St Mary’s Feast


What is it?



St. Mary’s Feast celebrates the birth of Mother Mary is the most important festival celebrated in St Mary’s basilica and is attended by thousands of people. 

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St. Mary’s Basilica is a basilica located in the Archdiocese of Bangalore. It is among the oldest churches in Bangalore and is the only church in the state that has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica. It really is a beautiful piece of architecture and is busy with visitors all day.

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 When is it?



The festivities go on for 10 days beginning on Tuesday 29th August and end on Friday 8th September; the day on which the Mother Mary was born. The first mass began at 5:30am with masses every 30 minutes in three different languages. At 6:30am the Archbishop offered a thanksgiving mass.

How is it celebrated?

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The festivities begin with the masses. In the evening of the first day, the first novena flag is blessed and hoisted (it’s a traditional flag). The flag with the image of “Our Lady” was blessed by Archbishop Bernard Moras and was hoisted by Sri KJ George (a former Home Minister for Karnataka state).

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A Novena ( a form of worship in the Roman Catholic Church consisting of special prayers or services on nine successive days) is held on the first nine days from Tuesday 29th August to Thursday 7th September. 

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On Friday 8th September, the day on which Mother Mary was born, a Holy feast is celebrated. Holy Mass is offered in different languages and mass marriages are conducted for those in need. A thanksgiving mass is also organized for couples who have completed 50 years of marriage. Eucharistic celebrations (mass with bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ) are held on the day of the feast. The day culminates with a grand chariot procession with a decorated chariot with the image of Mother Mary drawn by devotees along the various streets of Bangalore. 

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Afterwards food is distributed to the thousand of people who have joined in the celebrations. This throng of people consists of all religions with Hindus joining Christians in the celebrations. It is a great time of enjoyment and feasting together.

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Bible College in Bangalore – my story of how it happened

This is a post I never thought I would be writing. My friends will tell you that I am the least likely person to go to Bible College. (In my opinion, I am also the most likely to get kicked out at some point!). So how did this happen? How, after 33 years of being a (pretty crap) Christian, did I end up going to Bible College? How did I get here? Obviously it’s all in God’s great plan for my life, but I can tell it from my perspective.

Becoming a Christian – my belief in God

Woodvale Chapel

I had attended Woodvale Chapel in Ainsdale, where I grew up, ever since my cousins Michelle and Carol had taken us at a very young age. I loved going. The folks were kind and accepted us (me and my twin) with all our challenges, having come from a ‘chaotic’ family childhood which made us aggressive, defensive and outspoken. (I know, not much has changed.) 

Billy Graham, Mission:England

The church took the youth group on a trip to the Billy Graham Mission:England at Anfield Stadium in 1984. I sat listening to this old American preacher saying things I had heard a thousand times before. God loved me. He loved me so much that He sent His only son to die for me so that I could go to heaven. I knew it and I believed it, only I had never said ‘the prayer’ asking for forgiveness and accepting Jesus into my life. Billy Graham did an ‘alter call’, which is asking people to make a public declaration of faith and saying ‘the prayer’. Me and my twin looked at each other in the stands and asked each other should we go down. We went down together and in front of thousands and together with thousands of others, asked for forgiveness of our sins and welcomed Jesus into our lives. I didn’t feel any different. I just knew I had done it. I was 14 years old. 

My Christian life

Now, becoming a christian doesn’t magically make your life perfect, and mine hasn’t been, but it does give you an assurance that your sins are forgiven. My Christian life has had many ups and downs. There have been some very deep downs, the biggest being when my father died of cancer in 1996. I was 26 years old and my father had been taken away from me. I was, and am, devastated by it. My life changed forever and God seemed very far from me. It took me a very long time, years in fact, to ‘forgive ‘ God for what had happened to my father and robbing me of a parent. 

Whatever happened in my life, when I drifted away from God, there was always something to bring me back. My faith has never wavered, ever. I know that God is there. It’s just sometimes in my life I wish He wasn’t. That’s quite bad really. I do get fed up, frustrated and angry. As I have got older, and hopefully wiser, I have realised that I am not alone in those feelings. I also know that I think I am the worst sinner in the world and God can’t possibly forgive me again for doing the same thing over and over and not learning. He does. Thankfully.

