The Banyan tree is one of the most magical trees – not only in the way its aerial roots create an astounding structure, but also in the properties that each and every part of the tree holds. It is one of the few elements in nature which is useful in every single aspect. This is the reason that the Banyan tree is the National tree of India.
One of the largest trees named the Great Banyan can be found Kolkata in India. It is said to be over two hundred and fifty years old. Another such tree can be found in Bangalore and has a spread of over 2 acres.
Here’s an interesting fact about this tree: Originally from India, this tree received its name from the Banias or Indian traders who sat below the tree shades. Village meetings and other useful gatherings would also take place in its shade, thereby giving it its name.
In Indian culture, the Banyan tree is considered to be sacred and leaves of the tree is considered to be the resting place of god Krishna. In fact, it is also believed that Buddha achieved enlightenment while sitting under a Banyan tree. There are various uses of the Banyan tree. From medicinal to recreational – there’s no part of life in which this tree doesn’t aid humanity.
Let’s have a look at some of the multiple uses the Banyan tree has…
- The Banyan tree is still used as a source of shade in many villages.
- Each and every part of this tree has its own unique medical uses.
- The bark and seeds can be used as a tonic to maintain body temperature and treat diabetes.
- The roots can be used to strengthen your teeth and gums by brushing with them.
- The sap treats external skin bruising and inflammation.
- Skin disease treatment is also possible with some properties of Banyan tree.
- Shellac has a large number of roles in making adhesive and surface finishes.
- Using the bark of the tree, paper can be created.
- Fiber can also be made from the bark of the tree in order to create ropes.
- Women from the Indo-Nepal region crush the prop root to paste and apply it to their hair. This keeps hair healthy and shiny
- The wood is soft and often used as firewood.
- Even the leaves are useful and are used as natural biodegradable plates to serve food on.
More than 90 years after the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre occurred on April 13, 1919, the wounds still remain open with blood-curdling memories; especially for the pre-independence generation. The unwarranted killings of hundreds of men, women and children, in cold blood at Amritsar, by a group of British soldiers, was described by Mahatma Gandhi as having shaken the foundations of the British Empire.
The massacre was ordered by General R.E.H. Dyer on the day of Baisakhi, one of the largest festivals of Punjab, where an estimated 15 to 20 thousand revellers of all religions had gathered to commemorate the day that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699. Surrounded by houses and buildings, the Jallianwala Bagh had very narrow entrances, most of which were locked at all times. The relatively wider main entrance was guarded by troops, which opened fire without warning, and continued to fire until the ammunition was exhausted. The troops had received orders to shoot at the densest section of the crowd.
Apart from the hundreds who died of direct shooting, there were several who lost their lives in stampedes at the narrow gates and many died jumping into the solitary well inside the bagh, to escape firing. It is unimaginable what the casualties would have been had the armored vehicles armed with machine guns, brought by General Dyer, been able to get past the narrow entrances to the bagh.
The firing that lasted for about 6 minutes, left destruction and devastation behind, with over 1000 innocent people including children losing their lives and left thousands of other injured and scarred.
Back in his headquarters, General Dyer reported that he had been confronted by a revolutionary army. However, the massacre evoked feelings of deep anguish and anger amongst people and catalysed the freedom movement in Punjab. This, later paved way for Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement against the British in 1920.
Holi, a festival of colors, is celebrated with great fervor all over the nation. A celebration of the triumph of good over evil, a riot of colors, an occasion for people to come together and as an ancient spring tradition, Holi celebrations have many aspects. Families and friends are seen to come out on the streets in numbers and spray each other with colored water with their even more colorful pichkaris. People of diverse Indian culture and custom celebrate Holi differently and the celebrations are typical to each state.
In Barsana near Mathura in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Holi is celebrated in an unusual manner where one can see crowds of men, cowering before women striking them with bamboo sticks. Men taking advantage of the opportunity the festival grants them, spray women with colored water and powder and provocative language and the women retaliate by raining blows on the men with sticks.
Indian cultural facts talk about a story that Lord Krishna who lived in Nandgaon, another village in Uttar Pradesh, is believed to have come to Barsana to tease Radha and her friends, when he was driven away by the women with sticks. Thus the tradition of lathmar holi.
Another age-old tradition associated with holi celebrations is drinking thandai, a cooling drink made with a mixture of dried fruits and certain spices, laced with ‘bhang’, prepared from the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant. Consumption of bhang, the drink known to have been patronized by Lord Shiva, is a tradition followed by most holi revellers today.
The spirit of Holi encourages the feeling of brotherhood in society with people of all communities and religions participating in this joyous and colorful festival to strengthen the secular fabric of the nation.
One of the most sacred temples of Lord Shiva around the world, with its astounding beauty, stands a symbol of faith, religion, culture and tradition – The Pashupatinath temple. Tradition says it was constructed by Pashupreksha of the Somadeva Dynasty in the 3rd century B.C.; however there have been many legends in Indian mythology describing as to how the temple of Lord Pashupatinath came into existence. The present temple is the subtle work of architecture with its gold-plated roof, bejeweled doors, floral motifs and woodcarvings of the finest quality. The Pashupatinath temple is listed in UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
Standing about 24 meters above the ground, in the middle of an open courtyard, on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, the Pashupatinath temple is a square, two-tiered structure called a pagoda. On both sides of the richly ornamented, silver plated doors adorning each side, are niches containing gold-painted images of the guardian deities. In the central sanctum of the temple, is a 3 feet high, four faced Shivlinga with images of Vishnu, Surya, Devi and Ganesha. Outside sits the largest statue of Nandi the bull, the vehicle of Shiva.
Several festivals associated with ancient Indian culture are celebrated at the Pashupatinath temple. On auspicious occasions like HaribodhaniEkadashi, Balachaturdashi, Sankranti, Mahashivratri, TeejAkshaya, Rakshabandhan, Grahana (eclipse), Poornima (Full moon day) the temple takes on a festive atmosphere with thousands of devotees from different parts of Nepal and India visiting to pay homage to Lord Shiva.
A 45 minutes bus journey from Kathmandu and one is at the most sacred adobe of Lord Shiva.
Spelling peace and tranquility, the very word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, which means to join or unite; a union of the individual self with the cosmic consciousness. Despite almost a century of research, the earliest beginnings of yoga are unknown, and although it is said to be as old as the rise of complex civilization, there is no physical evidence to support this claim. However, what we do know is that yoga originated in India almost 5,000 years ago.
The discovery of the Indus civilization, the largest civilization in early antiquity in the early 1920s was a surprise sprung upon the world by archaeologists. Depictions on soapstone seals strongly resembling yogi-like figures and many other finds show the amazing continuity between that civilization and later Hindu society and culture.
The history of yoga can be broadly categorized into Vedic, Pre-classical, Classical and Post-classical. Vedic Yoga or Archaic Yoga, had people believing in a ritualistic way of life where they turned to rishis or Vedic yogis for illumination. In its pre-classical period, yoga found its way into Buddhism, with Lord Buddha being the first to learn yoga.
The history of modern yoga is widely believed to have begun at the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago in 1893, when the then young Swami Vivekananda made a big and lasting speech that left a sizeable impression on the American and global public.
With its physical, emotional, spiritual and mental benefits, yoga has been India’s greatest contribution to the world. The importance of yoga in Indian culture has spread to the world, indeed a gift of love from India!
A vital part of Indian culture is respecting nature as well as diverse religions. This secular country has a strong belief in the divinity of animals, especially the ones referred to in Indian mythology and ancient Indian culture scripts and texts.
The cow, for example, is considered to be one of the holiest animals in India. In fact, it is revered so much that the slaughter of the animal is banned throughout the country. The cow is treated as a God who has taken the form of an animal. It is fed, nurtured and can often be found in and around temples.
The monkey is considered to be a form of Hanuman – the God of power and strength. Serpents are also important as they can be seen worn around the neck of Shiva as an ornament. The worship of serpent deities can be seen in several old cultures, Hinduism being one of them.
The elephant has an important presence in Indian culture. For one, it is the vehicle of Indra. Secondly, Ganesha – the elephant-headed God – is one of the most beloved deities in India. He is considered to be the deity of success and education and can be found to be worshiped by people across the country.
Tigers and Lions are the vehicle of Hindu deity MaaDurga, and are also looked upon as sacred. Apart from the religious beliefs associated with it, the Royal Bengal Tiger in all its strength and glory is also the National Animal of India.
Kids are likely to pick up the culture they are most exposed to. Living in a foreign land, it becomes difficult to have your children learn their native culture. Let’s look at a few ways to induce Indian culture and etiquette in your kids.
Indian culture is vibrant. Let them experience different aspects of it. Visit an Indian folk dance with them, or expose them to ancient Indian culture through art. They are also likely to enjoy the food – it’s in their genes after all! You can either cook it yourself or visit one of the many restaurants that provide Indian food for kids. Don’t hesitate to wear Indian clothes. All children reach an age where they need to find their own identity, and fashion is an easy way to get through to them.
