Kyllang Rock – Got to Go Again!

Lum Kyllang and Lum Symper are brothers who fell out with each other and fought with such animosity that they have parted ways forever. No ordinary sibling rivalry this is! The two brothers here are hills and not humans. [I have outlined the local folklore at the end.]

BIL (brother-in-law) and I were once again on a long drive in the countryside when we had an opportunity to meet with Lum Kyllang. It was the first day of the year 2018. A bright and sunny January day ushered in additional joy and cheer to our New Year celebrations. This was rare as the month of January is usually associated with gloomy weather in the cold winter of Meghalaya. BIL, the happy man, was happier today – not because of the weather but because his wife (my cousin sister) had joined us too.

IMG_0356
Pic 1: The bright and sunny day was a huge mood lifter – what better way to start the new year!

We headed from Shillong towards West Khasi Hills district to go to Mairang. Shillong is in East Khasi Hills district. The sparkling tarred road was an absolute pleasure to drive and BIL was enjoying every bit of it. It was a newly inaugurated National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura. Our intention was nothing more than a long drive by the countryside – indeed our way of celebrating the new year.

IMG_0359
Pic 2: The perfectly tarred road was a driver’s delight!

We passed through undulating winding roads amidst green hills dotted with Pine Trees, brown meadows of dried grass, villages with pretty houses of tin roofs, lace curtains, and playful children. Somewhere during the drive, one of us mentioned Kyllang Rock, which is also located in Mairang. We had heard stories about the peculiarity and uniqueness of Kyllang Rock but had never visited it and this drive presented us with the perfect opportunity.

We enquired for directions from a local tea shop and got to know that Kyllang Rock is locally known as Lum Kyllang. Based on our enquiry, we diverted onto a broken road from the National Highway. The narrow dusty road was lined with Pine forests on either side. As we approached, after a drive of about 20 mins, the massive dome shaped single rock of granite was clearly visible from a distance. With a girth of more than 1000 ft., the monolithic Kyllang Rock stands tall at a height of 5400 ft. above sea level. It is situated 12 Km. from Mairang and about 78 Km. from Shillong.

IMG_0366
Pic 5: As we first set our eyes on Lum Kyllang 

Kyllang Rock is several million years old and it is believed to have a magnetic field. It is believed that the magnetic field makes it easy to climb and once on top nobody falls off despite the very strong winds. The dense forest around the rock is home to age-old red Rhododendron trees and Oak trees. I had all plans of climbing up to the top as friends had told me about the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the top and also that the climb was fairly easy.

IMG_0371
Pic 6: The narrow lane that leads upto the rock.
IMG_0373
Pic 7: Do you see the tiny dots on top of the rock? Those are people up there.

However, I had to rest my plans of climbing up the rock as the place was immensely crowded with local people from the surrounding villages. Villagers revere the rock and were here to pay their obeisance on the occasion of new year.

I sure have to go back again to feel the massiveness of Lum Kyllang and experience the power of its magnetic field.

Local Folklore

Khasi folklore has it that Lum Kyllang in Mairang (West Khasi Hills) and Lum Symper in Weiloi (East Khasi Hills) are brothers. Kyllang was a mischievous God known for his mood swings. Symper was a calm God and always disapproved Kyllang’s violent and destructive ways. Kyllang did not like Symper’s interference and this led to a battle between the two brothers. Symper won the battle as he was blessed to have boulders while Kyllang had only sand. After the battle, Symper stayed in the same location in East Khasi Hills and Kyllang moved to Mairang in West Khasi Hills.

Another folklore talks about a man, his wife and child, who due to certain circumstances got transformed into one whole rock.
Advertisements

Pol-ed at Ahmedabad


Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

A narrow network of dusty lanes and by-lanes, sunlight trickling through congested concrete, intricately carved wooden pillars and doorways, half broken creaking wooden windows, dusty wooden doors some with shining steel locks and some that appear to have been shut forever – these are just few of the things that greeted us as we stepped in through the gateway of Hari Bhakti Ni Pol.

img_3122
Pic 1: The entryway to the first Pol in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol

‘Amdavadi Pols’ had piqued my interest when I first read about them in a newspaper article. The article had mentioned that these Pols significantly contributed to the 600-year old Ahmedabad City being declared as a world heritage by UNESCO. I was intrigued and the article gave only a faint idea about Pols.

img_3067
Pic 2: This structure stood prominently on our left as we approached Hari Bhakti Ni Pol
img_3069
Pic 3: This structure stood prominently on our right as we approached Hari Bhakti Ni Pol

Pols (pronounced as Poles) are Ahmedabad’s cultural identity and represent a unique legacy. Therefore, it featured in my list of things to explore in the city. During this trip across some places of Gujarat, I was with my parents and exploring Pols wasn’t something I could do with them. Hence, I was looking out for an opportunity to slip out on my own and go Pol-hopping.

