12 Old Delhi Food Specials you can’t miss during Ramzaan!!!

” रमज़ान की आमद का है चारों तरफ चर्चा,
इस माह में बहुत ‘रब’ मेहरबान है होता,
तेज़ धूप की तपिश सबको सताएगी,
भूख़ प्यास की शिद्दत तुम्हें आजमाएगी,
रोज़ेदारों तुम हर हाल में सब्र रखना,
ये आजमाइश ही तुम को जन्नत में ले जाएगी  “

Ramzaan Special Walks_DBF

The streets of Old Delhi or “Dilli 6” are a treat for a foodie throughout the year, especially for authentic street foods, which I am sure you would have enjoyed in the past with your family and friends. But sampling the mind-boggling gastronomic treasures found here during the holy month of Ramzaan is an altogether out-of-this-world experience, as Old Delhi during Ramzaan turns into the proverbial ‘Jannat’….paradise for food connoisseurs!

During these roughly 28-30 days of Ramzaan, world-over, devout Muslims keep a day-long fast, the ‘Roza’ from sunrise to sunset, one of the fundamental tenets of Islam, towards the path of spiritual salvation. Abstaining from anything to eat or drink through the day, a devout Muslim is allowed to have only two meals….the pre-dawn ‘Suhur’ and the ‘Iftar’ meal at sunset. At the end of the day-long fast, the ‘Iftar’ prayers and meal are of utmost importance amongst the ‘Rozadaar’….the faithful who have fasted. And this Iftari invariably thus becomes the most sought-after grand feast at the end of the day for one and all.

Streets near Delhi’s Jama Masjid, which incidentally is the second largest mosque in India, welcome ‘Rozadaars’ each evening to a wide assortment of delicious foods & beverages being sold at brightly decorated shops. Bazar Matia Mahal, Chitli Qabar and Chandni Mahal, gali Chooriwallan and Ballimaran all within rickshaw-ride vicinity of each other, where you can savour the choicest of delectable fare like Dahi-PakodiKhajla-Sherbets, Samosas, Kebabs, Kheers and aromatic Biryanis!

But how does one choose what to eat and what to miss? To make your task of choosing the best easier, here is my set of 10 favourite foods & beverages which are bound to set your taste buds to work overtime right away!

#1 Bade Miyaan Ki Kheer (2867, Bazar Sirkiwalan, Lalkuan Bazar Rd, opposite Badal Beg Mosque)

Bade Miyaan Ki Kheer

What better place to start your Ramzaan food-a-thon, than with a bit of ‘sucrose-energy’ in form of the best Kheer (rice & milk pudding) to be sold in Delhi! This more than 130 yr old shop run by Jamaluddin Siddique or Jamal Bhai as he is popularly known, has been rendering a service to the people of Delhi without compare! Being a Bengali, I can vouch that Jamal bhai’s kheer can beat any kheer coming out of the house of even a true-blue Bengali household! The not-so-sweet, chilled, creamy-textured, brown-tinged kheer, which leaves a slight smokey after-taste, comes from hours of cooking the milk and broken rice on a slow wood-fuelled fire. But reach here early, since by 8pm his supplies are over, though during Ramzaan a little extra is prepared as back-up by Jamal ji.

#2 The Kababs:

Ustad Moinuddin Qureshi’s Kebabs/Sangam Biryani Corner (1612, corner of Gali Qasimjan, off Lal Kuan Bazar Rd, opp old Hamdard Dawakhana)

 Ustad Moinuddin Qureshi's Sangam Kababs

This tiny hole-in-the wall shop, near the haveli of the famous Urdu Shayar (poet), Mirza Ghalib, serves buffalo meat (buff) kebabs that are just as subtly nuanced and poetic as the verses penned by the great shayar! These soft, succulent and delicately spiced seekh kebabs coming hot off the charcoal fire, served with onion and green pudina (mint leaf) chutney, are so mouth-watering, that I can challenge you to take a picture before you gobble them up! Hours of marinading & pounding the meat by hand gives the meat its melt-in-the-mouth texture! Sadly the great Ustad  (master) himself is no longer there to dish out his love in form of those delectable kebabs, as he had been keeping unwell for quite some time and left for his heavenly abode 2-3 months ago. But worry not, his legacy is safe as is in evidence that the kebabs made by his sons who are keeping the family tradition alive, still run out by 9:30pm every night, so during Ramzaan you know by when you need to reach this spot!

Babu Bhai Ke Sutli Kababs (1465-B, Masjid Sayed Rafa, Bazar Chitli Qabar, below street level)

Babu Bhai Sutli Kababs

My second most favourite buffalo-meat kebab joint after Sangam Kababs (see above), their preparations are so deadly that I have seen even non-buff eaters change their minds and given in to the temptation of the aromas and visual appeal of these kebabs! Starting from sunset till about 11pm when their stock runs out during Ramzaan, this place is a must-visit. Babu Bhai ke Sutli Kababs are called so since the minced & tenderised meat that goes around the seekh is so soft that they have to be held onto the skewers with a fine string or sutli –  in fact while they are cooking on the charcoal fire, some of the string burns off and the tender meat starts slipping into the fire. That’s the sign for the Kababchee (Kabab maker) that the Kebabs are done, which he then slips onto a green leaf covered plate, yanking off the unburnt string, as the meat shreds off onto the plate!! Yes it’s a fantastic sight just watching him do the whole process! Finding this neary 70 yrs old shop is tricky since the family members who carry on this tradition, make the kebabs sitting in a strange sort of a sunken room/bunker sort below street level, near the mosque’s entrance.

NOTE: Those who do not eat buffalo meat, can eat the goat-meat seekh kababs at Al Jawahar Restaurant, which I prefer over the ones at Karim’s!

#3 Manzoor Hotel’s Egg Curry & Dahi-Pakodey (20m beyond Sangam Biryani, Gali Qasimjan)

Manzoor Hotel Egg Curry & Dahi Pakodey

Looks like any other run-of-the-mill food shop of Old Delhi, but looks can be deceiving. My two favourites here, the Egg curry and Dahi-Pakodey, are good enough to kill and die for! Not many outsiders venture here but Sareem and his elder brother are found dishing out these gems of currys with soft khamiri rotis to the dwellers of this alley till 1:30am in the night during Ramzaan. The eggs are slightly fried and then along with potatoes cooked in a delicious tomato-based gravy, lovingly made just like at our homes. While the tangy Dahi-Pakodey, which is somewhere in the middle of a Dahi-Bhalla and Kadhi-Pakoda, can actually make you go into raptures of food orgasm! The exact recipe Sareem never shares with me, but what I have understood after multiple trials is that after the pakodas are dipped in the liquidy dahi (curd), a chonka (oil tempering) of saboot Zeera (Cumin) & Methi (Fenugreek) and Haldi powder (Turmeric), garnished with fresh corainder leaves does the magical trick.

#4 Buttery Chicken Roast at Anmol Chicken Corner (4120, Urdu Bazar Rd, opp. Jama Masjid Gate #1)

Anmol Chicken with Butter

When is a chicken, Butter Chicken? Only when its been made by the expert tandoori chicken makers Chand bhai & Irfan at this stall which is literally on the road! Chunks of chicken marinaded in basic tandoori masala are roasted right in front of you on a charcoal grill. A heady concoction of lemon juice, Anmol’s secret spice powders and loads of melted utterly butterly Amul butter is prepared and the scrumptious tandoori pieces are dunked into this concoction, the Amul butter making the pieces juicy and adding that extra layer of fat around your waistline! So if this is not “Butter + Chicken” then what is!!! And some indulgence in Butter-Chicken, every now & then is OK I guess! This one is my favourite, beating, albeit by a small margin, the more famous Aslam Chicken Corner, which we always avoid during our Ramzaan food walks.

#5 Haji Mohd. Hussain’s Fish Fry (113, Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Haji' Mohd. Fish Fry

Imagine, a piece of fish, which has been dipped in besan (chickpea-flour) batter and then deep-fried in a huge cauldron of boiling oil and served straight out of the vessel with a chutney made of kachi haldi (raw turmeric roots) raw mangoes, chilli, lime juice and accompanied with raw onion rings….and as you bite the crunchy exterior, the piping hot, soft white fish releases flavours of the various spices it was marinaded in…just heavenly!!! Haji saahab is a lovable guy with his shy smile, who always invites one of our group members to help him fry chickens, which is the other thing they serve at this almost 50 yr old shop! And even though his fried chicken, which I refer to as HFC (Haji’s Fried Chicken) is as awesome as KFC, if not better, yet my recommendation is the fish. Open till around 12:30am during Ramzaan, it is another must-have!

#6 Mutton Qorma & Chicken Kashmiri Curry at Al-Rehmani (

Al-Rehmani Chicken Kashmiri Style

A pretty much new entrant going by Delhi-6 standards, Al-Rehmani Restaurant has been around for just about a decade and a half, but their Goat meat Qorma and Chicken in a Kashmiri-style white yoghurt curry is a much sought-after local favourite. The qorma is hot, spicy and the meat tender & juicy, the Qorma masalas perfectly balanced with a mix of both powdered and whole spices. The yoghurt curry chicken, on the other hand is more sedate; the heavy curry isn’t spicy and is served doused with dollops of white cream and coriander leaf garnishing and is almost similar to a Kashmiri Wazwan’s Goshtaba curry in texture & taste, except the flavour of Saunf (Fennel) which is otherwise present liberally in a Goshtaba.

