Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Loss of my foster child! Bid Adieu Munni ....

Life sometimes seems to be too cruel beyond comprehension.   After all the initial challenges, loss of my mom,  recovering from the aftermath of her death, I embarked on my CSC journey.   Midway through after 2 weeks of so much of intense work and fun, travels and friends in Halifax, God sent me a jerk of my life.

The frantic call from my daughter informing of the most tragic accident of her best friend, soul-sister, my foster daughter Sai Manasa  threw me to an ocean of tears.   This child came into my life when she was probably around 12-13, a fragile delicate little girl, full of fun and dreams, lot of hopes and aspirations of a future,  very adamant at times, and still finding everything that she wants a mother to be in me.   The first time Aishu brought her home, we gelled like we knew each other for life.  We used to have so much of fun, cook and eat together, go on errands,  travels, spend nights watching some random stuff on TV or laptop,  teasing me, wearing my sarees and messing the room and on me shouting, they just used to clean up the place in flash seconds.

Never imagined that our lives will change in split seconds because of her one decision to go on a bike ride in mid of the night with her professor having no one around and ending up on a tragic road accident that took her life in minutes and derailed our lives, devastating my daughter totally as they studied together for 6 years, spent most of their weekend and holidays together and stood by each other so much and went to the same college as they wanted to be together.   Me being on the other side of the planet, far away from one child who lost her life and other child trying to hold strong and do what best she can do is totally devastating.  

The child I fostered so much, who was so much part of my family,  everything that a friend can be to my daughter is suddenly gone.   Leaving us in shock.   Tears that don't seem to stop.   We are no where near to celebrate her young 19 year old life that was snatched away.   No words to console each other, no guts to deep dive into reality and no one and everyone to be blamed in this tragedy.

She leaves behind an absolutely shell-shocked father, a helpless broken mother and sisters, amazing group of friends who are not able to even believe this yet.

Thanks to the amazing courage and composure my husband showed in this moment of utmost grief, holding ground for everyone,  standing by my daughter,  driving down 200  kms to Villipuram to the accident site, following up with the legal formalities and hospital and bring the child in ambulance and handing over her to relatives who were clueless.   My daughter showed an extreme sense of understanding of the situation,  holding tightly and answering people and still trying to fight back her own pressures of the situation.   

I only wished I was there to hold my daughter Aishwarya tightly when she needed me and have one last glimpse of my foster child Manasa. 
with my foster child Manasa...

I desperately wish this was just a bad dream and nothing happened.   Time only can heal us

Miss you Munni.....Love you so much little angel. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Post 3- CSC One final week to go….CSCCAN1…Halifax…

How this whole assignment happens to be a different experience from the regular Volunteering?

This assignment actually transforms you from what you are to what the Organizations need….. 
planned, trained, performing Leaders! 

The whole journey starts from being your application selection (which is around 10–15% from the overall applications ) and then giving you adequate time to get trained, motivated, network and integrate with the objectives of CSC. This is a team experience. Teams made of complimentary skills set, high leadership values, great history of work performances, leveraging on the talents and perspectives of all team members. 

The pre-work for more than 2 months give you ample space to understand the diversity of cultures of the people forming as a team with sole objective of achieving success in CSC projects for clients. By the end of 11–12 weeks of team meetings, buddy presentations, knowing your team mates, understanding the significance of unity in diversity, makes the team one family. Here, every team member gets to learn so much from others. Hence the high performing teams emerge at the end of this journey

Grouping into sub-teams and having a overall skill-set to achieve the common purpose, having a high level commitment, and entire focus on the goals, with absolute accountability makes CSC stand par excellence.

Well-structured learning modules, train you to equip yourselves to have the ability to perform on the client’s needs. This is a Win-Win situation for all involved.

Rishi and Aishwarya took on the responsibility to create the Team’s Code of Conduct — establishing guidelines for a set of mutually agreed upon behaviours for which team members hold each other accountable, setting expectations on working together, setting up a common work approach, facilitating progression that can be reviewed periodically.

