FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

The man with the coconut and the GoPro

Lalitpur, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

Rato Machhindranath is the god of rain, so huge crowds gather in Lalitpur around a 32-meter (104 foot) high tower mounted on a chariot during the chariot festival in an effort to ensure good rains and prevent drought.

The highlight of the day is when someone climbs to the top of the chariot and throws a coconut to devotees below. This is an ancient ritual thought to guarantee the catcher of the coconut the birth of a son. Few people believe this nowadays and I think participation is more about enjoying and preserving the tradition.

Every year I saw the same man climb atop the chariot. Every year he threw the coconut down towards the devotees. I really wanted to show in pictures what the perspective of this man looked like.

This year I started searching for him as soon as I reached the chariot and there he was in his favorite spot, up at the top. I could not call him down, as he was sitting so high and the sound of the drums was too loud. I waited for him to come down.

Finally, the man I was waiting for came down. I was very happy to see him descending. He reached me and I introduced myself to him and asked for his name. I was shocked to learn that this man who I had been shooting pictures of for years could not speak. I wanted his help to shoot the picture I had planned and even though my challenge was growing tougher I didn't give up. I smiled and grabbed his hand to get his attention. He smiled back at me. Once again I tried to ask for his name and he led me to another person who knew him and they told me his name. It was Chakala Dangol and he was 75-years-old.

from India Insight:

Photo gallery: Spirit of Holi in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

The festival of Holi is easy on the pocket. All one needs is a packet of gulaal (coloured powder), buckets of water, friends and family; and perhaps some music and alcohol.

Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated to mark the beginning of spring and harvest season. In places associated with the Hindu god Krishna, Holi is traditionally played over several days with revellers flinging coloured powder and water at each other.

from Photographers' Blog:

Demon face

Heitwerwang, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

Tourists or foreigners have to look twice when attending a Perchten festival in the western Austrian region of Tyrol. Some probably think there is something wrong with the countryfolk - dressing up like demons, wearing head to toe animal skins and wooden masks, behavior that could easily be associated with some kind of a devil's cult. It just doesn't seem to be normal.

The explanation goes back to the years about 500 AD. Back then farmers performed pagan rites to disperse the ghosts of winter to help bring a fruitful harvest. They thought it might work with terrifying masks which should scare even ghosts. And what is more scarier than the devil himself? Right, nothing! Even ghosts have to be scared by the devil.

In 2012 not much has changed. Of course we know that scaring ghosts is not going to work, but traditions are deep-rooted and somehow people still believe in the power of pagan rituals. And in the countryside there is nothing more important than a good harvest, so why not help a good harvest along by getting rid of some winter ghosts one way or another. Old habits die hard I guess.

from Photographers' Blog:

Vegetarian Festival in Phuket: Cutting out the meat

By Damir Sagolj

In front of me stood what must have been the most beautiful “god’s” body in the whole of Phuket. Her gentle pink robe swayed above bare feet as she made her way in a trance through the crowd of devotees at the Chinese Jui Tui shrine. And her pretty face was pierced with a long spike, a piece of fruit stuck on its end.

This woman was a “mah song”, roughly translated from the Thai language as “entranced horse” or “one whose body is used by gods as a vehicle”. She was the centre of attention for a good reason. For the day, she represented a god whose powers would help purify members of the community and wash away any bad karma.

GALLERY: Extreme vegetarian festival

“The god has to hurt itself, for cleaning us from our bad deeds”, the brother of a mah song told a confused journalist, who was practically from another universe.

from Photographers' Blog:

Utah gets Holi, Photographer gets dirty

People throw colored powder during Holi, the festival of colors, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Jim Urquhart

The Holi Color Festival is a yearly event in Utah that for years I have known of but never attended myself. I would be reminded of it after the fact when seeing it in images by other photojournalist friends. It is rooted in a Hindu tradition of celebrating the end of winter and beginning of Spring and takes place at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah.

What makes this festival so amazing is not just the crowds of people and the color but also that it is taking place in Utah County. The same county as the LDS Church's Brigham Young University. In my mind, Utah County is not known as a mecca of culture and was really only a melting pot of white bread, sugar and milk. I was about to have my stereotype blown away.

