Tag Archives: Sanskrit

Sugar, Shakkar and Cheeni– Did you know?


various types of sugar on wooden table

Sugar or sarkara शर्करा (sanskrit) or shakkar शक्कर (hindi) (gravel or ground sugar) was originally produced from sugarcane in the Indian subcontinent around 800 BC. Prior to that there was only the crude guda (sanskrit) or gud or jaggery which is the raw concentrated sugarcane juice which is very delicious and still used in India. 

The chinese learned  about sugarcane cultivation and the technology of producing sugar from India in the 600s BC.  They didn’t like the brown variety and invented cheeni or chini, what is now known in India as the refined white variety. Hence cheeni. By the way, Cheeni means Porcelain (white) not China. 


4000 BC- sugarcane juice extracted from Sugarcane plants. 

800BC (between 1500- 500BC) invention of crystal sugar (granulated sugar) in India

600-650 BC sugarcane and technology for production of sugar reached China. It was actually smuggled from the court of King Harsha by the Chinese ambassador during the Tang dynasty.  

300-500BC Persians and medieval Arabs discovered from India the “reeds that produce honey without bees” which was initially only used for medicinal purposes. 

1700– the spread of sugarcane cultivation and manufacture of sugar spread to West Indies and America then the rest of the world. 

As mistakenly thought among most Indians sugar is not a gift of the Chinese, it is India’s gift to the world! Proud of being Indian and ashamed I wasn’t taught this in school. 

Hence Cheeni Kum, Shakkar zyada! (reduce Cheeni, increase Shakkar). 

Food- A Celebration


When the simple act of partaking food becomes a sacred event, one just doesn’t feed the stomach but feeds the soul.

A very good example is the traditional South Indian meal that is served on a banana leaf (biodegradable and lends a special flavor). The food is simple and wholesome, prepared from scratch, with love and devotion. The distinct aroma and flavors achieved by the correct blend of fresh spices such as  curry leaves, mustard seeds, coriander, ginger, garlic, chili, pepper, cinnamon,cloves, green cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut and rosewater.

Whenever I travel back to my homeland, I have the pleasure of savoring such meals in the homes of my family members where tradition is still adhered to especially during festivals and formal occasions. The above picture shows a very basic South Indian vegetarian meal that consists of cooked white rice, banana chips,  lentil papadam (thin, crisp, disc shaped, deep fried appetizers), beetroot poriyal (vegetable),  savory lentil vada (fritter), yogurt and payasam (pudding made by boiling rice, cracked wheat or vermicelli with milk and sugar).

The wooden man is dressed in traditional South Indian attire of cotton dhoti (long loincloth) and angavastram (upper garment).

India Unveiled: Unity in Diversity

India is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.

It is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism which are known as the Dharmic religions. Hinduism and Buddhism are the 3rd and 4th largest religions in the world with over 2 billion followers.

All these religions share some common rituals, traits and beliefs such as the concepts of karma (action or deed), dharma (duty), samsara (continuous flow of the cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation), moksha (release of the soul from the cycle of samsara and end of all suffering) and yoga, though the interpretations may vary.

They also share the concept of cremation of the dead known as antim samskara or ‘last rites’; wearing of vermilion on the forehead by married women, as well as several marriage rituals.

Buddhism was originally founded by Siddhartha Gautama (Gautama Buddha) a Kshatriya prince turned ascetic somewhere between the 6th and 4th century BCE. Buddha meaning ‘the enlightened one’  taught ‘the Middle Way’ as the path that when followed leads to liberation.


Karla Caves

Ancient Buddhist rock cut cave shrines located in Karli near Lonavala, in the state of Maharashtra, India about 150km from Mumbai. The oldest cave dates back to around 160 BC.

karla 1Caves cut deep into the rock.

karla 2Intricately hewn wall sculptures and scriptures

karla 3The Main Cave: Chaitya or Prayer Hall is the largest among all the Buddhist caves in India.

karla 4The Ashoka Pillar

karla 5

Gautama Buddha

koli danceAn unexpected treat! A group of tribal dancers caught in action outside the caves.

