Archive for April, 2011

A Vegetarian Journey
Author: Guest Blogger

This post is authored by Sheena Patel – founder of wellness boutique Savsani.  Sheena has taught classes in positive psychology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, yogic principals at Harvard Business School and stress management at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Savsani offers comprehensive wellness programs for individual and corporate clients.

Growing up in the United States, most kids eat hamburgers, hot dogs and meatballs without thinking twice.  My sister and I grew up the same way, but at home we ate mainly a vegetarian diet, as my mother cooked with lentils, grains, vegetables and fruits.  My sister soon became a full-fledged vegetarian because she couldn’t handle the thought of how the animals were killed in the slaughterhouses.  However, I continued to eat meat.

As a passionate foodie I couldn’t bear the thought of having limited options at restaurants or when I cooked.  Soon enough though I too became a vegetarian, but it was purely because of my burgeoning interest in yoga.  I switched to cooking only vegetarian meals in the kitchen – combining techniques my grandmother and mother taught me with many of my favorite global cuisines of the world:  French, Chinese, Italian and Mediterranean.

Through my study of yoga and Ayurveda, I began to realize by trial, error and experimentation that the food that you eat can have an enormous impact on your health and the way that you feel.  I’m so thankful that India not only gave us yoga, but also the philosophy that food is a science that affects the whole of the body, mind and spirit.

Now many of my yoga clients are blessed to have a seasonal cleanse where SavSani delivers food for them to enhance the state of their body, mind and sprit.  After going through many cleanses I’ve noticed that the clients have changed the way they think about food.  Many clients entertain the thought of switching to a strict vegetarian diet while others go ahead and make the full transition.  It’s an interesting journey that they all embark upon according to their own timing and according to what feels right for them.

At this stage of my life and according to my current body type I feel wonderful eating a purely vegetarian diet.  I eat what Ayurveda call a pure sattvic diet – vegetarian fare consisting of local organic produce that’s cooked fresh everyday.  The ingredients in this type of diet are vegetables, whole grains, raw honey or turbino, nuts, oils, seeds, mild cooking spices, and organic dairy.  I feel very lucky that I’m now able to go back to the diet that my grandmother was raised on and still thrives on to this very day.  Food is a way I connect with her and with SavSani that makes me feel more whole.

Disclaimer: As with any physical activity, please consult with your primary care physician before practicing.

© 2011 SavSani


Wherever you stand on the issue of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, he was indeed an inspirational and iconic figure.  In my home state of Andhra Pradesh, where he was born – in the village of Puttaparthi – he was worshipped as a God-equivalent.

He directed many towards a path of goodness.  And if even just for this, he will undeniably be missed.

One of my favourite Sai Baba quotes is a simple one – but one that I believe is an irrefutable truth of parenthood:

A sapling can be helped to grow straight, but once it becomes a tree it cannot be guided in its growth.

Sri Sathya Baba will be buried today (yes, buried – as is the custom for those esteemed by Hindus as holy men) with full state honours, his body wrapped in orange clothes.

Image via


A special sale for Mother’s Day!

This week only, a special-priced package:

Mother-Daughter Apron Set + The Chota Chef Recipe Cards

$50.00 (English personalization)
$55.00 (Indic personalization)

A 30% savings on the set – A gift that Mom will enjoy all year!

Order via Gnaana’s Etsy

Offer expires Friday, April 29th


Of course this month is all about The Earth – bhoomi as said in Telugu.  It’s nice that schools and communities are focusing on Maata Bhoomi – though it would be even better if such environmental education were made a part of the core curriculum.

My son’s school celebrated Earth Day with some special events, in which I participated by presenting Earth Cake Pops to his classmates.  Their excitement over the small treat indeed warmed my heart, but what I’ll remember most from the day is how well they treated their little Cake Pop – as though it were a fragile and oh-so-precious gift of rarity.  They coddled and kissed their pops, and duly named their continents (thanks to CakePopShop for the wonderful detailing on the design) before safely tucking them away in their lunchpails to take home.

I hope they’ll treat the real Earth with such care and reverence!

For more Earth education throughout the year:
Below, Bamboo Sunshine Dollhouse – sustainable pretend-play with fully operational solar panels, 5 LED lights and an add-on greenhouse!

On of our all-time favourites – Hugg-A-Planet Earth

Whole World Gift Set from Barefoot Books

Terrific books: Aani and the Tree Huggers (recommended by one of our readers – based on true events in northern India) and The Earth and I (a simple and special read).

Games: What’s Rubbish? and Farming Game (Kids)

EPA also has a whole section on interactive kids’ games – mostly for older kids, but here’s a simple one.

Happy Earth Day!

