Screaming Hot Bhajiyas
Bhajiya Archives

Speeding through a date
Eye Camp in India
The Bollywood Itch
Saree in the News
Milton Keynes Splash
Hindu Aid ;launch
Making giving  convenient
Bangladesh - who is truthful?
Auspiciousness in Swansea
Indian IT in congestion
Lawyer who rocked the UN
Biased Competency
Preston's leading light
Dripping with Honey
The chanter of mantras
The nightingale of Britain
CMF insults Hindus

MP's message to UKHindus
Humbug or intellectual?
Carry on Camping
A tale of two heads
Agha's double standards
Prince's foxy ideas
Queen's tryst with faith
Hindu Nostradamus
Anita and Me(era)
Conference of Hindu Orgs
Ravishankar's prodigy
Tory Musings
Jack Straw's Indo-Pak meet
Rakshabandhan at Brent
The philosopher's heart
Hindu Carnival
Selfridges and the cakewalk
Councillor Mat Bolo Naa
How Gokul came to London
The dancer of all seasons
Hindu Youth in Preston
The transcendental artist
Ramolla's twirl to fame
More Archives

Tea for the tree planters

I bumped into James Clappison local MP for the Hare Krishna Temple in Watford at a tree planting ceremony the temple had organised in its grounds. Clappison and the Mayor of Hertsmere, Edie Roach, tried to compete in front of 150 volunteers to see who could use a shovel faster and be the first to plant a tree.

Clappison, had the advantage of being younger and won the unequal race. He smiled in triumph, as the breathless Mayor, not to be outdone, unveiled the plaque on his tree, before Clappison could even reach out to touch it.

The volunteers who had assembled to plant the 6000 trees looked bright and enthusiastic. I could not help wondering how they managed to look so smug and warm despite the biting cold. When I glanced into a special tent the devotees had set up for the volunteers, the mystery was finally solved. They were all being served piping hot herbal tea at regular intervals.

Someone shoved a cup of tea at me, and I gratefully warmed my insides to red hot glory.

If only all spiritual organisations could look after their volunteers so carefully, wouldn’t we all run to serve them?
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Spring is round the corner
With Holi just gone, spring can’t be far behind. Last weekend, I warmed up at the bonfires of two of the largest Holi celebrations in London.

The Hindu Council of Brent organised its annual bonfire in Roe Green Park in Kingsbury on Saturday. At least eight thousand people marched round the fire and cuddled up to the flames that reached ten feet. People queued up to the make-shift shrine in a corner, while others held pots of water and let it trickle down their hands as they walked round the fire. Many others held new-born babies close to their chests and chanted prayers while circumambulating the fire.

“The belief is that if you hold a baby and walk round the Holi fire three times, the baby becomes very healthy,” explained Venilal Vaghela, Chair of the Hindu Council.

The other Holi celebration I attended was at Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna temple in Watford. This was a different affair altogether. The fire seemed to reach the same height as the one in Kingsbury, and the crowds were probably the same, but the difference was that everyone was throwing colours at everyone else. Bands of boisterous youngsters competed with groups of sedate elders to rub colour powder into each other’s hair and clothes. All the revellers seemed to be either chasing a victim or running away from a colour-throwing human-machine.

As I tried to edge away from the shower of colours, I bumped into Kripamoya Dasa, a senior priest at the temple. His daughter called up from behind, “Dad, they have started throwing the colours here too – let’s get away quickly.”

I had never seen Kripamoya run so fast – and I chuckled to myself as I ran behind him trying to save my own dear life.

“In India, Holi is an altogether different affair,” explained Kripamoya, when we had both caught our breaths back. “Colours are thrown in the morning, and it’s usually warm enough to enjoy it.”

