10 Ways to Experience Kuala Lumpur Like a Local

By Princess Draupadi

palm-trees-992217_960_720

It’s always interesting to hear what foreigners think of Malaysia. Every time I travel and people ask me where I’m from and I say it, I get all kinds of reactions. Good ones, so far.

“Oh my God, Malaysia?!”
“Beautiful country!”
“You’re soooooo lucky.”

The last statement was said to me by an European girl I was having tea with in Madurai.

“Why am I lucky?” I asked.

Her eyes widened. “The SUN!” she exclaimed. “All that sunshine. You get so much SUN! The beach.” She sighed prettily and let herself melt away onto the table in an exaggerated expression of pleasure.

I laughed. Cute girl. She was right, of course. But if only she knew how Malaysians reacted to the sun. How we’re tired of getting too much of it, how we’re constantly running away from it. How people here carried umbrellas and wore long driving gloves to avoid getting tanned. How obsessed we are with air-conditioning.

masjid-jamek-mosque-2724139_960_720

As much as I love being everywhere else, I really love Malaysia. Tropical vegetation, blue seas, blue skies. Multiracial, multicultural, both rural and urban in almost equal measure. Like any other country we have our ups and downs (including some of the most corrupt politicians in the world), but I’d rather focus on the good stuff.

Kuala Lumpur

city-1283140_960_720

sky-3130239_960_720

As with every major city in the world, there’s always a recommended bunch of typical touristy stuff to do. Kuala Lumpur (KL) is no exception, as a Google search will show you.

If you really must look at two colossal steel-and-concrete towers that supposedly represent this city, by all means go ahead. However, I think KL has so much more to offer.

malaysia-2577526_960_720

While the towers are shiny and pretty and everything, I’m of the opinion that the lifeblood of Kuala Lumpur lies in the whole vibe, the collective energy that powers this city. The heart and soul of KL lies in the diversity of its people, food, street life, traffic jams, art and culture.

Having lived all 35 years of my life in this city and Singapore next door, here’s my recommended list of things to experience in Kuala Lumpur. Would you like to live the life of a KLite, do the things we do, at least for a while? Then read on.

But first, a little introduction to the local lingo.

***Special Note on Language: Sentences with the Lah Suffix.***

Most KLites speak English, at levels varying from basic to excellent. While many of us locals speak the language really well, we have a unique way of conversing among ourselves, irrespective of race and ethnic background, a phenomenon known to some as ‘Manglish’.

What’s that? Well, somewhat broken English, peppered with words from various languages and dialects spoken locally including Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin, Tamil, Punjabi and more. For example, macha (Tamil: brother-in-law), jom (Malay street slang: let’s go), tapau (Hokkien: take-away food). Whenever Malaysians get into this mode and start talking like this in a group, we’d understand each other perfectly. Observing foreigners, meanwhile, are generally baffled. 

Brian here says some interesting things about Malaysian culture, and a bit about the language.

To talk like us, add lah to the end of random sentences in conversations with Malaysians. A good way to start trying this out is when you’re ordering food at Malaysian restaurants. You’ll probably use it wrong, but hey, who cares. You’ll surprise the locals, have a good laugh with them and make some great friends – guaranteed.

Here are some recommended ways to use lah accurately:

  • This is my first time visiting Malaysia lah.
  • Can lah / Cannot lah. (When asked if something can or cannot be added to your food, ie pork).
  • It’s so hot lah.
  • I want to buy a drink lah.
  • Can you lower the price? Too expensive lah.
  • Can I have this in blue? I don’t like red color lah.
  • This food is cold lah. Can you reheat it please?
  • This tea is too hot lah. Can you tarik it for me? (Manglish Bonus Point: two street slang words in one go)

So try it. Use the lah. Use it everywhere. Have fun with it, because this doesn’t work outside Malaysia. Where else can you mess up English like this and get away with it?

Now for the list of stuff to try.

10 Ways to Experience Kuala Lumpur Like a Local

food-3177460_960_720

#1 – Taste Signature Malaysian Dishes in KL

Oh the food. KL is a terrible place to be on a diet. If you’re visiting for the first time, don’t even try.

Trying to describe Malaysian food in one blog post is like trying to describe that Avatar planet in one sentence. We have such an incredible variety of grub here that no amount of writing is ever going to do justice to our endless array of gastronomic delights. For the sake of readers however, I will simplify the must-try list of KL-Malaysian foods per below.

Roti canai and teh tarik combo. This is a common Malaysian staple of Indian-Muslim origin. Roti canai is a type of flat bread that is made by spinning the dough in the air until it stretches out. Teh tarik is milk tea that gets its name from being ‘pulled’ – poured in a long stretch from one container to another, until it develops a surface foam. If you’re at the right places, you’ll get to view the impressive theatrics of the undeniably-skilled people making these dishes.

Not a very clear video and probably not Malaysian, but this is a demo of how extreme teh tarik skills can get.

A very KL thing to do is visit a mamak (generally means Indian Muslim) restaurant or street stall, order these, then sit around chatting for hours with friends. You can do this any time of the day and almost anywhere in the city. By the way, the term ‘mamak‘ has also come to mean almost any food place that stays open late, or simply the act of hanging out at these places.

Banana leaf rice. A South Indian style of eating that’s popular in KL. It’s basically rice, curries, vegetables and your choice of Indian meat dishes served on a fresh banana leaf. I’ve done a series of restaurant reviews for KL and Klang Valley for my ‘Banana Leaf Mythbusters’ series: Devi’s Corner, Ganapathi Mess, Nirwana Maju and Moorthy’s Mathai.

The ‘proper’ way is to eat with your fingers, but you can use cutlery and nobody will care. We KLites are a laid-back bunch. So laid back we’re late all the time for everything.

20170619_120047
Ganesh at Moorthy’s Mathai in USJ, Subang Jaya

Nasi lemak. Traditional Malay dish, popular for breakfast. Consists of coconut milk rice, anchovies, a chilli paste, fried peanuts, cucumber and an egg. You can buy it almost anywhere here and it’s often dirt cheap.

nasi-1400695_960_720

Pan mee. Noodle-based dish of Hakka origin. The star of this dish is the chilli powder-paste. Go easy on the heat if it’s your first time.

Nasi kandar. Rice that can be combined with various curries, meats and vegetables. Ask for a mix of all available curries to eat it like we do.

Nasi goreng. Fried rice, comes in many variations from Chinese to Kampung (village) style. (Malay: goreng = fried)

Noodles. Laksa, mee kolok, tomyam, curry mee, mee goreng mamak, Maggi goreng, fried koay teow. (Note: mamak = Indian Muslim; this term may also be used to refer to hawker and street food in general).

Chinese street and hawker food. Chinese food here is phenomenally delicious. Also, unlike most street fare in Southeast Asia, Chinese food is usually well-tolerated by even the most sensitive of stomachs. The reason for this is Chinese food in KL is always prepared on the spot with fresh ingredients and served piping hot (killing most bacteria like e-coli).

duri

Durian anything. Despite the high entertainment factor, I don’t recommend durian to foreigners anymore as they just can’t handle it. If you’d like to try one for the sake of experience, then you have an endless variety, from the fresh fruit itself to flavored desserts and ice cream.

#2 – Take a Walk Through Masjid India, Brickfields or Jalan Tengku Kelana 

kumaran

These are the ‘Little India’ parts of KL. You can walk around, window shop and simply browse without buying anything and nobody will mind in the least. The shopkeepers are usually more than willing to show you around.

