Cultural Exploration of North India

Mystical and colorful; a symphony for all of your senses, that is India. Allow Go Eat Give founder, Sucheta Rawal take you on an insightful journey through her hometown India.

HIGHLIGHTS:
– Cities Visited: New Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Agra, Jaipur & Jaisalmer
– Places of worship from Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Bahai religions, all located within a few miles from each other, making New Delhi one of the most religiously diverse cities in the world
– Dinner and cultural performance with a backdrop of the spectacular Taj Mahal
– Legendary monuments built by the Mogul emperors, that ruled India for hundreds of years
– Golden Temple in Amritsar, one of the most spiritual places in the world and a Sikh pilgrimage site
– Site of where the Indian freedom fight against the British took place
– Change of guards at the India-Pakistan border
– City known as Paris of India and rated best place to live, Chandigarh
– Sucheta’s grandmother, an 84 year-old philanthropist who founded many of the organizations in north India
– Dinner at homes of local families
– Guest lecture about the highly competitive education system and what makes Indian students rank #1 in the world
– Authentic gastronomy handpicked by Sucheta herself.
– Taste Punjabi and Mogulai food like you have never before!
– Sucheta’s favorite restaurants for Indo-Chinese, street food and fast food
– Shopping for handmade shawls, saris, gold, handicrafts and more
– Expert tailoring and custom made clothing (suits, saris, etc.)
– Volunteer at women’s shelter, orphanage and local projects

More information at www.goeatgive.com/volunteer-vacation-in-india

To inquire or reserve contact (678) 744-8306 or info@goeatgive.com

A Secret Retreat in the The Blue Ridge Mountains

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is a well kept secret that I am about to reveal. Shankara Ayurveda Spa at the Art of Living Retreat Center is a pristine destination for those who want a short getaway to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

October is the best time to drive through Blue Ridge Parkway and watch the leaves turn into shades of yellow, orange and red. As you go up in the High Country, watch the valleys unfold beneath you and fill in your lungs with refreshing crisp mountain air.art of living boone

Perched up on the mountain on a private reserve, only a few minutes outside the city of Boone, NC, is the Art of Living Retreat Center. Originally built in the mid 1990’s as a transcendental meditation center, the place was abandoned, auctioned, and later rebuilt as one of the largest retreats in the country. In October 2011, the Art of Living Retreat Center opened its 381 acres after lots of renovations, and now offers a hotel, spa, restaurant, apartments, organic garden, pottery center, and halls that can be rented out for weddings, conferences, retreats and workshops.

The retreat’s parent organization is Art of Living Foundation,  the world’s largest volunteer-based non profit organization, that was founded in 1981 by India’s spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The Foundation conducts “Art of Living” stress-relief courses, based on yoga, breathing, and meditation, and offers a variety of personal-development and trauma-relief programs around the world.

art of living boone

The resort is designed on the principles of Vastu, a set of architectural and planning principles assembled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi based on ancient Sanskrit texts. The exterior of the main hall reminds me of an elegant white palace that could be found in southern India, with its welcoming gardens, calming fountain, and giant swans guarding its gates. Wooden ceilings have a geometric layered pattern and a glass window in the middle of the ceiling, resembling an upside down stairway to heaven. Heated floors and carpeting provide comfort to those participating in weekend yoga and meditation retreats.

Across the street is the main building where guest check in. There is an unassuming reception desk managed by couple of resident staff. They greet me with a big smile and a warm welcome. Mr. Venkat Srinivasan, PhD (Manager of operations and guest experience), who has been here since the renovations began, officially welcomes me to the premises and takes me on a tour of the grounds.

We first drive a few blocks to the spa building, the newest addition to the property. On the way we pass by buildings that are rented out as apartments to the staff and students at Appalachian State University. There are also modest one bedroom rooms rented out to visitors for an Ashram type experience. Guests who are looking for solace and peace can stay here without the distractions of modern life, at a very affordable price. The spa rooms at the Shankara Ayurveda Spa are comparatively more luxurious. King and double beds are decorated with hues of purple and white, and offer unobstructed views of the forest and mountains beyond. There’s a phone, television and working desk, as well as robe and slippers. Samples of toiletries come from Shankara, an upscale skin care line that embodies the ancient eastern science of Ayurveda, and the western state of the art anti-aging science. Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India. Plant-based treatments in Ayurveda may be derived from roots, leaves, fruits, bark, or seeds such as cardamom and cinnamon. 100% of the net profits of Shankara product sales are donated to global humanitarian projects through International Association for Human Values (IAHV).

The spa service rooms and saunas are located only one floor up and offers traditional Ayurvedic treatments, such as Marma – where pressure points are activated to pacify the doshas; Basti – warm medicated oil massage for the joints; Netra Tarpana – eye detox for improving eyesight; as well as herbal exfoliations, Thai and Swedish massages, are offered at the spa. The therapists here are well trained in the traditional Ayurveda therapies and many of them have practiced all around the world.

art of living boone

I try the Abhyangya detoxifying herbal massage which involves a gentle full body oil massage in circular patterns. It aims to release stress and improve circulation. Regular treatments of Abhyangya also helps in weight loss. After unwinding at the sauna, I lounge in a chaise at the quiet room, sipping on a cup of soothing organic Balance Tea. Shankara blends and sells different kinds of Ayurveda teas that help with depression, anxiety and restlessness.

Dinner reservations are not necessary while staying at the Art of Living Retreat Center. Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet is served at the main dining hall at set hours of the day. Emphasis is on healthy and wholesome vegetarian dining, while gluten and dairy free choices are also available. Executive chef, Raju, believes in invoking the taste buds with sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent flavors that help feel satisfied while eating less. A typical meal would include soup, salad, protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and dessert. Variations of cuisines is also great for the taste buds. On a Friday night, the theme could be Southern, serving okra and kale stew made with ingredients from the garden, vegetable Jambalaya, and maple molasses coconut bar; while on Saturday afternoon, we are offered a simple meal of Indian yellow lentils, aloo-gobi (potatoes and cauliflower curry), and basmati rice. There is a strict no alcohol and no meat policy on the campus.

art of living boone

After dinner, everyone heads downstairs to a communal hall for Satsang, which in spiritual context means a gathering with good or righteous companions. A few people pick up musical instruments, while others take over the mike and start singing in a slow melodic voice. The group joins in the chorus of short chants and songs that are pleasing to the ears, and invoke a meditative state in the room.

Visitors can enjoy free yoga and meditation lessons offered every morning and evening for anyone who wants to join in. The classes are good for any age and experience level. We stretch our joints, practice breathing techniques, and learn how to manage stress and be more peaceful. Some of the classes involve group discussions and guided meditations, most teachings act as reinforcements to keep a healthy mind, body and spirit.

huffpo boone1Art of Living offers a happiness program on the weekends where participants are taught the importance of being happy from the inside, and how it impacts immunity, health, energy and personal relationships. There are also silence, meditation, detox and weight loss retreats throughout the year.

For leisure, visitors can enroll in pottery workshops at the Clay Studio. Here you can learn how to make your own pottery on a clay wheel with a guided instructor. Extended workshops allow you to paint, bake and finish the pieces, or the instructor would mail it to your home once ready. In November, there are special holiday ornament making classes with clay conducted by studio director and award-winning Appalachian State Fine Arts Pottery alumna, Laurie Caffery Harris.

If you have a green thumb, you can volunteer at the organic vegetable farm. Resident farmer, Emily, a native of London, practices biodynamic agriculture, that emphasizes spiritual and mystical perspectives on the soil, plant growth and livestock care. Farming methods include crop diversification, avoiding the use of chemicals, and consideration of celestial and terrestrial influences on the crops. All of the produce from this garden feeds into the kitchen, and you can see a fresh basket arriving at the dining hall each morning.