I remembered how groups of people singing and dancing their way through the streets of Mumbai would dump tonnes of wet colour on every passer. I would usually jump from one group of colour-throwers to another – always acquiring a stranger and more colourful personality as the day progressed. After four or five hours of fun in the morning, all of us coloured folks (pun not intended) would have a proper scrub and sit down for a sumptuous Holi feast. With the weather at its miserable best in Britain, I certainly did not fancy being hit by a Holi missile (pun intended this time!).
Spicy chutney
Asian Voice
Hindu Council
Krishna, the all attractive
Krishna's Commander
Books are the basis
Chakkar Chalaao
Chalo Vrindavan
Emberumaan Saranam
Diwali at Westminster
Ratha Yatra
Bring Krishna in ur home
Light of knowledge

The trainless teacher

“Why don’t you organise some lectures for me from the Hindu Council of Brent?” asked Pandit Gowrishankar, flashing four diamond rings on three fingers hands and two jewelled studs on two ears. His silk robes and long hair tied in a bun added to an almost regal air of opulence for a man who was meant to relate more to matters of the spirit.

Gowrishankar, who tours and lectures around Britain from June to October every year, is a man of man of many talents. He is well-versed in the art of chanting, rituals, scriptures, classical dance, astrology, Vastu and Sanskrit.

“Many modern sciences and arts are related to Vedic thought,” he claimed. “Even Fengshui came from the Vedic art of Vastu. Even simple things like hairstyles were varied and widespread in Vedic times,” he said with a gleam in his eye, as he slowly stroked the knot of hair on the nape of his neck.

Gowrishankar claims he has never cut his hair since the day he received his sacred thread when he was a young boy.

“All my tapasya and austerity are stored in my hair. I cannot cut it or open the knot in public,” he declared.

I looked at his well-combed and well-oiled hair, and wondered what the poor barbers in this country would do if everyone stubbornly refused to cut their hair like Gowrishankar.

As if he had read my thoughts he said, “In those days, people only shaved or cut their hair once a month. Sometimes, during times of festivals or fasting, like Chaturmasya, shaving and hair-cutting were forbidden for four months.”

Gowrishankar had just come back from Alma Ata, where had attended an Interfaith conference organised by the Government of Kazakhsthan.

“They are a Muslim nation, but the friendly manner in which they honoured and welcome all faith communities was very favourable to international  inter-faith relations,” he said, in a spirit of fraternity and goodwill.

“In fact they received us as government guests and even had an escort of bikes in the front and back of our state vehicles,” he continued and beamed with pride. “We were honoured with protocol and respect at every moment.”

I hoped that state sponsored visits with escorted vehicles do not end up spoiling the simplicity of our spiritual leaders. When we offered to provide a train ticket for his talk, Gowrishankar immediately wanted a cab. Of course, I cannot ride a bike, so we could not provide the escort. Sigh!
Ten heads better than one?

For reproducing sheer adventure, high drama and incredible special effects, the devotees at Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna temple in Watford leave everyone else in Britain far behind.

Every year, Bhaktivedanta Manor hosts the largest Dussehra festival in Britain – in continuation of the age-old tradition from India, where thousands of mammoth effigies of the demon king Ravana are burnt to celebrate the victory of Lord Rama.

As I watched the festival unfold, I realised that the British Hare Krishnas had perfected this amazing festival to a fine art of precision.

To the background of spectacular laser displays, hair-tingling music and a spellbinding narration, colourfully costumed devotees re-enacted the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana on an open-air stage.

At the end of the breathless dramatics, twenty-foot effigies of the ten-headed Ravana, his son Meghnath and his brother Kumbhakarna, were brought down with a flying fire-arrow shot by a stately devotee painted in green – the colour of Lord Rama.

Melodious chants filled the air and the music reached a crescendo as the 10,000-strong audience roared in delight. When the effigy of Ravana burnt itself out and fell to the ground, a great cheering broke out amongst the tumultuous crowd.

Faith and Foreign Policy

“In the past, relationships between Britain’s faith communities and the Government’s foreign policy has not got the attention it deserved,” announced the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw at the series of Faith related events organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week.

