Get ready for the upcoming wedding season

As the year draws to a close, and a new one dawns, it is wedding bells all around. They say marriages are made in heaven, but weddings, on the other hand, are very much made on earth. They are all about style, grit, and careful planning. Whether it is shopping for the perfect outfit and bagging the right accessories to pair it with, or finding that worthy gift, a little bit of preparation can make your life a lot easier. Here is how you cover the basics.

Perfect the outfit

No outfit beats the elegance of a saree. Check out boutique brands such as Aavaranaa, and Amethyst for chic sarees with kalamkari and block print designs or opt for a traditional pattu saree with mango, or paisley pattern.

It’s a delicate balancing act to find an outfit that is glamorous, yet doesn’t upstage the bride/groom. So, you could also opt for floor length Anarkalis or a peplum jacket paired with a skirt, for a more contemporary look

Pair with the finest jewellery

Gopalapuram is the storehouse of Indian temple jewellery with big names such as Tanishq, Khazana, Prince, and Jaipur gems leading the scene.

If you are looking for something offbeat, explore the nature themed collections of Ivar, the ultra luxe brand. Studio Tara is another jeweller popular among millennials.
Put together a stylish combo of polkis and pearls and make a statement jewellery piece.

Find a worthy gift

Ditch the photo frame, and fancy crockery, for a surprise trip or an AirBnB gift card. Luggage bags and wine caddies, are appealing yet practical gifts of the season. A portable picnic table or a set of board games is a thoughtful gift which fuels lasting memories.

Get your travel sorted

With opulent wedding halls and convention centres being further and further away from the city, it might be a good idea to have an Ola or Uber rental on call for the duration of the wedding. And consider gathering some goodwill and saving the planet by carpooling with friends.

Bring out the foodie in you

Food is a huge part of any Indian wedding...some even consider it a measure of success! Here’s why it is important for you to know what to expect:

● Every caterer in the city has a specialty, so if you can find out who’s catering, prepare yourself for a taste bud explosion. For example, the paal payasam and potato fry by Pattappa’s is the stuff of dreams.

● Buffets are becoming the norm at many receptions, so you may want to carry a handbag as opposed to a clutch or just your phone, lest you find yourself short of a hand.

The miscellaneous materials

If there’s one thing to take away from weddings, it is memories. And what better way to do that with some polaroids? Pick up a Fujifilm Instax and a reload pack to get some instant memories that you can treasure for life, or share with a friend.

The wedding season is here. Are you ready to bring your best to the party?

The Season of Melodies – Carnatic 101

The traditional South Indian musical artform is known for having a melody for every mood, time, and season. And the opportunity to become a discerning patron is once again upon us with Margazhi season just around the corner.

For example, Bilahari, a morning raga exudes refreshing happiness, while the raga Amruthavarshini is said to bring showers. Each raga is potent, weaving magic through a specific sequence of notes. Each engenders an experience that is intimate with nature, and the divine.

In a typical performance, a solo vocalist brings to life mythical tales of bhakthi, love, and salvation, supported by the graceful tunes of a veena or a violin, and set to resounding tala (complex beat cycles) emanating from hand drums such as mridanagam or ghatam. The singer, eyes drawn close in surrender, explores the emotive force of the raga to its fullest. With the Kalpana sangeetham every rendering arises from the imagination, allowing room for soulful improvisations.

A rendezvous with the grand ragas

Over the ages, many composers have crafted masterpieces, but a few have become the quintessential rendition of the raga in which they are composed.

Raga Sankarabharanam is considered the adornment of Lord Shiva himself; Kalyani, the queen of ragas ushers in auspiciousness, and is the melody often played in weddings; the deep and sombre raga Thodi inspires humility that leads to wisdom; Kamboji has given birth to devotional masterpieces such as ‘O Rangasayee’ – the song is an earnest appeal to the Brahman beseeching grace and union with godhead; ever rich Bhairavi is likened to a prayer booming forth to the supreme consciousness. These constitute the 5 grand ragas of Carnatic tradition, and have given birth to the most number of compositions.

