Calcutta Paan: Tracing the flavours of India’s favourite mouth freshner


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By NewsGram Staff Writer

Chewing Paan is a cultural habit in India which has been going on since ancient times. The exact dates aren’t known but the earliest mention of the natural mouth freshener was in the ancient Indian text Kamasutra dated between 4th-2nd century CE . Even Ibn Battuta, the famous traveller to the court of Muhammad bin Tughluq in the 14th century, talks of this culinary practice, peculiar to India.

Kolkata epitomizes the Paan culture of India. In West Bengal, two types of betel leaves are produced, ‘Bangla Patta’ and ‘Mitha Patta’. The latter is more popular among the connoisseurs.

Kolkata has always been a gourmet’s paradise. When it comes to Paan the situation is no different. Kolkata can boast of some great Paan shops which, in their own right, have made it to the ‘Hall of Fame’ of Kolkata (if Kolkata has one).

If Shyamal Dutta, the owner of ‘Kalpataru Bhandar’ isn’t busy reading the newspaper then he is busy making ‘mitha paan’ for his customers. ‘Kalpataru Bhandar’ has been in the Paan business for the last 74 years without a change in ownership. The price ranges from Rs 5 for an everyday Paan to Rs 1,000 for a ‘Kalpataru’ special Paan.

Another very special place for Paan lovers in the city is Taj Mahal Paan Shop. Nestled right next to ‘Aminia’ ( which sells biriyani). Irrespective of time, the shop has Rafi numbers ozzing outof a speaker system. Reason? Because this shop can boast of having Mohammed Rafi as their loyal customer. A lunch at Aminia followed by an ‘ice paan’ from Taj Mahal is a must in every foodie’s itinerary.  

Ask anyone for Saat Tala Paan Wala shop in the bustling Bowbazar area ( which literally means 7 floors) and one won’t have any problem in locating this shop. The proprietor of this shop, Ganesh Prasad Chaurasia is a pass out from Birla High School for Boys (a very reputed institution), yet Ganesh choose to enter this 85 year old family business. The shop is famous for its Kemmam Paan.

Considered an aphrodisiac in the olden times, Paan chewing is one of the many traditions in India that stretch like an unbroken thread joining three millennia of recorded human history.

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Maria Wirth on How Ancient Indian Wisdom can Help Modern Science Progress in the Right Direction

Maria Wirth, in her new blog article, opines that science has rarely tried to investigate what Indian Rishis have to say

Indian Wisdom
Maria Wirth. Twitter
  • The Modern Science, which is usually portrayed as a critique of religion, is shy to fight the Indian wisdom
  • Scientists have been too busy finding answers in their labs, having ignored the wisdom of Indian Rishis
  • Maria Wirth in her blog article suggests that ancient Indian wisdom could help science progress 

August 11, 2017: It was the Indian Rishis who had answers to existential questions centuries before the discovery of scientific postulates. These Rishis successfully determined the age of the universe. They also knew that it was the Earth that orbits around the sun. Further, they also knew that there was more than just one sun, and that matter is made up of small units called atoms.

It had taken science a lot of years to validate the truth behind this ancient Indian wisdom.

The scientific conclusion that everything is “one energy” was long before preceded by the Indian thought that there is only one consciousness/ awareness.

Maria Wirth, in her new blog article, opines that science has rarely tried to investigate what Indian Rishis have to say. Science is a recent phenomenon as compared to religion and spirituality, and for the many findings in such short time, science has been too proud to investigate into Indian wisdom.

Thus, it is common for science to believe that these old theories that were postulated before science have little to nothing to offer. Scientists feel that these old theories have no role to play.

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Maria Wirth explains how thirty years ago, ancient wisdom and modern science came together when nuclear physics came to the conclusion that everything is one energy.

However, there is a difference in the notion of what science says and what the Indian Rishis have said. Indian Rishis claim that the ‘energy is aware of itself’. Whatever exists has emerged out of a singular awareness. The universe exists and is fully aware of it.

Modern science begs to differ. The energy that it talks about is ‘dead energy’ meaning it is not aware of itself. The humans that are ‘aware’ of their existence are manipulated by the brain into thinking so. This is a result of an accidental chemical reaction produced in our brains. This awareness dies when the brain dies.

