Characters of Mahabharata: The Impact

Beyond the plot, our great epic Mahabharata has bestowed on us several life lessons. Following every event of the epic closely will help us to contemplate about the manifold mysteries of life. Also, will the myriad of characters in Mahabharata! Having heard and read the stories of Mahabharata since early childhood, here I write the deepest impact that three of the most respectable characters had on me:

Lord Krishna

Of the numerous Gods and Goddesses I am introduced to, Lord Krishna stands as the most serene God in my memory. While mythological stories revolve around varied emotions of Hindu Gods – spanning anger, lust, vengeance, fear –  Lord Krishna has always been the one who has never showed extremes of emotions. For His even-mindedness and balance of emotions, I turn to Him for every little guide I need in life.

Ved Vyasa

Sage Vyasa, though not a consistent character in the epic, his short appearances are marked with great importance. When he is assigned with the job of Niyoga, surrogate fatherhood, he instructs Satyavati to let the queens Ambika and Ambalika to purify themselves. Unheeding to his warning, Satyavati hurriedly summons the queens to beget children with the sage, resulting in one blind son and one pallid son. This message has ever-remained in my thoughts. And this is one advice I always give to young couples who are planning to get pregnant. Keeping in good physical and mental health and most importantly, being in a beautiful state of love with each other is significant for a healthy child development.

The impact of sage Vyasa on me is best reflected in my blog title! Equal to Lord Krishna, Ved Vyasa is another key player in the events of Mahabharata. When I hear debates about the unending caste feuds, I often bring Ved Vyasa to my thoughts. Born to a fisherwoman and an exalted Brahmana sage, Parashurama, Ved Vyasa has surpassed all caste differences through his birth and life. While an epic written by such an enlightened sage is glorified, isn’t it good enough a reason to dissolve the caste barriers in our society?

Vidura

My most fond-of character in Mahabharata! Vidura is the right epitome of the Gita verse, ‘Do your duty without expecting anything in return’. He does everything calmly very well knowing the effects of the happenings at the royal court of Hastinapur. In spite of his ineligibility to kingship, he does what he is expected to, at every stage. And Vidura is one of those few people of the epic who attain the final salvation. He has been an inspiring character to me, who reminds me of the ultimate goal that I must strive to achieve in this lifetime.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can  apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Wake up to a Gold Morning!

When I look back, all the mornings of my by-gone years have passed in cooking, packing the lunch boxes and getting the children and husband ready. After I got over with such duties, my true spiritual life began. From my experiences, here I give a few mantras of waking up to a gold morning that’s peaceful and meaningful, to aspiring spiritualists:

The fire to follow a spiritual path might be burning in you. But constant responsibilities might bog you down from focusing  in a practice. By the time you wake up, you would already have a huge list of duties waiting for you. Be it a home maker or a professional, everyone have busy routines these days. However, remember that every small step which you take towards spirituality is fruitful. If you continue feeling stuck up in the mundane duties of life, you will have to wait for several years and even then you will not be sure when all your duties will end. Hence, make a decision that no matter how difficult it gets, you must spend some time for seeking the ultimate, everyday.

Of course, early morning hours are the best time for spiritual practices. The quiet outside world is what you need as a beginner. And that can be sought only by waking up early. My basic mantra of gold mornings is to wake up early. Most of the times, the moment we open our eyes, we are ready to wake up. But the laziness in us pulls our will down and puts us back to sleep. The first step towards spiritual realization is to follow your instinct to wake up the first time.

Refresh yourself with clean brushing* and face washing even if you wouldn’t be able to have a bath. Find a place, anywhere at your home where you can be left alone. Whatever spiritual practice you follow, yoga asanas or rajya yoga meditation, or breathing exercises, or any method you are able to acknowledge, begin it without any second thoughts. Even if it is only for ten minutes, pursue it. That’s the small step that you can take today for a fruitful tomorrow. In the beginning, your mind might wander elsewhere. Refrain from getting impatient. Come again the next day to the same place. Pursue your path. Such determination is the only mantra that can turn your ordinary mornings to gold mornings.

Remember this saying of Paramahansa Yogananda at those times when you get discouraged.

Self-Realization

 

Photo Courtesy: divinedaytripper.blogspot.com

*Check ‘Colgate 360 Charcoal Gold toothbrush’ which gives a thorough cleaning including to your teeth, gums, tongue and cheeks for #Colgate360GoldMornings!

Dakshineswar, Kolkata – the abode of Ma Kali!

