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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SPARROWS







I am just fascinated at the sight of sparrows which give me some kind of happiness and I feel I should also be chirpy like them. In a span of 9 years in Bangalore I have seen only single sparrows that too only three times. On Monday, I was thrilled to see four of them together eating the grains on the floor of the passage!I had my grand daughter Anoushka with me and I took her close to them, she was jumping from her Pram seat out of joy!
Another sight was in Gurgaon at my nephew's place, there are plenty of them, they frequent his place for food and water, and swing on the cable wire near the kitchen window, it's a fantastic feast for eyes!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tips to Pilgrimage to Prayag-Varanasi and Gaya P.R.Ramachander


I just collected the information from this Gentleman and from others also. 

Tips to Pilgrimage to Prayag-Varanasi and Gaya
P.R.Ramachander

Every Brahmin in Tamil Nadu and Kerala like people in all other states of India
believe that in their life time , they should at least once visit Allahabad, Varanasi and
Gaya and give sacred oblations to their ancestors. Only people who have started
performing Sraddhas to their father can do this. Other people no doubt can visit these
places and visit the most holy temples there but cannot do the rites to the ancestors.

It is essential for the people with such intentions to do it in the proper religious way
and go there accompanied by their wife (if she is alive) and do it without being exploited
and do it as comfortably as possible. If younger brothers accompany the elder brothers,
the eldest brother on their behalf would do most of the ceremonies and the younger
brothers need not do these ceremonies again.

First Step: Visit to Rameshwaram

The first step in this pilgrimage is to go to Rameshwaram, perform the Sraddha
there, followed by Samudhra and Theertha Snana. After doing Samudhra Snana, we
would be asked to bring sand from the sea. This is made in to three Siva Lingas-Sethu
Madhava, Veni Madhava and Bindhu Madhava.After pooja the Linga representing Sethu
Madhava is put back in to the sea. The priest then asks you to repeat the Sankalpa to the
Varanasi-Prayag-Gaya pilgrimage. The sand lingas of Veni Madhava has to be deposited
in the Prayag (Allahabad) and that of Bindhu Madhava in Varanasi.Then Sraddha to the
ancestors is performed there. Instead of Pinda (cooked rice balls) in this place the pinda is
made of wet uncooked rice.

The following are the addresses of the few priests who help us doing the ceremony in
Rameshwaram:-
Sri.Kalyana Sundara Sastrigal,
New street,
Rameswaram -623526(Phone:04573-222068)
Sri.Surya Muthy Deekshithar
95, South end street,
Rameshwaram=623526,(Phone 04573-222302
Sri Sethu Rama Sastrigal
40 North end street,
Rameswaram -623526(Phone 04573-222056)
Sri.Sethu Rama Iyer,
15, East Car street,
Rameswaram-623526(Phone 04573-22083)
Rameshwaram is easily accessible from Madras, Coimbatore, and Palakkad by trains
and from Madurai by Bus.
Second step :Planning visit to Prayag, Varanasi and Gaya
.,.,.,.,.,.,.,..,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,..,.,,.,..,
It is essential to plan this journey in advance. Rainy season, late Summer and Winter
are not very suitable for doing a comfortable pilgrimage. The first place to visit according
to Shastras is Allahabad, then Varanasi and then Gaya. People coming from the south
India can take a direct ticket to Varanasi and break their journey at Allahabad. They can
proceed from there to Varanasi after the ceremonies either the same day or next day by
another train. Since it is only a few hours journey reservation is not necessary. There are
umpteen trains from Allahabad to Varanasi.The ceremonies is then be done in
Varanasi(A minimum of two days) and then in Gaya(minimum one day)..

It is preferable to reserve the ticket from Varanasi to Gaya and back before the start of the journey.,
Please note that the ceremonies in Gaya take about 6 hours starting in the morning. given
So It is essential to reach Gaya in the morning. People who know Gaya warn us not to
leave the railway station before day break. Since theft is rampant in the train, it would be
better not to carry any costly ornaments .Buddha Gaya which is 10 miles from Gaya is a
nice tourist spot. If reservation is done by night train from Gaya to Varanasi, this can also
be visited .After return from Gaya, Ganga Pooja and Dhampathi Pooja are to be
performed in Varanasi. For that we should carry with us Veshti and Uthariyam, Padinettu
Muzha Pudavai and Blouse piece, Many people also carry with them Thali, Metti etc for
the Dampathi Poojai.

