Friday, November 30, 2012

Divine cuisine - Neivedyam and prasadam

Whenever I visit the Skandagiri  temple  and walk out with the prasadam, I end up thinking what is it with the prasadam that has this fulfilling taste and will give you satiation when you have even just a little from that small shallow leaf cup.  It is less than a ladle but you feel your dinner is complete  and the taste , oh so…. Heavenly!

Is it the ritualistic cooking  that goes into the making of the Neivedyam( offering to god)?

I have visited many temples where the visit is completed with the prasadam and everywhere I have experienced  such divine taste.  Most big  temples that I have visited have huge halls where meals are served and  the food offered here is  sattvic meal. 

One of them  that I have often visited  is the ISKCON temple near my parents home, here  though commercially it is called ‘Annakuta’ . 

 According to higher taste of ISKCON( Higher taste is their publication), the wholesome meal is cooked according to vedic scriptures  without the use of onions, garlic, eggs, caffeine and is never over- spiced and the food thus prepared is offered to god as ‘Neivedyam’. This food when partaken after offering to god with vedic vibrations sanctifies the food and renders the food tasty and is  called ‘Prasadam'.

                                ( Jagannath temple prasadam counter photo taken from my mobile)

 The food is cooked  according to the satvic principles of Vedas.  The food is  thus  created with positive vibrations & thoughts  and cleanses  both body and mind. It also keeps us healthier.  I have read that the important factor that goes into ritualistic cooking is that it is made with good thoughts.  While cooking the thoughts play a major role in the outcome.  The thoughts of the cook flow into the food that we cook and have their impact on it and so one should not cook food when one is angry and stressed .And, also the cleanliness/hygiene of the cooks and the vibrations of the various mantras they chant while cooking must be rendering the divine taste to the food. 

 At home too, it is a practice among my family elders in our native place   to treat cooking like a ritual. They cook food only after having their bath. They cook on slow fire  in special vessels which endow the taste and aroma , they  chant mantras while cooking. The food is first offered to God  along with ghee, then to  crows and then served to people at home. Perhaps the reason why it tastes divine and satiating. Food had with such positive vibrations peacefully are supposed to be healthy. 

There are many such places of worship which are famous for prasadam, some of which I have had the pleasure of  experiencing were -

  1. The foremost is ofcourse  at Tirupati  – the GIS marked Laddu, dadhiyodanam(curd rice) and puliogre( tamarind rice).
  2. At Udipi (Karnataka)which  is called Anna brahma kshetra( where food is treated as god) there is a huge hall catering to the devotees and serves food to all the devotees.
  3. At Sri kshetra Dharmasthala again in Karnataka.
  4. The sattvic meal at Ramanasramam( Sri Ramana maharishi's ashram). Here you will find many foreigners squatting on the floor and eating with their fingers from plaintain leaf as if they were born with the practice.
  5.  The puliogre of most Vishnu temples especially the one at Devagiri( Bangalore). My in-laws would wait till 1.p.m( closing time) at the temple on Saturdays because my then 5 year old daughter loved this and would wait to grab it.
  6. The thambittu( made with jaggery, ghee & riceflour on festive days) at most kannadiga homes.
  7. The ksheera ( sugar, rava &ghee) during satyanarayana vrat
  8. The kadubu( fried modaks) during sankatahara chaturthi
  9. The aravana payasam of sabarimala, Kerala( rice kheer made with  jaggery)
  10. The paal payasam @ guruvayoor( made with milk and rice)
  11. The pazhani panchamirtham (tamilnadu) ( medley of fruits, honey and palmsugar)
  12. The pongal at ISKCON, Bangalore  and the various Krishna Prasad like pizza, burger, vegan biscuits, cakes. Yes, every vegan product here is sold in the name of Krishna Prasad and it tastes divine.
  13. The sundals( usal) at various homes during navratri visits.
  14. The snake pit mud at kukke subramanya( remember this temple site got more hits when Sachin tendulkar visited)
  15. The tilgul of shirdi( made with sugar and til)
  16. The  sugar balls of varanasi and most temples up in the north.
  17. The haldi at Saraswati temple, and the brahma temple @ Trichy
                 ..... and  many more I am leaving this list incomplete..........

Would you care to add yours in the comments section?