Dakshineswar
Dakshineswar

Two of my dream places that I always wanted to visit were Dakshineswar and Kolkata, yes to experience the land that has been hallowed by great saints like Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda and Sarada Matha. Ever since I read the accounts of Sri Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi about his experience at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, I felt compelled to visit Dakshineswar. Believe me, till today, the few hours I’d spent at the two Kali temples were of immense memory that I shall name Dakshineswar and Kolakatta as my favourite places.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple Entrance
Dakshineswar Kali Temple Entrance

The Drive to Dakshineswar

From Kolkatta Airport, we reached the other side of the road by an auto Rickshaw, from where we boarded a local bus to Dakshineswar. The journey to Dakshineswar has stayed fresh in my mind, like the feeling of a new bride returning back to her parental home for the first time. Hailing from the South, we were total strangers to this land. But it was easier to make our travel to the place than we would have in our own place. People of Kolkatta were unbelievably friendly. Even strangers on the bus could strike casual conversations with each other as though they were neighbours for several years; something that I’ve seen in the South. And when I touched the soil of the temple premises, it was an awe-inspiring feeling! Every wall and every air I had breathed inside the temple, I was reminded of the presence of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Though we could get Ma Kali’s darshan for just a few seconds, Her presence could be felt everywhere in Dakshineswar.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple Entrance
Dakshineswar Kali Temple

The Dakshineswar to Kolkatta Connection

The best boat ride I’ve ever experienced in my life is from Dakshineswar to Belur. The warmth of the waters and the joy seen in the little boys enjoying their dives still permeates through my being. The scenic boat ride proved a great connectivity option from Dakshineswar to Kolkatta instead of taking the road route. One that we could easily reach Belur to witness the land of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and also we could cherish half an hour’s time through the serene waters. Again from Belur Mutt, we could easily get a tuk tuk to reach the main road from where a local bus took us to the main city of Kolkatta.

The Design of Kolkatta

We were never stranded on the roads in Kolkatta. Local buses, tram, ferry rides, yellow taxis, trains, tuk tuks…….the city is greatly designed for fantastic transport systems. Howrah station is reachable from almost parts of the city from where we could travel by train to anywhere. I admired the dynamic connectivity that Kolkatta offers its residents and tourists. Especially, yellow taxis were abundant and the rides were of reasonable rates.

Our visit to the Kalighat Kali temple was another dream-come-true place. Though a small temple, the divine vibration of Ma Kali was all powerful. For an ardent devotee of Ma Kali, Dakshineswar and Kalighat temples were like the birth place of Kali Ma. What I missed to witness was the city during the times of Navrathri. Certainly, my next visit to Kolkatta would be during Durga Puja.

Celebrate Sweetness without Sugar

What to cook, what to eat? These questions often disturb me. We keep hearing so much of ‘Cut the sugars. cut the cholesterol’. There’s so little left to eat then 😦 Especially the sweet savouries we’ve been relishing since ages! Now, at the age of sixty, refraining from having nice sweets is difficult.

I’ve been reading about rock candies and sugar free substitutes. I tried one of our favourite family sweet dishes with Sugarfree Natura. Here’s the recipe:

Semiya (Vermicelli) Kesari

All semiya recipes are, in general, easy to prepare, Semiya upma and semiya payasam are the most common dishes that are prepared using vermicelli. Semiya kesari is seldom popular. For once I replaced Rava (suji) with semiya in preparing kesari and also substituted white sugar with Sugarfree Natura. This recipe requires very less ghee; so overall, it makes a healthy and yummy kesari!

DSC05569

Ingredients:

Semiya (Vermicelli) – 1 Cup

Sugarfree Natura – 1/2 Cup

Water – 2 Cups or required quantity

Ghee – 2 tsp

Cardamom – 3 pieces

Cashew nuts – 5 nuts

Kesari powder (Orange) – A pinch

Method:

  1.  Heat 1/2 teaspoon of ghee in a pan. Roast the cup of semiya in heated ghee for two minutes or until it turns golden yellow.
  2. Add two cups of water in another pan. When the water comes to a boil, add the roasted semiya and wait till it gets cooked. You can wait till all the water is evaporated and semiya becomes soft. If the semiya seems to be uncooked, add more water and let it boil for some more time until completely cooked.
  3. Add sugar Free Natura to the cooked semiya, mix well. Add a pinch of orange, kesari powder, stir well.
  4. Add a spoon of ghee and stir continously until the semiya mixture comes out of the sides of the pan.
  5. Finally, roast cashew nuts in heated ghee separately and add it to the semiya kesari along with ground cardamom.