These are great places to buy lungis, kurtas, bangles, bindis, spices, statues and other cool ethnic stuff without being ripped off like in other tourist traps. So walk into some clothing stores and let them tie a saree on you – they’ll do it with a smile. Or, have an Indian tailor sew you some ‘instant’ Bollywood-style stuff on the spot (they charge extra if you want it soon, but it’s totally worth it for a custom-made outfit).

After you’re done for the day, you can finish off with some delicious Indian food at one of the numerous restaurants in any one of those areas.

20170630_123159

Recommended restaurants: Saravana Bhavan (pure vegetarian, Masjid India and Brickfields), Gem Restaurant, Taj Garden, Chat Masala, Anjappar Chettinad, Jassal (all Brickfields).

#3 – Check out the Bukit Bintang Area

live-concert-388160_960_720

This is the more glitzy part of town and it doesn’t sleep. Bukit Bintang (Literal translation: Star Hill) includes Changkat Bukit Bintang (nightlife and clubs), Bintang Walk (shopping malls, street stalls, buskers), Starhill Gallery (upscale mall), Lot 10 (mall) and more of that kind of thing. There’s a whole lot to do here, so take a stroll and look around. Lots of Arabic culture here too, so you can try the food or indulge in some shisha.

The Sahara Tent is my shopping pit stop, where I refuel on Arabian mint tea and to-die-for baklava.

sahara

If you decide to hit the clubs, the great news is that you can always find a place to eat after you’re done, even if that means 4am. This is thanks to the concept of 24-hour mamak restaurants and stalls in KL. So if you need an ice-lime drink and a hot meal to sober up, you’ll always have some place to go in KL.

#4 – Visit Places of Worship

mosque-2942363_960_720

I think it’s always nice to follow a local friend to visit their place of worship, regardless how you feel about religion and higher powers. In my experience, most Malaysians will gladly take you with them for prayers, provided you have an open mind.

The main religion in Malaysia is Islam, followed by Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. So there’s a whole bunch of pretty temples and mosques around, such as the National Mosque, Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple, Batu Caves Hindu Temple. My favorite is the red Putra Mosque, picturesque on a lake in Putrajaya. Do note that if you’d like to visit places of worship, you’re required to dress modestly (for mosques, you’d be required to cover your body, full arms and legs, plus hair and neck for women).

Most churches in Malaysia are unfortunately square and boring on the outside, as I’ve heard it’s got something to do with regulations about the architecture for Christian buildings. This is a real shame, but then again there’s always Europe for those gorgeous Gothic and Baroque cathedrals.

#5 – See the Whole City by Train (LRT)

In Kuala Lumpur, almost every major tourist attraction is accessible by trains. It’s such a cheap and convenient way to see the city. There’s the LRT and Monorail (these go high above the ground, so you get a good view of the sights and can decide to get off at stops if you see a place that catches your fancy) and KTM train (ground level).

Consider buying an LRT token for a long random journey across KL city – it’s kind of like a tour bus, but you get to people-watch as well since regular Malaysians use these trains for their daily commutes.

KL Sentral is the main station where all the trains meet, so that’s a good place to start when planning your journey. Carry an umbrella (or use a cap / hat) and water with you if you ever plan to walk for long distances in KL. So yes, travel like we do.

#6 – Immerse Yourself in the KL Art Scene: Visit Balai Seni Visual Negara (National Visual Arts Gallery) or Support Indie Music at Merdekarya

str2_oumap_ou_11

This place is worth your time if you’re a lover of visual art, and would like a taste of what Malaysian artists have to offer. Balai Seni Visual Negara houses some truly fantastic pieces from local talents, many of whom are not internationally known.

The building itself is spacious, well-maintained and beautifully minimalist in terms of design. The best part is that this place is almost always empty – for some peculiar reason, Malaysians don’t seem to value visual art all that much.

If art galleries are not your thing, head over to Merdekarya for some indie music. Fantastic place with a very down-to-earth vibe, it’s well-known in local art circles. Remember to bring enough to tip the musicians.

28161909_1556771957751417_5928249932154171159_o
Volatile, one of my favorite local bands – the kind of music you get at Merdekarya. From left: Raul Dhillon, Jaime Gunther, Sean Choon, Jordan Scully and Reuben Tor

#7 – KL Bird Park

nature-3189980_960_720

A pleasant free-flight aviary with plenty of free-ranging, friendly birds. The whole area is canopied with netting that keeps it cool in the day. KL Bird Park is good for adults and kids alike. Great for practicing your photography as the birds come up close.

#8 – Muzium Negara (National Muzium)

Capture

Some people think muziums are lame, but hey, they’re good places to be if you like history. Muzium Negara is quite nicely done, and if you feel like a leisurely stroll down Malaya Memory Lane for the cost of practically nothing, go here. Dioramas, artifacts, stories about the Colonial Era and the Sultanate…you may just end up enjoying yourself. After all, how often do you get to selfie with a bunch of ancient Malay dudes?

#9 – Hang Out at Malls

shopping-mall-1416500_960_720

Surprised that I’m recommending something as dumb as malls? Hear me out.

Malls here are huge, common, easily accessible by public transportation and a pleasant way to cool off after the unbearable midday heat. Also, great for shopping as there’s always some kind of sale going on. In addition, consider catching a movie at GSC, MBO or TGV, as most major malls have a cinema.

And you know what? Malls are a very KL thing. We do this a lot.

Recommended malls: Suria KLCC, Pavillion KL, Midvalley Megamall, One Utama, Sunway Pyramid, Mitsui Outlet Park KLCC.

#10 – Hiking

y5

The best part about KL is that you don’t need to drive out that far from the city for a good hike. There are trails and spots varying from easy to challenging, depending on what you need. Check out FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia – easy), Bukit Broga (moderate), all Bukit Tabur treks (can be challenging), Bukit Gasing Forest Reserve (easy to moderate) and more.

tree-959853_960_720

Additional Tips:

  • As a tropical city, KL can get very hot. Protect your skin, head and stay hydrated. Avoid the midday heat.
  • Most places accept credit cards, but KL is not completely cashless. Do carry hard cash with you.
  • Taxis can be expensive. Ubers are more cost-effective here.
  • Busses are not very reliable, but if you have time to kill or a friend to go with you, that’s fine. Trains are the best and cheapest way to get around as traffic can be terrible in KL.
  • KL is a modern city and accepting of most foreign cultures. However, it’s wise to be sensitive to Islamic customs if you’re going to a place frequented by many Muslims, such as a mosque. In such cases, dress modestly and don’t carry / consume with food with pork or alcohol in it to avoid offending anyone.
  • KL is not vegan-friendly. Regular restaurants don’t really understand the term. Most Indian shops will understand what ‘vegetarian’ means and won’t add egg to your food, but may add dairy products. If you’re vegan, do specify that you don’t want egg, milk, yoghurt, meat, fish or seafood added to your food (if you’re particular).

 

Related Links:

Merdekarya – The Original Malaysian Music Bar

Volatile Band Page

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur)

 

Ayurvedic-Balinese Jamu for Weight Management

by Acharya Shrishthi Brahmarupa

anti-inflammatory-743044_960_720

This recipe is my personal creation. It’s 100% vegan and is based on an ancient Balinese jamu (herbal drink) preparation, which is regularly consumed in Indonesia even today. It aids weight loss, full-body detoxification and removal of impurities.

This simple but highly effective preparation utilizes some of the most powerful food ingredients known to mankind, namely turmeric, tamarind and honey. These ingredients have been used by various ancient cultures (especially in India as part of Ayurveda) for thousands of years for their medicinal properties. As turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, regular consumption of this drink will also give a natural glow to the skin, as well as help heal damage within the digestive tract. The curcumin in turmeric has almost unlimited health benefits, which is why Ayurveda sings praises of this humble root.