Who Is Mother Earth?
Author: Gnaana

image via lierne, Bhudevi at the Norton Simon Museum

Mother Earth, or Mother Nature, seems to be a universal metaphorical figure.  The Greeks called her Gaia and the Romans called her Terra Mater.  In Hinduism, we call her Maata Bhoomi, or Bhudevi.

The Puranas describe her as the divine consort of Varaha – Lord Vishnu’s 3rd Avatar – and she is also believed to be one of the two forms of Goddess Lakshmi (the other is Sridevi).  In fact, in many South Indian Vishnu temples, Lord Vishnu’s statue is flanked by both Bhudevi and Sridevi.  Bhudevi is also considered the mother of Sita.  She is often pictured with dark (and sometimes green) skin, and with either 2 or 4 arms.

Bhudevi’s Vedic precursor – Prithvi Mata (Sanskrit for Earth Mother) – seems to have been one of the oldest Aryan deities.  Vedic texts cited Prithvi Mata as a symbol of fertility, and considered her the source of all vegetation and other bounties of the Earth.

It’s no wonder then that Hindus begin each day with a prayer to Mother Earth – a Morning Shloka that is to be recited before you put your feet on the ground (audio here):

                    Samudra Vasane Devi,
                    Parvatah Stana Mandale.
                    Vishnupatni Namastubhyam,
                    Paada-Sparsham Kshamasva Me.

O! Mother Earth, who has the ocean as clothes and mountains and forests on her body, who is the wife of Lord Vishnu, I bow to you. Please forgive me for touching you with my feet.

Beautiful, no?  Perhaps you can start a new ritual this Earth Day and have the kids recite this shloka – an homage to Bhudevi – because, really, every day is Earth Day!


I remember at my grandmother’s house in Andhra Pradesh – a small village with just a handful of modest homes – there was a single bulb affixed to the wall of the main room.  It couldn’t have been more than 15 watts – but it provided just enough light for you to see where you were going (if the village had power at all that evening, of course).  We turned it on only when necessary and it was a big event when it needed replacement.  I loved that little bulb.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to exposed bulb pendants.  Some may call the look “industrial” or “vintage modern,” but I just like them because they remind me of the comfort of my grandmother’s house – and an in-your-face-reminder that energy was not something that was to be wasted.

And so in my search for lighting for the green home we are building, I was more than excited to find these amazing compact fluorescent bulbs by Plumen.  With many countries around the world (not the U.S., of course, never the U.S. on something like this…) phasing-out incandescents and mandating more energy-efficient lighting alternatives, Plumen has turned less-than-attatractive fluorescent tubing into art

They recently received the overall Design of the Year award by the Design Museum, London.  Priced at a (sort of) affordable £19.95, the bulbs aren’t available in the U.S. yet – but I’ll wait…anything to avoid those incandescents.

Spring Sangeet
Author: Gnaana

Our April Newsletter is out, and this month it’s all about spring sangeet!  Music is a fantastic way to connect with kids.  Although musical talent and ability starts from a very young age, most formal music lessons – be it piano, violin or Indian instruments – are not available until kids reach the age of 5 or 6.  And understandably so – children are only beginning to refine their fine motor skills so their young hands may not be able to perform complicated maneuvers on keys or strings.

But young kids can still learn music on a simple instrument such as a xylophone.  The color-coded keys lend themselves to an easy and natural way of learning the basic musical notes, or swaras, and the instrument’s simplicity builds musical confidence in kids – a perfect starter instrument!

Here are some exercises to teach kids the basics of Indian classical music (Carnatic or Hindustani) on the xylophone.  Starting with short, brief lessons, you can eventually move on to having kids learn 2 basic songs – Kamala Sulochana and Vara Veena Mridu Pani – songs which virtually all students of Carnatic string and wind instruments start with.  Of course this process will take time and persistence, but the benefits are many – kids will learn the virtues of practice and persistence, gain musical agility and connect with our culture!