Finally, Srinivasan shows me a well manicured labyrinth, historically been used as a meditation and prayer tool. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world.

art of living boone

Being so close to nature, solo and guided hikes are encouraged during your visit. I go through 3-miles of natural trails encountering various kinds of trees, shrubs and mountain herbs, as well as occasional deer. The walk along the edge of the hill offers spectacular views of the fall color. Seeing how nature has shed its leaves and adjusted its appearance for the seasons right before me, I begin to recognize a subtle transformation happening inside of me. After the clean air I ingested with my newly learned breathing techniques, the release of stress from my body during the Ayurvedic massage treatment, the farm to table organic vegetarian diet in my system, and the communal gathering of spiritual companions, its hard to walk away not feeling any different that when you first came in to the Shankara Ayurveda Spa at the Art of Living Retreat Center.

Go Eat Give is offering a weekend Spring retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center in March 2016, in partnership with Calmtivity Yoga. Click here to read more.

Toco Hills opens its doors to Masti Indian Fusion

A little over two months ago, the Toco Hills Shopping Plaza in North Druid Hills opened its doors to an Indian restaurant with a twist. Meaning “fun” in Hindi, Masti draws a party when it comes to Indian street food. Kabob dogs, Butter Chicken Tacos and fish and chips are just a few of the unique mash-ups found on the menu.

Masti Flyer

By pairing international recipes together, Masti aims to bring familiarity into the mix and steer away any reasons why one might avoid eating Indian food. Its varied menu aspires to attract any and everyone from the most selective eater to food critics.

Masti’s décor is inviting, full of color and customer service goes above and beyond. Take note of the wall décor replicating designs you would see on traditional costumes worn by Indian women.

Masti offers A La Carte Specials, Daily Specials and a full menu for your choosing. To gather an idea of their endless options, the Go Eat Give team sampled items from the appetizers, main entrees and dessert menus. Complimentary rice chips were served as we tried a few traditional and fusion options.

rice chips

Mango Lassi

mango lassiSimilar to a smoothie, Lassi is a yogurt based drink blended with fruit (in this case mango), cream and water.

Deconstructed Aloo Tikki Chat

We dove right into Aloo Tikki Chat, a chickpea curry topped with paneer and lentil filled potato patties. This dish is usually enjoyed during teatime in India, the duration between lunch and dinner where heavy snacks such as chat, sandwiches and samosas are eaten. Aloo Tikki Chat was filled with a blast of flavor and holds a spice you can adjust to your liking. Definitely a must try!

Butter Chicken Tacos

butter chicken tacosMasti used a pancake made from rice batter typically seen in North India, to wrap rice and buttered chicken in the shape of a taco. The pancake was overbearing the buttered chicken and would have been more appreciated as separate items. Fun approach to the taco, but not highly favored at our table.

Amritsari Fish & Chips

fish and chipsHands down one of our favorite items on the menu. A popular street food found in North India, the Amritsari Fish & Chips is executed by frying tilapia in chickpea flour and difference spices. Masti did a fabulous job replicating a meal you could order from a food truck in India.

Kabob Dog & Paneer Dog

IMG_2981Masti’s twist on hot dogs offer options for vegetarians and meet lovers using either Paneer Bhurji, a cheese commonly used in Indian dishes or kabobs. Respectively, they are both placed in toasted hot dog bun topped with relished onions, bell peppers and Masti Sauce. Another unique approach to Indian-American fusion, but doesn’t really sell in flavor. Could be a favorite among children.

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Faloodi Kulfi

Fall in love with this rose and vanilla combination topped with sweet noodles, basil seeds and rose syrup. Faloodi Kulfi is a popular Indian dessert and is your answer to scorching weather!

Galub Jamun

IMG_2998A sweet tooth satisfaction, Galub Jamun is a warm doughnut ball swimming in honey and rose infused syrup. Pair it was a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re in for a treat.

If you’re curious to try one of Masti’s not-so-traditional combinations head over to Toco Hills with a friend and share a few options family-style. The large portions will be sure to fill you up even when sharing. Don’t forget to grab a spoon full of one or two options at the Paan table. You can choose from an array of these natural mouth fresheners ranging from betel leaves to dried papayas.