As the taste of fresh turmeric is not very palatable, you may add more honey as needed. It’s best to consume this jamu twice a month for best results, one or two servings per person.

exotic-69403_960_720

Ingredients:

(Makes 2 servings)

  • 1 – 2 inches of fresh turmeric root, grated
  • Natural honey (any type, add to taste)
  • 1 tsp seedless tamarind pulp
  • 450 ml water
  • A small wedge of any citrus fruit (optional)

orange-juice-569064_960_720

Method:

1) Boil the water. Once boiling point is reached, turn off the heat and allow to cool for 2 – 3 minutes.

2) Add the turmeric and tamarind pulp into a heatproof container. Pour the entire quantity of hot water over this. Stir well and let the mixture cool for 15 minutes.

3) Strain the liquid into drinking glasses. Discard the leftover strained turmeric root (better still, use it as plant fertilizer). Add the honey and stir well. If you wish to use citrus for this recipe, squeeze the juice in at this point.

4) Consume while still warm.

Related Links:

Healing and Rejuvenation with Abhyanga

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Blue Butterfly Spiced Milk

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

by Jana Draupadi Thevar

51qvDEblhFL

The Vedic age was one of flamboyant beauty in all ways. It was a lifestyle that combined spirituality,  laws of dharma and art in equal proportions. From architecture to city planning, common speech to styles of everyday wear, everything was steeped in art. This is apparent from the elaborate, poetic descriptions of the Vedic lifestyle in various ancient scriptures.

k4

For example, the following excerpts were taken from the Bhagavata Purana. These describe the opulence of the legendary thousand-gated city of Dvaraka, where Sri Krishna reigned as king in the Dwapara Yuga age.

k2

sarvartu-sarva-vibhava-
puṇya-vṛkṣa-latāśramaiḥ
udyānopavanārāmair
vṛta-padmākara-śriyam

TRANSLATION

The city of Dvārakāpurī was filled with the opulences of all seasons. There were hermitages, orchards, flower gardens, parks and reservoirs of water breeding lotus flowers all over.

k1

sitātapatra-vyajanair upaskṛtaḥ
prasūna-varṣair abhivarṣitaḥ pathi
piśaṅga-vāsā vana-mālayā babhau
ghano yathārkoḍupa-cāpa-vaidyutaiḥ

TRANSLATION

As the Lord (Krishna) passed along the public road of Dvārakā, His head was protected from the sunshine by a white umbrella. White feathered fans moved in semicircles, and showers of flowers fell upon the road. His yellow garments and garlands of flowers made it appear as if a dark cloud were surrounded simultaneously by sun, moon, lightning and rainbows.

k10

k6

Artist Giampaolo Tomassetti (spiritually initiated as Jnananjana Dasa) has captured the splendor of this era beautifully in his exquisite works of art. What a gift indeed to be blessed with a mind and hands that can create wonders like these. Words fail me as I try to praise this man’s stunning work. All I can say with a sigh is, this is true art.

d1

d2

d3

Here’s a video showing some of these works in progress:

k9

k5

About Giampaolo Tomassetti

He was born on March 8, 1955, in Terni, Italy. From 1980 to 1987, he was a founding member of the International Vedic Art Academy, located at Villa Vrindavan in Italy. A number of his paintings appear in books published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. He has held about thirty exhibitions all around Italy. One of his great loves is painting frescoes and walls. He worked on the Mahabharata project for the last twelve years in Citta di Castello, Perugia, Italy.

k3

k8

k7

Finally, this is Villa Vrindavana, where Giampaolo’s paintings are currently being exhibited.

 

Update: As many of you have written to me asking details about these works of art, I’d like to clarify a couple of things. The artist, Jnananjana Dasa (Giampaolo Tomassetti), informed me that all these paintings (original pieces) were sold to the Museum of Spiritual Art (MOSA) at Villa Vrindavana, Italy and are currently exhibited there. There was a limited edition book with these prints for sale, but most websites selling it have updated me that copies have been sold out. I don’t have HD quality images of any of these paintings.

Jana Draupadi Thevar @ Shrishthi Brahmarupa

 

Related Links:

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja

Choosing a Mala: Tulasi, Rudraksha or Both?

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Choosing a Mala: Tulasi, Rudraksha or Both?

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

lava-rocks-2101020_1920

Hare Krishna and Om Namashivaya.

The reason why Sanathana Dharma (known to some as Hinduism) is not easily defined is because it’s not quite a religion. People who follow these paths come from all walks of life and have spiritual principles that come in all combinations. This in turn, reflects in the external paraphernalia they choose to adorn themselves with, including spiritual beads (Sanskrit: mala).

tulsi

Ask any person who claims to be a Hindu: what makes someone a Hindu? It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty and finality. Sanathana Dharma has no real boundaries that ‘disqualifies’ a follower of its varied paths.

Some Hindus are staunch worshipers of Shiva and only Shiva. Others will bow before none but Vishnu. Then there are people who connect with various deities, from Karthikeya to Ganesha to Durga. Our ISKCON friends chant Krishna’s names with every breath. And finally, there are people like me who can’t be categorized – I happily do regular archanais for every major Hindu deity, I go to both Catholic and Protestant churches, I like mosques, I’m an atheist and an omnist, and finally I’m everything and nothing. I can’t be bothered to consider what labels and limitations fit me – I’m too busy immersing myself in the unlimited wonders of the universal experience.

Tulasi or Rudraksha?

holy-1182871_1920

I wear both. And more, including neem, sandalwood, spathikam (clear quartz) and navrattan (nine sacred gems). I even have Christian rosaries. Sometimes I use just one. At other times, I wear a few together.

Why choose? Your spiritual experience of the universe is only as limited as your mind – remember that.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • The foremost known Vedic scripture about rudraksha (the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad) does not mention anywhere in it that wearers of rudraksha cannot wear tulasi beads.
  • Similarly, nowhere is it stated in any accepted Vaishnava-related Vedic scripture that the use of rudraksha is forbidden for Vaishnavas.

hare-krishna-1671322_960_720

I’ll leave these self-explanatory Vedic verses below for you to think about:

**********

Rudranam sankaras casmi.” (Translation: “Of all the Rudras, I am Lord Shiva.”)

~ Bhagavan Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, Text 23.

Vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh.” (Translation: “Lord Sambhuh [Shiva] is the greatest of Vaishnavas.”)

~ Bhagavata Purana, SB 12.13.16.

**********

krishna-389334_640

The highest universal powers don’t have issues with each other, yet we humans are arguing over wooden beads.

Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti“. ~ Rig Veda

(Translation: That which exists is One. The sages call It by various names.)

india-2320410_960_720

Conclusion

Sanathana Dharma is not a limited concept and will never be. There is no such thing as “if you do X, you’re a proper Hindu and if you do Y you’re breaching the boundaries of Hinduism”.

Come on. We have cannibalistic Aghori sadhus in rudraksha, and tulasi-wearing Vaishnavas who won’t even consume garlic in keeping with their strict vows of a vegetarian sattvic diet. Who’s to say they’re right or wrong in their practices? Those paths have their scriptural backing too.

man-1245666_960_720

That which is said to have good energy and positive vibrations (tulasi, rudraksha, Ganges water, Vibhuti or Bhasma, Gopi Chandan, prasada, etc.) will always remain purifying, sacred and beneficial to the wearer, regardless if they are used in combination with each other or alone.

In summary, wear rudraksha beads if you wish. Wear tulasi if you prefer that instead. Wear both if your heart so desires – neither Krishna, Shiva nor any authoritative figure of Sanathana Dharma has ever forbidden it.

~Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu~

hindu-1588337_960_720

Related Links:

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

 

Living Art: Things to Learn from Victor Santal

by Princess Draupadi

vs6

The first time I saw this incredible musician performing in front of Palacio Real de Madrid, my jaw literally dropped. I watched the entire performance, completely entranced, before I asked who he was. A friend from Ibiza then told me his name: Victor Santal.

vs
Photo Credit: Lady Ganesha

I don’t know if it was the fact that he was dressed like he fell out of Skyrim. Or that he was busking with an instrument as elegant as a Celtic harp in the streets, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Or that he was actually playing a heavy metal song on a freaking lever harp. I guess it was everything merged together.

But one thing stood out to every onlooker who watched him, all equally as enchanted as I was.

He was GOOD. Really, really good.

Victor was playing “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, and he was doing that like it was written for harp. Anyone who has seen him perform various other songs, from challenging classical pieces to more modern music, will recognize the depth of talent and versatility of this musician.

Heavy metal or rock fans will appreciate his gift even more, knowing what kind of skill it takes to musically interpret “Nothing Else Matters” or “November Rain” – songs that were never initially meant for the delicate nature of a harp.

vs2

One would generally expect angelic, soft tunes from an instrument like this. Not Guns N’ Roses. Certainly not Metallica. But this guy slays it with his personal style, like the imaginary dragons he probably could in his medieval getup.

The real genius of this man lies in his interpretation of the music he chooses to play, from Yann Tierson to Michael Nyman. How does a musician transform a heavy metal song into this, on an instrument made of little more than strings and air? This guy single-handedly sparked a trend across YouTube, with various other harpists attempting to play this world-famous song.

VS3

I say this as a die-hard fan of Metallica and Lars: none of their versions come close to how he does it. Victor Santal played it best.

And nothing else matters.

About Victor Santal

Here’s an odd thing about this harpist: no one knows a damned thing about him. Well, at least, not much on a personal level. He’s like the wind. He comes and goes, he’s everywhere and nowhere.

He’s famous by word of mouth in his home country of Spain, where he is a regular street performer. Victor is known to occasionally perform in local shows, concerts, events and in collaboration with more famous bands like Trobar de Morte. He’s also been spotted around various European countries from time to time. It’s puzzling that a man of his talent chooses to remain so elusive, but I suppose he has his reasons. Not every artist enjoys the public attention that comes with fame.

The purpose of this article is not to dig up his private life or scrutinize his personal story, whatever it may be. He’s obviously a man who values his privacy very much. So rightfully, we as the public should respect that, so he can continue making the world a more beautiful place with his art. So let’s leave him to do his thing and focus on what really matters: his music.

vs5

So, what makes this musician so good? It’s not mere training or skill. Millions of classically-trained musicians around the world have incredible ability when it comes to wielding their instruments, a result of the (usually) rigid syllabus when it comes to the study of classical music. Examinations, grading, hours and hours of practice. Upon completion of this type of study, anyone can develop pure skill in terms of playing any musical instrument. YouTube is full of videos of child prodigies playing difficult classical compositions as effortlessly as they would make sandcastles on a beach.

Here he is in Amsterdam, playing Pachelbel’s Canon with Sergio Gonzalez:

From my observation, what makes Victor’s music so entrancing is simply love.

The love he has for art. His passion for music. The respect he has for his instrument. The love he has for people.

It’s obvious he’s not playing for money, not with that kind of talent. He plays for love. He enjoys what he’s doing and he’s happy to do it. His love spreads to everyone who is lucky enough to hear his music, and he creates this beautiful cycle of energy everywhere he goes.

He doesn’t simply play music. He becomes music.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to say thank you to Victor. Thank you for bringing such elegant beauty to the common man in the streets. Thank you for giving regular folks concert-quality music and expecting nothing in return. Thank you for your humility to sit on a noisy, dusty sidewalk with that divine instrument, when you deserve to perform before an audience of kings. Just thank you, for your gift of music.

And that is what we can learn from this artist. How to create art with love and without expectations. How to spread love using love. How to become living art.

Valuable lessons for people like us who make up his audience, some of us who are complete strangers to the art of performing. Those among us who know nothing of timeless classical masterpieces like Pachelbel’s Canon, or the blood and tears behind great medieval compositions like Brian Boru’s March. People who are illiterate to sheet music. He merges with his art to become magic to those who have forgotten how to dream, the working class lost in the grind and suffering of mundane, day-to-day living.

We need more artists like Victor Santal. People who create real art out of love. If we want the world to be a better place, we need to appreciate, respect and support genuine artists like him.

Photo credits: Lady Ganesha, Victor Santal’s official website.

Related Links:

Official Website: Victor Santal

Official Website: Trobar de Morte

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

10 Ways to Experience Stockholm like a Local

by Princess Draupadi

tree-3111916_960_720

There’s absolutely no doubt that Sweden is a stunningly gorgeous country. It’s true that the winters are bitter, dark and long. However, the moment spring comes around, one gets a peek of what paradise looks like in Scandinavia.

Stockholm

There’s no shortage of tourist spots in Stockholm, and they’re all worth it. However, if you have a little more time in the city (or if you’ve done the whole major-tourist-spot thing on a previous visit), here are 10 ways to actually experience the city like a Stockholm native. It’s not so much the place that counts, but what you do and how you do it.

stockholm

What I love about Stockholm? It has a vibe that I can only liken to gourmet dark chocolate. Smooth, sophisticated, bittersweet. Slightly unyielding until you fully embrace it, and then you experience the irresistible dark seduction, the honeyed softness hidden within its fluid shadows (perhaps what I’m trying to say here is that it’s fucking elegant in a badass way).

Anyway.

Forget the ABBA museum, that warship and the overly-hyped stuff. Here’s how you become local in Stockholm, at least from my perspective. In addition, learn how to work around Systembolaget, get your SL transportation passes and you’re good to go.

1. Picnic in Skansen

Capture

Skansen is basically a huge, open-air ‘living’ museum and zoo. Yes it’s a tourist spot, but there’s something really authentic about it. This is one way to experience Stockholm from a Swedish child’s point of view.

Skansen sprawls over acres of lush, green hillside (okay, only in spring / summer) and consists of olden-days Swedish stuff like restored historical Viking farms and villages, complete with real people dressed the part. So, you have ‘villagers’ baking bread (you’ll be offered some with freshly-churned butter), tending to animals, running the apothecary and serving you tea with lingonberry scones. They have native Scandinavian animals in spacious enclosures including moose, reindeer, farm animals, wolves and foxes.

moose-70254_960_720

I thought this place was for kids, but boy was I wrong! I had a blast. The best place for a picnic is at the peak during summer, where you get an amazing view of the city – if I’m not mistaken, this is somewhere near the bear enclosure. A must-visit – it’ll bring out the child in anyone. So pack yourself a lunch (because eating out is expensive in Stockholm) and head over to this place, it’s easily accessible via public transportation.

2. Have fika in the Old Town

people-2588594_960_720

Gamla Stan literally translates to ‘old town’, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a fantastic place, with the old building facades and architecture maintained from the Viking age.

gamla-stan-2190328_960_720

However, Gamla Stan has come a long way from its guillotine-beheading days (I’m not kidding, this happened at the main square in ancient times, and the decapitated heads were rolled down the winding streets to be gathered at certain points for disposal, or so the locals told me).

stockholm-461687_960_720

These days, it consists of elegant, swanky cafes and restaurants, plus stores selling everything from clothing to souvenirs. A great place to have your fika while people-watching, or if you’re as morbid as I am, staring at the cobblestone paths wondering what it would be like if a bloodied head rolled down right past you.

