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POWERED BY GLOBAL ADJUSTMENTS

February 2018 Volume 8, Issue 12

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14 Musically Yours

Chennai's acclaimed annual concert for a cause March 10, 2018, The Music Academy


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Citadines OMR Chennai is managed by The Ascott Limited, a member of CapitaLand. It is one of the leading international serviced residence RZQHURSHUDWRUVZLWKPRUHWKDQSURSHUWLHVLQRYHUFLWLHVDFURVVWKH$PHULFDV$VLD3DFL¿F(XURSHDQGWKH0LGGOH(DVW ,WVSRUWIROLRRIEUDQGVLQFOXGHVAscott, Citadines, Somerset, Quest, The Crest Collection and lyf.


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Dear Readers, Last month when I was driving back from Dhanushkodi, a tiny strip of an island in the southern-most tip of India that is almost touching Sri Lanka, I got a touching e-mail from a true friend of India. Arnaud Passieux and Ruxandra had relocated back home to France, and he had written of his nostalgia for India. In his letter, he also gently pointed out that we had erroneously credited someone else for an image he had submitted at our Beautiful India Photo Competition. In his very gracious and kind manner, he said he takes photos to be shared, so he is not offended; and added that he loves reading Culturama and misses our photo competitions! Moreover, he had attached an amazing image to show his true love for Indian culture. This was one of the first images he had shot in September last year once he was back home. It was of a clay statue of Ganesha (India’s beloved elephant-headed god), sitting on the banks of the river Seine, with the Eiffel towering over the paper umbrella that ‘protected’ the idol. The e-mail and the image touched a chord in me. This edition is all about Shiva and Parvati, said to represent the perfect synergy every union should ideally attain – in line with the occasion of Maha Shivaratri (and Valentine’s Day, too). It was thus fitting that we begin this issue with their son, Ganesha – the one who represents new beginnings and good fortune. Interestingly, Ganesha’s elephant head was one that was attached after his original head was cut off as a result of a misunderstanding. His new head represented unmatched wisdom and the

Editor-in-Chief Ranjini Manian Managing Editor Yamini Vasudevan

gaining of knowledge through reflection and listening. And, through listening and reflecting, we can gain knowledge and wisdom, too – just like Arnaud, who took home the best of what another culture had to offer without giving up his own roots. Let us thus endeavour to enjoy a joyful ride by respecting all, and seeing the true unity of life. Let us forge friendships beyond borders, race, religion and gender. With Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, by our side, we shall surely do this and much more.

Creative Head Prem Kumar VP Finance V Ramkumar Circulation P Devaraj Advertising Chennai Shobana Sairaj Bengaluru Meera Roy Delhi/NCR Ruchika Srivastava Mumbai/Pune Ashish Chaulkar

To subscribe to this magazine, e-mail info@globaladjustments.com or access it online at www.globaladjustments.com Chennai (Headquarters) 5, 3rd Main Road, R A Puram, Chennai – 600028 Telefax +91-44-24617902 E-mail culturama@globaladjustments.com Bengaluru #333/1, 1st Floor, 9th Main, 14th Cross, 2nd Stage, Indira Nagar, Bangalore - 560038 Tel +91-80-41267152 E-mail culturamablr@globaladjustments.com Delhi-NCR Level 4, Augusta Point, Golf Course Road, Sector 53, Gurgaon 122002, Haryana Mobile +91 124 435 4224 E-mail del@globaladjustments.com Mumbai #1102, 11th floor, Peninsula Business Park, Tower B, SB Road, Lower Parel, Mumbai – 400013 Tel +91-22-66879366 E-mail mum@globaladjustments.com Published and owned by Ranjini Manian at #5, 3rd Main Road, Raja Annamalai Puram, Chennai – 600028, and printed by K Srinivasan of Srikals Graphics Pvt Ltd at #5, Balaji Nagar, 1st Street, Ekkattuthangal, Chennai – 600032 Disclaimer Views and opinions expressed by writers do not necessarily reflect the publisher’s or the magazine’s.

Editor-in-Chief | globalindian@globaladjustments.com


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Cover Image 'The beautiful image of Rama, portrayed in our cover to represent the theme of Aikya 2018, was by acclaimed artist Maniam Selvan. His stunning image of Shiva has also been used in the segment on Festivals of India in this issue (Pg 58). The cover images of Sid Sriram and Rahul Vellal were shot by Nithin Barath."

Advisory Board Members N. Ram is an award-winning journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. He is Director of Kasturi & Sons Limited, publishers of The Hindu. Suzanne McNeill lived in India for seven years before returning to Scotland. She is a freelance writer and graphic designer. Liz Neisloss is a veteran journalist and writer who has worked for CNN based from Singapore, Chennai and at the United Nations in New York. She is now based in Mumbai. G. Venket Ram is an acclaimed photographer and the creative mind behind many a Culturama issue. www.gvenketram.com Annelize Booysen is a business consultant and social entrepreneur. She lived in Asia for more than a decade, which included three years in India. She is currently based in the United States. Namita Jain, founder of Jaldi Fit, is a leading fitness guru and a businesswoman who helms Kishco, a world-class cutlery brand.

Contributors Susan Philip is a freelance writer based in Chennai, and the editorial coordinator of Culturama’s various coffee table books. Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) was a spiritual teacher, author and interpreter of Indian literature. In 1961, he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri Press in California. Devdutt Pattanaik is the Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group and a writer and illustrator of several books on Indian mythology. www.devdutt.com Jane Kataria is a model, actress, radio jockey and writer. She is married to an Indian national Devanshi Mody studied Physics, French and Philosophy at Oxford, then fortuitously stumbled into travel writing. Vagabond urges notwithstanding, she’s ever lured back to Chennai for masala dosas!

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Letters to the Editor Dear Editor

“I enjoyed reading the article about Rameshwaram in the January 2018 issue – it is a place I need to visit. So happy to have some practical advice and overview through this piece.” - Dr. Nilima Kadambi, Bengaluru

Dear Editor

“This is the only magazine I take back home from all those I get in my office. I feel it contains so much useful information on India and our culture, and I feel it is very educative for the younger generation.” - Amar Vummidi, Chennai (Managing Partner at VBJ)

Dear Editor

“I read about GA Foundation’s training given to Afghanistan military women on ‘AK47 for the Mind’ in the previous issue. It was so inspiring! You are doing spectacular work. Keep it up!” - G.S. Krishnamurthy, Chennai (former CEO of US Technologies)

Dear Editor

“The cover of the December 2017 issue of Culturama was simply spectacular! What an amazing photograph!” - Alarmel Valli, Chennai (Padma Bhushan awardee)

ERRATA: In the December 2017 issue, the photo used in Page 66 was wrongly credited to Helen Ruth Taylor of the United Kingdom. The photo was taken by Arnaud Passieux of France and should be credited to him. In the January 2018 issue, the sentence on Pages 41 and 42 should read: “The sight of large tracts of empty lands on either side of the roadway makes one wish that construction and development would not touch this place as it would mean an end to the pristine beauty of the monsoon seas lashing both sides of the land.” We deeply regret both errors.

culturama – Subscribe Now! Get your copy of Culturama as a hard copy or as an e-magazine - visit www.culturama.in to subscribe For other enquiries, e-mail us at culturama@globaladjustments.com or call us on +91-44-2461 7902


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Contents Regulars

14 In Focus

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Aikya 2018 stars Sid Sriram and Rahul Vellal talk about their musical journeys, future goals and what Aikya means to them.

India’s Culture 8

Short Message Service

Short, engaging snippets of Indian culture.

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India in Symbols

Threads of varied hues are worn to bless and bind.

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India Impressions

Can a temple town be a hidden bastion of alluring romance stories, seductive poetry and aphrodisiacal foods?

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Festivals of India

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Feature

Storytelling is an integral part of Indian culture – one that encompasses narration, poetry, dance, poetry, music, drama and philosophy.

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Picture Story

The love of art can turn every space into a canvas, and every colour into an emotion.

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At GA Foundation

A partnership for education, a partnership for life.

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Spotlight

Prepare to lose sleep at the Goa Carnival.

We look at the legends and practices associated with Maha Shivaratri.

Journeys Into India 60

Holistic Living

It is time we removed the mask of conditioning, habits and past mistakes and allowed our true divine nature to shine.

