Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Making Sugar From Grass

Last Sunday we pressed sorghum to make molasses.
Sorghum is very similar to sugar cane.
6 Families in our village are sharing the labor in this project and will divide the bottles of syrup when the job is done. A few friends came from Greensboro, one of them took several photos.
Mathura and Chitra are overseeing the entire operation, the rest of us simply lend a hand with whatever they ask us to do.

The horses take turns walking the 'sweep' which turns the press, while the kids push the sorghum cane into the slot. A stream of sweet, green juice flows into a bucket below.

At any time you can put a cup to it and take a drink of the most refreshing juice. This is very different from refined sugar. It is full of health giving properties. Rather than make you hyperactive then sleepy as refined sugar will, it acts like a tonic, giving steady energy. Still, you don't want to take too much, as it is very rich.
When the bucket is near full, the horse is stopped and the bucket is poured into the evaporating tray. A fire burns under this all day, boiling away the water to make syrup. This can take 8 to 10 hours and requires constant attention, someone stirring it almost continuously.

The seed heads from the cane are used as grain in many parts of the world. We took some of these grains, cleaned, winnowed and ground them into a course flour. This was toasted in butter over a wood fire to bring out the flavor to make halava. A few cups of the hot boiling syrup from the evaporating tray were ladled onto the hot grains causing them to bubble like a volcano. When it settled and cooled this was served on leaf plates. Many of the participants reported this as the best halava they have ever tasted.

Much of the helpers had to return home as it got dark. While the syrup thickened, the foam that was cleared off became more tasty. Rather than drop it into the feed bucket, we collected it into a cup which was passed around, even though each of us said,"No more after this one".It was difficult to just let it sit there, tasting like a very sophisticated cotton candy.
Some started to get a little silly after so much sugar foam. A visitor suggested we should sing ''My Sweet Lord" while we're doing this. For some reason, that seemed hilarious and we all had a good laugh. "That's the syrup talking", Chitra said.
The purpose of boiling is to get enough of the water out so it will store without fermenting. When the syrup reaches that thickened state it can easily burn and the whole day's work will have been wasted. I wanted to be there to help through that stage.
At around 10 PM, under a single light bulb in the darkness, it was determined that it may have reached that stage. Apparently this is something one can only learn through experience. Mathura and Chitra have helped others in boiling, but this was their first time on their own. There was considerable discussion back and forth,
"I think we should take it off now, look how it's making 'strings' hanging off the spoon."
"Well,I think we should leave it on. There are only a few ;strings', they should be hanging consistently"
It was decided 'better safe than sorry' and I helped Mathura carry the pan off the flames.
Under the single light the syrup was ladled into two 5 gallon pots while Scooby growled at coyotes howling in the distance. Scooby had been licking up every bit of the syrup or foam that fell on the ground. We were wondering how his little body could handle all that sugar, I guess that's what dogs can do.

After the pots were filled, we all scraped what was left and had a taste.
A slice of home made bread had been placed above the coals to toast it.
That was the best toast anyone had ever eaten, shared between the 5 of us, crunchy and drenched in the fresh syrup.
I was able to scrape a cup of syrup from the pan for myself which I carried home in the dark. Wrapped in a buckwheat pancake Monday morning, it brought back memories of the day before, how the seed, sun, soil and rain combined to produce the sorghum plant, how the juice was extracted by horse power then concentrated by fire.
This entire process will be repeated today and Sunday. You may take this as a personal invitation from Mathura or myself. Any help or simply company is appreciated. Kids are always glad to feed the cane into the press or find firewood. Many hands make light work, and also make a fun gathering.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chinese Ghost Story

