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.
_MG_2726
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
_MG_2813
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

Shab-E-Baraat Celebrations in Dilli…

Across the country today one of the most auspicious of Muslim festivals is being celebrated with a whole night of offering special prayers and reciting of the Quran, religious fervour and rituals and ‘Dua’ for ‘divine blessings’. Tonight is the auspicious 15th night of Shabaan, also called “Shab-e-Baraat”, that the Prophet Muhammad taught his disciples to be the beginning of a New year in the spiritual realm, when the affairs of human beings are arranged in the Divine Presence and it is believed that the destinies of all men are written for the coming year taking into account their past deeds.

On this exalted night, the Muslims pray and seek forgiveness for sins of the past 12 months and visit the graves of their relatives and offer flowers, light lamps at/on the graves and seek God’s blessings for the departed souls of their forefathers.

On this intervening night of 24th/25th June, the major and minor Dargahs of Delhi are the best places to feel and experience the unique celebrations of the night of Shab-E-Baraat. The Dargahs of Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki in Mehrauli, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya and Dargah-e-Matka Peer in central Delhi and Khwaja Chirag-e-Dehlvi near Malviya Nagar even have their streets being illuminated with lights and candles.

SHAB-e-BARAAT
Walking among the tombs on the night of Shab-e-Baraat is like floating on a carpet of stars.

Flowers, incense sticks, oil-lamps(Diyas) are offered at the graves of the deceased family members and Sufi Saints. Many unmarked graves and graves of long-forgotten people are also cleaned and flowers and oil lamps are offered by the community of people living nearby, as a mark of respect to the long-departed souls.

SHAB-e-BARAAT

One of the holiest and most significant nights of the Islamic calendar, next only to Lailatul Qadir (27th night of Ramadaan) in auspiciousness, the night of “Shab-e-Baraat” is observed 15 days before the start of the holy month of Ramadaan/Ramazaan. The night is known as Laylatul Bara’ah or Lay-latun Nisf-eMin Shaban in the rest of the Arab world, while the Indian sub-continent we popularly know its as the night of “Shab-e-Baraat”.

You will see lamps(Diyas) glowing inside almost all houses around these Dargahs as most of the houses have been built over graves, especially in Nizamuddin Dargah Basti.
You will see lamps(Diyas) glowing inside almost all houses around these Dargahs as most of the houses have been built over graves, especially in Nizamuddin Dargah Basti.
 pattering feet giggling away trying to keep the flames alive, walking among the tombs on the night of Shab E Barat is like floating on a carpet of stars.
Pattering feet and children giggling away while they keep trying to keep the flames alive! A religious fervour thats a spectacle in itself.

There are displays of colorful fireworks and lighting at the Dargahs and sweets like halwa-paratha, sweet-rice pulao and other mithais are distributed as part of acts of charity performed for the poor and needy.

Halwa Paratha, a treat in the bylanes around the Dargahs make for a fitting end to our exploration last year.
Halwa-Paratha, a treat in the bylanes around the Dargahs made for a fitting end to our exploration last year.

Celebrating Womanhood: Kanjake Puja then and now in Delhi

Guest Post & Pic by Shweta Luthra                 Additional Pic by Priyanka Bhaskar

Kanjake Prashaad Thaali
My mother’s Puja Thali this year in Canada

My childhood memories of Kanjake Puja (celebrated on Ashtmi or Navami Puja during Navratras as per beliefs of a particular family) are of getting up early morning to the smell of Suji being roasted in desi ghee for making Halwa. It used to be one of the very few days when my 2 brothers and I would wake up early, take a shower and get all ready before 8 am on a school holiday.

I remember the morning was full of action. My mother doing a million things in the kitchen at the same time- making halwa, boiling Kala-chaana, heating oil for frying pooris. My elder brother would be sent off to invite minor girls or the Kanjakes to our homes. Kanjakes are minor girls who are seen as ‘swaroop’ or ‘incarnations’ of Ma Vaishno Devi and thus the Puja rituals are associated with worshipping the little girls as the ‘Devi Incarnate’. The Kanjakes or girls from around the neighbourhood are invited home and a ritualistic washing of their feet, applying tilak, garlanding them and after worshipping them, giving away gifts and Prashaad is the usual routine of the Kanjake Puja.

My father would get the house mandir ready. There will be Mata ke Bhajan playing on the tape-recorder (there were no CD-players in that era!) in the background. My grandmother doing her routine morning pooja (7 times Hanuman Chalisa, reading Sukhmani Saheb Jap) at home, which was always followed by a visit to the temple and gurudwara. As Punjabis we had never been taught to differentiate between Hindu and Sikh traditions

Kanjake, for us kids had another significance. It marked the end of 8 days of fasting and abstinence from non-vegetarian food. At that age, those 8 days of foregoing even our favourite egg omelette sprinkled liberally with onions & tomatoes seemed like an eternity! And not a day of the Navratris would pass by without my mother and grandmother having to answer each of the three of us queries of how many more days before we could eat normal food (read that as chicken, eggs and fish)!

Well, things haven’t changed much since then. We still celebrate the day with its trademark Kanjake Prashaad- Chhole, Poori and Halwa. I still play my favourite bhajans in the morning. It’s still a very happy day.

But some things have changed because of our new lifestyles in a urban city like Delhi. As a working woman, it has become difficult for me to manage all the rituals and thus I have cut down on the gamut of the activities involved. But the parts we loved then, I still do follow very rigorously and the special food of the day, the Kanjake Prashaad is a must-do for me! Alhough we get the prashaad ready, due to lack of time in the mornings we don’t invite the Kanjakes. We instead give away the prashaad and small gifts to the people who help us in our community and day-to-day life, like the local laundry/washerman bhaiya, or the didi who helps cook at my home or the lady that picks up the garbage etc.

Another change is that earlier we used to abstain from onions and garlic along with all types of non-vegetarian food during Navratras. But now since we spend most of our day in our offices, in meetings, travelling at odd hours out of the city on work and more, we have compromised on this to some extent. We for example don’t eat non-vegetarian foods, but don’t mind eating food that has the essential Indian garnishing of onion and garlic.

And bestest of all changes nowadays is the Special Navratra Feasts available in various restaurants. Be it the corner Food joint or a trendy chain of restaurants in malls, during these 8-9 days a variety of ‘Vrat Bhojan’ or ‘fasting foods’ are available widely. While traditionally it used to be Kuttu ke aate ki poori, potato curry and paneer. Now you get Kachche Kele ki subzi (Curry made of unripe Banana), Kadhi, different types of kheer, Khatte vrat wale chawal ki khichdi and what not! And all made with mouth-watering spices and recipes that just do not make you miss the onion/garlic or the non-vegetarian. Another funny thing is that for the last couple of years, it is my better half who has been keeping the Navratra fasts on all the 8 days, while I gorge on all the feasts at restaurants!

For me these Navratra rituals are some of the ties to my childhood. For me the joy of celebrating Kanjake lies in revisiting childhood memories by doing some of the many rituals and practices that my mother and grandmother used to do! By celebrating the girl child, by paying our respects to the ‘Goddess Shakti’ and by ‘initiating’ my Bengali better-half into some basic Punjabi culture, I feel I am still keeping my traditions alive. After all, I might have forgotten the religious aspects but I most certainly haven’t forgotten the happiness this day brings.

Let me share my easy-peasy-working-woman’s recipe for the Prashaad. It is a really simple and easy one that takes very less effort and time to get some steaming hot Halwa, Channa and Poori.

Halwa:

1 cup sooji

1 cup sugar

4 cups water

Roast Suji in desi ghee or vegetable oil (for the calorie conscious!) till its brown. Then add sugar and water while stirring. Bring it to a boil and then cook it well on low flame.

Chhole:

Soak kala chana overnight. In the morning boil till it i tender. In a Kadhai put 2 spoons of oil. When the oil heats up add half a teaspoon jeera. When jeera starts crackling, add little salt, lal mirch, dhania powder and haldi. Then add boiled chana without water. Cook for 5 minutes till its completely dry.

To serve to Kanjake and do the Puja in your home mandir, put 2 poories, a little bit of halwa and chhole. Keep some money and a chocolate handy as a gift, to give to the little girls that you can find in your family and your neighbourhood!

Happy Navratras & Kanjake Puja!

Kanjake Prashaad