Tag Archive for 'Faith'

Trying to become pregnant, the Eastern way

Tarquin Hall, author of “The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken,” in NYT:

I was lying stark naked on a hard wooden slab with two men slathering my limbs in sticky, pungent oil. Without warning, one of them tried to give me an enema using a rubber hose. My cry of “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” was met with a mumbled apology. The masseur meant no harm. But for me, a naturally reserved — some would say squeamish — Brit brought up to believe that nudity is something they do on the Continent, this was pure humiliation.

“Everything is all right, Mr. Haaall?”came a woman’s voice from outside the cubicle. It belonged to the Ayurvedic doctor responsible for the “therapy” I was undergoing.

“I’m hating every minute of this!” I replied.

“How you’ll ever get pregnant with such thinking?” she admonished. “Consider your darling wife. She is suffering too much. You must relax — have some faith.”

This was Day 3 of a monthlong program to help my wife, Anu, and me conceive a child. We’d been married 10 years and trying to have a baby for 5. More:

India’s god laws fail the test of reason

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Early in March, little drops of water began to drip from the feet of the statue of Jesus nailed to the cross on the church of Our Lady of Velankanni, down on to Mumbai’s unlovely Irla Road. Hundreds began to flock to the church to collect the holy water in little plastic bottles, hoping the tears of the son of god would sanctify their homes and heal their beloved.

Sanal Edamaruku, the eminent rationalist thinker, arrived at the church a fortnight after the miracle began drawing crowds. It took him less than half an hour to discover the source of the divine tears: a filthy puddle formed by a blocked drain, from where water was being pushed up through a phenomenon all high-school physics students are familiar with, called capillary action.

For his discovery, Mr. Edamaruku now faces the prospect of three years in prison — and the absolute certainty that he will spend several more years hopping between lawyers’ offices and courtrooms. In the wake of Mr. Edamaruku’s miracle-busting Mumbai visit, three police stations in the capital received complaints against him for inciting religious hatred. First information reports were filed, and investigations initiated with exemplary — if unusual — alacrity. More:

The industrious god

Gautam Pemmaraju at 3quarksdaily:

The beleaguered liquor baron/industrialist/MP Vijay Mallya, considered to be the ‘Richard Branson of India’ by many, is currently seeking ways to rescue his debt-ridden airline. Having drastically cancelled flights over the last few weeks, the colourful airline promoter, who also has an Indian Premier League cricket team, an F1 racing car, one of the biggest private yacht’s in the world, a slew of vintage cars, amongst other baubles, has been defending himself against widespread criticism. Speculations of a possible government bailout have angered many around the country.

He is also a patron of the historic temple in the hills of Tirupati, in southern Andhra Pradesh, bordering Tamil Nadu. With a prominent guesthouse there, he is known to be an avid devotee of the resident god Venkateshwara (also Balaji, Srinivasa), and has never been shy with either devotion or largesse. Newspaper reports abound that every new aircraft of his first takes a flight of obeisance around the Tirumala hills where the temple is located, before ferrying passengers.

A former BJP minister of Karnataka and mining baron, G Janardhan Reddy, who is now in jail on charges of illegal mining, had donated to the temple a ‘2.5 foot long, 30 kg’ diamond encrusted gold crown worth over $10 million then in 2009. Recently the temple administration (the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam trust or TTD) stated officially that there was no question of returning the gift in response to demands calling for its return. Political parties and other groups led protests against the ‘tainted’ offering, claiming that it “polluted the sacred ambience of the sanctum sanctorum”. Earlier this year, the now incarcerated politician and his brother (known as the Reddy brothers – partners in the controversial Obulapuram Mining Company) donated yet another diamond studded crown, gold laden garments and other ornaments worth around $3.5 million, to the deity at Srikalahasti temple, which is at the foothills of the main temple. More:

Spiritual awakening

William Dalrymple in the New Statesman:

On a foggy winter’s night in November 1998, Om Singh, a young landowner from Rajasthan, was riding his Enfield Bullet back home after winning a local election near Jodhpur, when he misjudged a turning and hit a tree. He was killed instantly. As a memorial, his father fixed the motorbike to a stand, raised on a concrete plinth under the shelter of a small canopy, near the site of the crash.

“We were a little surprised when people started reporting miracles near the bike,” Om’s uncle Shaitan Singh told me on my last visit. “Om was no saint, and people say he had had a drink or two before his crash. In fact, there was no indication whatsoever during his life that he was a deity. He just loved his horses and his motorbike. But since his death a lot of people have had their wishes fulfilled here – particularly women who want children. For them, he has become very powerful. They sit on the bike, make offerings to Om Singh-ji, and it is said that flowers drop into their laps. Nine months later they have sons. Every day people see him. He comes to many people in their dreams.”