In one of the lighter and playful songs composed in Chenchurutti, in a song addressed to Lord Krishna, mother Yashoda tries to coax him out of going out in the open to herd cows. The rest of the song is an endearing repartee between the mother-son duo. Does it come as a surprise that the son has the final word? Listen to this infectious, and heartening song vocalized by famed singer Aruna Sairam.

For a taste of the popular ragas all packed in one song, look to mainstream cinema where the song Oru Naal Podhuma, masterfully rendered by late singer Balamuralikrishna makes an appearance in the 1965 Tamil epic, Thiruvilayadal. Appreciate the genius as the song effortlessly meanders from Thodi to Darbar, Mohini, and Kaanada.

A one of a kind music festival

But, come Margazhi, it rains all kinds of melodies all over Chennai.

Every year, between Dec 15 and Jan 15, the city hosts around 1,500 to 2,000 carnatic music concerts with an assortment of panel discussions, themed performances, harikathas, and jugalbandis, all accompanied by delightful food from the sabha canteens. This sparkling event is a one of a kind celebration of classical music in all of Asia dating back to 1927.

If you are a music lover fortunate enough to be in Chennai this December, here is a roundup of all the happening places of the city. The top sabhas are located around the cultural centres of Mylapore, T Nagar, and Alwarpet.

The Music Academy: Chennai’s Margazhi kuctheri season took roots in the Music Academy. One of the biggest sabhas in the city, it is a reputed cultural landmark which has A-listers vying for a spot to perform. It needs no mention that the institution draws huge crowds every year. This year, stalwarts like Kunnakkudy M Balakrishna, Sudha Ragunathan, Dr S Sowmya, Ranjani and Gayathri, Aruna Sairam, Neyveli R Santhanagopalan, Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, and other artists of renown are set to captivate the audience with their enthralling musical renderings.

Naradha Gana Sabha: Located in TTK road, the sabha features both upcoming and established singers. This year, there are kutcheris by Unnikrishnan, Dr. K J Yesudas, Sid Sriram, Nithyashree Mahadevan, Shobana, and other lead singers.
Brahma Gana Sabha, and Kalakshetra foundation are other prominent institutions which curate interesting art, theatre, music, and dance performances.

Chennai truly comes alive every Margazhi. And, there is no better place to catch it live, and experience the divine music as it unfurls into the human realm.

Kozhukattai Recipe

Kozhukattai is a South Indian dumpling made from rice flour, coconut and Indian spices. Though normally made sweet, it can also be prepared for savoury palates. While the dish is prepared during the Indian festival of Vinayaka Chaturthi (celebrating the birth of Lord Vinayaka), it is also a favourite during Janmashtami which marks the birth of Lord Krishna.

Ingredients

For the rice dough

● 1 cup powdered raw rice flour
● 2 cups of water
● A pinch of salt
● One spoon of oil

For the sweet stuffing

● 1½ cups of coconut
● ½ cup of jaggery
● ½ teaspoon cardamom powder

How to Make

The stuffing:

1. Add 1 portion of jaggery for every 3 portions of coconut.
2. Mix the coconut and grated jaggery in medium flame.
3. Continue to stir the mixture. You will see the jaggery begin to melt.
4. Cook the mixture until the moisture from the jaggery dries up.
5. Add crushed cardamom and set the mixture aside.

The rice dough:

1. Add 2 cups of water to a cup of raw rice flour in a bowl.
2. Add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the mix.
3. Stir the mixture on a medium flame for up to 15- 20 mins, until it forms a soft dough.
4. Close the pan with a lid after removing from the stove, and let it sit for about 5 mins.
5. Knead the dough to make soft and smooth balls without any cracks. Rub your palm with water to get them smooth and round.

Putting it All Together

1. Flatten the dough balls and fold inwards with your fingers to form a cup. Start from the circumference and keep the center thick.
2. Fill the flattened dough with the coconut and jaggery stuffing.
3. Bring the sides together to form a tomb in the center, and close the dough around the stuffing.

