Category Archives: Culture

7 interesting facts about the Indian Independence

Written by: Samhati Bhattacharjya

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Source: Pixabay

India celebrated its 71st Independence Day on 15 August, 2017 with renewed enthusiasm and patriotic fervour. In 1947, this date marked the end of India’s struggle against British rule and the beginning of a new era for the country. India is truly a secular and diverse country with different religions, languages, caste, and creed living in harmony.

India has a long history to tell about itself since its freedom till now. All of us have read about the freedom fighters of our country and their horrific struggle for freedom. But, as the nation celebrates the 71st year of freedom, we thought of bringing something different to the table. Here’s a list of 7 interesting facts associated with Independence Day that may surprise you.

1. India derived its name from the River Indus, the valleys around which were the home of the first inhabitants of the country. The Sanskrit name for India is Bharat Ganarajya. Hence, it is also known as ‘Bharat’.

2. The National flag was first hoisted on August 7, 1906 at the Parsee Bagan Square in Calcutta, now Kolkata. The flag was composed of horizontal strips of red, yellow and green. The red strip at the top had eight white lotuses embossed on it in a row. The green strip had a white sun on the left and a white crescent and star on the right.

3. At present, the Indian flag has three colours: saffron, white and green. The top strip saffron stands for courage and sacrifice; the middle portion white for peace, truth, purity and green for faith, fertility and chivalry. The Ashok Chakra at the centre of the flag depicts righteousness.

4. It is said that Pingali Venkayya designed the first version of the current national flag at Bezwada in 1921. The flag was made up of two colours: red and green that used to represent the two major communities. Gandhiji suggested the addition of a white strip to represent the remaining communities of India and the spinning wheel to symbolize progress of the Nation.

5. Talking about the national flag, the Khadi Development and Village Industries Commission is the only licensed flag production and supply unit in India. As of 2008, the Dharwad based Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha was the sole manufacturer of the flag. The flags were earlier made with Jayadhar, a popular variety of cotton grown in Karnataka. But, Khadi Gramodyoga has recently started using Bt cotton instead of the indigenous.

6. Many people think that Hindi is the national language of our country, but that’s not true. Hind is the first official language of India.  Article 343 of the Constitution states that Hindi in Devnagari script is the official language of India. On 14 September 1949, Hindi was declared as the Official Language of the Union.

7. Although, the Bengali invocation of Jana Gana Mana was written in 1911, there was no National Anthem when India became independent on August 15, 1947. Jana Gana Mana was not considered as national anthem till 1950.

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Ganesh Chaturthi: The Light, the Lamp and the Darkness

– By Garima Jayaswal

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Source: Pixabay

When I shifted from Kolkata to Mumbai, as fate would have it I found myself in an apartment in Ganesh Nagar, Lalbaug.  Like most outstation people Lalbaug had no special significance, little did I know that it is Lalbaug that hosted the city’s biggest and the most opulent Ganesh Utsav. Every day on my way to college I saw certain developments from the enclosure, until a few days before the festival; I stood there dumbfounded staring at a 40 feet idol draped in cloth. The security was air tight, the iron bars stood firm to the ground, the red carpets rolled out, and the humongous loudspeakers ready to roar, building’s submerged in rice lights, the whole area in and around the enclosure embellished with flowers and dazzling lights and the growing excitement on the faces of people eager to pompously celebrate their God’s homecoming. And it hasn’t even started yet!

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Lalbaugcha Raja! It is as royal as the name suggests, maybe more not less. I woke up that morning to the sound of shankhs , dhol and lazem beats heralding the homecoming of Ganesha the remover of obstacle – Vighneshwara or Vignaraja. I peeked a glance from my window, bewildered to see a sea of devotees queued up to get `darshan’. It is said that about 10-12 lakhs people come and visit the pandas every day! Here I thought durga puja was as crazy as you could get! Earlier Ganesh Chaturthi was a very private affair celebrated individually in homes. It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who first started the tradition of celebrating it publicly and together, hence giving rise to Sarvajanik Ganeshustav. So today there are two types to celebrating publicly in pandals and privately at homes. The tradition is to bring home the idol on the day of Chaturthi or to the pandal, and then worshipped and offered gold, modak, flowers, milk, clothes and various other offerings. The idol is to be immersed into the sea on the first, third, fifth, seventh or the twenty first day. While the idol is in the house, friends, family, neighbours are invited and given the `prasadam’ and food. With welled up eyes and heavy hearts the idol is then immersed into the sea.  “Ganapati bappa maurya, pudchya varshi laukayarya!” which means Hail the lord Ganesh and may he come soon next year. Thus the visarjan ceremony puts an end to the year’s celebration.