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Masti Indian Restaurant
2945 North Druid Hills Rd, Suite C, Atlanta, GA 30329
www.mastiatlanta.com

Saris and Samosas: Indian Culture in Atlanta

Last Thursday, May 28, 2015, Go Eat Give brought Atlanta a taste of Northern India, and it was delicious. Over fifty members and guests from the area joined us at Indian restaurant Bhojanic Buckhead location for Destination India dinner. There was excitement in the air as the evening began and attendees mingled over mango martinis and Kingfisher beer, taking the opportunity to purchase exclusive Go Eat Give India t-shirts and raffle tickets before settling down in their seats.

There was much buzz about the raffle, and for good reason: first prize winners received a free plane ticket to India, generously donated by our sponsor Air India. The restaurant gave off an exotic yet inviting feel, warmly lit with hanging Indian lamps and decorated with brightly hued pillows of all colors. Near the end of the long, family-style table arrangement, large carts with intricate designs were loaded with enticing food, adding to the sense that I had been transported to India.

Destination India at Bhojanic

The meal began with a variety of samosas served as appetizers. Some of these tasty Indian pastries were filled with spinach and spices, while others were filled with a combination of spiced potatoes and peas. Guests also enjoyed turkey kebabs with mint chutney. Small cups of mango lassi, a popular yogurt-based drink, served well to offer guests a break from the heat. I particularly enjoyed the unexpectedly delicious combination of spicy and sweet.

Dinner continued with biryani, a savory Indian dish consisting of rice and a combination of vegetables or meats with spices. Traditional Indian street-style chips, known as chaat, were topped with mint and tamarind sauces and made to order from a street food cart.

Linda Harris at Destination India

As guests finished their main courses, Dr. Jagdish Sheth, an esteemed Professor of Marketing at Emory University, treated everyone with his engaging speech. Dr. Sheth was born in Burma to a Jain family and emigrated to India as a refugee in 1941. In his speech, he offered insight to the world’s vast variety of culture, fascinating guests with observations on how geography affects the cuisine, clothing, and habits of many different countries. Dr. Sheth kept guests laughing throughout his riveting speech, and his sense of humor and amiable personality showed through as he regaled us with a story about his children fulfilling his dream of driving a Jaguar with “Jag’s Jag” on the license plate for his sixtieth birthday – with a rental car!

Dr Jagdish Sheth at Go Eat Give

After the speech, guests were treated to delicious desserts. These included rasmalai, made of sweetened milk and cheese flavored with cardamom – Dr. Sheth’s personal favorite. Another treat was gulab jamun, which is essentially a ball of fried dough similar to a donut ball in sweet syrup. It’s safe to say these were a huge hit, as they were gone within fifteen minutes of their first appearance.

The excitement continued as the time for the raffle arrived. The second prize winner received two tickets to the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan concert at the Fox Theatre donated by Café Bombay, and first prize winners of course each took home a free plane ticket to India!

As the evening wound down, guests had the chance to learn more about the culture of Northern India with a video, which detailed the experience of those who travelled with Go Eat Give on the last trip to India. Speeches were given by some of the trip’s attendees as they detailed their favorite memories and experiences. Many guests mentioned how much they valued the opportunity to stay in the homes of Go Eat Give Founder Sucheta Rawal’s family and friends in Chandigarh, an experience that allowed them to see India in a way not possible for the majority of tourists. Guests also enjoyed a musical performance by NINAAD, whose song and instrumentals channeled a fusion of tradition and Bollywood style.

Overall, the evening was a delightful success! You can see more about the event by watching Go Eat Give on WSB-TV Channel 2 Atlanta on Saturday, June 6th at 5:30 a.m. and Sunday, June 7th at 12:30 p.m. on the People 2 People Show.

~ By Sarah Margaret, a student at Emory University pursuing a major in History with a concentration in Law, Economy, and Human Rights. Sarah is an event planning and marketing intern for Go Eat Give. She loves to travel, and she is currently learning Italian to prepare for studying abroad in Florence in the fall. Her other hobbies include hiking, photography, and learning to cook.