A cousin sister happened to be in Ahmedabad for some work on the same day. She called me saying that she had read about these old havelis (mansions) in the in-flight magazine and wanted to go visit them. I instantly knew it was the Pols she’s talking about. Both of us hatched a plan and set out in the afternoon for our most looked forward to walk through Amdavadi Pols. The enriching experience of the 3-hour walk surpassed our expectations and we wished we would have had time for more.

img_3089
Pic 4: Intricate patterns and motifs have stood the test of time

The word Pols is derived from the Sanskrit word Pratoli, which means gate. Pols are a conglomeration of houses usually inhabited by people and families linked together through caste, culture or profession. They are living testimonies of the social unrest that existed in the region hundreds of years ago. Each Pol remains guarded by its own entry gate. In earlier days, these gates would be shut at night. Each Pol also has its exclusive secret exit gate, which is privy to Pol members only. During an attack, men would defend the entry gate, while women and children would escape into the labyrinth of pathways through the secret exit gate.

img_3095
Pic 5: Doorway to another Pol that we encountered somewhere in the maze
img_3097
Pic 6: A close look at the doorway, doesn’t it seem like it has millions of tales to tell!
chabutro - flickr - fabindia
Pic 7: A chabutro, PC: Flickr by FabIndia (lost the picture I had clicked.)

Each Pol also has a dedicated temple and a chabutro or bird feeder. Chabutro are tall poles that the people of Ahmedabad put up for birds. These were built with the idea of providing home to birds as trees were chopped off to build the city. A thoughtful gesture perhaps but replacing trees with man-made cement poles – I wish they knew better!

Pols are located within the walled city of Ahmedabad and have no space for motor vehicles. The narrow winding alleys are best explored on foot, bicycles or two wheelers. Apparently, there are more than 300 such Pols. While many people have moved out to live in better localities, many still prefer living in the Pols. Almost all the heritage houses in the Pols we visited were in a dismal state. I hope the authorities are aware and do plan to renovate some of them. Or else it will be a sad loss of heritage.

cpfy8271
Pic 8: That may look like a door to somebody’s home but is part of a narrow public pathway in the Pol!

We walked from one dusty narrow lane to another, crisscrossing and trying to make sense of the maze that we were enthusiastically navigating. Nearly at every turn in the narrow lanes, we bumped into either cows or oncoming two wheelers. We came across a number of Pols in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol, Khadia Pol, Fatasa Pol, Sheth Ni Pol, and Sakari Ser Pol.

Somewhere, we entered a Pol temple where we offered our prayers to Lord Krishna, who was the residing deity. There we met and chatted with a Baa whose toothless smile and wrinkled face stole our hearts and we felt like giving her a tight hugShe offered us laddoos as prasad and spoke at length in Gujarati while we tried our best to figure out what she had to say with very little success whatsoever.

My cousin didn’t miss a chance to peep through open windows whenever she found one, a habit she carries from childhood. At one time, she discovered an entire room filled with jewellery boxes and two men sitting in a corner with whom she went on to a serious discussion about the prices, where they supply those boxes, etc. In another, she found people busy sewing some kind of traditional stuff, maybe bags she thought not bothering to get into a discussion this time.

We realised that many Pols are part of some cottage industries that allow people to earn their livelihood without leaving their homes. We also noticed that though the pathways and the entryways were very narrow, the houses inside were quite spacious.

img_3075
Pic 10: Notice the intricately patterned pillar, the play of light and shadow, and I loved that rusted bicycle, which compliments the background so well!

img_3120

Pic 11: A haveli that was simple and not so elaborate.

img_3084
Pic 12: Those rich and intricate patterns once again, covered in heaps of dust!
43043
Pic 13: This world of Denim where the old meets the new and my cousin couldn’t resist clicking!