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India Diaries

What should have been a regular meeting turned into a romance between two people – and their cultures.

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At Global Adjustments

Pongal celebrations at the GA office offer a learning experience and a reflection on the blessing of family and friends.

Relocations and Property 64

Myth & Mythology

When did storytelling enter our lives? Some say it was with a tale told by Lord Shiva to his consort, Parvati.

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Space and the City

Property listings in Chennai.


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SMS by Suzanne McNeill

Short cultural snippets for an easily digestible India

Art/textile/craft: Ilkal Sarees Saris have been woven in the villages around Ilkal, a small town in a remote region of Karnataka, since the 8th century CE. Around 500 families are still involved in hand-weaving the saris to which the town gives its name. The main field of the sari, made of cotton, is woven in rich dyes of pomegranate red, peacock blue and parrot green either in solid blocks of dazzling colour or patterned in checks, each of which has a specific name according to the size, style or lines of the check. The weaver will choose from one of three traditional border designs. Ilkal saris are distinguished by the silk pallu, which is woven separately and attached seamlessly to the body of the sari using a special technique called topi-teni. The pallu is usually flaming red in colour and carries a distinctive design of white bands whose ends are finished in symmetrical jagged edges.

Words: Haila Mumbai, India’s most cosmopolitan city, is a melting pot of languages and dialects from around the country. From this has emerged ‘Mumbaiyya Hindi’, a colourful and irreverent form of slang that is understood by Mumbai’s residents and which has borrowed and mixed up words and pronunciations from Marathi, Konkani, Gujarati, the Dravidian languages and English. For example, the word ‘anna’ is applied to anyone from South India and an ‘FC’ for ‘fokat chand’ or ‘fakir chand’ is someone who is always trying to get stuff done for free. Meanings change, too. ‘Bhai’ was once slang for a hoodlum, but is used now as an informal term of address to mean ‘brother’, for example, to a taxi or rickshaw driver: ‘Bhai, can you take me to Bandra Station?’ The exclamation ‘Haila!’ translates to ‘Oh God!’ It is used to express excitement, surprise or frustration. Mumbai-born cricketer Sachin Tendulkar featured in an advertisement for Pepsi during the 1996 Cricket World Cup alongside Shane Warne and Carl Hooper. ‘Kidnapped’ by his international rivals, Tendulkar revives as they attempt to bundle him aboard a Honolulu-bound flight, exclaiming ‘Haila plane!’ This became a conversational catchphrase for some time, all said in a spirit of fun.

Photo: Melissa FREITAS, Brazil


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Name: Hardik Pandya Hardik Pandya is a young all-rounder cricketer who in very short time has forged a reputation as a game-changer and is now making his mark as an international batsman and bowler. Hardik was born in Surat, Gujarat, in 1993. His father ran a small car finance business, but he closed it and moved cities to enrol Hardik and his older brother Krunal in Kiran More’s cricket academy in Vadodara. Both brothers made steady progress through the junior ranks despite the family’s financial constraints; by 2013, Hardik was playing for the Baroda cricket team. He caught the eye of the Mumbai Indians’ head coach by playing a blistering innings in a match that looked to be lost. The coach followed his career from then on and invited Hardik to join the star-studded Mumbai Indians a couple of years later. Hardik played a crucial role in helping the Mumbai Indians win the 2015 IPL title and, in 2016, was called up to India’s international squad, making his Twenty20 international debut at the age of 22 against Australia. He played his first international Test against Sri Lanka in 2017, and scored his maiden Test century in the third and final Test match of the tour. Confident, ambitious and expressive, Hardik enjoys wearing flamboyant clothes and funky hairstyles, but admits that the ‘rockstar’ tag he’s been labelled is a little wide of the mark given his preference for Sufi and fusion music. Hardik begins 2018 named in the 17-member Indian Test squad for their current two-month tour of South Africa, and with an endorsement from no less than Sachin Tendulkar, who noted the versatility and extra edge Hardik brings to the team.

Food and Drink: Mangalorean Bangude Masala Popular along India’s south-west Karavali coastline, this is a simple but distinctive fish curry that is made with mackerel and cooked in a fragrant, tangy and super-spicy gravy. Traditionally, it is cooked in a clay pot, which is said to enhance the taste. The spices for the masala mix are dryroasted in a pan: 20 dried red chillies, then one teaspoon each of peppercorns, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek, and 2 tablespoons of coriander seeds. Once cooled, these are placed in a grinder with 10 garlic cloves, a piece of ginger, an onion, 2 lumps of tamarind, 2 green chillies, and ¼ teaspoon turmeric. Water is added and the mixture is ground to a sauce. Next, 3 to 4 tablespoons of coconut oil, the primary medium for cooking in the region, is heated in a clay pot with 6 curry leaves and half of the masala. The fish pieces are added with some salt and covered with the rest of the masala. Then the pot is sealed with its clay lid and the fish and masala cooked over a medium flame for 6 to 7 minutes. The curry is ready to serve, but is said to taste even better if left to sit in the pot for a day.


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In Focus by Yamini Vasudevan

Musically

Yours For Sid Sriram, music is not just an art form or even a career – it forms the basis of everything in his life. The Aikya 2018 star talks about his journey thus far, how he stays grounded in the face of colossal success, and what he is planning for the Aikya audience this year

Photography: Nithin Barath | Styling: Shilpa Vummiti | Make-up and Hair: Mohan of Page 3 Sid's Outfit: Blue kurta and grey bandgala – A Tailors Tale | Rahul’s Look: The Little Factory


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On December 31, 2015, a song titled ‘Thalli Pogathey’ with music by A.R. Rahman was aired. And went viral. With it, the singer suddenly shot to stardom in India and among the Indian diaspora. Sid Sriram became a household name. The young and not-so-young loved his voice. He was called by all the top music directors. He was given prime slots in the Chennai December Music Season. Tickets to his concerts were sold out. Put simply, success came in spades. Today, he divides his time between Los Angeles and Chennai, wearing multiple hats and working (literally) on parallel tracks. “These are things I dreamt of when I was younger, even as recently as two or three years ago,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone. Might I suggest he was lucky? “Ultimately, the onus is on the artistes to figure out how they are going to break the glass ceiling and make their way into whichever performing spaces they feel they deserve to be in,” he responds after some thought. He adds that he has no secret formula for success. “The most effective and impactful thing an artiste can do is to stay the course and keep getting better. What is amazing about this day and age is that, with technology and the way it works, if you have content that

deserves to be seen or heard, it will be seen or heard. And you can connect with people directly.” There is something sage-like about Sid. He is the polite, well-behaved person that every parent hopes his or her kid will grow up to be. His willingness to sing a song of your choice, off the bat, is endearing. He does this on stage, too, when the crowd screams for an encore – gently waving his co-artistes back to their positions and then announcing that he is happy to do a couple of “bonus tracks”. He is very articulate and enunciates his thoughts carefully, but gives away little about his personal life. I find this to be a bit conservative, to which, he responds, “The sanctity that comes from privacy is really important for an artiste to be able to feel comfortable in the art, to have that space away from being in the public eye. It is also important for an artiste to not get carried away with the attention. I like to keep my personal life personal. I am blessed to have a fanbase that respects that.” But what about the dopamine hits that comes from the million ‘likes’ on his Facebook page and ‘hearts’ that dominate his Instagram? Has he ever been drawn into the


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black hole of social media addiction? “It is easy to obsess over social media,” he admits. “I have had my times, especially when I was younger, where I would get online more than I possibly needed to…Dedicating yourself to an art form or to anything else requires a great level of mental discipline, and discipline in general. If you always have the greater goal in mind – for me, that happens to be this contribution to music – you will know when to pull yourself away from it. As an individual, how you brand yourself is important, but there’s definitely a limit to the amount of attention you need to give to social media.” Throughout our conversation, he keeps using the term ‘younger’ when referring to his journey in the music space. When I jokingly exclaim that he is still young, he explains that he refers to the time he was in high school and, even more recently, before his explosive success as his “younger days”. He adds, “I demarcate the time before and after ‘Thalli Pogathey’ came out.” He insists that there is much more for him to do. For one, he hopes to perform with Ustad Zakir Hussain sometime. And with Stevie Wonder, too. He adds that, if time could be turned around, he would love to share a stage with Nina Simone, the jazz pianist and singer (who died in 2003).