How did a crap Christian get into Bible College?

Faith Camp

So last year Zahra and me went to Faith Camp. It’s a family camping week at the South of England Showground and Peterborough Arena organised by Kingdom Faith Church. It’s a week of fun filled activities for the children, of all ages, and a week of lectures and seminar and praise and worship for the adults. It’s a great atmosphere and the teaching is great too. 

Last year there was a big advert (for want of a better word) for their Bible College. I was sat listening thinking I wouldn’t mind going to Bible College BUT, I thought, they would never let me in and it was on the south coast and the fees were out of my price range. As I sat there thinking this, friends surrounding me kept nudging me, winking, indicating I should apply, and laughing. I thought it was funny too. I thought they wouldn’t know what hit them if they did let me in. It WAS funny. I WAS the least likely person to go to Bible College (after all, I have been known to bring bottles of Prosecco to Bible studies!). There was absolutely no way I was going, even if I did fancy the idea.

Move to Bangalore

God, of course, had different plans. Fast forward a few years and here we are as a family in Bangalore, India. We moved here in 2015 with Rez’s work. It was a traumatic move and affected my health badly. I had to give up work. I’m not going to bore you with that long story, but it now meant that I was free to do what I liked. For the first time in my life I didn’t have a job. It is very liberating. I have never been out of work. I worked through college and university and went straight into work afterwards. No travel or inter railing for me. Now I had time to do something I wanted to do.

Volunteering

I spent most of last year working on the school PTA raising funds for the three charities they support. I baked and sold and organised and badgered sponsorship from local companies. It was all encompassing and kept me busy. When the school holidays were approaching I was considering whether I wanted to continue on the PTA or do something else. 

All People’s Church

That is when All People’s Church (APC) started advertising for applications for their Bible College. Now Zahra and I have attended APC for about 18 months now but I didn’t know they had a Bible College.

Again I thought about it and thought I might enjoy it. I also thought they wouldn’t let me in. I thought about it for several weeks before I spoke to Pastor Nancy about it. She encouraged me to apply. I finally plucked up the courage and filled in the application form and sent it in. I had done my bit and fully expected to be rejected. I mean I am 47 years old competing against 20 something’s from all over India for a college place. I didn’t rate my chances. God had a different idea obviously, and I still think this is His sense of humour coming out. I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognise. Normally I don’t answer them but this time I did. It was the Bible College asking me to come in for an interview and arranged a date. 

The interview

I was bricking it. I have not had an interview in decades, literally decades. I know nothing about modern interviews for colleges and universities. I had no idea what to expect, whether there would be a panel and how many other candidates would be around and what they would ask. I arrived at the appointed time at the church office and waited, alone. I was met by a lovely lady who led me into a small interview room and offered me tea. I was disoriented. For the next 30 mins or so, she asked me questions, none of which I can remember and all of which I answered. She then tells me about the college and what the subjects are, the teaching is in English (a relief) and timings (9.30am to 1pm), fees and that as an “elderly student” I might “nap” during lectures but not to worry, they were there to help and support me. (I try not to laugh but fail).  I am confused so I ask when will I find out if my application is successful. She tells me immediately that it is successful and I am going to Bible College. 

I’m in!

WHAT?! Wait. How did this happen? This went far too smoothly to be real. How did I just get into Bible College? It fits with school runs too. Just too surreal.

Then the spanner in the works came. Bible College started in July. I would be in the U.K. until the middle of August so I couldn’t join. No problem! What? You’re letting me start 6 weeks after the course commences? Yes indeed. I was stunned and delighted.

I returned home in a daze. It was still sinking in. I was actually going to go to Bible College. No one was going to believe me. No one was going to believe they actually let me in! How was I going to tell people and what would there reactions be. Probably similar to those I experienced when I told people I was getting married, no one believed me then!

Bible College

Anyway, here I am at Bible College and really enjoying it. I am learning so many things about history in the Old Testament as well as prayer, praise, worship, the Holy Spirit, practical christian living… load of things. It’s great. I’ve already caught up on assignments (some of which were pretty tough) and I’ve managed not to nap in lectures! I am the second oldest in the class surrounded by young men who look likely to be pastors and ministers of the future. It’s exam week next week. A whole week of exams. I’ve not even caught up on what I’ve missed yet but who cares…this is the first time I will have taken exams in over a decade too; I don’t care what my result is, it’s the experience which will be valuable. 

I am sure I will do another blogpost about Bible College itself in future, but for now you have my tale of how I got there. Lesson? Never underestimate what God has planned for you…it may well be outside your range of possibilities but it is never outside His!

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If you want to find out more…

If you want to find out more about becoming a christian take a look at CrossCheck for more information and help: http://www.crosscheck.org.uk/ 

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

Saturday 

Arrival

We arrived at the bustling and bright Hyderabad airport in the afternoon and were met at the airport with traditional flower garlands by our friends. We hopped into a cab and chatted along the drive into Secunderabad. We checked in to the Justa Hotel on Necklace Road next to Hussain Sagar reservoir in Secunderabad. Hyderabad was so far typically Indian – rough with the smooth and filthy dirty next to pristine places – a city of contrasts like everywhere in India. The hotel was inbetween two building sites. The staff ere friendly and the room basic and clean. We dropped off our bags (and flower garlands) and headed out.

NTR Gardens and Park


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We headed out to a park called NTR Gardens. There was a small fee to get in (I think 20 rupees) and it was busy with families arriving for an evening in the park. There was plenty to do. We took the Toy Train ride around the park and people watched as we went round.  Zahra tried to break the bungi trampoline by jumping so high hopes went slack! Then there was the water slide. Sunny and Finny took Zahra on and they had fun as well as getting wet. I noticed that the were a large constituency of Muslims enjoying the park – not something often seen in Bangalore. It was a refreshing change.

Sunny, Zahra and Finny enjoying the toy train ride

Paradise Restaurant 


Getting hungry we headed over to the Paradise restaurant for the “world’s favourite biryani”. The food was good and plentiful (a take home bag was necessary) but the service was super slow which let it down. 

We went  to a local mall for a (huge) ice cream for dessert. They chop and mix the ingredients together in a display before you get your ice cream. Zahra went for ferrero rocher and there was a lot of chocolate and chocolate sauce involved!

Ice cream mixing

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Sunday 

King’s Temple Church


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Sunday involved and early start for church. We headed over to the Mahbub College Grounds for the 9am service of King’s Temple Church. The 7am service is in English, the 9am in English with immediate Telegu translation and an 11am service in Telegu. As our friends are Telegu speakers we opted for the service which suited us all at 9am.

Church traffic jam
 

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We arrived in a traffic jam. Hundreds of people were leaving the early service and hundreds of people were heading into the 9am service. The college was also a building site. The “hall” had no walls and the ceiling was under construction. Piles of building materials had to be navigated to get into the service. 

Navigating building materials at the entrance

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We were given the “elements”(communion wafer and juice), a church leaflet and a donation envelope as we walked in. We were quickly walked to plastic chairs about a third of the way from the front. The band was in full flow and the singers were giving it their all. It was a party atmosphere. There was a large stage, professional lighting and sound, a band and a blue tarpaulin covering the roof. Incredible India right here and as it is monsoon season I am glad it didn’t rain! 

The band and singers continued joyfully for some time before the pastor came on to deliver his sermon on the importance of prayer, and prayer in way that’s biblical rather than a shopping list. It was strange art first that the preacher would say a sentence or two and wait for the translator to translate his every word. The Translator also followed the preacher around the stage, keeping just a few feet away from him all the time. I quickly got used to it and settled into listening to the sermon. 

We took communion and the (many) collection buckets were circulated for tithes and donations. Then there was another sermon by video by the senior pastor, again with a translation in the recording. It ended up being rather shouty for my liking and the sound was clearly struggling with the noise and the translation became inaudible towards the end. I was quite relieved when it finished. The sermon, on prayer, was good but I had a headache from the loud shouting. The service was 2 hours long and attended by several hundred people – the congregation was huge.. I did think how many people in the U.K. would sit through a service that long. People get itchy feet when a service runs a minute over one hour in the UK!

