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February

Vasant Panchami and Saraswati Pooja

As the name suggests, Vasant Panchami is a famous festival that marks the end of the winter season and ushers in the springtime. This festival is usually celebrated in Magh, which is between the months of January and February.

Vasant Panchmi is also referred to as Saraswati Puja or Shree Panchami. It is believed that on this day goddess Saraswati was born. On this day Hindus worship Saraswati, goddess of wisdom. She embodies the different facets of learning such as the sciences, arts, crafts and skills.  She is said to be calm and collected. She is often pictured seated on a lotus or a peacock, wearing a white dress.

Another tradition associated with this day is that of initiating studies in the young. Young children often begin learning on this day. Many Educational Institutes organize the special Pooja for goddess Sarswati.

In today’s times, the festival is celebrated by farmers as the on-coming of the spring season. The day is largely celebrated in Northern Parts of India. Here, people offer food to the Brahmins and organize rituals in the name of Goddess Saraswati.

Yellow color is the color of this festival. On this day, young girls wear bright yellow dresses and participate in the festivities. The color yellow holds a special meaning for this celebration as it signifies the brilliance of nature and the vibrancy of life. The whole place bursts with yellow during the festival.

People dress in yellow and they offer yellow flowers to others and to the gods and goddesses.  They also prepare and feast on a special pastry called kesar halwa or kesar halva, which is made from flour, sugar, nuts, and cardamom powder. This dish also includes saffron strands, which gives it a vibrant yellow color and mild fragrance. During the Vasant Panchami festival, India’s crop fields are filled with the color yellow, as the yellow mustard flowers bloom at this time of the year. Pens, notebooks, and pencils are placed near the goddess Devi's feet to be blessed before they are used by students.

Fasting foods for Sivaratri

Sivaratri is celebrated by observing a fast for the entire day and ends with a Shiva pooja through the night.  Hinduism and other religions that originated in the Indian sub-continent  have a special emphasis on controlling the five senses, the sense of smell, sight, sound, taste and touch. The rituals of puja encompasses all the five senses. The beautiful deity, the flowers, the sweet smelling agarbatti, the prasad, the conch or bells, the aarti and the blessings; all together lets the devotee experience the supreme being through the five senses.
Moraiyo KheerWhy do we fast? Apart from the religious connotations for observing a fast, it is also a way of practicing to control our urges by controlling hunger. The most arduous form of fast involves giving up all food and water for a period of time. While this may not be possible for all, certain foods from each food group can be eaten during the fasts.
Grains are prohibited during fasts, hence other grain substitutes are allowed during this time. The grain substitutes include Bhagar or Samo seeds, Rajgira and Sabudana. Bhagar or Samo seeds are seeds of a grass that grows as weed alongside paddy or rice crop. Instead of de-weeding, these highly nutritious seeds are harvested and can be eaten during fasts. Similarly Rajgira is also a grass seed and is allowed during fasts. Peanuts are the source of protein during the fasting period. Bhagar with peanut curry is very popular in Maharashtra during fasts.
Sabudana, also known as tapioca pearls, is made from the starch of tapioca. It is pure carbohydrate and provides the much needed boost of energy  during fasts. As it does not contain any other nutrition, Sabudana is always cooked with other ingredients like milk to make payasam or with peanuts to make khichadi.
All fruits are allowed and the most popular amongst them are the bananas and apples. Coconut is also allowed
All dairy product that does not contain any of the restricted items can be consumed. Milk, curd or yogurt, ghee and khoya is allowed. This means any desserts made out of ghee, khoya and sugar can be eaten. Paneer on the other hand is often not allowed because it is obtained by adding vinegar or lemon to milk.
Tubers like singhada, potato and sweet potato along with jaggery can be eaten. Most vegetables are not allowed and green chillies are the only exception. Curry leaves (kadhipatta) and coriander leaves(dhaniya or cilantro) are also not allowed for fasts.
Here are a few recipes you can try during the fast.

Bhagar Kheer                                      Sweet Kachori

Potato PayasamSweet Kachori

Sabudana Khichari                      sabudana khichadiPotato Payasam
Potato Payasam


 




Maha Shivaratri

1008 Shivalingam carved on a rock in Hampi on the banks of River Tungabhadra

Fig: 1008 Shiva Lingams carved on a rock in Hampi on the banks of River Tungabhadra

Very very long ago Suswara lived in the city of Varanasi. He was a hunter and earned his living by killing birds and animals. One day he was roaming the forest he spotted a dear and aimed his arrow. As he was about to shoot the arrow, he saw the rest of the dear's family looking at the hunter with sad eyes. Suswara, lowered his arrow and let the dear go. He was unable to find any other animal and by nightfall he decided to take shelter on a tree. His water canteen was leaking and soon he was out of water too. Tired and hungry, he was unable to sleep and thought about his wife and child. To spend time, he took to plucking leaves.

