Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Republic Day

Republic Day is one of three national Indian holidays. It is the anniversary of the day India enacted it's own constitution in 1950, kicking out Britain's Government of India Act (1935). This is no small feat considering the Constitution of India came into effect 3 years after independence in 1947.

Why do I care?

Because there's a PARADE!

The guest of honor is usually a foreign dignitary hosted by the President of India (yes, India has a president AND a prime minister!). To show off India's military might, the parade walks several regiments of the Indian armed forces, tanks, planes and missiles through New Delhi. It starts at the presidential palace, passes by the Delhi Gate and ends at Red Fort. It also showcases regional cultures with floats and performers that follow the military procession.

The anthem of the day is, "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara," a patriotic song that debuted on Republic Day in 1988. The song is composed of the single line repeated in several different Indian languages. "Mile sur mera tumhara," roughly meaning 'mine and your tunes meet.'

This year the song was rewritten and expanded to triple the time of the original. The song went from something simple and catchy into a trendy Bollywood musical interlude. I can't say I'm not proud of the Punjabi-Sikh section at 4:50... but you can probably skip the rest. :)


Awesome blog post on the epic MSMT2 fail

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Biji Rating: Book of Eli

Let's do something new. I'm going to rate this movie by how appropriate it would be to watch it with Biji, my grandma.

"Determined to salvage a sacred text in order to protect humanity, Eli (Denzel Washington) goes on a quest across the country in this action-packed sci-fi adventure. Meanwhile, a blind woman named Claudia (Jennifer Beals) tries to protect her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis). It seems that tyrannical town bully Carnegie (Gary Oldman) has taken a shine to the girl. Directed by the Hughes brothers, the film co-stars Ray Stevenson."

--Netflix via Short Reviews

I give the Book of Eli a 4/5 Biji rating. You could probably watch this with your grandma in the room and not have to fast forward any scenes or get tsked at for watching 'gandh.' But she'd eventually wander off bored. She would in no way understand the twist at the end. I'm sure she would appreciate the women as property motif. The almost-rape scenes are really reminiscent of Bollywood until the late 90s. What makes this movie great is the hero who comes save the day.

Pros: Clear protagonist, straightforward story line, great action scenes, no nudity or kissing.

Cons: Lacking color, no music scenes and lots of bloody violence.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lohri: Bonfire night!

Lohri, pronounced almost as Lohrdi, is a Punjabi festival meant to be celebrated on the longest night of the year. It falls on January 13 (Mom's birthday :D).

Lohri originated in the villages of Punjab as a winter harvest festival. It signals the beginning of spring and the return of longer days. It's importance lies not only in celebration but in identifying when to harvest certain crops.

Celebrations involve a huge bonfire with singing and dancing. Moongphali (Peanuts) and popcorn are tossed into the fire as offerings. The origins of the festival boil down to a primitive fire worship, where fire signifies life, health and growth. Both Hindus and Sikhs celebrate the occasion. Although Hindus have few extra rituals--including building a replica lohri goddess out of cow dung--most other customs are the same.

A family who has had a birth (usually of a boy) or marriage within the last year typically hosts a lohri celebration at their home, or in a hall if in America. The bonfire lasts late into the night, revelers dance to bhangra and the women to giddha. The peanuts and popcorn crackle and explode in the fire, which is always fun to watch. The traditional meal served on Lohri is saag (spinach) and makki roti (maize chapatis), which is yummy any time of the year. :D

Singing songs related to Lohri is a custom not often practiced in America. In India, boys go door to door singing a rhyming, nonsensical song about the vagabond hero, Dulla Bhatti, in exchange for sweets. Refusing them is usually a bad omen for the coming year.

The hero, Dulla Bhatti, was a Muslim Robin Hood. He lived in the Punjabi countryside during Emperor Akbar's reign stealing from the rich and rescuing kidnapped damsels in distress. Upon their safe return the girls' families would not want to deal with their stained honor, so beloved Bhatti would arrange their marriages AND provide the dowry. So the rebel became a living legend.