The learning is immense and of high value. As part of the Personal Effectiveness, the learning of Six Thinking Hats presented by Edward De Bono gives you enough space to start wearing you different thinking hats. Giving knowledge on the structured and creative thinking techniques. That helps in Workshops, Problem- Solving and meetings.

Different perspectives lead to different things, based on fundamental understanding of how the brain handles information and reacts. Very structured and logical approach to dealing with problems are to view problems from a new and unusual perspective. This encourages you to think outside the comfort zone and go beyond the obvious to discover effective alternate solutions. Improved communication and decision making helps you to say things without risk. Once we start focusing on the thinking, plans will be more sounder and resilient.
Now that we have learnt most of this, in a very structured pre-work with help of our valuable mentors who are CSC Alumini Andrew McDonald, Rick and Mark helped us to start rediscovering ourselves. We are waiting for the regular Thursday call, tomorrow, which will be our last call as part of Pre-Work and also ‘Before you go’ call and then to start packing our bags to the most awaited journey….

Monday, September 17, 2018

Visit to Sarnath, 10 kms from Varanasi - important Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in India

Sarnath, located just 12 km from the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, is the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma after his enlightenment. Sarnath is one of four holy Buddhist sites sanctioned by the Buddha himself for pilgrimage. The other three sites are: Lumbini (birth); Bodh Gaya (enlightenment); and Kushinagar (death).

Buddha came to Sarnath to preach his message of the middle way to nirvana after he achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, and gave his famous first sermon here. In the 3rd century BC, Emperor Ashoka had magnificent stupas and monasteries erected here, as well as an engraved pillar. When Chinese traveller Xuan Zang dropped by in AD 640, Sarnath boasted a 100m-high stupa and 1500 monks living in large monasteries. However, soon after, Buddhism went into decline and, when Muslim invaders sacked the city in the late 12th century, Sarnath disappeared altogether. It was ‘rediscovered’
Buddhism flourished in Sarnath in part because of the support of kings and wealthy merchants based in nearby Varanasi. By the 3rd century Sarnath had become an important center for the arts, which reached its zenith during the Gupta period (4th-6th century AD). When Hsuan Tsang visited from China in the 7th century, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath.

At the end of the 12th century, Sarnath was sacked by Turkish Muslims. The site was subsequently plundered for building materials and has remained in ruins until the present day. The site was entirely deserted until 1836, when the British began excavations and restoration.

What to See at Sarnath
All of the ancient buildings and structures at Sarnath were damaged or destroyed by the Turks. However, amongst the ruins the Dharmekh Stupa is impressive at 128 feet high, and 93 in diameter. This dates from around 200 BC and is the spot where the Buddha is said to have preached his first sermon.

Only the foundations remain of the Dharmarajika Stupa, but it is notable as a rare pre-Ashokan stupa.

The decaying ruins of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara mark the place where the Buddha spent his first rainy season in meditation. In the 7th century, a writer described it as 200 feet high and containing 100 niches containing a Buddha carving along each wall. A life-sized statue shows the Buddha turning the wheel of the law.

To the east is the modern Mulagandhakuti Vihara with its beautiful wall paintings; behind it is the Deer Park, which is maintained as an open animal park and still attracts deer.

The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath survived the Turkish invasion but was broken during excavations. The base still stands in its original spot and has some interesting carvings.
The splendid lion capital that topped the pillar, which thankfully survived its 45 foot drop to the ground is on display at the Sarnath Archeological Museum. The museum also houses some of the greatest treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including almost 300 images.

There is also a Bodhi tree planted by Anagarika Dharmapala which was grown from a cutting of the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya. It is located next to a Sri Lankan monastery.

Six national temples have been built by various Asian communities at Sarnath since the site's restoration, including a Tibetan temple and Sri Lankan temple.

Don’t Miss

Sarnath Museum is the oldest site museum of Archaeological Survey of India. It houses the findings and excavations at the archaeological site of Sarnath, by the Archaeological Survey of India. Sarnath is located near Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The museum has 6,832 sculptures and artifacts

The museum contains five galleries and two verandahs to display the antiquities ranging from the 3rd century BCE to 12th century AD that have been found at Sarnath.
Sarnath has yielded a rich collection of sculptures, artefacts and edifices comprising numerous Buddha and Bodhisattva images and other ancient remains. Finest specimens of Buddhist art and other important remains have been housed at the museum. 

