domingo, 15 de enero de 2017

Hindu and hinduism during Christmas time

Almost 80 children aging from 2 to 7 years are running on bare foot in the small room arranged as a kindegarden in one of the Christian churches in Dharavi slum. They don't speak English, I can communicate with them only by gestures or asking other teachers for the translation.However, Christmas is approaching, and the room is filled with decorations: reindeer shapes, santa claus masks and christmas trees. Have they really ever seen one of these things?

No, they have not, of course. But they all know the answer to the question: what is this, babu? Christmas tree!! And this? Baby Jesus!They scream out loud.I started wondering: many of those children belongs to hindu families, other are converted to catolicism. But they all celebrate Christmas. Why?

FOTO1. Christmas party in Dharavi Slum for children attending the Creché program.

Beside the small percentage of people who define themselves “christians”, which is lower than 3% of the total religion faiths in India, the real number of christians over the entire population of the country (1 billion people) is 25 millions. One of the largest Indian Christian Communities is in the capital of Maharashtra Community: Mumbai, and the majority of them are Roman Catholics.
The Hindu population do not recognize Christmas as a religious tradition, however, many people I met during these days will take part to the celebration. The reason behind this choice is pretty simple: they are treating the holiday as a secular festival, in part also due to the assimilation of the American culture. 
With more than 330 gods and godnesses, it has been said that Hindus have a holiday for every day of the year. Among the existing major religions, Hinduism is the oldest one and the general opinion about its principles and symbols is still very blurry, especially in the Western society. It is a general opinion that Hindus believe in a pantheon of deities, the cyclical nature of the universe and they have a wide variety of symbols to represents their faith Beside, they worship cows.

FOTO 2: Hindu temple in the District of Mahim, Mumbai.
Is it exactly like this?
Let's try to answer some of the most common misunderdantings and beliefs people have abound hinduism.

Like many other religions, also hinduism refers to books which state the principles of their faith.The Hindu Bible is called Shruti (meaning “listening” in sanscrit language) referring to the event when saints heard the words of god. The Shruti contains four subchapters called Vedas (meaning “knowledge”). The four Vedas (also referred to as the Vedic Literature) may be considered the main, or at least the original and most authoritative "holy books" since they are the first religious written works in Hinduism, emerging approximately 2,500 years ago. The most ancient among the four Veda is the Rig Veda, which contains the lyrics of the songs from ceremonies. The other ones are named: Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda which were compiled around 3500 BCE.

FOTO 3: The four Vedas.
From Sindu to Hindu
According to Wikipedia, “Hindu”refers to any person who regards themselves as culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism. However, the term “hindu” is not even Sanskrit. So, where does the term “hindu take its origins?
Alexander invaded India around 325 B.C. , he is supposed to be the first who renamed the River Sindhu as the Indu, dropping the beginning “S”, thus making it easier for the Greeks to pronounce. Later in history, when the Muslim invaders arrived from such places as Afghanistan and Persia, they called the Sindhu River the Hindu River. Thereafter, the name “Hindu” was used to describe the inhabitants from the northwestern provinces of India where the Sindhu River is located, and the region itself was called “Hindustan.”

Because the Sanskrit sound of “S” converts to “H” in the Parsee language, the Muslims pronounced the Sindhu as “hindu,” even though at the time the people of the area did not use the name “hindu” themselves. Thereafter, even the Indians conformed to these standards as set by those in power and used the names Hindu and Hindustan.

FOTO 4: The trimurty composed by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva gods.

In order to take control of the world and its living beings there are 33 gods called the Tridasha ('Three times ten') and their different representations: every god and goddess borns many time to fight the evil in the world (Shiva only presents 12 different shapes). They consisted of the 12 Adityas (from the sanscryt: the Sun God), the 8 Vasus (representing aspects of nature and cosmic natural phenomenon), the 11 Rudras (they are very violent and aggressive, described as armed with golden weapons) and the 2 Ashvins (they symbolise the shining of sunrise and sunset).

I was sitting in the hall room of an hostel in Khar district in Mumbai only two days after landing in the country. While drinking my glass of water, my sight was caught by a symbol on the main door. It was a swastic. A red swastic with four dots between its arms.
FOTO 5: The hindu swastic.

My mind automatically linked this symbol to the nazi one, beside the fact that it was impossible to find a nazi symbol in India. It is a common mistake to associate the swastic to a negative event, the olocaust and the nazi period during the mid '40s. 

Last but not least, it is believed that hindu worship cows.

FOTO 6: Hindu votive truck.

This is not true, hindu do not worship cows, even though they have a high esteem of them. The reason is pretty obvious: cows represent a great source of income and primary resources for the family. Milk, dairy products are sold or used to support family needs. Cow dung is crucial for agriculture. And for religous purpose during ceremonies.

One example? The vedic tradition named yajna, literally means "sacrifice, devotion, worship, offering", and refers to any ritual done in front of a sacred fire which involves symbolic offerings in the presence of sacred fire named “Agni”. A typical Hindu marriage involves a Yajna where milk products, fruits, flowers, cloth and money are offered, where Agni is taken to be the witness of the marriage. Various mutual promises between the bride and groom are made in front of the fire, and the marriage is completed by actual or symbolic walk around it.

The two rake the holy cow in the presence of Agni ... In the first four rounds, the bride leads and the groom follows, and in the final three, the groom leads and the bride follows. While walking around the fire, the bride places her right palm on the groom's right palm and the bride's brother pours some unhusked rice or barley into their hands and they offer it to the fire ...
Shivendra Kumar Sinha (2008)

Which part of the cow is deployed during this votive ritual? The cow dung as a fuel, which is mixed to the ghee butter in an inverted copper pyramid at dusk and dawn precisely.

                                                 FOTO 7: The yajna ceremony.

" A special acknowledgment to Shivgopal Yadav, PhD student, for his contribution".
 An article by the journalist and collaborator in Mumbai, Silvia Simonetta.

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