Holy Cow!

sneha3 822A decorated cow in the great Meenakshi temple, located in the city of Madurai, in the state Tamil Nadu, South India.


Indeed, in Hindu culture and religion the cow is revered as the Goddess mother, a symbol of Ahimsa or nonviolence and of wealth and fortune.

In the Rig Veda (An ancient Indian collection of sacred Sanskrit Hymns,) the cow is identified with Aditi (the mother of Gods.)

Vegetarianism is encouraged.

“There is no sin in eating meat… but abstention brings great rewards.” (The Laws of Manu, V/56)

Cows were also considered appropriate as gifts for high caste Hindus or Brahmans and to kill a cow is equal to killing a Brahman.

“Among the cows, I am the wish giving Kama Dhenu” (Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita: Chap 10 Verse 28)

Many Hindus are against the consumption of beef. Some Indian states have even passed laws which makes the slaughter of cows a serious offence.


cowees.jpgA wondrous painting of an elephant and a cow on the ceiling of the Madurai Meenakshi temple.

India Unveiled – Cultures and traditions

sneha3 311Buland Darwaza or ‘Victory Arch’: An imposing piece of architecture set in the south wall of Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri near Agra. The city served as Emperor Akbar’s capital from 1571-1585.

Indians in general are deeply rooted in tradition. Our culture gives us our identity. Most of us (especially those living away from the homeland,) cling to it, even though several aspects especially in these modern times, make no sense at all.

Why do we do so?

Perhaps because it brings us together as a community and provides us comfort in a foreign environment. The same I think applies to immigrants from all across the globe.

Here I will try to expand a little (very little,) on the various aspects of Indian culture, traditions, customs, beliefs, religion, art, architecture, music, dance, cuisine and so on.. Essentially all the things that defines my country to me and others in my community and which I hope would help people of non Indian origin understand India and Indianness a little better.

I encourage everybody to pitch in, and take the opportunity to discuss possible similarities or dissimilarities which exist between our various cultures.



Let me start with a subject which continues to baffle a lot of people in the west: Arranged Marriages. 

I have been asked by some of my friends to elaborate on the tradition of arranged marriages and explain why they continue to be so popular, as well as describe the various rituals which take place during a typical wedding.

As a part of Hindu culture, arranged nuptials remain resilient even today despite the invasion of modern thought into every aspect of  Indian society. Times are definitely changing but many young Indians still prefer it.


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India Unveiled

Where do I begin? I ask myself. I have to begin somewhere.

I want this section to serve as a mini primer on India. I do not deem to be an expert, rather I’m often humbled by my profound ignorance.

Therefore, please take it as my point of view on various matters and do not hesitate to pitch in with corrections, suggestions, questions, doubts etc. Remember that this place is a two way street where we inform and educate each other.

Some facts:

India or Bharat भारत < Sankrit (descended from the emperor Bharata) is a country located in South Asia.

It is the seventh largest country in area and the second most populous country with over 1.2 billion people.

Capital: New Delhi
Largest city: Mumbai

Official languages include Hindi and English plus there are 22 other recognized languages.

It  is the largest democracy in the world.

Yet despite its massive presence, it is a mystery to many. Those in the west still consider it a land whose peoples and cultures remain mostly exotic and alien.

They recognize it as a place that exports engineers, doctors, Bollywood movies, Chai tea, curry and the philosophy of Yoga to the rest of the world. It is a country where cows stand in the middle of the road undisturbed and people pray to numerous Gods including one who dances to destroy and create (Lord Shiva,) and one who has the face of an elephant (Lord Ganesha.)

It is a lot more than that.

India is a land of extremes– of pristine beauty and unbearable filth; of mind boggling wealth and unspeakable poverty; of embracing tolerance and shocking violence. Yet what sets it apart, what pulls everyone to it above and beyond anything else is something that I can only define as a divine mystique, leaving those who discover it with an inner peace which no other place could ever give.

That is India to me.


A group of school children on a trip to the Red Fort (Lal Qila) Delhi, in December.