My cousin was on the lookout for two specific havelis, ones she had read in the in-flight magazine – Mangaldas Ni Haveli and a certain French Haveli. Both these have been converted to hotels now. We did locate Mangaldas Ni Haveli. There were two of them – Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I and Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II.

Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I is a residential home and had a lock hanging on the front door at that point in time. Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II was the hotel. With no inhibitions, my cousin knocked on the door and it was opened by a gentleman. When she requested for a look inside, he demanded 100 bucks per person. We happily paid and took a tour of the inside. My cousin, with her penchant for interior design, was much more excited than I was.

img_3104
Pic 14: Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I – It’s residential and the front door was locked at that time.
img-20190111-wa0008
Pic 15: Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II – The hotel and she’s all set to knock at the door

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had a cap on time as I had a train to catch. So, we couldn’t go looking for French Haveli. I left while my cousin continued exploring Ratan Pol, which is now a wholesale market place.

Allured by what I heard from her I just had to go explore Ratan Pol, which I did when I had a day in Ahmedabad during my return trip. Overexcited with prices that I thought were dirt cheap, I only landed up burning a hole in my pocket, but that’s for another day….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of Orange Peels and Spider Webs

Remember Charlotte and how she had spun webs to save Wilbur, the pig?

I came to know of the existence of Charlotte just a few years back when I watched the movie ‘Charlotte’s Web’. This movie is based on the children’s novel of the same name. The graceful and intelligent spider had made me fall in love with spiders. The story revolves around Charlotte’s friendship with Wilbur in a farmstead. The farmer decides to slaughter Wilbur and Charlotte writes messages by spinning webs in praise of Wilbur to persuade the farmer to let Wilber live.

Back in the real world, I was quick to separate my love for Charlotte from the everyday creepy spiders that drive me crazy. I despise them even more when they attack my potted plants spinning webs and making their homes all around the leaves, leading the plants towards a slow death. As if it isn’t enough to occupy all the nooks and corners of my home.

Surely, nobody wants spiders hanging around unless one is an entomologist studying spiders or if Spiderman was for real, at least making our commute easier.

This post is however not about my disgust for spiders but something closely related.

Winter is here and that means it’s time for oranges. Oranges and winter always make me nostalgic as they obviously remind me of my home, Shillong. The lazy and warm feeling of soaking in the winter sun while peeling and eating oranges is something only a fellow Shillongite can relate.

A favourite pastime of the kids back then was to create spider webs using orange peels. We would take great delight in creating the intricate patterns, comparing the webs with each other, and competing with each other in spider web craftsmanship. Oranges are plenty in Shillong, all we needed were plastic rulers. Almost everyone in school would have one end of their rulers sticky and coated with a thick layer of dried stain. The stain wouldn’t go away and who cared that it interfered with the regular usage of the ruler.

I have no idea if kids today indulge in similar activities. I won’t be surprised if they don’t, though that would be quite a pity. Like many other childhood games we played, possibly this one might have fallen prey to smart toys and virtual games.

I am not sure if such spider webs with orange peels is something specific to our childhood in Shillong or people elsewhere did/do this too. I had totally forgotten about this activity. It resurfaced this weekend over some childhood discussion with my sister.

With oranges readily available now, we just had to relive our joy of creating spider webs. Here’s a sneak peek:

two

four

Ever Heard of Tree Tomatoes!

Tree tomatoes or Tamarillos made an appearance in my Bangalore home last week. This juicy, sweet, and citric fruit had managed to escape my memory altogether. No clue how that happened, given that Tamarillos belong to those exotic category of things that I intrinsically associate with my hometown, Shillong.

Naturally, I was delighted to spot them spread out on the floor along with several other vegetables including Chayote and neatly pieced Pumpkin.

veg
Pic 1: The reddish orange Tamarillos peeping through Chayote and Pumpkin

All of these had travelled a distance of about 3000 Km. all the way from the hills of North East India to the Deccan Plateau in South India. Strange, you may think, but such a thing is common when my parents come visiting me.