“How did it all begin?” I asked. We were in the middle of a surging throng: crowds of red-turbaned and brightly sari-ed villagers gathered around the bike, the women queuing patiently to straddle its seat and ring the bell on the canopy. Nearby, two drummers were loudly banging dholaks, while chai-shop owners made tea and paan for the pilgrims. Other stalls sold plaques, postcards and statues of Om Singh and his motorbike. Pieces of cloth were tied to branches all over the tree and gold flags flapped in the desert wind. Everywhere buses and trucks were disgorging pilgrims coming to visit Rajasthan’s newest shrine. More:

Tibetan exiles back Dalai Lama

From BBC:

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Tibetan exiles meeting in India have agreed to back the Dalai Lama’s policy of seeking autonomy, rather than full independence from China.The Tibetan spiritual leader’s approach to continue talks with Beijing received the majority vote at the meeting in Dharamsala, but delegates concluded that if China makes no effort to meet the demands, other options would be put forward.

Click here for another report.

A generation gap in Tibet’s royal family

Jyoti Thottam in TIME:

Khedroob Thondup nephew of the Dalai Lama. AP

Khedroob Thondup nephew of the Dalai Lama. AP

“I was seven years old in 1959, and I was studying in Darjeeling,” recalls Khedroop Thondop. “One day my teachers told me that I was to go and receive someone at the train station. That’s when I realized that I was related to His Holiness and that I was Tibetan.”

As the Dalai Lama’s nephew, the eldest son of the Tibetan spiritual leader’s eldest brother, Thondop, now 56, has already led an extraordinary life. He was born in Calcutta, where his father, a political leader in the Tibetan government, had been posted. He went to the elite St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi, got an MBA in the United States, ran a family business for several years in New York City, and then returned to India in 1977 to serve as his uncle’s special assistant. Two years later, he went to Beijing for Tibet’s first negotiations with China, taking notes on the meetings between his father and Chinese supreme authority at the time, Deng Xiaoping. For the last 21 years, he has run a center for Tibetan refugees in Darjeeling and has served three terms in the Tibetan parliament-in-exile.

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Born in exile: the young Tibetans of Dharamsala

In the streets of Dharamsala, Sébastien Daguerressar, special correspondent of France 24 channel, got firsthand testimonies from these young Indian-born Tibetans, who dream of winning back a country they have never seen.

Khendrab Palden

Khendrab Palden

He sits on the pavement, facing the temple on Dharamsala’s main road. Teacup in hand and MP3 player in his ears, he takes in the sun. “I’m considering exile,’ he says, anticipating my question. His name is Khenrab Palden, 26, and exile for him is not just a personal goal – it’s a professional one. He is a filmmaker. His parents left Tibet before he was born, he explains. But thanks to the Tibetan community, his parents set up a business and managed to send their son to study in the US.

In Massachusetts, Khernrab studies anthropology, the history of religion, and film. “I feel 60% Tibetan, 20% Indian, and 20% American. My country will be where I make my living. Tibetans are like the Jews chased out of their countries by Hitler.”

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Previously in AW: At exile meeting, Tibetans debate independence

At exile meeting, Tibetans debate independence

Long associated with the Dalai Lama and his “middle way,” the exile movement has reached a crossroads. Edward Wong from Dharamsala, India, in the New York Times:

In Dharamsala, India, Tibetans in exile waited last Saturday to welcome the Dalai Lama. Tibetans are discussing whether to advocate separatism from China. AP/NYT

In Dharamsala, India, Tibetans in exile waited last Saturday to welcome the Dalai Lama. AP/NYT

In this Himalayan hill town, where Tibetan prayer flags flutter and red-robed monks study Buddha’s call for forbearance, talk is brewing of kicking off the world’s next separatist movement.

Posters around town advertise the word “rangzen” – Tibetan for “independence.” Not in years has it been heard so much in the streets here, falling from the lips of members of the Tibetan diaspora whose frustration runs as deep as the mountain ravines of their homeland. Decades of dialogue with the Chinese government, they say, have failed.

“Support for independence will definitely increase,” Dhondup Dorjee, 30, said, as he took a break from a heated discussion with fellow exiles to grab lunch in the cafeteria of the Tibetan hospital. “What are the pressures we can put on the Chinese? The pressures will come in any form.”

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A pilgrimage to Calcutta recalls Armenian history

More than 250 Armenians with Calcutta roots went to the Indian city for the 300th anniversary of the oldest church there. Leonard M. Apcar in International Herald Tribune:

Restored graves at Holy Trinity Chapel, an Armenian church and cemetery built in 1867, in the Tangra district of Calcutta. (Leonard M. Apcar/IHT)

Restored graves at Holy Trinity Chapel, an Armenian church and cemetery built in 1867, in the Tangra district of Calcutta. (Leonard M. Apcar/IHT)

Before there were call centers and Indian conglomerates, before the East India Co. or the British Raj, there were Armenians who made their way to India to trade and to escape religious persecution from the Turks and, later, Persians.

Entrepreneurial and devout Christians, but familiar with the Islamic ways of Mughal emperors, Armenians arrived in northeast India in the early 1600s, some 60 years before British adventurers became established traders here. They acquired gems, spices and silks, and brought them back to Armenian enclaves in Persia such as Isfahan.

Eventually, some Persian Armenians – including my ancestors – left and set up their own businesses and communities here, landing first on India’s western flank in Surat and nearby Bombay, the present-day Mumbai, and then moving to the river banks in northeast India that led to Calcutta’s founding as a sprawling manufacturing and port city.

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Patent for Tirupati temple sweets

From Mint:

sweetThe famous Tirupati laddu will soon get a geographical indication (GI) tag, making it arguably the first offering at a place of worship anywhere in the world to be recognized as an intellectual property (IP)-in this case, of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), a trust that manages the temple at Tirupati.

An expert panel appointed by the Registrar of Geographical Indications met at the temple last month to examine the merits of the application and has recommended granting the GI tag to the Tirupati laddu, two persons familiar with the developments said. Neither of them wanted to be named ahead of an announcement to the effect.

TTD had sought the GI tag for the laddu under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, after failing to curb sale of counterfeit versions by hawkers seeking to exploit the growing demand from visitors to the temple.

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The “Buddha” boy of Nepal

Ram Bahadur Bamjan looks on as devotees come to seek his blessings. AP

The "Buddha boy." AP

A young Nepalese boy who many believe is the reincarnation of Buddha has re-emerged from the jungle in southern Nepal, and thousands of people have flocked to Nijgadh town, about 100 miles (160 km) south of Kathmandu, to see the boy.

Dubbed the “Buddha boy,” Ram Bahadur Bomjam, 18, became famous in 2005 after his family claimed he could sit for months on end without sleep, food or water. He retreated into the jungle for more than a year, and re-emerged on Monday.

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httpv://in.youtube.com/watch?v=sHpDoBwbCWs

The Little Buddha of Bara

Keith D Leslie in Nepali Times:

At first, I was skeptical about going to receive darshan from Ram Bahadur Bomzon, ‘The Little Buddha of Bara’. I didn’t want to be part of a human circus. I felt this young man was showing us the way each of us should practice our own dharma in search of greater good, devotion or sanctity-not racing off to see someone else practice theirs. Still, I was intrigued.

So, with friends, we drove over the Tribhuban Rajpath amidst the spectacular backdrop of the Central Himalaya. We first passed an RNA check point in Palung then below Daman drove by young well-armed Maoists chopping down trees. A night-stop at the Avocado Motel in Hetauda, then early next morning we drove to Bara. As we woke, I recalled that exactly one year ago on 2 January I had watched the sun rise driving back to Bangkok after the cremation of our friend, Robin Needham, the former CARE Nepal Director. Now the sun was rising anew with the miracle of life full circle as we were off to see a young boy seeking inspiration and salvation in the jungles of Nepal.

[Keith D Leslie cultivates bamboo and live with his children Joshua, Ezra and Leah Prajna Rose outside Kathmandu.]

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Is the dream of independence for Tibet now a lost cause?

[Updated with the Dalai Lama's response: see link below]

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

Why are we asking this now?

Over the weekend, his Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists and the man who has been at the centre of efforts to highlight the Tibetan cause for decades, explained that he “had given up” his struggle. “I have been sincerely pursuing the middle-way approach in dealing with China for a long time now, but there hasn’t been any positive response from the Chinese side,” the 73-year-old told an audience at Dharamsala, the Indian Himalayan town that is the headquarters of the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile. “As far as I’m concerned, I have given up.”

Does that mean the Dalai Lama is retiring?

Karma Choephel, the speaker of the parliament in-exile, told reporters that the Dalai Lama used to say that he was semi-retired and that now he believed he was was almost completely retired. However, a senior aide to the Nobel laureate last night dismissed speculation that he would start taking a back seat in Tibet’s affairs. “Because of the lack of response from the Chinese we have to be realistic. There is no hope,” said Tenzin Taklha. “His holiness does not want to become a hindrance to the Tibetan issue, and therefore has sent a letter to the parliament regarding what options he has.”

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An update from His Holiness on Andrew Buncombe‘s blog Asian (con)Fusion:

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Tibetans have long been pursuing a path to find a solution to the issue of Tibet that would be mutually acceptable to Tibetans and Chinese. This has received widespread appreciation from the international community, several governments included. More importantly, it has gained the support of many Chinese intellectuals. More:

God delusion at work: My Indian travel diary

Meera Nanda in Economic and Political Weekly [via 3quarksdaily]:

“New cars smell the same in India as they do in the US”, was the first thought that came to my mind as I took my seat in my nephew’s new Hyundai sedan in which he had come to pick me up from the Chandigarh airport. It was the first of August and I had just arrived in India for a short visit. My home- town was my first stop. New cars in India may have the same leathery-plasticky smell as new cars every-where, but they look like nothing else in the world. The car that I was riding in, like the tens of thousands that roll out of auto-showrooms everyday all over India, was bedecked in red ribbons and had a garland of fresh marigolds strung around the number plates. The top of the front window had two swastikas and an “Om” painted on it in red colour. The drivi ng-wheel had the “auspicious” red string tied to it. The Ganesh idol on the dashboard had the residue of burnt incense in front of it.

My nephew told me that he was coming straight from the temple where he had taken his car for a vahan puja, a brand new Hindu ritual invented to bless the new vehicles that are clogging the Indian roads these days. This being his first car – and the object of his loving devotion, at least for now – my nephew told me that he wanted to do something really, really, special for it. That is why, he told me, he took it to the temple where he had to shell out some serious cash for the ceremony, instead of getting a free puja which his dealership had offered as a part of the incentive package. “What”? My ears pricked up. I must have sounded incredulous: “Car dealers offer free pujas? Do they have pundits on their staff now? Car dealerships have become new temples or what?”

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Amma, the hugging saint

She is venerated as a living god and has a global army of followers. The Guardian‘s Jenny Kleeman went to experience the guru’s embrace for herself – and discovered a slick business empire raking in £10m a year:

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Amma. AP

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Amma. AP

In the sticky monsoon heat of early August in Kerala, I was standing on a stage in front of thousands of people, waiting for my turn to get a hug from a living god. The crowd jostling around me had been queuing for eight hours. Some people had travelled across the world to be here. Among the Indian voices, I could hear German, French, Spanish, American and English accents. Grown men were shaking as they approached the front of the queue, their faces wet with tears.

At the centre of the stage, in between two electric fans, sat a small, grey-haired figure. Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – “mother of immortal bliss”, otherwise known simply as Amma, or “mum” – is said to be the divine embodiment of pure, selfless love. This 55-year-old is believed by her followers to have been born with the unique ability to touch a person’s emotional core and solve all the troubles of modern life, just through a hug.

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Hindu-Muslim family’s choice of cremation arouses anger

A family’s decision to cremate their son’s body has become the object of a tug of war over religious freedom and obligation in Jackson Heights, New York. From the New York Times [via 3quarksdaily]:

Friends and family remember Shafayet Reja as an affectionate young man who stayed up late to write poetry, danced exuberantly at weddings and explored the faiths of his father and mother with an openheartedness that led him to declare on his Facebook page, “I never get tired of learning the new things that life has to offer.”

But within hours of his death on Sept. 10 after a car accident, his memory – in fact, his very body – had become the object of a tug-of-war over religious freedom and obligation. It began when his mother, who was raised Hindu, and his father, who is Muslim, decided to have his body cremated in the Hindu tradition, rather than burying him in a shroud, as Islam prescribes.

His parents, Mina and Farhad Reja, say a small group of Muslims who do not understand their approach to religion are trying to intimidate them over the most private of family choices. “This is America,” Mrs. Reja said. “This is a family decision.”

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Who was Sister Alphonsa?

[Updated]

Sister Alphonsa, an Indian Roman Catholic nun, was canonised on Sunday, October 12 at a ceremony at The Vatican. She was beatified in 1986 by the late Pope John Paul II on a visit to India.

The nun from Kerala who died in 1946 at the age of 36 was India’s first woman saint to be canonised. She became a saint ahead of the Albanian nun Mother Teresa of Kolkata who was beatified in 2003.

Sister Alphonsa

Sister Alphonsa

From The Hindu: “My childhood friend was a saint”

“She used to come here along with her father,” says Lakshmikutty of Kudamaloor. Though 99, she has a sharp memory, especially when it comes to recalling the times she spent with her childhood friend Annakkutty. More:

Also in The Hindu: A role model for humility

Alphonsa’s room was very close to the school. She used to stand at the window of her room to see her little friends. When they saw her, they rushed up to her to see her charming innocent smile and also to request her prayers. Her little friends called her “our smiling sister.” After her death, it was the children of the convent school who started decorating her tomb and burning candles around it. More:

In The Times of India: Biography of Sister Alphonsa prepared by the Vatican

From her birth, the life of the Blessed was marked by the cross, which would be progressively revealed to her as the royal way to conform herself to Christ. Her mother, Maria Puthukari, gave birth to her prematurely, in her eight month of pregnancy, as a result of a fright she received when, during the sleep, a snake wrapped itself around her waist. Eight days later, the 28 of August, the child was baptised according to the Syro-Malabar rite by the Fr. Joseph Chackalayil, and she received the name Annakutty, a diminutive of Anne. She was the last of five children. More:

Holy war strikes India

35 Christians killed and 50,000 forced from their homes by Hindu mobs enraged at Swami’s murder. Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

A woman shows her grief at the religious violence in Orissa during a gospel hymn service. AP photo / The Independent

A woman shows her grief at the religious violence in Orissa during a gospel hymn service. AP photo / The Independent

As she recalled her awful story, Puspanjali Panda made no attempt to halt the tears flooding down her face.

Holding her daughter close, she told how a baying Hindu mob dragged her husband – a Christian pastor – from his bed, beat him to death with stones and iron rods and then threw him into a river. She found his corpse two days later, washed up on the bank. When she went to the police, they told her to go away.

Mrs Panda and thousands of others like her are victims of the worst communal violence between Hindus and Christians that India has seen for decades.

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Are Indians rethinking the equality of minorities?

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph:

This latest development presents India with a stark challenge. The desecration of St James Church in Bangalore, the murder of a nun and priest in Uttarakhand, rape, lynchings, vandalism, and the bomb blasts only three days before Id-ul-Fitr in Muslim-dominated towns suggest one of two explanations. Either they reflect a spreading popular mood or they are the handiwork of criminals. The state must decide and respond accordingly.

Happily, there are still pockets of tranquillity left in the country. No echo of violence in Kandhamal or Karnataka or of explosions in Mehrauli, Malegaon and Modasa disturbs the serenity of Guwahati’s Ward Memorial Church. In a further manifestation of the secularism that Jawaharlal Nehru dreamt of but Indira Gandhi institutionalized with her controversial 42nd amendment, the pastor is called Aziz-ul Haque. Yet, recalling the charges that were levelled against missionaries during Assam’s “Bangal kheda” movement long before the illegal influx from East Pakistan or Bangladesh, the American Baptist, William Ward, after whom the church was named long after his death in 1873, might have met Graham Staines’s fate if he had been living today and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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India’s remote faith battleground

Anti-Christian riots have rocked several parts of India over the past month. The BBC‘s Soutik Biswas travels to a remote region in the eastern state of Orissa, where it all began, to investigate the complex roots of the conflict.

There is no railroad to this remote landlocked district dominated by tribes people. Here, they and a growing number of Hindu untouchables who have converted to Christianity have lived together for centuries, tiling its fertile land, growing vegetables, turmeric and ginger.

It is also the place which has been rocked by violence between Hindus and Christians over the past month. Events here have triggered off anti-Christian attacks in a number of other states.

Villages have been attacked, people killed, churches and prayer houses desecrated. Radical Hindu groups have accused Christian groups of converting people against their will. Christian groups say these allegations are baseless.

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And click here for Reuters Q&A: Why are Christians under attack in India?

Temples where gods come to life

Few things in India express the continuous presence of the gods better than the ancient, massive temple complexes of Tamil Nadu. Edward Wong in The New York Times:

THE god was ready for his night of conjugal bliss. The priests of the temple, muscular, shirtless men with white sarongs wrapped around their thighs, bore the god’s palanquin on their shoulders. They marched him slowly along a stone corridor shrouded in shadows to his consort’s shrine. Drumbeats echoed along the walls. Candles flickered outside the doorway to the shrine’s inner sanctum. There, Meenakshi, the fish-eyed goddess, awaited the embrace of her husband, Sundareshwarar, an incarnation of that most priapic of Indian gods, Shiva.

Along with hundreds of Indians clustered around the shrine entrance, I strained to get a glimpse of the statue of Sundareshwarar, but green cloths draped over the palanquin kept it hidden. Worshipers surged forward in mass delirium, snapping photos with their cellphones, bowing to the palanquin and chanting hymns. They stretched out their hands to touch the carriage. Priests ordered them back.

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A goat for the goddess

One of the most powerful holy places in India, Tarapith in West Bengal is home to a Tantric divinity whose worship promises protection and power. William Dalrymple witnesses a dark and bloody ceremony. In Financial Times: [via 3quarksdaily]

Tarapith is regarded as one of the most powerful holy places in India, the abode of the Devi’s Third Eye. Yet despite the reputed power of its presiding deity, compared with the other great pilgrimage sites of the region, Tarapith is little visited. A thin line of pilgrims were queuing to do darshan (pay homage) to the image of the goddess, but although it was approaching the time for the evening arti, the place was still surprisingly empty for such a famous shrine.

The reason for this, I had been told in Calcutta, was that Tarapith had a sinister reputation, notorious for the unsavoury “left-handed” Tantric rituals which are daily performed in the temple. Stranger things still were rumoured to take place in the nearby cremation ground after sunset. Here the goddess was said to live, and at midnight – so Bengalis believe – Tara can be glimpsed in the shadows drinking the blood of the goats slaughtered day after day in an effort to propitiate her anger.

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In the name of God

From Tehelka:

A Christian girl whose face was burnt during the recent religious violence, sits in a shelter at Raikia village in the eastern Indian state of Orissa

A Christian girl whose face was burnt during the recent religious violence, sits in a shelter at Raikia village in the eastern Indian state of Orissa

When they came for Narmada Digal, she wasn’t there. She had fled, five children and mother-inlaw in tow, to the safety of the jungles a kilometre away. So, they set about what she left behind. A framed picture of Jesus, a Bible in Oriya, utensils in the kitchen, some clothes, and linen. By the time Narmada tiptoed back, her home was gone. What was left was still hot from the ashes, and smoking. The neighbours came to commiserate. Narmada took a good look, stood erect, and pulled her sari over her head. She began to pray.

“Lord, forgive us our sins. Jesus, you are the only one. Save us from our misfortune. Free us, Lord.” The words are tumbling out. Narmada’s children have joined her. She is weeping as she pleads for deliverance. So is everybody else. It’s a simple bond that no human wrath can sever, a woman and her God. “I will die. But I won’t stop being a Christian,” Narmada says.

This is in the heart of Kandhamal, a district at the geographical centre of Orissa, ravaged by probably the worst fighting in India between Hindus and Christians. Kandhamal is young, constituted as recently as 1994. It has 2,515 villages spread over 7,649 sq km. The terrain is inaccessible, full of hills and narrow lanes crisscrossing the villages. There isn’t a single industrial unit here. There are no railway lines, and so no trains come here. Buses are rare. It’s so far behind that even the official website of Kandhamal says, “Overall, the district is ranked as a backward district in the state of Orissa .”

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Mother Teresa: ‘I feel unwanted by God’

A collection of the writings of the Saint of Calcutta show her to have been unfazed by poverty and criticism but plagued by doubts about her faith. From The Times:

On her first day in Calcutta’s slums: “At 8am Veronica [Gomes, her guide to the poor areas] and I went out. We started at Taltala and went to every Catholic family. The people were pleased but children were all over the place. And what dirt and misery, what poverty and suffering. I spoke very little: I just did some washing of sores, and dressings, gave medicine to some. The old man lying on the street – all alone sick and dying – I gave him carborsone and water, and he was so strangely grateful…

“We went to Taltala bazaar, and there was a very poor woman dying, I think of starvation more than TB. What poverty. What actual suffering. I gave something that will help her to sleep, but the woman is longing to have some care. I wonder how long she will last – [her temperature] was just 96 degrees (35.56C). She asked a few times for confession and Holy Communion. I felt my own poverty there, too, for I had nothing to give that poor woman. I did everything I could, but if I had been able to give her a hot cup of milk, her cold body would have got some life. I must try and be somewhere close to the people where I could easily get at the things.”

[An edited extract from "Mother Teresa Come Be My Light: The private writings of the Saint of Calcutta", edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk.]

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Where foreign jobs ‘grow on trees’

In Tehelka, a profile of India’s ‘Passpost Baba,’ the man many believe can guarantee a passport and a job abroad:

If you are aspiring to travel abroad for higher studies or hunt for job opportunities in a ‘phoren’ country, there is one place where you must place a copy of your curriculum vitae – the revered Hazrat Miskin Shah Dargah, in the steel city of Jamshedpur, where passports and applications in the form of letters hang from a peepul tree in thousands or even more. One application and vrooooom! You fly to your dream destination! Baba is there to fulfill your dreams. Not surprising then that this dargah situated at the Berdih Kalubagan kabrsitan has earned fame as the resting place of “Passport baba” over the years.

Does that sound weird? Perhaps weird it is, some even say it is stupidity, but in a country which is known globally for its mysticism and superstitions, the Miskin Shah Dargah has become the destination for students, parents or anybody who has ever dreamt of a passport to foreign shores, be it the Gulf countries, UK or US. The blind belief, that your prayers for a job will be answered – if a mere written application to Miskin Baba and copies of passports are tied to the branches of the tree which hover over Baba’s samadhi or tomb – is perhaps also a classic example of the growing despair among the educated unemployed youth who now have fallen back on saints and fakirs for a solution to the malaise. The extent of the belief, or the malaise, can be judged by the fact that the branches of the tree have to be cleared and cleaned once or twice in every six months so that it can accommodate other applications and passports in the waiting!

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In search of Nepal’s living goddesses

A prepubescent deity of Hindu-Buddhist tradition is also a modern child of HBO and Barbie. From The Christian Science Monitor:

Chanira Bajracharya (c.) is one of Kathmandu\'s kumaris – a living goddesses until she reaches puberty. ReutersLike any typical schoolgirl, 13-year-old Chanira Bajracharya struggles to finish hours of homework each day. That doesn’t stop her from stealing away to watch TV (she enjoys HBO; her younger brothers often change it to Nickelodeon) or use the computer. She even has Barbies, but now that she’s older, painting has replaced organizing tea parties as her favorite pastime.

The similarities end there. To start, no one – including her family – may scold her. Chanira eats whatever she desires, though she’s yet to abuse this power by demanding an endless supply of ice cream. And don’t even mention chores.

It may seem like she’s hit the jackpot, but in exchange for this life of relative luxury, she’s forbidden to leave her five-story home, save for religious holidays. She must also endure a constant stream of Hindu followers who come seeking her healing powers or to snap a photo of her.

[Photo: Chanira Bajracharya (c.), is one of Kathmandu's kumaris – a living goddesses until she reaches puberty. Reuters]

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Hindus upset over Hollywood film

From BBC

Hindus in the US have started a protest against a Hollywood comedy, saying the film will hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus worldwide.

More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition protesting against the film Love Guru, starring actor Mike Myers and due to be released on Friday.

Some Hindu groups are considering a boycott of Paramount Pictures which produced the film.

Paramount says the film does not make reference to any particular religion. The company says Love Guru portrays a purely fictional faith.

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Previously in AW: Love Guru woos Hindu priests

For Indian scientists, no conflict with God

A nationwide survey of Indian scientists shows that they are as comfortable with seeking the blessings of the resident God as they are with embracing stem cell research. Seema Singh in Mint:

Science is all about empirical inquiry and objective results, but Indian scientists don’t appear to be divorced from their culture and ethos. The largest ever nationwide survey of Indian scientists shows that they are as comfortable with seeking the blessings of the resident God at Tirumala before a rocket launch as they are with embracing stem cell research.

The study, “Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists in India”, which was released at the United Nations in New York on Thursday, has been conducted by the Institute of the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) of Trinity College in Connecticut, US, and assisted by the Centre for Inquiry India. It sampled 1,100 participants from 130 universities and research institutes in the country between July 2007 and January 2008.

Among other findings, the study shows that only 8% of Indian scientists express ethical reservations about genetic engineering and stem cell research, and 90% agree with the teaching of traditional Ayurvedic medicine in university courses. A large section, 56%, considers mixed economy as the preferred economic model, whereas 21% favour free market and 9% back socialism. Also, 6% think the village-based system is better while 8% are unsure.

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Towering silence

For millennia Zoroastrians have used vultures to dispose of their dead. What will happen when the birds disappear? Meera Subramanian in Science & Spirit [via 3quarksdaily]:

When Nargis Baria died at the age of eighty-five in Mumbai, India, her only child, a daughter named Dhun, initiated the death rituals of their Zoroastrian faith. Her mother’s body was dressed in white, prayers whispered in her ear, and after three days a summoned dog’s dismissal indicated that the spirit had moved on. It was time for the nassesalars, or pallbearers, to carry the body to the Towers of Silence, circular structures of stone located on fifty-seven, park-like acres in the heart of Mumbai, surrounded by the upscale high rises of Malabar Hill. They removed her clothing and placed her body in the middle of three concentric circles, one each for women, men and children. At the center was a well where the bones, the last of the last remains of a human body, would be swept in a few days time.

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Inside the world of UK Muslim women

A major survey – carried out by Muslim women’s magazine Sisters and Ummah Foods, a halal food business – shows most want to marry their soulmates and enjoy high street fashion, while keeping a delicate balance with their Islamic values. From The Observer:

She wants to marry her soulmate, shops in Primark, TK Maxx and Topshop, and dreams of starting her own business. Meet the typical Muslim woman in Britain today.

A thousand women throughout the country have responded to the biggest lifestyle study of Muslim women undertaken in the UK. It appears to show that Muslim women have established a delicate balance between a desire to live a contemporary lifestyle and tap into consumer trends while sticking to values underpinning the Islamic guide to life.

