Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Nucifera and Lutea

I stumbled upon one more connection between India and America last year but it took me a while to note it down here – the divine and royal lotus. Have always fancied lotus since a little girl starting with the golden lotus in “pottramarai kulam” of Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai. Goddess of wealth is supposed to have her residence in lotus, rather the scared lotus. I never knew something like lotus could create a beautiful link until I read about the yellow lotus of America.

Nelumbo nucifera, a perennial aquatic is the national flower of India also known as the “bean of India”. It is native to hot Asian tropics. With roots deep in the muddy soil, lotus shoots up its leaves over the surface area of water on an average of about three feet. Showy leaves and flowers captivate the eyes and is a staple of water gardens. Lotus can live over a thousand years. Lotus being associated with divinity is used in prayers. Different parts of lotus such as stem, rhizome are used in cooking and herbal medicines.

Nelumbo lutea, commonly known as American lotus or yellow lotus is native to North America. The distribution of the species ranges from Minnesota to Florida, Mexico, Honduras, and the Caribbean. It was distributed to the North by Native Americans as a food source. The tribes also treated the American lotus as a sacred plant with mystical powers, and used parts of the plant for medicinal purposes.

Indian Lotus

Indian Lotus

American Lotus

American Lotus

Indian Lotus American Lotus
Kingdom Plantae Plantae
(unranked) Angiosperms Angiosperms
(unranked) Eudicots Eudicots
Order Proteales Proteales
Family Nelumbonaceae Nelumbonaceae
Genus Nelumbo Nelumbo
Species N. nucifera N. lutea

 

One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water. — Bhagavad Gita 5.10

 

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Are Sunflowers Nerdy?

Sunflowers are one of the species that originated in North America. They were probably one of the first cultivated crops by Native Americans around 1000 B.C.E. Europeans took the sunflowers around the world during 1500 C.E. Otherwise called helianthus, are adored for the bright and cheery disposition, also a food source to bees, squirrels, birds, and humans. They are the great inspiration to the impressionist painters, especially Vincent Van Gogh. Have spent hours staring at Philadelphia Museum of Art. Later bought a stained glass replica from the gift shop. In 2013, read that they are wilting and out of whim painted one.

Sunflowers Painting

Sunflowers Painting

I can never get enough of sunflowers. When this spring arrived, I sowed and it bloomed.

In My Garden

In My Garden

I finally understood why I’m fascinated with sunflowers. Did you know that sunflowers has a perfect geometry based on Fibonacci sequence? Golden Angle in geometry is the smaller of the angle created by sectioning the circumference of the circle according to the golden ratio – that is if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities:

a+b        a
—–   =  —
a            b

This theory plays a significant role in phyllotaxis – the arrangement of leaves on a stem. The most notable golden angle is the angle that separates the florets on a sunflower. They are just as nerdy as I can get.

Evening on the Wissahickon

I came not from the old world but from the ancient world, India. I was indeed captivated by the cityscapes, the feats of man-made structures and the exploits of architectural niches in the new world. When I could get past those magnificent cities, I’ve felt “world is big” all the time. Cities make me claustrophobic. American charm doesn’t end in cities. It is true soul lies in the great wilderness. I’ve been to only 5 states so far – fascinated by nature in each one of it. Colossal Niagara falls, giant Saguaro cactus, red woods touching the sky, I’ve lost words… pondering nature, creation, and God.

It has been only 6 months in Philadelphia – getting to know the history and culture. I’ve no idea how I landed in the article about “The lost gold mine of Wissahickon” from Google. Eventually found about Friends of Wissahickon and registered for the history trail along the Forbidden Drive. Trial guide Sarah West is very knowledgeable and patient in answering our questions. My American husband, who was born in Philadelphia, had not ventured past the Historic Rittenhouse Town until last weekend. When we pulled in the parking lot heavily shielded under trees with the creek running alongside, both of us didn’t know what lay ahead of us.

