Monday, February 28, 2011

Kaal Ratri, Agan Ratri, Shiva Ratri

He was glad that he was at least asked for tea, offered some fruits and dry-fruits. It was a great gesture. This was a Gurit household. His elder sister was married into a Gurit family. In old days, come Shivratri and the Gurits would built a social cocoon around themselves, visitors who were not of the same gotra, non-Gurits, friends even relatives were not welcome, certainly not into the room of vatakraaz, the room of Pooza, the seat of lord himself, and if someone did visit, if that someone was offered a pitcher of water even that was ganimat, a great gesture and a generous backdown from dogma. All this was said, in jest and awe, of Gurits and their peculiar behavior around Shivratri. But the times had changed.

After offering tea, snacks and exchanging some ryi’tchar-pry’itchar, chit-chat about well-being, his sister walked back to the kitchen, rice was done, sabzis remained, a lot of work remained in the background, she was busy, invisible, yet every now and then her presence in the house was made obvious as she shouted out the names of her two kids and warned them to behave themselves and stop the ruckus. This had been her house and her family for quite some years now. She looked happy. She was happy. Before taking his leave, he thought of dropping a Namaskar to his brother-in-law who was practicing for the night of the great pooza even though it was still a few nights away. He followed the heavy baritone sound reverberating in the house. The echo in that sound had delightful studio quality that added semblance of divinity to it, it was a familiar sound. He checked his steps at the door to the storeroom that every time this time of the year served as the pooja-room for Shivratri. From the door he could see his brother-in-law sitting cross-legged in front of photographs of deities, surrounded by minor tumblers, some bowls, vidhi books and aarti booklets, a finger from his one hand on the pause button of a tape-player, the sound had stopped, a finger from his other hand positioned below a word in a line from a red-bound vidhi book whose cover name in Hindi announced ‘Shivratri Pooja’. He was stuck at a line and was trying to figure out a word. Even after years of practice doing this pooja for last many years, assisted by the recording, he still found some parts indecipherable, un-pronounceable, beyond comprehension, just plain difficult. Jostling with one such difficulty, he noticed his brother-in-law standing at the door wondering whether to enter the room or not. He gave a hearty smile and they exchanged loud greetings. He decided to enter as in the settings of this practice session a curious stratagem caught his eyes. He was looking at a possible solution to one of the most frustrating problems that he faced while performing the pooza. Synpotul, a small sized phallic symbol of Shiv-Shakti union baked in clay (or moulder in metal), and a prestiged member of Shiva’s odd Baraat, in an important rite of the pooza is seated on a grass throne at the base of a bowl, garlanded with flowers and then washed with water and milk as mantras of the rite are intoned by the tape. The problem is that after sometimes, it gets submerged in all the water poured, tape needs to be stopped in middle of the rite and water needs to be poured back out of the bowl. According to the rite, for optimal effect, the water needs to fall directly on the tip of Synpotul, the fact that Synpotul drowns even before half the rite is over does not look good. And on top of that while removing water from the bowel, Synpotul invariably gets dislodged from its grass seat, an involuntary act that feels like an avoidable sin. Here now, in the settings of the practice session of his brother-in-law he saw a way to save Synpotul from drowning.
‘That’s great! You always do that?’
‘Do what?’
‘Inside that vessel you have seated the Synpotul on top of an inverted smaller bowl. Works?’
‘Picked up this technique a couple of years ago. It works. Keeps the Synpotul from drowning and always above the water level. ’
‘This is brilliant,’ he said with conviction even as his brother-in-law again went back to playing with the tape-player.

Sometime later he was on his way to the house of his other elder sister. Before the lunchtime, he had planned to visit the homes of his two sisters, these were customary visits that a brother was supposed to make, by lunchtime he wanted to be back home to his own preparations for pooza.

In this house a part of the drawing room had been cordoned off to make room for Shiva and his Ghannas. As he sipped tea sitting on the couch facing the vatuk’s designated seat, he looked up at the dark oily spot on the white-washed wall behind him.  Breaking into an involuntary smile he asked his niece if they had got enough flowers this year. She broke into laughter and said, 'We are better prepared this year, but you never know how things will go in this house.’