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Source: Pixabay

 

My experience however does not end here, as much as have enjoyed the festivities in a week it was what happens after that had a more long-lasting effect on me. As the saying goes -Beneath every luminescent lamp, there is darkness cast by its own shadow. After seven days of the speakers blasting yo yo honey singh and Bollywood chartbuster’s, it finally stopped much to my relief. I stepped out of my house expecting normalcy, what I saw was beyond normalcy. It was as if we were hit by a hurricane! The enclosure was dilapidated; flowers that once adorned the pandal were strewn all around, rotting in heaps and the remains of the burnt leftover firecrackers covering the once plush red carpet. I saw a beggar ushering into the broken remains and searching the area for food while heaps of extra prasad rotted in the dustbin. Ironically in a podium close by there was an auction of the jewellery donated, the figures were in lakhs not even thousands.  We are so mesmerised by the grandeur and splendour that we forget the spirit and the significance behind it, wasn’t this festival revived to bring about social harmony? Or is it is just about celebration and show of wealth?  That very evening I went to the beach, I saw those glorious idols disintegrated and mutilated lying on the beach covered in mud and sand, even the sea got repulsed and threw it ashore.  God made us. We made God.  The God we made turns into dust,  And the God that made us turns US into dust.  Divine justice, won’t you say?

 

Poila Baishakh – the first day of Bengali New Year

– By Angana Sengupta

“Esho hey baishakh esho esho…” as I turned and twisted on my bed, I could hear this faint music coming from a distance. The advantage of being a bong is that no matter where you and where you have grown, you will always know Rabindrasangeet by heart.  As the realization dawned over me, I got up with a jerk. It was Naba Barsho, the beginning of Bengali New Year.

Baishakh had set in and I wasn’t even aware of the fact, thanks to our laptop lives. As I ran down the stairs I was filled with the aroma of puris and aloo sabji along with Rosogolla and Payesh(Khir). Mom was all decked up in her new saree and dad in his new pajama panjabi. My aunts, uncles, grandparents had all landed in our house for celebrating Naba Barsho. All stunned eyes stared at me as I was the only sleeping beauty that day. Even my cousins were all dressed up. Bloody traitors! They had also taken part in the Prabhat Pheri which is an early morning procession.

I could easily sense my mom’s anger and only to appease her, I rushed for the customary dip in the nearby pond and then had to sit for the Puja. Since we have a family business worshiping goddess Lakshmi and lord Ganesh jointly is a must on this day. As the Mantras began, my stomach’s demand for food became louder and louder. For the Bengali businessmen, Naba Barsho is the beginning of all the business activities. They purchase new accounting books and start new accounts known as Haalkhata.

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Finally, the Puja got over and I along with all my cousins jumped on the puris. It was just the beginning of the festivities. Dad along with his brothers began their business and on the other hand the ladies of the house started the cultural activities. Age was no bar as kids, uncles, aunties even grandparents were seen dancing, singing and reciting poetries.

Since Poila Baishakh marks the first day of the Bengali calendar, we welcome it by cleaning our houses and decorating it with earthen handmade decorations.  The entrance of the house is decorated with alponas (rangolis) which are generally done by the women. These rangolis are made up of rice flour and in its centre an earthenware pot is placed. The pot is decorated by the vermillion swastika and is filled with the Ganga water. On top of it, mango leaves are placed which symbolizes a prosperous year for the family. The household kitchens are filled with the aroma of sweets as it is believed to be a good omen.

Soon it was time for lunch. From fish to mutton to Payesh (Khir), well, we had it all. You know how a dream of a foodie comes true? When he or she gets to eat all the favourite dishes in one meal. And my day had come. This is among one of those days of the year when the entire family along with friends come together and celebrate. Be it food or adda or celebrations, everything is done together. Children touch the feet of their elders and take their blessings. Gifts are shared. Everyone wears new clothes. It’s like one big fat celebration happening.

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Oh did I mention adda? Yes, how could I forget that? After the lunch, all the family members sat together in the courtyard and the adda session begun. It is said that if you are a true Bengali then your fish, rosogolla and adda are inseparable from you. These long sessions of adda began with what are the dates for Durga Puja this year as the new Panjika  which is the Bengali Almanac comes in on this day. It consists of all the dates and timings of the festivities. Then there was politics to who’s getting married when to music to dance, all in one!

