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Madhuban Resort and Spa, Anand – Gujarat

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Food and Religion: Maybe our forefathers knew better..

It’s amazing how religions can preach different ways to lead lives or to pray and seek inner peace, yet, at any religious celebration, food is at the core. Be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or any other religion, food forms an integral link with celebration.

 

As a child, any festival would mean we would get sweet treats and fried things. The wonderful part is, some sweets and savory things are made only to celebrate that particular festival. I would always wonder why we couldn’t get my favorite sweets all year round and why did they have to make it only during a particular festival.

 

As I read more and more about diet and nutrition and discover how bad sugar is (some reports suggest sugar be banned or strongly regulated) and how greasy food is harming us, suddenly it makes sense why sweet and savory treats were only made for a particular festival and not all year round.

 

As much as we like to embrace change and prefer to adopt lifestyles that make us feel comfortable and free, our forefathers knew a thing or two about nutrition even without the deep research we have now. They figured it was bad to have sugar or greasy stuff all year round. They realized that one of the easiest ways for the mass to follow particular instructions was to tie it up closely with religion. In those days, many centuries ago, people were more inclined to follow the order of religion and not try to oppose it. So, they decided to put forth instructions that certain foods can only be eaten during certain festivals.

 

The deeper I delved into finding the inter-relation between food and religious festivals, the more I discovered reasons for certain practices. For instance, they recommend you eat certain preparations that have dried fruits in the winter festivals because they have more good fats. These fats help the body store more energy and keep you warmer. The ritual of having certain alcohol with your food is also closely linked to the region you live in. In the areas where it does get very cold, alcohols help bring your body temperature up. In India, we have the tradition of putting a red ‘tikka’ on the forehead. Acupressure suggests that applying pressure on the points between your eyebrows or on your forehead is beneficial. Muslims have to fast all day long during Ramadan, not drinking water sometimes. This helps them develop their mental strength or willpower as well as helps detoxify their bodies. Hindus also fast on certain days to appease Gods. But more than making a God happy, it has the benefits of detoxifying the system.

 

I do not believe certain religious practices should be carried forth in today’s day and age just because the traditions exist. Times have changed. Our life styles have changed. It would not help us in any way if we tried to follow every custom to the ‘T’. It is very important to change and adapt to the changing times. Adaptation is an important step to survival.

 

What intrigued me when I was reading so much into religious festivals and food is how relevant all their research is today. Obesity is on the rise and while our longevity is rising, we are leading less healthy lives. We should try to analyze some of the religious practices preached for a different time and see what would be relevant and helpful today.

The Immortals of Meluha By Amish Tripathi

After reading this book, I honestly wonder why did I not discover this book sooner? Amazingly written, full of relatable drama and some very exciting twists and turns. The Immortals of Meluha is the first book in the Shiva trilogy. I love the concept of this trilogy – Think of the Lord Shiva as a real human being, someone who actually existed on this earth centuries ago. A brave warrior, a man with a blue throat and a capable leader discovering his destiny. Lord Shiva is someone most Hindus would know of. He is one of the most powerful Gods in Hindu mythology and is often referred to as the ‘destroyer’. He is believed to have a third eye, excellent dance skills and a blue throat. Legend has it that He resides in Mount Kailash near the Indus river.

This is where Tripathi’s book starts off. It describes a beautiful scene of his imagination of what Mount Kailash would look like. There he describes a man, covered with scars and a tribe leader, wondering how he would protect his tribe from their enemies. It is during one of these attacks that he decides to take the offer of a foreigner to move to the land of Meluha, in the Indus Valley Civilization. The Meluhan civilization is believed to have been created by Lord Rama, the greatest monarch there ever was.

With the hope of a better ans safer life, Shiva and his tribe, the Gunas, being their journey towards Meluha. Their first stop is Srinagar where they are made to drink a ‘medicine’, the Somras. The Somras is given to all foreigners to rid them of any disease they maybe carrying. While all other members of the tribe develop a fever or break into chills, Shiva has a unique reaction to the Somras. His neck turns blue! He immediately calls for the doctor, Ayurvati. Ayurvati falls to her knees and starts crying and praying to Shiva once she notices his blue neck. After calming down, she tells Shiva about the legend of the ‘Neelkanth’ or the blue throat. The legend goes that the man whose throat turns blue after drinking the Somras is the saviour of the Meluhans. His destiny is to help the Meluhans, followers of the Suryavanshi rulers, win against the Chandravashi who are their mortal enemies. Shiva rejects this legend and tries his best to live as normally as the Meluhans would let him. But in time, he starts questioning his existence and the more he thinks about it and the more adventures he faces, he realizes that he might just be the saviour.

