Hinduism

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Hindu Temple, Nainital, Uttarakhand.

Wherever one goes in India, a frequently seen thread in the fabric of Indian culture (and neighboring Nepal) is that of Hinduism. It is seen in frequent shrines and temples scatted throughout India, seen in the colorful flower and cloth offerings available to devotees in street-side stands, seen in the bindi dot worn by many on the forehead. Approximately 80% of India’s 1.2 billion population practices Hinduism (BBC).

Despite it prevalence and status as a world religion, Hinduism, I think, is largely misunderstood by westerners. I do not claim to be an expert on Hinduism, but I have had the opportunity to observe and interact with Hindus for weeks. During that time what has struck me as most erroneous is the typical western view of Hindus worshiping multiple gods in what is often characterized as an idolatrous manner. Yes, there are many significant Hindu “gods” that fit into a pantheon and are interwoven into allegorical stories that reach back millennia into the Vedic texts. And yes, these “gods” are depicted as having superhuman and/or animal characteristics to whom reverence is shown and offerings are given. However, to stop there at that superficial level of observation is shortsighted.

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Hanuman, the monkey god, a monumental sculpture seen on the road to Jaipur.

The numerous gods present throughout the Hindu world, though worshipped and part of a complicated stories, are but many manifestations or avatars of a single omnipresent and omnipotent creator. A Hindu practitioner told me, “there are many names but only one God.” Hindus may say that God has taken on a physical form as a man, or as a “god” with anthropomorphized animal characteristics, all are said to be manifestations of the creator of the universe — that which cannot be fully conceived. This supreme entity is also symbolized as Om

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(Om symbol & Shiva, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In it’s barest essence, Hinduism believes in the existence of one infinite Supreme Power, or God, worshipped by Hindus in various representative forms, such as of the Father or the Mother and Who is the Creator and progenitor of the Universe. The most fundamental tenet of our religion lays down that doing good to other beings is the highest form or Worship of the the Lord and, conversely, harming them the worst form of sin.
-Birla L.N., Hinduism: A Philosophy of Life
Shri Lakshmi Narain Temple, New Delhi

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Language in India

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For APHG Students: India has 24 recognized languages spoken throughout its diverse population and wide-ranging regions. Using the front and back of the 500 Indian Rupees bill (about $8 at the time of this post), answer the following questions:

What evidence do you find for multiple languages in India?
How many languages do you see evidence for?
What language or languages appear to be dominant?

Synthesis: what might be other effective ways for bridging the language barrier when so many languages are spoken in one country?

World History:
Who is the main figure depicted on this bill and why would India utilize his image?

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Fatehpur Sikri

Just to the west of Agra about 40km is the incredible fortified city of Akbar the Great, Fatehpur Sikri. It is renowned for being among the very best preserved examples of Mughal architecture in all of India, and it is resplendent with details. Fatehpur, meaning victory, was built by Akbar in 1569 following the fulfillment of a Sufi saint’s prediction that Akbar would have a son to inherit his empire.

It was here at Fatehpur that Akbar built an enormous palace, complete with royal quarters and his harem courts. It was also here that Akbar sought the advice of extraordinary men. Said to have been passionate about learning, Akbar assembled nine advisors on various religions and the arts, and consulted with them in the Hall of Audiences, an awesome building with an amazingly ornate central pillar atop which Akbar sat when he consulted with his advisors or held private audiences.

Despite the architectural achievements, the palace at Fatehpur was short lived. It was abandoned in 1585 due to a shortage of water and its closeness to brewing troubles to the West.

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The Agra Fort

Only a few kilometers away from the incomparable Taj Mahal is the Agra Fort, a fortified palace built by the Mughal emporer, Shah Jahan. More than a simple military stronghold, the fort is built with a combination of red sandstone and white marble, and houses a palace of incredible architectural details.

Shaw Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, eventually seized power from him and he was emprisoned at the palace. From the white marbled palace one can gaze along the banks of the Yamuna River at the incomparable Taj Mahal, where his wife is entombed.

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The Taj Mahal

Agra is home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world: the Taj Mahal. It is India’s largest attraction and is the largest tourist attraction in all of Asia. Built as a mausoleum to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in 1631, it was designed by a Persian architect.

One sees countless images of the Taj, and one can read about its details endlessly. What strikes me about the Taj is this: it’s shear beauty is genuinely awesome. It is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. It was described by Rabindrath Tagore as “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity” (Lonely Planet). Well said.

I am also struck by its exquisite craftsmanship, and its utterly immense size — something usually not depicted in photographs. As a reference of scale, note the size of the people walking into the Taj’s front entrance. Stunning. Simply stunning.

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The Road to Agra

Heading southward from Delhi to Agra, we first pushed though the bustling commotion of Gurgaon, the southern most reaches of the Delhi metro. Typical Indian street scenes include countless people making their way to work and attending to their daily affairs amid the innumerable roadside stands selling snacks and wares under tangles of power lines.

On the road we encountered many Hindu pilgrims dressed in orange and carrying shoulder baskets decorated with religious symbols. These pilgrims were making their way home on foot, walking hundreds of kilometers from Haridwar in the north where they collected water from the Ganga to bring home with them.

The city streets eventually give way to rural scenes. Roaming livestock along the roadsides and throughout the villages become frequent, and cars must be careful to avoid the cattle, goats, and water buffalo, else risk the wrath of the inhabitants. Agricultural fields, workers, and field quarter made of mud and manure dot the landscape. Colorfully dressed workers dot the green of the rice fields, a enormous cash crop for India.

Drivers race ahead in the clear, even stretches of road, but these segments of the journey are punctuated by the many steel gates cars must zig-zag through, designed as speed controls. The many toll gates and numerous potholes are equally effective yet, Indian drivers press on at breakneck speeds.