We headed over to Cafe Coffee Day (India’s answer to Starbucks and Costa, except they don’t do soya milk) for a caffeine shot and rest. 

Salar Jung Museum

Suitably refreshed we headed over to the Salar Jung Museum. This had beautiful collections of art and objects from all over the world. The Salar Jung family were hereditary prime ministers in the Hyderabad court to the Nizams, the rulers of Hyderabad, from the middle of the 19th century. The museum was established in 1951 and moved to its current location on the banks of the river Musi in 1968. It was extended in the year 2000 when two blocks were added. Renovations to three of the galleries were in progress when we visited.


Now like most places of interest in India there is one price for Indians and one price for foreigners. In this case it was 20 rupees (25p) for an Indian and 500 rupees (£6) for a foreigner plus a 50 rupee (60p) phone camera charge. I had my FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) with me and and was going to fight my corner. We live in Bangalore and I’m not paying the extortionate foreigner rate. Purchasing the ticket wasn’t an issue. Getting passed the lady in the women’s security line was. “Madam, not Indian” greeted me when I handed over my ticket. I swiftly announced I lived here and produced copies of our visas, FRO forms, change of address – you name it I had it. The lady security guard looked flummoxed and waved over another (male) security guard who checked our documents and waved us in. Mrs security guard did not look impressed as we walked in through to the next screening (airport security style). Sometimes it is the just little things…


The collections of art and decorative objects is impressive and over the course of several hours we managed to see nearly all of it before tiredness took over. There are collections of paintings, carpets, weapons, textiles, metal work, walking sticks, furniture, jade, ivory, sculptures and much more. The statue of the “Veiled Rebecca” (by Benzoni, a 19th century Italian sculptor) and the jade collection were particular highlights. Collections are generally divided into Far East, Indian, and European spread across two floors and three wings. It’s certainly a walk to take in all the collections. There is a central hall which houses a musical clock and attracts a large crowd to watch it chime every hour. The museum also has a food court and a souvenir shop, neither of which we had time to visit. It was very busy and clearly a popular museum, which sometimes made it difficult to see or get close to some of the exhibits. The first floor exhibits were much less crowded though.

Monday

The ladies and children’s pool with water bucket

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Jalavihar Waterpark

Jalavihar (“exciting water”) waterpark. ₽250 per person admission. Own food and drink is not allowed in the park and is retained at reception until you leave. There were slides (with and without rubber rings), a wavepool (with a ladies only section), ladies and children slide and pool area and a rain disco. Dry games for kids and flocks of birds (chickens, geese, guinea fowl) wandering freely around the park. Views across the lake were stunning from the top of the slides. It was small but with lots of slides to keep a 10 year old happy for several hours until tiredness kicked in. The changing rooms were basic with toilets and showers outnumbering the four changing cubicles considerably. Lockers were available to rent at ₽100 and were small but functional. The was a food area with stalls but we didn’t eat there. It was an enjoyable day out.

Eat Street

We headed over to Eat Street afterwards for food. There are stunning views across Hussain Sagar lake. It was beautiful and peaceful. We drank our coffee and ate pizza and noodles, after all we had worked up an appetite.

Nanking Chinese Restaurant and camel ride

In the evening we headed out to the Nanking Chinese restaurant, stopping en route for a camel ride for Zahra. Two camels in the central reservation car parking with some mini fairground rides. A makeshift tourist spot. The camel ride cost ₽30 if you shared or ₽50 for a sole ride. The camels were walked about 50m away before turning round and coming back. It was short and sweet, but Zahra enjoyed it nonetheless. Camels are huge and have massive feet; just an observation.


The Nanking Chinese restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived. We ordered our food and it came promptly. We ordered small dishes and I’m glad we all didn’t order a dish each because the “small” portions were huge! One plate of “small” noodles provided three large portions. It was ridiculous. We ate as much as we could and asked for the rest of the food to be parcelled up for a takeaway. The restaurant happily obliged. 