This first book is so amazing because it describes Shiva’s inner turmoil, something that I am sure a lot of people can relate to, including me. He wonders what really is the purpose of his existence, he can’t help doubt himself and his abilities, he worries if he might let the people of Meluha down. He falls in love with a beautiful woman who seems to be scared by her own feelings and avoids Shiva at all costs. These emotions make Shiva a very relatable character. It is inspiring, in a way, how Shiva works around his emotions and rises to be a strong leader.

The book is extremely gripping and the only time I stopped turning pages was when my eyes just wouldn’t stay up! I rushed back to the book whenever I could! I am pretty sure, I could have finished reading this book in one go, forgetting my lunch and dinner. It is particularly relatable to me as an Indian and a Hindu because we have read or watched or listened to stories about Shiva and a lot of the characters in the book. Suddenly their behaviors or their personalities started making sense.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the next one as well, The Secret of the Nagas. My post on The Secret of the Nagas, coming up soon!

Run…. Pick up your copy of The Immortals of Meluha and tell me what you think!! 🙂

Rajasthan Trip – Day 2 – Darshan at Shrinathji, Nathdwara

After an absolutely wonderful Day 1 in Udaipur, we were looking forward to Day 2. Now, my mother is pretty religious, quite moderately as per Indian standards and for her if we were in Rajasthan we absolutely, totally and completely had to visit the Shrinathji temple in Nathdwara. Shrinathji is one of the most sacred places for Hindus who belong to the Vaishnav sect, especially Gujarati Vaishanavs. It is said that only the ones who are truly lucky get to visit Shrinathji. My parents have been planning to go to Shrinathji for years and for some reason it never did work out. This time though, we could manage to go and we were all elated.

I have heard such stories about the temple and the huge crowds it draws everyday. On a normal day, which isnot a very special religious day, the temple attracts about 45,000 devotees, which they consider as a small number(!!) On a very auspicious day, the numbers run in lakhs! On those days, the whole town of Nathdwara, where the temple is situated, is filled with devotees and there is no place to walk at all! I have to tell you that the street food at Nathdwara is legendary and so delicious! Some of the foods that are very famous from Nathdwara are – the tea, purple yam fried in oil and coated with a variety of spices, purple yam stuffed with potato vegetables and deep fried, potato cubes coated with dry spices and a delicious sweet and salty lemonade. We did try some of these specialities and they were amazing!! A million calories, probably, but worth every bit of it.

But back to the reason why we actually were in Nathdwara – for Shrinathji’s darshan. I was really excited and nervous to go to the temple. Excited because I knew how lucky we are to actually be able to go to the temple after so many years and nervous, because I had heard stories of how people push away and there is hardly any place to breathe!! Well, we ended up in the VIP section wherein they let the group in before the general public is allowed in. But don’t be fooled for a second! Its still madness. We held hands and managed to stay together in the crowd! It wasn’t too bad and to be honest, it was kind of fun pushing people around! (I am NOT a sadist! :)) The darshan was really unreal; even with all the chaos around you, the moment you are in front of the deity, you are enveloped with a feeling and calm and contentment.

Once the darshan was complete, we took a good long tour of the actual temple. They have two grinders – one made of gold and one of silver well preserved. They also have an accounts section, a storage section and a cooking area where they cook for the people serving in the temple as well as the ‘bhog’ for Shrinathji. What I loved the most were the paintings around some of the rooms. The paintings all told stories about Shrinathji and some of them had very strong Mughal influences.

Nathdwara is about 50 kms from Udaipur and you do pass the Eklinji temple on the way which is the main deity of the Mewar empire. Eklinji is a form of the Lord Shiva. While we would have liked to go and visit the temple, it was far too late in the afternoon and the temple was closed. Maybe next time.

Once we got back to the hotel, we all wanted to have a nice lazy evening. We met later in the evening for a delicious dinner. That evening they had an amazing harpist and a wonderful vocalist. We couldn’t help but feel very blessed and at peace with ourselves. A little dance, a little singing, lots of clapping and laughter around the table – the perfect end to a very, very special day!

