Sunday, August 2, 2009


Eastern India - You will be surprised to know that this land, known for its picturesque foliage and flora, alone boasts of 6 ways of draping a saree. One of them, which is relatively famous is the Baluchari saree. The legendary Baluchari saree is a well known Bengali silk saree. It is a product of intricate and exquisite design, and fabulous weaving techniques.

The name of the saree comes from the town where the saree is produced – the town of Baluchar in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. The most distinctive feature of Baluchari sarees is their elaborate borders and pallu (that portion of the saree that is allowed to flow freely over the shoulder)

Fabric in Baluchari Sari
Silk weaving of Baluchar continues to be an important landmark of Bengal's handloom tradition, this is primarily due to its reputation of producing quality silk. Baluchari sarees are woven in Bengal silks which are much acclaimed in the world over, since ancient times. Like silk, cotton baluchari sarees are also woven in a fascinating and exquisite range. The cloth is very fine and transparent with a soft drape.

Design and Colours
Inspired by the Jamdanis of Dhaka, the sari has large flowing kalka motif, that is said to be a stylized form of the leaf of a holy tree , or a decorative fruit form in the centre surrounded by narrow ornamental borders. These are framed by a series of figural motifs worked in rows around the kalkas. These motifs are woven diagonally and are worked in four alternating colours, white, blue, yellow, red and green on a shaded background. The motifs are entirely in silver zari.

The various designs depicting narrative folktales in the pallu of the sarees are as:

  • A woman riding a horse holding a rose in one hand with her plait flying behind her.
  • Pleasure boat, with two lovebirds on top.
  • Traditional muslim court scenes.
  • Women smoking hookah.
  • Puranic tales or legends of Ramayana and Mahabharata are also depicted on the classic baluchari sarees etc.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creativity at it's best!

During one of our activities at one of our Book Trails, one kid decided to do something different! While the others strictly followed the not-so-stringent rules, a 10year old decided to flaunt his Poetry-Writing skills, and nevertheless, he proved himself to be the best at it.

Here's an extract of what he wrote.

Strangely enough, Charlotte was cool,
With all the animals who thought she was their teacher at school.

She should have run away,
But loved the farm from the first day.

With the pig that was curious about everything,
From her web, she wrote 'loving'.

Although she knew she was going to die,
She stopped herself when she was going to cry.

All animals troubled her night and day,
The ducks, the sheepdog and the sheep whose legs were grey.

- Mikhail Philip K, 10 years

This is what Storytrails aims at, enhancing one's talent and skills through experiential learning.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


By Prashanth Krishnaswami

Tired of the dull detached life in the city? Take a trip down to a village during a festival, especially Pongal! Pongal is arguably the most important Thamizh festival of the year.

The Thamizh calendar is a bit different from the Western calendar that we use.
This website shows both calendars for the current year, one month at a time.

The Pongal festival starts off on the last day of the Margazhi month (according to the Thamizh Calendar). The day is called Bhogi. It is a day when people thoroughly clean their homes and collect unwanted and unusable articles. Later in the evening, those articles that can be burnt are thrown into a bonfire and burnt publicly. In villages, where people live in thatched huts, the entire thatched roof is taken apart and reconstructed.

The walls of the hut are made from sand. They are loosened with water and a new mixture is formed. The walls are also reconstructed. The entire family sleeps in a fresh house on Bhogi night. The air is filled with happiness and a feeling of togetherness.

The next big day is Pongal. It is the first day of the Thai month (according to the Thamizh calendar). Hence, Pongal is also called Thai Pongal. The day begins with the women in each house designing a Kolam outside the house in front of the entrance. Each woman would try to make her Kolam the most elaborate amongst others in the street. There will be a small implicit contest among women in the street. The old unwanted and unusable articles that were burnt during Bhogi will be replaced by new ones respectively. Everyone would wear new clothes and use the new articles with great enthusiasm on this day. Fresh stock of rice would be taken in the house and a Pongal(dish) would be made from the first portion of rice in this stock.People go out and meet friends and share the festive happiness and prosperity.