Tuesday

Charminar 

The Charminar

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Literally means four minarets and was built by Sultan Mohamed Quli Shah between 1591 and 1612. It is in the middle of a busy market and effective operates as a roundabout, so to get to it you have to dodge traffic coming from all directions as well as market traders. It was a little hair raising! The queue was about 30 people long but we, as foreigners, were ushered to the front of the queue by a guide. Indian entry fee was 15 rupees (17p) and foreigner entry fee was 200 rupees (£2.40), children were free. I couldn’t be bothered arguing and frankly it was worth it to queue jump. We hired the guide to show us rounds (negotiated down from 300 rupees to 200 rupees) and again proved to be worth every rupee as we skipped the normal queues to go up (and down) and entered (and exited) via the restricted entry gate. We climbed the stone spiral castle like staircase to the first floor and took in the marvellous views across the busy marketplaces.

Bustling markets at the Charminar gates
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The markets on each side sell separate things. One side for lacquered bangles (mouled out of pure lac and studded with glittering cut glass), another for pearls, another for fruit and the remaining for clothes and linen. Perfume called Itar or Attar is also sold. This is traditional perfume based in sandlewood oil (rather than alcohol), and fragranced with rose or musk or jasmine.
10km underground tunnel from the Golconda Fort to the fountain under the Charminar. 

The Quabbala Shahi Dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk in 1518 CE.He was initially in the court of of Bahamani rulers and in due course was made The Governor of Telangana under the Bahmani Kingdom. After the death of the Bahamani Sultan he declared independence in 1518 and established the Qutb Shahi Dynasty (1518-1687 CE), which ruled over the Golkonda Kingdom comprising of Telangana, Andhra, parts of northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Berra regions for about 171 years, and by seven monarchs of the dynasty. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Golconda Fort in 1687 CE and subsequently annexed it to his empire.

Chowmalla Palace

A rather uninspiring entrance hid the opulence of the magnificent Chowmalal Place. It’s a large peaceful retreat in a busy bustling city with four garden courtyards and several palace buildings. It was the main residence of the ruling nizams in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The most opulent of these halls is the Khilwat Mubarak; a Durban hall with magnificent crystal chandeliers and a balcony. It is at the heart of the palace and the coronation of VIII Nizam was held here on 6th April, 1967.

Khilwat Mubarak
The adjoining halls had various antique collections including an armoury of the Asaf Jami Dynasty. 

Amongst the various palace buildings there was an impressive collection of antique cars, including Rolls Royces. It was a pleasant and peaceful walk with plenty to see.


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Wednesday

Today was a rest day at our friend’s home. We had mahendi done. A much needed relaxing day.


Thursday

Nehru Zoological Park was our destination today and it proved to be a good walk too. It’s a sprawling zoo in 300 acres, part of which is a ‘safari’ (aka wild) area. Most of the animals are contained within moated areas but the big cats were rather depressingly in small cages. There were additional fees to look around the very small aquarium, the nocturnal exhibits (literally too dark to see anything in places, including where you are walking) and the ‘safari’ to see the lions and tigers.  Whilst it was cleaner than most zoos we have visited in India it was still a building site in places and some of the animals displayed signs of distress by pacing or swaying on the spot. The lions and tigers in the ‘safari’ were in cages.

Unusually, there was a temple to Hunaman (the monkey god) inside the zoo.

Facilities were few as there was only one food area within the entire zoo and only one set of toilets. Both left much to be desired. 

Sign showing the way to the temple
Building works in front of the elephant enclosure
Spelling is everything
The only map of the zoo we saw, half way round

Friday

We had a trip to the Birla Science Museum and modern art gallery on Friday. Zahra had a great time in the interactive zone.

The interactive zone
Measurements are so important

Then we went to the famous 10 Downing Street (“10D”) pub for lunch. It’s inside a small shopping mall and worth finding as the lunchtime special menu was super cheap for 3 courses including a drink.

