Friday 14 June 2024

Odia Raja - Meaning and Significance | Banaste Dakila Gaja

 Young woman playing swings tied on tree branches. Raja Parba or ...

Banaste Dakila Gaja, Barasa Ke Thare Asichi Raja,
Asichi Raja lo Gheni Nua Saja Baja... so the old Odia folksong on Raja goes.

The Raja festival is upon us. We know it and celebrate it as three days of fun, joy, celebrations, new clothes, home cooked pitha, preceded by days of shopping for new clothes and ingredients.

The Raja festival is the day of the year when the earth weeps tears of joy as its dry soil is drenched with the first monsoon rains.  It is during the time of Mithuna Sankranti, which is when the first rains of monsoon strike Odisha. There is also an allusion to the menstrual cycle of young girls of age in the festivities that occur during Raja. While girls have their periods every month, Mother Earth has hers every year.

The festival is a tribute to mother Earth and she is given respite these days and not allowed to carry any burden. The traditional Odia family jobs of "kata", bata", "randha", "badha", "boha bahi" are spared to young girls these few days.

The Odia folk song Banaste Aila Gaja means this is the time when the Elephants meet to mate (maithuna) in the forests, elephants which are revered creatures in Hindu anthology and closely related to the Mother Earth.

On the first day of Raja (Pahali Raja) - young unmarried girls are not supposed to work or touch their feet to the ground. Thus the purpose of the swing so that the feet doesnt touch the groud. Girls deck up in jewellery and finery and enjoy the day on the swing or the cot, while having steamed and burnt delicacies like poda Pitha, and largely food that has not been cokked on hearth.

The day 2 of the Raja is considered to be the main festival. It falls on the day of the Mithun Sankranti. The girl is considered to be the "Rajaki" or like a princess, puts on alta and other finery.

The Day 3 of Raja is the basi Raja, where the young princess is again allowed to mix with everyone and come down from her throne (doli), take down her fineries.

The days are filled with fun and festivities, shopping, games and cooking competitions.

Looking back at the origins of the festival again;

The three days of Raja correspond to the three days of menstruation where women were said to be untouchables for social and hygienic reasons. As per the scriptures the women were Chandala (Untouchable), Brahmaghatini (hurting) and Rajaki on those days. Rajaki also meant a washerwoman, the day the woman cleans her soiled clothes. And the fourth day when finally the woman is considered to be clean or "Suddha" after taking her bath.

All the above are described in the "Rajaswala Dharma"  or "Religious Duties of Menstruating Women" for women in our ancient texts.

I am heartily thankful for the modern day Raja celebrations without their primitive connotations!

Friday 25 August 2023

Belfast Blog - Day 2

From the archives from sometime in August 2014 from a solo trip to UK. Coming across these scraps from my files!

Day 2

Day 2 in Belfast started with the Mc Combs tour. The hotel front office lady had informed me that the tour  would be over at 5. But the tour guys confirmed that we wont be back any time before 7. Thus began a long, entertaining, fun journey starting with the Carricferedge Norman castle, the Carricka Rede Rope Bridge, the Bushmill’s whiskey distillery, the Ballycastle, a long drive over the Antrim coast with many little interesting bits of history. The drive was beautiful and the Driver Dan, was entertaining. So many interesting little tidbits he shared with us – like the smallest little village on the coast, a village which has the Queen’s crown specially made for her Golden Jubilee, their rivalry with Scotland across the sea, a far glimpse of their icon Rory Mcllroy's home (or its vicinity!) It is definitely a trip I would like to do again, if only to treasure and understand those small moments of history!

After seeing the Norman castle, the next stop was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge is actually a disappointment from what the brochures make it out to be! It is a small and steady rope bridge, not a long rickety structure that threatens your appetite for adventure! As all along the coast – the views are amazing and it does feel like an adventure in the end. I was so glad I had good walking shoes!

An interesting episode happened at the next stop which was the Bushmill’s Whisky tour. Two episodes actually. First, ran into Flintoff as the guide mentioned an English cricketer in the vicinity. I ran to find him and there he was, with a small team!  Andrew Flintoff, imagine! What a hunk! He kindly obliged for a pic. Then I took the Whisky tour – after advising the driver that I was going on it. The understanding was – if the tour was late, the bus would go to the next point and return for the tourists taking the whisky tour. As it happened I was the only one taking the tour from our bus – a couple of others having quit it halfway as they had friends back on the bus and I was oblivious of that fact. So I sat down to taste the sample whiskies with a bowl of Irish stew. Imagine my chagrin when Dan came in to inform me that the bus was waiting. It was already 15 minutes past the leaving time and here I was with two glasses of whiskies and a bowl full of Irish stew – with 50 passengers waiting in the bus for me for 15 minutes! I could gladly have disappeared into a hole. But Dan was very understanding. We realized it was a miscommunication. I assured him I would leave behind my untasted whiskies and stew and he assured me it was not a problem – he would drop off the passengers at the next call and return for me (as I had originally presumed to be the plan!) So all went well. I didn’t have to go back to face 50 indignant co-passengers.

Dan returned on time and took me to the Giants Causeway. Here I was so determined to stick to my time that I made the long mile walk to the causeway and back in record time. Then I realized I had an hour in hand and walked back again to the Giants Causeway to take in the splendor at more leisure!

 Now that is called tasting the best of everything!

Ended the day at the Hotel and slept away the tiredness.

Distance walked - 15 kms or more!

Belfast Blog - 1

 A few years back I had a pretty interesting trip to the UK. I sometimes jot down small notes. Came across one such recently.

Day 1 Belfast

Reached Belfast from London. Train from Orpington to London Bridge, from London Bridge to Gatwick. Reached Belfast around 10. Took the Europa Bus from the Airport. Driver couldn’t understand where I needed to be dropped and dropped me somewhere  quite far from the Radisson Blu and the city centre. In the meanwhile my neighbor in the Bus, a lovely old lady about 75 insisted with him (rightly) that I was being dropped at the wrong place and was on the verge of accompanying me to my destination (The Radission Blu). I managed to convince her that it was actually not necessary, my case was not heavy and I will manage! She had got down the steps of the Bus too! This was one of the many instances of kindness and love I was shown during my trip. I enquired and finally took a cab to the Hotel!

Freshened and took directions to the City Centre and Titanic Belfast. Belfast was the first European City after London that I was seeing. It was a wonder to walk around and see castles, turrets and spires springing up at you from all corners. I ended up taking a huge detour of the city on my way to the Titanic Museum. The area is a new development that will be complete in a few years – with quarters, malls other than the Titanic Museum and dockyard. The place where the Titanic was built and launched has been converted to a Museum with a commemorative building shaped like a pair of wings about to fly off. Now that is more a memory to Kate Winslet in the movie than the original Titanic, I guess!

Returned walking the right way and ended up at a Pub near the Clock Tower. Had my first taste of Magnus Cider Ale.  Sweet! Stick to normal and black beer next time I guess. Walked back to the hotel through an eerily quiet city. Everything closes at six (except the pubs). It was a long long walk back through a beautiful city. There are few signs of past ravage except a missing exuberance, closed doors at six and some warning signs.

Had a dinner of pasta at the hotel restaurant.

Distance walked -  20 kms?

Penned sometime in Augustt 2014

Saturday 18 June 2022

Candy Crush, Adsense and Blogging...

 Yes, it's been a long time since I have posted here. But with so many other avenues to make one's posts, and ideas public, and with fewer words, it isn't a wonder that my (and I am sure many of my ilk's) blog is languishing. I started this blog to write a bit, post some recipes, travel stories, any other thoughts I could spare, some rants etc. Done that to some extent but definitely not as much as I would have liked! Many resolutions have come and gone, so no point making any more!!!

Today's wake-up is because google Adsense came knocking at my door and promised to take away my privilege of using AdSense if I didn't get up and kicked about! So here goes...

But again what do i write? Is reaching 7700 levels in Candy Crush a worthier effort than blogging? or should I blog about it? All the coins I have been buying (shhhhhhh), all the hours I have been engaged in destroying those sweet harmless treacles! Did I say harmless? Right. Because sometimes at the end of the day my eyes don't go all blurry and I cant even read normal sized fonts right in front of my nose! 

Oh I can write about my new found, one year old passion. Paintings. I have painted some eyes since I started to write this blog. Actually painted 4 small paintings (so much for my commitment to blogging) in the last 4 -5 days. 10' by 12". Acrylic on canvas. I am getting the hang of acrylic. The last year has mostly been devoted to oil painting. But acrylic is so fast. What i found a trial initially, the quick drying, is turning out to be a boon, with lightning fast turnover! I have to buy some new fresh canvas soon! 

