Hyderabad Diaries

Hyderabad Diaries: Ganesh Festival 2011

Continued from Part 5

Like most parts of India, the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Hyderabad too, are very grand each year. Attractive idols of Lord Ganesha are installed, and pujas are performed, in elaborately decorated ‘Ganesh Pandals’ all over the city. And, as per tradition, the idols are taken out in a procession and immersed in one among the many water-bodies that adorn the city – with the immersion being carried out on the odd days of the festival. On the 11th day, which is the final day of the festival, all the major Ganesh idols are immersed in the Hussain Sagar Lake in the middle of the city.

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The excitement and commotion, in fact, begins long before the actual festival. As the festival approaches, one can find groups of young boys, with notebooks and receipts books in their hands, visiting the neighborhood houses for contributions. ‘Anna, Ganeshuin Chanda’ becomes a familiar call [Honestly though, for the last few years it has been ‘Uncul, Ganeshuin Chanda’, but that would be a different story, reserved for another day!].

Ganesh pandals are arranged and organized by colonies, apartments, office complexes, individual offices, and even at a few homes. Varied reports suggested that this year, the number of such pandals in the city, were somewhere from 40,000 to exceeding 50,000. They come in all sizes, and while some of them are simple, most others have a theme, with elaborate settings effectively portraying the theme. These pandals are required to obtain prior permission from the Police, and permissions are granted subject to terms and conditions, to maintain peace and order.

Prominent Pandals

Among all the Ganesha pandals put up in the city, the most popular, and the most prestigious one is the one put up by Ganesh Utsav Committee at Khairatabad, close to Hussain Sagar Lake. Popularly referred to as the ‘Khairatabad Ganesh’ it is the tallest in the city and a must visit for most Hyderabadis. On evenings and weekends, the entire area is chockablock with serpentine queues leading one up to the idol. With vendors swarming the place selling everything from toys for children, to snaps of the ‘Khairatabad Ganesh’, the entire area becomes lively and resembles a mela.

The pandal organized by Lorry Owner’s Association near YMCA-Siddi Vinayaka Temple is the most prominent one in the Secunderabad area, followed by two pandals that come up opposite to each other in the RP Road, near City Light Hotel. Every area and every locality, has its own, popular pandals. Every year a group of my friends come together to organize the Ever Green Association Ganesh Pandal in Malkajgiri, and this year, they celebrated their 30th year immersion procession.

Every year, pandal organizers also compete with each other to set up pandals with interesting, refreshing, and creative themes. This year too, one got to witness many such themes – some traditional, some not so traditional. The Khairatabad Ganesh pandal had a replica of Ananthapadmanabha Swamy idol (which became more popular after its hidden treasures were revealed recently), along with Lord Shiva and Parvathi. One pandal at RP Road had a simple Shirdi Sai Mandiram theme, while the other one had an elaborate Vamana Avatharam theme. Each one had its own flavor, and was remarkable in its own way.

Ganeshas 2011

Like every year, this year too, Lord Ganesha idols came in different sizes, and different themes. A few of the notable ones were:

  • The Khairatabad Ganesh measured over 50 feet, and was seated on a ‘Garuda Vahanam’, sheltered by 18 snakes with their hoods open. The organizers claimed that the ‘Vishnu Roopa’ avatar of Lord Ganesh was installed this year, seeking universal peace and harmony.
  • One pandal in RP Road had Lord Ganesh featured with Lord Shiva and Parvathi.
  • Lord Ganesh made of paper cups.
  • Lord Ganesh with idols of Anna and supporters, appearing to be on a fast seeking abolition of VAT on textiles.
  • Dry fruit Ganesha, made of about 51 kgs of dry fruits.
  • 10 headed, 30 foot Ganesha, with each head supposedly depicting a virtue.
  • Ganesha decorated with Diamonds and precious stones.
  • Cricket playing Ganesha, and many more…….

My personal favorite of this year, though, was the black based ‘Balaji Ganesh’ idol at MG Road.