My disapproval in the past regarding the uselessness of carrying additional baggage has had no effect on them especially my father, who takes great pride in displaying the produce of his kitchen garden. I have since made peace and if this gives them pleasure so be it.

tom w
Pic 2: The egg-shaped ripe Tamarillo

This time my parents were surprised with my enthusiasm over their extra baggage, which was only because of those reddish-orange oval fruits. [I have no clue whether to classify it as a vegetable or a fruit. I believe technically it’s a fruit but known as a vegetable.]

Back home, we also refer to tree tomatoes as Anda-Begun, which literally translates as ‘egg-eggplant’. Not surprising, afterall it’s a close relative of tomato, eggplant, and capsicum.

I am not sure many people in India are aware of this unique fruit and hence this post.

Ripe tree tomatoes have a smooth and shiny skin. The colour varies from red to yellow to deep mauve. Some even adorn dark longitudinal stripes.

Tom open
Pic 3: Aren’t they gorgeous!

The flesh is juicy and filled with many small flat, circular edible seeds. The taste is flavorful, sweet yet tangy, and the texture is somewhat similar to the usual tomatoes but pulpier. Tamarillo has a high content of Vitamin A and C.

Google says Tamarillos or Cyphomandra betacea are a subtropical fruit, thought to have originated in the high altitude Andes forests of Brazil and Peru. Surprisingly, Tamarillos have disappeared from their native habitat and happen to be listed among the lost foods of the Incas, known as the ‘tomate de arbol’. It was in 1967 that tree tomato got the commercial name of Tamarillo, which was to avoid confusion with the common garden tomato.

In India, tree tomatoes grow between elevations of 1,000 and 7,500 ft. Hence, their occurrence in places like Assam, Meghalaya, Uttaranchal, Nagaland, and Himachal Pradesh is understandable. They are also found in certain hilly pockets of West Bengal, Maharashtra, and in the Nilgiri hills of the South India. The latter did make me wonder as to why I never saw the fruit in Bangalore.

chutney
Pic 4: The mouthwatering Tamarillo Chutney

At home, we usually prepare Tamarillos as a chutney and serve with rice or roti as a side dish. The chutney can be refrigerated and consumed between 10 – 12 days. We have also used Tamarillos in preparing fish, which surely must be attributed to my Bengali lineage!

recipe
Pic 5: Here’s the recipe for you

Lighting Up the Mind at Diwali

A couple of years ago I received the famous spiritual book “Autobiography of a Yogi” as a gift from a friend. I wasn’t delighted and my immediate response – why have you given me this; what am I supposed to do with this; I am not interested; maybe when I am in my 60s – was well camouflaged behind a polite smile and a thank you.

However, things changed much sooner than I had expected as I discovered not just this book but also many others. Each book that I read influenced me deeply and left me yearning for more. Thankfully, I did not have to wait until in my 60s.

This weekend I attended a Satsang (a spiritual discourse or gathering), which was conducted by the author of one of the books I had read. I had never attended a Satsang before, at least not one that I remember. I might have casually been to one two but I really do not recall attending any deliberately. It was a wonderfully spent three hours spread across three day leaving behind a sense of peace and clam.

Diwal11

The place of these sessions was substantially far from my house and I surprised myself with the enthusiastic anticipation I had each day. The ill-famous Bangalore traffic, which is always a big put-off, also did not seem to bother me. Stuck at a traffic signal, I wondered if someone would have asked me to do something like this even two years back I would have snapped back giving them a piece of my mind thinking that they are out of their minds.

It’s amazing how times change faster than we think while often times we continue living in the illusion of permanence.

Concentration and focus are not easy to find today with all the distractions at our fingertips. However, I found myself mindfully present, consciously aware, and very carefully imbibing every little message that came along with the stories and anecdotes. Ever since I have been feeling very positive and happy.

The Satsang also reminded me of a time in office when I was part of a team that was designing leadership trainings and one of those was about mindfulness and the neuroscience behind it – how our brain responds to positivity and mindfulness. The nuggets of knowledge that I had gained during that time stayed with me and I have practiced many of those effectively in my daily life. It is the connection of science and spirituality in a well-meaning way and the very little exposure I have had makes me feel immensely grateful.

With Diwali celebrations underway there are lights everywhere, I thought how wonderful it would be if we could ‘lighten’ our minds as well! With this thought in mind, I am jotting down five key takeaways from the Satsang that I hope I can implement in my everyday life:

  1. Differentiate between good and pleasant. Always choose good over pleasant. While some good things will be pleasant as well but not all pleasant things are necessarily good.
  2. Lead a life of awareness and strive to remove the ‘I’. Be aware of yourself – aware of everything you say, do, or think.
  3. Practice mindfulness and do everything you do with complete focus and concentration.
  4. Set aside 10 min each day to sit quietly and do nothing. Reflect and practice thoughtlessness during that time.
  5. Live a life of moderation and aim to touch the divine essence in you, that which is limitless, that which is real, and that which lies within you.

A Walk of Faith

A Pilgrimage to the World’s Richest Temple

After the customary coconut breaking ritual on the first step and lighting a few incense sticks we were all set to start our journey. It was still dark at around 3.45 AM but the flight of concrete cement stairway was well lit with bright lights. The stairway was quite broad and divided into two halves by a railing that ran right across the center. On either side of the stairway were flat cement slabs that one can use for resting while making the arduous climb.

Accompanied by my cousin, I was on a pilgrimage to Lord Balaji Temple at Tirupati. Located in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Tirumala hills, Tirupati Balaji Temple is the world’s richest temple. Lord Balaji is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is also known as Venkateswara, Govinda, and Srinivasa. The Lord probably has a couple of other names too but I am not aware.

The temple receives enormous amount of donations from pilgrims, which is the main reason behind its being the richest. Pilgrims donate money, gold, precious gems, jewellery, and even demat share transfers and property deeds. They also donate their hair, which is sold by the temple authorities. It’s ironical that a country with a huge population living below the poverty line houses the world’s richest temple. India is a country of striking contrasts.

An interesting mythology is associated with this donation, which I have narrated at the end of this story.

Tirupati temple was the richest temple in India but Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple has recently disclosed incredible amount of assets discovered from a hidden place in the temple, forcing Tirupati to the second position in terms of wealth.

DSC03362
Pic 1: Everything golden you see here is made of pure gold.

Tirupati Temple is the most visited religious place in South India and remains extremely crowded with an average of 50,000 to 100,000 footfalls daily. The number increases by leaps and bounds during festivals and special occasions. I had first visited the temple several years back with my family when I was in college. I hated the mad rush and thought I would never go back. Subsequently some other things led me to the temple again and I had a special spiritual experience that had brought tears to my eyes. After that, I have been to this temple 5-6 times.

The temple is accessible through a properly tarred road and one can drive up as well. I have done both – walking up as well as driving up. The walkway is a separate pathway away from the tarred road and constitutes an 11 Km distance up to the temple that passes over two of the seven Tirumala hills. The walkway is covered by a roof and well equipped with food, water, toilets, and even a dispensary.

The walk starts from a place called Alipiri, where you can deposit your luggage, if any, and your shoes. It’s a temple and you climb up barefoot. Your belongings are sent up the hill and reaches even before you arrive. There is a designated place where they can be collected after you are done with your darshan.

For me the walk has more to do with my love for hiking and trekking rather than pleasing the Lord. I am certain the Lord doesn’t differentiate between his devotees whether one walks up or drives up. It’s all a matter of faith and belief. I was quite astonished to see the elderly and people carrying infants walking up the path. Some women also pause at every step, smear it with turmeric and vermillion, light a diya (oil lamp) and only then proceed to the next step. And that is no mean feat in some of the steep sections. Sometimes men and women chant the name of the Lord at intervals all through the pathway in loud rhythmic voices and most often other pilgrims join in. It’s their unwavering faith in the Lord that keeps them going.

This was the second time I was walking up and hence knew exactly what to expect. There are a total of 3550 steps through the 11 km distance. The initial flight of 1000 steps is continuous and very steep. This part is really tough and quite a test of stamina and endurance. At regular intervals the steps are marked, I think every 100th step which gives you an idea of how far you have come.

Most of the walkway is through a forested area with a variety of trees and birds. A certain stretch has a deer park too, where you can buy cucumbers and carrots to feed the deer. A stretch of forest is also marked by Red Sandalwood trees. Statues of the Lord in various incarnations are found at regular intervals along the path.

unnamed (3)
Pic 2: The Deer park

At the 2083rd step, the Gali Gopuram is situated. Gopurams refer to temple entrance gates in South India. The Gali Gopuram is brightly illuminated with florescent lights and is visible at night from most places in Tirupati city and the nearby highways. At this place, we need to get our biometrics done and obtain the darshan tickets. It was dawn by now and we were quite hungry. Hence, we took a break and had some traditional South Indian food. There are several places to eat here, but you can expect only South Indian breakfast kind of food (idlys and dosas).

unnamed (4)
Pic 3: The Gali Gopuram situated at the 2083rd step.

Beyond this point, for the next 6 Km. the path is flattened and there are no climbs. The deer park is located in this section. We spent some time feeding the deer through the fenced enclosure. After this, very soon we encountered the Hanuman temple, which is prominent with its large Hanuman statue. We lit diyas here and resumed our journey this time beside the tarred road used by people driving up. This section of about a kilometer stands out for splendid views of the lush green hills and valley.

Hanuman
Pic 4: The Hanuman Temple. Pic Credit: http://www.divinebrahmanda.com

At a distance of 2.4 Km. from the hilltop temple is the final flight of 1000 stairs at Mokalimitta Gopuram. This is the steepest section, much more than the one we encountered at the beginning. We rested for a while, had a cup of coffee and then embarked upon this section. Some pilgrims were climbing this entire section on their knees. I tried but couldn’t manage even two stairs!

unnamed
Pic 5: Mokalimitta Gopuram – The steepest section just before reaching the temple.

On reaching the temple, we had to wait in queue for another 3 hours before we could get a darshan of Lord Balaji. It was a Thursday and on this day the Lord does not adorn any jewellery, something we learnt in the queue. Lord Balaji is otherwise clad with 1000kgs of Gold.

This experience of visiting the Lord has been as good as the others I had so far. My Balaji Darshan actually has a very special story attached to it and probably I will write another post on that.

A Little Bit on Tirupati’s Wealth

  • According to mythology, Lord Balaji had taken a loan from Lord Kubera (The God of Wealth) for marrying Padmavathi. He now needs to repay this loan and as long as he doesn’t, he has to remain on earth. He is asking his devotees to help him pay back the loan. It is said that whatever you give the Lord, the double of that comes back to you. I read somewhere that in a single day, the temple receives approximately Rs 22.5 million as donation. 
  • Pilgrims also tonsure their head and offer their hair to the Lord, which provides another source of income for the temple. The story goes that a shepherd hit Lord Balaji on his head and some of his hair came off leaving a portion bald. A Gandharva princess saw this and cut a portion of her hair and implanted it on the Lord’s head with her magical power. Touched by her sacrifice, the Lord promised that all his devotees would offer their hair at his abode and she would receive that hair.
  • The laddu prasadam is an interesting aspect of Tirupati Temple. The laddus are humongous, much larger than the usual ones and are made with pure ghee. A geographical indication tag attached to Tirupati Laddu entitles only the temple organisation to make or sell it. A large amount of money is generated by selling these laddus, which are in huge demand.

 

Refer to the following, if you want more information on Balaji Darshan:

The Poush Sankranti I Used to Know

Cultures and traditions almost extinct…..

“It’s gotten too cold and with Sankranti this weekend, I need to get some things ready for Pithes, miss you all”, said my Mom on the phone yesterday. Oh yes, 14th of January is just round the corner. It’s time for Poush Sankranti, the Bengali version of Makar Sankranti. A major Indian harvest festival celebrated by Hindus across the country marking the first day of sun’s transit into Makara or Capricorn. Called by different names, it is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country. Maghi in Punjab, Sankrat in Rajasthan, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam, and so on.

Poush Sankanti is named after the month, Poush, which is January in Bengali. Bengalis celebrate this festival with Pithes, or special Bengali sweetmeats made of khoya, flour, rice powder, sweetened coconut, jaggery, cardamom, etc.

The thought of Poush Sankranti suddenly brought back a flashback of childhood memories urging me to pen them down before they get washed away with the passage of time. Poush Sankranti used to be a big festival associated with elaborate celebrations and the neighbourhood homes having each other invited.

It was almost like a Pithe Festival with the entire neighbourhood merrily immersed in Pithe-making and Pithe-eating that would spread out to 3-4 days.

