Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Krishna Janmashtami: Happy Birthday, Krishna!

Once upon a time... on the tithi of ashtami (eight day of the Hindu lunar calendar), at the stroke of midnight, a child with wonderful lotus-petal eyes and divine aura brightly illuminated His birthplace with His natural effulgence. Behind barricades and bonded in chains, His parents, Vasudev and Devki could not help but bow their heads in reverence. For they knew, Baby Lord Vishnu or 'Krishna' had appeared on this mortal planet. They had just been blessed. An entire human kind, had just been blessed...

That very tithi of ashtami got etched as the festival of Krishna Janmashtami in the Hindu calendar, celebrated every year and this year -- it's today!

Yes. It is Lord Krishna's happy birthday today!

Festivities are spread over two days, the first day mainly includes fasting, singing bhajans and recital of stories while the second day comprises of 'breaking the butter pot or mutki phod on the streets in His remembrance. Underlying all these celebrations, however, are prayers... asking Him for His benevolence and wisdom for the entire family, for our own selves and for all our near and dear ones.

Thus, on this special occasion, My Yatra Diary... joins in the celebrations by going back in time and flipping some of its pages to (re)visit Lord Krishna and bring Him, through His stories, back to life! Presented below are links to archived articles accompanied with snippets and one picture, each as a page telling a tale from the many glorious chapters of Lord Krishna's life. Hope you enjoy reading them.

-------------------- * -------------------- * -------------------- * -------------------


"A mosaic depicting the butter thief prank (makhan chori leela) of mischievous child Krishna."
River Yamuna flowing at the Brahmand Ghat, Mathura - Uttar Pradesh (1)
"... along the banks of the river Yamuna is another sacred spot - the Brahmand Ghat. This is the spot where an infant Lord Krishna had shown the entire universe or Brahmand in his mouth to His mother Yashoda. That is how the place came to be known as the Brahmand Ghat."


Deer park in Raman Reti, Gokul-Mathura,Uttar Pradesh
"True to its name, it is filled with sand (reti) and is reminiscent of the past when Lord Krishna would frequent here along with His brother Balarama and cowherd friends to indulge in leisurely plays (raman). It is also the place where He would meet His love, Radha before leaving for Vrindavan together."

Divine image of Mother Yasoda with Lord Krishna at the ISKCON temple Delhi

"Maiya Mori, Main nahi makhan khayo"
(Mother, I did not steal the butter)


Market Lane of Dwarkadheesh Temple, Mathura

"The haveli is a two storey house and there is a wide and a spacious courtyard loaded with pilgrims assembled from various parts of the country on the ground level."

Believers doing shraddha at the Yamuna River Ghat, Mathura

"It is a place of different vibrational frequencies where some hundreds of believers, assembled at the same place, coming from different walks of life, belonging to different economic stratus of society, rooting in different cultures and traditions; speak the very same language – the language of love for the divine – the very language that dissolves all physical boundaries and sends out the universal message of inner peace."


Tulsi - An eternal associate of Lord Krishna, ISKCON Temple Vadodara

"Talk of devotees of Lord Krishna and the one name that suddenly springs to mind is that of Tulsi Devi. According to Hindu scripture, Skanda Purana: Tulsi is auspicious in all respects. Simply by seeing, simply by touching, simply by remembering, simply by praying to, simply by bowing before, simply by hearing about or simply by sowing this tree, there is always auspiciousness. Anyone who comes in touch with the Tulsi tree in the above-mentioned ways lives eternally in the Vaikuntha (the eternal abode) world."


Cow grazing at Trichambaram temple, Kannur- Kerala
"Also known as Gopal or the cowherd boy, Lord Krishna adored cows. Thus, one can find gaumata (in Hinduism, cow is revered as a mother) or cows happily grazing around in most of the Krishna temples today."
 
Khatu Shyam Temple in Rajasthan
"Inside the temple, the idol is enshrined in the form of only a head which makes the temple one of its kind in the country. The remaining part below the head is covered with garlands and flowers. It is believed to be a wish granting temple."


