All posts by Jana Thevar

Yoga . Art . Travel . Spirituality . New Age

Ayurvedic Red Rice Kitchiri (Vegan)

by Princess Draupadi

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About Kitchiri

Kitchiri is a highly versatile Indian vegetarian dish because it can be customized to suit your needs. It’s a breeze to make, easy to digest and highly nourishing. I consume kitchiri on days when I do my yoga kriyas (cleansing) so that my digestive system gets a break while cleansing itself of accumulated toxins (called ama in Ayurveda). Kitchiri is extremely useful to help restore imbalanced digestion, i.e. when experiencing bloating, gas or after a bout of food poisoning.

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This Recipe

Navara is a type of red rice grown in India, known since ancient times for its extensive medicinal properties and for being tridoshic (helps to correct most bodily imbalances). Although any type of red rice can be used for this recipe, I highly recommend Navara if you can get it.

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Sesame and coconut oils are recommended to help correct Vata and Pitta doshas (bodily imbalances) per Ayurveda, respectively. For this recipe, I’ve used Ammani’s cold-pressed extra virgin sesame and coconut oils. Ammani oils are manufactured using the Indian nattu mara chekku method, meaning the oils are pressed using a traditional wooden pestle to maintain nutrients and natural healing properties.

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Ingredients:

½ cup red rice
½ cup brown rice (unpolished)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 cups water
½ tsp ground turmeric
2-3 dried cloves
½ tsp fennel
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp Himalayan pink salt
1/4 cup yellow lentils
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp Marmite yeast extract (optional)

* Makes 2 – 4 servings.

For Garnishing:

10 – 12 fresh curry leaves

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Method:

1. Wash the two types of rice in plenty of water – it’s fine to mix the red and brown grains up. Drain well, then put the washed rice into a rice cooker. Wash the lentils, then pour enough boiling water to cover them. Leave the lentils to soak for 2 minutes, then drain and give them a quick rinse. Add the lentils to the rice cooker.

2. Add the water and all other ingredients, except the sesame oil, coconut oil and curry leaves.

3. Switch on the rice cooker and wait till the rice is cooked. If you prefer your kitchiri to have a porridge-like consistency, pour in an additional ½ to 1 cup of water and allow to cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes.

4. Once the rice is cooked, switch the cooker off and remove the lid. Then, add the curry leaves, coconut oil and sesame oil while the rice is still hot. Stir well, then quickly replace the cooker lid and allow to stand for 5 minutes (to allow the curry leaves to cook slightly in the steam).

5. Serve hot.

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Notes:

  • This dish can be made in larger quantities and stored in the freezer. To reheat frozen kitchiri, sprinkle generously with water before microwaving.
  • Regular table salt can be used in place of Himalayan pink salt.
  • Onions and garlic may be added to taste if a purely sattvic dish isn’t required.

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Ayurvedic Benefits:

  • Navarra red rice is highly medicinal and is known to help cure various ailments and bodily imbalances.
  • Cold-pressed, extra virgin oils retain more nutrients as they’re not heat-processed. Sesame oil balances Vata dosha while coconut oil balances Pitta dosha. Wood-pressed oils are manufactured following an ancient, traditional Indian oil-processing method.
  • The dried spices promote internal cleansing and healing. The internal organs (specifically the liver and bowels) are gently stimulated to eliminate toxins and decomposing matter from processed foods.
  • Curry leaves promote and enhance the growth of hair, and prevents premature greying and hair loss.
  • Lentils provide protein to ensure a balanced meal.

Related Links:

Ammani Malaysia Official Website

Healing and Rejuvenation with Abhyanga

Restaurant Review: Kriya Bhavan Ayurvedic Cuisine (PJ, Malaysia)

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Ayurvedic-Balinese Jamu for Weight Management

Video:

How Nattu Mara Chekku (Wood-pressed) Oils are Manufactured

 

Restaurant Review: Kriya Bhavan Ayurvedic Cuisine (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia)

By Jana Thevar and Ganesh Asirvatham

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I must admit I was skeptical when Ganesh suggested that we review Kriya Bhavan. An Ayurvedic restaurant? But isn’t all South Indian vegetarian food Ayurvedic in nature, I asked. However, curiosity got the better of me and we found ourselves there last Sunday.

I was surprised to find that we were the only people there (granted, at 11.30am we were early for lunch by Malaysian standards). I found the ambience lovely – spotlessly clean, neat, cozy and unassuming.

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The owner, Suresh, approached us with a big smile and quickly ran through the offerings for the day. He mentioned a 25-course Ayurvedic lunch and asked us if we’d like to try it. Although I was seriously tempted by the tantalizing array of ‘regular’ food which was available for self-serving, I went with Ganesh’s choice as well. After all, I was there to review the ‘Ayurvedicness’ of the food.

