Religion

Poem…sort of…: No Time for Diwali

As busy as a bee
Work meetings, copies and Hindi
I have no time for Diwali

No fireworks, no diya,
On the road to Ayodhya
There is no light for Rama

As busy as Delhi
There is no ceremony
I have no time for Diwali

On A Message to India
Where is Lakshmi, where is Sita?
There’s no prasad and no puja

As busy à bee
I have just a freebie
For you, this महिली *

*lady

In Thar Desert, Rajasthan

Categories: A Piece of Myself, India in pictures, Religion | 7 Comments

Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma): The Power of Love

Photos from this blog

I can’t express how much I love India. I can’t. It’s like being in love. It’s a mystery. However, there are things in this country which are beyond me!

 Guru Mata Amritanandamayi aka Amma is currently in Europe for a hugging tour! Toulon, Barcelone, Milan, Dublin… Every day, this little woman from Kerala fills concert halls with people who come to be embraced by her. She has already been humbly called« the Mahatma »!

 Amma is famous worldwide. She spreads love everywhere but she also makes money by selling pictures of herself, God statuettes or books dealing with her principles. She uses this money to help people in need; – orphans, victims of tsunamis and hurricanes -. Her charity is called Embracing the World. She has ashrams in many countries, as well as schools, hospitals and orphanages.

 Is she the guru of a sect?

In France, we are very suspicious towards that kind of activities and we have a very strict definition of what a religion is and what a sect is. To be short, you are in a sect if you follow a cult whose members manipulate you psychologically in order to keep you far from your family or friends, to take your money and to endanger you – by raping you or by preventing you from resorting to usual medecine, for example.

If a cult is considered as a sect, it hasn’t the same rights as a religion and is watched by the authorities. That’s why Scientology has often been considered as a sect in France whereas it is a religion in the USA.

 But let’s go back to Amma Ji! Despite little suspicion from the French authorities, she is not considered as the terrible guru of an evil sect, of course, because she doesn’t seem to wash people’s brains too excessively. She only gives love and positive energy by embracing them and making them sing. Besides, she says in this French interview she does not preach for a religion but for a way of living. She considers that people should improve in their own religion.

 However, Amma seems to have modern thoughts.

On NBC Today, she said in 2001: Whether in America or in any other part of the world, motherhood is not a quality that women alone should have. Men should also awaken to their innate feminine qualities, which is the need of the age. »

She also praises the virtues of ecology and has created an environmentalist organization called Greenfriends to make human beings closer to nature.

 For my part, and despite all these good intentions I must admit I’m perplexed. I always try to be tolerant to any belief but I think her worshippers may need love and affection to wait for being in her arms and to burst into tears. In the West, some people still look for spirituality in countries where it is disappearing but really, Amma’s cuddles don’t attract me!

In any case, this woman fascinates the world and more precisely the French. Jan Kounen made a film on her. I found a link to this film with French comments by the director. Very interesting even if you are not very keen on that kind of spirituality and if you understand French, of course. The film is called Darshan, l’Etreinte . Très beau!

Categories: Religion | 3 Comments

Karva Chauth is not sexist…

Pictures taken from Fever18.in

Last year, when I arrived at my Hindi lesson, I saw my teacher dressed to kill, with a mysterious and proud frown on her forehead. She was observing Karva Chauth!

Karva Chauth is a strange festival which would make British suffragettes choke on their ballot paper! Northern Hindu wives have to fast from sunrise to moonrise to honour their husband. They have to pray and ask for good future and  long life for him. Once the women have spotted the moon at the end of the day, they can break the fast!

 My Western instinct would make me utter: And men? When do they fast for their wives?

But actually, the situation is not so bad. I’m going to tell you why!

1) A few days before the fast, you go shopping! You buy makeup, clothes, jewels! You even look after your home decoration by buying little candles called Karva and all what you’ll need for the puja. Do you know a religious festival in Europe for which you have to go shopping? Ok, there is Christmas, but it’s often a real chore!

2) On Karva Chauth day , you wake up at 4 o’clock:

Children and Hubby-Ji are still asleep. It’s quiet in the house. You have a great breakfast. You eat whatever you like to prepare for the fast. Most of the time, you eat matthi and dry fruit. Can you hear the silence while you’re drinking your chai on the mellow cushions of the deserted living-room?

In other cases, Hubby-Ji prepares the breakfast for you and in ideal worlds, it is your mother-in-law!

3)Then, you spend hours getting ready; bathing, making up, dressing up. You put on bangles and a red sari like on your wedding day..

4) On that day, you will also give up any form of housework! Goodbye dusters, diapers, frying-pans and smelly-weepy-onion-chopping!

5) For the puja, you gather with other women from the family and female friends. You give presents to each other, clothes, jewels, money and they draw on your hands with henna.

6) Finally, at night, when the moon appears in the sky, you look at it through a sieve and Hubby-Ji must give you some water and a piece of sweet food to break the fast.

7) If your husband is a nice guy, he will fast with you. It is what my Hindi teacher’s husband did. Even if he’s French, I found it was cute and it shows the evolution of this festival. The husband honors his wife too! A bit like in this extract in which Shahrukh Khan plays the perfect guy, as usual:

Now, I invite you to read what (Indian) women think about Karva Chauth.

Read Fortyoneandcounting.

Read The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

Read My First Karva Chauth

I like this one by Suzanna Wickes. She is scottish and her love story with India is moving.

 

Categories: Religion, Society | 2 Comments

Does India celebrate Halloween?

Flyer for a Halloween party in Mumbai

Indian people have so many festivals for so many religions; do they celebrate Halloween? Nowadays this festival has nothing to do with religion, not even with superstition. But in some countries, it is an unescapable tradition, in others, it is vade retro satanas! What about India?

A Western festival:

Typical Halloween Cake

In the USA, and more generally in English speaking countries, this festival is still really popular. In the end of October,

shop-windows are filled with cheeky pumpkins, dusty witches, fang-shaped candy or black and orange spooky cakes. People organize barbecues, fancy-dress parties and children go Trick-or-Treating in the streets of their neighbourhood and even at school!

By contrast, in other countries like France, Halloween has almost disappeard. It is nearly impossible to find the least Halloween stuff in Paris’s shops. You often have to go to English stores like Mark and Spencer on the Champs Elysées or WHSmith bookshop rue de Rivoli to find a few plastic cobwebs or ghost cookies. In France, Halloween was fashionable during the 90s but people rapidly forgot it: too ugly, too stupid, too close to Christmas, too disrespectful to All Saints’ day and… too American! Yes, the French are sometimes suspicious towards the American culture which is may be considered as vulgar, superficial and which may endanger our own French culture. (see the fight between la Grande Cuisine and fast food restaurants, Hollywood against French cinema, and so on and so forth.)

Celtic cross

The origins of Halloween:

Let me tell you a few words about the origins of Halloween because they are interesting to answer the question asked in the title of this post.

To be short, All Hallows’ Eve comes from celtic rituals in Great-Britain and in the North of France. A long time ago, on the 31st of October, the night before All Saints’ Day, the spirits of the dead were supposed to roam about the villages. To prevent them from entering their homes or destroying their harvest, people dressed up as monsters and lit fires to frighten them. They also put food onto their doorsteps to soothe the spirits’ anger and keep them outside. That’s certainly why children go Trick-or-Treating today.

Thus, the origins of Halloween are not American but European although everybody agrees that American people, -to be precise, Irish immigrants- were those who gradually turned this festival into the garish-ghoulish carnival.

Pitru Paksha…: when Hindus celebrate their dead.

But I haven’t answered the question yet! Do Indian people celebrate Halloween?

The answer is no! …and yes!

Like in every civilization, Indians celebrate their dead. But they don’t put flower pots on tombs like in France on the 1st of November, which should be difficult especially in Hindu cemeteries. (Ah! Ah!Ah!)

Pitru Paksha Shraddha

India is well-known for its long and complicated festivals. Pitru Paksha is one of them and lasts for two weeks; ( पितृ means fathers and पक्ष, fortnight). The dates are not always the same because it depends on the full moon day. It can be in September or October…the same season as Halloween! For example, this year, it was from the 1st of October to the 15th of October. During this period, people’s ancestors are supposed to visit their families. To keep the souls peaceful, people, -especially the oldest sons of the family – must perform rituals everyday.

First of all, you draw two flour-feet on the ground. These feet represent the ancestors walking into the houses*. Everyday, you must pray for the dead and give them some food and some water. These offerings are called Shraddha; they usually take place by the water and are guided by a guru. You must make candles float on rivers or ponds to light your ancestors. You also feed the birds because they are the spirits of the dead and the messenger of Yama, the god of Death.

The rules to perform Shraddhas are very complicated; you have to use special ingredients, and specials containers; there are even tutorials on Youtube to learn how to prepare them! In addition, there are different rituals according to the regions: you can fast or avoid eating meat or shave your head…

Finally, if the ancestors are pleased with the Shraddas, they can give health, wealth and even access to moksha – the Hindu salvation – to the person who performed them. Then, you draw two feet walking away on the ground in front of your house to symbolize the ancestors’ departure*.

Stangely enough, I have been surprised by the common points between Pitr Paksha and All Hallows’ Eve Pagan Celtic rituals: feeding the ghosts, trying to satisfy them, lighting fires, the importance of seasons and astrologythe pumpkin (also called yellow gourd) can also be found in the food given to the Hindu ancestors! And somewhere, in a crazy corner of my mind, I can see Rajiv o’ Lantern hanging around aimlessly in the darkness since it is what may happen to the Hindu son who hasn’t performed the Shraddha properly!

 *I read this foot story while surfing the web but I think this ritual is not so widespread.

But Today’s Halloween?

Ad for a Halloween Party in Singapour

As far as the modern version of Halloween is concerned, the American trend has definitely influenced a small part of the Indian population. As many Indian people go studying or working in the USA, they often get back to India with Halloween in their suitcases! That’s why many companies in India organize Halloween parties. This festival is considered as something funny and friendly, a way to have fun with your colleagues and pals. In The Times of India, you can find a great deal of pumpkin recipes, dicotheques in cities organize big Halloween nights and Bollywood still remembers Hrithik Roshan’s Halloween Party – a baaash as they like saying there! – in 2010 and I can tell you that seeing Arjun Rampal as the Joker or Fardeen Khan as a Prince Charming… it’s very scary! (click on the link above if you like being scared!)

So, yes, some people celebrate Halloween in India, like in France it is another excuse to put an ugly costume on and go downtown to have fun.

But after all, the real question is: Why should Indian people celebrate an ugly Western festival which has nothing spiritual anymore whereas they only have to wait for a few days to celebrate a moving and beautiful holy day of their own called Diwali?

Trick or Treats?

 Wherever you are, these are my little treats for you for Halloween!

 The first one is a piece of news!

The Dead is a Zombie movie made by the Ford Brothers. They have prepared the sequel called…I let you guess…The Dead 2!!! And this new film has been shot in India! The teaser is really exciting! I just hope it isn’t too gory. I like being afraid but not desgusted!

My second treat is a Youtube classic that most of you already know but I can’t help showing it today for Halloween! It is a video from Telugu film Donga realeased in 1985. Actor Chiranjeevi, his red latex trousers and his manly moustache have ended up in the Indian Government ever since!

Information taken from Wikipedia, the Hindu Blog and Astrology Vedic Science.

Categories: Media, Religion, Society | Leave a comment

A Feminine Buddha in my Living-Room

Last summer, as I was having a walk in Ajaccio, a town in Corsica, I entered a decoration shop by chance. It was a bit like Ali Baba’s cave: candles, African statues, South-American tools, Russian dolls… In a corner, I found a group of dusty buddhas. They looked at me with their peaceful and disdainful eyes.

Looking for Buddha

Thailand by AMTI

Feminine Buddha in Sukhothai

I had been looking for a Buddha for a long time but it’s difficult to find a Buddha of your own, a Buddha made for you. A

Buddha is not just some decoration on a mantlepiece; it is someone else, a being who whatches you and knows your intimacy. You can’t buy any Buddha. Most of the buddhas I had seen in shops were too large or too common, too sad, too flashy and they sometimes even had odd eyes which made me feel uncomfortable. Moreover, having a Buddha at home has become really usual to many snobbish Paris dwellers (like me?). Each left-wing Paris bourgeois must have a Buddha in his lounge! So, every decoration shop is plenty of copies of buddhas. During the eighties the trend was to exhibit a fake fruit-tree in your living-room, now it is the Buddha fashion! So I really wanted to find my Buddha, the Buddha which is different from the others.

I was in Corsica to spend summer holidays, to have sun, sea and rest and I left with a Buddha! In this unexpected shop, in  the middle of exotic knick-knacks, I found him! Or her? Look!

My Pink Buddha!!!

 

 Feminine Buddha

White Tara

Look at my Buddha carefully. Don’t you think he’s wearing a sari and has lipstik on his mouth? Very ambiguous! I knew feminine Buddhas were not uncommon. One tells that Buddha can be represented both as a man or a woman. For example, last year when I went to Thailand, I met this wonderful satue of a walking Buddha with womanlike shapes and girly features. It was in Sukhothai, one of the most beautiful and quietest places on Earth!

But the most famous feminine Buddha is Tara or Mahatara. She is mostly worshipped in Tibet and she symbolises motherhood, wisdom and compassion. Her origins are in India, of course, the cradle of Buddhism. Some people say she was born from Durga. Or whatever! There are plenty of Taras. They have different colours. I’m not a buddhist and I don’t know buddhism very well; it is a real headache to understand all that!