Laddu Auction

A popular trend noticed in recent years is the ‘Laddu Auction’. Every year, a huge ‘Laddu’ is placed on the palm of the Ganesh idol by the organizers. On the day of the immersion, the laddu is auctioned off publicly to the highest bidder. The recent, tremendous growth in the popularity of these auctions is attributable to both the faith among believers that the ‘Laddu’ will bring with it prosperity, as well as the fact that today winning the auction is seen by some as a status-symbol, and short-cut to publicity. These are so popular that the auction of Laddu at ‘Balapur Ganesh’, which is considered as the pioneer of this ritual, is telecast live on all local channels on the day of immersion.

And just the record, this year at Balapur, the Laddu was auctioned for a price of Rs.5.45 Lakhs. The laddu auction fetched Rs.9.10 Lakhs at Ameerpet, and Rs.6.20 Lakhs at Badangpet. At Khairatabad, though, this year the organizers decided against conducting an auction. Instead, the laddu was distributed as prasadam to all devotees on the day after Immersion of the idol.

Immersion Day

The main immersion day, which falls on the 11th day of the festival, is a public holiday. All roads lead to the Tank Bund.  Before the immersion procession begins, most pandals have the customary ‘uttu’ ritual (uriyadi, in Tamil). While the target is supposed to be a pot filled with gifts, these days a fancy star is hung for the participants to aim at.

The main immersion procession begins around noon on that day, and continues late into the night. Most times, it often continues well into the morning of the next day. This year, the procession went on till 3 PM on the next day, at which time, the last idol was immersed! Needless to say, on that day the entire Tank Bund area is crowded. These days, the immersion procession is also telecast live across all television channels.

The immersion day is a tense day for the Police – both Traffic, and Law & Order. Elaborate arrangements are made by them to face the challenges that arise on that day, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief after the immersion procession is completed peacefully.

The ‘Environment’ Debate

As in other places, Hyderabad too, is becoming aware of the environmental hazards of erecting idols made using non-degradable materials and synthetic dyes. These idols have been polluting the water bodies in which they are immersed. The campaign to shift to environmentally safe idols keeps picking up with every passing year. It is hoped that in a few years, the festival would be celebrated using only environmentally safe idols.

Ganesh Festival is an integral part of Hyderabad’s culture. If you happen to be in Hyderabad during that period, make sure you don’t fail to at least visit the Khairatabad Ganesh or witness the main immersion procession. It will surely be an experience.

To be Continued …..

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Hyderabad Diaries: Hyderabadi Haleem

Continued from Part 4

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The holy month of Ramzan is something that Hyderabadis await eagerly every year. While Ramzan is observed as the month of fasting by the followers of Islam, Hyderabadis look forward to it as that part of the year when the hugely popular Hyderabadi Haleem would be available to feast on.

Haleem is a traditional dish made of meat, wheat, ghee, and spices, and cooked in a laborious and time-consuming process. Rich in calories (as the ingredients would suggest), the recipe was originally prepared keeping in mind followers who fast during daytime in Ramzan. It would be served in the evenings, after the fast was broken for the day.

Today however, Hyderabadi Haleem is more than just a food item. It is an industry.

Irani Cafés all over the city construct their own ‘Bhattis’ (a typical brick oven built around a copper vessel) in front of their café, in which the Haleem would be prepared. One could see them being occupied in the process of Haleem preparation the whole day and it would finally be ready to be served by evening. The end product would be a paste like dish that is scooped out of the vessel in the oven and served with fried onions, lemon and garnishing, in distinctive ceramic bowls (which are now being replaced by plastic ones).

Growth in the popularity of Hyderabadi Haleem would invariably be discussed in two periods – pre-Pista House days and post-Pista House days. Pista House converted Haleem from being a simple food item to a brand. So much so that today Hyderabadi Haleem even has a GI tag. Pista House revolutionized the Haleem field by offering ‘Haleem by Post’ and ‘Vegetable Haleem’. They revised the rules and transformed the arena. Haleem, which was till then a dish to be enjoyed at the nearby Irani cafes, suddenly shot to the center stage. Today you have newspaper adverts from leading joints, Take-away points, best Haleem contests, scratch cards, Haleem-Thums Up combos, family packs of Haleem and much more. In some sense, they did to Haleem what Reliance did to mobile phones.