Set the dumplings in a pan greased with ghee or oil. Steam the dumplings for about 10 mins, and serve warm.

The Birth of a Star

Krishna is the most endearing of Gods. His life, as told in the songs, ballads, and epics of India, speaks of the life-affirming thought that defines Indian spirituality. Is there any other God that embodies the joys of life as gracefully, playfully, and as captivatingly, as Krishna? It must come as no surprise then, that he continues to command the love and imagination of so many people.
Janmashtami, Krishna’s day of birth, is the first of many stories that define his time amongst the mortals. The torrential rains that herald his coming into this world, are reflective of the turmoil the people live with, and the ensuing calm, a reflection of the new dawn soon to follow. Through the course of his childhood, he vanquishes many a demon, ultimately slaying the demon king, Kamsa.
Of Krishna, there are as many stories as there are stars in the sky. What makes them so enchanting and captivating is that we learn the simple lessons of life in these stories. His playful nature tells us to not take life too seriously, even if there are much larger things at play.

To celebrate Krishna is to celebrate love.

From the divine love of his consort Radha, to the spiritual longing of Mirabai (the Rajput queen who renounced royal life for the Lord), Krishna has won many hearts, both within and without his leela (act or play). Mirabai’s poems are a testament to Krishna’s emphasis on bhakti (devotion) as a way to salvation.

Come to my Pavillion

  • Come to my pavilion, O my King. I have spread a bed made of delicately selected buds and blossoms, And have arrayed myself in bridal garb From head to toe. I have been Thy slave during many births, Thou art the be-all of my existence. Mira's Lord is Hari, the Indestructible. Come, grant me Thy sight at once.

    Mirabai

Utterly, Butterly, Simple.

It is no secret that butter was Krishna’s mainstay in Gokul. That is why, on Janmashtami, the special offerings (prasadam) include a sumptuous serving of butter with flattened rice and jaggery.
And as we savour the concoction, we reminisce about the story of butter tax which was levied by Krishna. Krishna made sure to collect his dues from the Gopis (cow herds) of the quaint village by any means necessary - persuasion or coercion. Yet he remained dearly loved by all. If that isn’t evidence of how good intentions outweigh actions, what is?
Today, in parts of India, particularly in Gujarat and Maharashtra, the Dahi Handi (Pot of Curd) is yet another imitation of Krishna’s never-ending antics to have butter. Just as Krishna relied on the support and strength of his brother and friends, during the game of Dahi Handi, boys and men find new brethren among strangers, as they give each other a hand or leg up in pursuit of a common goal.
From the confines of high art, to calendar portraits, and Gokul Sandal tins, Krishna truly permeated modern life in all its nooks in the subcontinent. His stories are so popular that the one about butter tax is captured in a beautiful painting titled “Daan- Lila” in the Harvard Art Museum.
This Janmashtami, we urge you to revel in the simplicity of the Lord’s ways and persevere on this journey that is life, as you celebrate both the little things, and the big things.

Celebrating Holi the Eco-friendly way

Holi is perhaps the only festival in India to have a tagline of its own. Bura na maano, Holi hai! (Don’t be offended. It’s Holi!) captures the essence of this festival. Celebrating the triumph of good over evil, the origins stem from Hindu mythology - the slaying of the demon Hiranyakashipu, and his sister Holikai. Also considered to be the day Lord Kama released five arrows, there is every reason to get in on the festivities - whether you’re taken by the colors, the season, or good old-fashioned love.

This culturally loaded festival is naturally accompanied by a practice that has been around for years. And with the passage of time, the way Holi is celebrated has changed in more ways than one.

Today, Holi comes with its fair share of environmental endangerment. There are rising concerns about pollution - smoke and toxic substances released by fireworks, noise created by large gatherings, and the usage of megaphones, water pollution, so on and so forth.

Other concerns include the skin problems caused by commercially manufactured colours, and how children, stray animals and even pets are exposed to these synthetic materials leading to short and long term damage.

So, let’s resolve to make Holi this year an environment-friendly festival. With climate change in tow, it is imperative that we do so, in what little ways we can.