“I have always been a natural performer.” Sid was born in Chennai but grew up in San Francisco, where his family moved to when he was a year old. His grandfather was a musician; his mother is a Carnatic vocalist who runs a famed music school in the Bay Area. So, music was an elemental part of his life. He began singing and performing at the age of three. “Subconsciously and very intuitively, it built my musical, artistic and creative framework…of how I approached everything. At different points of personal confusion, I would dig deep within music and find some clarity through that.” He was also exposed to the work of Indian music directors like Ilayaraaja and A.R. Rahman, and picked up R&B along the way. While he was a student at the Berklee College of Music. While he was studying there, he sent A.R. Rahman an e-mail with a recording of his singing. A recording followed, and the rest – well, you know the rest. Performing is in his blood. “I have always been a natural performer; stage is a place that I love to be in.” Shows apart, he has been singing in the Chennai December Music Season since 2005, and has been witness to not only his own growth but also a positive shift in terms of how it is drawing people from diverse backgrounds. “In the last December season, it was exciting to see a wide demographic from young to older people, and folks that never listened to Carnatic music before, coming and packing up these auditoriums and staying for the entirety of the concert. It was great!” I wonder how his family and friends react to his fame and popularity. “I happen to have some really great people around me. They constantly remind

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me that even though I am a performer and in some ways a celebrity, there is also day-to-day stuff I got to do around the house. That I am no more special than the person next to me on the street just because I am singing and people recognise me at times.” That, however, is not the only factor in keeping him grounded and humble. “I had my battle with hubris when I was younger. I had my fall from grace, when I was quite arrogant, when I was in sixth and seventh grade. I got a reality check when I wasn’t putting in the amount of work I needed to put into the music. This was especially true with Carnatic music. Even though that was a long time ago, a lot of the stuff I went through in that period has stuck with me. “I also realised that, at any point, if I lose humility, the first thing that gets impacted is the music. When I am performing a Carnatic concert, I require a huge amount of mental fortitude and focus. The second I get impressed with myself for singing one part, the next verse goes for a toss. So, there is no time to get satisfied because what it is going to do is keep me from moving forward.” Given how he is involved in practically every part of his performance, on and off stage, I ask him about his upcoming concert in Aikya 2018 – the “next big thing” in his radar. “I am getting into the curating of the programme, and it is a big – BIG – production that I want to put on! This will be completely different from anything I have conceptualised and put together in the past. The Aikya team wanted to musically portray Rama's leadership qualities, and it resonates with me deeply. I am working on this keeping in mind the eight-year legacy of class and substance that Aikya has been known for.” The theme of this year’s concert touches on the deeper facets of what makes for a good leader. And we delve into the Ramayana to draw out the fine threads of wisdom that may be woven into our own lives. It is interesting to note that there were several worthy kings other than Rama in the epic – such as Dasharatha, Janaka, Bharata, Sugriva and Vibhishana. However, even today, we regard Rama as the model king and use the term ‘Rama rajya’ to describe ideal governance – regardless of the age, polity and governance system we may be part of. What was the basis of his kingship that made him a worthy example for all time? Can we capture the essence of his leadership traits and inculcate it? This is the question Aikya 2018 will explore through a musical journey. Sid, who is working on translating this amorphous concept into a “visual and physical experience”, says his aim is to “take the audience on a journey that really touches on these different facets of Rama, and inspire different

Bridging Generations Through Music As the world grapples with the entry of millennials in all spheres, the producers of Aikya 2018 prepare to set the stage with talent from the younger group. Rohini Manian shares her thoughts on the major event “As I looked back at Aikya concerts held over the past eight years, I was in awe of the rich line-up in each performance and the legacy Global Adjustments has built. I am very committed to carry the baton forward to the next generation, and to present our traditional classics. Aikya 2018 will be by millennials for music lovers from all ages and background,” Rohini says. With Sid Sriram working to conceptualise the presentation and Rahul Vellal sharing the stage with him, this is definitely a treat for the senses. “I look back with wonder at the stalwart artistes who have performed on the stage. Now, we proudly present the most versatile Sid Sriram woven with the fresh angelic presence of Rahul Vellal, a child prodigy,” she adds. Rohini Manian, Chief Executive Officer of Global Adjustments Services Pvt Ltd, is helming her first Aikya concert since taking over the company’s reins, and she is more than excited about the upcoming performance.


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Aikya 2018 is a BIG production that I want to put on! This will be completely different from anything I have conceptualised and put together in the past. emotional textures through sound and movement and everything else.” I find it intriguing that an idea can be translated into music. How does he work on something like this? “While talking about it, I am hypersensitive to the emotions that are being inspired, and then retain those emotions or store them away in my memory so that I can reference it and see how best these emotions can be expressed. I think about the set of songs and sounds – what can most impactfully articulate these emotions in such a way that the audience is able to feel them. Hopefully, it resonates with them on some level, and gives them a holistic understanding of how I have taken the concept and internalised it – and then allow them to internalise it in their own way. It requires a lot of thinking – but, that's what is most exciting – taking something like this and building it is ultimately emotionally relatable.”

“I want people to able to take a step into my head.” Sid’s performances are not just about vocals. There is the crossover between classical Indian and Western rock at many points. He likes to read poetry in between songs (“I should probably tell people next time that I write this stuff!”); he mixes in video clips and visual graphics; his sister and Bharatanatyam dancer, Dr. Pallavi Sriram, performs alongside for some pieces. It is like a sensory explosion; I am curious as to whether there is a name for this eclectic mix of elements. “I don’t have a name for this format,” he says. “If I had to, it would be ‘immersive art’. The goal of this is to create and provide an experience that envelopes the viewer and listener, and provides an experience where they feel that, for the duration of the time they are in the performance space, they have been transported to another world…where they would, you know, almost take a step into my head.” As a sign off, I ask him about his thoughts on the upcoming generation of musicians. “There is so much

talent to be tapped into among the younger generation, and there are more opportunities now to be recognised and groomed. Rahul Vellal, who is going to be part of Aikya 2018, is a prime example of this and I am looking forward to working with him.”


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Budding Talent Rahul Vellal was just two years old when he began to identify songs and hum along to them. His parents, Hema and Ravishankar, noticed his interest in music. “We approached several teachers, but many of them refused to take him on as he was quite young. So, he started learning at the age of four,” says Hema. When Rahul was around six years old, he gave his first performance – a half-hour slot at an annual concert organised by his teacher. His second concert was even more memorable – wherein he sang devotional songs for one-and-a-half hours. “He was seven years then and was part of a performance held in a temple here in Bangalore. He handled it independently with the musicians on the stage,” says Ravishankar. “There was no rehearsal or training of how to coordinate with the co-artistes. He had no printed lyrics; all that he had was the list of songs that he was to sing,” Hema adds. The 75-strong audience was spellbound by the little boy’s singing, and Rahul was on his way to creating a niche for himself as a child musician. “I love to perform and I enjoy learning new things,” he says. He recently performed in Abu Dhabi – his first performance outside of India. What else did he do while in the Emirate? He went to Ferrari World, he says. So, is he interested in cars? Yes, and adds that his favourites are “Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari and Lamborghini”. Currently a fifth-grade student in Carmel School in Bengaluru, Rahul is being trained as a vocalist. He is also learning mridangam and piano. Stage performances and

recordings (video and audio) are also part of his schedule. Is it a lot to handle? “I have arranged different times for studies and music. So, I don’t find it difficult,” he says. His parents are a big source of support. “I saw his interest in music and learning various things in music…And Rahul was very serious about it. So, I quit my job and am now with him all the time, taking him to the classes and other places,” says Hema.

One Day at a Time With regular performances and recordings coming his way, Rahul is clearly in the public eye. However, he does not say much about his newfound fame. His parents manage his online presence and act as gatekeepers to shield him from excessive and unnecessary attention. “We want him to enjoy the music and experience it in its purest form,” says Ravishankar. Hema adds that, by nature, Rahul is oblivious to praise or appreciation. “He does not even tell me what people told him or what happened. He just forgets it that moment, and concentrates on what he is doing. I am very happy that he is this way,” she explains. Rahul and his parents are excited about his participation in Aikya 2018. “I am really looking forward to performing in Aikya, especially with Sid anna (‘anna’ means older brother, and is used as a sign of respect). I am sure it is will be a wonderful learning opportunity for me,” says Rahul. “We are very thankful to the Aikya team who wanted to include Rahul as part of this production,” adds Hema.


