FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Waiting to die

Varanasi, India
By Danish Siddiqui

The River Ganges is sacred in Hinduism, and the city of Varanasi, which lies on its banks, is one of the oldest and holiest sites for Hindu pilgrims from all over the world.

Devotees believe that you can wash away your sins by taking a dip in the Ganges at Varanasi. What’s more, dying and having your ashes scattered here is a sacred thing for Hindus who believe that it brings “moksha,” or freedom for the soul from the constant cycle of death and rebirth. To attain this salvation, many travel to Varanasi to die.

A woman stands in a street outside the Mukti Bhawan (Salvation Home) at Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, June 17, 2014. Picture taken June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

“Mukti Bhavan,” or “Salvation House,” is a charity-run hostel for people who wish to pass away in the city. It has 12 rooms, a temple and small quarters for its priests. Lodging there comes with certain conditions: guests have two weeks to die or they are gently asked to move on.

Sometimes, Bhairav Nath Shukla, the hostel manager, extends his guests’ stays by a few days if he thinks the person is about to die. Eerily enough, Shukla can often predict roughly when it will happen.

Bhairav Nath Shukla, manager of Mukti Bhavan (Salvation Home) looks out of a window while praying inside his office at Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, June 17, 2014. Picture taken June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The 61-year-old has been taking in the dying and performing prayers for their salvation for the last 44 years and when I started covering this story, hostel records showed that 14,577 people had checked in to date. Most of them have attained moksha. Many of those who couldn’t die left disheartened with their relatives.

from India Insight:

Civics clashes with religion as women face bans from some Indian shrines

(The opinions expressed are the author's own, and may not necessarily reflect those of Thomson Reuters)

Mumbai’s Sufi shrine Haji Ali Dargah Trust has barred women from entering the sanctum that houses the tomb of the Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The reason: authorities said that they saw a woman visit the tomb in inappropriate clothing.

This might not be entirely surprising. The mosque and dargah – or tomb – sit on a tiny island in the waters off Mumbai that is connected to the mainland by a tiny causeway. It is one of Mumbai's most well known tourist attractions, and many people from India and other countries walk past the mendicants and beggars, some of whom are missing limbs and often chanting, on the causeway to admire the architecture and the view.

Can the EU promote ethical values in the economic crisis?

EU Parliament President Poettering and EU Commission President Barroso hold a news conference with religious leaders in BrusselsControversy overshadowed events this month when European Union officials invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from 13 member states and Russia to a meeting on economic governance.  Most of the Jewish leaders invited refused to attend, saying they considered some of the Muslim organisations taking part to be radical and anti-Semitic. The Universal Society of Hinduism issued a statement complaining it had not been invited and declaring: “It was clearly an insult.” (Photo: European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering (2nd L), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (C) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (2nd R) address media in Brussels 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

A spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who initiated the annual gathering with religious leaders five years ago, said the reason no Hindu representatives were invited was largely to keep the meeting focused. “This meeting also has to be sort of conclusive and lead to real debate — it’s not that we can invite 100 or 1,000 persons to have a huge conference on these issues,” the spokesman said.

The 20 high-level participants in the end included four representatives of Islam, a single Jewish organisation which did not join the boycott, and 13 Christian groups.

An “Indian Bible” or a “Bible for India”?

flight-to-egyptAnnotated Bibles come in all shapes, sizes and standpoints. One of the most interesting recent examples is The New Community Bible in India. The novelty is not the text itself but the extensive footnotes comparing and contrasting Christian teachings with those of India’s main religions. Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s 1.1 billion population compared to 80% for Hindus and 13% for Muslims. The illustrations are also clearly Indian — in the drawing for the Flight to Egypt (at right), Mary wears a sari and a bindi on her forehead while Joseph sports a turban.

The New Community Bible (NCB) stirred up some controversy when it was published, with official Church approval, by a Roman Catholic group in Mumbai last summer. A Protestant pastor called it “a complete turn back from the real Bible.” Hindu natiotionalists denounced it as a bid to convert Hindus to Christianity. A blog named after Hindu guru (CORRECTED: see comment below) Sathya Sai Baba warned that Christian missionaries were “taking aim at India” with a “deceptive Bible and other questionable tactics.” . There was also criticism from Catholic laity, enough to prompt the bishops to order a study of the issue and have the publisher hold off with a second edition. That’s too bad because the first edition quickly sold out.

During my recent visit to India, I got a look at a friend’s copy of the NCB and found it fascinating. Following are a few points that stood out while I paged through it (and a few not very professional photos I took of its illustrations):

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia’s prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.

India’s Hindu caste quotas edge towards private companies

The issue of redressing the imbalance of Hinduism’s ancient caste system by creating job and college entry quotas for lower caste and other disadvantaged groups in India seems to be gaining headway in an election year. Now it may be the turn for private industry.

Medical students attend protest in Kolkata, 26 Sept 2006/Parth SanyalParties across India’s political spectrum appear to be seeing caste-based reservations, as the quotas are known, as potential vote winners. It is a sign again that caste consciousness will become ever more important in what in theory is a secular Indian state.

Now multinationals enjoying the fruits of an Indian economic boom may find they are not immune. Much to the horror of many industrialists worried about their international competitiveness.