As the day came to an end, the realization that again tomorrow was a working day brought me almost on the verge of tears. One by one all the relatives and friends were leaving with the hope that this year too will be good, at least better than the previous year. The house now looked empty. Tired, I was lying down on the sofa when I felt something wet on my feet. I looked down and found a small puppy licking my feet. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That was my parents gift for me and hence Goofy’s first day in house. The year now surely will be great!

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Gudi Padwa – The Maharashtrian New Year

– By Angana Sengupta

Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Nau Roz in Kashmir, Baisakhi in Punjab, Cheti Chand in Sindhi, Naba Barsha in Bengal, Goru Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala marks the beginning of the New Year, new month and new day for the Hindus as it’s the beginning of Chaitra Shukla Pratipada. Thus, Gudi Padwa is celebrated to mark the beginning of Maharashtrian New Year.

According to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, Gudi Padwa is the first day of the year. As India is primarily an agrarian society, hence celebrations are often linked to the cultivation of crops like sowing and reaping of crops. Gudi Padwa marks the ending of one set of harvest and beginning of a new set. Thus, it is celebrated at the end of the Rabi season.

If Brahma Purana is to be believed then it was on this day that Brahma has created the world after the deluge and since then the clock has never stopped.

On this day, the Maharashtrian houses are decorated with mango leaves and rangoli. In the country side, the courtyard is swept clean and plastered with fresh cow dung. Vibrant colours are used for the rangoli to mark the beginning of spring. The day begins with ritual showers (oil bath) followed by pooja to god and Panchanga Shravana. From clothes to sofa covers, everything is new on this day.

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On Gudi Padwa, a gudi is stuck out of the window in a Maharashtrian house or in a terrace or any higher platform so that it is visible. A gudi is a long bamboo stick which is wrapped with a bright green or orange saree with zari topped with an inverted kalash. Gaathi(sugar crystals), neem leaves, a twig of mango leaves and a garland is also tied to the gudi. This gudi is erected early in the morning, worshiped throughout the day and kept till the evening. The gudi is generally positioned on the right side of the house as it is believed that the right side represents the active state of the soul.

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There are many reasons as to why a gudi is raised to mark the beginning of the New Year. It is believed that King Shalivahana has hoisted a gudi at Paithan after his victory over the Sakas. It also represents the victory of Lord Ram over Ravana and the return of happiness in Ayodhya with King Ram coming back. As victory is always held high, gudi is thus placed in higher platforms. It is a symbol of good luck and is believed to ward off the evil and to bring success and prosperity in the house.

Families begin the festival by eating the bitter leaves of neem along with gur (jiggery). Sometimes a paste is made out of neem, tarmarind, ghane and gur which is consumed by the family as it is supposed to strengthen the immunity system of the body and purify the blood. It also symbolizes the fact that life is a mixture of good and bad and sadness and happiness. Thus, whatever comes our way we are supposed to accept it with equanimity.

Along with shrikhand and poori, puranpoli is made on this day. Unlike other festivals, Gudi Padwa, is a very family-oriented affair, but one can also take part in the yatra organised on the previous day, where families bring diyas and float them on the lake. The whole lake is lit up with floating diyas which looks really beautiful. Gudi Padwa is also said to be symbolic of love and devotion between the husband and wife thus, on this day the newly-weds are invited by the in-laws for special meals and resents. Depending on how the day goes the whole year can be determined. So husbands, keep your wives happy on this day to have a splendid year!

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Kolkata Football – It’s When Someone Scores A Goal !

– By Sourav Mukherjee

Wherever one may roam, if they are in India in search of the game, Kolkata is undoubtedly the place to be in irrespective of the other big names that have made their mark in the recent times. No matter what, even if India ranks at 135 in the FIFA World’s list, The Kolkata Derby and its grandeur that is still intact even after so many years since its inception, still holds one of biggest rivalries in the world and could easily be counted as The Clash of The Titans, played between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

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East Bengal, established in 1920, being the representatives of the eastern region of the undivided Bengal, way before it was eventually named as Bangladesh and being announced as an Islamic republic in 1971, and other the side, being from the west itself, Mohun Bagan, the oldest of perhaps all the clubs in India that have ever played football in the country, established way back in 1889. These two sides make for a match whenever they turn out on the pitch. One might feel the shiver of witnessing history on their toes if they get to be in a packed Yubabharati Krirangan, of over 1 lakh heads getting bisected into Red & Yellow (East Bengal) and Green & Maroon (Mohun Bagan).