#7 Changezi’s Mutton Nihari & Shahi Paneer (2614, Gali Churiwallan, off Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Nihari

Meat preparations usually mean loads of fiery hot spices/herbs and copious amounts of ghee/oil thrown in, to create flavourful, rich Mughlai style dishes. And which will add a few inches to your waistline too! But what if you could get the combo of healthy plus yummy! Changezi Chicken has been serving such a dish for almost last 30 yrs or so, popularly known as the Nihari. This goat-meat dish which was actually created by the Hakeems (traditional Unani doctors) in the court’s of the Mughals/Nawabs to help patients suffering from the Flu/Cough/Pneumonia/Asthma albeit in a flavourful way! Nihari is meat shanks cooked with 40+ different spices & herbs overnight on a slow fire, to be had as a breakfast dish, thus fortifying a person against the muggy/chilly Delhi climate of monsoons/winters respectively. Served piping hot with a garnish of ginger & green chilli slivers, the Nihari’s, meat pieces melting in your mouth as soon as you bite into them, is bound to forever change the way you think of meat stews! Changezi also comes to the rescue of the vegetarians with their own take on the Shahi Paneer which is so yummy that even a die-hard non-vevegtarian like me doesn’t mind a few morsels of this paneer dish! So howsoever you are stuffed already, make space for these two dishes!

#8 The Biryanis:

Biryani Mirch Masala at Pehelwaan Biryaniwale (#701, Haveli Azam Khan, off Bazar Chitli Qabar Rd)

Mota Pehelwaan Mirch Masala Biryani Walley

When you meet Haji Mohd. Anwar, sitting at the threshold of his shop, his very formidable frame almost resembling the shape of his giant cooking pot, you can’t stop falling in love with him! Popularly known in the area by the name of Mota Biryani Wala, he always has a warm & affectionate smile on his face; and a man whose smile is so congenial, imagine how nice the Biryani he must be dishing out! A buffalo meat biryani, a mix of exceedingly tender meat and perfectly moist rice which are cooked separately and then packed together in that huge Degh (Pot) over a slow fire ‘Dum Biryani-style’. The twist is that his biryani isn’t spicy hot as the name suggests, but some morsels of the biryani have a spicy, tangy zing which comes from the pickled green chillies which are added during the marination of the meat! During Ramzaan his shop is open till past midnight as the big pot seemingly has a never ending supply of Biryani!

Mohd. Taufik’s Dil Pasand Biryani (735, Haveli Azam Khan, off Bazar Chitli Qabar Rd)

Buffalo meat FBiryani

Again a buffalo meat briyani seller, his biryani is all about chunks of juicy buff meat, with the rice, almost shining with all the oil used in cooking the meat. The heavenly aroma of the fragrant rice, saffron having been liberally used, makes Taufik bhai’s biryani really drool-worthy! The place is a really difficult one to find; after you pass Pehelwan Biryani’s shop (above) keep going straight, then turn left, a right and another left to reach there. His supply during Ramzaan runs out by 12:30am, so you can reach late as well!

NOTE: If you do not eat buffalo meat, then don’t fret, you can eat pretty decent chicken & goat-meat Biryani at both Al Jawahar Restaurant and Karim’s!

#9 The Ice-Creams:

Cool Point (972, Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Mango ice cream, Shahi Tukda, PhirniAfter a lot of spicy and hot delicacies, how about you cool it off with something chilled and sweet! So head off to Cool Point, established almost 30 years ago by Mohd. Zahid, where my pick out of the variety of chilled deserts is Phirni, Rabdi, Shahi Tukda and mango with vanilla ice cream.  Phirni  is a mouthwatering dessert of milk and crushed rice served chilled in clay containers, while Rabdi is sweet, thickened milk, served chilled with a smattering of nuts. Shahi Tukda literally meaning ‘A Royal Piece’ which is a dessert made of bread fried in ghee, dipped in a syrupy solution of saffron & cardamom infused milk, sprinkled with a variety of nuts & raisins and all this kept & served at a piping hot temperature maintained using a slow fire and continuous adding of ghee throughout the evening! It is really very sweet, overflowing with calories and even the die-hard foodie skips a beat before eating this goodie! But the high point here is the chilled combo of hand-churned mango and vanilla ice-cream, which, as per many who have joined our food walks say is better than the ‘Gelato Vinto’ ice creams available at South Delhi malls!!!

Ahmed’s Roller Kulfis (Just beyond Chitli Qabar Chowk)

Roller Kulfis

Roller Kulfis/ice creams is a yummy and very innovative style of making ice cream right in front of your eyes! This truly is a Ramzaan special, since it is only during the festival time that you will see a man pushing a cart which carries a cylinder suspended horizontally on a wooden frame, apart from a heap of different varieties of fruits and drums of creamy vanilla flavoured milk that lie on the cart. The roller consists of a hollow metal cylinder which is packed with ice sprinkled with anti-freeze salt, to prevent the ice from melting. Over this ice-cold metal cylinder, which is being continuously rotated, a mixture of freshly extracted juice & pulp of fuits like oranges, grapes, pomegranates, papaya, banana etc mixed with the vanilla milk is slowly poured over, so that the liquid instantly gets solidified because of the ice! The solidified creamy layer is then literally scraped off the roller and served. Unfortunately Ahmed bhai never seems to stick at any one place, instead preferring to move up & down the road beyond Chitli Qabar chowk going towards Chandni Mahal. He stops his cart at, as he says, wherever his customers are!

#10 The Sherbets:

Gorging non-stop on lip-smacking delicacies during Ramzaan will make you thirsty, so quench your thirst with these chilled beverages by the innovative Sherbetwallas of Old Delhi!

Nawab Bhai’s Watermelon-Roohafza Milk Sherbet (Cart at intersection of Gali Churi Wallan & Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Sherbet Pyaar Mohabbat Mazza

Many years back I asked Nawab miyaan what’s the name of the pink concotion of Amul milk, Roohafza (bottled Ayurvedic medicinal summer drink concentrate), cubes of watermelon and iced water that he makes. He replied “Yeh hai Sherbet ‘Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa’…Main Pyaar sey banata hoon, aap mohabbat sey peetey hain aur sabko mazza aa jata hai” (I make this Sherbet with affection, you love the drink and we all have loads of fun!). This drink is so simple to make, and is such a refreshing summer thirst quencher, that it is no surprise that nobody can have just only one glass of it!!!

Mohd. Shahid’s Apple-Vanilla Custard-Milk Sherbet (Cart goes up & down Bazar Matia Mahal Rd and beyond Chitli Qabar Chowk)

Apple Sherbet

Replace the above watermelon sherbet with grated apple, the Roohafza concentrate with vanilla flavoured custard powder and add Amul milk with iced water to these ingredients; you have got yourself another killer sweet sherbet to enjoy! Easily giving Nawab (see above) a big run for his money, sometimes Shahid bhai stands with his cart right opposite where you will find the Watermelon-Roohafza induced bliss. Sometimes he is found further towards Chitli Qabar chowk. Where ever he may be, don’t stop asking people till you find him, because this sherbet will rejuvenate you like no other!

Gudh ka Sherbet (Stall at turn of Gali Churi Wallan & Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Gudh / Gur ka SherbetSometimes it’s hard to believe the ingenuity of people in Delhi-6. When you are served this golden-hued liquid in a glass, you may think it to be an Old Delhi version of the ‘Lipton Iced Tea’ that comes out of a tetrapack in our homes. But this is not tea, it’s chilled Gudh ka Sherbet (Jaggery Sherbet)! The jaggery is soaked overnight in water in a big container, the pieces of the jaggery dissolve in the water, a dash of lemon juice is added and suddenly the common-place Gudh has been transformed into a healthy, soul-nourishing and refreshing drink! But don’t expect it to be open beyond 8pm even during Ramzaan, so you better hurry!

#11 The Mithaais (Sweets)

Paneer Jalebis at Kallan Sweets (4&5, opp. Jama Masjid Gate #1, corner of Matia Mahal)

Kallan Sweets Paneer Jalebis

Anybody worth his foodie leanings would have tasted the Rabri, Phirni, Sohan Halwa and other milk-based sweets at Muhammad Shaan’s sweet shop that’s more than 75 yrs old. But come Ramzaan, and people flock here for the Ifaari special of Paneer Jalebis (Cottage cheese Jalebi) ! Thick orange colored jalebis, with a crunchy exterior that easily yields its secrets of soft, syrupy paneer inside sending sweet notes of pleasure down your throat! Open till 12:30am in the night during the holy month, it is a not-to-be missed sweet stop, to be tried out even if you aren’t a sweets-lover!

Khoya Samosas, Khajlas & Dry Jalebi at Al-Ameer Sweets (57, Haveli Azam Khan, Bazar Chitli Qabar)

Food60And if you have been wondering what to take back home with you, so that your familywallas don’t get cross with you for enjoying all the goodies all alone, well then Al-Ameer Sweets has the answer! Continue to enjoy the Ramzaan feast the next day with your loved ones, with Al-Ameer’s dry, packageable stuff  like Khoya Samosas, Khajlas and Sukhi Jalebis! Think the North Indian Holi special, ‘Gujiyas’, change their shape and you have the most amazing Khoya Samosas in Old Delhi! The samosa has a thin pastry like crust which as you bite in, releases the mildly sweet, moist mixture of khoya mixed with spices like cardamom & cinnamon making you remember “Maa ke haath ke Gujiyas”. This nearly 100 yr old establishment, run by Hazi Mohd. Zafruddin also specialises in Khajlas (Mildly sweet fried flour puffs) & Sukhi Jalebis (Dry Jalebis).

#12 Assorted Rusks and Breads at Golden Bakery (543, )

Bakery products Golden Bakery in Old Delhi

Another set of food items that you could take back home, along with your memories, are what the numerous bakeries prepare each day during Ramzaan. All the bakeries in the area have their baking unit right behind or above their shops, so you can pick what you need, literally out of the oven! The smell of fresh batches of baked cakes/breads will automatically guide you in to these shops. Baked products are very popular during Ramzaan as they are easy to digest, provide energy for a longer period of time and can be had as quick Iftar snacks with tea or glasses of hot milk. Some of my favourites from Golden Bakery are Coconut Bread, Fruit Bread, Jam & Butter Roll, Suji & Bread Rusks, assorted cakes, muffins and cream rolls.

I wish you a very happy month of fun…fasting and feasting at its best in the gastronomic hot-spot of Delhi!!!

