Chhadeeyon ka Mela

Guest Post by Ankita Goel

Delhi is vast. It is a vibrant city, always on the move, thousands of people flocking to it daily. A mega-city surrounded by ‘bustling-at-their-seams’ suburbs. And amidst all the chaos, the teeming millions and the thousands visiting the city daily, the events creating political upheavals in our capital city we tend to miss events of a very unique nature, events that for centuries have held true to their traditions and faith.

Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (r.a.)
Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (r.a.)

One such special event takes place in Dilli every year yet is not known to many, except by the residents of the labyrinthine maze of Mehrauli, while the rest of the city does not even hear or read any news about it. Not one, not two, but for three days the event graces the oldest village of Delhi as we know it, but the city doesn’t pause to take a moment and give a glance to what is happening. Sad. But a fact.

We at DBF have been a regular for many years to this unique event, but this year that few of our avid followers and friends also joined us to enjoy the experience of this unique mela, popularly called ‘Chhadeeyon ka Mela’ alternatively spelt ‘Chhadiyon ka Mela’. (Chhadee or Chhadi literally meaning in Hindi a stick in this case a ‘walking stick’)

A tradition which started almost 700 years ago, this event heralds the beginning of the annual ‘Urs’ festival (anniversary of attaining union with the Almighty) at the Dargah Ajmer Sharif of Gharīb Nawāz Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. Like all Islamic occasions, the actual date of the ‘Urs’ is decided on the actual sighting of the moon yet about 15-20 days before the ‘Urs’, fakirs and devotees from all over India start assembling at the Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (r.a.)  in Mehrauli.

The traditional belief is that a visit to Dargah Ajmer Sharif is considered incomplete if the devotee has not visited the Dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (r.a.) before going to Ajmer. Hence fakirs, soofis and devotees from all over the country start pouring into this Dargah at Mehrauli. They arrive on foot, by cycles or by other means of transport. The assembly starts at a small park near ‘Gandhak ki Baoli’ also known as the Tikona Park or the ‘Chhadiyon ka Mela’ Park. As the number of fakirs and devotees increases, small make-shift camps sprawl all over the neighbourhood of Mehrauli. These people assemble for about 2-3 days and on the 3rd day’s evening, the procession normally starts on foot for Ajmer. Yes, a distance of almost 400Kms from Delhi to Ajmer, all on foot! Normally a few members of the Dargah management also travel with them. This procession is a visual delight as all the members carry an ‘Alam’ which is a small Chhadi (walking stick) carrying a Sufi flag on the top. Hence the name of the Mela.

Halwa & Paratha at Chhadiyon Ka Mela, Mehrauli
Halwa & Paratha at Chhadiyon Ka Mela, Mehrauli

The entire atmosphere is festive, with stalls springing up across the area selling goodies to eat like ‘Halwa-Parantha’, ‘Lassi & Sherbet’. It is an interesting sight where you see the fakirs dressed up in all kinds of attires. We came across one who was wearing multiple iron rings in his neck. Interestingly, you also come across some women fakirs in this mela.

During their stay at Mehrauli and before the procession begins, the fakirs often do ‘Mehfil-e-Sama’ in the evenings, where devotional songs, qawwalis, nazms etc are sung. At times, there are multiple mehfils happenings in the same vicinity.

Wandering bards & fakirs congregate and sing through the nights
Wandering bards & fakirs congregate and sing through the nights

The local resident-fakirs of Delhi who normally stay at other Chisti Silsila/order Dargahs in Delhi also join these travellers. The ‘Sajjad Nasheen’ (Head) of the Mehrauli Dargah blesses all of them and ID cards are issued to each and every fakir.

This year the dates of the 3-day celebration are from 25th – 27th April, but it is the ‘khaadims’ and the senior priests of the Mehrauli Dargah who stipulate when the procession may begin, either on 27th April midday or may even start early on 28th April morning.

PS: We will keep updating new pictures on each of these 3 days, so keep watching this space!

Mehrauli - Chhadiyon Ka Mela
Mehrauli – Chhadiyon Ka Mela

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

A Green B’day Party @ Asola Wildlife Sanctuary

In early December Team DBF created an innovative Birthday celebration of the 7-yr old son of one of our friends at Asola Wildlife Sanctuary. Delhi By Foot arranged a certified naturalist to provide an array of information about land and water eco-systems, and also arranged an exciting treasure hunt which left the children both thrilled and happy! The Treasure Hunt with clues based on the information shared during the walk, saw enthusiastic participation from both the children and their parents! Picnic snacks and beverages were available for in-walk refreshments and the event ended with a Cake-cutting ceremony under the shade of leafy trees and a blue sky!

The Naturalist explaining about the water eco-system
The Naturalist explaining about the water eco-system
Informing an avid pack of listeners about the Flora and Fauna of the area
Informing an avid pack of listeners about the Flora and Fauna of the area
A few minutes of break for a snack and drink
A few minutes of break for a snack and healthy beverages
A view from the top - one of the watch towers in the sanctuary
A view from the top – one of the watch towers in the sanctuary
The first clue of the Treasure Hunt being Given
The first clue of the Treasure Hunt being Given
The children make a dash for digging the next clues
The children make a dash for digging out the next clue!!
'Look I found a hidden Clue!!'
‘Eureka! Look I found the hidden Clue!!’
The B'day boy cutting his cake
The B’day boy cutting his cake..
Even the adults had a whale of a time.... picnicking like they had once upon a long back in school...
Even the adults had a whale of a time…. picnicking like they had once upon a long back in school…

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