In our joint family, this used to be a very special time of the year. The planning would start days in advance with listing out of the kind of Pithes that would be prepared for that year. Usually 4-5 types would be finalized taking into consideration special requests from all the family members. One or two savories, Nimkis and Shingaras would also make to the list to balance out the sweet Pithes.

The entire house would then get together in a hustle and bustle of activities. Dads and Uncles would be busy making several trips to the local market to get the ingredients, especially the perfect coconuts – the ones they feel will yield substantial meat. Removing the coir and preparing the shell to make it ready for grating was their job as well.

My Grandfather’s primary job was to eagerly wait to consume the Pithes while blackmailing the rest of the family about this year being his last Sankranti and hence his Pithe wishlist better be fulfilled. As long as I remember, it was the same story every Sankranti till one fine January morning when it turned out to be real – yes he passed away on a cold January morning.

Moms and aunts would have the more demanding part of the job, grating the coconuts, preparing the khoya, making the sugar syrup, mixing the ingredients in perfect proportions, kneading the dough and shaping up the Pithes, frying them in oil on slow fire, and so on.  Back then, Khoya was also prepared at home by thickening the milk – a job primarily done by my Grandmother. I remember participating wholeheartedly and lending a hand in all the activities.

Dad’s elder sister, Boropishi lived in the same neighborhood with her family. This was a great advantage as usually her Pithes would taste different and often the types would vary giving us a wide range to satisfy our palates. The women, of my family take great pride in their Pithe making skills and that continues to this day. Not the ones of this generation though, most of us have no patience, and the few of us who have tried their hands in it are hardly any good.

Back then, the youngsters of the family, like elder siblings and younger uncles had nothing to do with the actual Pithe preparations but their interest in eating them is what motivated the elders. Besides, they had another important role. They were entrusted with the responsibility of creating the ‘mera-merir ghor’, which used to be a makeshift home made out of haystack. Mera refers to the Ram, the adult male sheep and Meri refers to the Ewe, which is the adult female sheep.

So, ‘mera-meri ghor refers to the house of a sheep couple.

This would be burnt at dawn on the day of Poush Sankranti ( Jan 14th), amidst chants of “mera-merir ghor jole re hooooi!; Mera gelo bajaro, Meri gelo koi; mera-merir ghor jole re hooooi!” (The sheep’s home is up in flames hoi hoi; the ram’s gone shopping and ewe’s missing, the sheep’s home is up in flames hoi hoi). Before setting the ‘mera-merir ghor’ on fire, everyone would take a mandatory bath and stand beside the fire with a plate of Pithes. So, have the Pithes while soaking in the warmth of the fire – what bliss on a chilly January morning! A few Pithes would sometimes be thrown onto the fire as an offering.

Young boys and girls, the courageous ones who dared to brave the cold, would also spend the night merrymaking in the ‘mera-meri ghor’. Often times there wouldn’t be enough hay, so pine needles, bamboos, cardboard boxes and anything that will aid in making the fire burn strongly would be used to supplement.

I have only very early childhood memories of ‘mera-meri ghor’, a few years later as I stepped into adolescence it had disappeared altogether from the celebrations in our home. I believe ‘mera-meri ghor’ was part of Poush Sankranti celebrations only for Bengalis of North East India. I am not sure about Bengalis in other parts of India.

The Assamese people had a similar celebration and they called it ‘Meji’, experienced from the few Poush Sankranti that I spent at my maternal Grandparent’s home in Assam. Their amazing boga-pithas are still my favourite. I am not sure how much of the celebrations still exist in the same way. As for Shillong, I know there are hardly any. Probably, it is still celebrated in pockets of North East India but by and large it is disappearing. Another sacrifice at the altar of urbanization!

It’s sad that our children have no idea of the distinctive flavours of such celebrations. Today’s children celebrate a Haloween with a lot of fun and fervour but probably have no idea about a Poush Sankranti. Who else but us to be blamed!

The tradition of Pithe making at Poush Sankranti continues to this day at my home in Shillong. Though there is no mera-meri ghor and over the years it has reduced to being ritualistic with may be just one type of Pithe. However we do have our impromptu ‘Pithe celebrations’ that make up for Poush Sankranti and which happen at other special times, such as, when our parents visits us or we visit them.