DelhiByFoot organizes special Ramzaan food walks as per a set calendar, to help you relish and participate in the customs, rituals and partake the special foods during this holy month of Ramzaan. For details, visit our Facebook page or our Website . If you wish to organise a customised Iftar Cultural & Food Walk for you & your family/friends/colleagues then E-mail us at explore@delhibyfoot.in

PICTURE CREDITS: Shweta Berry, Praveen Kumar, Himanshu Bagai, Samudra Sengupta

Pujo-Ashchhe…How Maa Durga begins her journey!

Today on Maha Shashti, we bring to our readers a guest post by fellow walker Samudra Sengupta, who joined our Pre-Durga Pujo Special walk at Chittaranjan Park in early September.

A Biologist by training, writer by profession, photographer by habit, foodie at heart, Samudra says ‘adventure is my sustenance … that is how I like to believe I am’…. His earlier Photo-stories can be found here http://samudrasengupta.wordpress.com/)

Having stayed away from my Bongo roots almost continuously since 2005, the Bengali in me often faces an identity crises. Mostly so during the month leading up to the biggest festival of the Bengali calendar. Durga Pujo.
Though I have long back saved a copy of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s “Mahalaya” on my laptop, and though having experimented and perfected quite a few bengali dishes, this period is never quite devoid of the ‘Bangaliyana'(OK OK I just coined that term I guess!!), I cannot help the longing for the smell of the ‘shiuli’ flower. Nowhere else can you feel the same festivity in the atmosphere as we prepare for the arrival of Maa Durga and her children.
DelhiByFoot a few months earlier helped me to introduce me to the tradition of breaking fast with friends during the month of Ramadan. On this second walk, the first Sunday of September, with DBF, I found a little bit of the Bengali in me amid the ‘Kumhors’ (Idol Makers) of mini-Bengal, in the heart of Delhi.

An attempt to connect with the roots … an effort to live the pre-durga puja festivities …

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There is nothing more motivating than good food to get you out of bed early on a Sunday morning…
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Or great stories…

After a peek into the essence of Durga Puja through the narratives of Ramit Mitra, the founder of DelhiByFoot,

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off we go searching for the idol makers of mini-Bengal..
to learn the nuances of idol-making ...
to learn the nuances of idol-making …
which begins here ...
which begins here …
starting from the skeleton of sticks and hay ...
starting from the skeleton of sticks and hay …
fleshed out over months of labour ...
fleshed out over months of labour …
মাতৃকার চিন্ময়ী কে মৃন্ময়ী তে আবাহন.. goddess durga ... is invoked ...
মাতৃকার চিন্ময়ী কে মৃন্ময়ী তে আবাহন..
goddess durga … is invoked …
হিমাচল দিলেন সিংহ বাহন ... riding on a lion ... she marches into battle
হিমাচল দিলেন সিংহ বাহন … riding on a lion … she marches into battle
দেবীর আবির্ভাবের শুভ বার্তা প্রকাশিত হলো ... decorated with the arms of the various gods (and the painstaking artwork of the artisans)  Its not just hay, sticks and mud ... but various colours and other materials ...
দেবীর আবির্ভাবের শুভ বার্তা প্রকাশিত হলো … decorated with the arms of the various gods (and the painstaking artwork of the artisans)
Its not just hay, sticks and mud … but various colours and other materials …
তিনি এক, তবু প্রকাশ বিভিন্ন ... carefully attired she is the devotion of the artist ...
তিনি এক, তবু প্রকাশ বিভিন্ন … carefully attired she is the devotion of the artist …
বাজলো তোমার আলোর বেনু ... the goddess takes final form...
বাজলো তোমার আলোর বেনু … the goddess takes final form…
মাতল যে ভুবন! ... finally the face is carefully sculpted ...
মাতল যে ভুবন! … finally the face is carefully sculpted …
The children of the goddess ... saraswati, lakshmi, kartik and ganesh ... মামা বাড়ি ভারী মজা ...
The children of the goddess … saraswati, lakshmi, kartik and ganesh … মামা বাড়ি ভারী মজা …
often parents take pride in being identified by the deeds of their children ... so is it among the gods ... Ganesha, the first worshiped ...
often parents take pride in being identified by the deeds of their children … so is it among the gods … Ganesha, the first worshiped …
Mahalakshmi ... the consort of Vishnu ..
Mahalakshmi … the consort of Vishnu ..
Saraswati ... the consort of Brahma
Saraswati … the consort of Brahma
নব শোভা নব ধ্যান ... she is one ... yet she is us all ...
নব শোভা নব ধ্যান … she is one … yet she is us all …
প্রকৃতির অন্তরাকাশে জাগরিত জ্যোতির্ময়ী জগন্মাতার আগমন-বার্তা ... even nature feels in its existence the arrival of the goddess ...
প্রকৃতির অন্তরাকাশে জাগরিত জ্যোতির্ময়ী জগন্মাতার আগমন-বার্তা … even nature feels in its existence the arrival of the goddess …
মহামায়া .. she is an illusion ...
মহামায়া .. she is an illusion … সনাতনী … yet she is eternal
শক্তিরূপা she is the embodiment of power
শক্তিরূপা she is the embodiment of power
তব অচিন্ত রূপ চরিত মহিমা divine in her glorious form she is embodiment of everything good ...
তব অচিন্ত রূপ চরিত মহিমা
divine in her glorious form she is embodiment of everything good …
দেবীর সঙ্গে মহিসাসুরের প্রবল সংগ্রাম আরম্ভ হলো ... fighting the eternal evil
দেবীর সঙ্গে মহিসাসুরের প্রবল সংগ্রাম আরম্ভ হলো … fighting the eternal evil
Durga puja is not just a festival ... it is a part of the bengali existence ... just like the chai and adda ...
Durga puja is not just a festival … it is a part of the bengali existence … just like the chai and adda …
Durga Puja is the existence of an entire culture ... the essence ... the definition of devotion ... the bengaliness
Durga Puja is the existence of an entire culture … the essence … the definition of devotion … the bengaliness

 Jai Maa Durga!!

Wishing all our readers a very happy and wonderful time of festivities!!

A walk on the Buddhist side of life: Delhi’s Mini Tibet

Guest post by Seep Gulati, an active DelhiByFoot community member. Pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

Foodie, traveller, adrenaline junkie and life enthusiast, is how Seep describes herself. She believes in the concept of loving, laughing and learning throughout the journey of life. When she isn’t chasing dynamic life, she is fighting ‘world-war’ battles with her niece and nephew or drafting new promotional PR and Marketing strategies for her clients.
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Buddhist Prayer Drums outside a Buddhist Temple

A love-struck majnu (Romeo), unable to claim the object of his affection, sacrifices his life on a tilla (hillock) and over time the place gets transformed into a historical or religious edifice and comes to be known as ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ or Romeo’s Hillock!

Raised on a steady dose of Bollywood movies, this rather romantic plot was how I imagined Delhi’s mini Tibet or ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ to be.

So when I went on a walk in the lanes and bylanes of ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ with DelhiByFoot (DBF), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the place was actually a beautiful Gurudwara immortalizing the memory of a kind hermit who was blessed by Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, for his selfless devotion to mankind.

DBF’s walk leader Jaya explained that the hermit, incidentally a Muslim, was so lost in his search for ‘God’ that he forgot about the world and people started calling him ‘majnu’ (or the crazy one, like being crazy in love as Romeo was for his Juliet).

Majnu used to ferry people across the Yamuna River and instead of charging a fee he would spread the word of the ‘Almighty’ amongst them. On one of his trips, Majnu met Guru Nanak Dev who blessed him and prophesized that history forever shall immortalize his name. So it came to be true when in the 18th century a Sikh shrine was established in this place — Gurudwara Majnu-ka-Tilla.

Buddhist Colony in Delhi
The once mighty River Yamuna, now flows listlessly just behind the Majnu Ka Tila area, more a dirty sewage drain, than a perennial river as it was once described in Indian Vedas and historical notes of the past.

With this tale from the pages of Delhi’s history began my first walk with DBF, the beginning of my attempt to experience India’s capital – a city I have been born in, but seems have not actually seen!

A few blocks away from the Gurudwara was our destination of the Sunday morning walk, the Tibetan refugee colony, also known as ‘Little Tibet’ of Delhi.

Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Technically in Delhi the Buddhist Colony is called New Aruna Nagar, but Majnu Ka Tila is how Delhites know this place as

DBF had arranged for us to meet a practicing Buddhist, Gelek, to help us navigate the intricacies of Buddhist spirituality and the lifestyle of the Tibetan community of Delhi.

What struck us we reached the colony were the vibrant prayer flags hanging from every nook and corner of these narrow by-lanes, seemingly inviting us on a mystical journey. Gelek explained that each flag has a different texture and its own story. Five elements of nature – land, water, air, fire and sky merge in these flags. Powered by sacred mantras, they purify the air wherever they are hung as the wind spreads the positive energies in the atmosphere.

Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Buddhist Temple facade with multiple flags on the roofs
Prayer flags flutter in the morning wind
Prayer flags flutter in the morning wind

Tibetan shops lined on both sides of the streets here sell everything from decorative wall hangings, Tibetan jewellery, music CDs, and T-shirts with Buddhist mantras (chants). There are many guest houses also offering cheap accommodation and obviously Tibetan food!

What struck me the most was the immense amount of colour on the streets and inside the temples we visited. The sight was worth the effort of waking up early morning on a Sunday!

Shops selling curios and prayer drums and flags
Shops selling curios and souvenirs like Buddhist prayer drums and flags
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Altar and offerings inside a Temple of the community

As we walked through the colony and were assaulted by the multiple hoardings of steamed momos, thukpa, shabalay etc, the participants, each an early bird on this 8AM walk, had a sudden urge to satisfy our breakfast cravings!

We decided to sample local Tibetan food and try a delicious snack locally known as ‘Laping’ which the locals almost pronounced as ‘laughing’ or maybe they were just teasing us!

Picture this: Potato starch dried cakes cut into bite-size pieces, enclosed with minced garlic/ garlic -water, vinegar, soya sauce, sesame oil and red chilli sauce creates a spectacular cold snack. Laping can be consumed dry or with cold soup. We tried the dried version as a starter and then ordered for Laping soup along with fluffy Tibetan bread.

Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Applying a fiery paste and rolled-up the Laping, cut into bite-size mini-rolls!
The cold and soupy version of the Laping..
The cold and soupy version of Laping

Post the food-adventure, we headed towards the two Buddhist temples in the locality, where Gelek answered all our questions regarding rituals, culture, prayer wheels, butter lamps, sculptures and how a Buddhist monk would lead his life.

Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Incense burns at multiple prayer zones, at alley corners which spread the musky fragrance all over the colony

It was interesting to note that two adjacent Buddhist temples were so different in terms of their decoration, the offerings and how the locals worshipped. While silver lamps with butter were being used in one temple, artificial lights were lit in the other. Similarly offerings at one temple included fruits while at the other temple even a bottle of beer had been put up as an offering for the gods!

Polished lamps await butter for readiness of
Polished lamps await butter for readiness of lighting at special prayer sessions!
Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
And the Butter Lamps once lit, will remain un-touched through 8-10 hours at a stretch!
Inside the temple, the Altar remains lighted throughout the day and even at night!
Inside this temple, the altar remains lighted using electricity! The bowls contain saffron infused water act almost like air-freshners inside these old temple rooms

Defining the concepts of how Buddhism is practiced around the world, Gelek explained the meaning of ‘Boddhistava’ and ‘Buddha’ and how each of us can also walk on the path to liberation from ‘Samsara’ (cyclic existence of life and birth) to attain ‘Nirvana’ (Enlightenment).

Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Gelek, DBF’s walk specialist throws more light on finer nuances of prayers and the rituals of Buddhism!

Ironically, Buddhism which was started by Buddha in India and was popularised by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC has flourished in countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Burma etc before coming back to the country of its origin through Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists.

The Tibetan refugees who in the early 1960s followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India, to escape Chinese oppression in Tibet, were a boon for our country as it was largely these people brought back the basic philosophies of Buddhism – to lead a moral life; to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions; and above all, to develop patience, deeper wisdom and understanding.

Lamps and ready for lighting!
Lamps, ready for lighting!

We also discussed Tibetan Buddhist practices, including the Honourable Dalai Lama’s personal teachings, the philosophies of Ladakh’s Buddhists and how the Tibetan people are fighting peacefully to free their homeland from China which continues with human rights violations in Tibet.

However, the extremely congested lanes, dearth of civic amenities and lack of employment opportunities for Tibetan refugees in India told us another sad tale of our country’s neglect of these culturally rich and proud people.

We continue our chat on Buddhism, Tibetian people in exile and Spirituality inside one of the many, very interestingly laid out cafes!
We continue our chat on Buddhism, Tibetian people in exile and Buddha’s Spirituality, inside one of the many, very interestingly laid out cafes!

Another eye-opener was that the largest teaching centre for Tibetan Buddhism in the world, Namdroling Monastery is actually situated in Karnataka, home to approximately 5,000 Tibetan monks and not in places usually associated with Buddhism like Dharamsala, Sikkim or Ladakh!

This walk not only connected the dots on the heritage front, it also empowered me to engage in enriching conversations with like-minded people on how Delhi is the melting pot of people and cultures from all over the world.

To check out more pics from the walk, click here

Buddhist Walk, Majnu Ka Tila Delhi
An almost 12 feet tall Prayer Drum inside the Majnu Ka Tila colony

Kila Raipur: Of Bullock-Cart Races, Village Games and Punjab Da Flavour

Guest post & photos by Divya Rai, and additional text & photos by Ramit Mitra, founder, DelhiByFoot and organising leader of the two day trip. Additional pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

Divya is a totally footloose and fancy-free soul, who is training to become a photographer. When she is not being trigger-happy, she writes at A Borrowed Backpack. Divya’s backpack is perpetually overflowing with stories from wherever and whenever she has travelled and hopes her journeys never end!

Kila Raipur Sports Fest

[Author’s Note: This post talks about Kila Raipur Sports Festival, an event that involves quite a few sports where animals are the participants. It is likely to hurt the sensibilities of animal-lovers, which is understandable. But in the same breath, I would like to tell you dear reader, that raising a hue and cry on this post will not help any horse or bullock in Ludhiana. The event draws its influences from rural India and is merely a reflection of how the rural-life in India survives and thrives. Unfortunately, when they started the event in 1933, they simply forgot to ask for our (yours and mine) permission. Let us just deal with it now, eh? ]

Kila Raipur Village Olympics is a sporting event worth visiting, just for the sake of the announcer’s non-stop commentary itself! Sample this:
a) “Tussi side ho jao, baaelaan vich brake-aan nhi hondi”  [Translation: Please clear the field. Bullocks do not come with brakes]
Right after this announcement, one bloke ambles into the track-area and manages to get run-over by a speeding horse, thereby getting seriously injured in the process!

b) “Aiy prize-distribution, Shri Harinder Grewal (IAS), Shri Raminder Singh (PCS), Shri Jagjit Singh (Canada), blah blah blah…” [Names are fictional]. [Translation: This prize distribution will be done by Shri Harinder Grewal (Indian Administrative Service), Shri Raminder Singh (Provincial Civil Services), Shri Jagjit Singh (Canada)].

No. Please don’t ask me when and how did Kanedda’ (To the uninitiated it is Canada as pronounced in Punjab!) become a designation with the Indian government. Canada and dollar-dreams are deeply embedded in the DNA of almost the entire of Punjab. Period.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
Our driver, who hailed from a village next to Kila Raipur sported a ring with a dollar coin on his index finger!

Gradually, I have come to believe that maybe ‘Kanedda’ is the real capital of Punjab. It is just that it happens to lie outside the geographical realms of India!

About Kila Raipur Sports Festival (KRSF)
Before going for the event, every time I mentioned it to my friends that I wished to attend the Village Olympics in Punjab, I was invariably asked: “Ohh! So there is a sports festival just for ‘gulli-danda’?” [Come to think of the irony, that there is simply no ‘gulli-danda‘ at this event!]

KRSF has been on my travel-radar for quite a while now, but I have always been slightly hesitant in taking up this trip. As a girl I think, I was a little apprehensive that it would be rowdy. But it is not. It is boisterous, an adjective which is inherently ‘Punjab’. More than the destination, it is the journey that matters (at least, to a traveller), and I, purely by luck, bumped into DelhiByFoot and teamed up with them for the journey. I don’t think I have thanked Ajit, my friend, enough for putting me in touch with this awesome bunch of people!

Kila ‘Rapper’, as the locals refer to it, has been celebrating the spirit of rural sports for last 81 years. Grewals, the jat-community of Punjab, that finds its origin in and around the area called Kila Raipur, were the initiators of the event way back in 1933. The body that co-ordinates and manages the event, called Grewal Sporting Association, is extremely proud of its rural heritage.

The venue is a sports stadium in the ‘pind’ (village) of Kila Raipur, with both the ends seamlessly merging into vastness of fields that has wheat and mustard crops sown in. This bit is on purpose, as the various races that have animals as participants, need more area to stop the follow-through of the run. The animals run at great speeds and run much past the finish line, into the fields before finally coming to a halt.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival 2The event, due to its rustic nature, is a crowd-puller for two distinct kinds of people. One – the locals, for whom it is an annual event of great significance. It borders sacrosanctity for the participants and this can be sensed from the way they bend down, touch the ground and then their forehead to pay respect to the ‘start-line’ before the commencement of any race. The other chunk comprises curious artists from various mediums – photographers, videographers, documentary film-makers and bloggers. Kila Raipur Sports Festival encompasses the disparate crowd with surprising ease and effortlessness.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival 2014
It was refreshing to see a sporting-event which, the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi are yet to corrupt. My heart did a little jig out of pure happiness! Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against these companies (except the health factor, maybe). It is just that most of the FMCG sponsors make EVERY event look like a clone of the other, thereby stripping the event of any individuality that it may have once had.
At KRSF, most of the sponsors were Indian companies. A few were, predictably, the ones that manufacture agriculture-related machinery and fertilizer companies. The food-stalls at the venue were totally ‘desi’ fare. Sugar-cane juices, fruit-salads, pocket-kulcha, Kinoo Fruit-juice, chaat, chai and samosas were being sold at the stalls and hand-carts that could be spotted right outside the venue.

Even though these items were being prepared fresh, the hygiene level is slightly ‘iffy’ because of all the dust in the area. I can digest just about anything, so I enjoyed everything. But I suggest, please go ahead with the food-items only if your system is not too sensitive. Or else, peanuts aren’t that bad an alternative!

Some spicy Pocket-Kulcha getting ready for us
Some spicy Pocket-Kulcha getting ready for us
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Fresh sugarcane juice….
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…..’Kinoo’ juice to keep you refreshed!
Kila Raipur Sports Festival 5
…fruit chaat of Papaya, Apples, Grapes…liberally sprinkled with Red Chilli powder and Chaat Masala!

The Event
Every time I tried to gather any information about KRSF, all I could lay my hands on were the images from event. It was not very helpful in communicating about how to go about it- the stay, commute, food etc. Thanks to DelhiByFoot and subsequently my own research I am now in a position to put together some information which will hopefully help people in the future.

KRSF celebrates the regular as well as not-so-regular sports categories with great enthusiasm. The one with the regular races like- 400m race, 200m race, shot-put throw etc for various categories and the others like grey-hound race, bullock-cart race, mule-race and tractor race. The latter is something that draws influence from the rural-lifestyle.

What garners the maximum accolades is the category with individual stunt-like feats of strength by the villagers, for example – lifting a plough with the teeth, a tractor rolling over a man lying on the ground, pulling a car with one’s teeth,  lifting a 100kg sack with one’s mouth, motorcycle stunts etc.

Kila Raipur Sports Fest
Gurmeet Singh Ji has been lifting Ploughs, Cycles and Ladders in his mouth for the last 29 yrs at the KRSF. The weight of the plough is almost 85Kgs as he claimed!
Kila Raipur Sports Fest 2014
A tractor rolls over Balbir Mirza of Hoshiarpur who lies on the ground!
Kila Raipur Sports Fest
Using his tuft of hair, Jagtar Singh pulls along a Maruti Alto Car for at least 2 mtrs. Phew!