Note: Read my article about the Swedish fika here.

3. Visit the world’s only round IKEA

kungens-LARGE

I think it would be sacrilegious to be in Stockholm and NOT visit the largest IKEA in the world, situated in the outskirts of Stockholm in Kungens Kurva.

It’s pretty much your regular local IKEA except that it’s freaking huge, located in the motherland of flat-packed furniture AND – here’s the carrot – it’s ROUND. Yes, like a cake, so you walk through the store in wide, spiraling circles. How cool is that? There’s a free bus from Vasagatan near the main train station, so there’s no excuse – at least go there and get a tea towel or something.

4. Hate the red horse

dalahorse-114767_960_720

Every Swede I know despises the dalahäst, the iconic Swedish red horse. I’ve no clue why they detest this innocent-looking creature so much, probably because it’s so touristy-overrated. Nobody seems to know what it signifies or how it came about, but legend has it that farmers carved these things as toys for their kids, to keep them entertained during the long, harsh winters.

So, make sure you turn up your nose at the dalahäst and pretend that you’re too cool to care about it while you’re in Stockholm. Then, go out and secretly buy one for yourself to be taken home. They’re actually super cute, with highly-detailed painted-on flowers and everything.

5. Try moose or reindeer meat

Okay, I feel mean recommending this (and I couldn’t bring myself to eat these when I was there), but these meats are quite common in Sweden. Reindeer are raised like cattle in the far North, and moose are commonly hunted. So, in respect of the local culture, and me attempting to be as objective as I can as a travel writer, this is something you can consider. Or, be like me and just have a good look at all the stuff that fascinates you but you can’t bear to indulge in.

As I try not to condone animal cruelty, the alternative is that Sweden is wonderfully vegan-friendly. Vegans here will simply be spoilt for choice. Take a trip to any major Swedish grocer like Coop, ICA, Eko, City Gross and Willy’s to sample the wide variety of local foods and all the yummy vegan options.

6. Go to a crayfish party

crayfish-1561504_960_720

Crayfish parties, known as kräftskiva, are quite a thing in Sweden. They’re held around August and people basically gather (usually outdoors if the weather is good) for a picnic-get-together thing with family and friends while feasting on boiled crayfish seasoned with dill.

You could still join the party if you don’t eat meat, just bring your own food and nobody will mind – Swedes are very used to vegans. They key is to soak in that wonderful red-gold, Swedish summer-autumn sun and just have fun.

7. Try typical Swedish foods

midsummer-2263200_960_720

As with any country, Sweden has its uniquely-local fare. These are some I highly recommend, especially for fika:

• Lingon berries (these only grow in Scandinavia)
• Punschrulle (I don’t know why this word means ‘vacuum cleaners’, it’s just pastry made of marzipan and chocolate)
• Plankstek (steak served on a wooden board, surrounded by mashed potatoes)
•Prinsesstårta (Swedish Princess cake, made of whipped cream and topped with a marzipan dome)
• Various food pastes in tubes (a very local thing, just like Kalles Kaviar – these can be eaten with crackers or bread)
• Hönökaka (flat Swedish bread, super delicious, goes great with butter)
• Blåbärssoppa (translation: blueberry soup)
Oatly (Swedish vegan milk, goes well with anything)
• Knäckebröd (Tastes like cardboard, but as you only live once, try it anyway)

Skip the rotten herring (surströmming) unless you have a death wish, even the Swedish dogs I know can’t stomach it.

8. Shop at local haunts

clothing-1045960_960_720

No, not H & M.

Generally, shopping in Sweden is a unique experience. True, almost nothing is made here except Marabou chocolates, but it’s more of the way everything is structured around shopping – you’ll need to experience it yourself to really know what I’m trying to say.

And I’m talking about things in everyday city stores in Stockholm where Swedes get their regular stuff, like Acne StudiosÅhléns and Clas Ohlson. For instance, Clas Ohlson is a hardware store, but you could buy a full fine art set there (think French acrylics, easels, carving tools, chisels, high-end brushes). Zebra-print kitchen knives. Fuchsia-pink toasters with complete matching kitchen sets. Owl-shaped silicone baking trays. Winter hunting socks.

Another store, Indiska, has some of the most beautiful items I’ve ever seen. Indiska, meaning ‘Indian’ in Swedish, sells everything from clothing to house furnishings, all with a New-Age-Indian touch. Very unique offerings. Forget those tacky Viking helmets with the fake golden braids; go here for classy souvenirs.

9. Experience laundry day

Hah! The Swedes and their laundry days are quite something. Never, ever try to influence a Swede about changing plans for laundry day schedules – NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. For any reason.

I found this whole laundry thing in Stockholm intriguing because I come from a tropical country, where it’s pretty much blazing summer heat all year round, every single day. Most Malaysians have a washing machine at home, and it’s just a matter of chucking your clothes into one, putting on a fully automated cycle and finally hanging the clothes out to dry in your yard.

Stockholm natives take their laundry days very seriously. From pre-booking laundry room slots, sorting the clothes to gathering the cleaning stuff, they are so meticulous about the whole process that it’s a mesmerizing phenomenon to watch and experience.

I’ve seen guys that looked like they fell off the stage during a black metal concert, (complete with tattoos, leather gauntlets and flowing demonic hair) walking into the tvättstuga with dainty little packages of pink softener and eco-friendly detergent.

hqdefault

Well, that’s Sweden. \m/ for life indeed, but make sure you smell like roses while screaming about Satan and death from the mosh pit.

10. Hunt for kantarell

sponge-basket-1194380_960_720

Patches of forest are plentiful in Sweden, even around Stockholm. There’s almost nothing I loved more than hiking the Swedish forests during mushroom season, generally between August and September. The air is sharp, fresh, cool and crisp. The grounds are blanketed with moss, pine needles and rhubarb shoots. Sometimes, you’ll see deer and hedgehogs.

While this is a fun activity, watch it – don’t go alone, especially if you haven’t a clue about edible mushrooms in Sweden. It’s better to go with a seasoned mushroom-picker (you know, to avoid killing yourself). While Sweden has numerous delicious local fungi like the Karljohan and champinjon, the ultimate prize for any mushroom-hunter is the golden kantarell. Finding some is as exhilarating as finding that proverbial pot of gold (and just as difficult, because everyone’s after the same thing). If you’re as clueless as I am about mushrooms, you can do what I do; mushroom-hunt for the heck of it, check them out, then forget about it and go buy some kantarell from the local grocery store. Fry them with butter and you have an amazing snack.

Safety measure: Familiarize yourself with the deadly types, especially the red Fly Agaric, Destroying Angel and Death Cap. Anytime you’re unsure, don’t risk it.

sweden-3041011_960_720

Related Links:

Embracing Swedish Culture: The Art of Fika

10 Tips for Women Traveling Alone in India

Hiking Equipment Review: Deuter AirContact 40+10 SL

Demystifying the Deck: An Introduction to Tarot

by Princess Draupadi

t5

Tarot cards are among the most misunderstood things on this planet. Often, people don’t know how to perceive or react to the practice of tarot reading.

Common misconceptions about the use of tarot is that it’s Satanic, irreligious, occult, evil, a black magic thing, witchcraft, requires the help of supernatural beings and so forth. I blame the media for this ridiculous sensationalization of a fairly innocent practice, the whole gypsy-crystal-ball-creepy-readings-by-candlelight nonsense.

t7

What Are Tarot Cards?

They’re just cards. Regular cards.

