Random Thoughts about Religion in India

Random Thoughts about Religion in India
(No Photos!)

Our recent trip to Kerala again showed me that religion is central to Inidan life; reminders of religion are everwhere: images of gods are displayed in homes, restaurants, businesses, cars, buses, sidewalks, and almost everywhere else you look, temples, churches or mosques are bustling as soon as they open in the mornings, and it is rare to meet an Indian who does not follow at least one religion. In Mysore, most of the population is hindu, but there are many mosques, and also one of the largest catholic churches in India. In contrast, in Kerala about 70% of the population is christian; in other parts of India, moslems are a majority.

My overall feeling is that there is a high level of religious tolerance; quite unlike the impression given by the news stories which highlight clashes between muslims and hindus. I'm not sure why my own view differs so much from the media's. Perhaps the media is trying to sensationalize a few isolated incidents, or perhaps the reported incidents are mostly in north India, while hindus and muslims may get along better in the south.

All this religion does not necessarily equal a perfect society; a brief glance at the local newspapers shows rampant govenment corruption; and here in Mysore we have all run accross businesses, shops and rickshaw drivers that don't hesitate to deceive and overcharge (especially when the targets are westerners). Religion can also be abused; there is a young yoga teacher in Mysore who likes to lecture people on spirituality but sets up "pujas" to lure female yoga students into his bedroom.

Nonetheless, my overall impression is that India's emphasis on spirituality seems to have a very positive effect: many Indians who are almost unimaginably poor seem more content than most people in my home country, and many Indians show a degree of self respect, dignity, kindness and generosity that is inspiring and humbling.
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# by dcaplan | 2006-02-04 16:38 | Religion in India

Kovalam Beach Part 5-Last Days and Return to Mysore

Kovalam Beach Part 5-Last Days and Return to Mysore

One morning on my way to Suprabatham restaurant this wall, beautifully painted and decorated with "Om" symbols, caught my attention.

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Approaching the small entrance revealed a small temple inside. The black areas on the walls are caused by oil lamps burned on special occasions.

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A careful inspection of the outer wall uncovered clues indicating that this was a Shiva Parvati temple that was 600 years old.

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The inner temple was a simple structure with 4 walls and no ceiling; but it was well proportioned.

Here is the inside:

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The day to return to Mysore came sooner than we wanted. We had such an enjoyable time in Kovalam Beach that 3 out of 5 people in our group decided to extend their stays; MIkko S. and Rebecca stayed 2 more days and returned to Mysore by bus; Mikko V. stayed several extra days, and from there continued to travel in south India without returning to Mysore. Only Antonia and I returned by car as originally planned.

On my last morning, the waves in the ocean were quite large, probably because it was the day after Moon Day. I decided to go for a quick swim, but some of the waves where scary. Here is a photo of me taken by Antonia.

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On my way back to the hotel, a shop owner was performing a puja by burning incense in a half coconut. It's good to see shop owners taking a few minutes from work to remind themselves and the rest of us of the more spiritual and traditional side of life!

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On our last morning, Antonia, MIkko S., and I met for breakfast at the Swiss Cafe, and enjoyed good food, a view of the ocean, and good drinks:

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Antonia and I would not be seeing Mikko V. again, so this was our farewell.

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This was also my last chance to enjoy the excellent chocolate cake at the Swiss Cafe; another farewell!

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After breakfast, it was back to Mysore. On the ride back only 2 of us shared the large Tata Sumo, we were quite comfortable. Our always friendly helpful driver Chendru had decorated the dashboard with fresh flowers.

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The 16 hour drive dragged on, but there were a few interesting moments. Antonia noticed a new sticker on the car's dashboard, which showed Ganesh, a mosque and Jesus Christ.

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Antonia started a conversation with Chendru, during which he explained to us that he is a devout converted Christian from a Hindu family, and his conversion was inspired by the healing of an illness (I won't go into too much detail about his story on my blog).

