Thursday, October 18, 2012

Progress Plant III: The Miracle Plant

Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out-values all the utilities of the world. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Durga Puja is just around the corner. And one flower which is used in this puja is the 'Aparajita'. Aparajita is the Assamese and Bengali name for Butterfly Pea flower (scientific name: Clitoria ternatea). 'Aparajita' means 'undefeated'. The aparajita flower is said to be the favourite flower of goddess Durga and hence its use in Durga puja. And obviously, the flower usually blooms in the puja season. It is basically a perennial creeper and the flower varieties are the common indigo blue and rare white.

17th June 2012
Personally, I love flower vines and aparijita is one of the common flower vines found in Assam. An aunt of mine has both the white and indigo blue varieties of the flower in her home. When I visited her in January earlier this year, I plucked a couple of dried pods of seeds from one of the plants. As it was past the flowering season, I did not know which colour I had chosen. Anyways, I did not plant the seeds immediately on my return to Guwahati. In fact I had forgotten all about the pods for almost half a year.
20th June 2012
27th June 2012
10th July 2012
I finally planted the seeds in a clay pot in mid-June. I would feed the planted seeds some water and anxiously waited to see some sprouts. Finally, after three days I saw a cute little sprout standing upright. I simply could not help smiling to myself. As I had planted all the seeds from the two pods, one by one, a number of sprouts sprang up. All of them did not survive though (you know, theory of survival of the fittest!).

28th July 2012
7th August 2012

22nd September 2012
As the sprouts became little plants, they became taller and lankier day by day. I had to provide them something to lean on so that they can crawl and reach the grill of the balcony. Luckily, I had some bamboo stick and wire at my place. I made a bamboo net type support and inserted the frame in the soil. I tilted the frame to touch the balcony railing so that the plants can crawl up easily. Everyday I have been monitoring the growth and whether they climbing the right direction. If not, I unfurl the twirls and re-position them. Slowly and gradually, the plants have shot up and reached the ceiling. The twines are going haywire and I often need to position them on a support. The leaves are healthy green. I feel the plant is quite water-hungry as I find the soil of pot often dry at the end of the day (I water my plants in the morning) compared to the other pot plants.

17th October 2012
17th October 2012
With less than a week to Durga Puja, I wanted to see the flowers bloom badly. And yesterday morning, I got my flowery surprise! Perfect indigo blue aparajita flowers perched shyly on the higher end of the vines. There were around 6-7 flowers tucked in the green cover. I think they have been budding since a couple of days. But because of the bright green cover and their position high up, I could not notice. But I was so happy seeing my blue jewels that I spent a long time admiring them.

The butterfly pea flower has amazing medicinal properties and often termed as the 'Miracle Plant' . All the part of the plant--leaves, flowers, stems and roots, all have medicinal properties and extensively used in ayurveda. It is used both internally and externally. Aparajita is used as an appetizer, digestant and vermicide, in colds, skin diseases, for healthy pregnancies and even to enhance intellect. The medicinal prospects of this plant is unlimited. 

In an Indian household, aparajita has a place in both religion and medicine. But to me, its delicate petals and glowing colour has brought me inexplicable joy and solace.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols
My blue jewels
 I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
 I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Afternoon on a Hill"

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Money vs. Conscience

Near my office, there is a major market for fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. And I often shop there while coming home from work. Before reaching the main market, there are a number of temporary vegetables and fruits vendors who just sit on the pavement, starting from the bus stop. One such fruit-seller sits just next to the bus stop every evening with the seasonal fruits. He's an old fellow and normally wears a white dhoti and shirt. He's probably originally from Bihar side, but speaks fluent Assamese. I started buying stuff from him since the mango season. Almost a couple of months back, one evening I bought a kilo of mangoes. The amount I needed to pay was in multiples of five. I didn't have a five rupees change and neither did he. Very trustfully he told me that I can pay the balance the next time.
It was not the first time that a vendor/shopkeeper had told me that I could pay the change later. But they are ones who know me and where I am a regular customer. And here was this old man, for whom I was only an occasional buyer, and yet he trusted me to come back and pay him the change later.
Anyways, I was sure that I am going to buy fruits from him in the next couple of days and then make up the due. But somehow I didn't have to buy anything to buy from him that soon. My mother was here and she used to buy all the fruits near my place. Then I was out of station for sometime. And like that it has been near about two months now. Although I saw him almost every evening and remembered that I owe him, somehow it was left at that. 
But today evening I was very determined that I am going to buy fruits from him. These days, he has been selling  apples and sweet lime. I bought half a kilo of apples and paid him along with the due five rupees. He gave me a wide bright grin and said that he didn't remembered that I owed him. I said it was a long time ago. He said that in five and ten rupees he has left hundreds to people and he doesn't always remember. If the buyer had dharma (I think he meant conscience), he/she came back and paid.
I think he was quite bemused that I came to pay such a small amount. He stood up and started narrating this incident to me. Once when it was the season of oranges, a well-dressed man, wearing shoes worth around two thousand rupees, was waiting near his stall. Then the man started eating oranges from him. One by one, he ate four oranges. When the old man asked him to pay for them, he vainly replied that he's an inspector somewhere (obviously meaning that he's not going to pay). When the vendor still insisted that he pays, the main replied that he doesn't have the money. During that time, oranges were quite cheap and the payable amount came to only around twenty rupees. The vendor was obviously annoyed and told the man that he should have said that he doesn't have money to pay for the oranges before eating. If it had been a single orange, he would have considered, but it was four oranges. Sadly he said to the man that he could walk away without paying but he had sinned. And quite shamelessly, the man walked away.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rhythm Resonance