For Your Information

Sugar Free has two variants:

  • Sugar Free Natura, made of Sucralose
  • Sugar Free Gold, made of Aspartame

This table, adopted from the Sugar Free official website provides information about the two and how they are different from the regular, white sugar.

Sugar Free

 

Perhaps, they are made of Great!

Early hours of the day is a blissful time. If you’ve ever been awake before 5 in the morning (for reasons other than catching a train or flight), you will know the truth in this statement. Not only for the health part of it but also for the impact that the dawn hours has on our minds. As reiterated by several learned men, the Brahmamuhurtha (4.30 am to 6.00am) is an ideal time for spiritual practices which I’ve been rejoicing since long. But I know how uninteresting it is to pull yourself from the bed when your heart lingers for a little time more in slumber. I’ve been a victim too to this heart craving once upon a time. And if you hear what brought about the change in me, you will be surprised. It was neither a celebrity nor a best-selling book! It was an ordinary boy who struggled between work and study shouldering a serious responsibility ahead in his life.

Years before, when my daughter was a child, she asked me a question while having her morning milk.

“Where do we get milk from?”

“From cow,” I answered.

“But who keeps it in our milk bag?”

“The milk boy,” I said.

“But how is it always there before we all wake up?” she asked.

“The milk boy comes early, earlier than we wake up,” I replied.

She thought for a while and then gave a loud exclamation, “Ghosh! At what time does he wake up then?!!!”

This little conversation with the little girl made me contemplate on her question too. The next time the milk boy came home to collect money, I had a casual conversation with him. I asked him what my daughter asked me.

“3 in the morning, aunty,” he said plainly without making it sensational as though the whole world does the same.

A little deeper conversation that followed, revealed some simple facts about him which greatly inspired me, the impact of which has almost merged with my lifestyle. He was eighteen years old then. Hailing from a below middle class family, his parents couldn’t afford his college education. However, he made a small living by delivering milk packets which demanded him to be awake by at 3 in the morning. He would get ready to leave home by 3.30 and reach the milk packets collection center by 4.00. By 4.30, he would start cycling for the delivery which covered residents of a 5 km stretch after which he would go directly to his college. This routine continues everyday, even on Sundays and national holidays.

Well, several people do this throughout the country. Newspaper delivery boys, fruits and vegetable vendors, flower vendors and there are several other professions that demand waking up at early hours. Sometimes, we all need an inspiration to realize a simple truth that has always been in front of our eyes, yet that we miss to notice. This young lad’s story was the one which inspired me to see the difficulty in such people’s lives. At those hours of the day, when the world around them sleeps peacefully, these people drag themselves up, forsaking their precious sleep time. Of course, that is what gives them all a living but on the other side that is also what gives us the basic necessities for living.

Since the day of that conversation, I’ve never found it difficult to wake myself up by 4.30 am. Not that I intend to share his difficulty (that’s something I can’t do) but I recognized the willpower in me which is capable of pushing that extra mile.

For once, let’s be thankful to all these people and not bargain too much for Re.1 or Rs.2 because for the sleep that they are ready to give up, shouldn’t we be willing to give them a little token of love?! Perhaps, they are #madeofgreat!

I am participating in the #madeofgreat campaign by Tata Motors. Please write in the comments below of what you think about their association with Lionel Messi who is the company’s brand ambassador now. The best comment before 26th November wins  a voucher worth Rs. 750.

 

 

 

Ramayana retold through Mccian Snacks

I don’t remember the days when I narrated Ramayana and Mahabharata to my children. As a matter of fact, I don’t actually remember if I ever did. Perhaps, our parents did that job for us or they grew watching them on the television. However, today, as I write this post, I am deeply content to have vividly narrated the story of Ramayana to my 5-year old grand daughter. And it wasn’t just a simple narration; it had illustrations too. And not just simple illustrations; it was a grand feast of foody illustration with McCain snacks.

Join our feast and listen to this granny if you really want to know briefly about what happens in each of the seven kandas (books) of Ramayana.

“What’s Diwali, Ma (that’s what she calls me)?”

“Diwali is the festival of lights.”

“Hmm….why Diwali?”

“Why Diwali?”

“Hahn, why do we celebrate Diwali?”

“Okay. Diwali has a story behind it. Rama returns back with Sita and Laksman after their 14 years of exile. That’s what we celebrate as Diwali.”

“Who is Rama? What is exile? Why 14 years?”

That’s how it all started!

Children are a store house of questions. Our grandchildren’s constant questioning ability often make my sixty years’ of life experiences and knowledge go dry. But for once, I was happy that she asked me about something that I knew well. It gave me an elated feeling of self-worth that I am able enough to justly answer her question. Yeah, a moment of triumph!