In essence the following articles should be purchased and carried with us:-

1.Veshtis and Uttariyams-5 (4 to be given in Gaya and one for Dampathi pooja)
2.9 Yard saree –1
3.Blouse pieces –more than 5
4.Thali. Metti. Bangles, mirror, Bindi for Dampathi Pooja
5.A torch (in these parts good part of the night there will be no electricity)
Third step::Ceremonies in Prayag

The ceremonies in Prayag are arranged by
Sri.S.Natesa Sastrigal
Shiva Mutt,
Daragunj,
Near daragunj Police station,
Allahabad
Phone: 0532-2500799.

There are comfortable rooms in the Mutt. Sometimes there may be heavy rush and so it
is essential that this organizer is informed about our visit. The other alternative is to
request the priest who does the ceremonies for us in Varanasi to inform the Shiva Mutt
about our programme .
The ceremonies to be performed are
1.Sankalpam,
2.Putting of sand brought from Rameshwaram in the river.
3.Veni Dhanam,
4.Bath in the Triveni Sangamam
5.Taking of pure Ganga Water for taking home
6.Vastra Dhanam
7.Hiranya Sraddham and Kshetra Pinda Dhanam.
8.Visit to Veni Madhava temple

1.Sankalpam
After the initial Pooja and sankalpam each wife who has accompanied her husband
should recite the Manthras and pray for permission to do Veni Dhanam so that all her sins
of being born as a woman are excused and she may be permitted to lead a happy long
married life with her husband.She asks for permission to do this from her husband as well
as Sumangalis. While asking permission from Sumangalis, theyare normally presented
with Blouse piece, mirror, thambolam, comb, Kumkum etc. Each couple doing Veni
Dhanam is charged separately for this sankalpam. When we went there recently we were
charged Rs.200 per head.

2.Putting of sand brought from Rameshwaram
The sand linga of Veni Madhava brought from Rameshwaram is mixed in Ganga.

3.Veni Dhanam
This is essentially offering a small piece of cut hair by the sumangali to the river. For
this the couple have to proceed to the platform erected in the place where Ganga,
Saraswathy and Yamuna merge with each other. The Panda who presides over each
platform gives the help for the ceremony. Both the boatman and panda have fixed
charges. It is better to enquire about this in Shiva Mutt itself. It is also necessary to take a
can with us to collect pure Ganges water from River Ganga before it merges with River
Yamuna.

On the platform there is a very brief ceremony. The scissor used to cut the hair is
worshipped and the husband is asked to make the pleats of the hairs of his wife. A small
portion at the end is cut and deposited in the river. Unlike normal this hair sinks in the
river. After this holy bath is taken in the confluence of the three rivers. As is the practice
in all pilgrimage spots the touts try to extract as much money as possible. All are
requested to be very careful and follow the instruction of the priest at Shiva Mutt.
After return from the river, it is necessary to visit the Veni Madhava Temple near by.
The clothes worn by all people who took the threertha snanam are discarded and given as
Dhana

.After the Veni Dhanam eldest brother of the family performs pinda pradhana and
Hiranya Sraddham. Seventeen Pindas are made. They are dedicated to three generation of
late ancestors in the fathers side and mothers side (Father, Paternal grand father, Paternal
great Grand father, Mother(If she is alive then paternal grand mother), grand mother(If
mother is alive great grand mother), great grand mother(If mother is alive great great
grand mother), maternal grand father, maternal great grand father, maternal great great
grand father, maternal grand mother, Maternal great grand mother, Maternal great great
grand mother receive their oblations in the form of one pinda each.(12 in all) Then
Karunika Pithrus (that is Persons who become our Pithrus by reason) , those who died in
the family without children, those who died in the family in Kasi, those who died without
getting water and those who died without getting food all receive their oblations. Once
the Pinda Pradhanam ceremony is over the pindas are fed to the cow. Arrangement are
made for food in the Mutt on payment. In our case we paid Rs 350/ for the pinda
pradhanam, and Rs 200/ each for the Veni dhana Sankalpam, Rs 25/= to the boatman, Rs
50/- for each couple to the Panda, The mutt charged us Rs 30/- per head for food.