Today, apart from the local and regular joints where they have been enjoying their Haleem for years, Hyderabadis also make it a point to taste as much of Haleems served by Pista House, Paradise, Garden, Café Bahar, Sarvi, City Light, Bawarchi, and many more joints, as possible. Keeping in mind that they have only a month to try them all.

However, not everyone would like the taste of Haleem very much the first time. It will not blow you away the first time you have it. Rather, it slowly seeps into your system. And the more you have, the more you begin to enjoy it. And then, after the season ends, you savor it in your memories, and look forward to tasting it again after 12 months.

If you happen to be in Hyderabad during the month of Ramzan, don’t miss the opportunity to taste Hyderabadi Haleem. It is one dish that you must absolutely taste.

To be continued …..

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Hyderabad Diaries: Bonalu

Continued from Part 3

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Every year, during July-August, Hyderabad wears a festive look, celebrating Bonalu.

Bonalu festivities are spread over 4 weeks, with major celebrations being on the Sundays and Mondays. While the celebrations on the first Sunday is special in the Golconda area, the second Sunday is celebrated very grandly at Secunderabad, the most prominent temple in the Secunderabad area being the Mahankali Temple. The third Sunday is dedicated to Balkampet, and the fourth Sunday is allotted to the old city. Huge crowds of devotees throng the 4 major temples during this season, and the area around the temples, sports a happy, cheerful, and colourful look. The festivities come to an end, with a massive procession in the old city on the Monday that follows the fourth Sunday.

Bonalu conjures images of well-lit and well-decorated temples, loud devotional music blaring over microphones, colorfully made-up ‘Potharaju’s dancing in front of the processions, traditionally dressed women carrying offerings on their head to offer them to the Goddess, colourful rangolis, occasional orchestras, and much more. Counted among the most important rituals during the festival, would be the ‘Rangam’ – where the ‘Goddess’ descends upon a devotee and forecasts the coming year. The forecast of Rangam is highly revered and respected by common people.

One thing that you should never miss during this season, is listening to the ‘Mayadari Maisammo, Maisamma’ song. A highly popular folk song, set to a foot-tapping, appealing rhythm, it is a ‘must’ to play during the season. Popularized by singer Clement, the song is iconic. While it is played at most gatherings by orchestras all through the year, it is especially popular during the Bonalu season. Make sure you listen to that song once. You will then surely be asking for more of it.

When you are in Hyderabad during the Bonalu season, visit the nearest temple in your area to seek the blessings of the Goddess. You are almost certain to carry back with you impressions of an atmosphere filled with divinity and joy.

To be continued …..

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Hyderabad Diaries: Numaish

Continued from Part 2

‘Numaish’ translates to Exhibition. In Hyderabad context, it refers to the All India Industrial Exhibition, an annual feature of Hyderabad. It’s a 46 day long exhibition, from Jan 1 – Feb 15 of every year, hosted in the center of the city at Nampally Exhibition Grounds. Hyderabadis look forward to this exhibition and visit it at least once every year. Most, in fact, would visit it more than once every year. Special public transport buses are pressed into service during exhibition days and the whole area wears a festive look on Sundays and holidays, during the exhibition period.

Numaish 2011 will be the 71st edition of the exhibition. So, what’s so special about Numaish? The easier answer would be – experience it and you will get to know.

Traders from all over the world display their products at the Numaish. You can find dresses, kitchen appliances – right from a simple spoon to latest microwave and modular kitchen furnishings, furniture, bed-sheets, bed-spreads, gym and exercise equipment, consumer goods and appliances (even major brands like Godrej, Samsung, LG have their stalls), dry fruits, shawls, toys, children’s stuff, religious and charitable society stalls, handmade and homemade products, products made by prison inmates, Incense, water filters and water heaters, cycles and 2 wheelers, fancy stationery stuff, cosmetics, detergents, perfumes, and more. The list is really huge. There is also generally a special section for goods from Pakistan.