About an hour into our trip, we were stopped by an unusual parade.

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Nearly all the marchers, men and women, were dressed completely in yellow, and the women were also carrying yellow umbrellas. Chendru explained that they were a religious group, and we soon got to see a photo of their leader.

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Some were wearing outfits so extravagant that they would have attracted attention even in Harajuku:

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We didn't learn much about this religion or their leader/swami, but it was clear that he had a large following: we saw groups of people outfitted in yellow over the next several hours as we drove through Kerala state.

We stopped for breakfast, and Chendru ordered some payasam for me. I like payasam, it is a sweet noodle soup often eaten for breakfast. But I got a big surprise... this payasam was SPICY! It took me a while to recover!

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There were some good scenic spots, and we stopped for a photo at this tree

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It was a long ride and we were glad to be back in Mysore, but the visit to Kerala was well worth the long trip!
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# by dcaplan | 2006-02-04 16:34 | Kovalam 5-Last Days

Kovalam Beach Part 4-More Traditions

Kovalam Beach Part 4 - More Traditions
This entry is a collection of random thoughts and only has 3 photos. More photos coming in the next entry!

Kovalam Beach is more traditional and relaxed than Mysore. Men usually wear pants in Mysore, but in Kerala, and especially in Kovalam Beach, loonghi are more common. This is a piece of cloth about the size of a small bathtowel wrapped around the waist like a skirt. To make it easier to walk, the bottom part of the loonghi is usually pulled up and tucked into the waist, folding it in half.

Here the hotel owner is showing me how to correctly wear my new purple loonghi folded to half length.

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There are many good reasons to visit Kovalam Beach, the ocean, the food and Lino's workshop. Another good reason is traditional ayurvedic massage. There are many ayurvedic clinics and ayurvedic massage centers in the area. I have only one clinic, and I'll tell you about it below.

Kerala style foot massage is wonderful. If you have a chance, you should definitely try it. No, it is not only a massage of your feet. Here in Kerala, foot massage means that the masseur uses his or her feet to massage your whole body.

Here is what it looks like:

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(Incidentally, since we are talking about loonghis, the orange shorts worn by the masseur, VIjay's former assistant, are not really shorts. It is a loonghi wrapped around the thighs and tied down with a sash around the waist. This provides a good fit, and good motion of the legs.)

The masseur stands on the table and holds a rope hung overhead for balance. He applies a lot of oil, and goes over your whole body with his feet. He can easily go from your head to your toes in one continuous stroke; this makes the massage feel very smooth.

I was lucky enough to first have a massage from Mr. Vijay in the Moonlight Hotel 2 years ago. I would not hesitate to say that he gives some of the best massages I have experienced. His massages are powerful, deep and strong; through his years of practice he has developed amazing sensitivity and agility in his feet, rivaling many people's hands! Those who prefer soft or superficial massage may find massages too strong! Here is a photo from 2 years ago.

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Mr. Vijay told me that he comes from a very old family of Ayurvedic doctors with a lineage going back about 1200 years, and he is 61st generation. To someone born in America, such continuity is hard to imagine. He told me that traditionally, the head of the family did not marry because there were too many responsibilities, including running the family clinic and teaching younger generations, so the eldest nephew was taught the family's ayurvedic art, including foot massage. Vijay's grandfather changed this tradition (perhaps he did not have any nephews); he married and passed the art on to his eldest son, who was Vijay's father and teacher.

Vijay recently moved to a new clinic in the nearby city of Trivandrum, and he is so busy that I was not able to get an appointment this time. Instead, I got a massage from Vijay's former assistant at Vijay's old clinic at the Moonlight Hotel; he gave me a good massage, but he has still not fully developed the smoothness, precision and sensitivity that Vijay has acquired with long years of practice.
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# by dcaplan | 2006-01-20 15:01 | Kovalam 4-Traditions