How many have I painted in the last year? 60? Maybe. At least! 

I will wind up my blogging for now. Like I said, since I started it, i have completed 4 paintings, run through a bad bout of flu, almost reached level 7800 in Candy time to find a fresh topic!

Monday 26 July 2021

Brahmaputra - Deep and Immersive

 A few days back we had a most defining and immersive experience on a cruise on the Brahmaputra. This was my third cruise across the mighty river in this region.

 We started from Guijjan, a small hamlet near Tinsukia, at 7 am, in a small boat. Our destination was an area called Maili in the upper reaches of Brahmaputra where some wild horses had been sighted by forest people. The journey was supposed to take 4 hours.

 During the rainy season, junglee horses move around, as their original settlement around the Dibru Saikhowa national park is flooded.  The Dibru Saikhowa is fed by the Brahmaputra and Lohit and Dibru and an interlaced galaxy of small and big tributaries. Our boatman informed us that we were going towards the Siang (or Dihang, pronounced as Dehing) River, another of those distributing and feeding tributaries that weave in and out of the main river.

It was raining mildly and the boat ride itself was a joy and full of complexities from encountering riverine life and seeing it close-up. The Rangagora tea estate to the left was one of the first sights on the ride. There had been reports of feral horses sighting there a few days ago, which brought the horses to our mind and was the reason this trip. During heavy rains, the estate gets flooded and some portion of its massive main bungalow stands knee deep in water.

The boat ride seemed to be through one of the last of the remaining pristine areas of the country, wild and untouched. For miles there were just the flooded river banks, with uprooted or submerged trees, deep swathes of  greenery on the banks, with just the drongos, babblers, sparrows, swallows, kingfishers and sometime buffaloes, keeping the boat company.

The feral horses are apparently descendants from horses used by Britishers during the WW2.  A few of them escaped and their tribe has grown in the past 80 years to almost 79 horses. Of course, as in any rare species in India, they are endangered, with poachers and hunters looking for them to sell them as race horses or to resort owners.

As we went on, we came to the Laika village. It is mostly inhabited by the Mishing tribe. The entire village is on stilts with willow fences separating the houses. The residents use the river for all their activities. Boats, kids, fishermen, bathers and just watchers thronged the bank. The kids were adept at rowing and could be seen on boats and on the muddy field beyond the bank, playing. Many ran around with catapults using mud golis as stones. The houses had goats, cows, vegetable patches and most importantly solar panels to provide the much-needed light at night to keep away wild animals.

Speaking of wild animals, we heard an interesting tale from one of our forest guards about an old lady who was settled in these riverine wilds. Her kids moved away as they grew older but she refused to budge from her home. She was eventually trampled by a herd of elephants while she slept. Whichever area looked a bit destroyed, like trampled grasses, broken poles, solar panels, you knew elephants had been there! And our guide helpfully informed us that people didn’t die from common diseases like diabetes or cancer here. I guess wild elephants and snakes took care to keep the population under control!

As we progressed on our way upstream, we came across a huge banyan tree inland where there was a forest camp and which is a favourite with trekkers. My husband had done some trekking there with a friend, in the dry season, a few months earlier. It was huge and its canopy stretched on for acres.

In between there were forest watch towers and forest guard house boats, which accommodates around a dozen people, parked on the silty banks. One could see the silt and the bank falling off at many places and trees submerged in the partly flooded river. During full floods, the chapori (the riverine plain villages) are totally submerged and the inhabitants move to different areas, in fact they apparently move lowland as the silt gets deposited there!

We picked up a couple of fishermen who were walking upstream. They had their nets at a particular area, which apparently had some particular fish which sells at a huge premium in the market! Most locals moved around with a hatchet, to cut fishing ropes, brushes and bushes, I guess.

The boat got stuck at many mud flats and had to steered and had to steered and manoeuvred by hand and poles. The flats were many a times not visible in the flooded water. Our journey which was to take 4 hours finally ended up taking 5 hours!

Our biggest surprise was a couple of dolphins leaping up at us! We were totally unprepared to encounter the “Gangetic” dolphins which seemed to populate the area.