Producing numerous superstars of the game in the country, Kolkata never seemed to fall short in being called as the Mecca of Football, though in recent times, cities like Goa, Bengaluru and Mumbai have also joined in the league in producing some great talents who are proving to be the future ambassadors of the game. From Gostho Paul to P.K Banerjee, the likes of Chuni Goswami, Majid Boxer, Jamsid Nasiri, Krishanu Dey, Subrata Bhattacharjee, Subhash Bhowmik, Bhaichung Bhutia and other huge names have been the frontiers of the rich Kolkata footballing culture since its golden era had started a century ago.

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Well, not just by the colours as they say, the glorious rivalry between the Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are measured by the choices of food their fans make for themselves as well. King Size Prawn vs. Golden Hilsa, primarily those of River Padma, (located in Bangladesh in present times) are the symbols of the fans who wear their jerseys and turn up to the event. It all go in the cards of history after every single derby takes place in the City of Joy, as people from both the sides never leave an inch apart in disgracing each other by their colours and pride. It seems as though a fight is being fought out of the game, which is much far and above the boundaries of football. More so to the temper at which it grows, days before the game is scheduled. In the end, the side that loses is the side that’s booed until the next match is in contention. The battle just gets tired of in wracking nerves if you’re a Bengali by any chance.

On the whole, as contributors of Indian Football, Kolkata is and shall always be up there where hardly any other state of India could ever match up, as far as the emotions surrounding the game is concerned in this part of the country. May this outburst of ruthless aggression live forever.

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Asche Bochor Abar Hobe: The culture of Durga Puja in Kolkata

– Written by Joyona Medhi

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Source: Samhati Bhattacharjya

Come the first few weeks of August, and one can actually hear the heart of a bong thumping faster and sometimes even skipping a beat or two in anticipation of the coming of his Maa- the coming of Pujo!

The air is absolutely thick with the feeling one gets just before the starting, the unraveling of something extremely huge…, the feeling you get standing near the wings of the stage with just a few minutes left for your performance to begin.., the feeling you get just before reaching the peak of a much awaited climax.

 

If energy, passion, paranoia, madness, mania, hyperventilation, hysteria, red bull, glucon-d and chaos, could all be personified into one single being on this planet…-it would have to be the all grimy and sweaty bong, who under the concentrated two o’clock sun, sits in an auto patiently stuck in a huge jam in the heart of a buzz-filled gariahat , clutching onto innumerable bulging shopping bags of different shapes and sizes. After managing to strike up a heated argument with the autowalla over the fare, with eyebrows crinkled up in determination, he now contemplates about the ‘buy-2-get-1-free’ offer in the new mall and how to best avail of it!

 

Who cares whether it’s school time, college time, office time, and that people have their peaceful daily lives to carry on with? It’s Pujo, and everything must come to a standstill! Otherwise how can it even be called pujo or even feel like pujo? –That’s bong logic for u!! Pandals built right in the middle of roads. Traffic somehow haphazardly diverted. Red, green, yellow -who’s ever heard of them? We make our own traffic rules here! Epicenters of the city blocked, taxis refusing to go anywhere (if you get them empty i.e), people refusing to do any work (if you get them not pretending to be all busy i.e) –this is what the festive season entails. “Pujo ashche toh! apni pujo’r por’e ashben!”-goes the universally accepted excuse which almost seems to imply that putting the words “pujo” and “work” in the same sentence is nothing short of blasphemy! The snakelike auto lines extend till god knows where and one seems to wonder why ‘flyovers’ were even named such! You start having second quadruple thoughts about stepping out of your house…Capitalism, pouncing on this very opportunity of pujo, with its hidden handmaidens of price rise and inflation, seeking to lure the Bengali customer, greets you with a smile an advertisement at every shop you pass by.

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Source: Pixabay

The peaceful and quaint little footpaths, with a series of distractingly colorful junk jewellery shops running parallel to them, which used to be a stroller’s paradise before, now seem just the opposite. You have to take in a deep long breath, summon all the forces of the universe, put on the face of a sumo wrestler,(if possible even start believing that you’re one!),and scream out a war cry!! Only then can you…push, and pull, and kick, and bite, and hit, and tickle, and squeeeeeeze your way out of those very same but now claustrophobic footpaths, filled with, boudis enthralled by anything remotely sparkly in the smallest of shops, engrossed in bargaining, and absolutely refusing to budge an inch from rendering the ‘footpath’ completely unworthy of being called one! After accomplishing THAT, when you feel like you’ve created history, you definitely deserve a bournville – because now, you’ve actually EARNED it!