This year everyone was better prepared. Preparations that held on perfectly till the night of Shiva arrived.

A commanding voice from the tape chanted ancients verse while the listeners instinctively dropped flower petals into a god bowl. ANIYW'SA VYAN POSH.

‘Please use little fewer flowers. Why are you using the entire flower? Use the petals instead, fewer petals. At this rate we will run out of flowers,’ the old woman of this house kept reminding his old husband. Old man wasn’t listening. He was ignoring her pleas. ‘How can one keep count of flowers being offered to Gods?’

Flowers had been the bone of contention last year also, and had been so for many years. It was a subversive war for order and control. On this particular night every year, this war took on all kind of forms and was fought in various dimensions. Only last year the situation had imploded in a dramatic way like never before. In the middle of the rite, the old man, in his anger over the constant nagging rejoinders from his wife about ‘flower overuse’, had flung a bowl of oil at the opposing wall. The spot was still there on the white wall even though the wall had been freshly white washed as was required for Shivratri preparation.

‘Please use more flowers. What are you doing? Please. More. Use flowers. Stop playing like a kid. We have lot of flowers.’
The kids were chuckling uncontrollable as the old man slowly and carefully, in an orchestrated manner plucked a petal from a bud of Marigold, proceeded to tear that petal into eight equal small pieces and then carefully offered each piece to the waiting bowl of god even as the tape seemed to be hurriedly belting out the verses in praise of the lord.

Things were looking good this year. The water level was within control. Synpotul was well above water. The trick worked.
‘No wait. Stop pouring water. Stop the tape. Synpotul is going to topple. Synpotulas kariv thaph. Papaji wait. Papaji wait. Wait.The air inside the inverted bowl on which it is seated is causing the bowl to float over water.’
Amid flower petals, over milky white water, a brass colored small metal Synpotul was now wildly and dangerously floating in that big metal utensil. The inverted bowl it was kept on kept, the potential solution to the problem, was making it duck in and out of water. It was a serious problem. An impediment to the holy proceeding of the night.
Synpotulas kar thaph. Hold the Synpotul,’ he asked his young nephew who couldn’t stop laughing.
‘What were you thinking? You need to ask you kids about Euclids and laws of buoyancy. Eureka! Eureka!’
As he proceeds to pour water out of the bowl to lower the water level he laughed back and said to the boy, ‘Bad Chukh Saence Daandh. Vaari kar thaph. Saence Daan chukh banaan. You big  bull of Science. Hold on to it properly. You trying to be a scientist now.’

Synpotul toppled into water. It was retrieved. Seated again. Tape was started again. Amid laughter this process was repeated till Synpotul’s part was over in the proceeding of the Shiva’s night.


The voice from the tape-player kept repeated and kept on repeating. The tape was stuck. Without any sign of panic, he hit the stop button. He kept the rewind button pressed for a few seconds and then hit the play button.

'AAnnnnn iiiiiiiw saaaaaaa waaaaayen poooosh,' was the machine's cute and muted reply. Still unflinching, he opened the deck. The machine was eating the tape. Talking the situation in, with light breaths, he carefully and patiently gathered the tape. Everyone looked on for his verdict, hoping against hope for the best, silently. Machine wasn’t the problem, it was the tape. It seemed he had practiced a bit too much. Poor old tape purchased more than half-a-decade earlier couldn't take it. The tape was dead. This was its last Heyrath .

‘You didn’t have to overdo it!’ his wife and mother both simultaneously claimed  after holding on to their silence for half-a-minute after the announcement of tape's death.

‘You both know what happened last year. I didn’t want to take any chances this year. I was trying to...’

Last year, much to their shock and embarrassment, their Pooza had finished in just over an hour. It had taken then some time to figure out what had happened. Shivratri Pooja in a set of two cassettes, Cassette 1 had the beginning and Cassette 2 had the end. Few minutes into the tape when the voice asked them to light a fire, they suspected something amiss. The fire part, the havan, always came towards the end. But they went on with it wishing that maybe they were mistaken, maybe it was all normal. But when the tape asked them to offer food to the Vatukraaj, make that final offering of food to god, the act which certainly marked the end of the ceremony, they rudely woke up to their sad goof-up. They had played the Cassette 2, the end cassette, first. Gravity of the mistake ran so heavy on them that without thinking much they hurriedly went on to play the Cassette 1, after re-labeling it PART 1. When the time for Cassette 2 came, they listened in silence, they had already used up the ingredients and fervor meant for this part. But towards the end somehow their spirits were again high as they offered food, even if a bit colder, to the god vessel, the Vatukraaj. No debacle could stop them.

