Friday, November 25, 2011

Tonsuring a.k.a. Mundan

For few months I have been going through various religions and trying to understand their beliefs and philosophies and it has been quite a learning and eye opening journey so far. One of my latest researching revolved around Tonsuring (shaving off head completely).

I was amongst family and friends last month in India and it was a very special trip for me and my brother (read my previous post if curious to know why it was so special). One of the reasons was this old Indian tradition of Tonsuring. My younger nephew was due for this ritual so everyone in the family was excited about it.

Usually kids cry a lot when Tonsuring is done and I remember when my elder nephew had his, he cried like hell and I was so scared that I even at one point of time asked the priest to stop and take him to a Salon to get head shaved with electric machine but couldn't have done that, could I? Tradition is tradition and I don't dare to go against it. We went to our family temple in Rajasthan for his Mundan. All males in our family have had their Mundan there and there's a book in that temple in which there is a record of every member by date, day, name, father's name and family name.

(Kesriyaji in Rajasthan, India)

But for my younger nephew we went to Hardwar where my grandfather was trusty in the new Jain temple when he was alive and it was very close to his heart. Now my father attends the trusties meetings as just a member of the group but not a trusty.

 (Chintamani Parshvanath Jain Temple - Hardwar, India)

My younger nephew had a gala time with his Mundan because he didn't had to go through the torture of manual machine, courtesy me who specifically asked for an electric machine for him and he got a VIP attention in the temple by the whole management and staff.

 (Swastika on head made by sandalwood paste)

After my nephew's head was shaved, I was curious to know what is the reason for this ritual and why is it so important to do it. I asked my parents and they answered quite close to what I learned afterwards from my readings. I was lucky to have stumped through couple of articles and old documentations that explained me this old mystical tradition.

It's funny that many religions do the same ritual and they do at different times for almost similar reasons. In Hindus, Tonsuring or Mundan as Indians know, is a ritual performed on boys either when they turn 1 or 3. The belief is that shaving off the head at a Holy premise or shine by a priest or under proper guidance and per tradition, takes off all the negative thoughts and sins of the past life of the baby. After the head is shaved, baby is given a head shower by holy water (similar to Baptism in Christians) and then taken in front of God's idol in a temple to get his blessings. Not in all Hindus but some sects, the tradition is that baby's aunt (paternal aunt) gets the baby's hair tied in a red or saffron colored cloth and then she disposes them off in a Holy river. I haven't found the reason for this custom yet but this is something not everyone does.

There are various other beliefs too behind Mundan like some believes that this ritual protects the baby from evil spirits, one theory brings in some sort of scientific logic saying that the process is done at or around the age of 1 when babies start have teething and Tonsuring process helps in easing that out (I don't get it how a hair cut could relieve the teething pain) and then there is another theory that says that since it is the 1st hair cut to the scalp level, it helps in better blood circulation as it gives a massage to baby's soft head.

Anyways, whatever the belief is, this is a ritual commonly performed worldwide. In Roman Catholics, Buddhism and Jainism, the same process is done amongst adults when they become monks. Tonsuring is also performed amongst various Hindu sects at the time of father's death. Amongst Muslims, it is done (don't know if all do or not these days) when men completes Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Isn't it funny that all religions at the core talk about the same thing and believes in almost the same teachings, yet they are so apart from each other.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dilli Paneeri

After living in Delhi for 17 years, I realized that the only best title that can be given to Delhi in regards to food is "Dilli Paneeri". Delhi has always been known for its delicious and high caloric food. Daal Makhani, Butter Naan, Makki ki Roti Sarso ka Saag, Chole Bhatoore, Aaloo Poori, Paneer Tikka, etc. are some of the top menu items that one will always find in any restaurant and Dhaba.

One of my cousins from Mumbai is so tempted by Delhi food especially the Chaats that he visits us only to enjoy the food. I will probably never forget his visit to Delhi this time because I was the one who was dragged to the Bazaars (Market) of Delhi every evening to munch and hog on the Chaats and Pakodas, Naans and Bhatooras, Daals and Sabzis and not to forget the giant glass of Fruit Beer.

Our trip to the local bazaar always scared me of the high possibility of stomach upset but at the same time, I didn't want to miss this chance of enjoying North Indian delicacies. What surprised me the most this time was that every single menu item at any restaurant was well equipped with Paneer (cottage cheese). Even a simple dish like Daal (lentils) will have fine chopped Paneer as dressing.

Pakodas will be stuffed with a slice of Paneer, a menu of 20 items would have at least 10 items with Paneer in it, Naans and Rotis (Indian breads) will have crushed Paneer stuffed in. You name a dish and you can customize it with Paneer, this is what Delhi restaurants are today.


Meal without Paneer is probably not a complete meal as if Paneer is the salad for the modern Delhi. I was just getting used to this new meal structure when I was hit by another shock. Delhi is not the only city that is hit by Paneeria (imaginary disease of Paneer like Malaria) but all of the North India is under the clutches of Paneer.

It is so amazing to see how people can be so innovative and creative with vegetables and vegetables substitutes, Paneer being one of the many options, and people on the other side of the globe wonder, "what do you vegetarians have to eat if you don't eat Stake, Chicken, Meat"?