Tax collection points, of which there are many, provide ample opportunity for hawkers to sell their goods. Jewelry, bottled water, illustrated tourist books, and food items are common, especially when tourists are waiting in their car while their driver goes into the office to pay the tax. At one location, a teenage boy approached our car with a basket. Fortunately, the door was locked and the window rolled up because the boy opened his basket to reveal a cobra flaring his hood! He was seeking payment for photographs of his cobra. My wife recoiled at the sight of the cobra, and the boy soon left when he understood I was not interested in paying for a photo. No sooner did he leave than we were startled by a langur on a leash which suddenly hopped up on the edge of the car door and pressed his face against the glass, fogging the window with is breath. His owner was also looking for payment for photos.

Colorfully painted trucks dot the roadway. Truck horns offer a somewhat musical phrase while various cars announce their presence or intentions with an array of sharp tones, from beeps to blasts.

Traveling the highway to Agra is tiring; the surging speeds, fast lane changes, and frequent breaking wears on you, even as a passenger. It must be exhausting for a driver. After a few hours, we welcomed a washroom break (where a tip to the attendant for paper towels is expected), and lunch. The rest-stop owners know they have a captive tourist audience headed to Agra — the charge for a cold can of Coca Cola is 160 Rupees, or about $3.00!

Eventually the roadway reaches Agra, another busy city with clogged roadways, and home to a Mughal Empire stronghold, and one of the seven wonders of the modern world — the Taj Mahal.

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Incommunicado

I have been incommunicado due to the difficulty of Internet access, a busy schedule, and getting settled in a foreign land. Although it has been great, everything is difficult in India.

To give you some sense of what I mean, here is an example from a short shopping trip to a Delhi department store. When you choose something for purchase, you don’t put it in a basket to be rang up by a cashier. Instead you give it to a clerk who records your purchase (sometimes this is hand-written), and then gives the items to another person who takes your selections from that area to a central clearing area while you continue to shop. When you are ready to make payment, you go to a large central cashier who totals up all of your slips and charges you for your purchases. You then go to another area where your paid receipt is given to a person who pulls your bagged items for a central location, stamps each slip from each area you made selections from, and then gives it to another person. The last individual then does an inventory check of each item in each bag from each area you have made selections from, then you FINALLY get your purchases.

In my mind I see this as related to the enormous population of India’s 3.2 billion people needing employment, but I could be wrong. Regardless, this is a prime example of how difficult most things can be in India.

This is India.

More updates on the Delhi experiences soon.

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Amazing Delhi

Delhi has provided an amazing four days! My #HHTeacherTrek is off to an incredible start. I have found myself speechless multiple times for a variety of reasons

The people we have interacted with are profoundly friendly and helpful, the historic and cultural sites are rich with history and stunningly beautiful, and the cultural experiences are deep in intensity. Color abounds and cultural variety is everywhere including Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and tribal traditions. A variety of flavorful food can be found easily, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Delhi’s dynamic population and long history due to the country’s role in the spice trade.

The city, and India for that matter, are not for the faint of heart. It is a place of extremes and of paradoxes. The beauty of the many cultural, historic, and residential sites is juxtaposed against widespread, extreme poverty and the unsanitary conditions the poor and working classes endure. Traffic is extremely challenging with cars, bikes, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, mopeds, buses, & trucks forever pushing forward to their destinations. Traffic lanes, although painted on the streets, are merely suggestions. And always present are the honking of horns used as a simple and frequently warning to communicate one’s presence or intended direction in the jostling commotion.

Delhi’s historic and cultural site are numerous, many bearing great significance. Multiple locations are World Heritage sites. The historic importance of many Delhi locations reflect a long history of Hindu and Muslim influences. The establishment of the Mughal empire in the 14th century has resulted in Persian influences through the present. But Delhi is not just steeped in ancient world history. Sites of contemporary significance and reverence can be found at locations such as India Gate — a WWI Memorial, and the Raj Ghat — the place along the Yamuna river where Ghandi Ji and other revered figures were cremated.

Delhi’s Khan Market is a bustling and hip urban center. Fashionista’s can satisfy their cravings at trendy boutiques. Western and Indian styles meld together amidst streets teaming with motorcycles filled with colorfully dressed women in flowing, silk saris riding side-saddle behind their boyfriend drivers. Khan Chacha provides flavorful kabobs and other street-foods in a clean and inexpensive setting, accessed through a narrow alley that is distinctly Indian.

Religion is a very significant element of daily life in Delhi, and all of India. It is a subject worthy of many additional posts. Of course, Hinduism provides the major religious current in India however, Islam is present throughout, and a fast-growing tradition. Although India is the home of Buddhism, they constitute a small minority. Jainism, a religion with roots in Hinduism, can be found but is a minority presence as is the Sikh tradition.

One could go on and on about Delhi, but this will have to suffice for now. As time permits, more posts about individual topics will follow.

Namaste.

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Purana Qila

Said to be built on the ancient site of Indraprastha, a city belonging to the Pandavas dating to 400 BCE, Afghani ruler Sher Shah built the fort of Purana Qila in the 1540’s. Within the walls of the Old Fort, Sher Shaw built the Qila-i-Kuhran Mosque. Now in ruins, the mosque’s construction uses local red sandstone, white and black marble and it serves as a tomb.

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Indimentum

I have only been in India for a little less than 72 hours, but I have coined a new term to help describe my observations:

Indimentum /ˈindēmentəm/:
noun
From “India” & “momentum” meaning the force exerted by 1.2 billion people to accomplish tasks despite extreme difficulties.

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