Trendy trustful Buddha

But anyway, my Buddha doesn’t seem to be a woman. He is just ambiguous. He bears both sexes in himself a bit like the Buddha from Sukhothai. He has feminine features because the author wanted it to.

Anyway, I think this Buddha was for me. First of all because it was made in India, out of Indian wood. Secondly, he is fashionable! His dress is pink, lined with gold, tiny mirrors and red beads. I love his gear! Both hippie and elegant! Very trendy! Finally, his face is not disturbing but calm and thoughtful. He has got a usual position, he is touching the Earth to ask her to witness his enlightment. It’s the Bhumisparsha Mudra. He is about 45 cms high. After searching on the Internet, I can say he is of the Sukhothai type: He’s got golden hair with tiny curls and a long flame of hair at the top of his head. He is half smiling. He has got long earlobes because Buddha used to be wealthy and wore huge expensives jewels. When he renounced wealth, he took off his earrings but his ears kept the same shape. However, I think my Buddha has not renounced to beautiful rich fabric to make his clothes!

I’m delighted with my enlightened ambiguous Buddha!

 

Categories: A Piece of Myself, Religion | 2 Comments

Ganesh, a Candle and a Song…

Today, for Ganesh Chaturthi, I’m going to introduce you my two little Ganeshes who are on my fireplace mantelpiece!

My ceramic Ganesh…the mouse is a catnip!

First, this is my ceramic Ganesha. I bought it in Jaipur, in Prime Ramada Hotel. There were several shops where items were not too expensive. About 6 euros for my lovely elephant-god! We were coming from a great but also disappointing day. Our guide had dragged us along to the most horrible sham-shops for tourists where you can buy a lovely polyester sari for only 30 euros!
This little Ganesha really cheered me up and now, he watches the house and stays with my cat when I’m away, – No, I’m not gaga, why?

My second Ganesh is a kind of doodah to hang at your car mirror. He is cute and funny. I bought it on Ebay for a few euros. He must have thousands and thousands of brothers like him but for me, he is unique, and I’m going to tell you why!
Last Summer, my Hindi teacher gave a series of courses where the students could practise

My tiny cuddly Ganesh and his touch of kumkum…

Hindi and learn more about the Indian culture. I had chosen the lesson about the song called Jai Ganesh Jai Ganesh Deva. After studying the sanskrit song and after singing along, we had a pooja. Our teacher Kavita, – who is really sweet, I’ll talk to you about her one day because she really deserves it – had brought everything we needed on a plate. Each of us had taken a representation of Ganesha. I had my  Ganesh fluff. So during the Pooja, Kavita drew a dot of vermilion on our foreheads but also on every Ganesh representation in the room. That’s why if you really look at the photo carefully you can see the stain of kum-kum on the little puppet’s forehead, just next to the red pearl. He also had a piece of ladoo to eat, and so did we! It was funny, it reminded me of little girls who play with dolls but now, it is as if my Ganesh soft-toy had been blessed and I keep it preciously.
I’m not Hindu, I’ve already told you this but I love religions. They’re really interesting and essential in every country’s culture. So, in honour of India, I sometimes light my favourite vanilla candle among all my little Indian knick-knacks and my heart is warm.

The following piece of music is the song we learned in Kavita’s class.  I could sing it then, but now…

Categories: A Piece of Myself, Religion | Tags: | 3 Comments

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi! Three Stories about Ganesh

Lord Shiva, Parvathi, Ganesh and his brother Skanda

(French Version: Go Here)

 

Hindus have been celebrating Lord Ganesh ( गणेश ) for a couple of weeks, now. But in India, on the 19th of September 2012, it is the day when children don’t go to school, when people build huge ganesh sculptures out of clay and organize huge processions. It is one of the most important celebrations in Hinduism.
Ganesh is famous for his elephant face. He is also the God of children and education. He is a very positive and powerful god.
I’m going to tell you three stories about Ganesh that most of hindus know very well. But the stories always change according to the way you tell them!

