Jai Jai Shiv Shankar …

If you know where to look, you’ll find a lot of science buried in our mythology.

Our Vedic rituals have evolved over centuries and were designed to codify and preserve our country’s intellectual property, especially our vast herbal wealth.

A fine example of this Vedic wisdom is the festival of Mahashivartri.

The tithi and nakshatra of each festival, that is the date and the star, mark the specific positions of stars and planets. At a time when the people of America and Europe were living in savagery, Indian astronomy was a fully developed science. The Hindu calendar that we follow today began way back in the beginning of Kaliyuga, around 3100BC.

Contrary to what many people think, Mahashivartri is not Shiva’s birthday. Shiva is without beginning or end, and hence is neither born nor unborn. Mahashivaratri is Shiva’s favorite day of the year, as defined by Shiva himself. It falls on the 13th day of the second half of the month of Maagha. This corresponds to end-Feb/early March, and is the day before the second new moon of the month.

Certain herbs and rituals are associated with the worship of Shiva.

Homa: The term ‘homa’ refers to Vedic rituals in which offerings are made to a sacred fire.  Homa goes back to the early Rigveda. Homa is derived from the Persian word ‘soma’, a herb that was used to make somarasa, a hallucinatory drink that priests drank before and during Vedic rituals. Modern day Parsis, who also have descended from the Aryans, have fire-based homa rituals that are similar to ours.

Samagri: A specific mixture of woods and herbs that is burnt during a homa. The fumes emitted by samagri are an ancient form of aromatherapy. The smoke fumigates the house and removes germs and pests.  Unfortunately, authentic samagri for Shiva Homa is rarely available these days, and the original ingredients are either lost or no longer grown in India.

Rudraksha: Believed to have sprung from the tears of Shiva, hence the name.  The technical name is Elocarpus ganitrus.  Rudraksha seeds occur in several varieties depending on how many grooves and facets they have. The most common one is the five-faced rudraksha, called panchmukhi.

Each variety is believed to have different mystical powers and electromagnetic properties, not one of which has been conclusively proven. However, there is considerable evidence that rudraksha extract is good for hypertension and inflammation. It is also a strong antioxidant.

Bael:  Also known as bilva, wood apple, and officially as Aegle marmelos. 

Shiva is particularly fond of the fruits and leaves of the bilva tree. The leaves have a peculiar shape that closely resemble Shiva’s trident and the fruit has several medicinal properties. Bael is considered sacred in Ayurveda. It is especially useful for gastro-intestinal ailments like dysentery and dyspepsia.

Bhang (marijuana, Cannnabis sativa): Known in the North as Shivji ka prasad, bhang is actually a pretty useful herb, if used as prescribed in the scriptures.

In India, Bhang has been in use since three thousand years. It relieves stress, promotes alertness, reduces pain and fatigue, improves the digestion and in higher doses, it can induce euphoria that might seem like a spiritual experience to some people.

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Ayurveda has several formulations that include bhang, and the Indian government officially sells bhang through authorised shops.

Bhang is best taken in the form of thandai, a refreshing milk drink with several interesting ingredients. It’s just the right drink to keep you cool and alert during the long night of Shivaratri. If you drink enough of it, you might see Shiva himself!

Nothing wrong in enjoying Shivji’s prasad, if you do so in moderation.

Join the voluptuous Mumtaz as she guzzles bhang and gyrates to ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’, the hit song from Aap ki Kasam. This song topped the charts on Binaca Geetmala through 1974. Please disregard Rajesh Khanna as he tries to dance with Mumu. Kaka was a fine actor, but he never could dance.

Happy Shivaratri.

Bham bham Bhole!

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Shit! It’s your food!

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Two months ago,  it was plastic in our rice. This month, it’s shit in our sweets.

Once again, I was involved in a panel discussion on a local TV channel (TV9 – Bangalore), about the safety of our food. TV9 mounted a sting operation on major sweet shops across Bangalore. Diwali is the most important Indian festival, and the demand for exotic sweets is especially high at this time of the year.

Manufacturers of sweetmeats take full advantage of the high demand – and the government’s lax attitude – to peddle all kinds of shit on unsuspecting consumers. And I mean that literally.

TV9 went around the city purchasing sweets and sent them to a reputed food testing lab. I know this lab well, and I can tell you this lab is one of the best in India. Can’t disclose the name of the lab, because the channel asked me not to. But they did show me the lab reports.

And those lab reports were horrifying. Horrifying, but not surprising. I’ve been in quality control and R&D since thirty years, and I know very well how badly our food is adulterated – and what evil lurks in the minds of those who manufacture our foods.

Without execption, all the sweets tested had high amounts of coliforms in them. Coliforms are bacteria that are found exclusively in the colons of warm-blooded animals (like us). Human and animal shit are filled with coliform bacteria. There are about a hundred species of coliforms and many of them are harmless. But a significant number of coliform species are deadly pathogens and can cause severe gastro-intestinal infections. To make matters worse, coliforms are usually accompanied by other deadly bugs like viruses, protozoans and fungi, all of which can make you crap yourself to death.