1. First, you’ll need a xylophone.  The basic 8-note plastic models are fine to start with, but you’ll eventually want something with at least 12 keys.  We recommend Basic Beat 12-Note Glockenspiel. If you’re not familiar with Carnatic/Hindustani swaras (notes) – here they are:  sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni, sa (much like the Western Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do).  NOTE: for the second swara, ri is used in Carnatic music and Hindustani uses re.
2. Before you embark on your musical journey, bless your instrument with some kumkum and haldi and say a simple prayer – such as Sri Gurubhyo Namahah (“obeisance to my master”).  The child should thereafter pay respects to his instruments before each practice session.
3. Start with having your child practice hitting the keys with the mallot – with a slow and steady hand – until he can produce crisp notes up and down the board.
4. Have him practice hitting each note twice (sa sa | ri ri | ga ga….) up and down.
5. The next exercise is in a 2-1 format (sa sa ri | ri ri ga | ga ga ma |…) up and back.
6. Now we up and back a little – this will take some practice (sa sa ri ri sa | ri ri ga ga ri | ga ga ma ma ga…) up and back.
7. You child should now be comfortable hitting the keys and going up and down the board.  Now we learn to recite the swaras – sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa (NOTE: in Hindustani music “re” is used instead of “ri”).  Repeat steps 2-5, this time having the child recite the swaras.
8. Now we introduce tala (beat or rhythm).  First is Eka-tala – which is a simple beat of 4’s.  Have your child play notes up and down the xylophone to this beat (sa ri ga ma | ri ga ma pa | ga ma pa da…) .
9. Next is Roopaka-tala – a beat of 2,4:
|| sa ri | sa ri ga ma ||
|| ri ga | ri ga ma pa ||
|| ga ma | ga ma pa da ||
|| ma pa | ma pa da ni  ||
|| pa da | pa da ni Sa ||

Now we’re ready for our first song – Kamala Sulochana.  This song is played in Eka-tala and Raga Anandha-bhairavi.  Before we start the song, we play the musical scale of this Raga – called Arohana when we ascend the scale and Avarohana when we descend the scale.  These are the notes that we use in the song, so have your child play:
Arohana:         sa ga ri ga ma pa da pa ni Sa
Avarohana:    Sa ni da pa ma ga ri sa

Here is the song (full page printout here).  Take your time, learn slowly and enjoy!
And here is how the song is supposed to sound:  Audio here.

Another beautiful song is Vara Veena Mridu Pani.  This song is played in Roopaka-tala and Raga Mohana.
Arohana:          sa ri ga pa da Sa
Avarohana:     Sa da pa ga ri sa

Full page printout here
Listen to the audio here

**NOTE:  Given the limitations of the xylophone, the notes are simplified.  E.g., both songs use the second “ri” (r2), but only “ri” is used here.


Almonds, or badam in many Indian languages, seem to be one of those superfoods.  They are reportedly heart-healthy, a great source of protein and beneficial for good skin and hair.  Ayurveda recommend eating 5-10 almonds every morning (without the skins) – as it is believed they provide important nutrients to the brain and nervous system.  Almonds, along with salmon, eggs and blueberries, also made Gaiam’s list of Top 6 Foods that Boost Brain Power.

I’m trying to incorporate more almonds into our diet.  My mother makes a superb badam halwa, but it’s not something we eat every day.  So I’m looking to that Indian comfort drink – badam milk – to add to our daily ritual.

First is to make a badam powder – which can be stored and used when desired.  The powder can be mixed with warm or cold milk.

Badam Milk Powder Recipe

1 cup almonds
1/4 tsp. fresh cardamom
1 Tbs. sugar
pinch of saffron (optional)

Soak the almonds for 2-3 hours, after which the peels will come off easily.  Pat dry and then dry roast them in a pan to remove all moisture.  Let cool  and then grind to a powder in a blender or coffee grinder, along with the remaining ingredients.


Take a hero with superpowers of the Gods, a beautiful princess, an army of monkeys and a demon-king with 10 heads who rules the 3 worlds – what gamer wouldn’t want part of this action?

Seriously – why has no one developed one yet?  (Apparently, 3 computer science majors in Thailand created one in 2000 which won the nation’s game software competition – Ramakien, as the Thai version is called – but it doesn’t seem that it was ever marketed).

Then we got wind of Ramayan 3392 A.D. – a comic book series published by Virgin Comics in 2007.  Both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the comic book are available on Amazon and there was much buzz around that time about Sony’s plans to turn the comic into a super-duper online video game, but it has been silence since the initial press release.

There is also talk of a Ramayan 3392 A.D. movie – you can see a trailer here – apparently set to release sometime in 2011.

You would think such a film would be a instant success at the boxoffice – are we missing something?

Happy Ram Navami (tomorrow)!

Fancy This Fretwork
Author: Gnaana

Remember Jali work?  Those gorgeous lattice screens that adorn Islamic and Indian architecture?  Well it seems there is a parallel term in the design world – fretwork – and it’s creeping up in stylish interiors everywhere.

Above, fretwork doors in a master closet, designed by Jeffry Weisman & Andrew Fisher (image by Elle Decor).
Below, fretwork paneling in an entryway.  Design by Thomas Hamel.

Stunning kitchen tile backsplash.  Tile by Ann Sacks.

Art on the floors.  Tiles by Popham Design.

Fretwork lights.  Lamp pair via Circa Who.  Cadence pendant fixtures by One & Co.

Indian Jali shades by Delia Shades.

Modern wallpaper designs by Graham & Brown (left) and by Angela Adams (right).

Fretwork room divider designed by Angie Hranowsky.

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