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INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE SCHOOL CHENNAI

Bringing diverse ideas that shape our shared future.

Doors open on August 16, 2018. Admissions Office open now. Plot No. 33A, Clasic Retreat, Sholinganallur, OMR, Chennai - 600119 | +91-44-4860-3757 | www.internationalvillage.org


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India in Symbols by Susan Philip

Ties that Bind and Bless

Red, orange or black threads blessed by priests may be worn by the young and old alike for spiritual energy. Photo: Moniek de ZWAAN, The Netherlands

In India, threads of myriad hues and thickness, worn by themselves or with added pendants, are worn as symbols of divine blessing, protection against negative forces and even as signifiers of social responsibilities

In a nutshell Threads of various hues and materials are very significant in India. They are used as symbols of divine blessing and protection against evil. And also as reminders of one’s responsibilities to family, society and God. Meaning and Deeper Meaning Indian men, women and children commonly wear various types of threads knotted around their wrists, arms, ankles or necks. Men of certain castes also wear threads across one shoulder and torso. These threads are significant in different ways. The most ubiquitous of these threads is the one that signifies marriage. At the wedding, the groom knots a thread or strands of threads on which special pendants are strung, after it is blessed by priests, around his bride’s neck. Later, these pendants may be transferred to a gold chain and is traditionally worn constantly by women throughout married life. Women and girls also tie ornamented strands of threads called rakhis on the wrists of men and boys they consider


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Cotton threads are often tied around the crevices of temple walls or on trees within temple premises. The symbolism is possibly that relationships are as fragile as the cotton thread, but with effort they can be strengthened and sustained.

their brothers at the Raksha Bandhan festival. It symbolises their love and prayers for the men; and in return, the recipients pledge to protect and care for the women. Primarily the Brahmin community, but also some other sectors, have coming-of-age ceremonies for boys, where they are invested with sacred threads worn diagonally on their torsos. These threads are routinely changed, and when the young man enters matrimony, the number of strands is doubled to signify his added responsibilities.

Photo: Dominique Lopez, Spain

Apart from these, red, orange or black threads blessed by priests may be worn by the young and old alike for spiritual energy. On certain auspicious days, cotton threads are also tied around the sacred peepal tree by married women, as they walk around it 108 times, praying for the well-being of their husbands. The symbolism is possibly that relationships are as fragile as the cotton thread, but with effort they can be strengthened and sustained. The Stuff of Legends Yama and Yamuna were the children of Surya, the Sun God. Surya’s wife Sanjana, unable to bear Surya’s radiance,

Many communities have coming-of-age ceremonies for boys, where they are invested with sacred threads worn diagonally on their torsos. When the young man enters matrimony, the number of strands is doubled to signify his added responsibilities.


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Threads blessed by priests are often tied around the wrists of the bride and groom as sign of divine grace, and to protect them from negative forces. Photo: Carlo Sem, Italy

Yama and Yamuna

returned to her matriarchal home, leaving her shadow, Chaya, in her stead. Surya was unaware of the swap, and had a child with Chaya, who then began mistreating Sanjana’s children. Yama rebelled, and Chaya cursed him. Yama told Surya of the incident, and the Sun God figured out that Chaya could not be his true wife. He confronted her, and the truth came out. He got Sanjana back after cutting down his radiance, but he could not save Yama totally from the curse. Yama became the God of Death, and was sent to rule over the underworld. Yamuna, his sister, was inconsolable. After many years, she asked Goddess Ganga to help her meet her brother. Ganga reminded Yama about his sister, and on the auspicious day of Shravan Poornima, Lord Yama visited his

sister. Overjoyed, Yamuna prepared delicious food for him, and tied a sacred thread on his wrist. Pleased, Yama blessed her, and decreed that any man who has a sacred thread tied on his wrist by his sister on that auspicious day each year would be blessed with health and wealth, and that he must in return take responsibility for protecting his sister from all difficulties. The day is celebrated as Raksha Bandhan. Initially, it underlined the brother–sister relationship, but now, it transcends blood ties.* * Folk tales in India tend to vary in terms of plot and narrative, even while the characters are the same, depending on the region and the source they are drawn from. For example, there is a similar story about Yama and his sister, Yami, to depict the origin of Bhai Dhooj, a celebration of the ties between brothers and sisters, which is held on the final day of the five-day Diwali celebration in North India. The essence is the same, even though some details may vary.


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The significance of threads inherent in Indian culture has been adopted by non-Hindus in India as well and hold a place of importance in weddings and other important ceremonies. Scientific substance Whatever the religious significance of the threads, their positioning is important. Most of these symbolic threads are worn either life-long or for significant periods of time. They constantly massage the body at spots considered key in oriental systems of medicine for promoting health and well-being. Saying it in verse “Mangalyam thanthuna nena mamajeevana hetuna Kante badhnami shubage thwam jeeva sarada satam” – Said by the groom to his bride while knotting the mangalsutra or mangalyam around her neck. (“This sacred thread is responsible for my life. I am tying it around your neck. O maiden having many auspicious attributes, may you live for hundred long years [with me]”.) The Aikya Factor The significance of threads inherent in Indian culture has been adopted by non-Hindus in India. The Syrian Christian community originating in the southern Indian state of Kerala, for instance, incorporates the mangalyam or mangalsutra in their wedding ceremonies. Threads are drawn from a special sari gifted by the groom to his wife to In the Syrian Christian community of Kerala, threads are drawn from a special sari gifted by the groom to his wife, and twisted together. A pendent is strung on it, and the groom knots this around the bride’s neck as part of the marriage rituals.

symbolise his commitment to taking care of her material needs, and twisted together for strength. An auspicious pendent is strung on it, and the groom knots this around the bride’s neck as part of the marriage rituals. The pendent is later transferred to a gold chain.

Women and girls tie ornamented threads called rakhis on the wrists of men and boys they consider their brother, to signify their bond of love.

The sacred red thread, known as mouli or kalawa, is an integral part of many poojas. After the worship ceremonies, the kalawa is tied around the wrists of members of the family performing the pooja, as a symbol of divine blessings. These threads are made in various places, but a group of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh takes particular pride in producing them for their Hindu brethren. It is their traditional occupation,


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Special beads and pendants are often woven into the threads to signify added blessings. Photo: Candice GIBORY, France

carried on for generations. They feel that their job is significant because it bridges religions and binds two communities. At Chinese wake ceremonies, when mourners who are not members of the family leave, they can take with them a piece of red thread from bunches kept out on tables, to ward off e vil spirits. Parsi children are initiated into Zoroastrianism in a ceremony called navjyoth, which includes a sacred thread called khusti. The khusti is a reminder of the purity of life and action. It is tied around the waist twice, and secured with two knots, which have their own significance. It can be untied and retied several times during the day. A Last Word I weave your name on the loom of my mind To clean and soften ten thousand threads And to comb the twists and knots of my thoughts. No more shall I weave a garment of pain. For you have come to me, drawn by my weaving, Ceaselessly weaving your name on the loom of my mind.

A Navjyoth ceremony in progress.

- Kabir (Indian mystic and poet, who lived during the 15th century)


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Feature by Suzanne McNeill

The Tale End Telling stories takes on a new meaning in India as it is becomes an art form composed of narration, poetry, music, drama, dance and philosophy – we take a look at the main forms of narrative storytelling


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Across India, traditional stories have entertained and instructed people for thousands of years. The stories passed down through the centuries have been received and retold in many different forms, shaping India’s immense cultural heritage. The great myths and legends were recalled through retellings of the Ramayana and Mahabharata; the Puranas recounted the stories of the deities; and folk tales about kings and queens, noble warriors, wise sages, brave hunters and clever animals offered the listeners lessons in morality. These tales, epic and folk, sacred and secular, were learnt by heart and brought to life by successive generations of itinerant bards and performers. To this day, storytelling is frequently a composite art form, composed of narration, poetry, music, drama, dance and philosophy. Tales are narrated to a musical or percussion accompaniment and highly stylised dance-dramas are amongst the most iconic of India’s performing arts. In this article we focus on the main types of narrative storytelling in India.