This year too, taking the minor debacle of 'tape's death' in stride, they continued with the ceremony right from where it had been abruptly stopped. To continue, they picked up the book of ‘Shivrati Pooja’ and performed the various complex rites of the ceremony by reading the simple instructions and intoning the sacred chants. Complex rites were performed simply. Intonation wasn’t perfect. Words and parts were skipped, mutilated. But they offered food to the gods, filled the vessels to the brim and thanked the lord above.

The last part of the ceremony is common in Pandits of all reeths and beliefs. In the end, with folded hands they ask for God’s forgiveness and they ask to be forgiven their ignorance and miss-beliefs. In the end they plead that they performed the rites and the ceremony to the best of their knowledge and abilities. In the end they all say, 'Forgive us.'

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter of LT Jacket

If someone asks me when did it start, the only real answer that I wouldn't give and that ought  be - it was the winter of LT Jacket. That black synthetic jacket was the single finest piece of men's apparel that I had ever laid my eyes on. My uncle had it all that fall and winter. I couldn't wait to grow-up so that I could fit into one. It was the winter of waiting, it was the winter that promised a future, a dream, it was the winter of LT Jacket, just another winter. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011


They put big metal padlocks on the unanimous wooden door fitted in the outer mud wall to their mud-bricked house whose beams were composed of parts of dead old trees, deodars, god-trees that fooled themselves into believing that they were still alive, a believe that this particular timber would hold for a hundred years, a belief that would make it bleed resin year after year. This simple act of theirs now seems so disturbingly ludicrous.

My grandfather got these two big padlocks thanks to his government job. Originally the locks were meant to be used for some governmental store, and as government departments tend to be a bit lenient in these matters, somehow the office ended up buying some extra locks which were dutifully and equally distributed among the employees of the department. That's how he got indentical two brass 'Hitler' padlocks. The two locks served him well for many years even if they were never fully utilized to their big potential as the main door to the house was never required to be locked - it was always open. So these two padlocks were mostly used as room locks. Then one morning of they were put to a proper use. That morning one of these two locks was used to chain the main door and the other was put on the latch of the heaviest trunk. One of them reached Jammu and the other was never heard from again. The one now in Jammu is every night stays put on an Iron door to the cement and mortar house built  in frames of iron.

Update: Remembered, there are places in Maharashtra, around Kohlapur, where people call lock a Kuluf. A bit learnt from an old Kohlapuri woman in Nagpur. 

Picture Postcards from Mahatta & Co

The famous photography studio started by Amar Nath Mehta and Ram Chand Mehta in 1918 first ran  operations from a houseboat on the Jhelum.

Leached these images from ebay. The collection going for around $250.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Game of Haras for Hearyth

Contributed by Arun Jalali Ji as addendum to my post Playing an ancient game with Haar'e. Learnt some new terms thanks to this write-up.


Shivratri (Hearth) is still some days away; time passé preparation for the festivity needs to be honed up now. Presenting the most beautiful childhood game “Hara” (Kodia)

Most of us may be comfortably remembering the rules for playing (SOP) for this indoor game, but re- narrating the same is my personal fun.

PLAYED BY: 2 OR MORE (age group 4 Years or more)

Usually this game is played as part of celebrations of 'Hearth'. Players gather at a common place (Indoor), sit of a level floor mostly in a circular fashion. Each player brings with him or her several Chaaks of Haras (4 PCS = 1 CHAAK).

OBJECTIVE: An interesting and skillful game
All the players compete individually in an attempt to win others Haras without losing his or her own. The Game being random in nature, luck plays a crucial role, in a winner’s performance. The skill of laying the Hara’s on the floor is imperative and players are required to vary the speed and the intensity of the throw of the haras depending upon the size and quantity of the haras in his/her hand. Laying a “Quinn” requires extensive practice sessions.

TOSS or Bazz to decide who gets to play first.

To decide the first player (or the First mover advantage) every participant is required to contribute 1 hara, that would be collected and tossed up as a bunch by any willing player. Hara’s that face upwards (post landing on ground) are shortlisted. With multiple eliminations (quinn’s occurrences) the first player is determined. To Gain an edge player often seeks to offer customized botul-hara (tossing hara is known as “Botul” in local dialect)
Players usually treasure these customized pieces (royally preserved) for future use. Young participants sometimes are helped by guardians for safe custody of these precious entities.

Some of the most sought after botul’s are as below. (Let us recollect these):

  1. Khor 
  2. Poshnoor
  3. Krand
  4. Monjutu

Khor: it has a coarse ,dirty surface , lending it rough looks.
Poshnoor: the beautiful yellow flowery looks
Krand: it is like a hara that is dissected it is flat on both sides.
Monjutu: the word monjut is derived from a specific nose structure which is somewhat raised up nostrils.
Gausanol (  the toilet outlet pipe)

To begin THE GAME
The “first mover” collects 1 Chaak (set of 4 haras) from each participant, he then holds these in one hand*, 1 spins his hand and throws them so as the pieces land of floor in a small area ( about four sq feet of spread) with the aim that the base of Hara face upward (upon resting on floor) to cause any of the following (random) results:



1) 1 HARA (only), facing Upward - called as “QUIN” is like hitting a Jackpot – You WIN ALL

2) All expect 1 HARA facing Upwards - also a “QUIN” and is another form of jackpot – You WIN ALL

3) 2,4,6, 8,10… HARAs facing Upward-NO WIN, right to roll goes to person sitting next in clockwise.

4) 5,7,9,11…. HARAs facing Upwards - YOU WIN but only those pieces that face upwards and right to roll goes to person sitting next in clockwise 

5) 3 HARAs facing Upwards - a case called Ali Baba's 'TUL-TREY', NO WIN + EMBARRASSMENT

Game rolls on...with fresh contributions… (before that even last 2 HARAS have to be won)

* The player has a choice to replace any of the hara with an alternate one (smaller or bigger size) from one’s own stock, usually this options is resorted to enhance the prospect of a “Quinn”

Hara’s are easily available near many temple premises, and all Teerath Ssthanas. Mumbaikar’s living close to Juhu beach can choose to help the needy friends Alternatively re united friends having access to jyotirling sites can also help in procurement.

1) Wear the long phiran having deep pockets for storing lots of haras and listen to the mystical “notes” of haras as you move with these.
2) Invite all you friends and relations to play the game. This game was designed for Joint families / habitat styles.

With kind regards

Arun Jalali


Previous contribution by Arun Jalali Ji
You might also like to check out his website about Vidhya Bhawan School

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kashmiri Cushion Covers. LA.

Kashmiri Cushion Covers on sale at LA, California. USA.
LA ,California USA
Via Man Mohan Munshi Ji

Siren of Dal

A bus running up the road somewhere in Haridwar
"Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing never happened, it is still conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never. Against the feeling of having triumphed over them by one's own strength, and the consequent exaltation that bears down everything before it, no earthly powers could have remained intact."
-Franz Kafka, The Silence of the Sirens (1917)


"The valley is full of legends and superstitions, one of which is that certain stones to be seen beneath the waters of the lakes were at one time men, who for their evil deeds were condemned to die as rocks beneath the clear water until the lakes dried up. One is often shown the "stone men," which look very much like any other large rocks to our western eyes. Another legend is of a siren living on the border of the Dal Lake, who sings enchantingly if she sees one man alone, and beguiles him away with her, and he is never seen again, but if two men are together she does not try to ensnare them, or if the one lone man happens to have a gun and dog, so apparently she is a coward fay."

- 'Valley of Kashmir: India's Most Delightful Spot (Special Correspondence)', published in an American local daily 'The Logan Republican' (Logan, Utah) 1903, November 04. (Source:


"Proof that inadequate, even childish measures, may serve to rescue one from peril.

To protect himself from the Sirens Ulysses stopped his ears with wax and had himself bound to the mast of his ship. Naturally any and every traveller before him could have done the same, except those whom the Sirens allured even from a great distance; but it was known to all the world that such things were of no help whatever. The song of the Sirens could pierce
through everything, and the longing of those they seduced would have broken far stronger bonds than chains and masts. But Ulysses did not think of that, although he had probably heard of it. He trusted absolutely to his handful of wax and his fathom of chain, and in innocent elation over his little stratagem sailed out to meet the Sirens."

-Franz Kafka, The Silence of the Sirens (1917)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Video Kashmir, 1955

Another Kashmir video from University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum). This is vibrant and vivid Kashmir in 1955.

15:08-15:24 is quite a puzzle.

Previously :

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Kashmir in 19th century British Newspapers

The following interesting stuff from archives of old British Newspapers was sent in by Tony who has a nice info. site about Indian wines. While researching for Kashmir entry for that, trying to dig up the past of wine from that region, he came upon my post about 'Wine in Kashmir'. He sent me some interesting queries about names and places in Kashmir where its wineries and vineyards were located  (check the comments), and while I am still working on those queries, much to my delight, he graciously sent me these:
'The Famine in Kashmir' 
- Daily News. 25th January, 1879. 
Famous missionary educationist Tyndale Biscoe in his writings mades an interesting observation about Kashmiri people. In times of natural calamity, famines and pandemics and earthquake, he found Kashmiris mourning silently, without any public display of grief.     
'The Viceroy's tour in Kashmir - The procession of boats with his excellency nearing the Sumbul Bridge (Sumbal in Baramulla district) on the way to Srinagar'
-The Graphic. 18th December, 1891. 
Lord Lansdowne (1888 – 1894) was the viceroy at the time and setting up of Durand Commission for defining boundary of British India and Afghanistan was one of the high-points of his career.

The Earthquake in Kashmir
The Graphic. 22th August, 1885. 
One of the most terrible earthquakes ever to hit Kashmir ( an intensity III ).
"The earthquake of 1885 commenced on May 30 and shocks more or less violent were felt up to August 16. Houses were destroyed and there was general panic, people sleeping for many days out of doors. It is said that 3,500 persons were killed , and the number of cattle, ponies and other domestic animals crushed by falling buildings was enormous. Baramula and Patan seem to have suffered the most, and large earth fissures were caused, from which it is reported that sulphur fumes and inflammable gasses were emitted. Many old water springs disappeared and landslips occurred, one of which at Lari Dura in the Krihun Tahsil, revealed fossil Singhara nuts at an elevation of about 1500 feet above the level of the Wular Lake. It has been suggested that the style of architecture in Kashmir is not calculated to withstand the shocks of an earthquake , but the inhabitants claim that the apparently frail structures escape when heavier and more massive buildings would succumb, and it must be remembered that the temples of Patan and the Palace of Srinigar suffered in 1885. Even now I have noticed in the courtyards of many villagers houses a temporary wigwam, which is always kept in readiness for shelter in times of shocks, and the dread of another earthquake is always present." -Walter R. Lawrence in his book The Valley of Kashmir (1895) 

'The little war in Kashmir: a chat about Gilgit'
-The Graphic. 19 December, 1891. Interesting peek into the politics of the region in those day. Durand was right in the middle of it all. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kashmir Colors, 1915

The following beautiful painting are from 'Our summer in the vale of Kashmir' (1915) by Frederick Ward Denys. Some of them were color painted from photographs and the rest were drawn by Col. H.H. Hart.

'Lotus Flowers of Dhal Lake'
Frontispiece of the book
'Warmth of Color, Pearly Mist and Snow-Capped Mountains'
Srinagar by  Col. H.H. Hart, R.E.
'The Outer Circular Road'
'A Water Highway of Kashmir'
The Mar Cana, Srinagar

A photograph of mar canal as found in 'A lonely summer in Kashmir (1904)' by Margaret Cotter Morison.
"We linger in beauties that never are gone"
by Col. H.H. Hart, R.E.
'The Ancient Temple Ruins at Patan'
[Sugandhesa Temple]
'Nightfall on Wular Lake'
 by Col. H.H. Hart, R.E.
'An artist Paradise'
  by Col. H.H. Hart, R.E.
Wular Lake

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