FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

When monkeys tie the knot

It all started with a phone call. I was being invited to a wedding. Sounded good. I'd finally make my debut in wedding photography.

I had it all planned. I wanted to spend a day each at the groom's and the bride’s respectively. Now the only hiccup was I couldn’t interact with them. After all, they were no regular couple. They were monkeys.

Monkeys have an important place in Hindu mythology. They are worshiped as Lord Hanuman, the mighty ape that fought the devious Ravana alongside Lord Rama to create the epic Ramayana.

When I reached Talwas in the Indian state of Rajasthan, I went straight to the house of the 'groom', Raju. I immediately felt the excitement around the marriage. Many relatives of Raju’s caretaker Ramesh had come to attend the wedding. For them, it almost seemed they were attending the marriage ceremony of Ramesh's son.

But very soon I sensed some apprehension in the air. Apparently the forest department officials had already warned Ramesh against the proposed marriage of his monkey. But like a stubborn father fighting for his son, he told me the wedding would happen as scheduled even if he had to go to jail for it.

High drama in India as monkeys wed despite official disapproval

(Rajesh plays with his monkey Raju, the "groom" in India's first monkey wedding, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, July 4, 2011/Danish Siddiqui)

The tale, set in the forests of northwestern India, had all the ingredients of a perfect Bollywood love story: emotion, celebration, star-crossed lovers and a nail-biting climax. The only difference was that the lovers were monkeys, taking part in India’s first simian wedding — with the whole unfolding drama a classic clash between age-old village belief and the demands of modern life sceptical of that way of thought.

Hindu belief includes worship of animals as avatars of the gods. Monkeys have an especially significant role in Hindu mythology where they are worshipped as avatars of Hanuman, the mighty ape that aided Rama in his fight against evil. So when plans for the wedding of “Raju” and “Chinki” were laid in the small village of Talwas, deep in the forests of Rajasthan, villagers responded with excitement.

Huge treasure trove discovered under southern Indian Hindu temple

(Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala February 18, 2011/Sivaram V)

Investigators plan to pry open the final vault hidden deep under a centuries-old Indian Hindu temple as police guarded round the clock the shrine where billions of dollars worth of treasure has been discovered. Over the last week a seven-member team of investigators has broken into five of the six secret subterranean vaults piled high with jewels that have lain untouched for hundreds of years.

Onlookers and devotees thronged the shrine in the bustling centre of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of India’s southern Kerala state, as officials said treasure worth more than $20 billion had been found — more than India’s education budget.  Sacks filled with diamonds were piled next to tonnes of gold coins and jewellery, media reported, in the vaults of the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, the royal chapel of the former rulers of Travancore, now part of Kerala state.

China plans to help Nepal develop Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini

(A reclining Buddha at Wat Po temple in Bangkok April 8,2008/Sukree Sukplang)

 

A Chinese-backed foundation and Nepal’s government plan to transform Lord Buddha’s birthplace in southern Nepal into a magnet for Buddhists in the same way as Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics. The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation plans to raise $3 billion at home and abroad to build temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist university in the town of Lumbini, about 171 km (107 miles) southwest of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

The foundation, blessed by the Chinese government, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nepalese government last month to jointly develop and operate Lumbini, where Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha about 2,600 years ago. The foundation also pledged to bring communications, water and electricity to Lumbini.

Buddhism was virtually wiped out in China during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when temples were shut, Buddhist statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life and marry. In recent years, China has become more tolerant of Buddhism, which is considered “traditional culture” alongside Taoism and Confucianism.

from India Insight:

M.F. Husain, Swami Ramdev and the world’s largest democracy

M.F. Husain, India's most famous modern artist, died at the age of 95 this morning, not in Maharashtra, his home state, nor New Delhi, where many of his ground-breaking works were exhibited, but in London, where he lived in exile with Qatari citizenship. The 'Picasso of India' has for five years felt unable to live and work in his country of birth.

Husain fled India in 2006, leaving behind court cases and death threats against him, and continued vandalism of his works from right-wing Hindu groups that accused him of insulting their religion by painting deities in the nude.