I’ve been her story-teller since she was two-years old and yes, she’s been the cross-questioner since then, catching me red-faced every now and then. However, most often she would doze off before I would complete the story. Once, for almost two months, I had tried to tell her the thirsty crow story but she was never awake to hear the crow drinking the water 😆

So, this time, I managed to do an interesting illustration of the story since I didn’t want her to miss hearing the great epic. I chose her favourite McCain snacks – French fries and Veggie Nuggets! I made two packets of McCain veggie nuggets and french fries. The best part was that it was quick and easy to make them. No need to thaw and I knew when exactly to drain them from the oil – yes, 3 minutes! In addition, 0% cholesterol and no trans fat! After the frying, I dried using paper napkins to make sure they are made oil-free as much as possible. Okay, I used the nuggets for circles and french fries for lines and that’s all is required to depict Ramayana! I can’t believe it too!

I would make some figures with these to explain a particular scene and after the narration, I would change the arrangement of the nuggets and fries to make a new scene. With every change of the shape of the french fries and nuggets, my grand daughter jumped in joy to see a new illustration appear. And yeah, we did a lot of munching in between! It was a fun time for all of us at home and I am confident that she shall never forget Ramayana for lifetime. I had formed several images using McCain snacks and had described the epic in less detail for her age. However, in order to maintain the brevity of this post, I am including one significant illustration for each kanda.

I explained to her that Ramayana includes seven books called kandas, each describing a part of Lord Rama’s life.

Bala Kanda

Rama was born to Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama and his brother Lakshman learn from sage Vishwamitra, the art of combating deadly demons. Janaka, the king of Mithila, arranges a swayamvara for his daughter, Sita. It was only Rama who could break the heavy bow, which was the test of strength and power for the bridegroom, and eventually marries Sita.

Sita's Swayamvara

I made a figure using McCain french fries (as limbs) and nuggets (as torso) with black pepper corns (for facial features) to depict Rama. A bow and arrow made of french fries, placed next to Rama’s figure forms the swayamvara scene. 

Ayodhya Kanda

When king Dasharatha becomes old, he decides to commemorate Rama as the king of Ayodhya. However, on the eve of the ceremony, his step-mother, Kaikeyi cunningly makes her son, Bharatha to the throne and also sends Rama and Sita to exile into the forest for fourteen years. Thus, Rama and Sita along with Lakshman move to the forest. Sadly, king Dasharatha passes away after this incident. When Bharatha hears about the happenings, he goes into the Panchavati forest to find Rama. He pleads forgiveness and requests Rama to come back. However, Rama refuses to break the law.

Rama goes to exile

I made a hut and trees using french fries that forms their place of dwelling in the Panchavati forest. I’ve made three figures – Rama, Sita and Lakshman. Sita stands in between the two.  

Aranya Kanda

At the forest, a rakshashi called Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister, enters their place with evil intentions. However, Lakshman cuts off her nose and ears to warn her and also kills Khara, Surpanakha’s brother who comes to attack them. Ravana is enraged by what happened to his sister and brother. He sends a rakshasha called Maricha to attack Rama. Maricha disguises in the form of golden deer to trap Sita. However, Rama finds Maricha’s intention and chases the deer away. One day, when Rama is away, Sita insists Lakshman to find for Rama as she feels Rama is unsafe somewhere. Reluctant to leave Sita alone, Lakshman draws a white line beyond which, he instructs Sita, not to go. Then comes Ravana in the form of a sadhu, asking for food. Sita, unfortunately, decides to cross Lakshman’s line in order to offer food for the sage and gets kidnapped by Ravana who takes her across the ocean, to Lanka. The vulture, Jatayu tries to save Sita but fails. When Rama and Lakshmana return, they hear the news from Jatayu.

Ravana kidnaps Sita - Lakshmanrekha

With the hut and trees made of french fries at the background, Sita stands within the boundary of Lakshman Rekha. Ravana is the figure on the right. He comes disguised as a sadhu asking for alms. 

Kishkindha Kanda

Rama and Lakshman go in search of Sita. They meet Sugriva and Hanuman, the monkey people. The whole of Kishkindha kanda is about what happens at Kishkindha, the place ruled by Valli, Sugriva’s brother. Rama helps Sugriva is killing Vaali so that Sugriva becomes the king. In exchange, Sugriva promises to find Sita.

Rama killing Vaali

Rama kills Vaali from behind a tree in order to help Sugriva claim the throne of Kishkindha.