Classical Forms of Storytelling Several oral traditions took their inspiration from the performances of devotees in the temples or poets at the courts and have evolved into highly refined forms of storytelling. Harikatha, meaning ‘the telling of the stories of God’, is a sophisticated style of storytelling from Tamil Nadu that explores religious themes, usually the life of a saint or a story from an Indian epic. It is performed in sabhas (auditoriums), marriage halls and temples by harikatha bhagavathars, or experts, whose devotion to the art of storytelling has been honed by years of practice. The training is rigorous: a bhagavathar must speak several

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Painting of Kurukshetra war from the Indian epic Mahabharath

Indian languages, quote thousands of religious verses and sing in both classical and folk traditions. Moreover, it is essential that the bhagavathar has the dramatic prowess to enrapture the audience, to instruct and to entertain with comment and anecdote. (Watch a harikatha rendition by Vishaka Hari at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-01.) Kirtan is a devotional form of storytelling that is popular in Maharashtra. The kirtankars tell stories to the accompaniment of musical instruments in a call-and-response style song or chant, with different singers reciting or describing the story. They express loving devotion to a deity or discuss spiritual ideas. The audience is encouraged to repeat the chant or reply to the call of the singer. (Watch Krishna Das present a kirtan at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-02.) Chakyar koothu, from Kerala, is performed only in temples and is a form of discursive monologue with emphasis on gesture on facial expression. Although affecting a mannered


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Chakyar koothu

style of storytelling, the narrator often incorporates commentary on current social and political events and directs comments and insults at the audience. (Watch a chakyar koothu performance by Sreehari M Chakyar at https://tinyurl. com/CM0218-03.)

Folk Forms of Storytelling For the people of rural India, the country’s folklore and legends came alive in the village square. There are still numerous forms of traditional theatre staged in the open in performances that are steeped in ritual. Often the plays begin at dusk and are performed throughout the night. There are no sets, props are minimal, but the actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses and face paints. Yakshagana, prevalent in Karnataka, literally means the song (gana) of a yaksha. According to Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts, yakshas were nature spirits associated with the woods, mountains, lakes and wilderness. Yakshagana performances begin at dusk with the beating of drums for up to an hour before the actors emerge. The narrator is backed by musicians playing traditional instruments, and the actors interpret the story as it is being narrated. All the components of yakshagana, music, dance and dialogue, are improvised and it is not uncommon for actors to get into philosophical debates or arguments without going out of the persona of the

Therukoothu

character being enacted. (Watch a yakshagana performance at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-04.) Therukoothu, meaning ‘street drama’, is from Tamil Nadu. Stories told with song and dance from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana form the basis of therukoothu performances, but it also borrows heavily from other historic Tamil texts. Usually it is performed only by male artists, dressing up as both male and female characters. (Watch a therukoothu performance at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-05). Another ancient storytelling form from Tamil Nadu is the folk music genre villu paattu, named after the tautly stretched long bow that forms the main instrument of percussion. Villu Paattu intersperses music with storytelling, narrating a range of stories from the mythological to current social concerns, and is usually played at temple festivals. (Watch a villu paatu rendition by Subbu Arumugam at https://tinyurl.com/ CM0218-06.) The most popular form of entertainment in the villages and towns of northern India, before the advent of Bollywood, nautanki still commands huge audiences. It is based on the folk story of the wooing of Princess Nautanki of Punjab by a local boy, Phool Singh, and is accompanied by intense melodic exchanges between two or three performers, sometimes backed by a chorus. (Watch a Bhojpuri nautanki at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-07.)


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Melodrama, exaggeration, garish costumes and shrill music characterise the song-and-dance extravaganza jatra, which has flourished in Bengal for centuries. Jatra performances mostly centre around the life of Lord Krishna, and, as with therukoothu, all the parts are played by male actors. (Listen to a jatra rendition at https://tinyurl.com/ CM0218-08.)

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(Learn how phad paintings are made at https://tinyurl.com/ CM0218-09 and observe a chitrakathi storytelling session at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-10.) In Gujarat, there evolved the sophisticated scroll paintings of the Garodas, who painted multiple legends on a single scroll called tipanu, meaning ‘recording’ or ‘remark’;

Painted Scroll Narratives Lengthy stories were often told in front of a large-scale painted textile or embroidered tapestry that expressed the colourful worlds of the stories in visual narratives. The storytellers who carried the scrolls from village to village were known as ‘picture showmen’ and each region had its prominent scroll painting traditions: Phad paintings in Rajasthan told the epic story of the folk deity Devanarayana and the Romeo-and-Juliet-style love story of Dhola and Maru; chitrakathi from Maharashtra related the story of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana through single-sheet collections of pictures supported by narration, puppets and music. and Orissa is famous for its patachitra relating the stories of the gods in picture form. Unique to Telegana are cheriyal scrolls. They were about three feet wide and could be as long as 40 to 60 feet, depending on the length of the story. The story was presented in a sequence of panels, just like a modern comic strip, separated by straight-lined frames or a border filled in with patterns of flowers, leaves and vines. Taken from village to village, the scrolls would be displayed on a simple stage lit by lanterns whilst the narrators told their story over several nights, accompanied by musicians. (Learn more about tipanu paintings at https://tinyurl. com/CM0218-11; patachitra at https://tinyurl.com/ CM0218-12; and cheriyal scrolls at https://tinyurl. com/CM0218-15.) Painted scroll narratives were not limited to the Hindu tradition – stories from Islam were portrayed on pirs by Bengali Muslim artists. Used as visual aides to the live narration, the scrolls were the earliest form of audio-visual entertainment. (Learn more about pir paintings at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-14.)

Storytelling Using Props and Puppets Stories were also told with the help of props or puppets. Kaavad, which originates from a word meaning


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Katkatha’s show

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‘panel’ or ‘half door’, is both the name given to a tradition of storytelling unique to the kaavadiya bhats, the itinerant storytellers of Rajasthan, and the portable shrine that is the focus of their narrative. Carried from house to house, the kaavad is a wooden box made like a small cupboard with up to ten hinged doors, painted all over with scenes from the epics and stories of local saints and folk tradition. The panels open and close as the story unfolds, taking listeners on a visual journey. (Watch an artist unveil the many sides of a kaavad at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-16.) Puppetry is an old art that is being enthusiastically reinvented by modern storytellers. Katkatha’s show about Ram adapts the story of the Rama–Sita relationship from the Ramayana and includes dance, music, martial arts and animation as well as puppets that range from 3 inches to 25 feet high. It uses the traditional story to tackle social issues such as health awareness programmes and women’s problems. The company Ishara Puppet Theatre also seeks to innovate, integrating puppets into the storytelling style rather than using them just as props. As well as adaptations of the Rama and Sita stories, Ishara Puppet Theatre has based performances on tales 2,500 years old that tell of the wise

King Vikramaditya and the spellbinding stories related to him by the wily ghost Betaal, as well as the love story of Dholu and Maru. (Watch a performance by Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-17 and Ishara Puppet Theatre at https://tinyurl.com/CM0218-18.)

Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Cartoons and Films Modern society offers new ways of communicating the old stories. Amar Chitra Katha (meaning ‘Immortal Picture Stories’) has published quintessentially Indian stories since 1967, and many young Indians grew up on their fables, parables and life-stories of the gods. For many the books have taken on the role of the grandmother and are the primary source of stories about India. The comic book genre has expanded in recent years, as young creatives, brought up on the Amar Chitra Katha stories, experiment with dynamic retellings of the classics in graphic novel form, turning conventional versions of the epic on their head and narrating stories of Indian mythology with a contemporary influence. India’s repertoire of stories quickly became the subject matter of television cartoons and many dramatise the lives of the gods and focus on the childhood of the deities, such as Hanuman and Ganesha, bringing children closer to India’s mythological stories. Cartoons made by Ultra Adventures found immediate success with the family market with simple animation techniques. Full-length animated films are relatively new to India’s vast film industry and recent collaborations have changed the landscape completely.


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Filling in the finer details. Photo: Giorgio ANTINORI, Italy

Picture Story by Team Culturama

Master Stroke

“Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you,” said American author and essayist Chuck Klosterman. Given that India cherishes art and love, his words would be more than apt for this country. We look at the love of art in this space – which can strike anyone at any time, anywhere. And, when creativity reigns, every space can become a canvas, everything at hand a means to make a picture, every colour an emotion.