Touring Rajasthan – Day 1: Udaipur

I have just gotten back from a fantastic trip to Rajasthan in India! It was a very relaxed 6 days trip and although we only visited 5 cities, I definitely have seen more this time in Rajasthan than I ever have the other few times I have been here. It also helps that I’m older than 7 years and can actually appreciate the beauty and architecture of the region. Before I begin, I must say, I am horrible at taking photos. All the photos that I will publish here are courtesy of Anuj P Shah and Tania Sethi. I can’t thank them enough for bearing with me and taking photos of the silliest things if I needed!

We decided to go on this family vacation since my brother is visiting us for a few weeks and we’re all so busy when we’re back home, we have no time to spend with each other! It definitely worked so well and we all managed to spend quality time with each other and managed to catch up very well. We started our trip from Mumbai to Udaipur on the 2nd of January, 2012. Surprisingly our flight was on time and we reached a very cool and pleasant Udaipur by 11:45 am. We had managed to arrange for a cab to take us around for all 6 days of our trip and we were happy to find him waiting for us promptly at the airport. First stop – Sheraton Udaipur Palace Resort  & Spa.

Now I truly believe that to really know any Indian city you should go visit the smaller areas in the city or the ‘centers’ of the city. Unfortunately what does happen when you decide to go to another city is that you go to the regular tourist spots and forget about the smaller parts of the city from where you can actually get a true flavor of how the local residents live and how their trade and commerce goes about. I have to say, I was super excited when the driver took a wrong turn and we ended up bang in the middle of the city in a small market with lanes so small that only ‘two wheelers’ or bikes and scooters could pass two at a time. We of course had to watch the locals glaring at us, those people blocking their way! Nonetheless, I loved it the most! We ended up experiencing first hand the traditional way of selling spices, loose on the street. The colors were so vivid and beautiful – reds of the chilli powder, yellow from the turmeric powder, a light greenish-brown from coriander seeds, brown lumps of jaggery and so many more! It was so gorgeous! The same spice traders also sold soaps, toothpaste, detergents and any other daily required items.  Along with these spice traders/grocers, there were cloth stores, hanging their wares on the display windows – these bright, beautiful saris with mirror work and thick embroidery! It was just an amazing sight!

Photo Courtesy: Anuj P Shah

Fascinated by the colors of the spices!

Well, once we managed to squeeze out of the tiny lanes of this very traditional market, we headed straight to the hotel. The hotel was the palaces of the maharajas of Udaipur and has now been converted into the hotel. The chandelier in the lobby was so gorgeous – orange blown glass, each piece made to look like  a flower! Once the check in formalities were done with, we decided to go ahead and indulge in some of the very delicious street food of Rajasthan! We found a sweet shop in the ‘Chetak Circle’ of Udaipur which is almost like a central area. We stuffed ourselves with tangy, spicy and fried food! We had the very popular samosas, bread pakodas, dal kachoris and onion kachoris. We ended on a sweet note with some local Rajasthani ‘Ghewar’ and carrot halwa.

Our first and only stop for the day was going to be the City Palace of Udaipur. This palace was the Mewar dynasty’s main palace where the king would stay anytime he was in Udaipur. Most of the palace has been converted to areas that the public can view. The palace also has a vintage car museum and a crystal museum which are relatively newly developed and are quite interesting. There is also an art gallery within the City Palace that one can view while taking the tour of the palace. While we were too late to be able to complete all three, I have been told that both the car museum and the crystal museum are worth looking into. Some of the cars used in the James Bond movie, Octopussy were from the Maharaj’s collection!

The entire tour took us 2 hours and it was wonderful to see some of the old art and the small passages that were built. This is something I observed only during this trip that the palaces and forts in Rajasthan all have many narrow passages and entrances. I assume this is to confuse the enemy if they do infiltrate the fort. All in all, it was interesting to look around the fort and some parts of the fort were just gorgeous! I find it hard to believe that even in those days, architects thought about how best they can cool areas in the fort and how they can keep certain rooms warm in the winter! It’s so fascinating that they did not have any of our modern tools and they still managed to create such amazing structures! The view from the city palace is just amazing. So after a complete tour, we decided to wait for the light and sound show that began an hour later.