Pujo comes and it is as though a large maniacal ‘cut-loose’ monster, finds incarnation in the whole Bengali community! A monster which has an irrational undying thirst for visiting every single pandal in Kolkata starting right from the day of panchami only ,come rain come shine! A monster whose eyes become absolutely hypnotic throughout the entire pujo season! A monster who will, pull and tug and grope, (if need be even kill), to have a 5 second glimpse of the deity! A crazy, multiple armed (to do everything that can be possibly done during pujo) monster, who seems to have chugged down 5 to 6 red bulls at one go. A monster whose, sometimes impulsive, sometimes high-on-life, sometimes tipsy, and sometimes fierce i-can-kill-for-pujo mood swings, drive the entire community. I think it hides in the d.n.a of every Bengali -runs in their very veins. A little chromosomal monster that rears its head at the slightest mention of the word pujo!

Even though to an outsider, pujo seems to run on the policy of ‘live, (to the fullest) and don’t let anyone else live peacefully’, what is important is that it is the celebration of ‘life’ and the joy of ‘living’ more than anything else …and including every possible one in it (irrespective of whether he or she wants to be included)! It’s like all the joy of this ‘city of joy’ is out on its very streets during pujo. So much so that pujo becomes an expression of the city itself. It is almost as though the city bursts into laughter during those few days. If the true innate essence of the city were to be corked up inside a small bottle, labeling the bottle ‘pujo’ would be just apt.

So to truly understand pujo and what is it that people loose their sleep over, you’ve to understand the city, understand Kolkata first. By walking down its lanes and by-lanes, and its every nook and corner everyday, you slowly start feeling the pulse of the city. It is a reverberating rhythm which amplifies and resounds in the manic dhak-dhaking of the million hearts during pujo. You can not only hear it, but feel it …, when you get goose bumps when the dhakais first begin to play their beat, when your hair stands when you hear the dying echo of the shankh, or when you get creeped out by the unnatural eerie quite after dashami

Kolkata has a soul, a soul that died and became one, because its heart’s arteries became blocked with too much of mishti doi laden sweetness …but is a soul nonetheless.
And in being driven crazy by it, and hating it from the core of your heart, you know that somehow some part of you has already fallen in love with it.

 

Pathak and the speculations

– By Radhika Vasanth

“The Kodavas are a patrilineal ethno-lingual group from the region of Kodagu, in Karnataka state of southern India, who speak the Kodava thakk (language). The Kodavas are a non-Brahminical sect who believes more in reverence towards nature and their ancestors”.

Thanks to Google! When I google ‘Kodavas’, I find numerous articles flowing in. I half read them. Not because I don’t find them interesting, but because it’s an over- dose of speculations. Speculations start from the origin of Kodavas to the present day living. Each of the articles holds a different and captivating story about them.

Among the archive of speculations, the Kodava weddings are one of the most amazing ones. The difference in opinion began because of the peculiar way of Kodava weddings. It’s not about the alcohol that’s served or the appetizing kodava food or the absence of dowry system. In Kodava weddings, the mother of the bride knots the pathak (the kodava mangalsutra, pronounced as pa- tha- kh) around the bride’s neck. Now that’s something, isn’t it? What does the groom do? Put a ring on her finger.

As far as I have heard and read, there are three different speculations.

The first one being: The Gandharva wedding, where there is absolute absence of the priest, the chanting, the sacred fire and ritual of mangalsutra. The wedding takes place with blessings from the elders and the groom slipping the wedding ring onto the bride’s finger.

In the second version, a Deva kanya falls in love with a ordinary human and decides to marry him. The Gods become furious as she wanted to marry the ordinary human who stands low compared to Gods and shut the door of the lords forever. But the deva kanya was adamant. On her way back to earth, she meets the Naga Devathe. The Naga Devathe tells her that, the only way to marry the human was to ask her mother to knot the pathak around her neck instead of the human. By doing so, she is on a par with the Goddess.

The last version as per legend, when Kodagu was a province located on the Deccan Plateau, the muslim rulers of Mysore, forcefully dragged away unmarried beautiful Kodava girls from Kodagu. In order to protect their daughters from the muslim kings, the mothers knotted the pathak around their daughter’s neck.

The stories may or may not be real. But the fact that the women in the Kodava community are treated and respected equal to men is not phony. The women are given rights to their parental property even after their wedding. It is said that the ‘Pathak’ symbolizes the right that the daughter has at her parents place even after her wedding.