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Ever fancied a crater in your neighbourhood? Photo: Manju CHAND, India

Who said umbrellas have to be plain? Photo: Anke M.L. BOLLEN, The Netherlands

Divine figures provide a wealth of inspiration. Photo: Melissa Freitas, Brazil

When in doubt, use flowers.

Photo: Shyam Prasad SUBBARAJ, UK

You are never too young to start. Photo: Melissa Freitas, Brazil


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India Impressions by Devanshi Mody

The Temple and the

Temptress

Who would have thought that a temple town hides within its recesses a tradition of amorous seduction, aided by aphrodisiacal perfumes and foods? Read on, and see Madurai in a new light


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Valentine’s Day. A curious observance that makes February the month of love. Nevertheless, it furnishes an excuse to explore the romantic facets of India, which is, after all, the land of the Kama Sutra. But not only. The love labyrinth of India ramifies beyond that. Would you have imagined that Madurai, stereotyped as the ‘Temple City’, and nothing more, is a hive of pulsating seductions? Indeed, Madurai’s people contend that the romance of their fish-eyed goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) and her consort Sundareshwara (Shiva) is the greatest love story ever told. Except that it is hardly ever told. From its tantalising goddess and temples with sculpted enticements to its hypnotic jasmine and poetry of passion, Madurai is a heaving throb of amorous exuberance. I have frequently visited Madurai’s fabled Meenakshi Temple but was never intimated of the goddess’ love story, until I chanced upon Rukmini Thiagarajan, Managing Director at The Heritage Madurai. Meenakshi, daughter of Madurai’s Pandya king, unfurled out of a fire pit. During this fiery genesis, it was presaged that her congenital third breast would vanish when she encountered the man worthy of her. Succeeding her father, Meenakshi embarked on a conquest, vanquishing kings and gods. En route, she chanced upon on a young hermit. Their eyes met; Meenakshi realised she was Parvati incarnate. Her third breast disappeared, and she took the hermit, now named Sundareshwara (‘Beautiful Lord’), to Madurai to be her consort. Meenakshi bears a parrot symbolising Kama, God of Love. A dagger like a small tusk thrusts out from her girded waist signifying her supremacy. Shiva might be Lord of the Cosmos, but the ravishing goddess reigns here. Remarkably, the sculpted pillar depicting her marriage portrays her receiving the groom’s hand, defying convention where the groom receives the bride’s hand. Shiva is even consigned to a smaller shrine. From here, his utsava murti (idol taken out on processions) makes its nightly pilgrimage on a palanquin in a musical procession to the Goddess’s intimate chamber. Ushered in with flowers, he is placed on a swing beside Meenakshi’s utsava murti. In this mirrored bower, with an opulence of intoxicating jasmine, the temptress passes the night in adoration of her amour. The Lord of the Cosmos is still the Lord of the Conjugal Chamber, even the mighty Meenakshi must concede… These unfaltering nightly nuptials resolutely establish why Meenakshi’s and Sundareshwara’s is the grandest of all love affairs.

Madurai’s people contend that the romance of their fish-eyed goddess Meenakshi (Parvati)
and her consort Sundareshwara (Shiva) is the greatest love story ever told.


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The pool at The Heritage Madurai

Who would have thought a regular thali would contain an array of loveinducing ingredients?

Rose and pistacio, fig and honey, chocolate and vanilla - a bouquet of aphrodisiacal concoctions await at Puppy's.

Romance is not restricted to the Meenakshi Temple alone. Legend has it that Parvati’s younger son, Murugan, valorously slew the demon Surapadman to rescue Indra, God of Heaven, whose daughter Deivanai he gained as booty and married at the magnificent rock-hewn cave temple at Thiruparankundram, one of the six abodes of Murugan, where lofty pillars surge with the fervid entwinement of love-making couples. Some of these splendid erotic sculptures are, alas, smeared by sandal paste spread by devotees who believe that the practice will procure them a mate.

frolic, mesmerising the helpless youth who prostrate before their feminine wiles.

Madurai was supposedly conceived in the redolent womb of a kadamba forest. Given such poetic origins, unsurprisingly Madurai held the first convention of Tamil poets, Sangam, 2,000 years ago. Even its river Vaigai is romanced in a Sangam poem that arouses the masculine vigour of the waters that traverse across Madurai. Onto the river coy damsels come to

Legendary architect Geoffrey Bawah brings architectural poetry, conveying the city’s spiritual and the sensual aspects playing on the temple-pond pool at The Heritage Madurai – the main spartan pool captures the Temple City’s sacred aura whilst villas with miniature private temple-pond pools have allure. Heritage Madurai’s MD Rukmini is interested when I say I am investigating the Temple City’s romantic potential. “That’s an exciting angle,” she exclaims. “Why doesn’t anyone write about it?” She agrees that romance inheres in Madurai and swiftly conjures jasmine farms at dawn, dewy and exhaling the entrancing fragrance of the flower that goes into the world’s most famous perfume, Chanel No 5. Whilst Chanel claims they cultivate jasmines in southern


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most hedonistic of drinks incorporating almond paste and rose water is instantly enamoured, if not with the object of pursuits then with the drink itself. Love offerings in Madurai have assumed an unprecedented flavour, I realise on stumbling upon an astonishing discovery. Puppy (aka Vichitra Raja Singha) has youth and imagination and has Madurai eating their hearts out at her new ice-cream parlour, Puppy’s. Appositely, Puppy acquired renown by supplying fairytale wedding cakes to local top-shots. Then, Chennai’s Casanovas dispatched their lackeys to Madurai to fetch Puppy’s celebrated cheesecake as a love token when they proposed amidst pomp and sensation at top hotels. And you would think love and cheesecake are disparate as chalk and cheese…

The famed Madurai jasmine.

France, one believes that the distinctive Madurai jasmine creeps its way into the scent bottle. Madurai’s famous Flower Market is an exhilarating carnival of colour and fragrance, but it is the immaculate white jasmine that enmeshes with its sharp and sweet scent. Rukmini, having expatiated on the aphrodisiacal endowments of foods associated with Madurai, curates for me a menu with love-inducing ingredients from the city’s flower and spice markets. A candlelit dinner amidst a profusion of jasmine and roses follows. Heralding hymeneal rapture is jasmine-infused water, where one kilogram of jasmine goes into a single glass of this love potion. There is also a thrillingly spiced and honeyed tea concoction. This is followed by a thali. On it lies a golden roll of masala dosa. I am unsure what is aphrodisiacal about a masala dosa other than that it reminds of Cleopatra presenting herself to Caesar, all carpeted and captivating. There is also spice-laden purple rice payasam. Spices are reputed stimulants, but Rukmini elucidates that in Madurai purple rice, originally from Burma, has exotic and erotic associations. We finish with the Madurai specialty, jigarthanda. There is no ambiguity about its love-giving potency. Everyone who drinks this

It is all about ‘melting moments’, literally, Puppy’s aphrodisiacal ice creams prove. Fig & Honey, voluptuous with figs from the Madurai spice market, honey-roasted to attain that dusky love-inducing flavour, resonates with the Biblical aphrodisiacal notoriety of figs. Chocolate was an aphrodisiac from its conception in Mayan times, but Puppy’s dense Belgian chocolate pop is more debauch than a Roman orgy. Did you know that vanilla, too, incites love? Puppy marries two different vanilla beans that rev up the romantic drive, whilst traditional palkova turned into a lavish ice cream enhances love-handles. But it is the rose and pistachio kulfi, like a stroll through an enchanted Persian garden, which has the smooth sensuality of Persian poetry. It is as if you are whisked on a silken magic carpet to some far-away amorous realm. But who would leave Madurai when there is passion in every pillar of its temples and quivering petal of its jasmines?