The survey shows that 58 per cent of Muslim women do not think the racial background of a partner matters, although two-thirds believe it is very important for their man to be knowledgeable about Islam.

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China and Tibet: The spin campaign

From TIME:

Cyberspace in China is a rough-and-tumble place, where mobs of virtual vigilantes can single out an innocent victim for public humiliation in a way that isn’t common in other parts of the world. But in recent days the sights of China’s netizens have been trained not on a person but on an institution: the Western media, which is being vilified as unfair, uninformed and incompetent in its coverage of the uprisings over Chinese rule in Tibet. In blogs, chatrooms, bulletin boards and even by instant message, ordinary Chinese are excoriating the international press. There’s even a special website that has been launched to attack perceived media bias. Among other transgressions, the site’s home page displays mistakes by German TV stations in which Nepalese police, shown in videos rounding up Tibetan protesters in Kathmandu are identified as Chinese.

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China needs the Dalai Lama

Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and President of Tibet House US, in the ‘On Faith’ section of The Washington Post:

If there ever was a social and political movement based on faith, on spirituality, it is the 50-year campaign of the Dalai Lama for the freedom of his people, and the present spontaneous uprising of the Tibetan people who want to be free to restore their spiritual life, in the closer presence of their spiritual and political leader. These acts of truth-the Dalai Lama’s long insistence on nonviolence and dialogue in responding to the genocidal acts of one of the world’s largest military powers, and the Tibetan people’s resistance in the face of overwhelming odds-may yet produce miraculous results, as one of the world’s greatest “lost causes” becomes a possible success.

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Sir Arthur C. Clarke: 90th birthday reflections

Hello! This is Arthur Clarke, speaking to you from my home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As I approach my 90th birthday, my friends are asking how it feels like, to have completed 90 orbits around the Sun.

Well, I actually don’t feel a day older than 89!

…Watch the video:

Sundown With Arthur

Jeff Greenwald in Wired:

arthur_c_clarke.jpg

When last I saw Arthur C. Clarke, in March of 2005, his memory was already fading.

It was late afternoon. We sat on the patio of the Galle Face Hotel, one of Arthur’s favorite spots in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It had been nine years since my last visit to his adopted island. Now I was back working with Mercy Corps, an international aid agency, on a tsunami relief project. Clarke sipped his tea and stared west, where the Indian Ocean stretched in an uninhibited arc to the coast of Somalia.

“I don’t remember anything about working with Stanley (Kubrick) on 2001,” he said, “or my months at the Chelsea Hotel. I don’t remember my last scuba dive, or what my mother’s face looked like. The only thing I remember with any real clarity is the first kiss with the love of my life — and our last words, before we parted.”

[Photo: Clarke stands by his private satellite dish, one of the first private dishes in Asia, on the deck of his Sri Lanka home.]

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For Clarke, issues of faith, but tackled scientifically

From the New York Times:

spaceodyssey.jpg“Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral” were the instructions left by Arthur C. Clarke, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90. This may not have surprised anyone who knew that this science-fiction writer, fabulist, fantasist and deep-sea diver had long seen religion as a symptom of humanity’s “infancy,” something to be outgrown and overcome.

But his fervor is still jarring because when it comes to the scriptural texts of modern science fiction, and the astonishing generation of prophetic innovators who were his contemporaries – Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury – Mr. Clarke’s writings were the most biblical, the most prepared to amplify reason with mystical conviction, the most religious in the largest sense of religion: speculating about beginnings and endings, and how we get from one to the other.

[Photo: Keir Dullea in the film version of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”]

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Previously on Asian Window:

Dalai Lama fears bloodshed in Tibet

In an interview with the BBC, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, said he feared there would be more deaths unless Beijing changed its policies towards Tibet, which it has ruled since invading in 1950. “It has become really very, very tense. Now today and yesterday, the Tibetan side is determined. The Chinese side also equally determined. So that means, the result: killing, more suffering,” he said.

An Associated Press report from Beijing says China blocked access to YouTube.com on Sunday after dozens of videos of recent protests in Tibet appeared on the popular U.S. video Web site.

“Cultural genocide”

Reuters reports from Dharamsala:

The Dalai Lama called on Sunday for an investigation into China’s tough response to protests in Tibet, and whether it was deliberate “cultural genocide”. The comments from Tibet’s spiritual leader came as police and troops locked down Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, two days after street protests against Chinese rule that the region’s government-in-exile said had killed 80 people.

“Whether the Chinese government admits or not, there is a problem. The problem is the nation with ancient cultural heritage is actually facing serious dangers,” he told a news conference at his base of Dharamsala in northern India.

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