Fourth Step:Ceremonies at Varanasi
The following ceremonies have to be performed in Varanasi:-
1.Sankalpam and Tharpanam
2.Manikarnika snanam
3,Hiranya sraddham
4.Pancha theertha sraddham
5.Ganga Pooja
6.Dampathi Pooja

Instead of Hiranya Sraddham Parvanika sraddham with homam can also be
performed.It is also believed that Dhanam given in the shores of Ganges is very
effective.These are left to the people themselves.
There are several priests in Varanasi who help us to conduct these in a proper way.
They also help us to conduct the ceremonies at Gaya where they have to depute a cook
with materials to help us perform Sraddham there. It is essential that we come to an
agreement on the charges for performing the ceremonies at Gaya and Varanasi with the
priest in Varanasi.They also provide us rooms for stay and food (on separate charges) on
all the days. And help us arrange for transportation. On all the days of the stay it is
essential that we take rice food only once and take Palaharams in the evening.
Some of the addresses of the priests are:-
1.Sri,V,Krishna Murthy Ganapadigal,
B 5/311 , Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
Phone:0542-2310134
Fax:0542-2275173
E-mail rshiv_kumar@satyam.net.in
rshiv_kumar_73@yahoo.com
Contact at Chennai
8. SBI Colony Extn,
Nanganallur,
Chennai-600061
Phone: 22331232
2.Sri.R.Nanda Kumar,
B 5/304, Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
Phone:0542-22310384
3.Sri.Narayana Iyer
Kanchi Sankara Madam,
B 5/5/304, Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
Phone 0542-23116115
0542-2277758
4.Sri.Angarai Venkata Krishna Ganapadigal,
B 4/53. Bhajan mutt,
Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
Phone:0542-2313682
5.Sri.Mani Vadhyar,
Kerala Mutt,
Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
6.Sri.Rama Ganapadigal,
Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
7.Sri.Raju Vadhyar(Electrical Raju)
Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001
8.Sri Maha deva Ganapadigal,
B5/309 Hanuman Ghat,
Varanasi-221001 Phone 0542-2277117
9.Sri Ganesa Ganapadigal,
Narayana Patasala, B 5/304 A Awadgarbhi,
Hanuman Ghat Varanasi-221001
Phone 0542-2276732

The charges vary a lot. When we went there , we heard rates from Rs6000/ for a
package to Varanasi and Gaya to Rs.10000/-. This does not include boat and transport
charges and expenses on travel and food. Depending on the capacity to spend this can be
arranged.
1.Sakalpam and Tharpanam
This is done at the outset. It is interesting to know that Varanasi is referred in the
Samkalpam as the forest of joy (Ananda Vanam) and Maha Smasanam(great cremation
ground).During the sankalpam the possible sins which can be committed by an
individual are listed out and prayer is made to pardon them.The remaining sand from
Rameswaram is mixed in the Ganges here.

2.Mani Karnika snanam
After this we are taken in a boat (charges extra) to Manikarnika Ghat.Near Manikarnika
Ghat is the Chakra Theertham.After Bathing in Manikarnika Ghat we have to bathe in
Chakra Theertham also .It is believed that Lord Vishnu created this Theertham even
before Ganges started flowing and did Thapas there for 50000 years. There is the temple
of Bindhu Madhava near this Ghat This temple also needs to be visited.. Also the biggest
and holiest cremation Ground in Kasi is adjoining this Ghat.

3.Hiranya Sradham
After this one Hiranya Sraddham is performed.
1-3 are performed continuously and take about 2-3 hours.
4.Pancha Theertha Sraddham

Sradham and Pinda Dhanam is performed at the following ghats:-
1.Assi Ghat- Here the river Asi joins the river Ganga
2.Dashwamedha Ghat –The Rudra Sarovar mixes with Ganga in this ghat.
3.Varuna Ghat- The waters which washes God Vishnu’s feet is suppose to merge in
Ganga in this Ghat
4.Pancha Ganga Ghat- Here the waters of the five rivers of Dharmanadha, Dhoodhapapa,
Kirana, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi is suppose to merge.It is believed that the bath
here is holiest.
5.Mani Karnika Ghat
After performing the Pinda Pradhanam(preparing cooked rice, forming in to balls and
then telling the manthra with sprinkling of Thil and offering it in the Ghat), we are taken
to each Ghat .Like Prayag here also seventeen Pindas are made each time. By the time
one reaches the next ghat, the pinda for that Ghat is cooked and gets ready. In each ghat
we have to take bath and do Pinda Pradhanam. .This is repeated till we do the ceremony
in all the five Ghats.

Bathing in some Ghats have become very difficult due to the extreme slippery nature of
the Ghat and the depth of water near it. In such Ghats Sankalpa snana is performed.

