The 2nd Year of The Ramadan Tent Project

I was blessed enough to experience the magical community spirit of The Ramadan Tent last year.

The Asian Destination:  The Ramadan Tent

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Friday Fun:: May Cause Glastonbury Withdrawal Symptoms! Oxfam Stewarding 2014

Can’t quite believe it’s already been almost two weeks since Glastonbury!!

The Asian Destination:: Glastonbury 2014

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When Spain Came to London

Everyone loves a good old Bank Holiday Weekend, right? Especially when it means you get to travel…without jumping on an aeroplane!

When Spain Came To London Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

The world is filled with wonderful festivals & holidays that create opportunities to learn about new cultures and traditions.

BUT – Don’t waste your time waiting for Thanksgiving in order to give thanks.

#ShowYourGratitude Everyday!

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Light up, Lift up and Don’t be afraid to SHINE

So, we’ve spoken about this before. The fear of ‘shining’. What does this mean? What does this entail?

A Christian friend said to me at her local church service today, this theme was also discussed.

What often amazes me is that at their core, so many religions share fundament core values such as love, peace, hope and an ultimate faith in the ‘divine source’. The term ‘religion’ often just acts as a means of different people reaching their own ‘enlightenment’ or ‘path’ and if that path helps maintain their faith, brings them closer to a sense of meaning…then what is the harm in that?

I thought it was apt to discuss it here, given that today is officially Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in the Hindu calendar.

As a child, I was painfully shy. I would still classify myself as ‘shy’ though age, experience and wisdom has helped me to spread partial wings and leaving a shell that remains, if I ever need it to retreat to.

One other thing that happened as I was growing up is that I became scared to ‘shine’. There may be some people that can relate to this. We don’t want to appear different; we would rather hide in the shadows and be a ‘sheep’ than step out into the unknown and embrace the things that help us stand out, even if it was to the detriment of our own success. I was scared of being unique.

Diwali is a time for rebirth, rejuvenation and reflection. It reminds me that we don’t need to wait for the new year to make a new resolution (however, today is obviously convenient because The Festival of Lights symbolises new beginnings anyway…!).

Why?

Because each and every moment is a moment of rejuvenation, an opportunity to change. Though obvious, the idea hit me again today and emphasised one important point.

So many of us are victims to making ’empty promises’. You know what I mean:

When ‘x’ happens….I’ll do ‘y’

We wait for ‘the perfect time’, we make up excuses and dim our light.

STOP. Today is your day to ‘Face A Fear Everyday’. Today is your day to not ‘shelf your light’ but in fact to shine your light.

Embrace what you have to offer the world, we’re all different. Be proud to be unique.

Happy Diwali & Kali Puja 2013!

Today marks an important date in the Bengali calendar, Kali Puja.

It represents a day of good overcoming evil and going from darkness into light.

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Click here to read more about we celebrated last year.

As we prepare for a new start, we wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous Diwali & Kali Puja!

Wishing you light and love from,

The Asian Destination xo

 

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Happy Raksha Bandhan

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A very happy Rakhsha Bandhan or Rakhi Purnima (in Bengali)!

Today is the day sisters tie the sacred thread or rakhion their brother’s wrist to symbolise her love for him whilst in return he pledges to protect his sister.

These days Raksha Bandhan is a day where brothers and sisters feed each other sweets (yes, yet anotherexcuse to eat!) and basically celebrate the kinship between siblings.

Rakhi Purnima, does now however exclude only children, like myself. As most of you know, I’m the subcontinent, cousins/close friends are usually recognised as brothers and sisters too. In fact, as well as tying rakhis on my male cousins, I would also end up tying them on my other cherished male relatives: my grandfathers and my uncles.

So today: Whether you are Indian or not, an only child or one of many:
Be grateful for your siblings. Not just those that you are related to, for we are all one. We, as people, are the same: we breathe the same air, we share the same biology and fundamentally, we all have a desire to love and be loved.
Extend a Rakhi, the bond of protection to allyour brothers and sisters today. You may realise you have more siblings than you once thought!

Happy Raksha Bandhan to all!
With love,
The Asian Destination xo

Feeling blessed, overwhelmed and grateful at The Ramadan Tent

Yesterday evening, I went to The Ramadan Tent, situated in the grounds of The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Set up by Omar Salha, a SOAS alumnus, this Ramadan Tent welcomes Muslims to break their fast for Ramadan by serving iftar, the sunset meal.

The Ramadan Tent

News of the Ramadan Tent has travelled fast. One of my good friends learnt about it through her flatmate and now both volunteer there, helping in the iftar preparation and disposal, and ensuring that everyone feels welcome, and is accommodated with food and a place to sit.

Muslim or not, it does not matter. Committed volunteers have made this special iftar possible and welcome the public during Islam’s holy month, regardless of religious, socio-economic or political background making it truly an event that brings old and new faces together.

It truly was a special feast. Sustained by charitable donations, it was so inspiring to see so much food being provided for so many. As we sat on the ground around long mats acting as tables, it felt like a large family picnic was about to start. There was a sense of community, a sense of belonging and a feeling of togetherness. The homeless sitting amongst students and members of the public, no prejudice or judgment was placed. Each person was treated as part of an extended family.

Ramadan Tent

Before the call to prayer and breaking the fast, a speaker is invited to speak. Yesterday, Omar had invited Jehangir Malik OBE, director of Islamic Relief UK to talk. Malik reiterated how wonderful it was for so many people from across London to come together in the spirit of Ramadan. In a recent Huffington post article, Omar mentioned how not only did he hope this Ramadan campaign would challenge some misconceptions about Islam but also bring communities together.

Similarly, Jehangir Malik also feels that Ramadan Is a Time to Break Down Barriers, Not Build Them Up’.’ Having just completed a trip to Syria, his words had a lasting impact on me and I could tell on others too. Here we were sitting down, surrounded by a family we’d only just acquired, being provided with food and water whilst there were so many across the world struggling for just one of these basic privileges.

Dates were passed around to eat and symbolized the beginning of iftar. A change in the wind during the call to prayer made for a magical atmosphere. Despite not being Muslim myself, it was as if the summer breeze whispering around us had somehow cast an invisible spell, connecting everyone there. It did not matter what religion you were, where you had come from or what your economic situation was.

Ramadan Tent

As people, we were all the same; we all hoped and prayed for a world that we could feel proud to live in, we all desired an end to the suffering of those less fortunate and we all wanted to leave our positive mark in some way or another. It was an overwhelming and inspiring moment.

My friend told me how, on one occasion, due to the increased popularity and interest in The Ramadan Tent, there had not been enough food to accommodate all guests as well as committee volunteers. In this instance, volunteers refrained from eating to ensure every single other participant had food in front of them. Bearing in mind, the majority of these volunteers had been fasting themselves, it was moving to hear the extent of their charitable duties.

I have an immense sense of respect for those that are fasting during Ramadan. It requires dedication, commitment and perseverance -it is only when one is tested that one realises their true potential.

Ramadan Tent

Many are all too aware of how the media can misconstrue or demonise Islam and as a result alienate communities. This event however, as Omar hoped it would, disputes Islamic misconceptions and teaches non-muslims about the core values of Islam. There were times during yesterday’s iftar that I could not say a word. There was a spell I did not want to break. I felt proud and privileged to have experienced such sharing, generosity and sense of community. I left feeling happy that this was such a positive opportunity for others to appreciate the true spirit of Ramadan.

Ramadan Mubarak to all those participating!

Love, respect and blessings,

Ana at The Asian Destination xo

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Celebrate Being ‘Unique’

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Destination: Inspiration (105) 15th April 2013

Happy Bengali New Year!

 

“Notun Asha, Notun Rang, 

Notun Sure, Notun Gaan, 

Notun Usha, Notun Alo,

Notun ‘bochor’, Katuk Bhalo!

Shubo Noboborsho!”

Today is ‘Poila Boishak’ or the start of the Bengali New Year. 

So today:
Have new hope (notun asha) & see new light (notun alo).
Always know you can change your path at any point, change your tune for a new one (notun sure) and alter your song (notun gaan).
Every day can be seen as a new chance, ‘a new year’ (notun bocchor).
May it be enjoyed well (katuk bhalo)!
 
If you liked this post, you may also like:

Chai & Chats with: Roshni ChuganiChai & Chats with: Pavan Ahluwalia and Chai & Chats with: Malika Garrett. 

Destination: India and Destination: Bangladesh from Destination: Travel

Happy Durga Puja and Happy Kali Puja & Diwali from Destination: Celebration

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Destination: Inspiration (45) 14th February 2013

Cakes from Hummingbird Bakery. Source: The Asian Destination

Cakes from Hummingbird Bakery. Source: The Asian Destination

 In the midst of a busy semester, surrounded by essays, projects and upcoming exams…one can ALWAYS make room for cake! Share some love (=cake!)  with your loved ones today!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

With love,

The Asian Destination xXx

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Destination: Inspiration (1) January 1st, 2013

Here we are, welcome to 2013: new beginnings, new promise & new hope.

Whatever you’re doing today, just remember one thing:

Source: tumblr.com

 

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Happy New Year!

2013 is almost here and promises to bring new ideas & features for The Asian Destination.

First of all, we are excited to be talking to Roshni Chugani on her new business ventures later in January, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, The Asian Destination is launching ‘Destination: Inspiration’ designed to add some positivity to your day.

Hope you’ve all been enjoying the festive season & a very Happy New Year!

Best wishes for the year ahead,
The Asian Destination

Happy Diwali & Kali Puja!

It’s a busy week in the Hindu calendar…

 

Monday 12th November – Kali Choudas (Naruka Chaturdashi)
Goddess Kali is worshipped on this day (and also on Kali Puja which coincides with Diwali). Kali Choudas falls midway through the Ashwin month and celebrates the day Goddess Kali, associated with empowerment or shakti, slayed the demon king, Narakasura. The killing of Narakasura symbolizes the banishing of apathy thus allowing light, hope and positivity to replace the darkness in our lives.

In addition to rituals and prayers, special sweet offerings are made. In preparation for Diwali, 14 lamps or diyas are lit to welcome home Lord Rama after his 14 years spent in exile.

Tuesday 13th November – Diwali & Kali Puja

Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of lights. On this day, Lord Rama defeated the demon Ravana, thus representing a victorious battle of good overcoming evil. After 14 years in exile, Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom of Ayodhya and was met by rows of diyas to celebrate his arrival.

Diwali today, marks a time to decorate homes with diyas and consciously welcome new light, love & prosperity into our lives as the new Hindu year approaches (this year the Hindu New Year starts on Wednesday 14th November). Pujas are performed and both Lord Ganesha, God of Wisdom and Lakshmi, Goddess of good fortune are worshipped. Friends and family celebrate with food and fireworks, flowers and rangoli patterns.

Thursday 15th November – Bhai Phota (Bhai Dhooj in Northern India, Bhai Tika in Nepal)

Bhai Phota (or Bhai Fota) is celebrated in Bengal, traditionally 2 days after Kali Puja & Diwali and marks the sibling bond between brothers and sisters. With the ring finger on their left hand, girls mark their brother’s forehead with a mixture sandalwood paste and curd whilst reciting a traditional rhyme three times. In doing so, they pray for the safety of their brother, his well being and his success.

With every great festival comes an opportunity to feast and Bhai Phota is no different! Breakfast on Bhai Phota usually consists of Luchis (buttery bread) and traditional Bengali sweets. Lunch includes Bengali classics such as Hilsa fish and an assortment of the traditional sweets.

So this week, whether you are celebrating any of the above or not – take a moment to listen out for the fireworks (if you were wondering why there were people still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ now you know!) the festivities, and enjoy time spent with friends and family!

Durga Puja 2012

Whether you are well accustomed to Durga Puja or have been newly introduced to it (either through this year’s Hindi blockbuster, Kahaani or last week’s BBC episode of This Is India) this 9-10 day Hindu festival is celebrated in the millions, worldwide. Navratri and Garba celebrations occur during this time but for Bengalis, Durga Puja remains a key event in the religious and social calendar. Being British born, I envy my Indian friends and family that are able to truly relish the ‘native’ Durga Puja experience at home – a colourful chaos of sounds, smells and visions. Western schooling systems rarely permit sufficient vacation time during the pujas and therefore visiting West Bengal for Durga Puja remains on my Bucket List. However, for now I share Durga Puja celebrations through my own eyes, growing up in the UK.

Lehengas & Luchis
Since childhood, Durga Puja has always created a sense of excitement. It meant it was time to finally wear the traditional Indian lehengas, salwars or saris bought during our last India trip especially for the occasion. New clothes became a symbol of new beginnings, the colourful combinations and shimmering sequins celebrating the diversity of our culture.
After putting our hands together in prayer, bowing to the Goddess Ma Durga and blessing ourselves with the holy fire, we are allowed ‘prasad’. Prasad, in the form of fruits, Bengali sweets or coconuts are usually offered as a form of worship and after the religious rituals have been performed, are eaten, as they have now been blessed by the Goddess. Puja celebrations involve not only religious festivities but also allow a cultural mix of songs and dance, enjoyed before more puja meals.
Luchis (or Puris) are a delicious yet deceptively devilish Bengali classic – fried doughy bread usually accompanied by daal and Bengali misti (sweets).

Meeting & Greeting
As I grew up, Durga Puja gained more significance in the social calendar. It became a constant in our ever changing, hectic lives. It offered an opportunity to greet friends, old and new that had travelled far and wide for this one occasion.

Aarti & Shadhana
Along with devotional worship (aarti) comes the opportunity to cleanse the soul and carry out ‘spiritual practice’ or shadhana; a time to seek spiritual peace within yourself regardless of the chaos of the modern world around us.

Today
For me, Durga Puja today encompasses all these: ‘luchis & lehengas’, ‘meeting & greeting’ and ‘aarti & shadhana’, not as 3 separate entities but as an integrated culmination of festivities. Excitement grows as we coordinate our outfits, warm affection and emotion stirs as we embrace familiar faces and sweeten our palates. Today, it is amazing to be able to witness puja celebrations across continents through 1 effortless video call on a smart phone, live television broadcasting or through uploaded Facebook photos or statuses. However, let us not forget the real reason of our shadhana, our real cause for celebration.

Goddess or Ma Durga/Durga Ma – is believed to be mother of the universe. She is responsible for creation, preservation and destruction of the world.

‘It is believed that Ma Durga was created by gathering the strength of all the mothers. Every year the mother graces us with her presence, eliminates evil and goes back so that all of us can live happily and peacefully without fear.’

– From Kahaani, translated from the original Hindi.

So this Durga Puja, whether you are a devotee or not, may you be touched with Ma Durga’s sword of omniscient knowledge, protected from all evil by her many arms and blessed with the certainty of success.

It is thought that as we strive to form an inner peace within ourselves, we become unaffected by the circumstances we cannot alter. In doing so, we detach from the fear of the unknown and become the people we are meant to be. May we each find our inner peace this Durga Puja.

Shubo Bijoya – Happy Durga Puja 2012!