One of the simplest practices to begin with, is making the gulaal (Holi Colours) at home. Grinding dried hibiscus flowers for red, crushing fresh mint for green, mixing turmeric powder and gram flour for yellow, or simply adding food colour to rice flour are alternatives that are not just good for the environment, but are also a lot of fun to make.

Another way to celebrate a sustainable Holi is to play it dry this year. The thrill of dousing friends with buckets of water, or throwing water balloons at them, may seem irresistible. But, the growing water crisis calls for us to be more reflective and responsible. Spare the pichkaris and play Holi with dry colours.

Holi bonfires from burnt wood are also a major source of environmental degradation as they reduce the much needed green cover provided by trees. Burning organic substances like cow dung or other waste materials instead of wood, prevents trees from being cut down.

At the end of the day, Holi is all about community. So, pledge as a collective to use organic, dry colours and build a grand communal bonfire, rather than one too many around your neighborhood. More the merrier.
May this year’s Holi be a celebration of a life, for one and all.


Recipe for a Holi meal

A Holi meal is never whole without the inimitable gujiya (sweet dumpling), a traditional pan-indian delicacy. Imaginatively shaped as a half-moon, its rich layered textures and sweet flavours produce a gratifying adventure for the palate. Here’s how you can make gujiya at home for your near and dear, and celebrate Holi in spirit. After all, festivities are all about food and family!

Filling: Add a few spoons of sugar to milk and boil until solid. When cooled to room temperature, add desiccated coconut, sooji( semolina) roasted in ghee, powdered cashew nuts, almond shreds, and raisins to the milk solids. Mix into a sticky paste.

Dough: Mix maida (white refined flour), with a cup of water, a pinch of baking soda and a few tablespoons of refined oil. Add more water and knead to make a soft elastic dough.

Use gujiya molds to get that perfect half-moon crust out of your dough. Fill in the stuffing and fry until golden brown. Dig in and let the delightful milky shreds of almonds, and raisins crumble into your mouth.

Offbeat things to do in Chennai

The Sun God has turned his magnificent Ratha (chariot) drawn by seven horses towards the northern hemisphere. It is Ratha Saptami, anannual celebration that falls on the seventh day of the Tamil month of Maasi . Celebrated at homes and temples, on the occasion of this planetary event, this quaint festival marks the movement of the seasons into spring. Cue for Chennai to brace for the imminent summer.

While you enjoy this brief courting with spring, and herald the fierce Chennai Summer, here are some offbeat things to do with your friends and family this season, and fall in love with this sizzling city again.

 

Thalankuppam Pier

Tucked away in a picturesque fishing hamlet in Ennore beach, 15 kms down the famed Marina, Thalankuppam pier is the perfect place to catch a quite sunrise. You can get there by a scenic drive along the Ennore High Road. The pristine beaches here are every photographer’s delight. A walk along the pier leads you right into the hem of a colorful montage of luminescent orange, turquoise blue, and ocean grey. You could also hitch a boat ride with the local fishermen and ride into this breathtaking view, as the waves wash you over with a spirit of love and peace.

The Leisure Yacht Company

A twilight cruise on the east coast, watching the sun go down leaving golden freckles on the sky, kissed by the cool sea breeze...wouldn’t that make for a great summer evening? This summer dream is what the Leisure Yacht Company has to offer. At TLYC, you can try your hand at fishing in the solemn sea waters and if you get lucky, there is an electric barbecue on the outdoor deck to help you cook your catch, and pack more fun filled action into your evening. You can also spot container ships, groove to happy tunes, and have your best selfie moments aboard their aptly named yacht ‘Moon Beam’.

Olive Ridley Turtle walks

Between January and April every year, migrating Olive Ridley turtles swim ashore and lay eggs on the coast of Bay of Bengal. To safely relocate these eggs into hatcheries until they hatch 45 days later, volunteers and conservationists organize turtle walks in the night along the beaches of Chennai.