KRSF  acknowledges and honors the handicapped people with great pride and successfully communicates that a human being can achieve so much if they choose to look beyond their imperfections. Here is an image from one such event.

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This person could walk only with the help of crutches, because his right leg was affected with polio. But he could pull the Alto car with his teeth!

For me, the most interesting ones were the team-events like : Loading and off-loading of tractor-trolley with gunny-bags full of grains and Kabaddi.

Kila Raipur
2 teams compete against each other to load up or unload a truck of gunny bags in a ‘x’ duration of time

Here is a list of events at KRSF. My highlights of the crowd-pulling events are below.

Bullock Cart Race
The traditional bullock carts are replaced by a smaller and lighter cart attachment called ‘thokar’to reduce serious injuries to both man and animal due to accidents/collisions of speeding carts.

Kila Raipur Sports Fest 2014
In hot pursuit of the leader of the pack!!
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The scent of victory!
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Crossing the finish line, the winner takes it all !

Tractor Race
In a Punjab village how can tractors not be racing each other?! The ultimate salute to male machismo!

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In a billowing cloud of smoke and dust the tractors roared to life!
Kila Raipur Sports Festival
That tractors can run so fast, we had never imagined in our wildest dreams…for their weight, remarkable F1 style speeds!
Kila Raipur Sports Festival
And the local lad from the village of Kila Raipur wins the Tractor race in a flurry of thundering cacaphony…

Horse Racing

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
Eeeyaaah! Horse and Man fly in unison!

Traditional Races and Sports too!

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
Reaching for the skies!
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Off the starting block!
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Zor se khincho doston…Tug-of-war in progress!
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Cyclists whizz past us…

Our stay:
Ludhiana is the city closest to KRSF venue. DelhiByFoot made arrangements for our stay in a hotel called Mahal, on Ferozpur Road. A decent place with delightfully clean washrooms. For me, a clean washroom is more important than the room itself. The other alternative would be a home-stay close to the venue. No options that we came to know of though! It will not only cut down the hassles of commuting, but would also give you a sneak-peek into the rural-life.
The best bet? Pack a tent and pitch it close to the venue. Close by, there is the main village called Kila Raipur. Befriend a local guy for your basic needs. Have fun! (Not recommended for female solo-travellers though!)

Commute:
KRSF ‘s venue is at a distance of approximately 18 kilometers from Ludhiana. You can, from the main bus-station, take a local bus to Dhellon, which is at a distance of 3 kilometers from the venue. From Dhellon, you can take a shared autorickshaw (or book one for yourself entirely) to Kila Raipur Sports Festival. This drill is effortless while going to the venue, but God save you if you more than two travellers (AND have women in the group),  trying to get back to Ludhiana after the day KRSF is over!
The road outside the venue is nothing too amazing to get stranded at. Especially after it is dark. It goes dead, with almost no public transport. Not a soul to spot, for long duration of time. Your best bet would be to book a cab/taxi from Ludhiana for the day. This way, no matter how late you get, you’ll not have to worry about ‘how to-s’ of getting back to the town. DelhiByFoot did the next best thing, they booked autorickshaw for us the whole of 2 days!

Punjab Da Flavour

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Bhangra te music…

 

IMG_8838
….te Punjab ke Sarson de Khet….
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And we also get our own cart ride!!!

To Dos for a first-timer to KRSF:
1) While it is important that you click pictures to be uploaded on social media, it is also important that you observe the event with your naked eyes. And soul.  ‘Observe’ and not ‘watch’. Yes.
Because ‘the want’ to click the perfect picture takes a toll on the way you experience the event. You miss a lot of action. Fixing the ISO, the shutter-speed, the mode and the aperture takes your attention away from the pre-race apprehensions of the participants, the anticipation of winning, the jubilant celebrations once a favorite participant wins, the commentary and much more.

2) Talk to the locals They have so much to tell! Notice how emotions run high (in a positive way) for this event. Also, listen to the murmurs as the participants touch the finish line. It tells so much about how the event is H-U-G-E, for the local people.

3) Sample the local fare Punjab is much more than Butter Chicken or Chicken Tandoori! As I have mentioned above, keep your gastronomic explorations within the tolerance capacity you have built up in your travels. It is no fun lying in the hotel room with an upset tummy, especially if you have travelled especially for an event like KRSF.

Please Do Not However:
1) Depend on the venue or its location for food or bottled water. It has, practically nothing to eat if you are even slightly discerning. Carry your own food and water if you plan to be there at the venue for the whole day. DelhiByFoot by virtue of being registered as ‘Photography & Media Partners’ with the KRSF, had access to clean drinking water and a midday snack of ‘Paneer Rolls’ (Imagine eating vegetarian in Punjab!)

2) Think that every day will have the same events. Not even one day is worth missing. Period.

3) Crazily risk your life to get a few good pictures. Photographers, I know, would disagree. But an animal is an animal; and for events like these, often high on drugs! It makes sense to watch out and be careful!

4) Expect this to be a swanky and slickly organised ‘Urban Mela’ event! It is as rustic as it can get.

Lastly, my suggestion to KRSF; how about addinggulli-danda’  as one of the sports, to this event?!!

Hope you as much fun going through this blog post as we had at KRSF and in putting together this photo-story for you!

For more pix check out our Facebook Album

Sufi Basant – “Mohe Rang De Basanti Nizamuddin Aulia”

“Mohay apnay hi rung mein rang ley, Tu toh saaheb mera Mehboob-e-Ilaahi”

The relationship of Hazrat Amir Khusrow, the poet-extraordinaire and musician with his master Mehboob-e-Ilaahi Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia is well documented and known by all lovers of Chisti Sufiyana Silsila and Sufi Tasawwuf . Our forum has also dwelled upon it here. Amir Khusrow’s treasure trove of music (Qawwaalis and Poems written in mix of Hindvi, Khari Boli, Urdu and Persian) celebrate his love for the ‘Khwaja’ , his spiritual master and one can experience it through multiple celebrations at the Dargah (Mausoleum) throughout the year.

But the most unique of such celebrations at the Dargah happens every year in Jan/Feb as Northern India marks the onset of Basant Hritu (also pronounced as Vasant Ritu, meaning Spring Season)! Yes, its the Sufi version of the Hindu festival of ‘Basant Panchami’  , an everlasting legacy of Hazrat Amir Khusrow which annually envelopes the Holy Dargah in yellow color and merry music associated with the season of spring!

Legend tells us that Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia, was so aggrieved by the death of his nephew Taqiuddin Nooh, who had a sudden, untimely death that he withdrew himself from worldly affairs, avoided meeting his followers and spent all of his time at his newphew’s grave or in his ‘Chilla-e-Sharif’ (place of residence). His disciples were worried and tried many a ruse to make their Khwaja talk again, make him happy, just as he was before the tragedy. But alas all failed. Even his most favourite disciple, Amir Khusro tried to reason with him in many ways but failed to cheer him up.

Then one day, Khusrow noticed some young women dressed in yellow clothes, adorned with yellow flowers of ‘Gendaful’ (marigold) who were celebrating Vasant Utsav (Spring Festival) with a lot of singing, fun and gaiety, as they went to their temples to pray. Seeing this an idea struck Khusrow, who immediately donned a yellow Ghaagra (Skirt-style Indian traditional dress), covered his face with a Chunni (scarf), hung garlands of yellow marigold around his neck and with a bunch of sarson flowers (mustard) stuck to his Dhol, he landed at his master’s room and began singing and dancing to a self-composed song “Aaj Basant Manaaley Suhagan…Aaj Basant Manaaley Suhagan”.

Seeing this spectacle and knowing it was Khusrow under the woman’s garb who was singing and dancing with gay abandon, it is said that Hazrat Nizamuddin burst out laughing! The spell of gloom was suddenly lifted and the whole congregation of his followers erupted in joy! Since then, every year for more than seven centuries now, Sufi Basant has became a regular festival in remembrance of the incident, at the same time acting as the harbinger of the proverbial spring’s sunny joys after the gloom of winter, highlighting the cyclical nature of nature, the awakening and rejuvenation of life itself.

Even the skies on the day seemed to be tinted golden yellow!
Even the skies on the day seemed to be tinted golden yellow!

 What happens today?

Officials and visitors to the Dargah in yellow
Officials and visitors to the Dargah in yellow
Lending a helping hand!
Lending a helping hand!

What happens today?  The Dargah’s senior priests and Qawwaal singers, dress up in yellow and wear Basanti (Yellow-hued) scarves, chaadars and caps, post which they take out a joyous procession around the Nizamuddin Basti, carrying gendaful (marigold) and pots of sarson flowers (Yellow Mustard) through the narrow alleys, which reverberate with the sounds of Qawwaalis and Dhol (Drums)

The procession and the singers...
The procession and the singers…

 

Dhol Ki Dhak-ti-na-din...
Dhol ki Dhak-ti-na-din…

Offering flowers and prayers on every important grave in the area they finally reach the main Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and after laying down the offerings of a yellow chaadar and yellow flowers, the Qawwaal singers settle down for a long session of soulful renditions of Hindvi and Persian Qawwalis; Mostly written by Amir Khusrow himself to praise the coming of sunny spring and the disciple’s everlasting love for his master.

Offering of yellow-colored chaadar and flowers at the main dargah
Offering of yellow-colored chaadar and flowers at the main dargah
Sufi Basant Nizamuddin
Offering flowers of Mustard at other graves in the dargah complex
Another round of Duaa (Prayers)
Spcl Qawwaalis being sung in the courtyard after the offering of prayers
Spcl Basant Ki Qawwaalis being sung in the courtyard after the offering of prayers
Sufi Basant Nizamuddin
Holy Prashaad being distributed
Sufi Basant Nizamuddin
Even the young ones have a full day of fiesta and merry-making!

The pomp and splendour has dwindled away over the last seven centuries, and we have noticed a gradual decline even in this last decade or so, that we have been visiting the Dragah on Basant. Still a very merry ceremony of sorts continues to happen, making the community come alive in a celebration that’s worth a visit. So go Dilli go…next year in Basant.