Beautiful idols of the Brothers - Lord Krishna on the right and Lord Balarama to His left at ISKCON Temple, Jaipur
"The deities of the two brothers, Lord Krishna and Lord Balarama are very beautifully decorated and depicts the loving bond shared between them."


Image of Sri Gaura Nitai at the ISKCON temple Delhi
"Circular in shape, the temple is very beautiful, decked up with Krishna leelas at the ceiling. The arti was about to begin."


Main deities of Radha and Krishna at the ISKCON temple, Japan
"The priest lighted the prayer lamp motioning the commencement of the afternoon arti (prayer). The beautifully decorated Radhe Krishna deity shimmering in bright glow and glimmer blessing its devotees was now clearly visible."

And, last but not the least...
Here's an exclusive page for all of you.

Lord Shri Krishna at home temple, Krishna Janmashtami celebrations

... From the temple of my house and featuring none other than our very own birthday boy, Ladoo Gopal all decked up in His brand new dress and finest ornaments for the night prayers to be followed up later by the home made feast or the bhog.
Jai Shri Krishna!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Custom Domain Switch: From Blogspot to Dot Com

After around 3 years of blogging, I am so happy to see My Yatra Diary... finally taking the plunge and going for its own domain this year and what made me happier was the fact that this change came just one night before India’s Independence day! So today, the diary sits comfortably wrapped in its new cover and now shows a swanky new address upfront, what we call the URL – www.myyatradiary.com instead of the earlier http://myyatradiary.blogspot.com.

Now that I have shifted my blog to a new domain, how am I feeling? Well, it feels a lot lighter; it feels like I have freed the diary from some amount of extra baggage that was unnecessarily being carried all along... it simply feels good. Guess, the analogy stems from the fact that a good traveler is most often seen traveling light. May be. Other than this feeling of freedom, everything else seems to be as it was before: the contents, the people, the essence... the love, everything... just that we now take a fresh guard and march ahead towards what they say, should be a brighter and a more promising tomorrow.

Compiled below are important points from the entire experience of custom switch ordeal that I went through, something that I hope can help fellow bloggers who are looking to go through the same process.

The complete set up migration guide to move from Blogger to Custom Domain: (The steps that I followed and quoted below are answers by Ranjith from A Light Hearted Talk)

1. From where and how to go about buying own domain name? You can but it from many sites - hostgator, bigrock, godaddy, or right from your blogger dashboard.

2. Once that is done, what are the steps (in non techie languange) to set the custom domain blog up and running? See this page (https://support.google.com/blogger/topic/12451?hl=en&ref_topic=1697868). It contains information about the three things that you should do: buy domain, make some changes in your GoDaddy / HostGator / BigRock account and make some changes in your Blogger account.

3. Any other setting to be altered like feed subscribers, etc? You can leave the feed as it is. It still works. (If you want, you can update the details in feedburner).

4. You may see some drop in traffic for a few days / weeks after moving to a custom domain. But, it will return to normal very soon.

5. It doesn't really matter where you are buying
the domain name and the instructions for step 2 depend on your domain registrar.

Note: Following the above points should make it but if you have any queries regarding the switch, please leave a word in the comment section. I will be glad to help you with whatever I know.

After Migration Notes, My Thoughts:

Setting your blog up from blogger to google hosted is easy: It really is, contrary to all my fears. Blogger lets you map your old blog to the new one pretty easily in simple easy to follow steps. Plus, it lets you retain your 'Google Friend Connect' followers and all your other settings like template, layout, etc. too. Thus, in this new custom domain set up, there are absolutely no changes in the interface, only a visible change in the blog home page address in the address bar. That is all.

No changes in traffic: Personally, I have seen no major changes in my blog traffic (touchwood!), even though a dip in traffic was something that I was mentally prepared for once I decided to move the blog. As a travel blogger, the sheer positivity of this point leaves me a lot satisfied
and means a lot to me, on this front.

Wait for the link juice and other stats, begins: Backlinks, of course, are all gone as all of them point to the earlier blogspot blog. But they say, most of the back link juice will be redirected to my new blog address in a bit of time
and I am taking their word for it.
However, I must add that despite all such assurances, it is a little painful to see all those numbers that you built till now drop down in a hole. Right now, my alexa ranking is dangling, Google Page Rank which was 3 earlier now shows 'NA' and something similar is the case with other such statistics. But it’s just a phase, I guess. Or so I believe. And, I am asking myself to patiently wait it out.

Things to do after moving your blog: What I found to be a really daunting (and boring) work to do was the list of to-do-things after the move. Re-submissions to the various directories (Google and Bing Webmasters, Alexa, Google Analytics, social media sites, etc.) and re-adding of all those verification codes to get your blog indexed again took up a bit of my time, and I found this work on some sites like Alexa and Google Analytics to be somewhat confusing as well.

When say no to wordpress? Wordpress has a whole range of amazing plug-ins to choose from that can help you out with a lot of things and also give your blog a nice look and feel, however, if you love your
'Google Friend Connect' friends, you will have to cross wordpress, one of the main reasons why I said no to wordpress.

A little note of 'Thank You'

I have literally forgotten the count of the number of people who have told me to go for this change over my 3 years of blogging. But now that I have, I would like to express a warm little note of thanks to all those who kept me inspired and helped me get through it.

I would especially like to express my gratitude to Ranjith (who guided me through the entire process), Hemal Shah (it was this post of his that I stumbled upon one day that actually inspired me to get going with it, finally), Team G Square (who made sure I never forget about the domain change), Purnendu and desi traveler (for standing as firm supports while I was completing the process) ... and ... there are many more. Thank you to all of you, without your continuous encouragements and support my diary would never have had the confidence to shed this blogspot tag from its identity. I am so glad for all your kindness, for without your constant motivation over all these years, this switch would never have seen the light of the day. Thank you.

Finally... While 'My Yatra Diary...' is busy trying to settle itself down in its new house, I have a small request for you that can help it in its course. If you have mentioned “My Yatra Diary” (pointing to the old blogspot URL) in any of your blog posts, please take some time to edit that link and include the address to the new URL. It will be a gesture highly appreciated. Thank you so much, in advance.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Raksha Bandhan Special: The Tradition of Sooun Maandana or Sooun Jimana

Prelude: A sister speaks...

20 / 21 August 2013:
Today marks one of my favorite days of the entire year. It’s a date I had made a quick mental note of, months before... just like every year, at the time when the new calendar year had begun and then had waited eagerly for it to dawn. For I knew, on that day, I could throw all my silly tantrums and still get away with my word.
For I knew, on that day, I could ask anything, which means simply anything that I wish for and be affectionately assured to have it presented one day. For I knew, on that day ... I could playfully fight and fight harder only to be cosseted and pampered in return. For I knew, that that day was mine.

Which sister wouldn’t long for such a day?
And, I am no exception.

Raksha Bandhan tradition - red thread or moli
Moli: The sacred thread binding love, trust and affection on Raksha Bandhan

So, yes! Today, I woke up with a joy in my heart and a spring in my steps. Because, ‘That day’ was here - Today! Shravani Purnima, the day popularly celebrated as Raksha Bandhan all over the country, a unique festival promising to tightly secure the unconditional, selfless and innocent love between my bhaiyya and me in a sacred thread of trust, protection, joy and affection not only in this life of ours but also beyond ...

----------------- *----------------- * ----------------- * ----------------- *  ----------------

Words, for me, are not easy to play with but this is one occasion when I can go on and on... such are the feelings wrapped in this day. It’s simply magical. However today, I won’t since I already wrote about the festival last year (Happy Raksha Bandhan). So, allow me to take a slight detour from the main festive course this year and instead focus on something that is not much talked about – a Raksha Bandhan tradition that we, in my family, observe and a tradition that holds a significant part of festivities in our house. Let’s have a look at something peculiar called, Sooun Maandana or the inscription of Good luck! Come, follow me!