Somrus – The Nectar of Gods

Finally, an Indian inspired cream liquor is in the market! Somrus meaning the nectar of Gods in Hindi, is a pure Wisconsin dairy cream and hand-crafted Caribbean rum mixed with the flavors of cardamom, saffron, almonds, pistachios and rose. Already, spirit and wine enthusiasts are raving about this new cream liquor, naming it in Top 50 Spirits List of 2014. This decadent 750 ml bottle has an attractive gold coating and look more expensive than it is.

somrus

Somrus tastes like spiked up rasmalai, a creamy Indian dessert made with milk and similar spices. The alcoholic cream is great to add to dessert, top fruits, or simply make a toast to after dinner. I enjoyed it chilled in a shot glass, in lieu of dessert.

Here are some recipes from the makers of Somrus to try yourself…

THE NIRVANA

Ingredients

  • 2oz Somrus
  • 1oz Chambord
  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • 2 x Raspberries

Directions

Add all ingredients to a Boston shaker. Shake vigorously with ice. Serve in old fashioned or rocks glass over 3 x 1inch by 1inch ice cubes. Garnish with raspberries.

The Nirvana

PRONE TIGER

  • 2oz Somrus
  • 1.5oz Aged Rum
  • 1oz Espresso
  • 1oz Amaretto
  • Garnished with cinnamon stick
  • Served in rocks glass

Add all ingredients to shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with cinnamon stick stirrer.

Prone Tiger

SOMCHAI

Ingredients

  • 1oz SomruS
  • 3oz Chai Tea
  • 1oz Milk
  • 2 dashes rose water

Directions

Boil water. Brew black tea for 3-5 minutes. Heat milk to just below boiling. Strain out tea leaves and add tea to serving utensil. Add SomruS, milk, rose water and then serve in a handled punch cup.

Somrus can be purchased online for only $29.99.

Fashions of the Traditional Indian Sari

Upon going to India, I was not nearly prepared enough for the bombardment of smells, spices, colors and culture that struck me as being so different from any of the ones I had ever seen in the United States. One of the main differences that caught my eye and immediately piqued my curiosity was the Indian sari. The sari, which can be spelled sari, saree, or shari, is a common garment worn by women in south Asia. The term itself is derived from the Sanskrit language and its meaning translates to ‘strips of cloth’. This form of clothing has been worn for thousands of years in this region and can be seen depicted in various historical texts, art, and holy writings. The sari is commonly worn by women in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka as a symbol of grace, beauty, and cultural pride.

sari in New Delhi IndiaOn our recent trip to India with Go Eat Give, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit a sari shop in Chandigarh. There, we learned quite a bit about the styles and ways in which saris are worn, in addition to the many different kinds of fabric and pattern. Upon entering the shop, we were surprised to see wall to wall saris stacked to the ceiling. The shop owners, although male, demonstrated how to tie a sari, and the different articles of clothing that you need in order to wear a sari properly.

The typical sari seen on the streets of India and southern Asia is about 5-9 yards in length with a width of at least 2-4 feet. The fabric is usually cotton, chiffon or silk in most cases, but varies from region to region. It is draped across one shoulder, sometimes revealing part of the torso. The reason why the navel or midriff is left bare in many sari styles is due to the belief that this is the location from which comes life and creativity. This area is to be left uncovered in order to pay homage to this belief.

When visiting India or your local sari shop, you can see sarees in every fabric, color, style and shape. Most saris are detailed with incredibly intricate patterns or embroidery. Being a student of design, I quickly became obsessed with the trends and styles of these beautiful cultural gowns. I came to notice that not only are there countless ways to wear these traditional outfits, but that the design varied according to the region, climate, and state.