Wissahickon Creek

Wissahickon Creek

Wilderness

Wilderness

Wissahickon Creek runs 23 miles passing thru northwest Philadelphia, joins Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Wikipedia says its name come from Lenape word “wiessahitkonk”, for “catfish creek” or “stream of yellowish color”. Mills of Wissahickon were producing paper to gun powder making it the first industrial area of North America. The first paper mill in America was built by William Rittenhouse during early 18th century. Benjamin Franklin noted without the mills, Wissahickon can supply pure water to Philadelphia. Eventually Fairmount Park Commission acquired 1,800 acres of the Wissahickon Valley in 1868 and demolished all the mills along the creek. Wissahickon turnpike was permanently closed to automobiles making the turnpike, “Forbidden Drive”. When the rest of America continue to become industrialized, Wissahickon slowly returned to original wilderness.

Bridge History

Bridge History

Bridge

Bridge

It is not just history that makes stop talking and hones other senses tingles with enthusiasm. Wissahickon valley is Wissahickon schist, prime bedrock underlying the Philadelphia region. This is Precambrian to Cambrian stone, has flecks of glittery mica, small garnets, and many-toned shadings of gray, brown, orange, and blue. I was jumping in joy as I started to spot mice and garnets in the schist. We loved the history walk and the region in general. My husband and I resolved to trail in the 1800 acres as much as we can and to bring our kids in the future for a practical hands on lesson on geology, history, and nature.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Schist with Sparkling Mica

Schist with Sparkling Mica

To me, after all these years, I can feel “Evening on the Wissahickon” is still close to “Morning on the Wissahiccon” 🙂

To Strive, To Seek, To Find, & Not To Yeild

How could I’ve possibly got Ulysses to read today? I was searching for my old notes, and to surprise and goosebumps… this reflects exactly my mood searching for continuity between past and future…

Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles!

~ Ulysses, Lord Tennyson

Goodbye, Motherland!

The first thing I remember “learning” in school apart from generic language and math during the first few years in school is “India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country. I’m proud of its rich and varied heritage…” My voice still echoes in my head during the school assembly on Monday mornings that includes Indian National Pledge and National Anthem. I have said those words with much gusto even though I could not understand the depth of its meaning those days. These words have the magic of making heart filled with love and courage. Anytime I leave India, I would start longing to come back. Of course there were times I just wanted to get the hell out of here. Disgusting politics, lack of governance, hypocrisy, and total chaos everywhere makes me squirm with anger. Leaving the politics and hypocrisy aside, there is some kind of harmony in that chaos. I came from this chaos, it’s my roots. I can be at peace with this chaos and its freedom. Leaving all that for the love of my life is resolutely romantic – no doubt! Life sure is going to be more colorful in the land of dreams where anything is possible but I’ve trouble of letting it go. Change is massive – whiff of curry masala that tickles brain cells to release ghrelin on the street from the chaat or dosa stalls to not-so-smell intensive salty pretzels, luscious green paddy and sugarcane fields to questionable GM corn and soy fields, colorfully less appealing milk and rice sweets to vibrantly colored cakes with artificial colorants, mango trees protected by its natural warriors – the marching red ants to simple apple trees, giant, gnarly, majestic figs and teaks to sequoias and red woods, friendly pomegranate and gooseberry to maple and cherry trees, currency notes that has the big toothless smile of Mahatma Gandhi to stern face of Benjamin Franklin, peacocks to eagles, lotus to rose… I’m dreading the day of leaving India. Poraale Ponnu Thaaye song catches my mood perfectly and here is my bad translation…

Golden girl is leaving, crying incessantly
Leaving the land that gave water and food
Leaving the cows that gave milk
Leaving the birds on their cage
This girl leaves her country…

What kind of flower is she?
Dainty marigold that reaches God?
Or the one that goes unnoticed on a dirty shrub?
While people yearn for her in homeland,
She leaves like lifeless cargo on a hayride…

All her affection, all her bonds
Speaks the language of dumb hearts
Southern winds are blowing in wrong direction
Monsoon clouds are running away
A living crop is withering…

It’s been long since my throat went dry
This soul is dangling between home and far away
All saved treasures have become unusable
Untold words are weighing heavy
There is a distance between food and relations
Just wait, there is a good life for this poor girl tomorrow …

Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Nannari Sherbet and Root Beer

I had my first root beer on our country trip to Lancaster, PA after Jay’s assurance on the non-alcoholic clause. Jay had his nannari sherbet at a chettinad restaurant this February in Bangalore. We both enjoyed our drinks without realizing another connection.