The next morning he went home and was about to eat when a stranger asked for alms. Suswara gave some of his food and then ate the rest. The day this incident took place was on Maha Shivaratr;i the 13th day of waning moon in the month of Magha (as per Shalivahana calendar) or Phalgun (as per Vikrama calendar).

Days went by, Suswara grew old and he was convinced he would not go to heaven because all his life he had killed. Upon his death, two messengers of Shiva came for his soul and took him to the abode of Shiva. He asked the Lord why he had this good fortune. That night in the forest, his leaky canteen washed the Shiva Lingam under the tree and the leaves he plucked were bael leaves. He had unknowingly earned great merit by his unconscious worship through his fast, his watch the whole night and his generosity with the stranger. He enjoyed divine bliss and was later reborn as King Chandrabhanu of Ikshwaku dynasty. He was born with a gift of remembering events from his past life. He continued with his special worship on Maha Shivaratri. This practice has continued. People fast, sing bhajans the whole night and the next morning they break the fast after giving some alms.



Valentine's Day

Celebrate love with your Valentine this year with the immortal love stories from Indian mythology, history, literature and our wonderful instrument the Indian Cinema (Bollywood, Tollywood, Sherwood ha ha ha) and rekindle and relive your own unknown stories.







Shakuntala and Dushyant: Dushyant was a great king in Indian mythology. Shakuntala was the daughter of Rishi Vishwamitra (author of Ramayana) and Menaka (the most beautiful of the four nymphs in the court of Indra the king of demi gods). They fall in love in Rishi Kanva's ashram. Later due to the curse of Rishi Durvasa, Dushyant forgets Shakuntala but in the end are united. Their son Bharat is the said to be the first king to unite India. Hence, India is known as Bharat.





Subhadra and Arjuna: Subhadra was Krishna and Balarama's sister. Due to certain events, Arjuna had to leave his brothers and Draupadi and spend some time with his cousin Krishna. Subhadra falls in love with Arjuna. Krishna was all for the match but Balarama, the oldest of the siblings, did not favor this match with the much married Arjuna who had four wives by then. Krishna advised the pair the elope but asked Subhadra to drive the chariot. Not wishing to fight his favorite cousin Arjuna, Krishna was able to convince Balarama that Subhadra had kidnapped Arjuna and hence it was unwise to pursue the eloped pair. Their son Abhimanyu is a valiant hero who is killed in the battle of Mahabharat. Abhimanyu's son Parikshit is the lone survivor of the war and ascends the throne after Pandavas.


Samyukta and Prithviraj Chauhan: Samyukta was the daughter of King Raichand of Kannauj. She fell in love with Prithviraj Chauhan and declared her love to him. King Raichand did not approve of the match. He arranged for the swayamvar and invited all the kings but Prithviraj. He made a statue of Prithviraj and placed it as a doorman. Samyukta placed her garland on the statue. Prithviraj was hiding behind the statue and kidnapped Samyukta. This caused a great rift between the kingdom of Kannauj and Prithviraj. When Mohammud Ghauri invaded Prithviraj's kingdom, King Raichand of Kannauj refused to come to his aid.

Meghdoot (cloud messenger):This is a short poem of 111 stanza and is the most famous work of Kalidasa who is Shakespeare of Sanskrit literature. A Yaksha, subject of King Kuber, is sentenced to spend time on earth in central India. He convinces a passing cloud to take a message to his wife in the city of Alakapuri. He describes the sights the cloud will see on it way to Alaka. Meghdoot was the inspiration for Gustav Holst's “Cloud Messenger Op 20”.

Sohini and Mahiwal: These two tragic love stories are the most popular love stories of Punjabi literature in India and Pakistan. Sohini was the daughter of a potter and Mahiwal was a rich trader named Izzat Baig from Bukhara, modern day Uzbekistan. Izzat Baig falls in love with Sohni and takes the job of Mahiwal (buffalo herder) with Sohni's father. Check out the Bollywood movie starring Sunny Deol and Poonam Dhillon.

Heer and Ranjha: Heer is the beautiful Jatt and Dheedo Ranjha is the youngest of four brothers who takes the job of herding cattle with Heer's father. Heer Ranjha originally had a happy ending and symbolized man's quest for God. There are many Indian as well as Pakistani movies made on Heer Ranjha.


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