While the single most famous exhibit of this museum is the Lion Capital of Ashoka, the Sarnath museum also houses a collection of other Buddhist artefacts. Among the things to see is a sculpture of the Buddha from the 5th century. The Buddha sits cross-legged, with eyes downcast in deep meditation, and a halo around his head. Also worth exploring are the several figures of the bodhisattvas. 

Of other Buddhist remains, there is a life-size standing Bodhisattva and a delicate image of the Bodhisattva with a lotus and yet another bronze sculpture showing the Bodhisattva with multiple arms. The museum at Sarnath also houses a collection of figures and sculptures from the Mauryan, the Kushana and the Gupta periods. Prominent among them is the earliest Buddha image found at Sarnath and many images of Hindu Gods dating from the 9th to 12th centuries. 

Ashoka's Lion capital

This is the famous original sandstone sculpted Lion Capital of Ashoka preserved at Sarnath Museum, which was originally erected around 250 BCE atop an Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. The angle from which this picture has been taken, minus the inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, has been adopted as the National Emblem of India showing the Horse on the left and the Bull on the right of the Ashoka Chakra in the circular base on which the four Indian lions are standing back to back. On the far side there is an Elephant and a Lion instead. The wheel "Ashoka Chakra" from its base has been placed onto the centre of the National Flag of India.

Wat Thai Temple, Sarnath

Popularly known as the Thai Temple, the Hinayana Buddha temple was built by Thai dignitaries in 1933. It also has Thai designs and is prettily located amid lush green gardens. There is a statue of a laughing Buddha just before the main Thai temple and on the right side is an enactment of Buddha delivering a sermon to his disciples. There are three other statues of Buddha in various mudras beneath a tree and colourful flowers grow around it.

The Thais call it the Wat Thai Temple. There are many devotees in orange robes moving around the temple compound and paying their regards.

A huge standing Buddha statue is on the left side of the temple and towers over 80 m, the construction of which is said to have taken more than a decade.  Calm prevails in the Thai Temple which makes it feel like a very divine experience. There and no charges for entry and timings are from sunrise to sunset.

The Buddha Statue is said to be made out of 365 stones representing 365 days in a year and also has 4 important stages of Buddha’s life depicted on the 4 sides of the statue

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Enchanting Varanasi : Must do things in Varanasi, the City of Lord Shiva

The pilgrimage to Kasi, the temple town of Lord Shiva is a much renowned pilgrimage to Hindu's who believe in the Moksha by surrendering oneself to the immense power of the Ganges flowing through the City of Varanasi.    To many others, it is a tourist destination, to rediscover the rawness and meaning of being humans above anything else.   Varanasi gives you a delight of understanding the human form and its beginning, existence and the end.   In the end, what matter is taking you back to the very beginning, unison in the waters of life...thereby cleansing your soul.   

This is the sentiment of a Hindu, who takes a pilgrimage to Kasi. 

From a tourist perspective, a weekend in Kasi is worth all the efforts you spend on the trip.  If you have just 2 days, and still want to have an experience worth having, continue reading!

Reaching Varanasi

Plan to reach Varanasi early in the morning, taking an early hours flight.   Varanasi airport is 22 kms away from the city, and the only possible transport is hiring a taxi, which starts from Rs 600 and above depending on the destination.    Varanasi also has a well connect Railway station and Bus Stand from various part of India that makes the travel possible for all.

Stay in Varanasi

Varanasi is a city where you can live in free ashrams,  choultries and end number of small hotels that provide accommodation.    There are also very decent hotels and cosy places depending on your budget and preference.   Staying closer to the main area around Kasi Vishwanath temple makes your access easy.   However, if you would prefer to stay away in the nights from the humdrum of the city, you can also take hotels in the Cantonment area, a little far from the main tourist attraction.  Dolphin International, Hotel Ganges Grand, Hotel Ashoka are closer.  Radisson and other primer hotels are little away but accessible to the city.

