Vimala Ramanan’s exhaustive tomes are valuable cultural treatises.

Her calm smile and quiet demeanour charm you at once. Vimala Ramanan is not your quintessential writer/author. “In fact, I am an author by accident,” she says, while talking about the twin volumes – ‘Shlokas: The Path Of Bhakti’ and ‘Hindu Festivals & Food’ – which have just been released.

Twin volumes? “Well, the topics were such that they complemented one another beautifully. Yet, they could not be clubbed together. So we brought out two volumes separately,” says the daughter of the advertising icon, R.K. Swamy, and the creative head of Hansa Vision, a division of the R.K Swamy/Hansa Group.

The cultural treatises, which are by and large Tamil Nadu-centric, explain the 'when, why and how' of over 60 Hindu festivals, including rare ones such as ‘Sumangali Prarthanai,’ ‘Vaikasi Visakam’ and ‘Aani Thirumanjanam.’

So how did it all fall into place, you ask. Says the soft-spoken lady, “On every festival or a special occasion, my daughter or my niece would call me up, wanting to know what rituals to follow and what to cook. Then my family suggested I put down everything in writing. So, five years ago, I began documenting some festivals along with all the necessary details --- the Tamil month in which they fall, the legends associated with them, the special foods to be prepared and the recipes.” And sure enough, Vimala had collected over 60 fascinating stories, 40 festivals and rituals and over 200 recipes! Well, there was surely a book there waiting to be published.

User-friendly

Hindu festivals & Foods’ is formatted in a user-friendly manner. The first few pages are dedicated to basic information about the Indian and Tamil calendar and panchangam. Then the festivals and rituals are categorised according to the month in which they occur, along with a short story related to the fest and the special foods. For example, for Aadi Perukku, Vimala talks about how it is dedicated to Goddess Cauvery, and provides the menu which includes puliodarai, lemon rice and sarkarai pongal. What makes the recipes authentic is the fact that Vimala has tested out each and every one of them!

For Vimala though, the book on slokas holds special meaning. “During holidays, when my grandchildren came home, I would teach them simple slokas. In fact, I compiled a book for my grandson’s first birthday.” And that was how the second volume on slokas (in Sanskrit with English transliteration) came about. Culled out of various texts, the slokas featured are simple to learn and easy to recite. She says, “I wanted my grandchildren to be aware of our rich heritage and also inculcate ‘the bhakti bhavam’ in them.”

A project of this magnitude meant plenty of research. “True,” says Vimala. “I am indebted to my parents for they instilled the right values. My mother taught me a lot. My brothers were pillars of strength right from the word 'go.' I also found immense help from Sanskrit scholars such as Ananthapadmanabhachariar and M.V. Mohan, who meticulously went through every Sanskrit word and the English transliteration.”

But the biggest contribution, physically and emotionally came from husband Ramanan. Not only has he published the books but played a vital role in editing them. About his contribution, Vimala says, “I think his role in bringing out the twin volumes is as big as mine. He would patiently look at whatever I had written and make useful suggestions.”

The tastefully designed books (Douglas Nathan) are not just user-friendly but also a valuable contribution to society. The tomes may have begun as a simple exercise to keep some home recipes and traditions alive, but they have turned out be important cultural documents, which will come in handy for generations to come.