I had been invited to speak at a panel discussion with Sir Trevor Phillips, Chair of the CRE and others to discuss “Domestic Impact of International Consequences” at the ‘Faith and Foreign Policy’ conference organised on 8th October.

“Until 1829, Catholics in this country could not vote,” said Sir Trevor. “There are echoes of that today. But events like this send a signal that our government does not want to go back there.”

Others who took part in various discussions throughout the day included Dr Zaki Badawi, Inderjeet Singh, Prof Jorgen Nielsen and officials from the FCO and the Home Office.

“There is nothing called ethical foreign policy. That is just a slogan,” announced Dr Badawi, a fellow panellist, in a rather serious tone. “If we don’t like a country, we bring up the issue of human rights violations. But if we like a particular country, there can be the most atrocious human rights violation there, and yet we turn the other way.”

Before our discussion, the Foreign Secretary referred to Kashmir in his speech and said, “In respect of South Asia, the Kashmir question tends to divide the British Asian communities along faith lines - although there are other factors as well. Many British Hindus and Muslims hold fundamentally different views about the status of Kashmir. Either side can become concerned if they perceive the Government to be taking a pro-Indian or pro-Pakistani line.”

What I found initially disconcerting was that Straw referred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism as “the three great faiths”, but felt satisfied after he immediately corrected himself by saying “three of the great faiths.” The first phrase of course meant that the three Abrahamic traditions were the only great faiths, while the second phrase acknowledges that there are other faiths that are also “great”.

Although the fact that the Foreign Secretary corrected himself was not only encouraging, but also showed immediate presence of mind as well as his keen awareness of faith sensibilities, yet some of the people I later spoke to felt that many Government departments had in the past, not given as much importance to the non-Abrahamic faiths as they should have.

Of course, the fact that they are now willing to seek participation from other faith communities means that the Hindu community must itself become organised and united to be able to respond to the hand that has been extended by the Government.  Of this, I have grave doubts.

As soon as I stepped down from the panel discussion, a fellow Hindu rushed up to me and said, “Ramesh, who asked you to speak on behalf of Hindus at the panel discussion? Why didn’t you come to me and tell me they had invited you? I would have organised a more qualified person.”

If we have to bicker in the FCO, and not in private, what chance do we have of uniting ourselves?
Volunteers from the Pandava Sena, a Hare Krishna youth group, had built the three effigies with the support of other enthusiastic volunteers. One of the volunteers, Dharmesh, confided to me that the Ravana effigy that they had been trying to build earlier had fallen down with great gusto. Not to be deterred, the youth had promptly decided to convert the fallen Ravana into Kumbhakarna, the sleeping giant.

A regal ten-headed Ravana was later erected beside his fallen brother, much to the delight of everyone. The fact that most of his ten heads had cloth skeletons flapping from his scowling mouths only made his terrifying features look fiercer.
According to the Ramayana, Kumbhakarana had been granted a benediction of being able to sleep for months on end without ever having to wake up.

“At least, Kumbhakarana and I have one thing in common,” chuckled Arati Narang, a spectator. “We both find it difficult to wake up after a good night’s sleep.”

As the audience dispersed, they were pleasantly surprised to find a stall where the devotees were freely distributing piping-hot herbal tea. 

“A perfect ending to a perfect evening,” smiled Arati as she sipped her herbal tea and tried to pull her jacket tighter in an attempt to escape the fresh autumn chill.

I looked back at the burning embers of the defeated demons and sighed.

If an imitation battle between Lord Rama and the demon Ravana had been so attractive, what would the real battle have looked like millions of years ago in the golden city of Lanka?

Mind-boggling and unimaginable, to say the least.
Earlier Bhajiyas
The Pastor, the Doctor, an Earl and his Committee
The humble Milkman may let the Tories in
Controversy erupted over the release of a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences from Westminster today. Leaders of the UK Hindu community are deeply upset over a statement made by the Earl of Mar and Kellie, published in the minutes of the oral evidence given by the Hindu community to the Select Committee in November 2002.
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Conservative Party leaders at the annual dinner hosted by the British Asian Conservative Link at the Carlton Club admitted that the party needed to reach out more to the Asian community in Britain.

Speaking at the dinner, which was attended by over 100 businessmen and professionals of Indian origin, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, Gary Streeter MP, said that he was passionate to see a country where every person, whatever their race or skin colour, felt included. “The Conservative party has made efforts to reach out to people, but it has not happened fast enough,” he admitted. “Many Indians have contributed to creation of wealth, and to sports, leisure, media and food. I want to thank you all for this.”

Streeter said that the Conservative Party needed to become genuinely representative and was looking to promote Asian candidates. “We hope that in the next General Elections, we will have 2 or 3 Asian MPs,” he remarked.

Making a reference to  the government’s propaganda machinery, he added, “People are fed up with spin. Over 80% of the crime in this country is drug related, but the current range of spin is not grappling with it. We need a Britain that is not built on spin, but on firm foundational principles.”

Rami Ranger, Secretary of the Conservative British Asian Link analysed the reasons why the Party had lost the last elections. He concluded that it was because the Party had been more concerned with the Euro, than with the problems of the common person.

“Winning is easy,” he declared. “But if a party is serious about success, it must go out and recruit people who can contribute effectively. If the party does not recognise ethnic minorities, it will lose out. We must change the image of Conservatives as a party of elitist.  The party must become truly inclusive and it should encourage people of all walks of life - from milkmen to lorry drivers and civil servants to judges.”

Finally, we have it – it is the milkman who holds the key to Parliament.
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Archaeological Evidence Demolishes Aryan Invasion Theory
Religion to love, not to hate

“Islam and Christianity are religions taught by purushas (historical personalities). Purushas, of course, are fallible,” claimed Dr N S Rajaram, the world famous historian who has created a revolution by re-establishing the true version of Indian history in the academic world. “Hinduism on the other hand is apaureshaya - it does not rest on the word of a human.”

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In a splendid display of civic responsibility, the invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury to a faith community reception on 24 March urged guests to take public transport. Parking space at Lambeth Palace, the invitation explained in a rather apologetic manner, was limited.
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Attaboy Tonybhai
Judging the Judgemental
Loaded with benevolence
I managed to miss the bash of the month - a reception organised by the Asian Voice to honour Tony McNulty, Minister of London - and all because of a boring meeting with a bunch of wordy people that I tried unsuccessfully to worm out of. The guest list, I was informed, read like a who’s-who of the Asian community.
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With all this noise and commotion about the Earl of Mar and Kellie making a statement that upset so many Hindus, I thought I should balance it with a Christian viewpoint.

I remembered that when I had written a story in this column in November 2002 about the Christian Medical Fellowship.
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The 40 odd Asians in the Sunday Times rich list are loaded in more ways than one.
Not everyone who has oodles of money made it to the rich list. But they seem to have hearts loaded with benevolence as well as a charitable disposition.

Chhotabhai Limbachai, Vice President of the Hindu Council of North and a Trustee of the Preston Krishna temple was full of praise for his rich supporters. “Our temple was a £4 million project, and there was no way we could have completed it without the support of Indian businesses. We deeply appreciate the efforts of Manubhai Madhvani, who organised support from other Indian businessmen like the Hindujas, Joginder Sanger, and Sir Ghulam Noon. A lot of credit is also due to C B Patel of Gujarat Samachar for his support and contacts.”
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The brethren (and what about the sistren?)
Encountering the other
At the Newton Inter-faith meeting last week, I was delighted to hear from distinguished members that religion does not cause war at all. Most members felt that  all major faiths preached the importance of tolerance and love. It was unanimously agreed that it was the misuse of religion that usually led to war and strife.

