Posted in Art, Festivals

Children’s Day and the Black Carp

In Japan, black carp were known for their courage and strength, and streamers and banners  depicting these carp were used as symbols by samurai warriors. The streamers or ‘windsocks’ are known as Koinobori, while the carp are known as koi.

Today Koinobori are used on Children’s Day, 5 May. A pole is planted with a colourful streamer above, a black carp streamer below, representing the father, and then a red carp streamer for the mother, with smaller and different coloured streamers representing the children. Initially Children’s Day was known as Tango no sekku, or Boy’s Day, and was only to honour sons. It used to be celebrated according to the lunar calendar, but was fixed on 5 May, after Japan began using the lunar calendar. Girl’s Day was on 3 March. But in 1948, Boys Day was renamed Children’s Day, celebrating the happiness of both boys and girls, and 5 May became a national holiday.  Apart from carp streamers, a kintaro doll too is depicted, riding on a carp. Kintaro is a folk hero, a child with superhuman strength.  One of Kintaro’s fictional exploits, was the capture of a black carp.

In the Edo period , black carp were were popular with great artists who often depicted them in paintings or woodblocks.

Black carp have been selectively bred to create ‘brocade carp’. Selective breeding actually started in Japan in the 1820s, but today this has been refined, and these coloured carp are kept in ornamental ponds. White and red, known as Kohaku, are the most popular. Decorative carp are now avavilable across the world.

Masuji Ibuse [1898-1993], famous for his novel Black Rain, on the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, also wrote The Carp, a story of friendship. Crazy Iris [Kakitsubata] is another of his works on Hiroshima, a species of Iris distorted by radiation.

Posted in Festivals, Hardwar, India, Kumbh Mela, Uttarakhand

Ardh-Kumbh at Hardwar

The Ardh-Kumbh is scheduled to begin at Hardwar, Uttarakhand [India] on Makar Sankranti, 14 January 2016. Hundreds of thousands of people will arrive for this.
The newspapers are full of the arrangements for the Kumbh, the much needed revenue for the state that will be one of the results, and the problems that still exist.
Some interesting aspects:
The police to be deployed will be given a six-day crash course in English to enable them to help tourists. What will they learn in six days? The focus will be on asking questions with ‘five ws and an h’–where, when, what, who, why, and how. They will also learn to introduce themselves in English.
The railways: the number of trains on the Laksar-Hardwar route will be increased to 60, and there will be 40 additional ticketing windows.
The sewage problem: handling all the waste is a huge problem, and it is hoped the Ganga will not be further polluted.
The Pari akhara: a woman’s akhara may be allotted land for the first time, and the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad is against this.
Dev Prayaga: this has been included as a site for the kumbh for the first time, but there are few facilities there. The bridges over the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, the sources of the Ganga, are shaky, the ghats and changing rooms are not ready, and the chains haven’t been placed for pilgrims to hold on to while bathing in the icy river. Without these there is a danger of being washed away.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival, held in rotation at four sacred places, Prayaga ( Allahabad), Hardwar, Nashik, and Ujjain. At each place the festival takes place once in twelve years, while an Ardha-Kumbha, or half-Kumbha, is held every six years, and a Maha Kumbh every third year. Legends associate the festival with the churning of the ocean of milk for Amrita or divine nectar. When it finally emerged from the ocean the Asuras [beings opposed to the gods, often wrongly translated as demons] and Devas [gods], who had forgotten their enmity and joined together to get this nectar, now struggled for its possession. In the course of the struggle, twelve drops fell on the earth, four of them at the above places, and the Kumbh Mela commemorates this event.
Some date the Kumbh Mela to the time of Harshavardahana, a king who ruled over north India from 606-647 CE, but this is doubtful, as Harsha was a Buddhist. He did hold a large gathering at Prayaga [Allahabad] where a Buddha statue was set up on the first day, on the second day of Adityadeva or Surya, and on the third of Ishvaradeva or Shiva. Large amounts were distributed in charity to Buddhist monks, brahmanas, Jains, members of other sects, and wandering mendicants, after which alms were given to the poor, the orphans and the destitute, by which time Harsha’s entire treasury was exhausted.
According to other accounts, it was Shankara of the ninth century who first organised the Kumbh Mela.
Contemporary references to the Kumbh exist from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.
It is also originally said to have been a fertility festival, in which pots of grain were dipped in the river to ensure a good harvest. Each Kumbh Mela, spread over several weeks, is visited by lakhs of people, and it is considered particularly auspicious to bathe in the sacred river at these places.

Posted in Divali, Festivals, India

Celebrating Divali with Family and Friends!


This year, Divali was on 11 November. For days before houses were lit with flashing multi-coloured lights. Cracker bursting too had begun long before the 11th. On the 11th evening it reached a peak. The sky was lit with rockets, the road outside the house was aflame with sparklers, anars, and all sorts of fire-crackers. And the noise was deafening. After lighting a few diyas I came inside. On TV every actor and ‘important’ person went on about how wonderful it was to celebrate Divali with family and friends.
I too, was celebrating with family and friends. They consisted of: Sweetie, Minty, Pixie, Mini, Maxi, Mitzi, Ashi and Nandu. Here’s how we celebrated. Sweetie was wrapped in a quilt on my bed, until I joined her at night so that she could sleep on my shoulder as she always does. Minty sat on my lap and later had a warm sweater to curl up in. Pixie came inside and dived under the bed in the other bedroom. Mini, Maxi, and Mitzi hid behind boxes in the storeroom. Ashi and Nandu would normally be with them, but for extra safety [as they are black and I had heard of people wanting black cats for Tantric rites], they were in the bathroom, and hid under the sink.
All were safe, even though none were too happy. On my terrace the diyas burned with a soft light. It was the most peaceful house in the area.
[Pixie is a dog, all others are cats. All are rescues].