Nannari Sherbet

Nannari Sherbet

Root Beer

Root Beer

Wikipedia says root beer was first commercially introduced in Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition by Charles Hires in 1876 under the name “root tea”. However was changed to “root beer” to attract the coal miners of Pennsylvania. FDA banned a key ingredient sassafras root in 1960, as it contains a carcinogen, safrole. Sassafras is a species of a deciduous tree native to northeastern America. Sassafras root is replaced by artificial flavoring or the natural extract after removing the carcinogen safrole. The other main ingredient of root beer is sarsaparilla that got its name from Spanish words “zarza” – bush, “parra” – vine and “illa” – small – hence the name sarsaparilla or zarzaparilla. It is a trailing vine native to Mexico and Central America. It is considered to have medicinal properties by native Americans. Medicinal uses can range from gout, syphilis, gonorrhea, rheumatism, wounds, arthritis, fever, cough, scrofula, hypertension, digestive disorders, psoriasis, skin diseases, and cancer.

Indian Sarsaparilla

Indian Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla

Nannari sherbet is a popular Tamil drink during all hottest summers of India. Extracts from nannari roots, with a hint of lemon juice, and palm sugar helps to keep the body cool. The root has a pleasant odor. Nannari is a species of slender, twining, prostrate or a semi-erect shrub. It is known as Indian sarsaparilla or false sarsaparilla. Indian school of medicine calls it as Ananthamoola or Ananthamul. Studies have proven its anti-diabetic effect. Its medicinal uses are listed from skin diseases, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhoids, and fever.

Nannari Sarasaparilla
Kingdom Plantae Plantae
Unranked Angiosperms Angiosperms
Unranked Eudicots Monocots
Order Gentianales Liliales
Family Apocynaceae Smilacaceae
Genus Hemidesmus Smilax
Species indicus ornata
Binomial Name Hemidesmus indicus Smilax ornata

There are similarities and differences but if we look deeper our roots share common instincts.

Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Kolam and Iikaah

Another Indian and American link that fascinates me is kolam and iikaah, sand painting of both the cultures.

Historically it is believed that Navajo learned the art of sacred painting from the Pueblo Indians. Ancestors of Pueblo Indians were the prehistoric Anasazi, Mogollon, and Mimbres. Iikaah is the Navajo name for Native American sand painting. It translates to “place where gods come and go”. They are made using anything between colored sand, corn meal, flower pollen, to powdered barks and roots. They are created to heal a person during a ceremony. For colors they use crushed gypsum for white, yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum for blue. More hues can be obtained by mixing these colors. Iikaah contain the images of yebichelli or the Holy People. Images in the iikaah will signify what kind of healing is required. There are more than 600 such patterns and images. During the ceremony the medicine man will ask the yebichelli to come into the painting and help heal the patient. Sitting on iikaah will help the patient to absorb the spiritual power of the yebichelli and eventual healing. Iikaah must be destroyed within 12 hours of creation. Women are not supposed to chant for yebichelli as they could be either pregnant (possible harm to unborn) or the taboo of menstruation.

Iikaah

Kolam tradition in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization. Great epic, Mahabharata says that gopikas or the shepherd women drew exquisite kolams to forget the pain when their beloved Krishna is travelling. Kolam drawing is also listed as one of the 64 forms of art to be learnt in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra. Kolams are drawn every day in the morning before sunrise on temple floors or on the doorstep of homes by women to signify “welcome” of anything auspicious and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Kolams are created everyday either with rice flour so to attract ants, birds, and other small insects for a meal – a harmonious coexistence with man. Patterns in kolam are drawn with dots and the lines that go around them forming intricate designs or they could also be free-hand motifs of fish, birds, and other animals. They are also drawn with chalk powder, limestone, red brick, turmeric or sandalwood paste. “Rangoli” form of kolam is made with riot of colors. “Athapookalam” of Kerala uses fresh flowers for kolam. Pregnant or menstruating women are barred from this drawing kolams.

 Kolam

These interconnected overtones tell one thing – we are so different yet alike – across linguistic, religious, cultural, physical, social, political, ideological and national boundaries, there is some core commonality that links us all. Both the similarities and differences bring us together. Love and travel can bring this wide, universal outlook 😉

E pluribus unum!