I had first visited the Batadrava Than at Bordowa in Nagaon district of Assam as a child. I do not remember much of that visit except heaps of salt outside the prayer hall and a peacock. Recently when I was my hometown Nagaon, my father suggested a trip to the Than. We were quite surprised as it is very unlike my father to plan trips. So obviously, we all happily obliged.
The entrance
Sri Sri Batadrava Than is founded by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva. The word ‘Than’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Sthan’ meaning place. Than refers to the residential religious institutions established by Srimanta Sankardeva. He established the first ever Kirtanghar (prayer hall) in Bordowa in 1468. Another fact that adds to the importance of this place is that the saint himself was born in Alipukhuri-Bordowa in 1449.
Alipukhuri to Batadrava
Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardeva (1449–1568), was an Assamese Vaishnavite saint-scholar, playwright, social-religious reformer and a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India. He is credited with providing a thread of unity to Assam straddling two major kingdoms (Ahom and Koch kingdoms), building on past literary activities to provide the bedrock of Assamese culture, and creating a religion that gave shape to a set of new values and social synthesis. The religion he started, Eka Sarana Nama Dharma (popularly known as Mahapuruxiya Dharma), a monotheistic vaishnavite religion, was part of the Bhakti movement then raging in India. Today, the religion he preached is practiced by a large population, and Sattras (monasteries) that he and his followers established continue to flourish and sustain his legacy. He is also regarded as the father of the modern Assamese race. ‘Eka Sarana Nama Dharma’ is based on the simple philosophy that one should worship none but one God who is Lord Krishna (Eka Deva, Eka Seva, Eka Biney Nahi Keva). Batadrava or Bordowa was the centre of the saint’s activities and so came to be regarded as the Dvitiya Vaikuntha (second heaven).

The Batadrava Than is the first Than or institution set up Srimanta Sankardeva to propagate the religion he started. He built the ‘monikut’ along with the Kirtanghar or Namghar and the ‘Cari-Hati’ (four clusters of quaterers) for accommodation of his disciples. The full fledged Than complex came up in 1509. The ‘Simhasana’ or ‘Guru Asana’ (altar of God) was placed in the ‘Monikut’ and a copy of the ‘Bhagavata’ was placed on it without any idol.

(History courtesy: &
Our trip:Although we had planned to leave for Bordowa early, we reached the Than around 11.20 am. It was Sunday and it had been raining heavily in the morning, which made us sleep a little more. The Than is around 21 kms from our residence. This monsoon, Assam is witnessing a bad case of floods and we witnessed a glimpse of it on our way to the Than. The nearby villages had been inundated by water and the villagers have built makeshift homes for themselves and their livestock on either side of the road itself. Some people were building homes, while some were seen taking a swim in the flood water and some were having fun fishing.

When we reached the Than, prayers were already going on in the kirtanghar. Like all other devotees, we were also wearing a gamocha on our shoulders. As devotees came pouring in, an elderly bhakat (priest) kept spreading additional sitting mats inside the hall. We handed over the fruit items and salt to the assigned priests and settled down for the prayers. The ambience of the prayer hall is serene and the same serenity seems to transcend into one’s being with the resonating rhythmic prayers.
Shilikha tree
The Shilikha (Myrobalan) tree, sitting under which Srimanata Shankardeva used to write the scriptures, is still very healthy after all these years. It is right next to the kirtanghar. The Akashiganga pool, which is formed by the waters of the nearby Akashiganga waterfall, is full of fishes. If you want to see the fishes, all you need to do is to throw some muri (puffed rice) in the water. There are also some swans in the premises who keep on grunting sadly till you feed them some prasad. When I had visited the place as a child, there were peacocks and deers too. But this time, none were to be seen around.
Fishes in Akashiganga
There is a pond called Hati Pukhuri near the priests’ quarters. In the recent past, guest houses for the devotees have also come up. The premises of the Than are clean although the visiting devotees do manage to litter here and there.

There is also a museum which displays items from the saint’s time. But unfortunately we visited on a Sunday, and the museum remained closed. You can also see a blind man who keeps singing soulfully while playing a stringed instrument.

The whole experience of visiting the Than was calming and soothing. Personally I feel it is better to visit the place in off season, as there is lesser number of devotees around and the tranquility of the place is more profound. And when we left the premises of the Than, I could still feel the resonating rhythms of the prayers. Being the foundation stone of the modern Assamese society, Batadrava Than is definitely worth a visit by every Assamese and Assam visitor alike.