FaithWorld

Pious Indians bank on holy deposits

(An employee counts Indian rupee notes inside a bank in Agartala, capital of India's northeastern state of Tripura December 31, 2010/Jayanta Dey)

In a bank with no security gates, guards or locks, deposits from thousands of customers from across India are stacked on shelves, protected from theft by the grace of God. In a cramped room in a small house in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Ram Ram Bank offers no interest or loans, but has around 5,000 customers who flock to deposit documents bearing God’s name.

“There is no need for security as there is no fear of any theft,” said Lovelesh Tewari, who founded the bank 25 years ago. “People feel better by writing God’s name as it becomes a medium to release their pent up frustrations and eventually the faith makes them work toward their goals.”

The bank’s customers scribble “Ram,” the protagonist in the Indian mythological epic Ramayana, on pieces of paper as many as 100,000 times and deposit them in the bank. Ram is also known as Rama. Ram Ram used to accept scribbles on cigarette packs or on pieces of old newspaper. But now Tewari provides proper notebooks for the purpose, courtesy of one of his customers.

Religion is no barrier. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims write the name of Ram in their native languages. Every six months the stacks of “deposits” are sent to be displayed in a temple in Ayodhya, the birth place of Ram.

Indian guru Sai Baba buried in state funeral, thousands grieve

(Police place India's national flag on a glass coffin containing the body of spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba during his funeral at an ashram at Puttaparti in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh April 27, 2011/Adnan Abidi)

Indian spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba was buried on Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of devotees flocked to pay their last respects at his temple in south India to a man revered as a living God.

Tibetan monks, Muslim clerics, top politicians and military officers sat with hundreds of family members to commemorate the charismatic guru who drew millions of followers around the world with his diverse teachings that blended Hindu and Muslim beliefs.

China says Dalai Lama must reincarnate, can’t pick successor

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(The Dalai Lama during a talk at Mumbai University, February 18, 2011/Danish Siddiqui)

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, does not have a right to choose his successor any way he wants and must follow the historical and religious tradition of reincarnation, a Chinese official said on Monday.

It is unclear how the 76-year-old Dalai Lama, who lives in India and is revered by many Tibetans, plans to pick his successor. He has said that the succession process could break with tradition — either by being hand-picked by him or through democratic elections. But Padma Choling, the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet, said that the Dalai Lama had no right to abolish the institution of reincarnation, underscoring China’s hardline stance on one of the most sensitive issues for the restless and remote region.

Indian court sentences 11 to death for fiery attack on Hindu pilgrims

godhra

(Smoke pours from the burning train in Godhra, February 27, 2002/Stringer)

A special Indian court on Tuesday sentenced to death 11 people for setting fire to a train in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, killing 59 people in an act that led to some of the worst religious riots in the country since independence in 1947. The Sabarmati Express was carrying Hindu devotees returning from the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

More than 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the subsequent riots in Gujarat. Critics say the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Gujarat, did little to stop the violence and many believe the riots led to the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 general elections.

The court last week found the 31 defendants on trial guilty of conspiracy to torch the train, a judgment that seemed to back the BJP’s stand that the train was deliberately set on fire to provoke the riots. Opponents say the fire was accidental and was used as an excuse for the violence. The death sentences must be confirmed by a higher court.

from India Insight:

A Republic Day to forget for India’s opposition party

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched India’s 61st Republic Day parade in the New Delhi sunshine on Wednesday morning, senior opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were in a Jammu prison, where they had spent a night under arrest.

Detained for attempting to lead thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers into India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir to provocatively raise the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule, Swaraj and Jaitley’s politically-driven mission had ended in failure.

Workers of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold national flags and shout slogans during a protest on a bridge at Madhopur, in the northern Indian state of Punjab January 25, 2011. Thousands of Indian Hindu-nationalist opposition supporters massed on a bridge to the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as officials sought to stop a flag-raising ceremony that could spark violence. Police faced off with flag-waving BJP workers as authorities sealed routes into Kashmir to thwart the planned raising of the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

The BJP appear to have thought that the nationalism-drenched plan to hoist the flag in the centre of Srinagar, the state capital, would galvanize their Hindu support base, and show the ruling Congress party as ineffective in defending the disputed state from separatists who rile against New Delhi’s rule.

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.

India Congress scion Rahul Gandhi says radical Hindus a threat

gandhis (Photo: Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia Gandhi, in New Delhi May 21, 2009/B Mathur)

Rahul Gandhi, seen as an India prime minister in waiting, told the U.S. ambassador radical Hindu groups could posed a bigger threat to the country than the Islamists who attacked Mumbai in 2008, a leaked cable showed. The comments made to Timothy Roemer last year were immediately criticised by the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adding to political sparring that has deadlocked parliament and pushed policymaking into limbo.

Gandhi’s comments, made in response to a question from Roemers on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, referred to religious tension created by more extreme BJP leaders, according to the cable dated August 3, 2009. It was released by WikiLeaks and published on Friday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the LeT among Indian Muslims, the ambassador wrote, according to the cable.  “However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” Roemer wrote. The ambassador added a comment that “Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”

India says local Islamists bombed Hindu pilgrim city Varanasi

varanasi 1 (Photo: After the blast in Varanasi December 7, 2010/Stringer)

India said Wednesday a home-grown Islamist group with ties to Pakistani militants was behind a bomb attack in one of its holiest cities, Varanasi, and local media reported two people were questioned over the attack. Home Secretary Gopal Pillai said traces of explosives were found at the site of Tuesday evening’s blast in the northern city that killed a two-year old girl and injured 37 Hindu worshippers and foreign tourists.

Pillai said the crude bomb was set off by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a local group India says has been trained by militants based in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The IM claimed responsibility for the attack in an email to local media, police said. That email was traced to a Mumbai suburb and two people were questioned over it, local media said.

“The main players of Indian Mujahideen are based in Pakistan and they are definitely running the game from there,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjeev Dayal told a press conference. Pillai has said it was “too premature” to say if individuals or groups operating from Pakistan were involved.

Conservation, religion join to save Ganges dolphin

gangesAs the sun sets over a serene stretch of the mighty Ganges, a pair of smooth, grey dolphins arch gracefully out of the water, bringing hope that wildlife can again call India’s great river home. (Photo: Ganges sunset in Allahabad,  31 Dec 2008/Jitendra Prakash)

Millions of Indians along the banks of the 2,500 km (1,550 mile)-long Ganges depend on the river, but unchecked levels of agricultural, industrial and domestic waste have poured in over the past decades, threatening the wildlife.

In Karnabas, a small village just upstream from Narora, a local drama troupe performs for more than 150 villagers. “Humans are polluting our river!” an actor playing a Hindu god declared. “The life of our Mother Ganga is endangered! Please do something!”

from Tales from the Trail:

Golden Temple off Obama’s India agenda, Gandhi on

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U.S. President Barack Obama will not visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar during his trip to India next month, the White House confirmed on Wednesday

But he will make several other cultural stops, including two related to the revered Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who is a hero to many African-Americans and was an inspiration to the U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Obama is visiting the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai and will also lay a wreath on Gandhi's grave in New Delhi during his visit.