For this distinction, Maria Wirth gives two possible reasons. Firstly, in the western societies, there was a period of renaissance and reformation when scientific knowledge was rapidly expanding. It led to a narrative that says science is opposed to religion. As religion believed that there was a God that watched over us, science opposes that.

The other reason is rather simple. “Awareness cannot be objectified,” which violates scientific principles. The inability to objectively measure and explain awareness is beyond scientific comprehension, at least as of now.

The literature in India regarding awareness and consciousness is extensive. Atman, which refers to ‘self’ also implies individual experience and awareness. Brahman, on the other hand, refers to the absolute and universal awareness. Brahman is the absolute truth.

Atman is a capacity that resides within us. It makes us “feel alive.”

The Mahavakyas in the Vedas claim that “atman is Brahman.” Ultimately, atman and Brahman are one. This means that a person’s individual awareness is their absolute awareness of the world.

If it is so, then indeed, science needs to move away from research and explore more of consciousness.

Wirth highlights the five components of the universe according to Indian scriptures. Name and form, which make up the first two components, are dynamic. They emerge out from the world of Maya. The other three; sat-chit-ananda (being-awareness-bliss) are constant. While science covers name, form and sat, it misses out on chit and ananda, i.e. the bliss that is derived from the awareness.

Modern science presents us with a rather bleak scenario, where there is basically no meaning in living, all is chance and with the death of the body, everything is finished. This nihilism is a popular belief among the intellectuals of the West.

– Summarised by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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“Dashakumaracharita” (Tales of the Ten Princes) is a Saga of Love, Sex and Danger in Ancient India

This ancient secret society by the name of The Nine Unknown Men would be 2000 years old by now. (representative image)Pixabay

– by Vikas Datta

May 8, 2017: For keen readers, the point where texts transform into literature is always interesting. The protagonists are more likely to be fallible humans than deities, the prescriptive and didactic approach wants to show the world as it is, not as it should be. The transition is usually marked by a watershed work and in Sanskrit’s case, it could be this rollicking 7th century AD tale of adventure and romance — without many scruples.

But Dandin’s “Dashakumaracharita” or “Dasa Kumara Charitam” (“Tales of the Ten Princes”) has a few more achievements to its credit.

As per diplomat-turned-classical scholar A.N.D. Haksar, it was the first prose romance where the stress is more on the story and the characters — unlike Bana’s “Kadambari” and Subandhu’s “Vasavadatta”, its prose contemporaries, which concentrate more on stylistic elements to let the story muddle on by itself.

Then in the expanse it covers, it is probably the first to stress the idea of India as one cultural unit, with common social mores and values, despite political divisions. The author, who hailed from Kanchi (in present Tamil Nadu), places only one of the stories at home, and most of the others are across the Indian subcontinent, from what is now Punjab to Odisha, from Uttar Pradesh to Kerala, and from Gujarat to Assam, and even the Indian ocean.

And then for good measure, it pioneered the form of a framing story encompassing a whole series of stories, as well as the “lost and found” trope that can be seen in a wide range of cultural works, stretching from “dastaans” to the films of Manmohan Desai.

But before we deal with what the adventures are all about, we must acquaint ourselves with its creator.

A grammarian and author in the Pallava court in Kanchi in a period spanning AD 650-750, Dandin, of a family of Brahmin scholars of the Kausika gotra, “is one of the best-known writers in all of Asian history”, as per Sanskrit scholar Yigal Bronner.

This, Bronner, an associate professor of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says is due to his “Kavyadarsa” (Mirror of Poetry), a treatise on classical Sanskrit poetics, which “travelled widely, was translated and adapted into Kannada, Sinhala, Pali, Tamil, and Tibetan, and may even have exercised on the formation of Recent Style Poetry in China”.

His reputation as a poet is praised in many popular verses, one by an anonymous poet taking him far beyond Kalidasa and others to more exalted company: “Jate jagati valmikau sabdah kavir iti shtitah/vyase jati kavi kavayas ceti dandini (Upon the birth of Valmiki/the word ‘poet’ was coined/With Vyasa it was first used in the dual/And ‘poets’ in the plural, first appeared along with Dandin”.

But he was a man of the world, despite his name (literally means staff bearer and figuratively meaning member of a mendicant/ascetic order), with Haksar noting that he was “obviously a man of vast and variegated learning”. This not only covered sacred and secular literature, and many other subjects like erotics but also had observed first -hand a range of unique situations, as his story of the princes shows.