Ganesh’s write-up below will go into the details of what was served according to sequence. As a brief overview, the meal started off with five shot glasses of various types of liquids and light starters, followed by raw veggies, then graduating onto the heavier fare like rice and curries. The Ayurvedic lunch concluded with an Indian dessert and a dollop of honey.

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I really liked how dedicated and involved Suresh was when it came to his passion. He did a great job of explaining things in detail to customers, such as what each food item is supposed to do for your body per Ayurvedic principles. He’s bubbly and friendly, yet patient and shows genuine enthusiasm in his area of expertise, which is refreshing and rare in these times of sour-faced, grumpy restaurant personnel who couldn’t care less if you choked to death on a mound of rice or found a cockroach in your rasam.

Accustomed as I am to the usual South Indian way of eating banana leaf rice, I found it hard to not mix the courses up and eat them one by one per Suresh’s recommendation. Why are we supposed to consume each course separately? A number of reasons as explained by Suresh:

(1) to enable the system to detox and cleanse itself properly before the heavier food is introduced into the digestive tract, and

(2) to allow the body to produce the right enzymes to digest each type of food individually for maximum health benefit.

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As a yoga person and Ayurvedic practitioner, I would say that sounds about right. The food was delicious, fresh and not overcooked, and the combinations were more or less Ayurvedically accurate from what I know, so I give this place the green light. A HUGE green light because damn, I absolutely loved it. I’m definitely going back for more, and repeatedly.

The only fail was the kulfi, or Indian ice cream (not part of the Ayurvedic meal, and according to Suresh it was ordered from an outside vendor). It tasted overpoweringly of condensed milk, and I truly despise cheap shortcuts when it comes to kulfi-making. For me it’s either fresh milk cooked down the traditional way, or it’s not fit to be called kulfi. Needless to say, I won’t be ordering that again.

What Ganesh Says

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Kriya Bhavan offers the jaded Indian food connoisseur a heady entrance into the delights of an Ayurvedic meal. Suresh the ever-smiling proprietor took great pains to educate us on the food combinations, as well as the rationale behind it all.

I admit that I paid overmuch attention to the food and taste that the explanation got somewhat left behind. I’ve no choice but to visit Kriya Bhavan again to complete my education. It’s tough being a food blogger but we all must make sacrifices.

But I digress.

The Ayurvedic meal is only available Friday to Sunday. RM15 seems like an acceptable amount for the number and quality of dishes served.

The culinary voyage began with a plate of food and five shots of various liquids. Pay attention dear reader lest you skip a step.

Dishes and Sequence

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The plate of food arrived with the shots and we were given strict instructions on how these were to be consumed. I was famished by the time the food arrived but paid enough attention to follow the sequence exactly.

Starters:

  • Banana cooked lightly with grated coconut
  • Five shots to be drunk in sequence – date juice, soy milk, buttermilk, spinach juice and rice water
  • Brown rice cooked in something or the other – but tasted awesome!

Next, we were told to consume raw items before moving on to the semi-cooked fare, and finally ending with fully-cooked items.

The raw items were:

  • Purple cabbage
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Shredded carrots
  • Diced tender banana stem
  • Sliced celery

No sequence to consume these, but we were told to eat each item on its own – this rule applied throughout the entire meal experience. The portions are small so don’t worry if raw veggies aren’t quite your jam.

Next came the semi-cooked part of the meal, and there was finally some rice. We were given a sprinkling of moringa powder (lightly sautéed with spices) and some liquid ghee. I don’t know if it was because I was hungry or that I was craving some rice but my oh my, the combination was absolutely dynamite. I was tempted to ask for more, but instead chose to exercise some restraint and bide my time.

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Finally, it was time for the cooked portion of the meal. The same brown rice from earlier can be used but if you happen to want more, Suresh will be more than happy to serve you the amount that you desire.

The cooked dishes were moringa avial, green vegetables with lentils and curry. I could see the value of savoring each dish and its individual taste as opposed to merging various items together. My eating time increased and I began to relish the combination of ingredients. I began to chew slowly and truly taste what I was eating.

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By this time, I had polished off the rice that was initially served and had to ask for more as the next three dishes (and also the last set) were rasam, sambhar and thick buttermilk curry. I’m not usually a fan of the last two dishes, but this was something else completely.
We got served a small tumbler of yummy payasam, followed by honey to wrap up.

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By this juncture I was comfortably full but couldn’t help trying the kulfi especially when we were told it was home-made. Unfortunately, the use of condensed milk negated what would have been a perfect end to a wonderful meal.

Conclusion

Kriya Bhavan is an establishment where the food speaks for itself and you don’t really need anything else to enhance your experience. Go now and tell all your friends about this place. We need to support individuals who cook with such passion and dedication.

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How We Rate It:

Food : 10/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 9/10
Location (Petaling Jaya, Selangor): 6/10
Will we go back again : 10/10

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Inner Engineering with Sadhguru: My Experience

by Princess Draupadi

Photo Credits: Pictures of Sadhguru were taken from Isha Foundation’s official webpage.

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Where, When and Cost

  • Program: Inner Engineering with Sadhguru
  • Venue: 14th and 15th April, 2018
  • Venue: Mines International Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Ticket price: RM630 (‘Early Bird’ for lowest range) to over RM1000 (closer to Sadhguru’s dais on stage)

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As a business convention centre, the venue itself was nothing to scream about. It was large, clean, spacious, boring – functional enough for a city event, but unfortunate considering the spiritual nature of the program. I’d have liked something like this to be held amidst nature, under large old trees or in a more rural location.

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I must commend Isha on their excellent event management. In fact, it was one of the best I’ve experienced in terms of organization and pre-planning. Volunteers were strategically placed everywhere to guide participants, all the way from the car park to random road junctions around the venue, to the inside of the hall.

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There were even volunteers about half a mile away from the venue to redirect participants who had driven to the wrong area (yes, being an idiot with roads I was one of them, so thank you, random cute Isha volunteer dude). Once inside the venue, everything was in place and it was a well-oiled transition from registration to shoe organization, to taking the right lanes to reach designated seating areas.

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What is the Inner Engineering Program About?

Their official website says this about the program:

“Inner Engineering provides tools and solutions to empower yourself to create your life the way you want it. It gives you the opportunity to intellectually explore the basics of life using methods from the distilled essence of yogic sciences. The course imparts practical wisdom to manage your body, mind, emotions, and the fundamental life energy within. The program has been designed by Sadhguru, a yogi, visionary, and the foremost authority on yoga.”

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I’ve always liked Sadhguru for his down-to-earth attitude and his frankness. Sometimes I find him long-winded, but I understand that he’s speaking in a way tailored to the masses.

I attended Inner Engineering without any major goals or expectations in mind. I went for purely one reason: to see Sadhguru and experience his aura and energy in person. That’s it.

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As a (self-proclaimed) yogi, I’ll say this from my years of personal experience in all things spiritual: every yogic practice with ancient roots has complex and highly scientific reasons for them – it just wasn’t labelled as ‘science’ back then because it was simply a way of life. The effects of yogic practices are far-reaching and encompass many aspects of material life as we know it in addition to spiritual dimensions.

This review by me in no way discounts the value of Inner Engineering and my experience with Sadhguru. Some things can’t be fully explained using mere words, and the only way to truly know is to see, hear and feel it all in person. So I ask that you take my review with a pinch of salt, but attend Sadhguru’s program anyway if you feel it could be a valuable experience for you.

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All participants had to complete some online sessions as a prerequisite to the course. This involved watching a number of pre-recorded talks by Sadhguru and answering questions based on the content of his sermons in the videos. The questions weren’t like what you get in exams; they were geared towards inner reflection, self-realization and self-awareness, aimed more at turning the mind and focus inwards. I found this part extremely trying, but I diligently completed all sessions without cheating. Discipline, yay me.

Apart from some very simple physical exercises and the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya, the program was mainly made up of Sadhguru’s sermon, like his YouTube videos.

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What is the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya?

The Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya is the highlight of Inner Engineering. It’s a combination of actions, plus meditation and breathing (or breath control) techniques which, when done correctly, change the energy of the practitioner. Some people report various experiences during the 21 minutes it takes to complete this kriya, such as feelings of extreme bliss, weightlessness, seeing auras and colors, etc. To paraphrase from Sadhguru’s words, regular practice of this kriya will permanently raise and transform the energy levels of the body and give one heightened spiritual awareness.

Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya Initiation

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Sadhguru asked participants to refrain from initiating others into Shambhavi Mahamudra themselves, as it takes a proper spiritual master to do so. As a gesture of acknowledgement and respect to his request, I’ll not describe the kriya in detail here. It is, however, fairly straightforward and simple to do, as long as you receive proper initial instructions.

During the initiation of the kriya, Sadhguru himself went into what I would call a meditative state. He makes a whistling sound and claps his hands on and off when he goes into that mode. I’m not sure what that does, but perhaps it’s his way of dispersing his energy over large numbers of people – it was a crowd of more than 2000.

I didn’t experience anything drastic during the 21 minutes of the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya. What did happen for me was mild and pleasant. When I was doing the special breathing technique as instructed, I ‘saw’ what looked like cloudy violet auras or purple smoke behind my closed eyelids. It was fascinating to watch the colors swirling and transforming.

I did cheat one time for a few seconds and open my eyes a little, just to make sure they weren’t flashing any colored lights above me. Nothing of the sort. The lights in the hall were regular ones.

The only disruptive thing that happened during the kriya were a bunch of people wailing and screaming sporadically throughout. I’m not sure if those reactions were genuine or faked, but it sure annoyed the crap out of me. Guess I’m not yogi enough to be all blissful all the time, but hey, even Lord Shiva toasted Kamadeva to ashes when the latter dared disturb his meditation, and made him take a rebirth and everything. So whatever. Go ahead and judge me.

Much later into the program, about an hour after the kriya was done with, some fat guy stood up abruptly and started yelling, “Where are you Sadhguru, I can’t see you Sadhguru” while turning around in circles. With his eyes closed. Must’ve been some delayed spiritual enlightenment or chakra activation thing I’m clueless about. Anyway, Sadhguru was talking on the stage at that point, and spoke into the microphone to the volunteers, “Make him sit down”. I disagree with what Sadhguru did – should have said, “Make him open his eyes” instead.

Mortifying moments and cringe-worthy drama aside, all else was pretty normal.

Was Inner Engineering Life-Changing?

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As I went without expectations, everything I took away from the program was a bonus in terms of learning experience. The biggest life-changing experience for me happened in an ashram in the hills of Kerala in 2012, when I was meditating alone under a yellow-flowering tree abuzz with honeybees. My mind literally blew open on that sacred soil as I sat facing Mount Agastya, and my life has never been the same since.

Nothing else has ever come close to that astounding experience, but every spiritual thing I’ve done since has added on to it over the years. This was one of those things.

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Ananda Alai – A Wave of Bliss

This was the most touching part of the program. “Alai Alai” is a fantastic Tamil song created by the immensely talented artists and musicians of Isha, and it was played during Inner Engineering. Sadhguru got up from his dais, walked down the stage ramp and danced exuberantly with everyone. People were singing along, dancing, jumping, waving and crying tears of joy. It was simply fabulous.

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I was standing alone among the wildly ecstatic crowd, smiling at everything and nothing. I looked at the person next to me, a young man who had been incredibly stiff and serious since the start of the program. He had melted like butter and given himself up to the wave of bliss that was washing over the crowd. We smiled at each other, a brief moment of understanding between two strangers. I watched as he clapped, laughed and twirled  around with his arms in the air along with the rest.

That was a very moving experience with Sadhguru, and I’m glad I was there in person. The song is fantastic too. Here it is.

Conclusion

I’ll leave you with these final words.

If you’re thinking to go for Inner Engineering, don’t go if you feel it costs too much. Don’t go if you’re expecting some kind of mind-blowing, miraculous transformation to happen there. Don’t go if you want to ‘compare’ the man with other gurus and see if he’s the real thing or not.

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I would say Inner Engineering is like a bija mantra – a seed, if you will. Let it sow itself within you and you will flourish and transform, like a magnificent sacred tree.

If you’re open to learning and experiencing the magic of life as it unfolds moment by moment, this program could do something incredible for you. If you go into every experience in life without expectations, then you’ll see each moment anew, with fresh eyes, like a new-born baby who’s fascinated by the simplest things existence has to offer. Like Sadhguru says, again and again, “This moment is inevitable. This moment, now, is inevitable.”

I went for only one reason – Sadhguru. I saw him. I touched his feet when he walked past me. That was enough for me. He has added yet another lotus to my spiritual pond; this time, a lovely violet one.

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“As there is a science and technology to create external wellbeing, there is a whole dimension of science and technology for inner wellbeing.

Inner Engineering is neither a religion, nor a philosophy or dogma. It is a technology for wellbeing. One does not have to believe or disbelieve, just have to learn to use. Technology will produce results irrespective of who you are.” – Sadhguru

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Related Links:

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha (Part 1)

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Part 2)

10 Ways to Experience Kuala Lumpur Like a Local

By Princess Draupadi

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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#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.

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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.

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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).

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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 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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.

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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 Princess Draupadi

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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.

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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)

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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 Thevar

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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 Thevar @ Princess Draupadi

 

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 Jana Thevar

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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).

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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~

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Related Links:

Embracing Swedish Culture: The Art of Fika

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Demystifying the Deck: An Introduction to Tarot

by Princess Draupadi

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

Are Tarot Cards Evil?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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