The third day is called Maattu Pongal (Cattle Pongal). Cattle are generally regarded with respect in Thamizh tradition. This fact is illustrated by the fact that an entire day of festivity is dedicated to cattle. Their horns are painted with bright colours and their necks sport new bells. Special prayers are said and rituals are performed for their good health. People cook special food items and offer them to the cattle to eat first. Some women sing folk songs in praise of cattle mainly about the feminine charm of the cow and the fierce bravery of the bull. In a village called Alanganallur, a large scale bull fight takes place every year on this day. A man who can tame is a bull is considered to be a fierce and courageous hero. Thus, the bull is placed at the pinnacle of bravery and used as a benchmark to even assess a human’s bravery. Such is the respect that Thamizh tradition bestows upon cattle!

The last and fourth day of the Pongal festival is called Kaanum Pongal. This is the day when families go out of their homes on long trips for the entire day. Usually, a trip to the temple is on the agenda. In some cases, families would go to a distant temple to appease a particular God. This is followed by a trip to meet elderly folks in the family to secure their blessings and to greet them on the festive occasion. Lunch is packed and carried during the trip. All the members of the family make it a point to sit together and eat lunch without fail. During the evening, families go to the beach or to a place of amusement (zoos, museums, cinema etc) and have fun till it gets dark.

How we celebrate festivals in the city isn’t half as grand as how people celebrate in the villages.

Thamizh - The Tamil way of saying Tamil.

Pongal(festival) - A 4 day festival that falls around January 14th every year.
Bhogi - The first day of the 4 day festival
Thai Pongal - The second day of the 4 day festival
Maattu Pongal - The third day of the 4 day festival
Kaanum Pongal - The fourth and final dayPongal(dish) - Rice is collected in pots and cooked with milk till it overflows. There are many variants of this dish.
Margazhi, Thai - Months on the Thamizh calendar.
Kolam - A design made by sprinkling rice powder on the floor. Colour powders are mixed with rice powder to get multi-coloured designs.
Alanganallur - A panchayat town in the district of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.


By Sandhya Ramachandran

Who would have imagined that a 9-yard long piece of coloured cloth with some dazzling zari work could transform someone into a gorgeous lady?!

Well, the madisaar does just that!

If you are wondering what this madisaar is all about, here's what one needs to know. The Madisaar is the style in which the Sari is worn by the Brahmin community in Tamil Nadu, India.
While saree-draping could be discussed over a thesis-length report -what with each area in India having its own style- be it the Nivi or the Kodagu or the like- the Madisaar is something that is native to Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
When life was more relaxed and breaking traditions was anathema, madisaars were what married women strutted around in, everyday in the house. As lives became fast paced and a woman had to multi-task, the madisaar was fast replaced by it's toned down 6-yard conventional saree.

One can catch sight of maamis(aunts) adorned in madisaar and strutting about in style today, at traditional Brahmin functions. Festive occasions and ceremonies- from the wedding, Seemantham(baby shower), all important poojas(holy prayer), and death ceremonies- along with their storehouse of customs and preparations, also demand that the women wear the traditional madisaar.

Women in madisaar are a pretty picture to behold! The nine yards are draped around them in a mind-boggling manner of twisting the cloth- clockwise and anti-clockwise, in turns! For all those who go clueless at all the instructions, there are readymade madisaars available in the market!!! And in case, one does not have a friendly Ambujam Maami or a Rajam periamma to tie it for them, the net comes to the rescue! Various threads in discussion boards, step-by-step procedures on websites etc, make it easy for one to tie the madisaar on their own.
Madisars are available in a variety of materials such as silk, cotton, cotton-silk blends, polyester-cotton blends, etc. Whatever be it, the picture of a smiling madisaar maami with jasmine entwined hair, a big red bindi(dot) adorning her forehead and traditional gold jewellery, somehow seems to conjure up a feeling of prosperity and that all is well within the house.