“Dasa Kumara Charitam” is the second of his three most famous works. The “Dvisandhana”, simultaneously retelling the “Ramayana” and the “Mahabharata” through double entendre words has been lost. Even “Dasa..”, which is divided into a prologue, the narrative proper and an epilogue, is believed to be part of a longer story now lost, but even what is available makes for a comprehensive, readable tale.

As is common in this type, the framing device is perfunctory. King Rajahamsa of Magadha is defeated by a rival and retreats into the forest with his court. There, a son (Rajavahan) is born to him, some of his ministers also have sons while several other infants are brought to him due to a variety of causes (one rescued from a tiger, another handed over by his nurse to be raised properly and so on) ultimately making the 10 princes of the title. They study together and when 16, are despatched to conquer the world.

Rajavahan meets a Brahmin, who lures him into a scheme to conquer the underworld, and the rest also scatter. Ultimately reunited, they tell each other their fantastic adventures, most of which cover amorous dalliances (the orginal has one prince forced to tell his account without any labial words as his lips are still bruised by his paramour’s vigorous kisses) but also war, humbling the proud and haughty and so on.

What makes it interesting is the picture it paints of the extant society in all its colours and its cheerful, no-holds-barred descriptions of sex (the female form especially), crime and conspiracy, and as such appears refreshingly modern in outlook.

If Indians want to cherish their classical heritage, it is works like this which they must know to understand our ancestors were not sanctimonious prudes like their modern, self-serving “champions”. (IANS)

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Are Sexual Wellness Products still a Taboo in India or People are getting Adventurous in their Bedrooms? Let’s Find out!

Instead of promoting an open environment regarding sexuality, India has become reserved and conservative about it

A sex shop,, Wikimedia

November 12, 2016: Ancient India was a land of liberal thoughts and accepting attitude. The level of conservatism was low as compared to the present times. In fact, India is known as the land of Kamasutra. Our bodies were not something to be ashamed of. Openness regarding sexuality was encouraged. There was no discrimination against lesbians, gays, transgender and queers. That’s how India was—a country which accepted every individual as they were.

Our ancient stories are filled with numerous instances. Like, Vishnu turned into a woman named Mohini. Karna took birth before Kunti was married. And a demigod named Kamadeva is an integral part of ancient India myths. None of these instances were seen with a degrading perception, as they are seen now. The ancient statues and pictures are the proof that India wasn’t reserved about sexual topics.

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But now, the situation has come to the point that people are shamed for their own bodies. Parents can’t discuss about sexuality to their kids openly. Sex education is non-existent in schools. By the time, kids hit puberty, they have to figure everything out on their own. This process can be isolating and guilt-inducing as well.

Kamasutra vatsyayana, Wikimedia
Kamasutra vatsyayana, Wikimedia

Instead of promoting an open environment regarding sexuality, India has become reserved and conservative about it. The biggest taboo that exists in our society is talking about sexual wellness products. These products and supplements are available at many stores in India, but they are not sold and purchased openly. Moreover, whosoever indulges in buying these products receive umpteen judgemental eyes.

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People cannot explore their own sexuality. They cannot take significant steps to maintain their sexual wellness. They cannot discuss their sexual problems with windows wide open. Ultimately, it has led people to feel ashamed of their bodies and its functions. They do not know how to deal with its biological demands.

Ultimately, it’s really important to promote the use of these products. A few men and women indulge in physical activities, but due to lack of awareness regarding these products, the women end up getting pregnant. It’s not only harmful to women but it also puts strain on the unborn child. Many families feel stressed out due to sexual problems. But again, due to the taboo nature of this topic, many males and females are ashamed of going to doctors and taking help.

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As per a report published by healthsite, impotency is leading sexual problem that Indian men face. Sexologist Dr Mahinder Watsa reveals that due to smoking, drinking, and work-related stress, many young men are facing erectile dysfunction.  In fact, myths like ‘masturbation is sinful’ plagues Indians. Dr. Watsa stated that it is important for men to masturbate in order to get rid of unwanted sperms. Women can masturbate to explore their bodies more. There is nothing sinful about this act.

Such issues often go unnoticed and young people are ashamed of talking about these issues. It’s high time that we remove the taboo label we have stamped over sexual topics and help people to pay more focus on their sex-related health.

– by Shivani Vohra of NewsGram. Twitter: @shivanivohra26