Friday, November 23, 2012

...... more about Anantgiri

The next day morning we woke up to the song call of birds and stepped on the balcony to see the valley veiled with mist. Closer below,  in the resort garden,  there were many  exotic birds hopping on the ground. We  found a bird with copper sulphate blue and dark blue plumes.

We decided to go sighting  birds so that we could find some exotic birds in their natural habitat and our  teens were eager to capture them in the new camera. They had gone through many online photgraphy  journals  the day before we started so that they could shoot some pictures.
 We  left our room  armed with camera but before driving out we hopped into the cafeteria for tea. We found that the cook arrived only at 7.30 and there would be no tea till then. The next tea shop is 6 kms downhill at Vikarabad or the one opposite the temple. We drove to the temple site and had tea outside the hotel.
As we were sipping tea , the sun was slowly peeping leaving a lovely morning weather. This was supreme driving weather  and we wanted to make use of it. We decided to explore and find where the road to the temple’s right would take us. (the road opposite to vikarabad)  and so off we went for  a joy drive early in the morning.
As we travelled down the road  for a kilometer, we saw there were many lorries giving us company. The road was excellent without any potholes and after a km, we found we were driving down hill, the road went in circles and we saw the real terrain here. Rocky and dry vegetation,  we could see a lake in the far end , we decided to drive there.
The destination of the joy ride  was the lake but due to a misguiding or miscommunication between a villager and me, we found ourselves  driving onto some plains on the right side amongst flower farms and tuvar dal farms, cabbage patches. The village which we entered by mistake had village houses with unique roofs. The roofs had stone slabs stacked one over the other. From the road, I could even see women using the chakki for grinding some grains.  A sight which I had seen in movies and in some urban museums depicting village life. This was a surprising sight as well. Most houses had dish antenna but relied on stone grinders instead of mixies.  I later came to know from a resort worker that this place was called Tandur and is famous for the famous tandur blue and yellow stones. These stone slabs are used for wall cladding and flooring and the creative people of tandur have even used them for roofing.  This was once the fluorishing and prospering town during the Nizam's times.  The rich forests in the nearby areas were the hunting grounds for the rulers of Golconda. But due to deforestation, many wildlife like tigers don't thrive here any more.  The stone slabs are transported to many places in India and abroad and now that explains those lorries which must have been on the way to the quarry. 
 the houses at tandur village, here the women were using chakki to grind. I heard later that jowar roti called bakri is the staple of the folks here. Perhaps, they were grinding the same( wish i had clicked that too).

                                    don't miss the dish tv antenna on the roof top and the roofing of course

Now,  that was indeed an unique joy ride and we drove uphill (resort) for breakfast and left for our trek. The same trail through those 50 steep steps, past the temple tank and three  kms into the forest amongst wild insects, trekking through some zig zag paths, bushes, chasing butterflies,  crossing brooks and listening to the calls and chirps of some unknown but beautiful birds. How i felt here  away from civilization( except for the off and on mobile network ) is something i won't succeed putting in words. The forest was'nt dense but it definitely was lonely and for me it was quite a task to pull out my adrenaline junkie family out of the forest.  We spent more than three hours there.
Perhaps the pictures taken by my teens can paint a picture. 

 My dot wanted to test one of the technic she had read about photography the previous day. to make the back ground hazy and the object sharp. She did it the other way round. hence the sharp background contrasting the hazy parrot.
 the size of the spider not just surprised me  but also made me wonder how much the forest provided for these to thrive. There were many such on our pathway.
             yeah, not very dense you can see the sun filtering in,  the pathway was easy.
                             some tree inter connections are fun for children to climb, hang and swing
                               this contrast in barks and the twining was interesting and there were many like these
                                                little  clear water streams that we crossed
                                         all these were grown enroute and we hoarded some home
                                                                           the tuvar dal plants in tandur 

 This is one of the easiest trek paths we had taken so far. (The toughest was at Abbey falls in coorg with leeches for company, but we were 13 years younger than). My energy levels have dipped since then.
We had an excellent time no doubt on that. But, was this the hunting grounds of the yesteryear kings? Sadly, we have lost lot of forest cover and we did'nt spot any wild boar or any animal not even a snake. This place was supposed to have had  good population of tigers once upon a time. Perhaps,  they have been the victims of animal-human conflict. It was evident from the amount of plastics strewn by the tourists and trekkers inside the forest other than the sharp edges of liquor bottles.  

