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Indian Baisakhi Festival > 13 April 2008 April 11, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture.
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The Indian harvest festival of Baisakhi will be being enjoyed across the world on Sunday. Marked by many religions (particularly Sikhs) this truly multicultural occasion is a dream come true for sweet tooths everywhere, with sugary drinks and confections taking centre stage amid a wealth of wonderful foods. 

Baisakhi > Sejal Sukhadwala > Baisakhi, also spelled Vaisakhi, is an Indian harvest festival that’s of special significance to Sikhs.

Celebrating Baisakhi > Vibrant clothes in all colours of the rainbow (to mark the end of winter and beginning of spring), glittering jewellery, raucous singing, dancing and music-making characterise the way that Baisakhi is celebrated throughout the world – a festival that’s truly a feast for the senses. For centuries, Baisakhi has been observed as a harvest festival in India. It’s most popular in the agricultural northern state of Punjab, but is also marked in Assam, Bengal, Bangladesh and Kerala, where it’s known by various different names by Hindus and Buddhists. Baisakhi is particularly important for Sikhs, however, for whom it’s the anniversary of the founding of Khalsa (the Sikh brotherhood) in 1699 and New Year’s Day combined. It usually falls on 13 or 14 April according to the Sikh solar calendar, and celebrations take place throughout April and May. In the UK, Sikhism is the fourth-largest religion according to the Office of National Statistics, and festivities take place in gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) and community centres. Areas with large Sikh populations such as Southall, Slough and Glasgow host lively street processions and Baisakhi melas (fairs).

The vegetarian tradition > Eating meat or not is considered by most Sikhs to be a matter of personal choice, but many choose to refrain from doing so during Baisakhi, the main reason being that it’s a celebration of nature’s bounty – grains, beans, lentils and vegetables – for which prayers are offered and thanks given. In Punjab, wheat, barley, peas, chickpeas, rapeseed, cumin and onions are harvested, ears of wheat are offered to deities, and impromptu feasts take place on farms. Langar is free vegetarian lunch that is available in gurdwaras all year round, but is particularly important at Baisakhi, to instil a sense of equality and diminish differences in caste, status and wealth. Usually consisting of simply prepared lentil dahl, vegetables, chapattis and rice, langar is made from wholesome vegetarian ingredients without eggs or alcohol, in order to cater for as wide a range of dietary requirements as possible.

Other Baisakhi food > Boxes of sweetmeats are exchanged and glasses of rich, creamy lassi (yoghurt drinks) are drunk by Sikhs and Punjabis. Roasted wheat or chickpeas mixed with jaggery (cane sugar) are eaten as a snack, as are revadi (sesame candy) and wheat porridge. In addition to langar, gurdwaras distribute amrit (‘holy nectar’) made from milk, yoghurt, sugar, honey and ghee, and kada prasad (‘sacred sweet’, traditionally cooked in an iron pan). The sweet is made by cooking together equal quantities of semolina, sugar and ghee (clarified butter). Stringent guidelines and specific rituals are followed during its preparation. In the evening, after a sumptuous banquet at home or in a restaurant, families gather around a fire and throw the last of the winter fruits and vegetables in the flames – a symbolic ritual that marks the passing of seasons.

Related Links > http://www.sikhnet.com/sikhnet/register.nsf/p/BaisakhiHistory

Recipes Links > http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/news_and_events/events_baisakhi.shtml

Thai New Year (Songkran) > 13 April 2008 April 11, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture.
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If you’re pelted with water balloons by jocular Thai people this weekend you should wish them a Happy New Year, or, better still, return the favour with a bucket of water! Thai New Year celebrations are closely associated with water fights, but if a mid-April soaking isn’t for you, you can still make merry with the myriad of fragrant and spicy Thai flavours waiting to w(h)et your appetite.

Thai New Year > This year, Thailand celebrates its new year, Songkran, over three days, starting on 13 April.

Songkran – the water festival > If you’re going to go to Thailand during the New Year festivities, prepare to get wet. Locals will use anything from water pistols to buckets and empty rubbish bins to soak each other, and anyone else in the vicinity.

This three-day water-soaking fest is done without malice, as the smiling faces everywhere will attest. The official holiday is marked by all sorts of entertainment from parades and beauty pageants to singing and dancing in the streets. If you want to be right in the centre of the action then head to the northern province of Chiang Mai. People from all parts of the country, as well as thousands of tourists, flock there to enjoy a bit of watery mayhem. The canal around the city becomes a source for water throwing, as well as an inner boundary for all the vehicles that continously drive round during the festivities. There is, however, a serious history behind all the festivities and fun.

History of Songkran > The origins of the festivities date back nearly a thousand years. The ancestors of the Thais in China’s Yunnan Province would celebrate the start of a new farming cycle during the fifth full moon of the lunar calendar. Songkran always falls sometime between 10 April and 18 April. The water theme of the festivities is a symbol of cleansing and renewal, and centuries ago the Thai people would delicately sprinkle scented water from silver bowls onto the hands of the elders in their families. They would attend sermons and would gently bathe the Buddha images in the temples which would also be spring-cleaned. The younger members of the family would tie strings around the wrists of elders while wishing them luck. If you had enough family members you could end up with an arm covered with string, which you would have to leave on until they fell off of their own accord.

Food has also traditionally played a large part in the festival, with street vendors selling all sorts of Thai delicacies, such as satay sticks, steaming bowls of hot and sour soup, bags of fresh fruits including mangoes, paw paws and pineapples, and sweet pancakes.

Thai cuisine > Thai cuisine is considered by many to be among the best in the world. It is a blend of Asian and European influences created through centuries of trade between continents. Rice, fish, vegetables and herbs feature prominently in the Thai diet, although meat is less common as animals were required for farming. The Thai people have added their own ingenuity to their dishes, using influences from Portuguese traders who brought chillies, Indians who provided curries and spices, and the Chinese method of hot frying in a wok. A typical Thai meal is very much a communal affair, with all dishes served at once with steamed rice. For a real Thai experience to celebrate Songkran, try some of the dishes from our tempting menu, followed by a refreshing Thai dessert.

Related Links > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_New_Year

Recipes Links > http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/news_and_events/events_thainewyear.shtml