Revellers cover their faces as they stand in a midst of coloured powders during Holi, the festival of colors, at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

It has always puzzled me and in the days before the event I was asked to speak to communication students at BYU. I asked the professor of the class, who is also a good friend, why it is that so many Mormon youth and young adults attend the event. It is not part of my picture of white Utah county. He explained that the event draws the students and families from the area because not only is it an experience in another culture's traditions but it also a safe fun outlet for them.

100 pilgrims killed in stampede at Hindu festival in India

sabarimalaA stampede sparked by a night-time road accident in dense forest has killed more than 100 Hindu pilgrims in the southern state of Kerala in India. Kerala’s deputy general of police told reporters that 102 people who visited the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers to the Hindu deity Ayappa had been killed on Friday night. Officials at a Hindu temple estimated the death toll at around 100, Kerala Temple Affairs Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally said by telephone. (Photo: Pilgrims at Sabarimala Temple, January 15, 2003/Dipak Kumar)

Hundreds of thousands had gathered at the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala on Friday evening, the last day of an annual two-month religious festival. A bus carrying pilgrims back to the neighbouring state of Karnataka collided with a jeep and went out of control, crushing people walking nearby, Kadannappally said. Panicked pilgrims rushed forward, triggering a stampede.

“They came down the hillside… this happened primarily because the area was totally dark,” Jacob Punnoose, Kerala Deputy General of Police told Times Now TV channel.

“MOOZ-lum” film depicts challenges for black U.S. Muslims

mooz-lumThe makers of a new movie about family life for black Muslims in America want to highlight challenges facing followers of Islam, just as Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” revealed the racism and harsh realities facing black youth in Brooklyn two decades ago.

“MOOZ-lum” was filmed in Michigan, which has a large Muslim population, and premiered to packed theaters at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York last Friday.

“I hope people can walk out of the theater thinking more and trying to understand what we’re facing here,” said director Qasim Basir, adding the movie’s portrayal of discrimination mirrored his own Muslim-American experience.  “I’m hoping to give Muslim-Americans a film that reflects them. I want it to be something the audience can look at and say, ‘This represents me,’” he told Reuters in an interview.

Morocco resists Islamist calls to ban Elton John from music festival

elton john

Elton John at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 13, 2010/Lucas Jackson

Elton John will headline Morocco’s biggest music festival this week despite calls by religious conservatives for the gay singer to be turned away. Allowing the British singer and songwriter to perform at the Mawazine World Rhythms festival in the capital Rabat would tarnish the image of the north African kingdom, say powerful opposition Islamists.

“Elton John is one of the best artists in the world. He is great and extraordinary when he appears on stage. That’s why we invite him and welcome him to the Mawazine festival,” festival director Aziz Daki told Reuters. “The private life of a singer is not our business. We do not invite singers and artists after assessing their private lives.”

The festival, backed by Morocco’s King Mohammed, brings together musicians from 50 countries and has drawn criticism from Islamists who say such events encourage promiscuity and alcohol consumption, corrupting Islamic values.

German film explores Muslims struggling with life in West

qurbani

Burhan Qurbani at the Berlinale International Film Festival, 17 Feb 2010/Tobias Schwarz

German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani shines the spotlight on the difficulties facing young Muslims in the western world in his first feature film “Shahada”, set in multicultural Berlin. The film, which won applause at its screening at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday, is about the intertwining tales of three young German-born Muslims struggling to reconcile their family faith and traditions with a modern, Western lifestyle.

“My motivation was to get the audience to look at the film and connect with this religion that is all around them,” said Qurbani, born in Germany of Afghan parents. “I hope the film will get the public to talk, to debate.”

Half a million Hindus bathe in India’s Ganges; first day crush kills 7

haridwar

Devotees take dip in waters of river Ganges during "Kumbh Mela" in Haridwar, 14 Jan 2010/Adnan Abidi

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus bathed in waters considered sacred across large parts of India to mark the start of a religious festival on Thursday, with at least seven people killed in a stampede in the country’s east.

At least half a million men, women and children braved chilly winds to bathe in the icy waters of the Ganges in the holy Himalayan town of Haridwar at the “Kumbh Mela,” or Pitcher Festival, held every 12 years in different Indian cities. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges during the almost four-month-long festival cleanses them of their sins, speeding the way to the attainment of nirvana.