To make matters even worse, coliforms are resistant to most antibacterial medicines, thanks to indiscriminate prescribing by doctors. And to make matters still worse, several coliforms have long incubation periods, upto a week in some cases. That is, if you eat contaminated sweets, you may get severe diarrhoea a week later, and you will never know what caused it.

The presence of coliforms in your food therefore, is a clear indication of fecal contamination. In other words, you are literally eating shit. How does shit get into your sweets, you ask? Obviously, through bad water, bad handling and bad storage. And zero safety standards and zero enforcement by the authorities. And of course, bribery and corrupt officialdom.

The worst culprits are koya based sweets like peda. Did you know that koya is usually stored for months in the open before use? I am always scared of round sweets like laddoos, because I’ve seen how filthy are the hands that pat those sweets into a round shape.

And beware of all sweets coated with ‘vark’, i.e. silver foil. It’s not silver in the first place, and that foil is made by pounding whatever metal they use, between slices of raw intestines taken from slaughtered goats and lambs. That’s right, raw intestines. Filled with coliforms. And remember that an innocent lamb was butchered so that you could enjoy that kaju katli.

Not just coliforms, all the sweets had high amounts of lead – another indicator of bad water being used.

I’ve saved the best for the last. All the lab reports showed that not one of those sweets had sugar in them. No sugar. All had ridiculously high levels of saccharine in them. But no sugar. Saccharine is an unsafe artificial sweetener that can cause cancer, but you already know that, don’t you?

So. Your sweets have shit in them. Bacteria. Fungi. Worms. Heavy metals. Stale milk solids. Artificial flavors. Unsafe dyes. But no sugar.

As I said, horrifying, but not surprising. Our food has always been contaminated and heavily adulterated. But no one seems to care.

In spite of dire warnings by experts (like yours truly), in spite of sting operations by the media, in spite of validated reports by certified testing labs, morons like you will still pay Rs.500/- a kilo for those sweet little packets of shit.

Can’t you make simple sweets at home, to celebrate your festivals? That’s what our festivals are about. Home-made sweets, sharing with family and friends, enjoying simple pleasures.

The real criminal is not the thug who makes these packets of shit. The real criminal is the jackass who buys them. You.

Happy Diwali.

Srini.

BTW: If you can follow Kannada, you can see the entire TV report and panel discussion here.

 

 

Bangalore fights back … the story of Puttenahalli lake.

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Puttenahalli lake today.

Twenty five years in Bangalore have made me a hardened cynic and a prophet of doom. I’ve seen this city deteriorate from a beautiful, innocent little hamlet into one of the filthiest, overcrowded, screwed up cities in the world.

I remember when this was a nice little town for pedestrians and pensioners. Now it’s a shithole filled with stray dogs and thugs. There were trees and parks lining every avenue here once. Now there are malls and brothels.

There were lakes and ponds filled with clear water once. Now there are open-air toilets and slums. Once there were flowers and birds everywhere. Now there are dogs, dogs, dogs, everywhere. Roads with more potholes in them than tar. People defecating in public view. Hooligans driving two-wheelers on pavements. And hawkers squatting on what’s left of those pavements.

Bangalore’s demise is inevitable. Investing in this urban nightmare would be a remarkably foolish business decision. But still, there are determined citizens who have chosen to fight back. And there are some victories.

Puttenahalli lake is one such. Once a delightful waterbody tucked away inside Puttenahalli villlage, on the southern outskirts of the city, the lake suffered the same fate as all other lakes across Bangalore. Encroached, surrounded by concrete condos, filled with garbage and human waste, infested with mosquitoes, vermin and local goons.

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The lake was written off, waiting to be swallowed by land-sharks and politicians. A small group of locals decided to do something about it. The Puttenahalli neighborhood improvement trust came into being about seven years ago, with the single-minded objective of reviving the dead lake.

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It took them a great deal of hard work, and a considerable amount of their own money. But today, Puttenahalli lake is a thriving waterbody, filled with clean water, a home to fifty species of birds and all kinds of flora and fauna. It’s not out of the woods yet, there is still a slum to be removed, but I’d say the worst is over.

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To a large extent, the battle is won, and Puttenahalli is now officially known as a “saved” lake. Considering what it used to be, this is a major achievement by any means. And across the city, other citizen groups have taken up the fight to save their local waterbodies.

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For a city that has been destroyed by political greed and corporate thuggery, and is in imminent danger of death, Puttenahalli lake is a small beacon of inspiration and hope.

As long as there is hope, I think Bangalore city still has a chance to survive, however slim that chance may be.

Take a look at my Puttenahalli collection.

Cheers … Srini.