One often gets very attractive discounts while purchasing at the Exhibition. It is not uncommon for Hyderabadis to put of their major purchases by a few months, in anticipation of a discount at the Exhibition. And they are seldom disappointed.

The toy train of Numaish is much sought after and generally one has to wait for a considerable period before one can get a chance to board it. Lots of and different varieties of food stuffs and drinks. Many games and amusement items. Even an entire evening would not be enough generally, to cover the exhibition fully.

Numaish is a part of city’s heritage and has to be experienced. If you would be in Hyderabad anytime between Jan 1 and Feb 15, remember to visit the Numaish. I am sure you will carry back colorful memories with you.

To be continued …..

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Hyderabad Diaries: Irani Cafes

Continued from Part 1

Hyderabad is popularly known as the city of pearls. To me, it is also the city of Irani cafes.

From the famous Alpha, Garden, Paradise, Blue Sea, Café Bahar, Bawarchi, Madina, City Light, to my personal favourites Mezbaan, Ramser, G N Tea Point, Rambo, Sangeeth café and more.

Describing an Irani cafe is not as easy as locating one. Irani tea is served here primarily, along with food stuffs like Lukmi, Samosas, Puffs, Biscuits, Dilkush, Dilpasand, Cream Bun, Jam Roll, and Malaai. You can try coffee at your own risk. And Lukmi deserves an exclusive blog post.

Dirty waiters, wearing oversized, dark-coloured shirts/overcoats serve you. They are generally supervised by a very serious cashier who would be ever ready to jump to the f and b words on the slightest provocation.

You could spend hours together at some Irani cafes without ordering anything (If you are a typical Hyderabadi though, you would be ordering a cup of tea every 20 mts). In a few other cafes though, you would have to struggle to find a place to sit.

Giving directions would be very difficult without Irani cafes. And all movie theaters had to have an Irani café named after it and just adjacent to it.

For most hyderabadi males, Irani cafes are kind of extended part of their house. You can sit and have long discussions with your friends, relax, unwind, observe, contemplate. Women though, don’t frequent the cafes as much.

Times are changing, and so too are Irani cafes. Most of them now serve chinese fried rice and noodles and mirchi bajjis. And these days, all Irani cafes serve Haleem during the holy month of Ramzan. Few cafes have even started to serve idly, dosa and vada for breakfast.

No matter how much ever they may have changed, Irani cafes continue to be truly Hyderabadi.  Next time in Hyderabad, please visit some Irani cafes and have a few cups of Irani tea. I am sure it would be an enjoyable experience.

To be continued …..

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Hyderabad Diaries: Introduction

Cities, like life forms, keep changing, growing and evolving. History also has records of cities that have decayed. While change is unavoidable, the rate at which the changes take place differ from city to city, from period to period. Viewed in this context, the transformation of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, in the last two decades, has been dramatic.

When I first came to Hyderabad from Chennai in the late 1980s, it resembled closer to a sleepy Tier-II town than a bustling metropolis. Friendly people welcomed us. Hindi was spoken everywhere and hence there were no language barriers. Life was very laid-back and relaxed. Everybody appeared to be having time on their hands.

However, the last two decades have seen the city transform from a laid-back state capital to a busy metropolitan, hosting various business enterprises and economic entities. People from all parts of the country, with diverse cultures, reside here.

Almost all Indian cities have two faces – like the two sides of a coin. One of it is uniform across all cities. That is the MacDonalds, KFCs, Coffee-Days, Malls, Multiplexes, Software Companies face. It is uniform across all cities.

And then there is the other face of our cities. Culturally unique, you would have to experience it to know it. It could be the December Music Festival of Chennai, or the MTR and filter coffee of Bangalore, or the Meena Bazar of Delhi. Every city has its own history, with fascinating tales, fond memories, and interesting traditions.

In this series titled “Hyderabad Diaries”, I hope to share with you my personal experience in discovering the charm of this glorious city, and thereby introduce you to it’s other face.

To be continued…..

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