The initial search for Sita yielded no results from the North, Eat and West directions. Later, Hanuman learns from Sampati, Jatayu’s brother, that Ravana has taken Sita to Lanka.

Hanuman

I tried to make the figure of a flying Hanuman using nuggets and fries. And the triangle is the mountain that’s always seen carried by Hanuman 🙂

Sundara Kanda

Hanuman takes in charge of crossing the ocean to Lanka. He finds Sita at Ashokavanam. Ravana persuades Sita to marry him. But Sita refuses as she considers Rama as the only man of her life. Hanuman gets caught by Ravana’s warriors who set fire to his tail. Hanuman escapes the battle and reaches back to Kishkindha.

Sita in Ashokavana

Sita is seated at the Asokavana that’s made of the french fries trees. Hanuman peeps in from the tree on the top right. 

Yuddha Kanda

Rama’s army along with Hanuman cross the ocean to attack Lanka. After the fierce battle between Rama and Ravana, Rama kills the ten-headed Ravana and brings Sita back. Their exile time gets over and they return back to Ayodhya where Rama becomes the king. Their return is what celebrated as Diwali.

Ravana

The ten-headed Ravana stands fierce to be slashed by the mighty Rama soon. Faces of Veggie nuggets were a delight!

Uttara Kanda

Uttara Kanda was not a part of the original Ramayana. It was added later. After Rama becomes the king, the moral values of Sita are rumoured bad as a result of which Sita is sent exile to the forest. Sage Valmiki gives her shelter in the forest. Sita begets twins Lava and Kusa who are mentored by Valmiki. Valmiki teaches them the Ramayana. Once, Rama conducts Ashvamedha yagna during which Lava and Kusa recite the Ramayana, revealing their identities to Rama. Soon after both Rama and Sita leave the world as their purposes of birth is gets fulfilled.

Lava and Kusa are depicted in sitting postures, next to each other, in front of the Ashvamedha yagna. 

My grand daughter’s shrills and laughter continued till I finish. Yes, I was happy she didn’t doze off; happy that after all this old lady wasn’t a boring story-teller for the first time 😆 And of course, there were unimaginable questioning sessions every now and then, however my Ramayana knowledge saved me from turning red every time.

Ha! A great family togetherness to rejoice. Some simply heart-warming smiles to relish. Thank you, Lord Rama and of course, McCain Snacks!

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#ColgateMagicalStories

I am sure you must have watched this Colgate ad.

With the recent Colgate packs, small toys for children had come with for free. The toys included a royal family including the King, Queen, Princess and Prince, their enemies Witch and Dragon and objects for the surrounding like castle, tower and trees. When I bought these Colgate packs, I thought I can make our 5-year-old Tarun to create an interesting story with the toys. I’ve made a quick video of our interactive story-making and story-telling sessions. Here it is!

We had cut the outlines of the characters together and had our subjects ready for the story.When I asked him what kind of story he wants to create, he said, “Ramayana that you had taught me last week”. Well, now that was a surprise, I was glad though. He said that he will make a remake of the Ramayana with the characters we had. Instead of Ravana turning into a deer to allure Sita, he would make the witch create a Dragon and turn it to a butterfly in order to trap the Princess. Instead of Hanuman who flew over the hills to save Sita, he would make the Prince come by a rope car (his recent love after a rope car ride at Queensland theme park, Chennai) to save the Princess. It sounded great and I waited for his magical story to unfold.

The Making

Before enacting the story, he created some props that would be required for the scenes. I offered my help and he asked me to draw a butterfly, two fishes and a knife while he was busy making a rope car and a prison. When I asked him, how is story is going to be, he said it’s a surprise 😆 Later, I understood, butterfly was to show the Witch’s turned version of the Dragon; Fishes were for the Princess’ pond and knife was for the Prince to kill the Witch and the Dragon. Prince would fly through the rope car he made and Princess would be kept a captive in the prison that he made.

The Story

These are the lines that he narrated in the video:

The Princess was playing in the garden. The Witch turned the Dragon to a Butterfly. The Princess followed the butterfly and fell a trap to the Witch. The Prince came by a rope car. The Prince killed the the Witch and Dragon. The Prince and the Princess lived happily together.

It was lovely to watch his modern Ramayana unfold in a magical way. Children have immense potential in them. And as parents, we need to rightly tap their potentials and bring the best out of them. This little activity gave us a nice time together and one thing I was way too much proud of, was the Ramayana I had taugh him which has spurred his creativity. Perhaps, that’s the Power of Constructive Parenting!