Reams and reams have been/ are written in global press about conservation , protection, creating awarenss and threats to ecological balance and nature. The protection that nature provides for free might prove dear to replace unless some serious steps are taken. A nilam here and a sandy there often remind us to take care of the planet. 

Anyways, i put these thoughts aside, travelled down hill  to Vikarabad and found a beautiful mess which served homemade food by a lady.  After our lunch, we headed back home  hoarding  back some farm fresh vegetables  and we travelled into the festive city which was all decked up for Diwali. We did  some last minute festival shopping.
The next day, Just like you all, we too enjoyed Diwali :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An affair with nature @ Anantgiri,Vikarabad

It was a long Diwali weekend  and we decided to go camping, trekking, birding  &; exercising our new SLR at a nearby weekend getaway called Anantagiri. Away…away….. from the hustle bustle of the manicured gardens in the city to the lush green natural habitat of flora and fauna for a couple of days.  

Just around 90 kms from Hyderabad and 6 kms from Vikarabad is this hill station in a forest area. This is a surprising feature considering that RangaReddy district in which Hyderabad falls has a landscape of rocks and dry tracts of land.  This hill station is now an upcoming resort and a paradise for  people who love trekking and adventure sports courtesy Deccan trails. This is also the place where River Musi orginates, the river that flows through Hyderabad and divides the old city from the new city. This river is now a gutter in the old city.
 All along as we drove  through Chevella,  it was  a delight to listen to our favourite music and cruise on the road flanked with beautiful vegetable patches, sunflower farms and cotton fields.The whole route was a hub of activity with farmers busy in their fields harvesting carrots, tomatoes, marigold and selling their produce on either sides of roads.
 Our speed of the vehicle was checked by the flock of goats, buffaloes, turkey birds which crossed the roads often.

 We had prebooked our room at Anantgiri Haritha valley view and so guided by our GPS we comfortably reached the hill station. When we were at the gates of the resort, we saw an indicator for the Ananta Padmanabha swamy temple and decided to visit there before  our lunch.
So, we headed straight to the temple which was a km  away and  bang on the main road to Tandur. An ancient rock cut cave temple with a temple tank  dating back 800 years. The temple is beautifully maintained and renovated without disturbing the ancient feel.
The main deity is inside a small cave, The priest narrated the sthalapurana (history) of the temple . The idol was installed by Markendeya muni( Bhakta Markendeya a great devotee of Lord Shiva) and is supposed to be one of the biggest saligramas stone*. Sage Markendeya is supposed to have performed penance here. The temple is believed to be built by a Nizam(muslim king) who is supposed to have rested here during his hunting expeditions. The old  structures like a bridge, dam  around the temple bear testimony to the muslim architecture. 
The rear end of the temple opens to a  fllght of wide but steep platform stairs ( around 50) which leads to the  temple water tank(Pushkarni), enroute the flight down you are flanked by caves, tiny temples, huge banyan trees some as ancient as the temple itself and a dilapidated bridge like structure with arches. Nearby the pushkarni, I could see lots of small  stones arranged one over the other under a tree. The stacking reminded me of  my childhood game called Lagori( 7 stones). This game had  7 stones  stacked one over the other and a ball thrown over the stacking would disturb the arrangement. One has to arrange the stones before you are hit by the ball. Just in case you miss being hit by the ball, you have to stack the stones and shout "LAGORI". 
A similar arrangement here, only, this is a ‘Make a wish’ for devotees. The devotees arrange the stones, make a wish and once fulfilled they come back here, have a bath in the water tank and offer thanks to the little Shivalayam near the tank. The place looked so calm- the temple tank, the little temple with lots of weeds and small saplings over it, the wide expanse of greenery and tall trees clouding  around,  the chirping of the birds. Oh, Simply meditative!
The muddy track from the temple tank led to the forest which was our  trekking trail and one of the two trekking trails in the Anantgiri hills. But we were famished and had walked bare foot so far, we left our shoes at the temple entrance and so decided to come back later. Not that we were fussy about soiling our foot, but  we wanted to take caution from the wild insect bites.  We ascended back the steps over the seasoned granite which had a acupressure on our tired soles  and we drove back and checked into our resort which had a picturesque valley view.
The  buffet lunch was pathetic, very, very  spicy and had all the non-veg spices. Thankfully the "thayir saadam' ( curd rice) saved us. The afternoon hot sun & the late lunch took a toll on me and I suffered a migraine which spoilt the evening. Night dinner was simply awesome at the same resort. I think they have different cooks.

