Monday, August 15, 2011



It is a stunning debut novel by the author Jamil Ahmad, a septuagenarian and a retired member of the Civil Service of Pakistan and a gifted storyteller whose hallmarks are restraint and brevity. He takes us to the tribal areas where Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran seem to converge. These inhospitable areas are today hotbeds of conflicts and conspiracies. Mahsouds and Wazirs are two among many nomadic tribes who often clash with each other. It is the survival of the fittest. The protagonist is a young boy called Tor Baz (black falcon). He is the hunting falcon. He mingles with people of three different nationalities. Men who are fighting for their countries and women who have to honour their society’s code of conduct if they wish to survive. Who is Tor Baz.? From where did he come? And where shall fate take him? Is he a device or a metaphor than a character? It is a tightly plotted and engaging novel, superbly crafted by a writer who brings a high degree of tenderness and sensitivity in dealing with a complex subject of which he shows extraordinary knowledge and understanding.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Varalakshmi Vratam

This is a very important and sacred observance (Vratha) followed by pious Hindu married women seeking the blessings of Goddess Mahalakshmi (Varalakshmi-boon granting Goddess) for longevity for their husbands and wealth and happiness for the family. It is observed in the month of July/August in the Tamil month of Aadi on the Friday before the full moon. This year it fell on 12th August. It is a very common observance among married women in the Southern states and to some extent in Maharashtra and Orissa. According to Skanda Purana, Lord Shiva recommended to his wife Parvathi to observe the vratham to obtain wealth and prosperity.

Starting with cleaning of the house in the early hours of the morning, women decorate the entrance of their homes with mango leaf festoons and beautiful garlands. New clothes are worn on this occasion and women deck themselves with their best jewellery. The ceremony begins with Kalasha puja. A sacred pot (Kalasha) is worshipped,filled with water and kept on a mount of rice placed on a plaintain leaf. A thread is tied around the the kalasha. Sacred symbols are made on the kalasha by the purohit using vermillion paste. A coconut is placed in the centre of the sacred pot surrounded by mango leaves.Then the puja commences by worshipping Vishwaksena or Ganesha as the case may be. After completing the Vishwaksena Aaradhana or Ganesha Puja, holy water from the kalasha is sprinkled on all those present. After that, Mahalakshmi stotram, Laksmi Sahasranamam and Sri Suktham are chanted.Various food and fruit offerings are made to Mahalakshmi. Then an aarathi is performed.In the evening women are invited to get Mahalakshmi's blessings and partake of the prasadam.

Mahalakshmi is the consort of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu means pervading everywhere. And Mahalakshmi is symbolic of the forces pervading everywhere.There are eight forces of Mahalakshmi (Ashtalakshmi). These are known as Bhuh (earth), Sri (wealth), Saraswati (Learning), Keerthi (Fame), Shaanthi (Peace), Tushti (Pleasure), Preeti (Love) and Pushti (Strength). By worshipping Lakshmi we obtain good health, wealth and happiness which depend on these forces.

We were invited last Friday to a Varalakshmi Vratam evening by a good friend of ours.Her mother( her name was Lakshmi) observed this ritual every year from the time she was married till she passed away a few years back. Her daughter has picked up the mantle and has been continuing this tradition.