Continuing the efforts throughout this pandemic by the SAaS members, two young members of our community have raised over £1600
In the month of December, Sid Warrier trained and cycled 100 miles for supporting “Action for children” so he can help young children. Sid was interviewed by BBC Radio Devon. He said, “Over Xmas instead of asking my parents for presents, I would like to give something that can help the less fortunate children who need a safe place to live, healthy food to eat and can be cared for”.
Swetha Pandy trained to complete a half-marathon raising money for St John Ambulance helping them to provide first aid training responding to their Emergency Appeal campaign for saving lives together. The weather was extremely harsh but that did not deter Swetha’s determination and she went ahead and completed the challenge.
It is with this community spirit and effort from all parts of the society we will build a strong and cohesive future, overcoming the challenges posed by the Pandemic.
The Year 2021 lies ahead, a blank canvas; we each have a duty and an opportunity to craft and shape it. Happy New Year one and all. I do hope all of you had a festive Christmas, a relaxing break and used the time to celebrate wisely and sensibly.
As we look ahead, I wonder whether we would ever truly put the year 2020 behind; and begin to look beyond the unprecedented virus that rampaged and still continues to do so, bringing so much angst and misery in its wake. Almost 90 million cases and 1.9 million dead worldwide (JHU dashboard on 9 January 2021). These figures appear surreal except that each death impacted upon families and communities and left grief and pain in its wake. But unsolicited with this thought, comes another of hope and opportunity, of collaborative working and shared struggling, of wisdom and reason rearing its heads when all seems to be almost lost.
This Christmas was different, with many of the usual activities of December missing or unlike previous years, I kept away from them. I missed the school nativity plays, the Carol service, the planning of get-togethers, catching up with friends and family. It was strange indeed; we did most of our meeting and shopping on-line and we were no longer travelling to meet family. We were restricted in what we could do and whom we could meet. Perhaps this gave us time to focus on the essential message of Christmas and what it stands for. In Aretha Franklin’s soaring voice I can hear her sing,
The real and true meaning of Christmas.
The birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
More on Christmas celebrations later in the issue where we also have Louise, many of us know her as Muskaan sharing her reflection on Christmases past in Benares.
I missed, how I missed the big gathering around the round table, over-flowing with food, with additional chairs and placements and so much laughter and gaiety. The long-leisurely meals and conversations interspersed with copious amounts of drinks of all varieties (and we do have Kombucha-drinking healthy people in our midst), and the ever present 1000 pieces jigsaws that we ardently completed in record time figured in Zoom talks and FaceTime rather than happening in reality!!
The mid-morning walks were confined and seemed not as much fun. In earlier years, they were looked forward to, an essential part of preventing that slow insidious increase in girth accompanying all that culinary experimentation and mirthful banter as we explored Ottolenghi, Tamimi, Sodha or tried the latest cooking guru’s fads or kept up with the tastes and dietary requirements of family members ranging in age from 15 to 76 years. These meals were occasions to cater to vegetarian, pescatarian, protein-rich meat-loving, leafy seeded Mediterranean desires and of course all things Indian or rather Asian. Over the years we had perfected the menu crafting system wherein requests for dishes were taken in the morning and voted upon before being approved for cooking the next day with designated chefs and sous chefs putting themselves forward. And then the rule, no dish could be cooked twice as otherwise, we would not have the time to try out everything! We have enjoyed these family gatherings and taken them so much for granted! Never again. Not sure when we will be able to travel for these get-togethers leaving behind the haunting fear and anxiety – have I carried an unscrupulous virus unintentionally?
It is clear that such holidays or skiing trips and walking holidays and being thrilled by moonlight falling on the Taj at Agra will happen, hopefully sometime in 2021 or dare I say the next year. But some things would have changed: social distancing, not shaking hands or hugging and keeping these for very close family or friends and greater incorporation of hand hygiene and perhaps mask-wearing. All of us wait for our turn with the vaccine and hopefully it will mean an end to some of our restrictions as more of the world gets vaccinated and there is greater herd immunity. Meanwhile we have beautiful memories and we can prepare our repertoire of treats to cook when we get together again.
Though it is winter, and becomes dark so early, yet, once you are out there, ever ready for rain and wind, it is beautiful and serene and not crowded. In the winter, the birds are far less territorial, other than the robin. Once I spotted a woodcock very close to Morrison’s sitting very quietly on the ground and relying on its plumage for camouflage. And, I am forever looking out for the more exotic visitor from Scandinavia, the Waxwing among the berries in rowan and cotoneaster trees. Just like the Robin, I so associate this bird with Christmas. These birds and of course all of nature tell us, “come outside! Take a Walk”. The Romantic poets were great walkers; so much of their poetry is full of the beauties of nature and the walks they took. I am sure there is some close connection with walking, rambling and writing poetry. And on those days when the weather is too inclement, I am pleased to sit huddled and look out of my window and see crows, doves, pigeons and sparrows, or even a sparrow hawk.
This juxtaposition of death-fear and hope has been so real throughout the months where the Covid 19 took over our world and though we have not one but several vaccines, it is still managing to keep one step ahead with its mutant variations. It is not yet ready to be dusted into the closet of history despite several Herculean collaborative efforts that have resulted in the rolling out of various vaccinations around the world. I do hope we will remember this and continue to take heed and all precautions. As the Government website warns us:
Christmas is one of the biggest Christian festivals and in South Asia, it celebrated by Christians as well as non-Christians. Though celebrated traditionally on the 25th of December as the birthday of Jesus Christ annually, this is something that is itself not mentioned in the Bible. The year of His birth has been hotly debated and ranges between 7 BC and 2 BC. The word Christmas comes from the union of the two words ‘Christ’ and ‘Mass’, meaning the day the Mass of Christ is held and marks the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Somewhere in the 4rd Century BC, Pope Julius I officially declared that the celebration of the birth of Jesus would be on the 25th of December. In India Christmas is celebrated by all Indian Christians traditionally and is accompanied by attending the mass at church, and celebrating with family and friends. The festive cheer prevails in homes, markets and shops which are decorated and lit with the Christmas tree as an important feature.
Like much of 2020, Christmas was very different for us all this year. In some ways, it reminded me of my first “Indian Christmas” in Varanasi/Benares in 2002.
December 25th was a very ordinary, misty North Indian day. Walking the streets, with a shawl wrapped tightly around me against the chill wintry air, it felt like any other winter’s day. No one else seemed to have noticed that it was one of the most special days of the year. No Christmas trees or special food. No parties or candlelit carol services. A very ordinary business day stripped of all the traditions I had known growing up in England. It felt very strange, this my first Christmas in India.
My sadness at what was missing however was quickly replaced by a realization that the slate had been washed clean and I could start to celebrate Jesus’ birth without all the trappings; that I could begin new traditions focused on the true meaning of the festival. I could start again celebrating the birth of my savior, the one who came to bring Moksha (salvation) to ALL peoples, in the simplest way. What would it look like for my husband, our adopted Indian family and I to celebrate Yeshu Jayanti, on the roof of our home overlooking the Ganges, devoid of western traditions but rich with its original purpose? That simple, stripped back to the basics Christmas still has very special memories in my heart.
From it grew new traditions. Local youth performing a nativity amongst the mango trees in our garden with a bright star beaming from the rooftop above. A huge crowd of neighbours gathered around a simple wooden “chaukee” stage as darkness descends. Our friends’ tiny baby playing the part of the infant savior. Friends and neighbours dropping by for “Christmas cake”. Simple Christmas family pujas. Hindu Yeshu Bhakta friends worshiping together using their own special Christmas bhajans. The King of Kings who chose to be born in a simple stable rather than a palace, being worshiped simply in a very beautiful South Asian way.
Almost 20 years later, things have changed a lot. Traditional Benares now buzzes with Smartphones and ATMs. Santa hats and fake Christmas trees hang from shop windows and pop up street stalls. Whatsapp messages send Christmas greetings in every South Asian language. And Christmas is celebrated by people from a wide variety of faiths and traditions – or at least the western trappings have been embraced.
Barradin – the big day! The longest night is over; dawn heralds the start of days getting longer and brighter. It is unlikely that Jesus was really born on December 25th, but for centuries people the world over has chosen to celebrate the birth of their saviour and lord on this auspicious and meaningful day of the year. Many traditions have grown up over the centuries and it is a wonderful opportunity to fill the cold and barren winter days with light, joy, peace and celebration. However you celebrated in your pared-down Christmas this year, I hope it brought you back to truly consider the “reason for the season”, as it did for me all those years ago in beautiful Benares. This Christmas, Zee TV launched a new series called “Yeshu”, which explores the life of Jesus in a contextualized South Asian way. If you can access it, I recommend it as a great way to explore the story of Yeshu Jayanti/Christmas afresh. It may not be 100% biblically accurate but it gives a great insight into the story behind this great festival that is celebrated all over the world.
The 2020 virtual annual cultural celebrations brought together the community at a very difficult time when social distancing and lockdown has been the norm. Despite the challenges, the event was as entertaining as in the previous years and was attended by over 130 remote attendees. The cultural event staged 16 colourful and heartwarming performances highlighting a wide variety of themes from South Asia.
The event was virtually graced by the Lord Mayor and Mayoress & Police and crime commissioner of Devon and Cornwall. Our sincere thanks to all the participants who were instrumental in making this event a huge success. We look forward to organising similar events in near future.
Please see below a few “screen shots” from the virtual event.
Members of our society are participating in a reflection series organised by BBC on their experiences during these difficult Covid times.
The series will run this week (Mon 30 Nov-Sun 6th Dec) each day at 7.20 am and might then be repeated at 8.50am too on the ‘BBC Radio Devon breakfast programme’.
They could also be repeated later in the day. This is of course not guaranteed as sometimes breaking news comes in, or things need to be altered for timings, but those times mentioned above are definitely in the plan.
The plan is to broadcast all of the pieces (i.e. Monday through until Sunday) probably in the following order:
The impact of the pandemic on health and wellbeing is well documented. A multitude of organisations, centrally and locally, are trying to do their best to help us overcome this challenge. Beyond the actual effects of the virus, the long term impacts on ones physical and mental wellbeing are acknowledged but are still being researched.
In such gloomy times, it is but natural to feel anxious and demoralised. While we cannot control external factors that impact our lives, we can certainly dive deep within us to find the strength and energy to mitigate and where possible overcome the negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.
In order to facilitate such a journey “within”, South Asian Society of Devon and Cornwall is delighted to offer 3 preliminary free Yoga webinars for community members across the region. We are partnering with the internationally renowned “Isha Foundation” who are accredited partners of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Locally we are delighted to be partnering with Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Devon and Cornwall who are co-sponsoring the event with us.
All sessions listed below will be delivered by trained “Isha Foundation” facilitators.
No previous experience of yoga required This session is open to anybody over the age of 12
Through simple postures, breathing practices and guided meditations, these tools will help you become the architect of your own wellbeing; fostering a peaceful, joyful and most importantly balanced state of body, mind and emotions. The practices require a space the size of a yoga mat and some can even be done whilst sitting at a desk.
No previous experience of yoga required This session is open to anybody over the age of 12
Depending on the response and demand we will look to provide further sessions in future.
Due to the recent national lockdown announcement, we have postponed the Virtual Annual event to 19th December. This will allow members more time to prepare while we are not allowed to meet in small groups.
Please find attached details on Guidelines for the virtual event.
There will be a nominal charge of £5 per family to cover the costs of the virtual platform.
13th Dec 2020 – Deadline for submitting pre-recorded performance (On request extension till 16th)
19th Dec 2020 – SAaS Virtual Annual Event
We recognise that it is relatively short notice but as we will use pre-recorded videos, we feel there will be sufficient time to plan and deliver good quality performances. Through your active, enthusiastic participation and cooperation, we look forward to organising a successful and memorable virtual cultural evening.
Our war against the Coronavirus remains unabated. This war has brought in unprecedented and quirky changes: the novel and stylish addition to our wardrobe through the ubiquitous masks. We see the emergence of a new evolving on-line culture with its own new norms and correlated expressions of identity, social etiquette and social skills. I am fascinated by the new types of everyday practices that are mushrooming as virtual work, zoom meetings and online communication become more prevalent. We need to be building a repertoire of new social skills for the new media within the new normal! When should one raise a hand rather than blurting out one’s contribution? Or, how often should one go on typing out messages in Chat? The emerging etiquette is still evolving within the boundaries of online hierarchies and may consider or reject other sensitivities.
Colourful, printed, embroidered and matching masks represent an opportunity of expression not only for the fashionistas and style aficionados but also for those who like me have not yet mastered the art of online retail clothes therapy. The masks with their patterns and colours are amazing – polka dots and paisleys, tartan and pleated with three or two layers; the range is enough to satisfy the most finicky and discerning tastes. On a more serious note, the many acts of kindness that we have heard of, and seen, during these unprecedented times have the magical power of a rainbow across the rain-lashed skies that never fails to lighten our spirit and infuse us with hope.
Another day passes. The night is swallowed by the morning light. The days are smaller and British Summer Time has been swept back, left behind. All around me nature goes on giving. Autumnal colours are at their peak. In the obvious gloom and despair which follows the rampage of this global pandemic, there appears to be a silver lining for Mother Nature. Unintended consequences perhaps, but nevertheless true; lockdowns and travel restrictions have ushered in a cleaner, less polluted airspaces, renewed interest in sustainable industries and a welcome positive focus on the ability of human beings to co-exist with nature. While the human toll relentlessly surges, killing more than a million people, nature is getting some respite – it is perhaps able to breathe more easily! The polluting haze has somewhat cleared as lockdowns, factory closures and other Covid 19 restrictions have led to temporary falls in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in many parts of the world.
Oddly enough, there is either excessive anxiety about getting ill and possibly dying, or in sharp contrast, there is unhealthy denial and scepticism. Why cannot we be guided by nature and react in a healthy and sustainable manner? Accept the transience and fragility of life, yet take reasonable precautions for keeping oneself and others safe. This kind of positive and balanced outlook will go a long way in ensuring that humanity will emerge from this horror into a healthier, cleaner world. But we need to keep the pressure on and continue to have the required debates and conversations, keep the pressure on for green jobs and clean energy, balancing infrastructure, efficiency and sustainable futures. After all our collision course with nature probably brought about the pandemic. The Covid 19 crisis surely overlaps with the climate and biodiversity crises. For instance, all the infectious diseases of the recent past have come from animals – either wild ones or the livestock we farm in ever larger numbers to satisfy our demand for meat. So it is pertinent for us to keep a balanced perspective and demand a more holistic and equitable policy of sustainable public health that is in tune with the health of the natural environment.
When I think of nature, in all its bounteous charm and beauty (although danger too lies in its wings), autumn is special, for the magic, it weaves with its tana bana of colour and contrasts before the onset of grey and dark days of winter. I think too of another bird Neelkantha (the Indian blue jay or roller, Coracias benghalensis) which has relevance and significance for so many of the Asian cultures. And, that reminds me of the Kingfisher and the beautiful poem by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris so evocatively in their awesome book called The Lost Words. And, if you are thinking of buying a gift for someone you love, I can, and do recommend this book as a special gift.
Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker,
Rainbow bird – that sets the stream alight with burn
Contributed by Drs. Amit Dholakia and Smita Tripathi
Navratri (literally nine nights in Sanskrit) is a religious festival from the South Asian sub-continent celebrated variously by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. The festival is celebrated in the bright half of the month of Ashvin, which typically falls in September and October. It is vividly rich in thematic and content variations imbued with many diverse flavours unique customs, rich traditions and accompanied by medley of dances, songs and bhajans. Different parts of the sub-continent celebrate it variously; as manifested through the range of languages, foods, cultures, performances, rituals, celebrations and even attire associated with it. It is celebrated in Mauritius and Bali, along with other countries where Hindus reside. The diverse traditions and customs is traced back to regions and varied heritage, syncretism and unique path dependency of how the festivals evolved in the numerous regions and cultures. A very rich cultural – religious mosaic of events and rituals marks the unique celebrations and events. It is truly a special joyous exuberant opportunity to rejoice as expressed through the Sanskrit word Utsav (meaning to grow upwards) which is often used in connection with it.
The worship of the divine Devi, Shakti or Goddess is another central theme of the celebration and acknowledges the significance and role of the feminine and the maternal in our cultures. The worship of Goddesses represented by mothers, sisters and daughters are an amazing feature of this festival.
The spiritual overtone of this festival includes a focus on relaxing, reflecting, turning inwards and recharging ourselves with new energy. It suggests how negativity within or outside can be conquered by the inherent goodness and positive qualities of an individual. Our minds are constantly inundated with all kinds of noises, emotions and externalities, bickering, arguing, and judging, and so on. The isolation and the economic – social ramifications during this pandemic has been huge; Navratri is a time to overcome these tendencies, emerge stronger and come together as human beings.
In Northern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent
To celebrate a good harvest and to please the nine planets, women plant nine different kinds of food grain seeds in small containers at the start of the nine days and then offer the young saplings on the tenth day as a sacred offering. adoration
In the Northern tradition, another popular ritual is KanyaPuja, which takes place on the eighth or ninth day. On this occasion, nine young girls are dressed as the nine goddess aspects celebrated during Navratri and are adored with rituals and worshipped with offerings of food and clothing.
Dussherra is celebrated on the tenth day and is associated with the victory of the Lord Rama over the demon-king Ravana. Ram Lila is a theatrical representation of the epic Ramayana (the Story of Ram) in play, song, dance and music over the nine days. The final day witnesses the victory of Lord Rama over the evil king Ravana (‘Vijay Dashami‘ day). The effigies of Ravana, and his two generals Kumbhakarna, and Meghnath are burnt to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
Dussherra is considered an auspicious time to begin educational or artistic pursuits, especially for children. The day often begins with a worship of our writing instruments, educational and work tools and a documenting of familial achievements in a family register. Ravana is worshipped on the morning of Dussherra, primarily because of his intellect, skills and prowess.
In Western parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent
The festivities in the West focus on communally performed dances, most famously the Garba and Dandiya, especially in Gujarat. These dancers wear elaborate, colourful, embroidered dresses. The dances are very energetic, exuberant and involve a lot of rotations, twirling and circling. They truly express the soulful and intense vibrance of Gujarat. Since it is believed that the Goddess is fond of red flowers and yellow colour, women and young girls prefer wearing clothes in these colours.
In Garba, women dance gracefully in circles around a pot containing a lamp whereas in the Dandiya dance, men and women participate in pairs with small, decorated bamboo sticks, called dandiyas in their hands.
In Eastern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent
In Eastern parts of the sub-continent including Nepal and Manipur, Dussherra has its own variant and flavour as Dashian and is celebrated over fifteen days. On the 10th day a ceremonial Tika of yogurt, vermilion, and rice is applied on the forehead. Another important aspect is the worship of God as Mother (Maa). Followers of the Goddess Durga/Shakti, celebrate the occasion as Durga Puja.
The central storyline of the victory of good over evil is staged in the clay statues produced for the annual festival of Durga puja. It begins with the shape-shifting buffalo-demon Mahisa, who tricks the Gods into granting him immortality with the proviso that he could only be slain by a woman, hence making him practically invincible. The Demon Mahisa then becomes a scourge, challenging and harassing the Earth and the Gods incessantly till they decide to fight back; they combine their energy, the light streaming out of their heads joined together to materialise as Durga, a woman of sublime beauty. Armed with divine weapons and riding a lion or tiger, Durga approaches Mahisa and using her wit, charm and brute force, eventually slays him in a dramatic showdown.
In the traditional puja representation, Durga is shown in the crucial moment of the fight, piercing the beheaded demon with a spear, while her two sons Karthikeya and Ganesa and her two daughters Lakshmi and Sarasvati stand supportively by her side. Lion/tiger signifies dharma, the will power, while the weapons denote the focus and severity needed to destroy the negativity in our minds and environment.
It is said that Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days at this time of the year and this festival also commemorates this visit. Therefore, this tradition enables married women to visit their childhood homes.
Dhunuchi Naach is an impromptu dance performed in front of Maa Durga by worshippers dancing with burning incense pots. They dance and execute tricks holding burning pots to the beat of the dhaaks which are perfect musical accompaniments to the frenzied movements.
Sindoor Khela is held on Mahadashami when it is time to bid adieu to Maa and is occasioned by ritual play with red or orange colour. In parts of the sub-continent, in sharp contrast to feasts, extravagant meals, and social get-togethers, the festival is a time for fasting and prayers.
In Southern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent
The festival takes on regional colours and hues with a very wide range of celebrations and forms. In Kerala, Poojavaippu is celebrated as a festival of education and learning with a focus on children worshipping their pens and books – this marks the beginning if their educational journey.
In Andhra Pradesh the festivities take on a floral aspect with the nine days being dedicated to the Goddess Maha Gauri. In Bathukamma Padunga (literally meaning ‘Come Alive Mother Goddess’), women make floral stacks accompanied by fascinating floral dances and songs.
In parts of Tami Nadu and Karnataka, Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines during this period. Its regional names /variations include Bommai Kolu in Tamil which means Divine Presence, Bommala Koluvu in Telugu or the Court of Toys and Bombe Habba in Kannada which means Doll Festival.
Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines during this period in parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Interestingly the dolls and figurines show every day scenes along with more religiously inspired divine scenes from the epics like Ramayana.
The spiritual significance of the festival is rooted in meditating on the antar dhayan – the inner source of all energy. Through fasting, prayer, silence and meditation, the individual seeks an improvement in themselves – purifying oneself from within. This symbolic dhayan and manan, it is claimed causes one to emerge stronger and purer, it brings relief at the three levels of our existence – physical, subtle and causal. While fasting detoxifies the body, silence purifies the speech and brings rest to the chattering mind, and meditation takes one deep into one’s own being. The essence of this knowledge is acknowledged by celebrating the tenth day as Vijay Dashmi.
The Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist or Islamic ways of life has since time immemorial advocated living in harmony with one another and with nature. The symbiotic relationship between an individual, their community and nature has come into sharp focus during this period of lockdown. The Hindu philosophy of interacting with humanity in a way that promotes universal prosperity to satisfy everyone’s needs rather than greed shines through in this religious celebration. Navratri is the time for you to realize that you are loved, and dwell and rest in this feeling of love. When you do this, you come out feeling stronger, wiser, rejuvenated, refreshed and harmonious.
The celebration of Navratri is in essence the worship of the one Divine existence who manifests in various forms and avatars. The supreme being is worshipped in various ways – all aspects of life and nature are worshipped during these days. Worship of this divine enables the victory of good, removes miseries, sorrows and pains; bestows peace, prosperity and joy on one and all. In the end, Navratri is really about praying for universal wisdom and a simple wish to reconnect with something much bigger than each one of us and the occasion is a tool that helps us do that.
With the blessings of the Divine, may each one of us be imbued with the blessings of the Adi Seer; May you have–