In modern times, tarot readers generally use these cards for divination purposes. For example, if a tarot reader has a client that requests a reading to know what the year 2018 has in store for her, the tarot reader will lay out a number of cards, usually in the arrangement of one of the many commonly-used tarot spreads, such as the Celtic Cross. Then, the tarot reader will interpret the meanings of the cards as advice and guidance to the client regarding the year in question. At the risk of over-simplification, this is the basic idea on how tarot cartomancy works.

t1

The pronunciation of ‘tarot’ rhymes with ‘sparrow’ – the last ‘t’ is silent. There are endless variations of tarot decks available today. In general, each deck is divided into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, and is made up of 78 individual cards. Oracle cards are similar to tarot cards, but they’re not quite the same thing as a tarot deck is more structured.

In medieval Europe, tarot decks were initially used as playing cards. Later, people began using these cards for divinatory purposes. Read more on the origins of tarot here.

How Tarot Cards are Used

t3

Tarot cards can be read in various ways. No two tarot readers will interpret cards the same way, not even if they’re using the exact same deck, but it doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to use a tarot deck for readings. The way these cards are interpreted depends solely on how the tarot reader receives signals from the universe and interprets the messages to the recipient.

One way to use tarot decks is to memorize the traditionally-accepted meanings of each card, then decipher them according to the way they show up in a reading (in relation to the question asked, the type of tarot spread used, whether the card is upside down, etc.). The cards can also be used in combination with crystals, astrological guidance and more.

t8

As a tarot reader, my interpretation of the cards is largely based on intuition and instinct.

Are Tarot Cards Evil?

t9

As with every practice in this world, what makes something ‘good’ or ‘bad’ boils down very simply to intention. A doctor is ‘good’ if he (or she) treats patients with the genuine intention to help, and is ‘bad’ if he purposely misdiagnoses someone to make more money from consultation fees or treatment.

A pack of cards is essentially just that: a pack of cards. Pieces of cut and laminated cardboard, nothing more. If one’s intention is to use the cards for a negative purpose, then the deck will take on the energy of that practitioner and work accordingly. Ditto for the opposite; when a tarot reader’s intentions are positive, the cards will channel that energy and reveal answers based on those good vibrations.

t2

Hence why the initial consecration ritual (also known as energizing, clearing, cleansing or blessing rite) of a new tarot deck is important – it removes unwanted energy or vibrations, as well as bonds the tarot reader’s energies directly to the deck.

There are many ways to consecrate a new tarot deck. Usual methods involve smudging with sage, using incense, moonlight baths, sprinkling with sea salt and so on, depending on what the tarot reader’s spiritual values are.

t4

Once consecrated, a tarot deck becomes highly sensitized to universal energies as well as the energies of the tarot reader. Think of tarot cards as a tool of communication and interpretation of universal energies to us, the human beings.

The cards decipher intangible energies into messages that can be interpreted by human reasoning. When you go for a tarot reading and ask questions (or request general guidance), the cards will reveal answers to you based on the energy of your ‘seeking’ at the time of the reading.

Tarot = New Age Bullshit?

tr3

I can almost imagine the cynical smirks of die-hard science advocates at this point. Yes, I’ve heard it all. Utter nonsense. Unscientific pagan garbage. Baseless New Age fluff. You guys are probably on the wrong website.

I suppose it’s easy to dismiss something one doesn’t fully understand. To these people, I have this to say, respectfully:

Science is a wide-eyed baby in comparison to the timeless, ageless energies of the universe. It clumsily attempts to make sense of concepts too vast for the limited human mind to fully comprehend. I love science and I’m grateful for the knowledge it has brought me, but sometimes the egoism of humanity, the chest-thumping of the labcoat-clad at having ‘discovered’ something which was always there to begin with really gets to me. Just because science cannot explain something, it doesn’t make that thing ‘invalid’. It just means science has failed to understand that particular facet of creation and decrypt that wisdom down to the layman.

tr2

I’m in no way dismissing the importance of science nor its contribution and role in current times. However, I refuse to disregard the ancient wisdom that speaks to my innermost self and millions of other kindred spirits on this planet, simply because science has failed to explain the many mysteries of the universe. And I say this as a person with a fairly strong tertiary educational background rooted in science.

tr4

The universal energies have always been present in trillions of different forms such as insects, animals, thunder, lightning, trees, nature or the physical vessels of human beings. Changing forms, indestructible, completing karmic cycles, from Samsara to Arianrhod’s Silver Wheel. All people of significant ancient cultures, from Celts to Native Americans, had in their possession various versions of this knowledge, which is what I consider the highest form of truth.

tr6

These energies existed long before science barged onto the stage, slapping labels on everything in sight and dismissing anything it couldn’t explain as baseless. Long story made short, you keep your science, and I’ll keep my universal connections. To each his own.

Now, onward.

My Experience with Tarot Cards

t6

I first learned how to use these cards about 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve tried my hand at various types, including the infamous Thoth deck. My early years of experimentation gave me a feel of the whole practice of tarot, including what decks and spreads worked best with my energy and what didn’t.

I found that I have a strong inclination towards pagan and pre-Celtic styled decks (which are not always based on the standard tarot deck design template), as well as fantasy-themed and earth-energy oracle cards.

Getting Started with Tarot

tr1

Getting a Tarot Reading Done for Yourself

If you’d like to experience a tarot reading, all you have to do is contact a tarot reader and make an appointment. Be sure to ask questions on what the style of reading is like, and anything you may have doubts about before you go for your first session.

Also, remember to go to a reading with an open mind. This will ensure that your ‘questions’ are energetically focused so the cards can reflect the right answers back to you. If the tarot reader mentions something that sounds negative to you during the reading, you may always ask for suggestions on how to improve or rectify the issue. Your tarot reader may do another spread to help you with this.

Becoming a Tarot Reader

playing-cards-2205554_960_720

If you’d like to become a tarot reader, there are plenty of resources online for you to do some self-study to get started. It will also help tremendously if you purchase a tarot deck (such as Rider-Waite-Smith) while you’re still in the learning stages. That way, you can familiarize yourself with the cards as you go along, as well as try out the various types of tarot spreads. Once you’re more confident and have developed a good level of comfort using the cards, you can have your deck consecrated (blessed, cleansed or energized).

After that, it’s just a matter of starting. Do readings for yourself, friends or family members. Feel free to use incense, candles, lanterns, fancy tablecloths or natural crystals for your readings if you wish – these aids can help you relax and focus better.

Last but not least, remember not to stress yourself out. Don’t worry about whether you’re making mistakes or doing something wrong. Trust your intuition. Don’t rush. In time, you’ll find that readings become easier and the energies flow effortlessly.

It’s a good idea to maintain a logbook of your readings as personal records. This will enable you to see how accurate your tarot interpretations were, and if you could learn or improve something based on feedback from your clients.

See Also:

Index of Articles

How this Website Works

Thaipusam: A Malaysian Indian Experience

by Jana Draupadi Thevar

What is Thaipusam?

Thaipusam is quite something. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a festival and holy day dedicated to the Hindu deity Muruga (also known as Karthikeya). The biggest Thaipusam celebration in the world takes place annually in Batu Caves, Malaysia. Smaller-scale celebrations also take place in other locations, mainly Penang and Ipoh.

71453391598_Thaipusam

I was in Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple in South India last year after my yoga course, and one of the street vendors handed me a name card. Guess what? It had a picture of Batu Caves on it, under the words “Sila Datang Lagi”. I mean, how cool is that? Malaysian Indian pride! Vetrivel Murugannuku Arohara!

