White river

In Hindi it is called Kaans. It is a perennial grass and grow in abundance in the dry river beds and adjoining spaces. It is rhizome and spreads quickly claiming the empty soil. Ghaggar river flows near our home in Panchkula, Haryana. It is seasonal river nowadays though once upon time as the history tells us it was a powerful river flowing till sea and along with another river called Hakra originating in Afghanistan and flowing down to Punjab and Sind, Ghaggar formed a river systems called Ghaggar Hakra system. But now it is mostly dry with small amount of water flowing in the deepest channel.

The grass is found all over the northern plains of India upto Assam. Generally it grows in on the edges of the rivers. This grass has claimed the empty dry bed of the river. At this time of end of August, it has begun to bloom into white colored flowers stalks and whole of the river bed resembles a white sea. It looks beautiful though. Blooms are just in delicate condition and shall go on to become more thick in the coming months. Then they will dry and their color will change to slightly brown and finally they will begin to disintegrate.

In Bengal where it is called Kash Fool, it heralds the onset of Puja festival.

Here are some photographs of the flowers.

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Some Local Varieties of Rice in Bengal

Rice is the staple food of the populations in many countries especially the south east Asian, china and Japan. It is rich is carbohydrates and easy to digest. It goes particularly well with curries of fish and other vegetables.

In Bengal, people eat the rice daily. It is considered very pious  and is used in many religious ceremonies. A concoction made from rice and milk called Kheer is very popular sweet dish in the subcontinent.

Since the composition and climate of different places is not the same, the strains adapt to the given conditions and become localized. They have their unique taste. Below are some local varieties of rice used in Bengal.

Local people specifically grow Tulaipanji which is soft-kernelled aromatic rice with good digestibility and use it in marriage ceremonies or annaprasan a ceremony in which infant is offered food for the first time. Like-wise local varities Chini sakkar (taste- like sugar) and Kalonunia (black- textured small rice) are also used for religious ceremonies in Raiganj area of Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur districts. In Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur districts, use of broken rice (boiled and fermented) with Coccinia grandis called Jungli kundri, Clerodendrum viscosum called Ghato), Plumbago zeylanica called Chitawar and Vernonia cinerea called Chhepra has been reported for preparing local rice beer called Jhara or wine called Haria. Another variety, Binni dhan, mainly grown in Dakshin Dinajpur, has been mostly used during Kali puja for worshipping Goddess Kali.

Generally, aromatic rice, Magursail, is preferred for preparation of Kheer, a kind of pudding made from rice and milk in Dakshin Dinajpur and adjoining regions. A distinct variety, Kala mogha: black- scented rice named after a region, is also used for Kheer preparation by local people in Uttar Dinajpur districts, particularly in Majlispur and Maldwar villages. In Uttar Dinajpur district, local people boil atop (soaked rice) of Kalonunia in milk and sugar or molasses to prepare a delicious dish known as Payas. Parboiling of different rice landraces is common practice in West Bengal.


Freak Weather

I remember when we were young in late fifties and sixties, weather transitions were fairly uniform. The farmers whose hard work can turn to dust till the crops are harvested and safely brought home, were fairly confident about weather. We saw only poor monsoons once in a while and crops failing badly and food scarcity. In those days farming was dependent on the blessings of nature especially for water. The variety of crops and food items was not much. Only native seeds were used and often mixed crops were raised. For example, wheat alongwith sprinkle of barley or mustard. Only those crops were raised in the same field which did not use the same nutrients. Number of crops raised were limited and land was kept fallow in cycles to restore its fertility. In those days agriculture was not considered a business.
Slowly all this has changed. Land has been drained of its nutrients by raising two or three crops in a year. It is in fact never given time to take a break.
Over the years, the weather is becoming highly wayward or unpredictable. It seems that old theory about how the monsoons in the North India began in Assam and water laden clouds were then directed towards western India from Bengal to Bihar and then Uttarpradesh and Punjab side. Rajasthan however remained a dry area, is not true anymore. Rains can precipitate anywhere. For example many areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat were innundated while states which were regular recipients of monsoon remained devoid of.
Environmentalists say all this is happening due to our activities. Global warming due to carbon dioxide blanket is told to be the culprit. It is the same carbon dioxide which once was the only gas in the atmosphere alongwith water at the beginning of the Earth. The bacteria changed it all fixing the carbon dioxide in the form of oxide minerals and sugars in plants. All this seem to be too true. Such events had taken place many times in the life span of the Earth. Nature is too big to be manipulated by the humans. May be there are minor additions. We see now more rains, floods and more cold weather in India.

Phulkari: Traditional Dress of Punjab

It started in Patiala state of Punjab in India. Patiala rose to prominence amongst many princely states of Punjab before independence. Phul means flowers and Kar means the work. So Phulkari literally means Flower Work on the rough heavy cotton.  Throughout the Punjab, in the Hindu,Muslim and Sikh communities alike, women embroider Odhanis (veils) or Chaddar (wraps) ornamented with Phulkar, literally “flower work” and Bagh, garden, a variation where the embroidery completely covers the support material. The support fabric is most often an auspicious dark red, or more rarely, an indigo blue or a white reserved for elderly women, on which the embroidery is executed in untwisted floss silk called pat, sourced from Kashmir, Afghanistan and Bengal and dyed yellow,orange,burgundy,bright pink, purple, blue and green in Amritsar and Jammu. Darning stitch is used to embroider from the reverse side of the fabric, with the longer float on the face, thus allowing large surfaces to be densely embroidered with economy. Aside from their everyday use as veils, the Phulkari is integrated into the lives of the women. and is an indispensable element in ceremonies, especially those concerning birth,death and marriage. When a girl child is born, the women of the family organize a great feast, marking the beginning of the task of the child`s grandmother in creating the future bride`s trousseau. The most significant items of the trousseau are the chope, a reversible Phulkari worked double running stitch and wrapped around the bride after the ritual bath two days before the wedding, and the suber phulkari, composed of five eight petaled lotuses, worn by the bride when she walks around the sacred fire during the wedding ceremony. A phulkari is also worn 11 days after the birth of a son, when the mother goes out for the first time after delivery, and when visiting a temple during religious festivals to request prosperity and happiness for loved ones.