Food & Specialties

You have loads and loads of chat places that serve varieties of North India culinary experiences with their Pooris/ Bajji along with hot Jelabi's in the morning ( We have seen this as common breakfast preferred),  followed by Chai in clay pots (muttkas) that give you a different taste to the tea, and the lip smattering Lassi (Curd based churned (Yogurt) mixed with a pinch of salt and loads of sugar,

, and topping with the Cream/ Butter or Kova (condensed milk with sugar).   We literally survived on this chilled lassi during the hot afternoons.   I also heard that they have lassi topped with Ganja(some kind of substance - ugh)..so beware when you get your glass of lassi.   

Rice, dal, Rotis, variety of dosas, samosas, poori's , potato curries and loads of Rasagulla's, Kachories, Gulab Jamun's make your lunch.   You also have best of hotels for South Indians like Hotel Annapoorna and Kerala Cafe that caters to your typical south/ north Indian cuisine.  My two cents would always go to the amazing Aloo Thikki's and Onion Kachories with the hot tea in the matkas!

Must See Places 

1.   Amazing Ganges and 80+ Ghats 

The boat ride in Ganges gives you a wide glimpse of the Varanasi skyline with its beautiful ghats and each ghat has its own significance and story.    The Ghats, we visited were Kedar Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat and Harischandra Ghat.    Manikarnika (site to see never ending cremations) , Hanuman, and Assi Ghats are also said to be of high significance.   Every ghat has its own temples and historical significance. 

One big change is that there is no live burning of bodies seen this time, because the Ganges was overflowing, nextly there is ban of pushing the dead bodies in the ganges which is actually making offering prayers at the Ghats was more peaceful and taking bath was also not uncomfortable

Keeping Ganges clean is not only a Government project but a responsibility of every citizen and I think the constituency being that of Modiji is actually bringing in the much awaited changes in Varanasi 

Raghu at Kedar Gath..flooding ganges behind..a km away from Harischandra Ghat
2.  Temples 

After completing the rituals on the Kedar Ghat, and taking a bath in Ganges, we headed first to

Kasi Vishwanath Temple :  One of the 12 Jothirlingas,  the amazing Lord Shiva Temple tucked inmidst of narrow lanes of Varanasi have the Golden Gopuram weighting 920 kgs and within the premises, visit the Nandi facing Lord Shiva, Banyan tree,  Lord Hanuman temple and many other small temples around.   The Vishwanath Temple of Kasi (Varanasi) is one of the oldest and most sacred Hindu temples in India. On an average the number of devotees visiting the temple each day ranges from a few thousands to about 100000 (on special occasions).

Mata Annapoorna Devi Temple:   Goddess Annapoorna is the ruling Goddess of Varanasi said to be relieving the hunger of the living beings.   The temple offers prasad and rice to the visitors and offers every day food to elderly and destitutes.  Located quite close to the Vishwanath Temple, is the Annapurna Devi temple where the Goddess Parvati is worshipped as the giver of food and nourishment. Devotees come here in hoards and donate freely.

Visalakshi Temple – The Kashi Vishalakshi temple is one of the acclaimed Shaktipith temples in the country. This traditional south Indian style temple has many miraculous stories about it and is a favourite with devotees from all over the country.  Believed to be maintained by Nattu Kotta chettiars and seems to be sending offerings to Kasi Vishwanath temple thrice a day even today.


Sankat Mochan Temple – The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple of Varanasi is said to have been established by the renowned saint Goswami Tulsidas and reconstructed by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya in the early 20th century. The devotees who throng the temple feed the hundreds of monkeys who live here. The temple was the site of a terrorist attack in March 2006 and hence under high security now.. 

Kaal Bhairav Temple – The Kaal Bhairav temple is one of the oldest temples in Varanasi. Kaal Bhairav is believed to be the guardian of the city and is the protector of devotees in trouble.  Here we can worship the Lord to wade away evil and pain.   Feeding of prasad to dog's at the temple entrance is sight to see.  