In addition to giving it unique style, the coloring of saris also holds meaning. Red saris are typically seen during Indian weddings, for the color red is thought to bring good luck to the bride and to her marriage. Orange is also a color you see frequently because it signifies luck, and is representative of saffron, a commonly used spice in India. Green overtones are symbolic for festivity and celebration. Below, you can see an example of the numerous colors of saris as well as a model of how they are worn.

sari store in India
An assortment of sarees, cholis, and other traditional Indian dresswear displayed at a storefront on the streets of Chandigarh, India.

While there are countless variations of how to wear a sari, there are a few styles that are commonly seen, such as Uttariya, which is the part of the wrap that covers the upper body and many times the head. The typical sari is made up of a large piece of cloth and a blouse and petticoat, which must be tailored. The fabric that goes over the petticoat and blouse is versatile and is made to fit most sizes. Another common style is the Kerala mundum neryathum, which is a traditional two-piece sari. The one-piece sari is typically seen as a more modern invention that borrows from western culture.

The blouse that is worn under the sari or shawl on the other hand is called a choli. The common choli is short and somewhat tight fitted, revealing the midsection. Historically, cholis used to only cover the front of the body and leave the back open. This was as much due to India and south Asia’s hot climate as well as past stylistic preferences. This particular kind of backless sari can still be seen in parts of the state of Rajasthan today.

A shop owner explains embroidery details while displaying various styles of sarees.
A salesman explains embroidery details while displaying various styles of sarees.

As for sarees that are worn for special occasions, the wedding sari remains not only the most interesting but also the most popular. A traditional Indian wedding sari is red in color and made of the finest silk. It is complimented by ornate amounts of jewelry, such as bangles, necklaces, nose rings, rings, and exquisite gems and jewels that are designed or hand-sewn into the sari itself. Indian wedding saris are typically very expensive and ornamental due to the fact that Indian weddings are some of the biggest events thrown in India, if not in the world. The typical Indian wedding can easily consist of over a thousand guests and a designer wedding sari can set you back a few thousand dollars.

An Indian wedding is a much bigger deal than it is in the United States because Indian culture believes that a wedding between two people is more than just a legally-binding affair. It is a sacred bond that must be honored, respected, and blessed by the Gods in order to bring both families honor, peace, and happiness. It is partially due to these beliefs that typical Indian weddings run so large, and also why the bride’s sari is the most ornamented and elaborate of them all.

I have to admit that at the end of the day, one of my favorite experiences of India was having the opportunity to see and study saris and the way they are worn. They are a beautiful representation of Indian tradition and it was refreshing to see so many women walking around with such a beautiful display of their culture. The Indian saris were so stunning, that every member of our Go Eat Give group bought at least one – myself included!

Scenes from the Women’s Shelter in Chandigarh

Chandigarh remains a vivid memory of mine especially our visit to a women’s shelter.  A few pictures cannot adequately describe the emotional reaction to seeing and hearing of the plight of these women (plus two little girls living there with their mother). To give you a sense, I chose these four pictures and will tell you a little about each one. savera women's shelter in chandigarhThe women introduced themselves to us (as we did to them). The lady in blue and pick appeared to be very shy and quiet, perhaps even in shock, and yet she did make it through the introduction.
go eat give india
 The two little girls were doing what children do all over the world — vying for a turn at an object.  Imagine what a novelty the camera was to them.  Compare it to the very young photographers we see every day in the United States, who completely take the camera/cell phones for granted. The teenager in the picture with the little girls had yet another sad story.  She is 16 years old and has neither a mother nor a father. In other words, she is on her own in life. How wonderful that she is in the safe arms of the shelter.
savera chandigarh
In the lower left picture, look more closely at the little girl’s right hand.  How has that hand become so distorted and lost its pigmentation?  I’ll let you think about that.
elizebeth volunteering at savers india
The last lady, pictured with me, was longing for human contact and warmth.  She put her arms around several of us and just held on – not saying a word – looking up at us with those soulful eyes.
These images and narrative provide a good sampling of our Go Eat Give visit to the women’s shelter in Chandigarh in November 2014.
Although the shelter’s matron (she called herself the “warden”) referred to the women at the shelter as “inmates,” I came away from our visit feeling cheered that this small group of women and children have found a refuge and safe harbor where they live in modest, close quarters, receive assistance in resolving their (mostly) domestic situations, and show a fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend.
Click here to make a donation for Savera women’s shelter in India.
~ By guest blogger, Elizabeth Etoll, a retired IBM executive who lives in Atlanta, GA. She visited Cuba and India with Go Eat Give in 2014. 