Leaving you with a Sufi Basant Song and its words….Wish you all a very Happy Basant and colorful time ahead of you…

Aaj basant manaalay suhaagun,
Aaj basant manaalay;
Anjan manjan kar piya mori,
Lambay neher lagaaye;
Tu kya sovay neend ki maasi,
So jaagay teray bhaag, suhaagun,
Aaj basant manalay…..;
Oonchi naar kay oonchay chitvan,
Ayso diyo hai banaaye;
Shaah-e Amir tohay dekhan ko,
Nainon say naina milaaye,
Suhaagun, aaj basant manaalay.

Rejoice, my love, rejoice,
Its spring here, rejoice.
Bring out your lotions and toiletries,
And decorate your long hair.
Oh, you’re still enjoying your sleep, wake-up.
Even your destiny has woken up,
Its spring here, rejoice.
You snobbish lady with arrogant looks,
The King, Amir Khusrow is here to look at you;
Let your eyes meet his,
Oh my love, rejoice;
Its spring here again.

A Dive into Sufism

Guest Post and Text by Kaushal Mathpal, a DelhiByFoot community member. (Pictures by Ramit Mitra and Shweta Berry)

Kaushal is a practicing lawyer in the Delhi Courts but when he is not pitching his case in front of a Judge of a Court, this wanderer at heart takes his notebook and camera and hits the streets of his adopted city, Delhi. An unfortunate accident last year rendered him immobile but gave him ample time to pursue his long desired dream of penning down his thoughts as a traveller, an explorer and seeker of knowledge. He blogs about his travels and discoveries on Rediscover Your Dreams.

Recently, my appetite for travelling has brought me closer to one of the most intrinsic community of our country i.e. the Muslim or Islamic Community. My earlier post on the Nizamuddin Dargah would reveal how I loved exploring the culture and customs of the people, which unfortunately I had never come in contact earlier so closely. My earlier little encounters with the community had given birth to the inquisitiveness to acquaint myself more with the notions of the community and find answers to certain questions which had been swinging in my mind for a long time.

My quest for fathoming the concepts and beliefs of the community made me sign up for a Sufi Baithak’ (A discussion on Sufism) organized by DelhiByFoot’ in association with ‘Kunzum’ The ‘Baithak’, first of its kind (Sufi Baithaks were usually held in private family gatherings, festivals and functions), unlocked the heavenly doors of the spiritually rich Sufi culture and traditions to general public and how the customs have evolved over the span of several centuries. The 3-hour chat and musical interactions took place at the ‘Kunzum Cafe‘, aptly situated at the 2nd Sultanate city of Delhi, Hauz Khas.

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DBF’s Sufi Baithak was organised at the Kunzum Cafe in Hauz Khas Village, for a small and select group of Sufi Music lovers and people wishing to know more about the Sufi way of life.

Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot, welcomed the participants with an introduction of the evening programme’s format and the rationale behind the Baithak. He touched upon briefly the similarities of Islamic Sufism and the parallel Hindu Bhakti movement in India and hoped that this humble beginning by DBF, which was but a dip in the vast ocean of Sufi Heritage in Delhi, would reaffirm DBF’s core philosphy to present more and more unique cultural experiences to people of Delhi.

Ramit then handed over the Baithak discussions to Syed Ajmal Nizami, who was to lead the evening’s talk. Ajmal Ji is one of the descendants of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya close family and also the families entrusted with the care of Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah (mausoleum) and his spiritual legacy for more than 6 centuries. He was accompanied by Qawwalls trained in Sufi music and who later presented the unadulterated version of Qawaallis in between the interactive sessions.

DBF Sufi Baithak
Syed Ajmal Ji initiated the Baithak with a beautiful shayari: “Ye na dekho ki log chand hai, Ye dekho ki iraada nek hai”. (If the purpose is virtuous, it doesn’t matter even if there are few followers).

He thereafter edified the gathering on the basic tenets and concept of Sufism or ‘Tasawwuf’ , before he moved on to the splendid history of Sufism dating back to 1000+ years in time, followed by tales of present-day Baghdad where such Sufi Baithaks were common and organized and the attendees were treated to different levels of teachings, trainings and even sherbets according to their age. However, when Chenghis Khan invaded the region, he destroyed and plundered everything that came in its way and gradually the Indian Sub-Continent region became the epicenter of Sufism. Mr Ajmal then articulated the story of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and how soon he became the face of Sufism in the world.

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The Qawaalls and Syed Ajmal sitting on the right

Syed Ajmal Ji narrated some beautiful anecdotes from the life of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his favourite disciple Hazrat Amir Khurso, who is attributed for creating thousands of verses, poems, riddles, couplets in Arabic, Persian, Awadhi, Khadiboli and with inventing and improving 2 important musical instruments like Sitar, Tabla and formulating various Taranas (a composition of classical vocal music in which certain words based on Arabic and Persian phonemes are rendered at medium or fast pace). Hazrat Amir Khusro is also accredited for creating countless Qawaallis in the service of ‘The Almighty’ and his Guru Nizamuddin Auliya.

 The Baithak then progressed to the concept of Sufism and the genesis of the word “Sufi”. Syed Ajmal enunciated number of origins of the word Sufi among which I absorbed one to my heart. It is said that the word Sufi originated from the Arabic word Safa which means purity and clarity. Thus, Sufi means a person whose heart is pure and clear from all the materialistic adulterations and the one who respects everyone. I strongly believe that the other origins explained by Syed Ajmal also conveyed more or less the same meaning.

Upon hearing the above definition and origin of the word Sufi, it felt that what it aimed to convey, resembled the teachings embodied in the manuscripts of Hindu religion (which I have been following in recent past). The only difference lies in the nomenclature. It made me comprehend that every religion in its original, traditional form is secular and only aims to serve humanity towards the goal of achieving Nirvana. It does not makes any distinction among its beneficiaries and treats every human being equal, irrespective of their religions. It is very clear from life and teaching of Sufi Saints or Hindu Saints who never made distinction among people on the basis of religion. It is only the when the minds get infected with impurities and misguided fundamentalism, a feeling of hatred and intolerance arises among the masses which leads to unfortunate events, which multiplies it further.

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As all the participants gather around for informal discussions with Ajmal ji and the Qawwalls over hot cups of Kahsmiri Kahwaa and Sheermal

In between the discussions swinging from Sufi traditions to anecdotes to Kalaams (verses/couplets) and to Q&A sessions, the evening was bestowed with heart-warming Qawaallis from the Qawwalls (Sufi Singers) who have practiced the Sufi music in its traditional and non-commercial pattern, from a tender age. The small acts of respect for their ancestors by the Qawwalls, who touched their ears whenever the Saint’s name was uttered during Qawallis or discussions, made us realise the importance of such customs.

The Qawaallis filled the venue with an altogether different aura and energy which can only be embraced and understood by the heart and cannot be described in words. The soulful music and the raw energy of the Qawwalls. The cries of ‘Waah, waah’ by all participants rent the air. The fragrance of Incense sticks and ‘Attar’ made the ambience perfect for all of us that evening.

Sufi Baithak DelhiByFoot

Even though the Qawaallis were in different languages including Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Urdu and many times I could not understand each word’s meaning, but Syed Ajmal and the accompanying Qawwalls elaborated their essence, meanings and multiple interpretations of the verses to the gathering. The beautiful Qawallis touched the hearts of everyone present proving once again that music has no language and boundaries. Sufi music is no different and the language of music does not lies in its words but it floats in the air through its rhythm which can be imbibed by every listener!

After several rounds of discussion and elegant Qawaallis, the Baithak or Mehfil (as they call in Urdu) finally culminated with the famous Qawalli “Damadam Mastkalander….” and some Kashmiri Kahwa along with another delight- Sheermal (a sort of fluffy mildly sweet bread) which according Syed Ajmal has been an integral part of such Sufi gatherings.

The Baithak was certainly an eye opener for people like me who have very little knowledge about the vibrant Sufi culture and customs and I would definitely like to thank DelhiByFoot’, Syed Ajmal Nizami and the accompanying Qawalls for bringing out such a novel concept to promote our culture and making us part of something which will relish forever in our hearts.

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One for the Shutterbug!

Diwali Bazaars in Delhi – Exploring Purani Dilli

Guest Post and Text by Ayandrali Dutta, an active DelhiByFoot community member. This post originally appeared in the Times of India online blog of TimesCity here.

Tea Junkie, Die hard Romantic, Amateur Cook and perpetual Bhukkad, is how Ayandrali describes herself in her Travel Blog. A journo by profession, which brings the bread and butter to the table, she wishes that her gypsy feet will soon travel across every corner of the globe!
Diwali Bazars in Purani Dilli
With Diwali just round the corner, city markets were buzzing with action. Delhi’s streets were witnessing choc-a-bloc traffic. In tune with the Diwali spirit, IndiaByFoot organized a walk Dariba-Kinari Diwali Raunaq: A Shopping Exploration in Chandni Chowk. And I geared up to explore these crowded markets.As we navigated the chaotic bylanes of Shahjahanabad (Delhi-6) and made our way to the mad frenzy glitzy bazaars, we found some of the best deals in the market. Beautiful artwork, diyas, crackers, handicrafts, and decorative items – you name it and it was there.Firecrackers, Sadar Bazaar:

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dilli
In Sadar Bazaar, the markets are flooded with varieties of firecrackers

Sadar Bazaar’s fame lies in being Delhi’s biggest cracker market. Age-old shops stock up Kalisawari Fireworks (Cock brand) and Standard Fireworks where you find all kinds of crackers right from chakris, anaars, phooljhadi’s to everything that is latest, all at reasonable prices that will not burn a hole in your pocket – literally. Other than these, one can also spot multiple makeshift shops near Sadar Bazaar railway station and more than two dozen shops just behind the majestic Jama Masjid. A bag full of crackers with a mix of all varieties might just cost around Rs 700-Rs1000

Gifts Galore, Dariba Kalan to Kinari Bazaar:

The narrow lanes of old Delhi were super crowded as the bazaars buzzed in Diwali madness with everything from earthen diyas to figurines of gods and goddesses and candles to household decoration items to pick from.

