A wanderer, much in love with food, Chef Gary Mehigan makes it back to his favourite destination — India — and weaves along a bright tapestry of colour, competition and culture, calling it ‘India’s Mega Festivals’.
The chef, pretty well versed with India and its people, is on a kaleidoscopic journey into the country’s major festivals, delineating the history, legends, tradition, and of course lip-smacking food. The two episodes that have been dropped so far give a peek into two major festivals from North and South — Holi and Onam. And, no, it’s not a day or night-long celebration but 40 days of festivity in the land of Krishna, Braj Bhoomi, and 10 days in God’s own country, Kerala.
Chef Mehigan is no stranger to India. Nor are Indians to this English-Australian, who has been one of the judges on ‘MasterChef Australia’. With this new series, one falls more in love with the charming chef, for he is not on the sidelanes reporting stuff, much of which many of us are already familiar with. He becomes part of the experience, soaking in the spirit, shaking a leg to the beats of the dhol, to Puli Kali, the tiger dance of Kerala, to chanting ‘Radhe Radhe’ with the same fervour as the devotees in Uttar Pradesh.
One must credit Chef Mehigan for braving it out with the crowds. Holi is celebrated in different places, each replete with its own set of unique customs. The pace picks up at Lord Krishna’s village Nandgaon, where the men are gearing up to make the annual visit to Radha’s place, Barsana, for Latthmar Holi.
Legend has it that Radha and the gopis playfully drove Krishna and his friends away, beating them with sticks when they showed up to colour them. Women at Barsana carry on the tradition playing with men who are brave enough to bear the beating. They also touch the women’s feet to seek blessings later!
The multi-generational celebrations include Phoolon Wali Holi, Raas Leela, Nagar Dola, Dauji Ka Huranga to Phalain Ka Panda — each with centuries-old unique legends, that are depicted through animation. Mehigan duly explains the presentation by interviewing the revellers, performers and locals. Braj Bhoomi welcomes one and all — from the locals to the software engineer in Noida coming home to be a part of Latthmar Holi to the flabbergasted tourists from France, Germany and even Texas, USA, who can’t have enough of colours and hugs from complete strangers.
Mehigan gives a tour of the quaint ghats, Yamuna aarti and food traditions, just as the performing milk salesman who doles out a sweet kulhad with much flair and flourish. Enjoying the colours, pichkari, flowers, gulping down jaleba to kachori with aloo jhol, this episode ends on a high note with ‘modern Prahlad’ Pandaji walking through the towering flames in Phalain village!
The second episode takes one on a 10-day Kerala tour that packs in snake boat races, Puli Kali (tiger) dancers, Pookalam (flower carpet) to sadya — the special Onam feast at Thrikkakara temple. Once again, Mehigan is out to experience it all. He, in fact, joins a boat racing training session with the team of Sathya, a software engineer in Bengaluru who is home for the Onam celebrations. The episode gives a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage and not just the music and art forms. Featured are rare martial art forms like Onathallu and Kalaripayattu, made popular recently by actor Vidyut Jammwal. Right from visiting a vegetable market in Ernakulum to being hosted at the Chittoor Kottaram Palace to lending a helping hand at the grand feast for 25,000 people at Thrikkakara temple sadya, Mehigan once again opens up a magical world that has treasured traditions from times immemorial.
The celebrated chef is to be joined on this journey by Chef Pablo Naranjo Agular, who is half-Colombian, half-Hungarian. The crew is Indian. Due credit to directors of photography Shanu Babar and Pratap Singh Papola and director Vishal Chib for capturing India and its incredible festivals in their true spirit.
In Mehigan, one finds an engaging presenter who looks as resplendent in bright kurtas at Braj to the white-golden mundu and neriyathu in Kerala. The series is for everyone who loves to take virtual trips or wants to experience the real magic that India has to offer, without getting out of the comfort zone. New episodes drop every Wednesday.
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