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“The annual festival by the Brent Hindu Council has been held for the last 20 years,” explained a breathless Nirmala Patel, General Secretary of the Hindu Council of Brent. She had just been running round sharp corners and up steep staircases - in a splendid attempt to bring her costumed artistes, stage decorations, food and music together for a spectacular show.
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Loyalty on the pitch
Media Muddles
The big win that India staged over arch-rivals Pakistan in the Cricket world cup sent most of my friends into a frenzy.

“Shivaratri was on the same day, you see,” smiled my neighbour, rather smugly. “That’s why Lord Shiva ensured that India won.”

“We celebrated well into the night,” laughed a friend I met at the Hare Krishna temple the next day. “So don’t wake me if I fall asleep during the morning lecture.”

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Swami Nirliptananda from the London Sevashram Sangha has a grouse against the British media. He believes that Hindus have got a raw deal from it.
“Hindu values and belief systems are not understood properly and often distorted by the media,” he emphasised. “There is a widening information gap between the community and the media.”

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Lisa Ray's Second Grade Trickle
Discrimination. Just Stop it!
Making Blair's job easier
“Privately, I must say that war with Iraq is good,” admitted a Hindu leader in Brent, who wished to remain anonymous. “But in public, we just can’t afford to say that.”

“Anybody who holds weapons of mass destruction poses a serious threat to peace, and must be destroyed,” said a leader from the north. “But this seems a politically incorrect thing to say in public. So we just end up making anti-war noises even though we don’t really feel that way deep inside.”
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I met some interesting people at a Focus Group meeting on 24th March to discuss the European Commission’s five-year awareness strategy called the Information Campaign to Combat Discrimination.

The Campaign which will last five years seeks to sensitise the general public and to transmit information about the relevant legal situation on discrimination, with a focus on the workplace in the first year. Article 13 included in the EU treaty outlaws discrimination based on gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation
Member states like the UK must ensure that appropriate legislation is in place by December 2003 to outlaw discrimination at work.

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My friend Bhavesh Shah thought that I had gone raving mad.

“What? You have a chance to personally meet and interview the ravishing Lisa Ray, and yet you settle down for a barmy phone interview?” he screamed in frustration. “Let me go instead of you!”
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No laughing Matter
Stage it like Kali
Jayesh Jotangia from the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh picked me up for a talk I was delivering at a meeting he had organised on 10 April to celebrate Varsha Pratipada.

“Varsha thingamajig, what?” my wife had enquired earlier in blissful ignorance.
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Indian theatre has finally arrived in London. April saw no less than six different plays with an Indian theme.

The Reduced Indian Film Company staged Bollywood – Yet Another Love Story at The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. It featured love, music, tragedy, dances, fights and disco – all the trappings of a typical masala movie with a rehash of old themes.

Sock ‘Em with Honey by the Kali Theatre Company at the Cockpit Theatre resonated to the sound of clashing cultures, triggered when the daughter of a traditional Parsi family decided to marry her Jewish boyfriend. Written by award winning novelist Bapsi Sidwah, it explores the issues of cultural identity, family loyalty and the nature of love   
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The Ginger-haired Dhorio Maharaj
MAXIMum Hypocrisy
“Sometimes people wonder how a white English guy with red hair can become a Hindu priest – a dhorio Maharaj,” laughed Kripamoya Dasa, senior priest at Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna temple in Watford. “Usually, before I conduct a wedding ceremony, there are a few bemused expressions.”

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Maxim magazine, known for its rather unbecoming photos of women, has made a mockery of Mahatma Gandhi. The latest US edition of Maxim has an offensive article headlined “Maxim’s Kick-Ass Workout,” depicting a strapping man in a “Muscle” T-shirt beating up an image of Mahatma Gandhi.
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Only blood - whats the big deal?
Central Middlesex Hospital may be one of the busiest NHS hospitals in Britain, but certainly not the most efficient.

A patient, Jeyam Radhakrishnan, had four different blood samples lost in seven days. As if this was not enough trauma, she was wrongly diagnosed twice with Hyperkemia – a condition caused by excessive potassium in blood - even though her potassium levels were normal   
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