Indus Ladies)
Stand with your legs about 2 ft apart

1. Make 5-6 pleats( lengthwise) in one end of the saree.
2. Keep these pleats on your left (at the back) and hold it above your waist line with your left hand
3. Bring the saree around your body and make a knot at the left back in your waist line.. Do not disturb the pleats. The pleat should comfortably dangle over the knot.
4. Bring it to the front and tuck one edge almost near your right edge of your hip and then again take it to the center and tuck it there
5. Make the pleat (width of the saree) and bring the whole saree to the back under your legs.
6. Tuck the saree at the back (waist line).
7. Bring around the saree through your left after tucking the shorter edge slightly at your right.
8. Bring the saree around your body again
9. Pass it on to your right shoulder arranging the border.
10. Bring the border around and tuck in the front.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Snacks of the past

By Sandhya Ramachandran

Ever asked your father what he had after school on an average day? Snacks of the past were so different from what we have today. Here's a look at the absolutely different and simplistic kind of snacks that people had in the past…

There was neither pizza, nor any kurkure to answer those 'Hungry Kya?' questions. There was kodukka puli. Then there were those spicy mango slices; not to forget the annachi pazham thundu. Bakery products were just beginning and gave stiff competition to the oora-vechcha-maahani.

Every young boy and girl would have been given some annas of change to get themselves a slice of mango or pineapple from the fruit-seller near school to munch-on all the way home. The mangoes were unripe, cut and smeared with masala or just chilli powder for an added taste (just like the stuff you get today in the beachside). The pineapple slices were wrapped in newspaper-the then tissues! On reaching home, after a wash, they would have had a murukku or thattai- those savouries that we taste only on festivals and functions were an everyday treat for them. Sweets too were not uncommon. The paatti of the house usually took out a laddoo or athirasam as a treat. No, they never had his Frooti tetra-packs or a pack of Bingo.

In such times of simplicity, bakeries were just beginning to spring up in street corners- an anglicized development. There used to be sponge cakes, rusk, the soft bread and buns. Sooner, the cream cakes emerged. And so did Indianized versions like the masala bun came into the picture.

There were very little options when it came to drinks. It had to be fresh fruit juice, karumbu juice or the rose milk. In tall glasses, one could find push carts and stalls selling them-slaking the thirst of the passers-by. The advent of the goli-soda/ paneer-soda turned it into as an instant thirst-quencher. In its murky green bottle and with a goli/marble wobbling in its neck, this soda was supposed to give instant energy, especially to tired long-distance travelers.

I remember, as a kid, I used to be very fond of a local brand of ice-cream made in my native village. These ice-cream vendors used to arrive promptly at one's streets, as they made their rounds on their carts, in the village, yelling out "ice-creaaaammmmm"! My parents however, had just the ice golas- crushed ice pressed on to a stick and squirted with syrup. These Indian popsicles are still available in the market and relished.

My mother reminisces about the Kodukka Puli and the Oora-vechcha-Mahaani. The Kodukka Puli was a fruit of a tree. It resembled a tamarind and hung in bunches and swirls from the Kodi(branch) and hence the name. Some ladies in her village used to cut the maahani variety of mango into inch sized bits and with allow it to soak in water with a dash of salt and chilli powder. This Oora-vechcha-Mahaani used to be one of the hot-favourites amongst kids of her area, she recounts.

Many of the varieties of food available in the past have changed and many still continue to thrive. The change in eating habits and preferences has changed the market availability of these commodities. Be it Kodukka Puli or Kurkure- as long as it takes the tongue on one hell of a roller coaster ride in flavours, we don't see anybody complain.

This is to declare that the author and the organization do not support or work for the brands that are mentioned in this post.


Kurkure- a crispy snack with a sprinkle of salt, masala powder and chilli powder. Also a brand name
Bingo- a brand of chips
Frooti- a brand of mango drink

Hungry Kya?- Are you hungry?

kodukka puli- A type of vegetable that resembled a tamarind and had a bland taste.
annachi pazham- Pineapple fruit
thundu- slice/piece
oora-vechcha-maahani- Mahani is a variety of mangoes. In its raw form it is soaked in a salt-chilli powder mix.
Annas- currency unit formerly used in India, equal to 1/16 rupee
murukku – a savoury made with flour that is coil shaped.
Thattai- a flat savoury made with flour.
Paatti- grandmother
laddoo – a sweet, bright yellow in colour, that is rolled into ball-shapes.
athirasam- a flat type of sweets
karumbu- sugarcane
goli-soda/ paneer-soda- a soda available in green bottles with a marble wobbling in the neck.
ice golas- popsicles