Instated in 1972 by wildlife conservationist Romulus Whitaker, the Madras Olive Ridley turtle walks not only offer a glimpse into this beautiful natural phenomenon, but also raise awareness on ecological issues that confront the city. Take part in the walks along the Palavakkam beach, Elliot’s or Marina beach and feel your miniscule place in the larger fabric of nature.

Barefoot Scuba Dive

You can hop on a catamaran, sail past the vanilla foams into cobalt waters, guided by a seasoned coach. Take the plunge and dive underwater to discover the enthralling marine life of Covelong, with shimmering coral reefs and colourful schools of fish from the honeycomb morays to snappers, and bewildering octopuses. You can take a professional course or just do a fun dive at Barefoot Scuba.

There is more to summer in Chennai than the draining sun!

When you hear drums, think weddings, not bands.

As the new year begins, and people set their sights on new goals, there’s a different type of new beginning brewing for many. In the South of India, the wedding season picks up just after the harvest festival (Pongal). And there’s something for everyone, whether they’re in the inner circle or not.

While you might be used to the sight of the bride and groom finalising a marriage with vows, or tying of a sacred thread, there’s so much more to a South Indian wedding (a term which honestly doesn’t do justice to the diversity between communities). Some weddings such as the Kerala Christian ceremony follow a traditional, one day itinerary, whereas a Tamil Chettiar wedding could go on for six days! Throw into the mix a keen interest to mimic North Indian customs such as the Sangeeth and Mehendi, and there’s really no telling what you’re signing up for!

No matter the customs, the wedding party usually has their hands full for a couple of months leading up to the event. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and distant relatives pour their hearts and souls into the festivities, to make sure there’s not a flower out of place on the big day(s). Though the list is long and endless, here are some idiosyncrasies that make each wedding a unique affair:

  • Kashi Yatra – common across a number of weddings, this roleplay closely connects to Vedic literature, according to which, a man of marriageable age would have to visit holy places in search of spirituality. As tradition goes, the groom, in a last ditch effort to save himself from the shackles of marriage, departs on a journey to Kashi to lead life as an ascetic. But his father-in-law-to-be stops him dead in his tracks and convinces him that a life of solitude isn’t for him. It’s quite a scene to watch with most of the groom’s friends egging him on to protect his interests!
  • A Coorgi wedding affair – the simplest of all weddings, the Coorgis don’t stand on ceremony. The entire celebration is an intimate affair with song and dance signalling the start. A simple exchange of garlands is all it takes to call another one’s own. Ending with a famous delicacy ( Pandhi or Pork curry) in the parts is likely the only tradition that will last for eons to come!
  • Sadhya and Biryani – continuing the tryst with food, Nair and Muslim weddings have their love for feasts down to a T. Sadhya served at Nair weddings comes with 25 items served on a plantain leaf, and is every foodie’s heaven. On the other hand, the exotic biryani served at a Muslim wedding will likely invade your dreams for months after the fact!
  • All that glitters, is most definitely gold – if Karnataka and Kerala take the cake with food, then Tamil weddings are a feast for the eyes. The wedding industry in this South Indian state may very well be keeping the jewellery industry afloat! The extensive Chettiar and Gounder weddings are characterised by grand shows of wealth, intertwined with their strong ties to tradition.
  • The Andal kondai and oonjal – a typical Brahmin wedding in Tamil Nadu has all the hallmarks of a great Bollywood film, and none of the Hindi. The festivities begin early in the morning, with bouts of song, and a show of feeding sweetmeats to the bride and groom, as they are seated on a swing, in anticipation of a happily ever after.
  • Celebrating childlike innocence – what has sad beginnings in the practice of child marriage from the yesteryears, is now a fun, family-friendly celebration after the wedding. Many different customs include some variation of playing with coloured rice, rolling coconuts, and fishing for rings, to keep the bride and groom entertained after the long rituals they navigate to become husband and wife.

Every wedding is unique in its own way, and there’s really no way to capture it on paper. All that’s left to say is, if you have the chance to attend a South Indian wedding, you might not want to miss it!