Sooun (Soan, Sooan, Shagun) Maandana/ Good Luck stickers, Raksha Bandhan


What are soouns and what is their significance?

'Soouns' refer to pictures, simple or intricate, representing auspicious symbols believed to protect us from bad energy and welcome good forces and guardian spirits in the house – reflecting the very soul of Raksha Bandhan. In Hinduism, these auspicious symbols can constitute the Swastik, the Sun God, Ram Ram, etc. amongst many others. 'Maandana' is the process of drawing pictures on the walls or the floors of the house and is a custom native to the state of Rajasthan.


Sooun Maandana: Making of the soouns

If you really wish to see how it’s done, travel to the villages of Rajasthan. Like most other things, the villagers do it traditionally, in the most authentic manner, in a way it was always meant to be done. Dried cow dung (considered a symbol of purity) or geru (red colored powder) are directly spread on the house and haveli walls such that they remain stamped for the rest of the annual year.

Raksha Bandhan celebration - Swastika Sooun made of cow dung
Raksha Bandhan celebration, sooun made of cow dung
Swastik and symbolic sun sooun made of cow dung,
outside a village house in Rajasthan

'Sooun Mandana' or the drawing of auspicious designs is generally done before fesivals or other auspicious events to welcome Gods or guests in the house.

Such a traditional way of sooun making ensures that the essence of goodwill shines the year round and not just for a few days after the festival. Now, come to the cities and you see a visible contrast. Here, cow dung is absent and so is direct engraving. Instead, paper steps in for the canvas and geru for the ink. Sooun drawings are made on these papers with a red colored powder called geru and these picture papers are then stuck on the walls and entrance.

Raksha Bandhan celebration - Sooun drawing and geru
Raksha Bandhan celebration - Soouns of swastik symbols
Raksha Bandhan tradition - sooun mandana
"Sooun Mandana" (Sooun designs) during Raksha Bandhan

The patterns for the Sooun Mandana ritual can be varied
depending on one's choices but we prefer to keep it simple.

Besides the hand painted ones, today, one can also find ready made soouns easily available in the markets.

The Pooja: Offerings to the soouns or “Sooun Jimana”

Guess who gets precedence over the brothers
on the day of the festival? It is them - the soouns! Similar to the Hindu belief of offering prayers to Lord Ganesha for good luck before the start of any auspicious activity, sooun jimana or the sooun pooja, done prior to rakhi tying ceremony, is considered an act of good luck and prosperity. As part of sooun jimana, the soouns are offered jaggery or any other sweet along with roli, chawal (rice), the red sacred thread - moli, drops of water coupled with wishes for a happy and prosperous life for the entire family.

Raksha Bandhan tradition - sooun jimana ritual
Sooun Jimana: Offerings to the soouns

What I like about this ritual is its minimalism and easy style. It requires no elaborate procedures-to-follow, it’s unique, it has drawings and above all, it is purely based on one’s faith, conviction and feelings. Whether you go for cow dung, ready-made market purchase or better still, prefer to do-it-yourself, soouns mean nothing but symbols bearing the reflection of your faith and conviction. The stronger your faith, equally intense will be the goodness in your family!

Do you celebrate any distinct traditions like these during the festival of Raksha Bandhan? In your home, in your village or in your native place, may be? If you do, please share them in the comments section.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

ISKCON Temple in Kannur, Kerala

Tucked away in a narrow by lane of Moopanpara, Chirakkal in Kannur is ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), a cradle of calm and peace. Finding your way to the temple can be a tricky affair with absence of any signage that could lead you towards it: no devotees, no meditating bhaktas or no boards announcing, ‘Yes, this is the way to the ISKCON Temple’. It is only after a firm assurance by a locally resident lady, an ISKCON devotee herself, whom we luckily encounter on our way and who kindly agrees to guide us till the temple’s gate that we finally conclude: We are finally at the ISKCON temple in Kannur, Kerala.