While planning your vacations, keep India in mind. The country is geographically, and culturally diverse. Your children can see everything from a desert to a snow-land, a super-urban city to a village, in India.
Following festivals is also an important part of inducing Indian culture and etiquette among your kids. Be it Diwali or Holi, there is a joy in learning about and celebrating different festivals.
Most importantly, don’t force too much upon your kids. They have a mind of their own and sometimes reject things that are forced too strongly upon them. Instead, keep in mind that children are most likely to learn by example, so make sure you incorporate Indian culture into your life so that they can learn from their earliest role models.
Probably one of the oldest attires ever invented in India, Saree is the traditional outfit of most Indian women, beautiful, enchanting and comfortable at the same time. An unstitched length of fabric, usually six to nine yards long is draped around the body to gracefully decorate the female form. Worn with traditional or modern jewellery, and matched with a lovely blouse, the beauty and grace of a saree is second to no other Indian outfit.
Thanks to the advent of fashion, the saree has undergone several changes over the years, in the manner in which it is draped around the body. Those new to this Indian garb would probably be amazed to know that this six yards length of fabric can be worn in a zillion ways, with each community and region in India having their own style of draping it.
Women In Indian Costume
In the western state of Maharashtra for example, the traditional saree form is called navvari which literally translates to nine yards. This form of saree looks like a man’s dhotifrom behind and looks extremely beautiful worn with traditional gold or pearl jewellery, especially the nose pin. In Gujarat the saree is worn with pleats in the front facing the right. Pleats are made by gathering a portion of the saree and folding it symmetrically into small sections. It is worn with apetticoat which is a waist-to-floor garment, tied tightly at the waist by a drawstring. The pallu which a section of the is worn over the right shoulder in Gujarat and Rajasthan, unlike in many other states where it is draped over the left shoulder. In Bengal the saree is draped around the body without any pleats, due to the influence of strong traditions and a simple lifestyle. Towards south, in Coorg, the Saree is pleated at the back and forms a fan at the rear, witha small section of the Pallu tucked in.
Irrespective of the style of draping it, the saree is one of the most beautiful and elegant outfits which is now also doing the rounds of international ramps.
While craving for a sweet dish, your first instinct might be to reach out for a candybar or some icecream, but you haven’t really tasted ‘sweet’ until you’ve tried jalebi. Known by different names around the India (and the world), this sweet dish is known as the most popular and the most scrumptious sweet within the Indian community. Easy to prepare and delightful on the palette, jalebi is also known as Jilawii or Jalibi. In India, Gujaratis love to indulge in it with Sambharo and fried chillies, especially during a Sunday brunch.
Specially when you’re thinking about Indian food for kids, jalebi should be first to pop into your head. This sweet delight made up of never ending circles is popular among the kids not only for its take but also the joy of chomping down on them while holding them in your hands. The origins of the dish can be traced back to ancient India where it was called Kundalika. You can even find the earliest references to it in ancient cook books dating as far back as the 13th century. In the early 1900s it was used to hold ice cream, and at some point of time was also considered to be a remedy for headaches.
Today, with everything else put aside, it is accepted as the celebration sweet of India and enjoyed by Indians around the world, who love sweets as well as Indian culture. It’s crispy core and sweet syrupy exterior delight tastebuds and help Indians revel in celebrations across the world.
Tracing its origin to the ritual dances performed in temples of ancient Northern India, Odissi dance is a classical dance form from the eastern part of India, Orissa. Using their head, bust and torso in soft flowing movements to express specific moods and emotions, the temple dancers or devdasis were known to perform this dance form with extreme grace.
Temples and performers began losing their patronage of feudal rulers and the decline of princely states in the 1930s and 40s left very few practitioners of the art. Initially seen as a dance performed only in temples by specific performers, the Odissi dance form saw a major change of official attitude post independence, and there was an increase in Governmental and non-Governmental patronage. A massive job of reconstruction of this beautiful art began which included going through ancient texts. The result is that today Odissi is a well established and codified dance form of India.
Odissi, complete with aesthetic and technical details, like any other dance form, has its own costumes or jewellery. Locally made Sambalpuri or Kotki saree is draped to create a fan-shaped structure in the front and white metal jewellery including earrings that cover the entire ear resembling a peacock feather, completes the attire. Music of Orissa accompanies the dance. The highlighting feature of Odissi is the unique postures created by the head, bust and torso and performances are replete with tales of the eighth incarnation of Vishnu and his avatar of Lord Krishna.
Odissi dance is an epitome of fluid grace and has a distinctively appealing lyrical quality.