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Monday, May 01, 2006

International Workers' Day

International Workers' Day (a name used interchangeably with May Day) is the commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, and a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. The 1 May date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, inspired by labor's 1872 success in Canada, demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in a general strike and the riot in Chicago of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday. The May Day Riots of 1894 and May Day Riots of 1919 occurred subsequently.

Due to these left-wing overtones, May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. In some circles, bonfires are lit in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot usually right as the first day of May begins. [citation needed] In the 20th century, May Day received the official endorsement of the Soviet Union; celebrations in communist countries during the Cold War era often consisted of large military parades and shows of common people in support of the government.

The Red Scare periods ended May Day as a mass holiday in the United States, a phenomenon which can be seen as somewhat ironic given that May Day originated in Chicago. Meanwhile, in countries other than the United States and United Kingdom, resident working classes fought hard to make May Day an official governmentally-sanctioned holiday, efforts which eventually largely succeeded. For this reason, May Day in most of the world today is marked by huge street rallies of workers led by their trade unions and various large socialist and communist parties — a phenomenon not generally seen in the U.S. (which has a history of strong anti-communism) or the UK.

In most countries other than the U.S. and UK, May Day is often referred to simply as "Labor Day".


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Welcoming Spring in India

Baisakhi of Punjab

Baisakhi is celebrated in various parts of the country as the New Year day under different names. It is also the time when the harvest is ready to cut and store or sell.

For the Sikh community, Baisakhi has a very special meaning. It was on this day that the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, organised the Sikhs into Khalsa or the Pure Ones.

By doing so, he eliminated the differences of high and low and established that all human beings were equal.

On this day, all Sikhs come together in the ceremony of binding their turbans, reiterating their symbol as a Sikh.

Wearing yellow turbans, the Sikhs march towards the gurudwara pledging to spread Guru Gobind Singh's message as they usher in a new year.

Harvesting in Assam

The harvest festival is also celebrated in Assam as Rogali Bihu. The Assamese gamocha and japi or hat, which is a standard traditional Bihu gift, are all around at this time.

Stalls in the state are stacked with red and white handy towels, which have become popular destinations.

This year's festival witnesses over 80 self-help groups from rural Assam that have set up stalls at the North East Development Financial Institute Haat, much to the delight of shoppers.

Even the kopou phul, an orchid worn by Bihu dancers in their hair, is widely available in shops.

And certainly not to be left out are the shopping malls, which have been belting out Bihu numbers and getting shoppers into the new year mood.

Meanwhile, the Sankardev Kalashetra has brought together 150 artists from the seven sister states, who will be staging a string of performances across the city as part of the Bihu celebrations.

Celebrations in TN

The Tamil New Year is called the Varsha-i-rappu. In mythology it's the day that Lord Brahma started the creation of the universe.

The traditional New Year in the state is not just a festive time for colourful rangolis and great food.

It's also a time for Lankan Tamils to come together and usher in the New Year in Sri Lankan style, with dance, drama and songs.

It's a cultural harmony of sorts as the Sinhalese friends join them to welcome the Sinhala New Year.

Most Lankan Tamils have been living in Chennai as refugees for over a decade. Their children were born in the city as refugees and have not seen their motherland.

The advent of Viya, the New Year, has brought them a ray of hope.

Many people also start new ventures on the New Year, believing it to be auspicious since it is known to usher in joy and prosperity.

Since it is an auspicious day, a lot of Tamil film releases are slotted for this day.

Six movies of their favourite stars are likely to be released, including Ajit's Thirupathi, Partheeban's Patchakuthirai, and Bharath's Alagai Irukirai Payamai Irukirathu.

Business people generally start new account books for the New Year on this day and bonuses are often paid on the eve of the New Year.

Customs in Kerala

In Kerala, Vishu is one of the most popular festivals of Kerala. It falls on the first of Medam (March-April), which is the Malayalam New Year's Day.

The Malayalees make elaborate preparations for this day to ensure that the year ahead will be a fruitful one by following the custom of seeing the Vishu Kani (auspicious sight) early in the morning.

The heart of this festival of Kerala is the preparation of the kani, or the lucky sight or gift.

The custom of preparing the kani has been followed for generations.

The women take a large dish made of bell-metal (uruli), arrange in it a grantha (palm-leaf manuscript), a gold ornament, a new cloth, some flowers from the Konna Tree (Cassia fistula), some coins in a silver cup, a split coconut, a cucumber, some mangoes and a jack-fruit.

On either side of the dish are placed two burning lamps with a chair facing it. Family members are taken blindfolded, which is removed later for them to view the Vishu Kani.

As in other Indian festivals, a great feast at home is the high point of celebrating Vishu in Kerala.

The traditional rituals followed in the festival is believed to usher in another year of prosperity for the Keralites.

In Orissa, Baisakhi is celebrated as Pana Sankranti or Maha Vishuv Sankranti.

Since it's the first day of Baisakh and the beginning of the solar year, it is also celebrated as the Oriya new year.

A number of cultural and keertan groups celebrated Pana Sankranti in Bhubaneswar. The event also featured Kansa maharaj of Bargarh.

Mughal gardens

The famous Mughal Gardens along the eastern bank of the Dal Lake are also being formally thrown open to the public on the occasion of Baisakhi.

The festival marks the beginning of spring in Kashmir.

Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, the gardens boast of breathtaking views of the Dal Lake and the snow covered peaks of the Zabarvan Hills.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

World Water Day

World Day for Water, or unofficially World Water Day, occurs each year on March 22, as designated by United Nations General Assembly resolution.

This day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Observance was expected to begin in 1993 and has grown significantly ever since.

The UN invited its member nations to devote this day to implementing UN recommendations and promoting concrete activities within their countries. Each year, one of various UN agencies involved in water issues takes the lead in promoting and coordinating international activities for World Day for Water. With the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) coordinating, World Day for Water 2005 also marked the start of the second 'UN International Decade for Action for Water', also referred to as the Water for Life Decade 2005-2015.

In addition to the UN member states, a number of NGOs promoting clean water and sustainable aquatic habitats have used World Day for Water as a time to focus public attention on the critical water issues of our era. Every three years since 1997, for instance, the World Water Council has drawn thousands to participate in its World Water Forum during the week of World Day for Water. Participating agencies and NGOs have highlighted issues such as a billion people being without access to safe water for drinking and the role of gender in family access to safe water.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Holi Hai, Happy Holi!

Holi, is a spring festival. It is celebrated in the month of Phalguna, as the lunar month is locally known. It is the month of March that corresponds with this time of celebration.Though originated in the northern part of India, Holi has assumed a national flavor over the ages.Despite being a Hindu festival, it is now regarded as a secular event. For,the entire nation takes the day off, as people, irrespective of race, culture and ethnic background,enjoy the spirit of Holi. Cities and suburbs, towns and villages all come aliveto catch the frenzy of March madness with a range of colors.

The Mood & Backdrop

Holi, the great Indian festival of colors, is a unique celebration of high spirits, when the new season is courted with a riot of rich colors. It is like a grand kaleidoscope that glorifies all the hues that tinge and renew the lives on earth.

It falls on the full moon day of the March, the month when the nippy north wind bows out to the refreshing and rejuvenating breeze from the south, heralding the onset of the ensuing summer in this part of the world. It is thus a festival of spring. The time when the seasonal cycle is caught on a transition. This is when nature starts donning new color. The new foliages start sprouting on the branches, dried and weary over a winter. It is also time when the harvests are reaped and bundled in sheaves. The air is filled with promises of warmth and new lives as the earth discards the wintry glum to greet the bright sun of summer. Beset with this exhilarating backdrop, Holi comes, flinging colors and verve into the landscape of India. As if to mark the renewal and rebirth of life. Holi is thus a celebration of life, the life of love, unblemished joy, and good spirits.

The spirit & significance of colors

Celebrating the mood of nature with a range of colors. This is what colors of Holi signify. The spirit of celebration is to showcase the shifting panorama of life, of sights, movement of feelings. The human hearts also feel the urge to be recharged with new colors to catch on the mood outside. And Holi gives us a wonderful chance to do this. For, it reminds us that the time is perfect to be colored, to renew love and recharge your vitality. All in sync with nature. And the color symbolizes the energy, the vivid, passionate pulse of life signifying vitality.

Origin of Holi

The celebration of Holi is very ancient in its origin. And by its very origin, it celebrates an ultimate triumph of the 'good' over the 'evil'. While, a feast of colors associated with the Holi, is the face of this celebration, the original reason of celebrating Holi, lies in its soul. And this gives us the 'why' of this ancient festival.

Literally "Holi" signifies "burning" in Indian language. But, how it came to be associated with 'burning', is a story. The reference is found only in ancinet Indian mythology. And It is the legend of Hiranyakashipu, to whom the celebration of Holi is associated.

Way back in the pre-Christian era, there lived a demon king named Hiranyakashipu in ancient India. He wanted to avenge the death of his younger brother. The brother, also a demon, had been killed by Lord Vishnu, one of the supreme trio, monitoring the life and death in the universe, (according to the Hindu belief). To take on Vishnu, the tyrant king wanted to become the king of the heaven, earth and the underworld. He performed severe penance and prayer for many years to gain enough power. Finally he was granted a boon.

Powered by the boon, Hiranyakshipu thought he had become invincible. Arrogant, he ordered all in his kingdom to worship him, instead of God. The demon king, however, had a very young son, named Prahalad. He was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. Despite his father's order, Prahalad continued to pray to Vishnu. So the demon king wanted to kill his son. He asked the favor of his sister Holika who, because of a boon, was immune to fire. They planned that Prahalad would be burned to death.

A pyre was lit up and Holika sat on it, clutching Prahalad. Yet, at the end Prahalad emerged unscathed by the fire, and Holika, the demon, was burned to ashes. The earnest devotion and complete submission to Lord Vishnu saved young Prahlad. Thus was the triumph of Prahlad, the representative of good spirits. And the defeat of Holika, the representative of evil. Later, even the demon king Hiranyakashipu was killed by Lord Vishnu. But that is quite a different story. It is from Holika, that the Holi originated.

This legend is relived even today on the Holi-eve when the pyre is re-lit in the form of bonfires. Even today, people celebrate this occasion. Huge bonfires are lit up every year on the eve of the full moon night of the Holi to burn the spirit of the evils. Hence the story associated with the soul of the celebration.

Holi and Colorful Face

Well, it is linked to yet another legend, the legends of Krishna. Though of much later origin, still, it was in the pre-Christian era.

According to the Hindu belief, Krishna was a reincarnation of lord Vishnu himself. It was Krishna, or, Krishn, the king of the ancient city of Dwarka, who popularised the tradition of Holi. The origin of the colorful and frolicking tone of Holi lies in the boyhood of Krishna. It all came up as part of his pranks, he used to play with his boyhood mates of Gokul and Vrindavan. Situated in north India, these are the places where he spent his childhood.

It was at this time of year, Krishna used to play pranks by drenching the village girls, with water and colors. At first it offended the girls. But they were so fond of this mischievous boy that soon their anger melted away. And, it did not take long for other boys to join in, making it a popular sport in the village.

Later, as Krishna grew up, the play assumed a new dimension. It added more colors to Krishna's legendary love life. The legend of Krishna's courtship with Radha, and playing pranks with the 'Gopi's. The girls in the 'dairy' village of Gokul were mostly milkmaids, and, hence locally known as the Gopis. The same tradition has transpired through the ages, turning it into a community festival of the masses. As time kept flowing, the culture spread roots to other regions of the country. The Holi play of Krishna is documented in hundreds of ancient paintings, murals, sculptures and scriptures found across the subcontinent.

Happy Holi! Holi Mubarak Ho!


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

8 March: International Women's Day

International Women's Day (8 March) is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

International Women's Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for "liberty, equality, fraternity" marched on Versailles to demand women's suffrage.

The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and radical ideologies. Following is a brief chronology of the most important events:


In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman's Day was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through 1913.


The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.


As a result of the decision taken at Copenhagen the previous year, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

Less than a week later, on 25 March, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working girls, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This event had a significant impact on labour legislation in the United States, and the working conditions leading up to the disaster were invoked during subsequent observances of International Women's Day.


As part of the peace movement brewing on the eve of World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with their sisters.


With 2 million Russian soldiers dead in the war, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for "bread and peace". Political leaders opposed the timing of the strike, but the women went on anyway. The rest is history: Four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere.

Since those early years, International Women's Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women's movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women's conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand women's rights and participation in the political and economic process. Increasingly, International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights.

The Role of the United Nations

Few causes promoted by the United Nations have generated more intense and widespread support than the campaign to promote and protect the equal rights of women. The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945, was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. Since then, the Organization has helped create a historic legacy of internationally agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status of women worldwide.

Over the years, United Nations action for the advancement of women has taken four clear directions: promotion of legal measures; mobilization of public opinion and international action; training and research, including the compilation of gender desegregated statistics; and direct assistance to disadvantaged groups. Today a central organizing principle of the work of the United Nations is that no enduring solution to society's most threatening social, economic and political problems can be found without the full participation, and the full empowerment, of the world's women.