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Life Arts

The Multiple Faces of India

By       Message Siv O'Neall     Permalink
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Originally posted in Axis of Logic

Traveling in India is a fascinating and mind-changing experience. You are charmed by the friendly and beautiful people, even though underneath it all there are many aspects of the lives of poor Indians that are difficult to accept with equanimity. Nevertheless you are bound to fall in love with the country even though the harsh reality is so visible everywhere.

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For our third visit to India we had chosen to visit only Tamil Nadu, very different from the north that we had visited twice already, and completely different from Sikkim where we went last October, a northern state between Nepal and Bhutan (and formerly an independent country with a king), right in the lower Himalaya mountains.

Tamil Nadu is a country of multicolored temples, vast rice fields, huge loads of sugar cane or hay pulled by skinny bulls with colored horns, palm thatched huts where people live in one-room houses and seem perfectly happy with their lot.

I don't believe there are many countries in the world that can stand up to India in terms of variety, color, movement and joie de vivre.

Oxen are used as draft animals, rather than camels and horses in the north

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Sadly though, India is also outstanding when it comes to the enormous number of beggars and street children, incredibly hardworking women not just in the rice fields but also in other cruelly hard jobs such as in road construction. The ubiquitous poverty is visible to anybody on their first visit to the country. There seems to be much less begging and true misery, however, in Sikkim where we were last October as well as in Tamil Nadu. Sure, people work hard but they seem to earn a fairly decent living.

Women working in a rice field

The majority of the dwellings of the poor seem very rudimentary, at least to Westerners, but nevertheless there are smiling, happy looking people everywhere, friendly and seemingly full of love for each other and for others. How is this apparently contradictory state of things possible?

Thatched roof huts and happy people are seen all over Tamil Nadu

Well, first of all, they live for the sake of living and loving – people, nature, their gods and their sacred rituals. They live in close communion with nature, with the earth, with their temples, with their families and with everything living. They were not taught to hate. They were not taught to own more than their neighbors, to accumulate, to climb to pinnacles of power. They were taught to help each other out in need, to be in peace with their inner selves and with the universe. I am mostly referring to the Hindus, since that is by far the majority religion.

Holy temple elephant and worshipping Hindu

The role of religion in the lives of Hindus

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Almost all Hindus depend totally on their religion to go through their lives with equanimity. They worship at the temple or the shrine, regularly, and in masses whenever there is a sacred ritual taking place. It's a common ritual to touch the floor with their foreheads and Hindus frequently in temples and before shrines stop to make the sign of worship – bowing and putting hands together before the image of a god or a symbol thereof, for instance a holy Nandi (bull). The joined hands are placed higher and higher to indicate increasing respect and veneration. Hindu men often prostrate themselves on the floor of the temple in veneration of the specific god the shrine or the temple is devoted to.

The worshippers assemble in front of the Brahmins who are the only ones allowed into the sanctum sanctorum, the innermost often small and dark place that surrounds an idol. [1] The Brahmins are the highest caste in the age-old Hindu caste system. They are the keepers and interpreters of their religion, the representatives of the god of the temple. In the sanctum sanctorum people give flowers or other offerings and receive the imprint of ashes on their foreheads. Candles are often lit in front of the idol and the worshippers make the sign of veneration, hands together and heads bowed.

Worshipping the elephant god Ganesh with candles and garlands of flowers

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Siv O'Neall was born and raised in Sweden where she graduated from Lund University. She has lived in Paris, France and New Rochelle, N.Y. and traveled extensively throughout the U.S, Europe, and other continents, including several trips to (more...)

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