Photojournals of India would be missing an essential dimension, if they did not include glimpses into the Hindu religion. One of the oldest religions in the world, if not the oldest, it is polytheistic and complex.
A glimpse of some of the gods and goddesses at a temple
At this Hindu temple, these roof-top deities have been given a touch-up. Reincarnation of a painted type!
If I understand it correctly (and there is serious doubt about that!), Hindus believe in a holy trinity (hmmmm…sound a little familiar?) of Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer) and Vishnu (the preserver or protector).
The three incarnations of Shiva
And being a religion of gender-equality, each of these three gods are married to goddesses, who are also worshiped by the faithful. Brahma is married to the goddess Vaak (who represents knowledge); Vishnu to Lakshmi (wealth) and Shiva to Parvati (power).
But that only touches on some of the deities. There are many, many more devas (the guy gods) and devis (their better halves)….not to mention godly incarnations on earth, called avatars. Not the blue alien kind of Avatars that James Cameron made famous, but gods that have taken on human form to give homo sapiens a leg-up on enlightenment.
Cave wall carving of Lord Shiva's tenth incarnation as a boar
Interestingly, some of the avatars of the Supreme Being include Lord Krishna and the Buddha. Like the Christian belief in Jesus, Hindus believe that god came to earth in the form of man. Unlike the Christians, Hindus believe it has happened more than once – in fact they believe ten time so far, with more to come.
Ganesha, son of Shiva, god of success
Regardless of the names, and irrespective of the attribute, Hindu gods and goddesses represent different aspects of the universal being. But, like many other religions there are schisms and differing beliefs in the gods. Some Hindus do not believe in the multi-faceted Supreme Being theory but subscribe to the belief that each god is separate.
Regardless, according to the Vedas (ancient scriptures), Hindus believe that “All truth is one; the wise call it by various names”.
By now, if you have been following my blogs about India, you know that I am confused about the many truths in this country. So this last photojournal – about the Hindu religion – is a fitting way to finish. The religion – like the country – is complex. It is beautiful and mystical yet it contains elements that resonate with Christian beliefs. The gods of the Hindi are as multi-faceted as the human race; they are neither totally benevolent nor wholly avaricious. Perhaps they are merely spiritual reflections of the human race; or we are the flesh and blood of the gods.
Entering a Hindu temple is like stepping back in time. If you ignore the hanging lights and some of the modern clothing, this could be a scene from two thousand years ago.
Carved stone columns depicting some of the gods
A three thousand year old mango tree. Couples line up to touch the tree, to ask for fertility, prosperity and love.
Within the courtyard of the temple, lies a sacred pond and another shrine.
It is Lakshmi's birthday and we were privileged to be there when the procession occurred. A statue of the goddess is carried on a litter by eight men, into the temple.
After the procession, ritual cleansing occurs for worshipers
Back inside the temple. offerings and prayers are made to the god Nandi. Nandi carries Shiva; he is also the gatekeeper to Shiva's home and the chief of his army. Symbolically, Nandi represents the devoted mind.
At Mammalapuram, we visited a famous archaeological site, where "Kishna's Butterball" is also located. When the British first came to this site, they believed the precariously balanced boulder, resting on a steep slope, was a trick. To prove it, they roped seven elephants to the boulder and tried to pull it down....totally without success. Today,children rest in the shadow, or slide down the rocky slope like kids on a snowy hill.
Our Brahman guide (even monks need to make a living!) described the history around this bas-relief known as "Arjuna's Penance". It is the second largest stone cutting in the world, full of rich detail about battles, losses, penance, meditation and redemption.
A 3000 year old statue; at her feet, sacred cows foraging through garbage. Religion and survival are not separate; they are merely part of life.
The Pancha Rathas are ancient shrines; each one was cut out of a single stone. The Pancha Rathas were built over 2000 years ago during the reign of King Mahendravarman
An elephant, lion and bull guard the shrines
At Mammalapuram, as in many other places, children are scattered everywhere, begging for money. But the sight of this tiny monkey, leashed to this man's wrist and dancing at the end of a rope, seemed like the raw image of utter helplessness and despair. Five rupees from a tourist stops the stick from coming down.
The full moon rising over the Bay of Bengal as we left Mammalapuram