Uh..ho! That’s a pretty long post. Will break the post here and continue my trek story  in the next post. I also have  photos to share.
 (*The Saligrama stone is not believed to be just another stone found in the nature. It is found only at Gandaki River situated high in the Himalayas in Nepal. It is believed that the chakra symbols are formed by river worms called vajra keeta) 
                                                                    The cotton fields                                       

The cotton fields close up

The sunflower farms

                                                      The main gopuram of the temple from the main road.

                           The gopuram of the main deity as seen from the main road. It is at a  good  depth from                the main gopuram meaning you walk down a ramp from the main gopuram to enter the cave temple

                                 The temple tank (pushkarni) at a depth of nearly 50 steep steps from the rear end of the temple

a slice of the resort at night, the valley view was ethereal from our balcony but it was chilly and misty.

Will share more next week.........

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"The Bankster" by Ravi Subramanian

  I have not studied and don't  understand economics or finance but I have interest in the field of economics and banking. This made me  pick up Ravi subramanian’s ‘The bankster’ for review.  I had read his  book “If God was a banker” and was mightly impressed with the book. He had so beautifully narrated in the book how the corporate sectors/banks work. I am sure anybody who works in corporate world  would be able to relate to  the book where you find people with various colors. Associates who are manipulative, scheming, straight forward, aggressive,assertive, sincere, dedicated with integrity etc.

And so when ‘The Bankster’ offer from blogadda came, I picked up the autographed book offer.

                                 The Bankster  by Ravi Subramanian 
                                      Published by rupa publications
                                                       INR 250

"The Bankster" as the name suggests is the story of a banker and  two  gangsters. The trio  are involved in illegal trading of  blood diamonds and arms, money laundering and nuclear power installation politics. How the three work and use the services of  a famous bank called Greater Boston Global Bank( GB2)  is the story.

 There are three stories which run parallely  in Angola, Devikulam(Kerala) and Mumbai as bases, they finally converge as one.

The story begins in Angola, where a CIA agent Joseph Braganza trades arms for the famous blood diamonds.

The second story is at Devikulam in Kerala where a retired NRI Krishna menon now  runs a homestay & protests against the installation of a nuclear plant in his village. He has lost his only son and DIL in the Chernobyl disaster and so has taken a vow that a similar incident should not occur in Devikulam. Here he is helped by a NGO worker Jayakumar in his anti-nuclear protest rallies.

The big story of the three has its base at Mumbai, The greater boston global Bank. The bank which is known for its integrity suddenly finds its reputation tarnished when a series of its sincere employees are killed in  accident and suicide.

A former employee of the bank Karan Punjabi who has now turned journalist finds something fishy about the deaths,  investigates and finds out the employees were murdered. He unravels the mystery  behind the murders and then out tumbles the scams like money laundering, illegal trading of arms/ diamonds and the relation to nuclear protests, thus uniting all the three plots. The climax has an unpredictable twist. At many places, the investigation reminded me of the CID serial.

What I liked about the book was the simple language used.  There were no financial or banking jargon used which would have wanted  a non –finance person like me to google the word. In fact, some of the terms like hold instruction were beautifully defined so that a lay person like me could understand. I liked the i-cloud explanation too, a facility of ipad which I was not aware of. 

Regarding the characters,  I am sure every corporate associate will encounter many Raymonds, Harshitas who are sincere in their work  balancing the scheming Zinaidas and Ruthless Tanuja’s.  For me the story picked up pace after Harshita’s death in the book. From then on the book became unputdownable that I finished at the stroke of 1  knowing very well that I have to get up at 5 next morning.

What I disliked about the book was  the beginning few chapters.  The chapters were toggling between The 3 plots and so I found it difficult to connect. Many a times, I went back to read the story especially the Devikulam  plot.  Similarly,  the description of the bank affairs in the book  somehow  sounded familiar may be because I had read “ If god was a banker”.  The  description of the sewage pipes connection in the Vienna base was too elaborate like a lesson on plumbing. It could have been simple.

