Since nothing of noteworthy excitement has occurred since my last blog post, I’ve decided to include some of the interesting things I’ve been learning about Indian religion and culture. The culture is shrouded by their religion - even their language is affected by their belief system - and my growing comprehension of Hinduism (and even Islam) has given me insight into why Indians live the way they do. Here are just a few random facts about this country I am growing to love:
1. In Hinduism, there are countless gods, but typically, most people are dedicated to one god or a family of gods.
2. India is a land of symbolism and iconography.
-elephant = good luck
-peacock = beauty and grace (and it's their national bird)
-tiger = power
-camel = love (huh?)
3. Just recently, India celebrated a holiday called Raksha Bandhan, and unlike most of their holidays laced with superstition and paganism, this one is actually quite sweet. During this holiday, sisters tie a band or bracelet around her brother’s wrist as a reminder of love and protection and in return, brothers vow to protect and take care of their sisters. It attempts to bring families closer together and strengthen the brother/sister relationship.
4. Karma is a central belief in Hinduism. What you sow in one life you will reap in the next. Reincarnation is much like the Law of Conservation of Energy, which states in part that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Similarly, Hindus believe that the body dies but the soul lives on and on. In simple terms, the ultimate goal of a Hindu is to be reincarnated over and over again while going through 4 basic stages (too long and complicated to include here), and then be absorbed into the spirit of their main god Brahman, which is an eternal state. Women cannot achieve this – she must be reincarnated into a man first.
5. Since Hindus believe that a soul resides in every being, animals are held in high esteem. Animals are rarely killed, which is why most practicing Hindus are vegetarian, if not vegan. The cow is their most sacred animal, and it is basically more honorable to be reincarnated into one than it is to be reborn as a woman.
6. Due to discrimination against women in this culture, one in every sixth girl will die. India has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, if not the highest, and most of them are girls. Many of them are killed as young children by their own families.
7. Hinduism is almost 4,000 years old, making it one of the oldest religions of the world. It has dominated Indian culture for most of its existence.
8. Most of the marriages in India are arranged. Weddings are week long events with several specific parties and gatherings symbolizing certain specific things. Don’t ask me what these specific things are, because I don't remember all of them. I would actually have to get married here to figure them all out! They are loud though, let me tell you. While in Mussoorie, our landlords hosted a wedding and one of the parties was right outside our guesthouse (we’re talking loudspeakers RIGHT OUTSIDE my door). Loudest music and dancing I’ve ever heard. Let’s just say that they had fun, and I got no sleep that night.
9. Indians have a six day work week, with each sector or area taking a different day of the week off. I just solved the depression problem in India – give the people a two day weekend.
10. Widows are considered bad luck in Hindu culture. She is often blamed for her husband’s death, and many times is shunned or killed. Although this mainly occurred in historic India, the wheels of change are often slow to turn. Modern India is rising, and hopefully this will no longer be an issue, but widows here still carry the stigma of death with them.
11. Rivers are very important to Indians. In Hinduism, they are worshiped as gods and goddesses, and the Ganges River is believed to have sin-cleansing powers. Indians come from all over the country to be cremated and have their ashes spread in the River. From what I hear from the people I know who live there, the scent of burning flesh in the air is incessant. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, people often use the water to bathe in, wash clothes in, wash animals in, and set their dead children adrift in (no children are allowed to be cremated, so they just put bury them in the river). They rely heavily on the holiness of the water to forgive sins and usher the soul to eternity in Brahman.
As I said before, Indian culture has historically been defined and shaped by their religion. There is much more to this story, and I get new revelations about it every day...it both fascinates and saddens me. But after studying Hinduism at its most basic level, I am more thankful than ever before for the Hope that is in us.
Again, thank you for your prayers and support! I am so thankful for my friends :) Three more months here, then home. I've been missing the USA lately, but I'm looking forward to every step I'll take until then.