A few years back, perhaps around 2003, I met a Chinese gentleman in New York City at the Hare Krishna Temple on 26 2nd Avenue. He mentioned that he had been practicing Krishna Consciousness in China for many years. Because of the government strictures that only recently have been lifted, I was curious how he had come in contact with Krishna in China so long ago.
We were sitting on the floor of the small temple, he leaned forward to tell me this so as not to be heard by others sitting nearby.
"I was tormented by ghosts constantly. I could see them everywhere", he began."I don't tell this to many people, because they immediately think I'm crazy."
"Seeing ghosts was frightening I imagine"
"Yes, it was terrifying.I couldn't get away from them. Out of desperation I prayed to God, although we have no understanding of God in China. 'Whoever You are,please guide me,give me wisdom,give me a mantra so I can be free from this problem.' In China people are accustomed to chanting mantras, so it was a natural thing to ask for. Very soon I felt an urge to walk outside.I walked for hours not knowing where I was going. I left my town and walked into another town to a bookstore I had never seen before. I walked down an aisle and stopped , then reached for a book.It was a small book"
I don't remember which book it was that he found , perhaps Perfection of Yoga, translated into Chinese.
"I opened it and read the first few paragraphs and knew this was what I was to study. I went to pay for it and the teller said,"We don't carry this book.I don't know where it came from.Go ahead and take it",I went outside, sat down and read the entire book feeling very relieved.As I neared the end of the book I thought,"What about the mantra?" As I turned to the next page I saw the maha mantra , Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare."
He chanted this mantra on his long walk home feeling very grateful to have found everything he needed so quickly.
"So do you..." , I leaned forward a little to maintain his privacy,and lowered my voice,"Do you see ghosts anymore?"
"Sometimes, but not like before.It's very rare. They don't bother me so much anymore."

Here is another Chinese Krishna Story , this one is from a devotee in Taiwan.

By Shyamasundara Dasa

Lord Nrsimhadev shows His mercy even to a non devotee.

Yasoda Mata’s 85-year-old foster father passed away two months ago. During his stay in the hospital, Yasoda Mata prepared a tape recorder and played the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra all day long in his ward. Her foster father was actually in a semi-coma, but miraculously when he heard the Maha mantra, gradually he awoke and with closed eyes he appeared to be enjoying the music and the sound vibration.

He started to follow the tempo by tapping his hand on the edge of his bed. His finger ring made the sound like “don, don don” “don, don don …….. ” He looked like he was totally meditating on the Maha mantra. Suddenly he spoke, “Look! There is a huge 5 clawed man, and his head looks just like a lion’s, he is coming into my ward. Don’t you see him? He is coming ….” The foster father still with eyes closed said “Oh, yes, I forgot you all cannot see him, but he is really here. I do not know who He is”

At that moment Yasoda Mata and her daughters looked at each other in great surprise and answered. “Father, He is Lord Nrsimhadev”. “What dev ??? I don’t know Him. But He is nodding His head to tell me that He is.” Yashoda mata felt great ecstasy in hearing this for in her house she keeps a model of the Nrsimha Deity from Mayapur and had been offering heart felt prayers to Him so that her father could leave the body without any attachment and that his soul can become Krishna’s devotee in his next birth. Continuously her father said, “Look, He is smiling to me and starting to speak again . Oh, He is telling me that I have to learn to chant what you are chanting now…. what exactly are you chanting ?” He said.

“It is a mantra to call the holy name of Lord” Yasoda Mata replied.

” I don’t know what mantra, but please teach Me.” he said.

“All right father, please repeat after me and listen carefully — Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna………” Yasoda Mata taught her foster father word by word patiently. Without taking a long time, he learned and tried to chant…. and chanted so nicely.

The next day he passed away with tranquility.

During that weekend, we devotees here congregated together to do the kirtan for Yasoda Mata’s father at the memorial service. Yasoda Mata prepared the prasadam garland, Ganga water, tulasi, and put tilak on her father, which have all been done nicely and properly according to her guru maharaj H. H. Giridhari Swami’s telephone instruction. Her foster father’s face looked so peaceful, his cheeks were a little pink, and his body was soft. After some customary ceremonies the body was sent to the incinerator. A Few hours later the people who work in the memorial service came to us and exclaimed in amazement - “We have never seen anyone’s ashes look so white and beautiful like jade as your father’s! What happened to him? What were you chanting for him?” “Could you write it down for us? We want to learn and we think we can also chant while doing our service here.”

Why the Lord Himself personally appeared before someone who we consider is not a devotee proves the sastric statement - that if one is always engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, their family members will be benefited as well. From Lin Tulip Taiwan, 20th March 2006