At 1 pm, after 5 hours of an eventful boatride we reached the Maili forest camp. The guards told us the horses had been sighted 2 days back. So we started on a trek in search of possible sighting of those elusive creatures. Along the way the couple of forest guards who had obligingly accompanied us enquired of fishermen about the possible whereabouts of the horses. After one hour of trekking through deceptive mud flats, brushes, fields, along the river bank, we reached a small hamlet. A couple of kids told us they had seen the horses in the morning at a distance, so we followed them for half a mile to the area where they had last seen the elusive creatures. Obviously they were not waiting for us! We trekked back to the, desolate, two and a half cottage, hamlet, had a round of tea in makeshift cups and from there proceeded to the boat.

5 hours of boat journey and 2 hours (5 miles) of trekking gave us an inside look into the Brahmaputra in Upper Assam like no other! The return journey took just 3 hours as we were going downstream.

Mighty is just one small adjective for the river. It is definitely mighty. And not just in width, breadth and length. It supports a humungous biodiversity that includes natural forest reserves, rare birds and plants, settlements along its bank, livelihoods for people in three countries, tribes that make a living solely out of it, water to the plains, a plethora of sub terranean life including the edible fish that is the staple diet of people whose life it touches and beyond.

I have given some maps to show the location of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the place I am talking about.

Dibru Saikhowa Map

Image Source -

Image Source -

Thursday 25 March 2021

A Bowl of Pakhala

Come March, the people of Odisha have to start battling the high and dry heat of an early summer that kind of side steps over what is supposed to be “Basanta Rutu” or Spring season; a season supposed to buffer the summer and be mild, but which slyly gives the state a miss. Summer is all of a sudden upon us, before we have even packed away our winter clothes. We start feeling the departure of winter when the vegetables, fresh beet and carrots and cauliflowers and laukis and peas suddenly start looking dry and withered, then one day suddenly lose their taste. Then comes the loo, the dry wind that the river bed brings in during the mid-day, that is suffocating and all pervasive. Suddenly the swarms of mosquitoes disappear and you know that the temperature is hovering around the 40s mark. But, the real indicator, that Summer is here? The Pakhala. The dish whose images have started doing the rounds of social media in recent years, and so much so, apparently, a day has been dedicated to it! (Whoever had heard of World Pakhala Day even 5 years back!)

Yes, the Pakhala truly heralds the coming of summer to Odisha. A dish, to quench thirst, egalitarian, all-inclusive and stubbornly resistant to change. It is also perhaps the only dish that people can digest in this small rice bowl of eastern India, during the hot season.

PakhalaThe Dish

What is a Pakhala? It is simply the leftover cooked rice dunked in water and taken the next day in its slightly fermented form. The fermentation gives it a kick and sour taste.  The daily wagers, the farmers who toil in the field, the working class, always in need of a fast nutritious dish, relish this simple unpretentious dish in the heat.  The basic Pakhala really doesn’t need much of an accompaniment, just some salt, maybe green chillies and some slices of raw onion. But the dish is equally appreciated across all sections of society. One can add on to the dish and make it as simple or as complicated or traditional as one wishes.

A typical family will have some pan fried vegetables and maybe a boiled potato to go with it. Fish fry, or a side of stir fried prawns is appreciated (most Odia side dishes are stir fried, shallow fried rather than deep fried).  “Badi”, the sun dried dumpling made from lentils, is another favourite accompaniment with the Pakhala. Fried bitter gourd or pumpkin flowers dipped in rice paste and shallow fried are popular anti pastos (or perhaps ante-pakhala?) before one consumes the main bowl.

Pakhala Revival

The timeless dish has had a revival in recent times, thanks to social media and the countless emigrated Odias rediscovering their roots through nostalgia. For people who went to school in the 70s and 80s, nothing completed a day better than to come to a bowl of “Pakhala” after a hot and dusty day at school.

However this acceptance of Pakhala as a regular mainstay of Odia cuisine was not very palatable even a few years back. I remember asking a friend outside Odisha whether they had pakhala at home and the defensive response was “maybe it is taken back in the villages, we don’t have it,"  immediately consigning it to a category as a dish for the rural poor. One cannot really blame the Odia “prabashis” for this type of sentiment. We have been categorized so long as an extremely poor state, that this dish kind of slammed the nail on the coffin of  “Odisha- a poor pakhala eating state”, hence perhaps leading to a reluctance to its acceptance as a proper State cuisine. At least till a few years back.

