Winter Solstice Greetings

The Winter Solstice began yesterday at 5:23 PM Eastern Time. It was the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere. Around here (Latitude: 39.68N Longitude: 75.75W) the length of the day was approximately 9 hours and 21 minutes. Happy Winter Solstice.

Here’s a track from George Winston on the Windham Hill label. Continue reading “Winter Solstice Greetings”

Happy Ganesh Utsav

I missed posting on Ganesh Chaturthi this time. I was in Mumbai last Monday. Tuesday evening was when I foolishly decided to make my way to Pune from Mumbai. As a matter of practical importance, I made the proper offerings to Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, before I embarked on my journey. After all, Mr Ganesh was around in the vicinity seeing as it was his time for his annual visit. So what happened? Well, I’ll tell you. Shri Ganesh failed miserably in removing obstacles from my path.

{Image above stolen from some website.}

Here’s what happened. It took about 2:30 hours to get from Mumbai to the outskirts of Pune (around 150 kms) and then it took 4 hours — I kid you not — to travel the last 24 kms to my place! What happened was that there was an amazing rain storm around 5 PM in Pune which dumped gazillion amounts of water onto the Pune streets which resulted in flooding. Traffic was backed up for miles. It was a disaster.

Ganesh, as the remover of obstacles should be fired if this is what removing obstacles amounts to. Saying that his performance is below par does not even come close to it. Anyway, I am not one to hold grudges. All is forgiven. Mr Ganesh can have a nice visit but I would be very careful to do the job of removing obstacles properly the next time if I were him. It’s a matter of reputation, you know. Once your reputation is shot, it is very difficult to recover.

OK, here’s one picture of Ganesh dancing to some cool tune. Enjoy.

Have a happy Ganesh Utsav.

Previous Ganesh posts: Happy Ganesh Chaturthi 2007, and 2006.

Basant Panchami

Saraswati puja is done on Basant Panchami — which is the fifth day of the start of spring (Basant). Traditionally people fly kites and wear something yellow.

I did not know that today was Saraswati Puja until my sister called this morning to tell me to go and attend a puja today. As I am new to this area, I did not know where to go. If I didn’t find a puja, there’s always the old standby of bowing to a book.

Around noon, I heard the sound of a conch shell and some bells. Looking out the window from my 11th floor apartment, I could make out some sort of gathering in the public events building down in the courtyard. I immediately grasped (I am clever like that) that that is where a Saraswati puja was going on. In a moment, I was down there in the middle of the event.

Maa Saraswati, as we Bengalis affectionately call her, is the goddess of wisdom and learning. As wisdom and learning can be communicated by speech, she is also the goddess of speech, the Vak Devi. (Vak in Sanskrit is a cognate of the English word “voice.”) Learning involves the mind and the intellect. She is represented with four arms. She holds a lotus and a book in two of her hands. The lotus symbolizes the pure mind and intellect, and the book learning. With her other two hands she plays the veena, as she is also the goddess of music and the creative arts. As the wife of Brahma, the creator god, she holds all the creative energy of the cosmos and is the mother of the vedas (‘veda’ means wisdom and is a cognate of the word wisdom). She is dressed in white and sits on a white lotus symbolizing purity.

There were about 100 people in the puja down at the courtyard, not surprisingly all of them Bengalis. I met a few and introduced myself. Got to speak a bit of Bengali. Growing up in a Bengali family, the idea gets planted early on in life that one has to worship Saraswati — which basically means that you have to worship learning and knowledge. Reverence for books is a visible sign of that.

I spent about an hour at the puja. “Pushpanjali” was very good. One gets a warm and fuzzy feeling realizing that people do care about learning and knowledge. As long as we continue to worship knowledge and wisdom, all hope is not lost. India may yet have a future.

[Pictures of the event coming up soon on Picasa. Update: I am too lazy to do that now. So here’s a picture of a typical Saraswati puja from the web, below the fold.]
Continue reading “Basant Panchami”


Devi Durga

Today is the first of the five days of Puja, the worship of the goddess Bengalis call Ma Durga. Oct 2nd is Vijaya Dashami, the day the Puja (worship) ends. As children, we are told that Durga comes with her children (Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik, and Ganesh) to visit her parents. Another story goes that Rama, in his war against Ravana, invoked Durga to help him. He was victorious and the worship of Durga is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

Puja for Bengalis is something special. New clothes, gifts, great food, visiting friends and family, and of course going to Puja pandals. I will probably go to the local pujas around the San Francisco Bay area.

I wish you all a wonderful Puja.

Oh To Be in Kolkata For Puja

The city formerly known in English as Calcutta (now known in all languages as “Kolkata” which is its Bengali name) is an unfortunate city. Its misfortune derives from two major sources primarily. Two of the world’s most destructive ideologies — Islam and communism — have brought a city full of promise to its knees and today it is best known around the world as the “City of Joy” and the “Black hole of India.” It breaks the heart of any culturally sensitive person — not just someone like me whose ancestors claimed Bengal as their home — to behold the depths that Kolkata has been dragged to first by Islam and then by communism.
Continue reading “Oh To Be in Kolkata For Puja”

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