The End


Lohri Festival

Lohri Songs
Dulla Bhatti
More Dulla Bhatti

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Raag: Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music developed as a way to preserve the Vedas. The Vedas are ancient Sanskrit texts which form the basis of Hinduism. Although Hinduism developed what we now know as Indian classical music it is widely used across the Indian subcontinent regardless of religion. There are two schools of Indian classical music: Karnatic (also spelled Carnatic) and Hindustani. Karnatic is practiced in south India, and Hindustani is practiced all along the north of the subcontinent. A big difference between the two traditions is that Hindustani is very strict on compositions of raag and Karnatic is more flexible.

A raag is a composition of swara ('notes') said to have risen from Shiva's voice as he orated to a congregation of Gods in the name of mankind. Swara each correspond to animal sounds in nature and include the infamous Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa and the oft forgotten Dha, Ni. A raag also contains rules on how and which notes can be changed or bent in the recital of the raag. The notes can be both played and sung. Raags are identified as male Raga and female Ragini which can be combined to form son and daughter raags. This familial imagery shows which raags are related and perhaps how they were derived.

The personification of the ragas also confers a demi-god association. It gives each raag a personality and a power, while also emphasizing the high regard Indian classical music earns amongst its people. For example, the raag Deepak if sung properly has the power to start a fire, or Megh has the power to start monsoons. Despite the many stories of the mythological prowess of raags, they do have the ability to illicit specific emotions and moods in the audience, such as anger, joy, disgust, etc. For this reason raags have in the past been restricted to being sung at specific times of the day.

So how does this all relate to Sikhism?

The individual hymns, or shabads, of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) were composed to and organized by raag. At the end of the SGGS is an index, the Raagmala ('String of Melodies') of all the raags that can be used in the recital of the Gurbani (literally 'Word of the Guru'). Each raag is associated with a specific time of day and sets a tone appropriate for that hour.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji used music to reach out to the people he preached to. Now kirtan, shabads in raag, is an important part of Sikh temple services. If you go for prayers make sure to enjoy the kirtan that is recited before the hukamnama. And enjoy it. :)

Further reading:

Raag @ Sikhwiki
SGGS @ Gurbani Files
Raga in SGGS @ Sikhwiki
Gurbani Raag
Dolls of India

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year, 2010!

Happy New Year! It is officially 2010. Congratulations, we have lived through the first decade of the new millennium.

The full moon fell on New Year's Eve. It was the second full moon of the month, which is called a blue moon. It does not mean it was tinged blue, just a coincidence. Sadly, nothing romantic happened. < / 3

Some people celebrated New Year's Eve by going out and partying, some by staying at home and watching the ball drop in New York City, and others went to prayer services.

Dad's tradition is to attend temple services at midnight every year. The only year he skipped it was when we found out my mamaji, my mom's brother, had died. He asks us to be relaxed and contemplative on the first and last day of the year. That's usually a hard task for four children.

We left for the Ceres gurdwara (temple) around 10:30. We arrived to a packed parking lot, people were parked sideways blocking entrances and wandering around outside. I have never seen the gurdwara so packed. This specific temple serves the congregations from Ripon, Modesto, Ceres and the overflow from Turlock, so it was understandably overflowing. I found a place to sit, but the body heat generated by the masses was unbearable.

The bhaijis (brothers) performing kirtan (singing hymns with musical instruments) sounded better than some we've had. They led us in a chant of Waheguru, which means 'God is great,' with a harmonium. Last year the head priest did so without any tune for five minutes, most people were bored. The actual service was short, but when it came time to mention the excruciatingly long list of people who had prayers done on that day during ardaas... well, I was ready to head back to 2009. We were out by 12:30, the sky was a little cloudy, but the moon was out and it was gorgeous.

I wish everyone the best in the coming year! Happy 2010.