Husain, a Muslim, felt unsafe and unable to practice his particular art form in the world's largest democracy. And he's not the only one. Salman Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai but lives in the UK, saw New Delhi ban his Satanic Verses for its perceived depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Factbox – Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular yoga guru

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks during a yoga camp in the northern Indian town of Haridwar April 8, 2010/Jitendra Prakash)

India’s government suffered a fresh blow in containing growing anger over corruption from million of voters as Swami Ramdev, the country’s most famous yoga guru, gained the support of a leading civil activist for his “fast-until-death” against graft. Anna Hazare lent his support on Thursday for Ramdev’s hunger strike from Saturday to protest against corruption in Asia’s third-largest economy and has called on his legions of followers to join him.

Here are some facts about Ramdev:

YOGA GURU

Ramdev, who successfully brought yoga to the masses through live telecasts, is revered in a country that places great emphasis on spirituality and health. His yoga demonstrations and performances to thousands of followers regularly include postures like a headstand or making his belly dance inside his ribcage, a popular trademark.

Popular Indian guru Swami Ramdev to start hunger strike against corruption

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare during a "fast unto death" campaign in New Delhi April 8, 2011. In the background is an image depicting Mother India/B Mathur)

Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular and powerful yoga guru, rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to call off a hunger strike against corruption, the second major challenge to a government losing its authority due to rampant graft. The charismatic guru, who dons a saffron cloth thrown over his bare torso, runs a $40 million-a-year global yoga and health empire and has millions of followers. Some 30 million viewers tune into his daily yoga TV show.

These followers are expected to rally behind him as he begins on Saturday a “fast-to-the-death” in Delhi until the government agrees to pass a tough anti-corruption “Jan Lokpal” bill and set up a task force for repatriating illegal funds held in foreign bank accounts by Indians.

Up to 12 million girls aborted in India over last 30 years, new study says

(A girl stands on posters during a rally against abortion in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad October 2, 2008/Krishnendu Halder)

Up to 12 million girls were aborted over the last three decades in India by parents that tended to be richer and more educated, a large study in India found, and researchers warned that the figure could rise with falling fertility rates.

The missing daughters occurred mostly in families which already had a first born daughter. Although the preference for boys runs across Indian society, the abortions were more likely to be carried out by educated parents who were aware of ultrasound technology and who could afford abortions.

Delhi’s last ten Jewish families guard an ancient heritage

(Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honorary secretary of the Judah Hyam Synagogue synagogue, poses with a shofar horn inside the synagogue in New Delhi May 20, 2011/B Mathur)

In the capital of one of the world’s most religiously-diverse countries, a rabbi who has never been ordained bends ancient customs, ensuring New Delhi’s ten Jewish families a place to worship. Unlike most synagogues, there is no separation of men and women as Jewish-born worshippers, converts and followers of other faiths chant Psalms in perfect Hebrew, with doors thrown open to all. The service leader never asks attendees what religion they follow, and envisions his daughter becoming India’s first female rabbi.

“Being a small community, we cannot be so rigid, so orthodox,” says Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honorary secretary of the synagogue whose unpaid job of thirty years has overlooked religious convention to keep this tiny group together. “Our openness, our liberal approach is what allows us to survive. For reading the Torah, you must require ten men, a minyan. But I made radical changes, because why should we discriminate between women and men? I count the women.”

Indian Supreme Court suspends controversial Ayodhya mosque ruling

(Hindu militants storm a disputed mosque-temple site December 6, 1992 climbing atop the building's dome as they demolish it to clear the site for a Hindu temple/Sunil Malhotra)

India’s Supreme Court has suspended a High Court ruling over the partition of a disputed site that has been a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim clashes, throwing one of the country’s most religiously-divisive legal battles into uncertainty. A two-justice bench questioned the reasoning behind a ruling passed last year that divided the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque destroyed by Hindu rioters in 1992 into three separate plots for Hindus, Muslims, and a local Hindu trust.

The demolition of the 16th century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya triggered some of India’s worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. Over 200,000 police were deployed for the September ruling to guard against communal violence.