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Diwali Special Gift: 24K Gold Plated Playing Cards

Diwali is all about lovely gifts and these gold plated playing cards priced at Rs 400 are sure to make heads turn. The pack claims that the cards are made of 24 carat gold dust and they come with an authenticity certificate too!

Silver jewellery and Artifacts

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Silver idols of Lakshmi-Ganesh or Radha-Krishna are quite popular during Diwali

If you are looking for some silver artifacts then Dariba Kalan in Old Delhi is the place. This ancient market, Delhi’s jewellery ‘adda’, is full of options.

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A silver jewellery shop in Dariba Kalan

Dariba Kalan literally translates to ‘the street of the incomparable pearl’. This place was the trade hub for pearls and rare gem stones. Once here you are going to be spoilt for choice. Economically priced, the shops here offer hefty discounts on jewellery during the festive period.

Clay idols

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Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshiped as they bring peace and prosperity

Craftsmen, few of them selling their wares all the way from Kolkata can be seen selling clay idols of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh.

Home décor – Art and Craft

Kinari Bazaar, Delhi’s wholesale hub for designer home-decor and wedding paraphernalia is also primed and prepped during the festive season. Shops are seen lined up with candles, lampshades, decorative items, designer gift boxes, paper craft and various other items of home décor and accessories.

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill

In this mid-17th century bazaar, one can pick up unique stuff like stonework, gold/silver jewellery, accessories, garlands, borders- embellishments and more. It’s an ideal place for shopaholics.

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Kinari Bazar shops carry a wide variety of festive decorations and innovative Diwali lamps and lighting accessories

A final shopping tip: Stay alert, follow the crowd and you will find what you seek in this land of festive cheer and discounted prices!

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot not just guided us around the best bargains in the nearly 400 yrs old Bazaars, but also threw light on the heritage aspects of this Mughal-era Bazaars as we shopped

Homecoming on Durga Puja

Delhi’s Pujos through the eyes of a Dilliwaali

Guest post and pictures by Jayati Ghose, an active DelhiByFoot community member. (Additional pictures by Ramit Mitra

Jayati is a writer and journalist, who has been penning short stories for many years, specialising in ‘Thriller’s! Her recent ‘obsession’ includes a random exploration of the city she proudly calls home – Delhi, through her blog www.ginovertonic.com.
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Pushpanjali (offering of flowers to a deity) and prasad (food offered to gods) at a 100 year old puja followed by every Bong’s favourite food – biryani. Then hopping on to the metro and an electric rickshaw to see a Tibetan thangka inspired puja where the goddess is adorned in rich royal shades of purple, this Durga puja I am a tourist in my own city!

I am not a foreigner to the city or the festival, but for today I am being taken through the riotous, boistorous festivity of Durga Puja by Ramit Mitra (founder of DelhiByFoot which conducts heritage and food walks within the walls of India’s capital for curious explorers), and as I pretend to be a tourist, I get the audacity to exclaim at the sweetness of a labangalatika (a common fried Bengali sweetmeat), the fragrance of the dhoop (incense) and the frenzy of the dhaak (drums).

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It is said that if you rush through life, you end of missing out on some great experiences. While that may be true, in my case any rushed or unplanned expedition has always turned out to be a great event.

Continue reading “Homecoming on Durga Puja”

Hola Mohalla 2013: Jo Bole So Nihal!

Guest Post and Photographs by Priyanka Bhaskar, a DelhiByFoot community member about our first ‘Out-of-Delhi’ Event of 2013 done earlier in March.  Additional pictures by Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot and organising leader of this 2-day trip.

Priyanka is a true-blood travel and trekking enthusiast, having completed tough treks like Everest Base Camp (2013), Chadar Trek (Ladkah, 2011) and photo-documenting Alleppey’s famed Snake Boat Race among many regular travels. When she isn’t out exploring India, she sits at her office desk in an IT company in Gurgaon, day-dreaming and planning about the next trip across the length and breadth of India!
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Being educated in a Sikh school, I wasn’t a stranger to the Hola Mohalla festival. While studying Sikh history, we had learned that Guru Gobind Singh ji laid the foundation of Khalsa panth to fight Mughals and Rajputs at the same time. In the early years of the 18th century, he started the tradition of Hola Mohalla, a festival to celebrate the warrior-ship of Sikhs. Hola Mohalla is a three-day festival to showcase the bravery and regalia of the religion, which was established with valour as its fundamental principle.  It is a practice that has withstood the test of time for over three centuries with all its colors, moods and heroism.

Finding it on the event list of DelhiByFoot’s ‘out-of-Delhi Events’ gave me a chance to experience the enormity of the event in person. Though it meant skipping the festival of Holi with family, for a more masculine Hola festival, it was worth taking the chance!

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Style Quotient!

A day before Holi on 26th March 2013, the team gathered at Patel Chowk metro station in Delhi to board the Tempo Traveller arranged by DBF on way to the small town of Anandpur Sahib, in Punjab near the foothills of Himachal Pradesh. The incoming reports from the town suggested that huge crowds, upwards of 2.5 million people, are expected to visit the place during Hola this year, and finding accommodation in the place had been a real challenge for the organizers. But, we realized that Ramit, the founder of DelhiByFoot had skillfully organized a smooth landing and comfortable stay for all of us in the small town.

Amidst the constant chant of ‘Guru-baani’, the ‘too-much-to-handle-small-town’ traffic and golden lights of beautifully lit Gurudwaras, we reached our destination around 5am in the morning. “Sambhal ke rehna aap log, yahaan rang bhi bohat chaltaa hai aur bhang bhi bohat chaltii hai”, with this (pleasant!) warning from our driver, we got off the bus to a homely, clean and cozy guest house. After a couple of hours rest, we were all set to ‘chase the light’ before it transformed into harsh afternoon light. That was the first photography ‘mantra’ from our Photography coach, professional photo-journalist and documentary maker, Prashanth Vishwanathan.

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We caught breakfast in one of the langars (Community Lunch-houses), a hearty serving of Pakodas and Jalebis with a perfect cup of milky chai to raise the spirits.
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Devotees carry freshly cooked ‘Guru Ka Prasaad’ for serving at langars

The ‘mela’ was essentially devoid of ‘shutter bug tourists’ and was mostly flocked by locals of nearby villages and foreign tourists . The lanes and bylanes of the town were marked with arrays of make shift shops selling trinkets, colorful chakriis, dholaks (drums), bubble making loops, children’s plastic toys and other typical ‘Village Mela’ kind of knick-knacks.

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The regular appearance of Nihangs with their massive, colorful turbans got the entire group go shutter-happy after them. The fancy turbans boasting of several hundred meters of cloth and kilos of weight wrapped around their heads were incredible!

After walking around for a couple of hours, it was clear that we were in for a raw, rustic and earthy ‘mela’ experience, which was far removed from the urban fare that we city buffs were used to at the Dilli Haat Melas & Fairs! The constant chant of Shabads, the hustle and bustle of vehicles marking influx of devotees and chaotic Brownian movement of villagers on the narrow streets – it all set the scene for two days of hyper activity. Ramit, in typical ‘DBF-walk style’ kept up a constant stream of stories, anecdotes and historical information flowing about the place, the festival and its passage over time, while Prashanth added his dose of photography tips. And we were loving every moment of it!

We had a quick indoor session to brush up our basics and learn tips-and-tricks from Prashanth. He showcased his shots from that morning to support the theory, and a group member commented, “We too traversed the same streets and roads yet we didn’t see all this that you have captured”. Needless to say, we were in for some good learning, qualifying the trip to be an ‘Outdoor on-ground photo workshop’. We even found many inter-village sports event to practice what we had learnt that morning. Kabaddi and wrestling tournaments were being held in the town, and well, those were some action packed events! We practiced to our hearts’ content, capturing motion and emotion at the same time, ensuring to be on the right side of the light and being cautious at the same time to not fall into the ring!!

Later that afternoon, we witnessed the Gatka (mock warfare encounters) competitions. Even the audience was equipped with assorted varieties of arms, let alone the participants- spears, ‘desi’ guns and swords to name a few. We felt like we had been tele-ported back in time. Ramit had fortunately enough, got us special ‘Press’ access on the stage to witness the event from close quarters. There were numerous such moments when I would miss a beat and forget to click.

Gatka or Mock Martial Fights
Gatka Competitions of various Martial Fighting styles
Not for a moment did any fight seem to be a mock battle of strength or agility, each fight was done with so much vigour and fierceness!
Not for a moment did any fight seem to be a mock battle of strength or agility, each fight was done with so much vigour and fierce power!

The events continued till late evening, giving us a chance to shoot in the changing outdoor’s light. Our mentor, Prashanth continuously reminded us the lesson of using correct white-balance as afternoon gave way to evening which turned to night.Hola Mohalla

The weapons of Gatka, swords, sticks, spears, small daggers and many more.
The weapons of Gatka competitions, swords, sticks, spears, small daggers and many more.

Day2:  Lazy start to the day. The grand finale of the event was scheduled for the later half of the day. Ramit had managed to get our group invited to the house of one of the locals of Anandpur Sahib who as a gracious host had invited us for tea and then presented each of us with a traditional ‘saffron’ colored cotton scarf which meant that most of us took advantage of the morning’s free time to get some turban tying done. We were now a team of ‘Rajnikath-for-Bhagat-Singh’, ‘almost-convincing-Sukhdev’ and a ‘genuinely-turbaned-Sikhnee’ in the group.

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Shri Narender Singh ji giving us a dose of his gracious hospitality at his home. And then the turban-tying fun began!

We ambled at comfortable pace, walking past the campsites of Nihangs, dodging the few rare occasions of Holi colors of ‘Gulaal’ being applied and braving the sudden unexpected rains.

