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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

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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

London hosts annual Irish parade March 17, 2008

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Thousands of people are expected to gather in central London as part of annual St Patrick’s Day festivities.

A parade of bands, floats and stilt walkers will make its way through central London starting in Park Lane and finishing in Whitehall Place.

Trafalgar Square will also showcase Irish music and dance, from traditional to contemporary. The festival has been organised by the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and sponsored by Tourism London.

London boasts one of the largest Irish communities outside of Ireland. St Patrick’s Day festival and parade are an opportunity for all Londoners to experience the breadth of Irish culture and what it has brought to the city of London.

St Patrick’s Day is on the 17th of March, but celebrations were being held around the country on Sunday.

Related Links > http://www.london.gov.uk/stpatricksday/

Romania debates Dracula Castle deal September 20, 2007

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Romanian lawmakers began to debate yesterday whether Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, was legally returned to owner Dominic Habsburg and whether he is allowed to sell it.

The Transylvanian castle, which has featured in many movies, was returned to Archduke Dominic Habsburg, the son of Princess Ileana, in May 2006. The princess had been given the castle in exchange for good deeds done by the royal family, which ruled Romania from 1866 until the communist era. The 14th century castle was confiscated by the communists in 1948.

Habsburg, 69, an architect from North Salem, New York, in the United States, pledged to keep it open as a museum until 2009. He offered to sell the castle last year to local authorities for US$80 million (57 million euro), but the offer was rejected because it was too expensive.

Opposition lawmaker Dumitru Ioan Puchianu said yesterday during a parliamentary debate that the return of the castle to Habsburg was illegal due to procedural errors. He said that Habsburg is legally not allowed to sell it. Lawmakers ended the debate without voting on the issue.

In a letter released yesterday, Habsburg’s lawyers said he would launch a lawsuit for 150 million euro (US$210 million) in damages if Parliament voted that the restitution and sale plans were illegal.

“I live once more with the feeling of dread in which I once lived, as a child, when my family and I were forced out of our home and thrown out into the streets in midwinter,” he said in a letter addressed to Parliament and calling on lawmakers not to allow “such a dreadful injustice to happen.” Bran Castle, perched on a cliff near Brasov in mountainous central Romania, is a major tourist attraction because of its ties to Prince Vlad the Impaler, the warlord whose cruelty inspired Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula.” Legend has it that Vlad, who earned his nickname because of the way he tortured his enemies, spent one night in the 1400s at the castle.

Bran Castle was built as a fortress to defend against the invading Ottoman Turks. About 450,000 tourists visit the castle every year.

Ancient screen wall unearthed in north China August 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture, Culture.
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Chinese archaeologists say they have discovered the remains of a screen wall for a large state granary dating back 260 years in north’s China’s Hebei Province.

The wall’s main body, was unearthed about 20 meters outside the front gate of the Yingyi granary built in 1747 in Shenzhou city, 260 kilometers south of Beijing.

The main body of the screen comprised four stone slabs, each 0.2 meters wide and 1.2 meters long, inscribed with the names of fund donors and costs for the reconstruction of the granary in 1897 and its managers, said Xing Enze, director of the Shenzhou Cultural Relic Institute.

The well-preserved Yingyi granary has 54 storage rooms covering 3,000 square meters. It could hold at most 1,500 tons of grain, archaeologists said. The granary’s structure was designed to be damp-proof and earthquake-proof, they said. Xing said the folding screen would be valuable in the study of ancient granary buildings.

The screen, known as “zhaobi” in Chinese, is located at the immediate entry of a house. It is a distinctive character of traditional Chinese buildings. Ancient Chinese people believe that “zhaobi” could prevent evil spirits from coming into the house. It is also a decoration with the practical use of preventing people from peeping into the courtyard.