FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

The cycle of life and death

By Adnan Abidi

“Ganges is Holy,” said my boatman as I pointed my camera to photograph devotees half submerged in the blackish brown waters of the sacred river, the second most polluted in India. It was my third day on a photography assignment on Bihar- a sprawling state on the Gangetic plains of eastern India. My brief was to cover the overall progress of Bihar, hence I planned to photograph a bridge under construction over this sacred river. After a couple of shots with my wide angle lens I shifted to telephoto and as I zoomed in I saw a crow, a crow savoring or maybe just sitting on a corpse.

The boatman wasn't as shocked as I was. This was no extraordinary sight for him. He continued to praise the progress of the state, and its new efficient minister but said things will not change overnight. On seeing me still shocked about the corpse he revealed that as Hinduism describes Moksha as liberation from the cycle of life and death, freedom forever from earthly miseries and sufferings, the holy river Ganges is believed to be a pathway to attain Moksha. And Hindus believe that dying on the banks of this holy river enable a soul to attain Moksha. So at very short intervals, sometime just weeks, people here see corpses floating on the river, and its an accepted phenomenon. He said that's the way of life here and still there was progress!

I smiled at his optimism. He was all praises about the current government and the development it had brought even though personally he still lived hand-to-mouth. Earning his daily bread was an extreme challenge, for he like many boatmen had no option but to stay in the boat (floating in water) as they could not afford land. Even though there is a lack of basic resources, catastrophic flooding every year, and the lingering impact of poor past governance, there was a ray of hope in Bihar. I wondered if all this progress could bridge the gap between prosperity and poverty- a mammoth task that lay ahead for the current Bihar government.

from Photographers' Blog:

A village of eternal bachelors

By Vivek Prakash

With the world's population set to hit 7 billion on October 31, photographers in India have been on the move to tell stories that talk about what those numbers really mean in a country as large as India - with 1.2 billion people and counting, this is supposed to be the world's largest democracy.

When you take a closer look at the statistics, you find some surprising and scary figures - the ratio of female children to males born actually declined here over the last 10 years - from 933 females for every thousand males in the 2001 census, to just 914 in 2011. The combination of cheap portable ultrasound technology and a decades-old preference for male babies -- who are seen as breadwinners -- has enabled sex-selective abortions and made worse female infanticide. In a place as wide and as vast as India, these are things that are hard to control, no matter how illegal.

We had been trying to find ways to illustrate this for some time without much success - getting access to tell this story had been taking some time. Late last month, a story about a small village in Gujarat was brought to my attention.

Battle intensifies in Kerala for Hindu temple’s $22 billion treasure

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

A $22 billion treasure trove unearthed beneath Kerala’s Padmanabhaswamy Temple has sparked a fierce political and public debate over ownership and how best to put the vast wealth to use. The vaults of the 16th century temple were prised open for the first time in June, since when public calls have grown for redistribution of the wealth to the poor.

Discovered in the vaults were a dazzling stash of gold ornaments, Napoleonic era coins and sacks of gemstones. The archaeological find, one of the greatest ever made in India, has triggered a fierce legal battle for custodianship, pitting the royal family of Travancore, which controls the temple, against the Kerala High Court that has asked the state government to bring the temple under a public trust.

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.

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.