Madurai specialty, jigarthanda


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At GA Foundation By Usha Ramakrishnan

A Partner for Life Global Adjustments Foundation has pledged a long-term commitment with Sevalaya to empower the boys and girls who study in their schools. The youth, who come from rural, economically backward segments, work hard and hold high aspirations for their future – and are eager to gain training to help them achieve their aims For free Women's Workshop in 2018, contact us at foundation@globaladjustments.com

Sevalaya is a not-for-profit organisation that provides high-quality education, life skills and character building for rural children to prepare them for productive, healthy and happy lives. All this is done for free. Global Adjustments Foundation (GAF) has forged a partnership with Sevalaya and has pledged a long-term commitment to empower their youth. Sevalaya was founded in 1988 by V. Muralidharan, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. Muralidharan was a software engineer with Tata Consultancy Services; he later founded this organisation along with some of his friends. Sevalaya runs the Mahakavi The seed GAF sowed will Bharathiyar Higher become a huge tree in the Secondary School, future. It is very useful for our which has over 2,000 growth and success – Deepika students from rural, economically backward areas. It also runs a Girl’s Home that shelters around 170 orphan and destitute children, a Medical Centre equipped with 12-bed wards for men and women, and an Old Age Home sheltering around 80 destitute senior citizens. Their Community College provides free vocational training in nine


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streams for rural youth. The school has been securing 100 per cent pass results in the 10th and 12th Board examinations many years in a row. Nurturing the teacher before empowering the student During the training session conducted for The work for the next 30 years 47 educators at Sevalaya was taught in 30 minutes! by GAF, the primary Our unfulfilled dreams will message given was: all come true with education ‘Take time just for you, – Kiran Be a star no matter what.’ This was to ensure that the teachers The enthusiasm of the 225 would be truly empowered, students, who will be appearing and thereby better prepared to nurture young minds. for Board examinations in a couple During the introductory talk on meditation and mindfulness, of months, was inspiring! GAF the teachers also held a discussion on the stress relief members delivered a motivational, methods they used (listening to music, chatting with friends, interactive speech on the need for education, getting ready speaking to family or friends). They enjoyed the stillness for examinations and improving concentration, as well as the demonstration and repetition of inspirational words in the means to build their dream future. Going forward, GAF will mind as a tool – and pledged to take up a daily, 10-minute visit and deliver a structured curriculum on life education practice using our audio guide. at Sevalaya. To volunteer your time and talent, or make a donation, contact Sevalaya at sevalayaprhead@sevalaya.org. To sponsor the programmes for youth, women and seniors run by GAF, and/or to work with us in any way you can, contact Usha Ramakrishnan – Director, GAF, at +91-98405 20394.


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Spotight by Team Culturama

Goa Carnival February 10 to 13

Prepare to lose your sleep as you dance the night(s) away at the grand Goa carnival The Goa Carnival draws its origins from pre–Mardi Gras revelry, a tradition brought in by the Portuguese rule way back in the early 1500s. Held during the three days preceding Lent (February), the festival is all about music, fun and dance. The Carnival is set to motion on Fat Saturday with a colossal procession headed by King Momo (said to be the ‘King of carnivals’ – a popular figure in Latin American carnival festivities). Dancers and singers, fortunetellers and hawkers make the procession come alive, and firecrackers are lit up to add to

the beat of the drums. Grand floats and parades lend a surreal touch to the proceedings. The carnival comes to an end with the famous red and black dance where women dressed in red tops and black skirts and men in red shirts and black trousers dance with bands in a colorful procession. It is said that Goa does not sleep during this carnival – made easier by the grand lighting and decoration across the streets. Apart from the typical carnival festivities, this is a time to watch the local one-act folk plays called ‘Khell’ or ‘Fell’, which are said to be sarcastic but comical commentaries of human follies.


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kerala break for high tea

milesworth holidays india • srilanka • maldives • and beyond

visit: www.milesworth.com Milesworth Travels & Tours Pvt. Ltd., 39 R M Towers, 108 Chamiers Road, Chennai. Tel: +91-44-24320522 / 24359554 Fax: +91-44-24342668 E-mail: holidays@milesworth.com


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Garni Pagan Temple, the hellenistic temple in Republic of Armenia

India Diaries by Jane Kataria

From Armenia with Love

What was supposed to be a regular meeting blossomed into a beautiful romance between an Armenian woman and Indian man – made even more special by the discovery of deeper ties that bound them both


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Noravank church

Anush was a tourist guide in Erevan, the capital of Armenia, when she met Muthayan. It all began with what seemed to be a regular call from a tourist who was planning to visit her beautiful country. Anush admired and loved the land she was born in; its beauty apart, she was mesmerised with its history as it as one of the oldest countries on Earth. She never tired of describing its landscape – a grandiose mountain range covered in snow, the famous Ararat Mountain, crystal-clear lakes, green valleys and blooming orchards. Anush also liked to tell people about the numerous archeological sites representing various eras of Armenia’s history. She could speak fluently about the amazing architectural heritage from Roman and Greek times, medieval ages, the historical churches and monasteries, and modern wide boulevards and avenues adorned by beautiful gardens. “You are describing it all so vividly! Now, I definitely feel like visiting your beautiful country,” said the person at the other end of the phone. “You are most welcome,” she replied, and went on to tell him about the documents required for a visa and other travel formalities. While waiting for the Indian tourist at the airport, Anush pondered over the fact that no one had had such a strong call

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Armenian wedding

to visit Armenia before. Interestingly, his name, Muthayan, sounded very Armenian. She wondered if people in India knew that most family names in Armenia ended with ‘yan’. Just then, she spotted him. “Welcome to Armenia, Mr. Karan Muthayan,” Anush greeted him. A while later, she could not resist asking him, “Are you sure you are not of Armenian descent?” “You are not the first person asking me this question,” he replied with a smile. “When I studied in New York, I lived opposite a beautiful church. I was puzzled to have several people asking me whether I was Armenian till I found out that the church was Armenian, and there were many with family names like mine – with names ending with ‘yan’.” However, Anush felt that he did not look Armenian in spite of his surname, so she put the thought out of her head. She took Karan for a tour around Erevan. Karan’s trip, which lasted for five days, flew by in the blink of an eye. Striking architecture, delicious food and wines, splendid natural sights – he experienced all he could. Before leaving, he told Anush, “I have been always wondered about this mysterious country people believe I am from. I wanted to know what it was like. I used to look down


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Armenian church, Chennai, India

from the airplane, hoping to catch a glimpse of this land. I felt that it was calling out to me every time I flew from the United States to India and back. Now, I see that it is a gem of Mother Nature indeed. I will surely try to return.” He held her hand longer than required by protocol and looked into her eyes closer than she would have expected. Her heart sank; she had a hunch that he was quite serious about meeting her again. However, she swept away the thought and told herself, “He is just another tourist that we provide services to.” True to his promise, Karan called the next day and the day after, and regularly enough till their conversations became routine. Anush wanted to meet Karan again – this time, not as a guide. Now, it was Anush’s turn to wonder what India might be like. Would it be like the India of Bollywood movies that are quite popular in Armenia? Or would it be the India of elephants and snake charmers? To her great surprise, she found that Chennai, the city she arrived at, had a strong link to her homeland. Armenians were one of the earliest people to trade with the Madras Presidency (which Chennai was a part of); written manuscripts dated to the 16th century referred to this link. The Armenian Church was built first in 1712 and rebuilt in 1753; there was an ‘Armenian Street’, the first bridge to Adyar, and steps to the St. Mount Church – all built by Armenians. There had also been an Armenian school and graveyard – indication that the community was quite big once.

Anush felt at home with Karan’s relatives, who were friendly and hospitable. More importantly, she did not want to stay away from this Tamil guy with Armenian roots. Their engagement was in Indian style, with beautiful bridal attire, sweets, and a South Indian buffet with a wide variety of spicy food. Karan’s family accepted Anush with open arms, as if they had been waiting for her. With the engagement wrapped up in India, the wedding was held in Armenia. For Karan’s relatives, it was like a scene out of a movie – in a place that was so picture perfect, with a bride in a stunning white gown. After the traditional rituals, rose petals were showered upon the newly-weds as the excited relatives shouted “Gorko! Gorko!” The term meant ‘bitter’, and the couple’s kiss was said to chase away all bitterness in their new life together. Anush did not take long to adjust to her new home in India. She began to learn interior design to complement Karan’s construction business. Her new family developed a taste for Armenian cuisine, especially for hachapuri – bread filled with molten cheese. Occasional visitors from Armenia helped replenish Anush’s supplies of special ingredients and favourite spices as well. Anush and Karan are expecting their first child – a perfect way to mark the coming together of two countries and cultures. *On specific request from Anush and Karan, we have not used any photos of the couple or their families.