Sati – An Ancient Hindu Practice

Sati, meaning “good wife” in Sanskrit, refers to a very interesting and ancient Hindu mourning ritual, which generates quite a bit of attention due to its historically radical means of an end. Sati is a ceremony that was practiced after the death of a woman’s husband, during which the mourning woman was required to be burned alive in order to show mourning and devotion to their lost spouse. It began around the 10th century B.C. The ceremony was first practiced by the wives of kings, until it gained popularity in the Hindu religion and was practiced by other regional groups.

It use to be part of the Hindu religion that if a married woman’s husband was to fall ill and die or perish in battle, the spouse was expected to immolate; or end her life as an offering, to the spirit of her deceased husband. When this act was being carried out, the woman would also have to do so on top of the husband’s funeral pyre. If a woman refused this act, she was typically sought after, and more or less forcibly convinced to agree to its completion. After a woman went through this ritual, she was then revered and idolized by her community as a holy woman, as well as an object of worship.

source: Wiki Commons
source: Wiki Commons

A Greek geographer by the name of Strabo who traveled to India with Alexander the Great noted that the majority of these women were in fact, happy to burn in sacrifice of their husbands. The few who did not see this act as honorable and refused to die, were shunned and seen as outcasts of their community. According to historical data, the practice of sati came about because marriages were typically formed by love (as oppose to arranger marriage) in ancient India. When these marriages would take a turn for the worst, the woman would often poison the man and continue on to find a new lover. To put an end to the murders and to protect the women’s virtues, a law was enacted that stated that a woman who was left without a husband was required to burn alive in order to join him, or to be cast out of the community and live out the rest of her days as a widow.

"Sri Rani Sati," an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960's
“Sri Rani Sati,” an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960’s

While this bit of ancient history seemed desolate and painful, it was done out of respect for the sacred bond of marriage and love. In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacred bond that binds two souls together for more than one lifetime. Even the Hindu gods and goddesses lead married lives and respect the duties and bonds that come with the Hindu concept of love and marriage. Although this ritual seems violent in our Western culture, it originated out of love, respect, and dedication between spouses.

The act of sati was banned in 1829 in India, and as late as 1920 in Nepal. This practice was also not necessarily limited to India, but was seen widespread throughout Asia, and remote, bordering parts of Europe.

The Culture of Chai in India

While a lot of you out there are frequent chai tea drinkers, I’ll bet you didn’t know that chai originated in India. In fact, India consumes more tea than any nation in the world! Historically, ancient Indians used teas as medicinal herbal remedies to cure a variety of ailments.

Some of the Masala Chai mixes, or Kahra, were taken from ancient Ayurvedic medical writings. Although chai (translates to tea in Hindi) is not as frequently used for herbal remedies today, some chai makers prefer to add certain herbs or spices that have been scientifically proven to improve certain aspects of one’s health, such as turmeric or cumin, which is said to aid the sickly with rising fevers.

Workers taking a break for tea
Workers taking a break for tea

Typically chai tea consists of a boiled mixture of black tea leaves, milk, sugar, cardamom, peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves and various spices native to India. One of the most popular chais in India is Masala chai, the term ‘Masala’ simply meaning ‘mixture of spices.’ Chai, typically Masala chai, is so popular that is offered as a complimentary beverage to welcome guests, at meetings, shops, home visits, dinners and for breaks throughout the day.

Go Eat Give group that went to northern India got to experience this firsthand upon entering almost every business and home.

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Our Go Eat Give group having chai and cakes for Amanda’s birthday with one of our host families in India.