ISKCON temple, Kannur in Kerala
Welcome to the ISKCON Temple, Kannur

Quietly snuggled in the thick vegetation of the coconut grooves, the temple complex bears a deserted look; a complete contrast to the many ISKCON’s that I have been to till date yet blending beautifully with the tranquil image of Kerala that I have come to form over the past few days of my stay here.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna ISKCON temple in Kannur, Kerala
The ISKCON Temple

A pot of Tulsi stands guard soon after entering the gates. Adorned at the sidewalls are an array of pictures, all depicting Lord Krishna in His various forms and avatars: one in the battlefield with his student-warrior, Arjuna, another with His beloved, Radha and a bigger one that features Him alone. And then, there are more, all expressively transporting me to a bygone era glorious with His love for cows and mischievous past times.

Tulsi plantation in ISKCON temple in Kannur, Kerala
The plant of Tulsi

Lord Krishna paintings on the walls in ISKCON temple in Kannur, Kerala
Lord Krishna posters on the sidewall

In the center of the complex, the main temple stands humbly, simple in its make and devoid of any kind of ostentation. Apart from the Krishna posters and the Tulsi pot, the complex hardly boasts of any things that would make it stand out as a temple and hence, to a passer by, can easily pass off as any other house in the corner of the lane. Even the temple bell is nowhere to be seen. Such is its simplicity and I am awed.

The door to the main temple is closed. The Lord is asleep, enjoying His mid-noon siesta. There are rooms on one side of the temple for resident ISKCON bhaktas (devotees) to stay. Yet, there is no indication of life or any kind of movement except us roaming in the precincts. Even the trees stand transfixed as if exhibiting care to not perform any kind of activity that could disturb the Lord in His sleep. As the Lord, so His bhaktas. A bit disappointed at having missed an opportunity of meeting Him, I decide to take a leave when I hear someone call.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple in Kannur, Kerala
The closed door to the sanctum: It's sleep time for the Lord

Namaste, it is a lady bhakta and we strike a conversation. She tells me that the temple witnesses a lot of crowd and festivities on festive days and other special occasions. She further informs me that the temple land is on rent right now and hence is housed in a small space. Small in space it might as well be, but soon enough I find it very large in kindheartedness when I am invited for the prasadam, the temple meal. Perhaps, it is the Lord’s call and I gleefully accept it as a blessing. The thought that Lord did not want me to leave like that, empty handed and empty stomach makes me feel special. I am delighted.

The food is served on a banana leaf, the only one I have on a leaf in our entire Kannur trip, with a lot of love. Rice, dal, ladyfinger, cabbage and finally, a banana; everything comes in order, one after the other, everything is rhythmic. Needless to say, the meal is wholesome, fulfilling, nourishing and tastes absolutely divine, leaving me yearning for more. With utmost humility, mataji apologizes for us having missed out on the darshan and I appreciate her gesture of serving us the prasadam, the food of the Lord.

Temple meal or prasadam at ISKCON temple in Kannur, Kerala
My prasadam banana leaf

Finally, it is time to leave. She bids us goodbye with a wishful request – Agli baar jaldi Kerala aana, bhagwan ki ichcha hogi toh phir mulaqat hogi (Do plan a visit to Kerala soon, God willing we will meet again). She says this while standing at the temple steps, right in front of the sanctum sanctorum, right in front of the Lord. Nodding, I make a move from the oasis of peace but carry something along... her voice in the form of an echo in the quiet of the environs. Her aura glowing in devotional fervor, her lovely smile, her humble voice; that I had carefully treasured with me that day continue to linger in my memories, even today... instilling faith that, her wish will come true soon, some day.

Address and contact number of the ISKCON Temple in Kannur:

MoopanPara, Highway Junction, Chirakkal, P.O. Kannur, Kerala, India.
Phone number: +91 (497) 2775299.


Travellers Tip: Guest house facility is not available in the temple.


Blogger Widgets