Kavi Pradeep (1915-1998)

While there are hundreds of people who ritualistically dance to the tune of “Main To Aarti Utaroon Re Santoshi Mata Ki” and proudly sing the song “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo”, many would not remember the man who wrote these iconic songs. So, here’s a little story about him. 

 #OnThisDay in 1915, Ramchandra Narayanji Dwivedi was born in the small town of Badnagar near Ujjain. In 1939, when he moved to Mumbai, he changed his name to Pradeep, which means light in Hindi. In a career spanning over five decades, Pradeep wrote nearly 1700 songs, poems, and hymns. These also include song lyrics for about 85 films, many of them becoming box-office hits. Pradeep became widely popular for his patriotic songs, which instilled a sense of pride in Indians and provide encouragement to our soldiers even today. 

Pradeep won several laurels for his work including the Best Film Song Lyricist. He was also made Rashtrakavi (Poet Laureate), after which he was revered as Kavi Pradeep.

Medaram Jatra

Illustration: Rajib Das

Medaram is a remote place in the Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of Dandakaranya. It is the largest surviving forest belt in the Mulugu. The Medaram Jatara is a tribal festival in honour of Hindu goddesses, commemorating the brave fight put up by a tribal queen and her daughter, Sammakka and Saralamma, against the Kakatiya kings who forced their tribes to pay unjust taxes. The Jatara witnesses one of the largest gatherings of people in India after the Kumbha Mela. As a part of the celebrations, people offer jaggery equal to their weight to the goddess and take holy baths in the nearby Jampanna Vagu stream.

The four-day celebrations of Medaram Jatara start on February 5th in the state of Telangana.   

The Vembanad Lake

Illustration: Rajib Das

On February 2nd in 1971, a group of environmentalists signed an international agreement of ‘Convention of Wetlands’ at the Ramsar Convention, Iran. The day is celebrated to raise awareness about the lives that thrive in wetlands.

Can you name a wetland system in India? The largest is of course, the Sunderbans in the state of Bengal. The second largest is the Vembanad Kayal wetlands, which also happens to be the longest lake in India and the largest in Kerala. It spans over 2000 square kilometres, covering several districts in the state of Kerala. Home to over 20,000 waterfowl and 100 native species of birds, the ecosystem sustains over 1.6 million people that live around it, directly or indirectly. A hot spot for shrimp as well, the region sees a lot of economic activity in terms of agriculture, fishing, tourism, inland navigation, coir and so on. 

Unfortunately, the wetland has been deteriorating over time and has been included under the National Wetlands Conservation Programme. 

Kalpana Chawla (1962-2003)

#OnThisDay in 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia burst into flames, over the state of Texas, a mere 16 minutes before landing time. The seven astronauts onboard, including the brave Indian-origin astronaut, Kalpana Chawla, met a tragic end that fateful day. 

Read her full story here:

Script: Margie Sastry
Illustration: Shyam Desai

The Me-Dam Me-Phi Festival

Illustration: Rajib Das

What happens to departed souls?

The dead linger as ancestors for a short period after death, and later traverse into heaven uniting with the Supreme Being. Here, they look after their earthly family and shower them with their blessings for all of eternity. At least, this is what the Ahom community of Assam believes. 

Me-Dam Me-Phi is a community festival celebrated by the Ahom people for over 400 years, in memory of their dearly departed. ‘Me’ means offering, ‘Dam’ means ancestors and ‘Phi’ means god. 

The festival is celebrated privately by families in their kitchen and publicly by the community at Charaideo, Assam, which was the burial site for the kings of the Ahom dynasty in the 13th century. As a part of the rituals, a special pillar called ‘Damkhuta’ is set up, which serves as the focal point of the offerings. Delicacies such as homemade wine, mah-prasad (beans and chickpeas), and rice with egg, meat and fish are offered. 

Every year, January 31st is observed as a state holiday in Assam on the occasion of Me-Dam Me-Phi.  

Vidya Bal (1937-2020)

Celebrated author and social activist, the inimitable Vidya Bal was one of the leading champions of women’s rights in India. She will always be remembered for setting up the Nari Samata Manch back in 1982, a political advocacy group dedicated to fighting for women’s rights and gender equality in India.

In 1989, she began publishing the Marathi monthly magazine, Miloon Saryajani, that took her fight for feminism and gender parity many steps further. She spent the bulk of her life fighting legal battles for women from all walks of life, with a great degree of success. Her most notable legal battles revolved around stopping gender discrimination at places of worship and allowing women entry into said places. Ms. Bal passed away on January 30, 2020, at a private nursing home in Pune.

 

Our Fundamental Duties

Before we celebrate Republic Day this weekend, let’s take a moment to revisit the fundamental duties of every Indian citizen as prescribed in the Constitution of India. If you exercise your fundamental rights, you are beholden to these duties as well.

Read the story of Babasaheb Ambedkar who drafted the constitution here:

The Indian Railways Elephant

Illustration: Mala Narwani

Meet Bholu, the official mascot of the Indian Railways. Bholu was created in 2002 as part of the Indian Railways’ 150th anniversary celebrations. He was officially adopted as their mascot the following year. The friendly elephant was designed at the National Institute of Design in Bengaluru.

When officials were asked the reason for selecting an elephant as their mascot, they replied that Bholu’s a cheerful icon who stands for being ethical, responsible, sincere, and stable. His size also represents the huge workforce of the Indian Railways. That makes sense to us, given that the Indian Railways is the ninth-largest employer in the world with about 1.4 million employees!

Thiruvallavur Day

Thiruvalluvar was a celebrated Tamil poet and philosopher. Even today, he is widely revered and appreciated as one of the greatest writers of all time, and his classic Tamil text, Thirukkural, is considered one of the most widely translated non-religious works in the world.

There is a 133-feet tall statue of Thiruvalluvar at  Kanyakumari, the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean meet. The number 133 also denotes the 133 chapters or athikarams of the Tirukkuṛaḷ. The statue depicts a bearded Thiruvalluvar standing with three fingers of his right hand pointing skyward. This denotes the three themes of the Kural; Aram, Porul, and Inbam, roughly translated as virtue, wealth and love.

In honour of the great poet, the government of Tamil Nadu celebrates January 15th as Thiruvalluvar Day every year as a part of Pongal celebrations. On leap years, celebrations are shifted by one day to January 16th.

Swami Vivekananda Jayanti

“Arise, awake and stop not till the desired end is reached. Be not afraid, for all great power, throughout the history of humanity, has been with the people. From out of their ranks have come all the greatest geniuses of the world, and history can only repeat itself. Be not afraid of anything. You will do marvellous work. The moment you fear, you are nobody. It is fear that is the great cause of misery in the world. It is fear that is the greatest of all superstitions. It is fear that is the cause of our woes, and it is fearlessness that brings heaven even in a moment. Therefore, “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.”

Swami Vivekananda was a monk, an orator, a preacher, and a patriot who devoted his life for India and its people. The above quote is an excerpt from the iconic speech the guru made on his return from the Parliament of Religions to his hometown of Calcutta. Swami Vivekananda had immense faith in the youth of the nation. He firmly believed that the nation’s youth holds the key to solve various issues faced by India. This is why his birth anniversary, January 12th, is also celebrated as National Youth Day. 

Have you read Amar Chitra Katha’s Vivekananda? Buy it here: