao Tome & Fontainhas and it preserves the essence of the Portuguese era till this day. My regular followers on Instagram already have an idea of my morning spent there but for you all – here it is!

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church
Just off the River Cruise Jetty area, after a quick walk till Pra├ža da Igreja aka the square with the century old Baroque Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church you see winding roads leading in every direction, bracketed with colourful villas with foliage around the old wooden doors and windows and then you know - you have entered the heritage area of Fontainhas.

On the way to Fontainhas
Most of these quaint Portuguese style houses date back to early 19th century, though the initial layout of Fontainhas was set in 1850s - after this particular area was reclaimed from the sea by the Portuguese government and set up for coconut cultivation by a Goan expat, Antonio Joao de Sequeria. People flocked in Fontainhas after the administration was moved to Panjim (then Nova Goa) and after the Ribandar Causeway had set up better connectivity between Panjim. The name Fontainhas is derived from ‘Fonte Phoenix’ (Fountain of Phoenix), which was a reservoir of water built near the Church back in those days. Though the colonial structures start from Sao Tome, near the jetty bus stop, the actual part of Fontainhas starts from this church.

The window story
Today some houses are dilapidated but some are freshly painted, keeping the old tradition of painting the houses every year alive. This modern and antique blend of architecture still keeps the charm of the bygone era wrapped in a timeless spirit.
Old forgotten doors

The old age allure sets a spell on you from the minute you step into the area. I had visited the area early morning around 8:00 AM when the sleepy lanes were still waiting to get out of slumber. But cobbled paths, old wooden doors, porches, red or blue tiled roofs, projecting balconies, bird cages, some wishing wells and lone candles outside some houses were enough to keep my attention for hours. As these quarters grew unplanned and unprecedented the lanes are winding, chaotic and very narrow, but the beauty of the area somehow lies in this chaos. It is almost like an old town of Portugal, in India that refuses to move away from its roots. And thought I didn’t meet a lot of people, due to the early hour exploration, a lady at Geetanjali Gallery told me that a lot of families in Fontainhas still speak in Portuguese.
At Geetanjali Art Gallery

Geetanjali Gallery is one of many galleries in Fontainhas, all preserving facts and memories of the colonial period. Fontainhas is also known for its arty cafes which were a pleasant change from the hustle bustle of tourists at Goan beaches. I decided to pause and imbibe the vintage feel by spending some time at the Verandah Restaurant of Panjim Inn, opposite Geetanjali Gallery, only to find out that the structure was one of the oldest in the quarters. Lost in this sussegado moment, I lost track of time and only realized that it was time to go back when I saw the quarters come alive with jolly faces.
At Panjim Inn
I love going on offbeat tracks, and this certainly was the best offbeat destination I have explored in Goa till date.

Panjim Inn
How to get to Fontainhas:
Fontainhas is Fontainhas is about 25 km from Goa International Airport and is situated in the heart of Panjim. You could always get an auto, but I took a bus from Miramar Beach (RS. 10 till bus stop after the Jetty) .Best way to explore the area is to walk, hands down!

Vibrant Red!
P.S. – For people going in the evening, if you are lucky you would see a lot of violin and guitar players in the area. And every year, during the Panjim Art Week, the historic houses in Fontainhas are turned into art galleries, with residents displaying their artworks, unique architectural features of their structures.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wither Away

Crimson bliss
Deep hue;
Petals blush
Drunk on dew;
Oblivious though
To a ticking cue…

The red’s with an earthy tinge.
Tick Tock, Tick Tock…
Quietly, and slowly so
Now like leaves, they are all falling off,
Even with my spirit left
My petals leave the stalk…

I exist now just in air
Freshness and fragrance lingering somewhere.
Sure with time I withered away
Like all that exists will someday.
But a smile I bring to every heart

And leave some timeless memories when I depart…

P.S. All photos are my own and were clicked with my Nexus5 Cam.