While in India, Go Eat Give visitors had the pleasant opportunity to learn more about the process of how chai is created. This process begins with harvesting tea leaves, typically grown in higher plateaus of north India, southern slopes of the Himalayas, and Nilgiri hills in the south. Like wine, the flavor, strength, and acidity levels of the tea leaves depends on when they are harvested. Following the plucking of the tea leaves, the chlorophyll begins to break down, releasing tannins. This oxidization causes the tea to darken. This darkening is then stopped at desired stages that will determine certain qualities by heating the leaves.

With black tea, which is the tea used for chai, the leaves are heated as well as dried at the same time in order to lock in flavor. The caffeine in black tea is about one-third that of coffee, making it less acidic and easy to digest.

Shopping for teas at the spice market in New Delhi
Shopping for teas at the spice market in New Delhi

Once the leaves are dried, they are either bagged or sold to tea stores as loose-leaf tea. Most of the time, authentic Indian chai is prepared by using a decoction, or loose-leaf tea. The recipe is as follows – bring 1 cup water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for every cup prepared. Add 1/2 cup whole milk (skim and 2% are newer options now found in India), as well as a combination of spices or tea masala. Let it come to another boil, then turn off heat. Use a strainer to pour the liquid into a cup. Add sugar as needed.

This generally takes more time than the quick tea bags that are mass-produced in most other places of the world. However, it does add a homemade touch to the preparation of this drink. However, for a short cut way to enjoy Indian chai, get the Tetley Masala Chai tea bags found at most specialty grocery stores around the world. (Go to smile.amazon.com and a portion of your purchases will be donated to Go Eat Give)

The Story Behind the Sikh Turban Wrap

When most people think of India, they think of temples, spices, and a land rich in color and religion. One of the five main religions in India is Sikhism. Sikhism developed in the fifteenth century and is native to the Punjab region of northern India. The term ‘Sikh’ itself originated from Sanskrit words meaning disciple, student, and instruction; which are some of each members most prided devotions. The main beliefs of this religion are depicted by the following the ‘Five K’s’ which consists of ‘Kesh’ (unkempt long hair), ‘Kangha’ (a small wooden comb), Kara (a steel or iron bracelet), ‘Kacherra’ (undergarment), and a ‘Kirpan’ (short dagger). For the followers of the Sikh religion, all of the aforementioned things must be kept on or close to the person at all times.

I learned about one of the five K’s, the turban, from a local host while on our tour of northern India with Go Eat Give. The size of the turban, which can be seen in all different colors and fashions, is directly related to the age of its wearer. For example, if an elderly man is wearing a turban, it will be quite large. A Sikh man adds another yard of fabric to his turban for every year of his age. This is why when you see a small boy who follows this religion, his turban may look more like a hair wrap with a small knot on the top. The reason the turban is worn is to contain their hair, which is never cut.       Khalsa sikh

The Sikh person who was our host in Chandigarh explained that to twist the long pieces of fabric into a perfectly created turban, the hair is braided from the neck up above the head, and then carefully tucked under a separate hair net, which goes under the turban. This hair net ensures that the hair will not slip out of place while also adding sturdiness to the headpiece. After this, the long pieces of fabric are carefully wrapped around the head in a layered, circular fashion to ensure support and neatness. This is done every day in the morning at least, sometimes multiple times a day. The process takes on average about forty minutes each time.

sikh kids at khalsa orphanage in Amritsar

As for the meaning behind the colors of the turban, most people choose a designated color to match their clothing or to fit the current fashion. However, there is a special meaning behind the bright orange head wraps that seem to be most popular. Orange color is representative of the spice saffron, which is one of the country’s most common spices and has a long connection in the past to the Sikh religion and its following. It is also the official Sikh color to represent wisdom and clarity of the mind.

Taking into consideration how much time Sikh followers spend each day maintaining and wrapping their turbans and head wraps, it is very clear that they are a very devoted and dedicated people that pride themselves on daily commitment and hard work in order to demonstrate their faithfulness and love of their religious beliefs.

Sikh students