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Members of our Gang pose with some of the Nihangs at their camps
Members of our Gang pose with some of the Nihangs at their camps

It was time for yet another photography lesson before the mega horse-riding events – the lesson of panning. Panning essentially is an art to make moving objects look static and static background look as if it is zooming past. So there we were, all of us standing in a queue beside the lane, and not just focusing the camera on every passerby but also moving it at the speed they were moving. Well, what we were unable to master with gently moving humans, we were hoping to attempt with lightning speed horses. Pipe dreams!

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Best panning shot I could get during our practice sessions!

The procession of participants of the grand finale was to start soon and there was a palpable sense of excited anticipation among the people on the streets. Although  spirits were a bit dampened by the unseasonal rain that delayed the whole event by almost an hour, however all gloom was lifted as soon as the procession hit the road! We ran hither and thither to keep pace with the bustling energy of the procession. The mock battles, the warrior dances, the rhythm of the Dhols, the war-cries of ‘Jo bole so nihaal’ and breath-taking stunts – to capture all at once was challenging for the best of us.

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We followed the procession for about half a Km, and then we fell out of the parade to secure our place in the actual venue for the grand finale of the event.
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The procession had people walking, dancing, riding horses and even camels, all bedecked in battle-finery and war regalia!
Gatka-style stunts
Gatka-style stunts, as we walked with the grand procession. Age was evidently no bar, as chubby youngsters aged 7-10 yrs and seasoned gray-haired veterans held their ground equally.

Soon the hordes of Nihangs riding on their neighing horses, led by their dera heads arrived at the venue alongwith flashy cars and modified Bullet Bikes. The much awaited equestrian sports began. Crowds lined up on both side of the alley in which the tent pegging event was to happen. And then came the array of mounted horsemen, riding at full gallop, using lances(spears) to scoop up grass bundles from the ground. Even with my camera set in a continuous shooting mode at an interval of 2 seconds, the horse was at the entry point in one shot and out of the frame in the next! Many photo enthusiasts, including myself, were dragged away and saved just in time from being trampled under the furiously driven horses’ hooves as we lost all sense of speed and time behind the cameras! I think I was right in abandoning the dream of panning shots.

DSC_4134Hola Mohalla DelhiByFootHola Mohalla DelhiByFootThen came the turn for bare back horse riding – one rider and one horse; one rider, two horses and hands up in the air; and finally hold your breath, since it was one rider, three horses and hands up in the air! Although I had seen the photos of this event many times, it was no match for the rush of adrenaline when experienced in person!!  After going click-click for a few rounds , and almost getting trampled by the oncoming fast horses, as I kept trying to get good shots, I gave up and decided to give my camera rest and take it all in with my eyes!

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Yes, almost like this I also had rush out of the path of the fast horses to avoid being hit by them as they galloped past us!
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Rider on two horses balances his 2 feet on the backs of 2 horses
a thrill which is beyond words....when a Nihang rider balances his 2 feet on the backs of 2 horses, whilst they run at top speed...
The adrenaline thrill which is beyond words! When Nihang riders balance their two feet on the backs of three horses, whilst they run at unbelievable speeds

A gala finish to a gala event. The event left the whooshing sound in our heads for quite some time afterwards. The small town was enveloped in peace and quiet again, but our memories were well-preserved in our hearts and cameras as we departed for Delhi. Tired but overwhelmed with the experiences, we seemingly returned to present-day reality from a time-travel back into history.

“Pujo Aaschhey”- Cultural heritage explorations in Delhi’s ‘Mini Bengal’

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Courtesy: Vaishali Ahuja

Guest Post and Text by Vaishali AhujaAdditional pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

It was my 3rd walk with DelhiByFoot and indeed just as pleasant as the other ones. The previous walks I participated in were more of historical heritage events while this one was a experience of the rich cultural heritage of the melting pot that Delhi is.

The event notice mentioned we will be witnessing the age-old traditions of the Bengali community as they prepare for their grandest festival, Durga Pujo in Chittaranjan Park (popularly called CR Park), which is home to the largest concentration of Bengali residents in Delhi NCR. The opportunity to experience the stories and shoot pictures of artisans making the Durga Pratima (Durga Idols), eating traditional foods and unique shopping as activities in our 3-hr walk was what had piqued my interest. So 8am on a Sunday morning, I hauled myself and my husband off for a exploration ofMini Bengal,’ as most Delhizens refer to CR Park.

I must say that the preparations by DelhiByFoot (DBF) were no less than the preparations for the Durga Pujo celebrations. Although most of us, the participants were eager to go and check out the artistry of the ‘Kumhars’ (Idol Makers) right away, DBF began the morning with a small round of orientation of the locality and its history. A short walk later through the streets of CR Park where we saw many workmen busy in erecting mammoth ‘Pandals’ (Tents set up for the actual 5-day pujo) in big open grounds, we took a break. Here we were served with a scrumptious Bengali breakfast in smartly packed boxes which I really enjoyed and the timing was perfect since by now all the participants were feeling the strong pangs of hunger!

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RadhaBallavi (Puri with filling of Urad Daal), Aloo Dum and Bengali Sweets, the quintessential Sondesh and Kheerkodom. Pure Vegetarian Bliss!

Over breakfast we were introduced to our ‘Story-teller’ of the day, Mrs. Indrani Gupta who herself is a Bengali and has lived in this area for many years and also has been part of one of Delhi’s oldest Bengali community Pujo celebrations at Kashmiri Gate. She carried with her intricate details about the festival, essentially the how, where, when and why of everything related to Durga Pujo. Having witnessed the preparations of this festival since her early childhood she was also able to share the deviations of how things have changed over time in the fast paced world, where people are hard pressed to take out time for all the rituals and traditions. She pointed out alterations that have now come about, be it the setting up of the pandals to the way the idols are created to how the 5 days celebrations are done inside the pandals.

After breakfast was over we headed towards the Shiv Mandir (a large temple complex in the area) where the idol makers or the ‘Kumhars’ temporarily live for 3-4 months as they prepare the clay idols. The moment we stepped in the artisan’s compound, the buzz of activity was palpable.

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The workshop of the Artisans (Kumhars) Pic Credits: Suvendu Das

Indrani Didi, as we all addressed her, was truly engaging in her story telling technique and I thoroughly enjoyed her stories which were embellished with the different mythological and practical philosophies related to the origin of Durga Puja celebrations. One being of how Shri Ram prayed to Goddess Durga for her blessings before he began his attack against Ravana, which actually helped me figure out how closely the story of the legendary battle of Lord Rama and Ravana  ending on Dussehra, matches the culmination of Durga Pujo with ‘Visarjan’ (immersion) of the Durga Idol on the same day when rest of North Indians celebrate Dussehra. While the other one was that during this time of year, Goddess Durga killed the Mahishasur, the Buffalo Demon, who started to destroy the world after getting powers of invincibility from Lord Brahma. Hindus worship all forms of the Divine Goddess Shakti by observing fast during the 9 days of Navratra.

The idol makers do not use many tools while making these idols. Just the brush and the required glazing clays do enough over the base skeleton of bamboo and hay.
Vegetable dye-based, water-soluble colours are applied using brushes and then a bit of glazing is enough to create the masterpieces of clay!

The idol makers do not use any fancy tools while making these idols. Bare hands create a base skeleton of bamboo, hay, hemp and clay. Multiple layers of fine clay is used to sculpt the features and painstaking effort goes in making these clay idols in separate stages over many weeks. The most primitive philosophy of making these idols of clay is that they come from and go back to the Earth after ‘Visarjan’ (Immersion of idol in water)

A 3-pic collage shows the It was a great experience shooting them, knowing how the idols are made in stages, how they are beautified
A 3-pic collage by Ramit, co-founder of DelhiByFoot and my husband Mohit shows how the basic skeleton of the idol gets its multiple layers, and the idol’s finer features and expressions become easily visible as each stage progresses.
Sheer experience of many years of idol making gives the senior-most Kumhar, usually the Head Kumhar, the privilege the Head Kumhar creates the faces of the idols. of
Sheer experience of many years of idol making gives the senior-most Kumhar (Idol maker), usually the Head craftsman, the privilege of carving the idol’s faces and heads; and their devotion shows in the benevolent and beatific expression on the Divine Mother’s face!

Bengalis celebrate these 9 days as the arrival of Goddess Durga to visit her parental house from her heavenly abode of Kailash where Lord Shiva resides. She descends on Earth with her children, Goddess Saraswati and Lakshmi and the Gods Ganesh and Kartik to live amidst the people. Before these 9 days, devotees pray to her through songs that welcome her imminent arrival and on the 10th day, Dashami, they bid adieu to her with farewell prayers at the Visarjan ( idol is immersed in any water body).

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I was amazed with the details of the features of the idol, that too done on base coat of simple ‘mitti’ (clay). After the remaining layer of polishing clay is smeared, followed by painting, enameling and ornamentation, it will be a lovely sight!
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Beheaded ‘Mahisha’ (literally Buffalo in Sanskrit) the form in which the mighty ‘Asura’ (Demon) changed into before he was finally killed by the Goddess. This I believe signifies the winning of battle by Good over Evil.

DelhiByFoot ended the walk at the local CR Park bazaars which sell all things Bengali- from daily groceries to special things which are considered necessary for the Puja, for example traditional clothing attire and cotton sarees. Me and my husband had been enjoying listening and clicking pictures so much that we hardly realised how soon the 3 hours had elapsed! Some of us bade adieu while others stayed for a luncheon of Bengali delicacies. I left the place wondering how beautiful this area would soon be, as in the second week of October, thousands will come to worship the beautiful idols inside aesthetically themed and designed Durga Pujo Pandals and the people will all be enjoying the festive fervor.

The Story-teller at the market. Pic Courtesy: Papiya Banerjee
DBF’s Story-teller explaining a finer point at the market. Pic Credits: Papiya Banerjee

I really like the concept of such walks where they have specialized people who can narrate you the stories with their experiences and references. I had a great experience, learning more about my countrymen of a different state and I will be back surely this year during the Durga Pujo to actually experience the festivities first hand!  Kudos to DelhiByFoot for organizing this wonderful walk and sharing such a rich aspect of Delhi with the lucky few!

Did the blog make you all interested to be part of such an unique cultural heritage experience, then join us here.