The festival is made up of so many things. I don’t quite know how to describe Thaipusam in simple terms. It’s not just a cave temple, 272 steps and a big golden statue that offends religious fanatics of unrelated faiths for no apparent reason. Thaipusam is spiritual, religious, fun, exciting, overwhelming, chaotic, controversial, shocking, mesmerizing, colorful, loud and awe-inspiring. Yes, all at once.

what-is-thaipusam-59c19a9903f40200101d09a8

It’s having between one to two million people in one location for the purpose of taking part in one of the most thrilling religious experiences in the world. It’s thousands of pierced human beings, with spears through their tongues and cheeks, single-mindedly making their way through absolute chaos to reach the temple on the top of the hill to fulfil their vows. There’s a silver chariot procession. Lots of coconut breaking. Dancing kavadi bearers and urmi drums.

Attendees of the festival? About as diverse as it can get. Old, young, Indian, Chinese, white, black, devotees, atheists, locals, tourists, vendors. The usually calm temple grounds explode into a pandemonium of sights and sounds for an all-encompassing sensory experience.

statue-2720461_960_720

Experiencing Thaipusam for the First Time?

If you’re new to this and would like to experience the festival first-hand, I have some words for you: it will be an experience of a lifetime for sure, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you can’t deal with massive crowds, loud noises, shocking sights, garbage, tropical heat and / or rain and the subsequent burning tar roads and / or mud-sludge, Thaipusam in Batu Caves is not for you (try Penang for a milder version).

If you’re a thrill-seeker, adventurous enough and game for it, then…welcome, welcome! Be prepared to have your senses assailed and for an experience you can talk about till your dying day. To get the best out of your Thaipusam experience, go with a trusted Malaysian Indian friend or family and you’ll be just fine. They will brief you on the precautions, take care of you and show you the ropes.

Why Thaipusam is Celebrated

Very briefly, the religious story goes something like this. Lord Muruga, one of the most powerful deities in Hinduism, is asked to defeat a powerful and evil demon. He was provided with divine weapons by his parents, Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati. The most powerful weapon he received was a celestial spear from his mother (Tamil translation: vel). After a long and difficult battle, Lord Muruga successfully vanquished the demon. During the festival of Thaipusam, one will hear the chanting of “Vel, vel” or “Vetri vel” continuously (Tamil translation: vetri = victory), and this is the reason why.

Therefore, Thaipusam is a symbolic and metaphorical celebration of victory against the dark forces, as well as a day for devotees to show their love and appreciation to Lord Muruga. The act of spiritually observing and participating in the festival can also be interpreted in other ways, such as victory over a personal weakness or challenge.

Why Devotees Do What They Do On Thaipusam

The main reason why Thaipusam is so sensational among non-Hindus is the practice of mortification of the flesh, done by thousands during the festival. Devotees pierce their tongues, cheeks, chests and backs with long spears and hooks as part of their vows. They have their personal reasons for this.

thai

For instance, my friend had prayed for the speedy recovery of his mother who was suffering from cancer. His mother eventually got better, and he made a vow to carry a kavadi the following year and have his body pierced with 108 steel hooks. I have never done it, but I see tongue-piercing as a symbolic act of ‘victory’ over the organ of taste and speech, which is capable of making one a slave to the senses, or cause damage to others merely by the use of words.

My family astrologer and priest, gurukkal Velu Iyer, shared similar views with me about this. He said that the tongue is an organ that can be detrimental to spiritual advancement. The tongue can cause one to become attached to sense gratification, such as becoming addicted to food, leading to greed and gluttony.

thaipusam-1341608_960_720

The organ can also cause problems if one utters words that are negative or cause harm to others due to improper speech. He told me that piercing the tongue with a small spear for Thaipusam is one way to increase one’s awareness of such things, and gain spiritual control over these weaknesses. In some ways, it’s an act of purification and sanctification. Of course, not everybody will agree with this point of view, but this was his interpretation. Similarly, devotees have their personal reasons for the austerities they undertake during Thaipusam.

What’s Beautiful about Thaipusam

thaipusam-festival-devotees-16622523

Unity. It’s lovely to see the whole Indian community coming together from all over the country for a religious / spiritual reason. Shaivites, Vaishnavites, Sai Baba or ISKCON people, it doesn’t matter. They’re all there and everyone’s in a good mood, helping each other.

Diversity. While Hindus make up the majority of crowd, there are people of all other faiths, races and nationalities there as well. Many are friends and well-wishers of kavadi bearers who’ve come there to show their support. Others are tourists, vendors and stall owners. What’s great is everyone is helpful and respectful throughout the festival.

Festive Atmosphere and Shopping. There’s almost nothing you CAN’T buy at Thaipusam. The grounds are packed with stalls selling everything from vegetarian food to clothing, desserts to toys. My best Thaipusam buy was years ago. It was a solid bronze bangle carved with ancient dragon heads at the openings, not unlike Celtic jewellery. I bought it from a creepy-looking, dreadlocked gypsy man covered in talismans. The bangle was neatly displayed on his cloth mat of wares, next to a row of jackal skulls and rusted horseshoes.

Here’s a picture of the bangle, captured by a friend in Rishikesh, sometime in 2016.

dog

Spiritual Experience. Even mere onlookers can benefit from the spiritual vibrations of the festival. Any observer will quickly realize that carrying a heavy steel kavadi under the searing Malaysian heat, in addition to having to navigate through a jam-packed colossal crowd while barefoot, then climbing 272 stairs up a hill is no easy feat.

Bear in mind that most kavadi bearers have undergone severe penance leading up to Thaipusam (usually 40 days or more), which means a strict vegetarian diet, complete abstinence from sex, sleeping on the floor and more. How do they do it? Two words: faith and devotion.

The Bad and the Ugly

I guess I can’t ignore the embarrassing news that make Malaysian headlines each year, so I may as well talk about it. You know that saying in Malay, kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga? That’s pretty much sums up the behavior of certain members of the Malaysian Indian community.

Gang fights. Judging by past year occurrences, Thaipusam seems to be a popular time for this activity, and Batu Caves the chosen venue. Which baffles me…why? Machas have 364 other days in the year for limb amputation, parang-wielding, beheading and screaming slogans while brandishing numbered signs and flags.

Malaysia is a spacious country too, and Batu Caves isn’t the best venue for gang-clashing. Consider our country’s numerous crematoriums – spacious, peaceful, no police in sight for miles. And such convenience to dispose of those of you who don’t make it.

Tamanna-Bhatia-In-Ice-Blue-Net-Saree-With-Sequins-Blouse

Saree Blouse Moral Compass Committee. So we have this bunch of, er, well-meaning Malaysian Indian brothers who have deep concerns about the styles of saree blouses worn by women during Thaipusam. Too sexy, back too low, front too open, sleeves too short, etc.

I was always under the impression that if one attends a religious or spiritual festival, one’s attention should be focused on said religious or spiritual festival. You know, the whole inner peace, we-are-not-this-body and God-is-within thing. Not on trending saree blouse designs in the vicinity of Batu Caves and how much skin is showing. So dear brothers, if you make an attempt to focus on your faith and devotion, perhaps look inward instead of outward, you’ll save yourselves a lot of stress. People are responsible for their own words, thoughts and actions. If their choice of fashion offends Lord Muruga, he will deal with that and it’s really not your problem.

Perhaps you’d judge a woman for her manner of dressing in a temple, then go home and forget about it. Fair enough, that’s your right to do so. I’ve seen bottles of Club 99 littered around my office after weekends. Common Google searches that lead people to my blog include “Tamanna topless saree” and “mallu big boobs wet saree” (I’m sorry you were led to my article on how to wash silk sarees with an image of a decently-clad Tamanna). Can Lord Muruga see these things? Of course not. He’s in Batu Caves. Right?

To those brothers who are still overly fascinated with saree blouse designs, I highly recommend a trip to Tengku Kelana Road in Klang town. The tailors there will be more than happy to provide you with catalogues on the latest jacket designs. You could probably buy the catalogues off them to have your own copy and skip Thaipusam the following year altogether for everyone’s sake.

Vanthutanunge.

Disagreements. Some say the temple committee is corrupt. Others have something to say about the way Thaipusam is organized. And there’s that concern about milk wastage. I kind of agree with the last point. Anything offered to the deity should be consumed as prasada because it’s highly energized and blessed food, so what’s the point of letting it run down the drain? Quite insulting.

If after all these years the temple committee has still not figured out a way to collect the milk for consumption of the devotees, let me share something I practice which may be useful. Every year about a week before Thaipusam, I take offerings (milk, fruits, flowers) for the deity and have my archanai done, in any temple where there’s a Muruga deity. That way, at least I know the milk will be used for temple purposes such as cooking. The priests can have it too, I don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t go to waste.

Summary

So there it is, my take on the Malaysian Indian Thaipusam experience. I will continue to attend Thaipusam because I love it. I enjoy the good, ignore the bad and just have a great time with a delicious glass of mooru from the free stalls.

Vetrivel Murugannuku Arohara!

 

Related Links:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 1)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha (Part 1)

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

Blue Butterfly Spiced Milk

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, fresh milk is a highly recommended food for hatha yogis. This 15th-century yoga manual by Swami Svatmarama praises milk as a wholesome, nourishing food and states that it is an essential part of a sattvic yogic diet.

b4

Understandably, unethical dairy farming methods are a huge concern these days. I usually get my supply from small local dairy farms or ISKCON centers (ISKCON cows are protected for life and never slaughtered) to ensure that the least cruelty is involved. If you can get ahimsa milk where you live, fantastic! For a vegan version of this drink,  see the notes within the recipe below.

IMG_20180122_123735_660

Spiced milk (Hindi: masala doodh) is a common beverage in India. The spices in this recipe impart fragrance, flavor and medicinal properties to the milk, as well as help in aiding digestion.

It just so happens that my favorite color is blue and my good friend, Alex Lee, has a Clitoria Ternatea flower farm in Australia. Alex provided me with a sachet of her organic, all-natural Blue Butterfly powder, and this is my first attempt at using it in my cooking. This flower is commonly known as bunga telang in Malay, and it’s popular in Peranakan cuisine. The plant is a creeper, and pretty easy to grow in a tropical climate.

blue

As a kid, I saw Luke Skywalker drinking blue milk in Star Wars, and I’ve wanted to drink it ever since. There you go, an idea to get your kids to drink more milk – actual dairy or a quality vegan substitute, whichever your choice may be.

Here’s a simple recipe for spiced milk. I consume this almost daily before bedtime. You can vary the spices if you wish, or add a pinch of saffron. This beverage makes an excellent and nourishing meal substitute, especially at night.

Blue Butterfly Spiced Milk

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • ½ tsp Blue Butterfly powder (mix with 2 tablespoons warm water)
  • 500ml fresh cow’s milk (or a vegan milk substitute)
  • 3-4 cardamom pods
  • 1-2 whole dried cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 small springs of Indian holy basil (tulsi)
  • ½ tsp organic chia seeds
  • Honey or jaggery to taste (optional)

IMG_20180122_123900_411

Method:

1) Pour the milk into a sturdy pot. Add in all dried spices and stir well. Bring the milk to boil on medium heat, stirring regularly. Milk burns easily, so stir briskly and well, scraping the bottom of your pot.

2) When the milk comes to a rolling boil, stir well for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat. Allow to cool for approximately 5 minutes. (If you wish to sweeten the milk, allow the milk to cool for 10 minutes before adding the honey or jaggery, then stir well).

3) Add the Blue Butterfly powder solution to the milk. Stir briskly until the color is uniform.

4) Pour the milk into serving glasses or mugs. Add the springs of holy basil (one per glass), ensuring that the herb is at least partially submerged in the milk – this helps the Ayurvedic medicinal properties of the leaves to steep into the milk. Garnish with the chia seeds and serve hot.

Vegan variation: To make a vegan version of this recipe, simply substitute the cow’s milk with any vegan milk of your choice. Also, when using vegan milk, do not allow the liquid to boil – simply heat the vegan milk up, then turn off the heat when it’s close to boiling point. The best vegan milks to use for this recipe are soy, cashew, oat, almond and coconut. 

Related Links:

My Blue Tea – Blue Butterfly Flower Powder

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Index of Articles

Restaurant Review: La Cocina (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Jana Draupadi Thevar

20180107_191505

This Spanish cuisine restaurant has been a Subang Jaya icon for quite awhile now. I remember that more than a decade ago it was in USJ 9, within the Taipan Business Center. I was in college back then, and working part-time in a call center situated right behind the restaurant.

La Cocina’s head chef, Mr. Jega, sometimes stood outside the restaurant, in the junction-alleyway that I walked through to get to work. He was a friendly man with a ready smile, making small talk and always inviting me to come in and try the food. I always promised him that I would, but I didn’t think it would take me more than 10 years to finally step in! Hence, this is a long-delayed review.

La Cocina recently moved to Taipan Triangle in USJ 10. It’s my mum’s favourite restaurant, so we went there for dinner last week. I noticed that it’s gotten a cool new look – clean contemporary without compromising on the Spanish passion.

20180107_191533

Ambience and Service

I like the new makeover. The interior is spacious, unfussy and tastefully decorated, with artistic touches in all the right places. It makes for a very pleasant dining atmosphere that’s both rustic and modern at the same time. Service staff were friendly, polite and attentive. I felt that the décor could use a little more of that hot-blooded, Flamenco vibrancy of Spain. But hey, that’s just me and my usual flamboyant taste.

20180107_191537

Food

My mum had Pescado Fritos, which is essentially fish and chips (RM26). I ordered two dishes: the Queso Manchego (RM27.90), which is pure sheep milk cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain, and the Lamb Lasagne (RM27.90).

20180107_193218

Both main dishes were quite good. I wouldn’t say outstanding, but they were pleasant on the taste buds. The fish was firm and succulent, the fried batter crispy and not too oily. The lasagne could’ve done with a bit more minced lamb, but overall tasted great.

The cheese was excellent! It was soft and crumbly, flavourful without being overpowering. The serving size for the cheese was surprisingly small considering the price, so I made a mental note to check the prices of whole-wheel Manchego to see if the cost was justified.

20180107_194249

20180107_194300

They stock an impressive selection of wines too. If you become a member of their wine club, you’ll enjoy discounts on selected wines and special corkage rates.

Summary

My overall experience here was quite delightful. It’s too bad that I forgot to have a look upstairs, but judging from the pictures on the website, it looks pretty impressive. I may consider going back to try one of their paellas sometime if I can get a friend to split the dish with.

20180107_192516

Special mention on the quality and freshness of all raw produce used in the dishes, as this imparted the lively burst of sun-energized ingredients into the final meal. Which, to me, makes all the difference in the end.

menu_header

My Ratings:

Food (Lamb Lasagne): 7/10
Food (Fish and Chips): 6/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 7/10

Update: I received a nice message from Chef Jega himself! How lovely indeed.

Screenshot_20180118-214252

Related Links:

La Cocina – Spanish Restaurant and Bar

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

*Photo credit: Main image of paella dish is taken from La Cocina’s official webpage.

Yoga . Art . Travel . Spirituality . New Age

%d bloggers like this: