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FESTIVALS OF LOHRI AND MAKAR SAMKRANTI
It is one of the most important festival of Northern India which is celebrated with utmost fanfare in traditional style. This festival is always celebrated on 13th January. Lohri  marks the end of winter season and it is the day when the sun changes its course also which is also called ‘Makar Samkranti’ which too is celebrated throughout India which marks the start of auspicious days. Makar Samkranti marks the transition of sun from Saggitarius to Capricorn during winter in the northern hemisphere which is called ‘Uttrayan’ (Sun starts moving towards northern side).  In Northern India It is called ‘Makar Samkranti and celebrated on 14th January.  In other parts of India, it is celebrated with different names like Pongal in South India, Bihu in North East India etc.  People who are inclined towards old traditions and religion, take a dip in the morning in the holy water of sacred rivers or ponds etc and worship the Sun to give them peace and prosperity. People also give charities to the poor and needy ones in the form of food, clothes and also money etc. These traditions are still alive and in small town and cities of India which are not fully affected by modernism, one can find stalls distributing hot food, clothes and money to the poor and needy ones on the day of Makar Samkranti.  This tradition is continuing since the time immemorial and finds its mention in our ancient scriptures as well.
As regards Lohri, it is a festival of Punjab in India and it has its origin in Punjab and nobody knows as to how it started and how old it is. There are various stories popular behind this festival.
Some people believe that it is related to the famous tale of a person namely ‘Dulla Bhatti’. Dulla Bhatti was a highway robber in Punjab during the reign of Akbar who was the emperor of India at that time in 16th Century. Dulla Bhatti used to rob the rich only for specific purpose to help the poor and needy with the money he robbed from the rich. He also used to rescue the girls who were kidnapped and taken forcibly for sale in  the slave markets of other neighbouring countries. He also used to give money to the parents of the rescued girls for arranging their marriage. As such he was a superman for the people of Punjab during that time.  That is why the most famous song of  Lohri  which everyone in India is well acquainted and sings with great zeal has his name in almost every line of the song to express gratitude to Mr Dulla Bhatti, a bandit by profession but a noble soul.
 When the festival of Lohri starts approaching in January, small groups of boys and girls knocks at the door of houses and start singing the famous song of Lohri i.e. “Chunri Munri ho, Tera Kaun Bichara ho, Dulla Bhatti wala ho………….”. People take it as auspicious if the groups of the little boys knocks their doors singing this song. In turn, people give them popcorn, peanuts, dry fruits, crystal sugar, sesame seeds (til), jaggry as well as coins. Though, in big cities, this tradition of boys knocking the doors on Lohri is getting reduced, but in small towns and cities of Punjab and Northern India, one can discern these things very easily for at least 15 days before the festival finally comes on 13th January.  
Some people are of the belief that the festival of Lohri has  its an other link. It has derived its name Lohri from the word  ‘Loi’ who was wife of a famous poet cum saint, Kabir Das who also lived during the period of Akbar in 16th century. In local Punjabi dialect, Lohri is pronounced as Lohi. Some people associate this festival with an other ancient legend of Holika, and Lohri is believed to be the sister of Holika. Holika was burnt in the holy fire by Hirnakashyap who was against even the recital of God’s name. Holika burnt in the holy fire but Lohri survived after that. And people celebrate this festival to remember her. As regards Holika, Hindus celebrate a separate festival for her holy sacrifice in the fire, called Holi which too is celebrated in the month of February or March every year. Holi is the festival of colors which is well known all over the world.
 
Celebration of Lohri is very simple but very attractive which tightens the relationship and emotional bonds between the people. Freinds, relatives and family members gather  in the open space in or outside home and light a bonfire at sunset. All sings together and move around the bonfire dancing, rejoing and chanting  Lohri songs. They also throw some peanuts, jiggery and sesame seeds (reoris) etc in the bonfire to worship it. In addition to this, they sit around this bonfire gossiping, cracking jokes, doing mimickery, singing songs, playing antakshri etc for hours making the atmoshpere more pleasant.This continues for 2-3 hours till 10-11 pm. Really It is fantastic to celebrate such festivals in India. Some people organise dinner etc on this occasion which adds to the celebration. In villages of Punjab, people celebrate this festival whole of the night.
May God bring peace, harmony and prosperity in the world ….. Let us do our Ek Koshish one attempt to make the world a single family through these festivals !
 Ek Koshish one attempt
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Raksha Bandhan (Raksha means protection and Bandhan means bond) is the name of a festival which is celebrated across the country irrespective of color, caste and creed.  It is the festival of bond of love between brothers and sisters. Today it is celebrated throughout the country with traditional fervour and enthusiasm. On this occasion, sisters tie Rakhi (Rakhi means a thread duely decorated) or sacred thread (a simple red or yellow thread) on the wrists of their brothers and pray for their well-being. Brothers, in turn, vow to protect their sisters amidst all circumstances.
For them who cannot understand this festival, it is just like tying of friendship band on friendship day. But the difference is that Raksha Bandhan is celebrated between brothers and sisters. However in India, devotees too surrender themselves before God offering Rakhis seeking protection and blessings of God. This is a unique festival by all means which causes immense love between a brother and sister. It is being celebrated since the time immemorial in Indian Culture. History is evident that whenever sisters have been in trouble, brothers have protected them from all problems with all their pelf and power.
Like all Indian festivals, the festival of Rakhi has numerous tales associated with it.  It is always interesting to know the tradition and mythology behind every festival and with the help of them the importance and spirit of any festival can be understood. The most important story about Raksha Bandhan from Indian religion and mythology is about Lord Krishana and Draupadi.
Once Lord Krishna got His hand injured while doing some work. Rukmani, His wife, immediately sent her servant to get a bandage cloth for the wound.  Sathyabama, His second wife rushed to bring some cloth herself.
Draupadi, whom Lord Krishna always took as Her Sister, was watching this incident and without waiting any more, she simply tore off a part of her sari (Indian dress of woman) and bandaged His hand.  
In return for this deed, Krishna promised to protect her from all troubles in time of her distress.
On this incident Lord Krishna uttered the words ‘Akshyam’ which means: ‘May it be unending’.  And we see that after this incident, this tradition of tying up sacred thread on the hand of brother is continuing in Indian Culture.
In Mahabharata (the Greatest War between Kauravas and Pandavas) , we find that when Draupadi was insulted in the court of King Dhritrashtra, father of Kauravs (symbol of evils) and when Duryodhan, son of the King, tried to disrobe her in the open court, that was how Draupadi’s sari became endless and Lord Krishna, her brother, saved her from insult and embarrassment.
In the medieval history of India, there is one more important and interesting tale of this bond of love between brothers and sisters.  This is the true incident which happened between Queen Karnawati and Mughal Emperor Humayun which is popularly known in India even today.
Widow queen Karnawati was ruling over Mewar region of India (Rajasthan) as a care taker empress after the death of her husband, King Rana Sanga. She was ruling in the name of her elder son, Vikramjeet Singh.
When Bahadur Shah of Gujarat region attacked Mewar for the second time, the queen, begged her nobles for support in that time of crisis but  they betrayed the queen.
Knowing this betrayal, queen Karnawati  wrote to Humayun, the then Mughal Emperor of Delhi for help. She also sent him a Rakhi and sought protection.
It is very interesting to know that Humayun’s father Babur had already defeated King Rana Sanga in a fierce battle in 1527. As such there was an enmity between both states.
When the Rakhi sent by the queen reached Humayun, he was in the middle of another military campaign. He took that call for help immediately abandoning that military campaign,  he rushed to Mewar for help of queen Karnawati.
But unfortunately, he could not make it on time as the queen’s army was defeated in Chittor and queen Karnawati committed Jauhar (an act of self-immolation to protect herself from indignity of falling in the hands of enemy)
Bahadur Shah however could not go any further and had to turn away from Chittor as Humayun’s military reinforcements arrived by then to give fight to Bahadur Shah. Bahadur Shah was defeated. Humayun then restored the kingdom to Karnawati’s son, Vikramjit. As such Humayun kept his word to protect the sister who sent him a Rakhi.


As such this is a wonderful festival of brothers and sisters. This festival also plays an important role in the society. This festival strengthens fraternal feelings and the spirit of kindness and goodwill in the society. This festival promotes harmonious social life by reaffirming the faith of citizens in the traditional values of love and protection fostering community bonding irrespective of caste, creed and color and highlights the importance of women in Indian society not only as a mother but also as a sister.

Ek Koshish One Attempt too celebrated this festival of Rakhsha Bandhan with its little brothers and sisters. All little sisters tied Rakhis on the small wrists of their little brothers and entire team of Ek Koshish, put tikas (putting red color and rice on foredhead)  on their foreheads, distributed sweets and some money was given by the brothers to their sisters as a token of love and affection towards their sisters. We hope that we shall succeed in our vow to protect these younger brothers and sisters from all distresses of their life through better education and training.  
EK KOSHISH, One Attempt 
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I am writing today because I witnessed a very inspiring sight yesterday when I was invited for lunch at a neighbor’s home. The neighbor has adult children, and runs a home filled with his children and grandchildren, with the help of one maid. Though the work appeared to be very demanding, once everyone was out of the house, and I was there sipping some chai, I overheard, from across the room, somebody was reciting the English alphabet, in a very heavy accent. When I looked over, I noticed the maid herself was reading from a notebook aloud! It was quite surprising to see that this young maid, who doesn’t attend any school, took the initiative to start to learn English on her own, as she practiced reading the alphabet correctly from memory. Even more surprising to me was that the family that invited me for lunch doesn’t speak any English really at all: They simply enjoy my company! The maid had no access to any English newspaper, as the family only receives a copy of the news in Hindi each day, and yet the family still took the time to offer their maid English lessons. I am still surprised with what I witnessed, but it is very heartening to see that many average, middle-class people in India do want to help out their illiterate brothers and sisters in India. We should not take our own education for granted, as I never realized how precious being able to read a sign or write a message really is until I started working with Ek Koshish.

As we have been keeping up with our classes, I am posting a picture from our last lesson with the children, when we practiced dictation with the advanced class, and continued with basic numbers and letters with our beginners.

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I want to talk about my experience as a volunteer in India with Ek Koshish, One Attempt. Being here has been one of the most memorable and wonderful experiences in my life: Not only am I volunteering, giving back to the desperately needy community here in Faridabad, but I am also learning so much about Indian culture and Hinduism. Working as a volunteer has been an incredible way to learn and improve my Hindi; should anyone be interested in learning this beautiful language, I can guarantee that working with “Ek Koshish, One Attempt” would undoubtedly accelerate anyone’s understanding of Hindi or even Indian traditions. The Ek Koshish team is superb, as they truly care about the projects they run and the people to whom they reach out.

For example, this picture, taken during yesterday’s lesson, depicts the many kindnesses of the people who run this NGO: The clothes that our student Vicky is wearing, were recently donated to him by the Ek Koshish staff, because he lacked proper clothing. The team at Ek Koshish also purchased all of their school supplies, donated all of their time to tutoring this student and his family and neighbors, and even offered their own home as a classroom for yesterday’s lesson: Because of the unbearable heat, the head of Ek Koshish insisted that the children study in his home comfortably, with the luxury of air conditioning. When I was overhearing other locals’ reactions to our work here, they had very negative feedback about inviting such children into one’s home. I suppose they don’t mind these children coming to work in their houses, but they cannot consider the children enjoying a birthday party or learning to read and write in their own homes. At least it’s nice to see that the people who run Ek Koshish’s NGO do not have this attitude, not even in the slightest!

As a final note, I want to emphasize that volunteering with Ek Koshish is essentially a free trip to India with volunteering arrangements ready for anyone. Of course, there is a very minimal fee for housing, but this is not incumbent upon anyone: If you want to just come and visit Ek Koshish for a day, you are more than welcome to do so; if you know anyone living in Faridabad, you can stay with them and volunteer for free. Otherwise, the very minimal living expenses here in India would be around $150 USD for one month of room and board, use of utilities, and three meals daily, all included. Though funds are very tight with Ek Koshish, they do not have any interest in charging volunteers to work and help the community. I highly recommend this experience, not only to those readers out there who are my friends and family, but to anyone interested in this sincerely altruistic cause!

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Yesterday was a very special day for us here at Ek Koshish! Our volunteer from the US, Justin ji (we add “ji” after someone’s name in Hindi as a a sign of respect), turned 24, and we threw him two special parties! For the first party, we invited the children from our school: The children didn’t even know what a birthday is, so we tried to organize the party to be as entertaining as possible.  When the children arrived, they all even had presents for the birthday boy! They brought two Cadbury chocolates and fresh flowers, which was inexplicably kind for these poverty-stricken children. We purchased a cake for the children, a bottle of pepsi, chips, cookies, two chocolates each, party hats, and noise makers, so that the children could feel that a birthday party is special! Once our students finished dancing to their heart’s content, they fed the birthday boy a piece of cake, which is a common tradition in India on birthdays. Then the children started eating the birthday snacks, and they were very happy to try all of these new treats, as they had never tasted pepsi, chips, or even cake before! Finally, we treated them to another cartoon, their first Daffy Duck cartoon, before the children had to get going. After our first party, we held a “pooja” (Hindi for an Indian prayer ceremony) at the volunteer’s host family home, and afterwards, when the entire family was back from work, they arranged a special fruit cake and gifts for Justin ji. After the family each fed Justin ji a little cake, one by one, there was a mini frosting-fight too! Enjoy the photos and the short clip of our students dancing!

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Today, I am celebrating my birthday through the traditions of Indian culture here with “Ek Koshish, One Attempt!” When I woke up, I practiced a sacred Hindu tradition, where young men bend down and touch the feet of the elders for whom he has the utmost respect. Usually, my elders in India, with whom I practice this custom, stop me before I reach their feet, which they practice out of respect for me, saying “Khush raho, beta” (“Stay happy, my child” in Hindi). After a special mug of chai, in the “birthday mug” (an especially large mug for the birthday boy, as my host family described), the family has been showering me with little gifts and treats. Everybody, even including our students from our school, has been wishing me a “Happy Birthday,” or “Janam Din Mubarak,” as we say in Hindi!

The family I have been staying with has made many preparations for this special day for me: Apart from the surprises unbeknownst to me, today we will be going to a Hindu temple, for “Darshan,” which translates to “Visit/View” in Hindi, specifically for visiting a temple, God’s home, in this case. During the day, I will go with my “bhaiya” (Hindi word for “brother,” but used among friends as well) to the markets in India, where we will buy some food and a cake for the evening. When our students can arrive to the “davat” (the word for “party” in Hindi) at dusk, we will host a special meal for all of our students, in honor of my birthday. In India, charitable acts, especially involving feeding the hungry, are highly venerated, which is why the host family with Ek Koshish would like to celebrate my birthday by giving back to the community! Otherwise, I have posted this picture above, which was taken during my favorite Indian holiday, “Holi,” in Mathura (a city a couple of hours south of Faridabad by car). This is another example of a “davat!” I am excited and looking forward to these unique birthday festivities!

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Being here in India for this holiday, I learned the following phrase today: “Father’s Day par haardik shubh kaamnaayein!” (“We sincerely wish you a Happy Father’s Day!” in Hindi). I have been learning so much Hindi and about Indian culture in general since I started volunteering with “Ek Koshish One Attempt,” and I wanted to take the time to discuss one topic I found very interesting. Seeing Indian people’s utmost respect for other life forms, especially cows, has been a touching experience for me. People are always conscientious about feeding plants and taking care of one another: As I mentioned earlier, we feed cows every morning, and we feed stray dogs every night. Another tradition that some people follow here is similar to what we call “Tzedakah” in my culture, Judaism. This picture shows the equivalent of a “Tzedakah box,” a collection in a home, which will be given to a charitable cause. This charitable cause is specific to taking care of cows in India. Every day the team at Ek Koshish and I have been filling some money into this box, which will be sent to the charity on a subsequent visit. The bottom of the box has a lock, to which only the charity itself has a key. When I spoke to the teacher from our new program, where we teach illiterate children to read and write, she told me that one of our students (Mohini), a poor maid in Faridabad, believes in the cause too, donating what little she can. It is a real inspiration to see the care and love all people have here for one another, whether human or otherwise. I hope more people will come and volunteer here with Ek Koshish, as this has been the best way for me to learn Hindi and give back to a community in need! Happy Father’s day everyone, and especially Happy Father’s Day to the fathers in my family: Papi, Zayde, Tío Roberto, Tío Albert, Tío Ramon, Tío Alberto, David, Mario, Isaac, Freddy, Tío Charlie, Alan, Phily, Sal, Israel, Gil, and Uncle ji!

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Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure to partake in a daily Indian custom with the secretary of the Ek Koshish team! Every morning, when people make “Roti”(traditional Indian flat bread, similar in shape to pita bread, but much thinner), the very first roti that they make is supposed to be saved for cows and bulls, who may come by the house in the morning. In case a cow or bull does not come by during the day, they save the bread for the next day, as I found out after having asked the question. A cow or bull doesn’t usually just eat bread that someone holds up to its mouth: A person must affectionately offer these creatures the bread, while petting them and tenderly interacting with them. As cows are considered to be the archetypal mother-symbol in India (because it freely gives us milk, just like our own mothers did), Indians say that they offer cows and bulls this roti as a part of their spiritual duty, or “Dharm”. As I learned more about this tradition while speaking with the rest of the team with Ek Koshish, they explained that there is another tradition they follow at the end of the day: The very last roti that is made at night, is to be saved for dogs. In feeding dogs, we play our role in society by keeping in mind to help the needy and hungry, a responsibility called “Karm.” Though these words Dharm and Karm have very profound meanings, through this way every morning and every evening we remember that there are two essential types of obligations that we have as human beings: those to our mother, or more broadly, to the one who created us, and those to our fellow brethren.

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