Thankfully, perhaps with the realization that Pakhala cannot be the worst thing to happen to us, has come an assertion and acceptance of our essential Odia-ness,  and acceptance of all our inherent culture, heritage, quirks, habits, dress codes, dishes, and the ubiquitous and all-encompassing Pakhala in all its glory.

#pakhala #worldpakhaladay

- Sm R

Tuesday 2 February 2021

The Wonder That is Versailles - a Palace of Dreams

There are fewer things grander in European Architecture than the Palace at Versailles

The Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

Like Louis the XIV,s motto "nec pluribus impar", the Versailles Palace is more than a match for anything of the era. 

It fascinated me during my lectures on Landscape Architecture not just for its scale and grandeur, but also the ingenuity of some of the features. The kings of France took quite a bit of flak for the construction and maintenance of the Palace which eventually crippled their economy and lead to the French Revolution. But what a dream the Palace was! What started as a simple chateau and a Hunting Lodge in the forests for King Louis XIII, got transformed to one of the most grand Royal Courts in the world, that literally crippled a country in its maintenance. 

The Versailles Palace reinforced the glamour and lavish architecture inside and outside with the varied and colourful court life of the Royal entourage, the French Nobility and aristocracy. History notes numerous intrigues, secrets, treaties, scandals that lent colour to Versailles in the 17th and 18th century. All these have been graphically illustrated in many books and most recently the TV series "Versailles". 

 Louis the XIV, the Sun King,  improved upon the medieval chateaux he inherited from his father into a daunting and sumptuos Baroque residence and court that had around 2500 rooms and and a garden defying all expectations of grandeur..and profligacy. At it's busiest, the Palace had around 10000 people in it daily, occupied in various forms. For Louis the XIV, it was the Chateaux de Versailles that was the centre of the World. A palace to showcase and project his power, position and aura.

The gardens at Versailles were some of the most advanced for their age with never before seen features. The water parterres (large rectangular features of water body) were the highlights. They connected the various paths and reflected the various features, as well as the lit up the outside. If one stood at the Palace terrace, the line of vision would lead one through the orangery, many elaborately constructed fountains, sculptures, pyramids, a belvedere here, groves, there, to the large north and south water parterres.

Perhaps not satisfied with the crowd and his entire court at Versailles, King Louis XIV built another smaller (by Versailles standards) and a more private Palace 7kms to the west of Versailles, at Marly.  The Marly gardens featured some of the most unique hydraulic engineering seen at that age. 

Machine de Marly was a marvel of that time that was built to pump water from the Seine via aquaducts to the Gardens of Marly and Versailles. The complicated hydraulic system had fourteen gigantic wheels, initially operated manually, to haul water from the Seine, via 250 pumps. The water from Seine was directed  by well constructed dykes, and the water wheel transferred it to the aquaduct de Louveciennes, a series of basins, reservoirs, through some complex piping and machinery to eventually feed the water bodies at Versailles and Marly. 

The machine was however not sufficient to entirely feed the extensive water features of Versailles and Marly. It was considered to be extremely noisy as hundreds of workers operated it round the clock to keep it going! Even then it served Versailles for 133 years, before steam engines and other modifications took over.

Machine de Marly at Marly 
Vue de la Machine de Marly (1723) by Pierre-Denis Martin
 (Source - Wikimedia)

Elevation and perspective of the Machine de Marly (c. 1715) by Nicolas de Fer
 (Source - Wikimedia Commons)

By L.-A. Barbet - Les Grandes Eaux de Versailles, Public Domain,

Historians see Marly as a finished product as a result of all the experimentation on at Versailles! The Sun King was definitely one of those people who believed everything can be achieved, from the exquisite Hall of Mirrors where he held Court, to shifting his entire court to Versailles,  to having an exotic orangery and other marvels mimicking nature, to dragging water from the Seine to feed the numerous water features and magical gardens of the grand palace. 

To be able to dream, conceptualise and finally execute a marvel like the Palace at Versailles must have required quite a vision, and of course unlimited resources at command. Even though the subjects and courtiers of the Sun King and his descendents would have had every right to complain for the taxes, inconvenience, the world is still rich by Versailles.


- Sm R

Odia Raja - Meaning and Significance | Banaste Dakila Gaja

  Banaste Dakila Gaja,  Barasa Ke Thare Asichi Raja, Asichi Raja lo Gheni Nua Saja Baja... so the old Odia folksong on Raja goes. The Raja f...