India in Middle Times

After Harsha, who ascended to throne in 606 and was the great king. He was man of great energy and great gifts. After his death, the whole of north India was ruled by rivaling local dynasties. There was a confusion all around. Not a single ruler was there who could unite the warring factions. After his death, usurper Arunashva seized Kanyakubja. He attacked Wang Hsuan tse who came with a small detachment of troops as a help from Chinese emperor to Harsha. Wang escaped and gathered an army from Assam, Tibet & Nepal and captured Arunashva and took him to China as a captive.

After this Bhaskaravarman of Assam extended his rule westwards and occupied Magadha in the process. Meanwhile 2nd Gupta dynasty with Adityasena as the king revived in latter half of 7th century, Yashovarman established his empire at Kanyakubja. In the following two centuries, two great dynasties, the Palas of Bihar & Bengal and Gurjara-Pratihara of Kanyakubja divided the hegemony of North India.

Dharmapala marks the apogee of Pala dynasty. After hid death, his successor Devpala was still an important king and had contacts with king Sailendra of Sumatra and Palas became patrons of Buddhism. They also introduced Buddhism to Tibet.

After Palas, Gurjara-Pratihara were most powerful kings of North India. They successfully resisted the Arabs who had already occupied Sind. Their two notable kings Mihir Bhoj and Mahendrapala pushed back the Palas and were the overlords up to Bengal in the East. Rastrakutas continually harassed them and temporarily succeeded in occupation of Kanyakubja in 916. These raids weakened the Pratiharas and turned their attention away from gathering trouble in the west. After this in 10th century they lost their power and many feudatories formed

Dhaka Muslins

Muslins of Dhaka were famous for centuries. Dr James Taylor published an exhaustive account of the muslin from Dhaka in 1851. He writes that skein of yarn which an local weaver measured before him proved to be 250 miles per one pound of cotton. A method to measure the fineness of these was to pass it through the ring worn by ladies. He writes that staples are shorter in comparison to the ones produced in America and hence were not suited for machine weaving, however, the Indian weavers produced the beautiful effect by hand weaving method. The Dhaka cotton expands on absorption of moisture and was used by Indian weaver while deciding the fineness of the product. Also in contrast to the European cotton which swell on bleaching, Indian staples shrank and become stronger on bleaching.

He further writes that figured or flowered muslins called “Jamdanis” are the best products of Bengal. These are literally work of cotton brocades, the pattern or flower being formed by spools Bengal carrying special threads of cotton, silk, or gold that are thrust by the hand within the warp, and are thus supplementary to the weft. It would take many pages to describe the chief designs met with ; it must suffice to say that they are strongly Persian in feeling and conception. The fabric is usually grey cotton, ornamented with blue-black designs, or occasionally with brightly coloured cottons, and gold or silver wire. When made in the form of saris the ends have large bold corner-pieces. Dacca is the most famous centre for jamdanis.
Coloured saris with brightly coloured (jamdani) flowers are produced at Santipur In Nadia District, and elsewhere in Bengal, and are sold extensively at Howrah; the coloured saris of Tippera also deserve mention.

Parvathy Baul

The name is a fusion of two cultures, two art forms.  The proper name Parvathy belongs to south India and the suffix is the title of the wandering mystic minstrels from Bengal. Actually the real name of the girl is Moushami and she belongs to Bengali Brahmin family. Bauls philosophy is that like the end result, journey is equally important. They don’t need any instruments or the usual rules controlling the songs. They sing what comes from the heart without any care  of anything else.

When she was a student, she happened to listen to a Baul singing in the compartment of the train she was traveling in. That was the beginning of transformation towards Baul music. The result is that she began living with the Bauls and adopted them as her family.

Kerala resembles Bengal in few things like communism, literacy and greenery. The resemblance does not too far though. While Kerala has been stable politically, the Bengal has dipped down economically and industrially thanks to the policies of communism which took the state as their own personal property and destroyed the industry ruthlessly.

Moushami’s mind was not at rest. It was longing for expanding the art repertoire. She traveled from Bengal to Kerala in this quest. She met the puppeteer and photographer Ravi Gopalan Nair, who became her soulmate and partner in creating the fusion of art of Kerala and Baul music. She was rechristened as Parvathy Baul.

She is now considered as the leading Baul singer of the country. She dresses like the Bauls. She makes trips to her home state to attend the Baul functions. Recently she participated in the “Aman Ki Asha” a joint peace effort by leading newspaper publishers namely Times of India and Jang of Pakistan. The functions in which artists from both countries performed at different venues across India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s popular folk singer Arif Lohar and India’s baul singer, Parvathy, sang at the Aman Ki Asha Concert at Chowmallat Palace in Hyderabad on January 22, 2010.

For more details about Parvathy click here.