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Painting: Shiva-infinity by Maniam Selvan

Festivals of India Maha Shivaratri

February 13

Maha Shivaratri, which falls on February 13 this year, is an annual Hindu festival in celebration of Lord Shiva. While the Hindu calendar observes the occurrence of a shivaratri every month, this one – held before the arrival of spring – is seen as worthy of celebration. The meaning of the term Maha Shivaratri is ‘the great night of Shiva’. In line with its name, devotees stay up through the night and sing devotional songs, read scriptures or listen to renditions of legends about Shiva – these practices may be observed at home or in a temple. Fasting and meditation are observed by many during the night. There is more than one legend associated with this festival. Some believe that this was the night when Shiva

performed the dance of creation and destruction of the universe. Others believe it was the night when Shiva and Parvati were married. There is also a belief that, to protect others from danger, Shiva swallowed a deadly poison that resulted from churning a mythical ocean of milk and held the poison in his throat; Parvati and the other gods kept him awake through the night to ensure that he did not swallow it. The overarching belief is that sincere prayers offered during this night gain special potency and that praying to Shiva with one-pointed devotion will help end misery and problems.


culturama

February 2018

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At Global Adjustments by Jane Kataria

Harvesting Happiness

The Pongal festival of Tamil Nadu is about giving thanks not just for abundance in the harvest but for the blessing of family and friends as well

This was my second Pongal festival in Chennai. Before coming here, I had never heard of this harvest festival, but have learnt so much more about it now. To introduce expatriates in Chennai to this local festival, Global Adjustments (GA) organised a special Pongal celebration at their headquarters, and to help them observe the customs associated with it first-hand. Pongal, a four-day harvest festival, is one of the biggest celebrations in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. On the first day, known as Bhogi, people generally make a bonfire of the old and obsolete. At the event organised at GA, we were given a piece of paper and asked to write down an emotion that was bothering us (such as anger, guilt or hatred) that we wanted to be rid of. We then burnt the paper to signify releasing ourselves of that emotion. To mark new beginnings, the essence of the second day, we learnt a new form of meditation to free our minds, to relax our bodies and to charge our energy levels. We also got to try out the famous dish associated with this festival – also called Pongal. There were two varieties – the sweet version made with jaggery, and a savoury one made with black pepper and cumin.

The third day is usually marked by parading cows and watching or participating in jallikattu, wherein people try to tame a bull – a challenging but popular sport. We could not mark this day, but we did celebrate the significance of the fourth day, which is about reunions with family and friends. This is exactly what we did, because GA is like family in India.


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February 2018

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Holistic Living by Eknath Easwaran

Original Goodness Our real nature is of divine goodness. Everything else – our habits, conditioning and past mistakes – is a mask. The promise and purpose of all spiritual disciplines is to take off the mask that hides our real face

Just half an hour’s walk from my home was a lotus pond so thickly overlaid with glossy leaves and gleaming rose and white blossoms that you could scarcely see the water. In Sanskrit this exquisite flower is called pankaja, “born from the mud”. In the murky depths of the pond a seed takes root. Then a long, wavering strand reaches upward, groping through the water towards the glimmer of light above. From the water a bud emerges. Warmed by the sun’s rays, it slowly opens out and forms a perfect chalice to catch and hold the dazzling light of the sun. The lotus makes a beautiful symbol for the core of goodness in every human being. Although we are born of human clay, it reminds us, each of us has the latent capacity to reach and grow towards heaven until we shine with the reflected glory of our Maker. Early in the third century, a Greek Father of the Church, Origen, referred to this core of goodness as both a spark and a divine seed – a seed that is sown deep in consciousness by the very fact of our being human, made in the image of our

Creator. “Even though it is covered up,” Origen explains, because it is God that has sowed this seed in us, pressed it in, begotten it, it cannot be extirpated or die out; it glows and sparkles, burning and giving light, and always it moves upward towards God. Meister Eckhart seized the metaphor and dared take it to the full limits it implies: The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is, and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God. “Its fruit will be God-nature”! What promise could be more revolutionary? Yet Eckhart, like other great mystics of the Church before and after him, does no more than assure us of his personal experience. The seed is there, and the ground is fertile. Nothing is required but diligent gardening to bring into existence the God-tree: a life that proclaims the original goodness in all creation.


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The implications of this statement are far-reaching. Rightly understood, they can lift the most oppressive burden of guilt, restore any loss of self-esteem. For if goodness is our real core, goodness that can be hidden but never taken away, then goodness is not something we have to get. We do not have to figure out how to make ourselves good; all we need do is remove what covers the goodness that is already there. To be sure, removing these coverings is far from easy. Having a core of goodness does not prevent the rest of the personality from occasionally being a monumental nuisance. But the very concept of original goodness can transform our lives. It does not deny what traditional religion calls sin; it simply reminds us that before original sin was original innocence. That is our real nature. Everything else – all our habits, our conditioning, our past mistakes – is a mask. A mask can hide a face completely; like that iron contraption in Dumas’s novel, it can be excruciating to wear and nearly impossible to remove.

Join Us Every Saturday Global Adjustments Office, Chennai, facilitates a free weekly spiritual fellowship group following Easwaran’s Eight–Point Programme of Meditation. E-mail us for more information at globalindian@globaladjustments. com. If you are in other cities, visit www.bmcm.org for e-satsangs.

But the very nature of a mask is that it can be removed. This is the promise and the purpose of all spiritual disciplines: to take off the mask that hides our real face. Article courtesy Blue Mountain Journal (https://www.bmcm.org/ inspiration/journals/) Extracted from ‘The Challenge of Choosing to Be Kind’, Winter 2015.


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Myth & Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik

When Shiva Told a Story…

If we had a life without stories, we would have no hero or villain, no comedy or tragedy, no heaven or hell, perhaps not even God. Stories are such an integral part of our lives that we forget how critical they are to defining our humanity

One day, Parvati got bored and begged Shiva to entertain her. So he told her a story – the world’s first story. This story was told in a secret cave somewhere in the middle of the Himalayas. The plot would have been lost in the snow but for a tiny bird that survived in that cold desolate landscape. This bird shared the story with a fish. The fish shared it with a Gandharva who shared it with the Yaksha. Much may have been lost in translation for, by the time the story reached humanity, it was not one but hundreds of stories with myriad plots and characters, with amazing twists and turns. It was called the Brhadkatha, or the vast story. Later


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February 2018

it was called the Katha-sarit-sagar, the ocean of stories. There were stories within stories, like whirlpools of thought, sucking everyone in and then spitting them out. Imagine life without stories. We would have no hero or villain, no comedy or tragedy, no adventure, no heaven or hell, perhaps not even God. Stories are such an integral part of our lives that we forget how critical it is to defining our humanity. Animals do not tell stories. They do not have the wherewithal one needs to tell a story. They do not have the neo-frontal cortex, the most recently developed part of the brain, located just behind our forehead that allows us to imagine. From imagination come stories. Animals do not need stories. When hungry, they eat. When thirsty, they drink. Having eaten and drank, they rest or play. But not humans. We want to know why we are hungry and why we are thirsty. It bothers us. We seek explanations. We need a story for that. And there are many stories. Someone said that hunger and thirst were God’s punishment because humans did not listen to him. God? Who is that? What is that? Was it an idea that came from stories? Or did stories articulate this idea for us? We can argue endlessly. We can even ask if heroes exist in the world before stories, or did the idea of a hero come to us from stories? Of course, science came along and rejected everything that stories told us. Today scientists tell us there is no God. And historians will tell you that notions of heroes and villains are not true either. There is no objective criteria, no checklist, for defining a hero. What is hero for one, is villain for another. It all comes from our imagination. We just have to switch on the television and pick up a newspaper to realise this. They reveal how storytellers construct the world for us, twist and turn events to make the same thing look comic and tragic. And we wonder what truth is. Is there a truth out there? Perhaps, it is to provoke this question that Shiva told Parvati the first story.

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, July 08, 2012. Reprinted with permission wfrom www.devdutt.com

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Culturama February 2018  

The February issue of Culturama delves into the art and magic of storytelling. In here: - We look at the many traditional Indian forms of st...

Culturama February 2018  

The February issue of Culturama delves into the art and magic of storytelling. In here: - We look at the many traditional Indian forms of st...

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