5.Ganga Pooja ( 5-6 Normally after the Gaya visit)
This is the worshipping of the river Ganga.It is believed that before this we visit the
temples of Lord Kasi Viswanatha, Goddess Annapurna, Goddess Visalakshi, Lord Kala
Bhairava,Lord Dhanda Pani, Goddess Kaudi Bai, Durga Kund, Sankat Mochan Hanuman
and other important temples.(Please note that visit to these temples is at our expense and
does not come under the contract amount) The pooja is directly performed to the river
,Oblations of Milk , Curd etc are directly poured in to the river besides Coins. It is also a
practice to offer new Vasthra (nowadays blouse pieces) to the river.

6.Dhampathi Pooja
An old learned couple is worshipped as God and Goddess. Normally Veshti and
Angavastram to the male and 9 yards sari to the wife is given. It is a practice to give the
Lady whom we worship all the signs of a sumangali like Thali, Bangles, metti, Comb,
Mirror etc,This brings to an end the ceremonies at Varanasi , Gaya and Allahabad, .This
Pooja is preferably performed after the Sraddha at Gaya .People who can afford can also
do Dasa Dhana, Godhan etc because it is considered that done at Varanasi they are very
efficacious.

Fifth Step:Gaya Sraddham
.
It is believed that once upon a time there was an Asura called Gayasura .He did
penance and demanded as a boon that whosoever touches him would directly go to
heaven. Due to his boon , the hell became empty and heaven over crowded. Then Lord
Brahma requested the Asura for permission to perform Yagna on his body.After this
Yagna, he demanded that who ever does Piinda Pradhan there and satisfies the Gaya
Brahmins would send all his ancestors to heaven. There are two very holy spots for the
Hindus where Pinda Pradhan is done.(47 or 65 pindas are made according to mother is
alive or not). They are The Vishnu Padha and the Akshaya Vata.At Vishnu Pada, the rice
has to be cooked by ourselves.and at Akshaya Vata the Pindas of the Sraddham done is
offered. Since there is no south Indian cook available in Gaya.This cook is sent along
with us (at his expense) by the Sastrigal who arranges the trip.He also sends along with
the cook all essentials for cooking. In Vishnu padha Pinda dhan is first done. Pindas are
dedicted to any of your relatives , teachers, pets and so on. It is better that a list is taken
with us because , it would be difficult to remember all of them instantly.
The Pindas cooked in the waters of holy river Phalguni after bath in the river are put
directly on the Vishnu Padha. Afterwards a full scale Sraddha is performed with homam
(Parvana Sradham) and four Gaya Brahmins are fed. Then the pindas of this sraddham
are put in The Akshaya Vata. A Pooja also is performed to this tree.One Gaya Brahmin is
asked whether he is satisfied by our performance of rites and he answers in the
affirmative. It is also a practice to take a vow to stop using a vegetable, a fruit and a leaf
below the Akshaya Vata.

There is just one south Indian Shastri in Gaya and he does not have any infrastructure
.So contract for performance of rites at Gaya has necessarily done at Varanasi. However
the help for performance of the rites are available in Sringeri Mutt, Kanchi Mutt in Gaya
This pilgrimage is complete only when along with the Ganga water collected from
Prayag we again visit Rameswaram and do Abhishekam to Ramanatha Swami there.

contd............,

Carrot Cake

Serves: 8
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour 
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Oven Temperature: 180 c  -  360 f

Ingredients
180 g self raising flour
350 g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs
220 g grated raw carrot
1 tsp salt
300 ml sunflower oil
for the frosting:
180 g cream cheese
180 g melted butter
220 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
Method
1. Preheat the oven
2. Sieve together 175g self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 
1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
3. Put 300ml oil in a large bowl and beat with 350g the sugar. 
Beat in 3 eggs one at a time, then fold in the dry ingredients 
and stir in 225g grated carrot.
4. Place the mixture in the tin, level off the top, and bake for 45 mins. 
Then turn the oven down to 170C/325F/gas 3 for a further 20 mins. 
When it's done, take the cake out of the oven and cool in the tin for 5 mins. 
Then remove from the tin to cool on a wire rack.
5. While the cake is cooling, beat together the 175g cream cheese and 175g butter 
and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence. 
Gradually add 225g sieved icing sugar until the mixture is stiff but spreadable.
6. When the cake is cool, split it in half horizontally and use the icing 
to sandwich it back together and cover the top.

I have not tried it's just from the mail. 