10 Downing Street pub

Boat ride to Buddha statue

Buddha
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Hussain Sagar is a large reservoir (from the 17th century!) which separates Secunderabad from Hyderabad built by Husain Shah Wali. The Buddha statue is on the island in the reservoir. Boats ferry across tourists at regular intervals for a small fee. It is the largest monolithic statue of Gautam Buddha in India. It was carved out of a single granite rock by 40 sculptors under the guidance of Ganapati Stapathi. It was transported 60kms from Raigiri on a massive carriage with 192 wheels. It was erected in December 1992 is 17m high and weighs 320 tonnnes. It was consecrated by His Holiness the Dalia Lama on 2nd January 2006.

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

There was certainly a lot to see and do in Hyderabad and we didn’t see it all in this trip. We have previously been to the Golconda Fort so didn’t visit it again this time. There were various palace hotels and mosques and temples we didn’t have time to see either. If you’re in India it’s certainly worth a trip, especially as flights and accommodation are so cheap. 

Lent

What is Lent?

Lent is an observance in Christianity that begins on Ash Wednesday (1st March in 2017) and ends around six weeks later on Easter Sunday. People observe this period by fasting or giving up something for the entire duration of Lent as a penance. Many Christians also add a spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying, to draw themselves near to God. There are three traditional practices which are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and charity (justice towards neighbours).

How long is Lent?

Lent traditionally lasts for forty days. This is in commemoration of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before starting ministry during which He was tempted by Satan. Lent is from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. This is 46 days but because there is no obligation to fast on the six Sundays in Lent it is 40 days.

Significant days in Lent

The fourth Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday, or Mother’s Day (in the UK). It is a day for honouring mothers by doing their daily tasks, buying them cards, presents and flowers and generally cooking all meals for them.Its origin is in a 16th-century celebration of the Mother Church.

The fifth Sunday in Lent is Passion Sunday and marks the beginning of Passiontide.

The sixth Sunday in Lent is Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week; the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter.

Wednesday of Holy Week commemorates Judas Iscariot’s bargain to betray Jesus.

Thursday of Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples.

The next day is Good Friday on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. (After 3 days He rose again, defeating death and sin for all mankind).

40acts – doing Lent generously 

40acts is the generosity challenge throughout Lent, created by UK Christian charity, Stewardship. Participants receive a daily email (from the 1st March – 15th April in 2017; it does not include Sundays), with a generosity challenge (with three levels of challenge to choose from) and short Bible based blog. 

I’ve done this challenge previously and whilst it can be challenging it is so incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Anyone, anywhere can take part.  For further information take a look at their website: https://40acts.org.uk/

Shrove Tuesday 

What is it?

Shrove Tuesday (also known as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the last day before the fasting period of Lent and is celebrated by Christians and others alike by consuming lots of pancakes. Shrove Tuesday comes from the word shrive, meaning absolve and is observed by many Christians who traditionally give something up for Lent and think about their walk with God and what amends need to be made. Chocolate is a usual favourite to give up during Lent, which then leads to a huge chocolate fest at Easter!

When is it?

This moveable event is determined by Easter. It is the seventh week before Easter each year and is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent). In 2017 this falls on Tuesday 28th February. 

History

It’s centuries old and used to last a week before Lent but the custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates back to the 16th century. Christians repent of their sins in preparation for Lent. Some parish church ring their bells, known as the shriving bell, to call people to confess their sins.

Pancakes are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs (symbolising creation), milk (symbolising purity), and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent.  Fasting emphasises eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure (such as chocolate and meat). 

Pancake Races

Pancake races are common and usually organised by community groups or pubs. People race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the frying pan while running. There are usually rules about how many times the pancake has to be flipped or having to stop and pick up a dropped pancake. Fancy dress is also a common feature of these races, particularly men dressing up as women (but maybe that’s just the ones I’ve attended!).

Every year in London the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place on Shrove Tuesday.  Teams from the House of Commons race against the House of Lords and the Press. They compete for the title of Parliamentary Pancake Race Champions in a fun relay race. 