Tulsi Manas Temple – The Birla Tulsi Manas Temple is another famous pilgrimage centre in Varanasi. It was built in 1964 and is dedicated to Lord Rama. Tulsidas’ famous Ramcharitamanas is inscribed on the walls of the temple.   The main deity here is Swami Satyanarayan and unlike other temples, this temple complex is airy and vast. 

Durga Kund Temple – The Durga Mata Temple in Durga Kund is another one of the important temples in Varanasi. It is near the Tulsi Manas Mandir. On special days a procession heads out from this temple to the Durga Temple.  The Red walls of the temple and the amazing deity makes it look powerful.   

Bharat Mata Temple – This is a unique temple dedicated to Mother India (Bharat Mata). Nowhere else a temple dedicated to the motherland. The temple was built in 1936 in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidhyapith. Gandhiji himself inaugurated the temple.   The India map built on the floor is worshiped here.  However, we felt very sad to see that this temple is not maintained well and has lowest footprints.

Tridev Temple – It is very rare that we find a Hindu temple dedicated to all three Gods of the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Varanasi’s Tridev temple is unique in this respect and is visited by hundreds of devotees each day.

Other temples around include: 

  • New Vishwanath Temple – The New Vishwanath Temple in the campus of the Banaras Hindu University was constructed by the educationist, Madan Mohan Malaviya with the help of the Birlas. The tower of the New Vishwanath Temple is said to be the tallest temple tower in the country.
  • Mrityunjay Mahadev Temple – Shiva is known to assume many forms; one of these is that of Mrityunjaya – the one who achieves victory over Death itself. This temple dedicated to Shiva in the form of Mrityunjaya, is visited by devotees in great numbers who pray for good health and a long life.
  • Nepali Temple – The Nepali Mandir in Lalit Ghat is also known as Mini Khajuraho. The terracotta, wood, and stone Pagoda style temple was constructed by the King of Nepal, Rana Bahadur Shah, in the 1800s and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • Plenty of Hanuman Temples, Ganesha Temples and Goddess Kali, Durga and Maa Ganga you can see around 

 3.  Evening Ganga Aarthi  (6.45- 7.45 pm every day at Dashashwamedh Ghat)

We were so blessed to see this Aarthi, sitting just behind the priests performing the same and Raghu had the blessing of lighting the lamp used for the ritual.   

Ganga Aarti Varanasi (Benaras, Kashi ) is  the Hindu religious ritual of worship for the holy river Ganges. The ceremony happens everyday from 6.45 -7.45 pm at Dashashwamedh Ghat on the Ganges river banks.

A must watch event while in Varanasi, and is enjoyed by locals and tourists from all over the world. Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main ghat in Varanasi on the Ganges River. It is located close to "Vishwanath Temple" and is probably the most spectacular ghat.

Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another legend,  Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasa -Ashwamedha yajna performed here.

Aarti is said to have descended from the Vedic concept of fire rituals, or homa. In the traditional Aarti ceremony, the flower represents the earth (solidity), the water and accompanying handkerchief correspond with the water element (liquidity), the lamp or candle represents the fire component (heat), the peacock fan conveys the precious quality of air (movement), and the yak-tail fan represents the subtle form of ether (space). The incense represents a purified state of mind, and one's "intelligence" is offered through the adherence to rules of timing and order of offerings. Thus, one's entire existence and all facets of material creation are symbolically offered to the Lord via the Aarti ceremony.The word may also refer to the traditional Hindu devotional song that is sung during the ritual.

Our visit was to immerse my amma's ashes in the Ganges and do the rituals on the ghats of Ganges and pay our tributes as she was a keen believer in the salvation on the banks of Varanasi.   Despite her ill health and age, she managed to go to Kasi 4 times and never complained on any of the discomforts during those trips as she had challenges in walking,  eating outside food, using public toilets and staying with many other elderly travel companions on the group tours and on limited budgets.  Today, being there, I wonder how she managed it so gracefully.  

I would recommend readers here to help your parents or elder people wanting to visit Kasi, to manage logistics and if possible, accompany them and do your best.  

May the Lord Shiva grace you with his blessings!  Om Namashivaya!