Ugadi, Gudhi Padwa


 Ugadi , the arrival of the new year  is celebrated by the people of Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka,whereas   Gudhi Padwa marks the beginning of New Year in Maharashtra.

Gudhi Padwa is considered one of the
most auspicious days to start new ventures.

The legend goes that  Lord Brahma, created the world on this day and so he is worshiped specially at this time.Lord Vishnu too is said to have incarnated as Matsya, the fish, on this day.

A gudi (banner) with a swastika -marked metal pot and silk cloth is raised to announce victory and joy.

As done everywhere people prepare for the New Year by cleaning and washing their houses and buying new clothes. On the festival day they decorate their houses with mango leaves / asoka leaves the thoran  and 'rangoli' designs, and pray for a prosperous new year to bring happiness, and prosperity with good health  and visit the temples to get the Blessings og God. Some also visit the temples and other association community centres to  listen to the yearly calendar 'Panchangasravanam' as priests make predictions given as per the panchangams for the year.

Traditionally bitter leaves of the neem tree with jaggery were given as Prasad of Ugadi/Gudhi Padwa symbolising the life with good and bad events.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Malai Kofta


A dish for special occassions, Malai Kofta is the vegetarian alternative to meatballs. It goes very well with naans (tandoor-baked flatbread) or Jeera Rice.

Ingredients:

  • For the koftas:
  • 2 cups peeled and diced boiled potatoes
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables (carrots, beans, peas, sweet corn) boiled
  • 1 cup paneer cubes
  • 2 tbsps of thickened/ heavy/ double cream
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts and cashewnuts)
  • 1/4 raisins chopped fine
  • Salt to taste
  • Vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil to fry the koftas
  • For the sauce:
  • 3 tbsps vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil
  • 2 large onions quartered
  • 2 tomatoes quartered
  • 2 tbsps garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 2 tsps coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds lightly roasted and ground into a powder
  • 3 tbsps nuts (cashews and almonds) ground into a thick paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsps garam masala

Preparation:

  • Mash the potatoes, mixed vegetables, paneer and cream together. Add the kofta spices to this mash and mix well. The resulting dough should be firm. If not add some more boiled potato. Season with salt.
  • Make this dough into balls and put 1/2 a tsp of the nut and raisin mix in the center of each ball. Roll into perfect rounds.
  • Heat the oil kept aside to fry the koftas, on a medium flame. Deep fry these rounds till pale golden in colour.
  • Drain on paper towels and keep aside.
  • For the gravy, first heat the 3 tbsps of oil in a deep pan and fry the onions till light brown.
  • Grind into a paste along with the tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin and red chilli powders.
  • Put this paste back into the pan and fry till the oil begins to separate from the masala.
  • Add the poppy seeds powder and nut paste and fry for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add 1 cup of warm water (the sauce for this dish is meant to be thick so do not add too much water) to this masala to form a sauce/gravy. Mix well. Season with salt.
  • Bring the sauce/gravy to a boil and then reduce the fire to a simmer.
  • Gently add the kofas to this sauce/gravy and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes.
  • Turn off the fire and sprinkle the garam masala all over the top of the dish. Cover immediately and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  • Serve with hot Naans (tandoor-baked leavened Indian flatbread) or Jeera Rice.

Gujiya

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- Ingredients For Gujiya:
1. Maida or all purpose flour 1 cup
2. Ghee or clarified butter half cup
3. Sugar 2 tablespoons
4. Coconut (grated) 1 cup
5. Almonds (sliced) 1 tablespoon
6. Raisins or kishmish 1 tablespoon
7. Pistachios (chopped) 1 tablespoon
8. Cashew (sliced) 1 tablespoon
9. Chironji or charoli 1 teaspoon
10. Cardamom powder 1 teaspoon
11. Kesar or saffron 1 pinch (for colouring)
12. Oil for deep frying (half of the pan)


Procedure For Gujiya:Pour the ghee over the maida and add half a cup of water to it. Knead a fluffy dough out of this to make the outer covering of your sweets. 
If you want to add colour to your dish then grind a few strands of kesar add add it to the dough for red colour.
 For green you can try fine powdered pista. 
Mix all the other ingredients except oil in amixing bowl so that the consistency becomes even.
 Now roll out 5-8 flat breads (puris) from the dough and add spoonfuls of the filling to it. 
Roll it into halves and seal the edges of the puri with your fingers. 
Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan and when it is piping hot release the gujiyas in it.
 It will float up while frying on medium flame and when it is golden brown strain it.