Shrovetide Football

Also known as mob football. It’s crazy and it’s pretty difficult to keep up with which team is winning. It’s a community event dating back to the 17th century. The practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway Act 1835 which banned playing football on public highways. A number of towns have maintained the tradition including Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football), near to where we live in the U.K. Pretty much everyone steers clear of the town unless you are taking part. Traffic is stopped and pubs are full from early morning as participants ready themselves for the brutal battle ahead. Shops board up for the two days to avoid damage.

The game is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday from 2pm to 10pm. The game is started by the ball being thrown in by a local celebrity or visiting dignitary. In 2003, HRH The Prince of Wales started the game. If the ball is gaoled before 5:30pm the game is restarted from the town centre. The ball is usually carried, like in rugby, although kicking and throwing are also permitted. The ball carrier is usually in the centre of a huge scrum of people and manoeuvred to their own goal. The goals are 3 miles apart. The goal scorer has to tapped three times on the goal area and then is is carried on the shoulders of their team to the courtyard of The Green Man Royal Hotel. The two teams are called the Up’Ards and Down’Ards depending on which side of the river you live. The rules are pretty thin on the ground so practically anything goes. You can’t kill someone (that’s an actual rule!), you can’t carry it in a car or similar and sacred grounds (churches, graveyards etc) are strictly out of bounds. Play after 10pm is also forbidden.

It’s a huge local event which is covered in the local TV news and papers. Participants are usually easy to recognise after the event as they are battered, bruised, crushed and generally hungover!

Pancake Day

We’ve had fun frying pancakes, tossing them and eating them. I enjoy mine with the traditional lemon and sugar. Zahra likes Nutella on hers. Rez likes ice cream and jam with his. 

Whatever you do, wherever you are, enjoy your pancakes. 

Mahashrivarati

When is it?

It is an Hindu festival celebrated during the Hindu month of Phalgun which marks the end of the winter season on the first full moon day of the lunar month, which usually falls in the later part of February or March. It is on Friday 24th February in 2017.

What is it?



It is an Hindu festival celebrating the Hindu god, lord Shiva, known as the great destroyer of the universe. On this day he and his wife Parvati are worshipped by young girls and some men in the hope of getting a perfect mate for themselves; because this is the day Shiva and Parvati were married.The Maha Shrivarti festival marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti (which means ‘power’ or ’empowerment’ and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe).

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How is it celebrated?

The festival is mainly celebrated by offering Bael leaves to Shiva together will all day fasting and an all night vigil called jagaran. All through the day devotees will change “Om Namah Shiva” being the mantra of Shiva. Penances are performed in order to gain ‘boons’ in the practice of yoga or meditation in order to reach life’s highest good steadily and swiftly. The positioning of the planets is also supposed to raise ones spiritual energy more easily and the ‘powerful’ ancient Sanskrit mantras are supposed to increase greatly on this night. The ideal time to observe Shiva Pooja (prayers) is at Nishita Kala which a complicated calculation of time but is usually within an hour each side of midnight. Nishita kala is the time Shiva appeared on earth in the form of a linga. On this day all Shiva temples the most auspicious lingodbhava puja is performed.


Mahashrivaratri in Southern India.

It is celebrated widely in the temples all over Karnataka. Shiva is considered to be the Adi ( first) Guru from which the yogic tradition originates. According to tradition, the planetary positions on this night create a powerful natural upsurge in energy in the body. It is believed to be beneficial for spiritual and physical well being to stay awake throughout the night. 

The Dwadasha Jyothirlinga Temple will be kept open from 6am on Friday 24th February till 6am on Saturday 25th February. During that time several rituals related to the festival will be performed on the temple premises.

The Impu Sangeetha Samsthe, a non profit organisation which promotes music, has organised a musical marathon in Bugle Rock Park in Basavanagudi. Professional singers will will perform Kannada film devotional songs continuously from 9am on Friday 24th to 1am on Saturday 25th (16 hours) without any breaks. They are hoping to raise funds for Aparna Seva Samsthe which provides free dialysis for the poor.

In Bangalore hundreds of extra buses are being laid on for the festival… ensuring more traffic jams here. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (‘BBMP’) issued a notice on 21st February banning the sale of any kind of meat in the city on 24th February. The civic body has also banned the slaughtering of any animals on the day of the festival in the city.