I have a mixed feeling about the language Hinglish used in between the conversations. I found them natural as that is how  two colleagues/buddies  speak  in most Indian work place.  At the same time, the dialogues may be difficult to interpret for a person illiterate in Hindi , considering this book is read  around the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hinglish though.

The narration is so realistic at places that you may start doubting your own  bank and your banker friends around you :)

Jokes aside,  Pick up the 358 page banking mystery if you like this genre and it is not a financial  crime thriller as many have  touted it to be. There are no financial jargon that can scare you but a banking thriller  with an unpredictable twist in the climax and a racy second half. Wish he had maintained the first half with good pace too. This book is one of the top 10 bestsellers now. (Courtesy: The Hindu)

About the author:

This  book is  by a banker and finance professional, Ravi Subramanian who began his career in 1993 in Bangalore with the Tatas and IBM and shifted four years later to Chennai, where he worked with ANZ Grindlays Bank. Moving to Delhi, he was with Citibank for five years before shifting his base in 2005 to Mumbai (Shriram Group), where he resides with his bio-technologist wife-turned-banker. He won the golden quill readers choice award for his debut novel "If god was a banker" and he is hailed as the "John Grisham of banking"
                           This bookreview is a part of blogadda book review program

Monday, November 5, 2012

Heaving a huge sigh of relief!

I let a huge sigh of relief today early morning at 3 and thanked god for all the emotional help, i was just waiting for the call. It was a great relief when i heard my hubby from Hyderabad airport.

I felt so restless  between oct 28- november 1st when  hubby was stranded in a hotel in NYC.  Frankenstorm Sandy had brought down the powerlines of NYC  and brought life to a standstill there where the  routine life of a common man was dependant on power. It cut off all communication lines betweeen my family and my husband .  I felt helpless  since none of our friends and relatives in the US could also reach him. His office too tried to reach him to reschedule his tickets. Everyone was worried for him.  It was so unsettling, i stopped watching any news related to Sandy. I did'nt want any negative reports to affect me.

Everytime i felt some negative thoughts crowding my mind, i  looked up to God. I had only faith in god, because when you have faith you know no fear. 

Luckily, the second day, some places like Dunkin donuts were restored power. An indian family near his hotel who had come to recharge his mobile went back home to get food like vada pav and khakras .

 The hotel had stocked  non veg food( we are veggies), fruits and bread. Moreover the  hotel depended on coldstorage for its food preservation. From the third day it could provide fruits and outsourced bread. 

 I was getting restless,  It was then i decided i will google to find out when power would be restored at his place. Guess,  who came to my aid?

 A FB page dedicated to Hurricane Sandy . It gave detailed account with a key mentioning where the power crew were working, where the power was restored, where there was massive outages etc. It also showed the hotel road with a blue dot( maximum outages). And all i did between those days was sit glued in front of the site and watch for the news out there. The news on the site  sounded more authentic than the press.

                ( a smaller version of the power outage map with legends which got updated every 15 minutes)

The site got many stinkers for its slow restoration work and bouquets too. But must appreciate the way, they worked through restoring power by first prioritizing hospitals and removing live wires and solving the root problem. The crew ( the yellow hard hats in the pic)  worked through day and night. The site kept updating the news every 15 minutes and cautioned people not to step on wires or do their own tree trimming work. They patiently addressed the stinker mails.  They gave priority to sms and requests where medical aid was important. The site also was updating news on the second day that the crews of the neighbouring states were sought for help.

Having said all that and appreciating their effort. It made me wonder, why an advanced country like theirs had such a disorganized disaster management. Having known in advance that Hurricane sandy was going to strike them and it was deadlier than the previous ones,  Should'nt an advanced country be well prepared to handle the crisis better. After all, they have even faced Irene last year.  The crews were hired from the neighbouring states only after two to three days.  Today, as i post this, many friends with independant homes have not been restored power. They are back to the olden days of warming up near fireplaces. Chilly winds have begun there.

Only today i am opening newspapers to read about Nilam and Sandy. How mother nature has made us 'powerless'. Perhaps, the reason why our elders worshipped nature and did'nt play with it.

Whatever said, those days were nightmarish for us, now though it can be dubbed as "life time experience".