Painting with coffee by Coffee with Sundar.com

THE BIRTH OF GANESH:
So, one day, Godess Parvati ( पार्वती ) was going to take a bath. She had everything she needed: sweet-scented oils, Cleopatra Soap and Fair and Lovely cream! But she realized there was nobody to watch the entrance of the bathroom. No servant, no maid, no-bo-dy, although neither cricket matches nor Big Boss existed at that time! They were certainly busy somewhere else, at the Temple or at the bazar. Moreover, her husband Shiva (शिव) was out. What was he doing? She didn’t know! You can never trust men, even when they’re part of the Trimûrti! But she had an idea: she carved a young man in a piece of soap and made him stand in front of the door. She called him Ganesh and he became her new son. I’m sure he was a handsome boy, he had a beautiful face, big black eyes, long curly dark hair, a fleshy mouth… And he smelt really good, as you can imagine!
While Parvati was having her bath, Shiva came back. Men are often fussy but Shiva can be very impulsive and bad-tempered! He’s the God of Destruction, consequently, he destroys first, and then he thinks! In a word, it is very difficult to be Shiva’s wife!
So Shiva arrived at home and saw a good-looking young man waiting at the door of his wife’s bathroom! As Ganesh had never seen his father before, he obeyed his mother’s order and prevented him from entering. No need to say that Shiva was furious. He took his sword and cut poor Ganesh’s head off!
Parvati heard her husband’s screams of anger. She rapidly took a towel and rushed outside. She was petrified with horror when she saw her son’s head on the ground. « What have you done! », she screamed at Shiva. « You have beheaded you own son! » Tears and water were running on her lovely cheeks. And Shiva suddenly realized he had made a terrible mistake! He really loved Parvati, but he guessed that a new sari or a necklace of flowers wouldn’t be enough to be forgiven.
Hopefully, things are always easier in Gods’ lives. To revive Ganesh, Shiva just had to go out and behead the first living creature he would see. This first creature could have been a beautiful maharaja wearing a golden turban and a thick moustache or a Bollywood actor like Ajay Devgan coming home after his weight-lifting training. But…unfortunately not! It was just a young elephant! Life can be cruel, sometimes!
However, this elephant head made Ganesh one of the most famous gods in the world. It gave him strength; that’s why Ganesh has the power of removing all obstacles in your lives.

THE RACE AROUND THE WORLD
This is an episode about Ganesh I like very much because most of children can identify with Ganesh in this story.

Go for it, Skanda!

Ganesh had a brother, Skanda – actually, he has plenty of names such as Muruga but I like Skanda. One day, Shiva and Parvati organized a race between the two brothers. « Get on your vehicule and go around the world three times. The one who comes back first will have the fruit of knowledge.» Skanda jumped onto his peacock and started like a rocket! Ganesh slowly got on his mouse – I know what you’re thinking but actually, the mouse gets bigger when Ganesh rides it…phew! – and went around his parents three times with extreme devotion.
Shiva and Parvati were perplexed. « You didn’t understand!,Shiva said, you have to go around the world three times! »
« But YOU, MY PARENTS, are my world! », Ganesh answered. Was he sincere or just foxy? Certainly both!
Anyway, Parvati flushed with pleasure and Shiva grinned with happiness.
When Skanda came back from his long race around the world, he was exhausted! His clothes were covered with stardust; a comet had damaged his peacock’s tail and both of them were starving. But Ganesh had eaten all the fruit of knowledge! This is the reason why, he is the God of education and ambition!

WHY DO DEVOTEES BREAK COCONUTS?
(This story was completed thanks to Indiatimes.com

They’re sacrificing Shiva!

One day, Ganesh asked Shiva: « Daddy? What is the most powerful sacrifice in the world? »
Shiva answered: « Take the most powerful person in the world and sacrifice him. And then, you’ll have your answer! »
Ganesh thought for a few seconds, had a frown and said: « But Dad, YOU are the most powerful person in the world! Shall I sacrifice you? »
Shiva started and turned pale. He didn’t expect such an answer! He hesitated. He could have told his son that he wasn’t the most powerful person, that Vishnu, Brama, Barack Obama, Bill Gates or even Rahoul Gandhi were much more powerful than him! But he didn’t want to underestimate himself in front of his son and he didn’t want to be sacrificed either! So, he imagined a shortcut:
« My son!, Shiva said with a self-important tone of voice. Every time you break a coconut, you sacrifice me! Look at this coconut! Can you see the three black eyes on it? They are MY three eyes! »
Since that day, people have broken coconuts for Ganesh Chaturthi!

That’s all for today, लोग !

See you tomorrow for Ganesh’s Festival! I’ll show you my two dear Ganeshes from my little private temple!

 If you like Ganesh, you will like this site .

Ganesh is on the walls of Paris too!

Categories: Religion, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

Ganesh Chaturthi in Paris: More Photos on Facebook (Part III)

After publishing photos of this event on my blog here and there, I also published many more photos of the parade for Ganesh in Paris on the 2nd of September 2012. They are on facebook.

They are available only to my “friends” so you are welcomed!

Click on the photo below:

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