The mythology 

A hunter having failed to find any prey in the forest climbed a bel tree towards the evening to spend the night there. Whilst drinking some water he dropped some on the shiva lingam hidden beneath some bushes at the bottom of the tree. A doe came to the spring to drink water and the hunter too his aim but seeing the mutual love for each other in the doe’s family he let them all go unharmed. In the morning lord Shiva appeared before the hunter and blessed him, saying that when he had sprinkled water on the shiva linga and thrown bel leaves on it he had unwittingly worshipped lord Shiva. As a consequence lord Shiva bestowed wealth and prosperity on him. From that day the shiva lingam is worshipped on the day which has become known as Maha Shrivrati.


Legends

This is the favourite day of lord Shiva as he married Shakti, and his greatness and supremacy over all other Hindu gods is highlighted. It also celebrates the night when he performed the cosmic dance named ‘Tandava’. The Tandava is a vigorous dance believed to be the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. 
On this day Shiva also saved the world from the disasterous effects of poison from the tumultuous sea by consuming it all. Shiva stopped the poison in his throat using his yogic powers but his neck turned blue due to the effects and is known as the ‘blue throated’ as a consequence.


Interesting fact

The Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of ash , and sometimes a dot, applied to the forehead of Shiva worshippers. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity (or will) and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga) (or action). They also represent the three eyes of Shiva. It is a reminder of the spiritual aims of life, the truth that the body and material things shall become ash at some point and that self realisation and knowledge is a worthy goal.

Makar Sankranti/ Pongal – a harvest festival 

Makar Sankranti or Pongal is the harvest festival celebration. It is one of the most auspicious days for Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of India on 14th and 15th January this year. 

What is it?

Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti means movement. It traditionally coincides with the beginning of the sun’s northward journey when it enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. Makar Sankranti is a festival dedicated to the sun, which coincides with the completion of the harvest season and is celebrated with much joy – usually. 

What does 2017 look like?

This year in Karnataka state looks like a gloomy one for farmers as they have had a terrible season with crop losses due to low rainfall. Compounding this is the lack of money in circulation due to demonetisation meaning people simply aren’t buying as they did before. As a consequence of this, and other factors, prices have dropped dramatically increasing farmers misery further. For example, the price of tomatoes has dropped 84% and onions by 70%. Lemons can now be bought by locals for 1 rupee (although as a westerner I was charged 20 rupees for four lemons. Still incredibly cheap but an example of the price differential we have to pay). 

Tamil Nadu state has declared a drought following the poor rainfall in the north east monsoon. Desperate farmers have started to commit suicide, particularly along the Cauvery river rice belt which is dependent upon the release of water from the Karnataka state. (Rice cultivation is water intensive.) The declaration of drought means that land tax is waived and loan recoveries are postponed. This will bring some relief to the farmers.

Pongal 

Pongal is the three day long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated in honour of the rain god Indra as well as the sun god and the holy cow. ‘Bhogi Pongal’ is the first day of Pongal and the lord Indra is worshipped. Sisters also pray for the welfare of their brothers. On the second day the sun god is worshipped for imparting heat and energy to the fields. The third day is Mattul Pongal and cattle is worshipped. A portion of pudding is kept aside in the open to feed birds and insects. A special dish called Pongal is prepared by ladies to commemorate the festival.

Jallikatu

Jallikatu is a bullfight organised by every town and village on the third and last day of Pongal. This ‘game’ is traditionally ‘played’ by young men who try to grab the money tied to the horns of the bull. It is a centuries old tradition which is meant to tame the bull.

Since 2014 this activity has been banned by the Supreme Court citing it as an act of “inherent cruelty “. Tamil Nadu state has appealed this decision but the appeal was dismissed on 16th November 2016 stating that the very act of taming a bull was counter to the concept of welfare of the animal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960. The Government has now issued a notification allowing the bull taming “sport” but the Supreme Court has not been hurried into making a judgment on it before this weekend’s celebrations. As a consequence the ban remains in force and is causing much consternation.