Passage decorated with mirror work

Rajasthani Architecture

The light and sound show was primarily about the history of the Mewar dynasty and talked about some of the more influential kings and their stories. Very interesting and informative but we were freezing! We were glad to have seen the show but we just wanted to run back to the hotel and crawl under our nice, big warm blankets!

Day 1 ended with us tucking into a fantastic dinner at the hotel and falling asleep dreaming about living in the palaces like the Maharajas and Maharanis! Perfect start to a great vacation!

Day 2: Keep the Change by Nirupama Subramanian

So, day 2 of reading books at work. Now before you judge me and make me feel guilty about getting a salary for not working. let me tell you this, it’s not my fault they don’t have any work for me! I can’t really stare at my computer all day long. They have blocked all the fun websites – facebook, twitter, stumbleupon, most game sites! What’s a gal supposed to do?

Anyway, after my not so great experience with ‘Marrying Anita’, I was wondering whether or not I should pick up a book by another Indian author. I decided to pick this book up only because I loved the cover page! Fortunately for me, the book was quite entertaining.

B. Dayamanthi is a 26 year old girl/lady living in Chennai with her parents and works as an accountant in a local chartered accountants firm. She decides its time for a change and on an impulse attends a job interview held by a multi national bank, ‘First Bank’. Obviously she gets selected and off to Bombay/Mumbai she goes!

I completely relate to her character whose leaving her warm, protective parents for the first time. While there is much apprehension concerning the unknown territory, there is so much excitement about the freedom she is about to have. As with most girls, Dayamanthi is hoping to meet her Prince Charming in the vibrant city of Bombay, the land of dreams!

She does meet Rahul who works in her bank in another department while at a training program in Goa and at the age of 26, she gets her first kiss! Back in Mumbai, she dreams of him and the time they spent and can’t wait to meet him again. On the work front, she and her friend ‘Jimmy’ are assigned to a new a project under the guidance of a consultant who Dayamanthi finds extremely stuck up.

Through the course of the book, we follow DB on her journey as she learns about corporate culture, boys, men and herself.

All in all, the book was a good read – entertaining though a little long and slightly creepy considering she writes letters to her doll! I managed to finish this book and it definitely was more entertaining than Marrying Anita!

Day 1: Marrying Anita: A quest for love in the New India by Anita Jain

It was a Tuesday when I decided to get this book from my local library to read for my work day.  I think I picked this book up because, like every other 20 something Indian girl, there was (is) an immense social pressure to get married. On that particular day,  I felt like I needed answers and I have no idea why I thought this book would give me those answers!

So, I did pick up this book and after checking the 5 emails I received(2 junk emails), I began reading this book at 9:45 am.

Marrying Anita begins by describing Anita’s dating life in the US. She is a 30 something, single, never married journalist who had spent her 20s in far off places looking for interesting stories.  Now that she’s back in the US, she realizes she misses the company of a man. But all the men she meets don’t seem like the kinds she would want to marry and very few are those that she even wants to date again! To top it all, her parents want her to get married and have already asked her to meet some ‘eligible suitors’ they have found on the matrimonial websites.

Anita decides to take off to India and look for love the old-fashioned way through the arranged marriage system. The book talks about her journey in the ‘New India’ as she calls its.  She talks about her friends who are married either through ‘love marriage’ or  ‘arranged marriage’ where they seem more at peace with their spouses with luxuries such as house help and freedoms like working, smoking and drinking. On other hand, she also talks about life in India – how difficult it is to rent a flat, finding good help etc. She seems surprised by how little the ‘New India’ is from the US. She does make friends, meet a few interesting people here and there and talks about her search for her soul mate.

I wish I could tell you whether she did meet her soul mate or not, but I was unable to keep reading. Anita Jain’s writing style is interesting but maybe it isn’t meant for those Indians who have been raised in India. If nothing, it seemed a little odd that the ‘New India’ could surprise an NRI as much. The book was more in awe of the ‘New India’ and it would have been better titled as ‘Relationships in the New India’.

While the book helped me pass about 5 hours of my 12 hour day, it didn’t really give me anything to take away. I still am as confused as ever about how you find your soul mate or how do arranged marriages work today. Do you meet the ‘boy’ once or do you meet him many times? Do you get engaged in a week of knowing each other or do you spend a few months together before you make any decision? How do you know if someone is right for you or not????

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