Sunday December 17, 2017

Baisakhi: A slice of Punjab on a foreign land!

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By Shilpika Srivastava

For centuries, Baisakhi has marked the time when farmers get ready to put their sickles to harvest and celebrate a new year with much enthusiasm and vigor.

However, given the diversity of India, the festival is celebrated almost all over the nation by people from all walks of life.  It is fêted as ‘Vaishaka’ in Bihar, ‘Rongali Bihu’ in Assam, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Nobo Barsha’ in Bengal, ‘Pooram Vishu’ in the state of Kerala.

Celebrated on April 13th of each year and on April 14th once in 36 years, Baisakhi enjoys a special place in the land of Punjab because it marks the establishment of Khalsa Panth by the 10th Guru GobindSingh ji on April 13th 1699.  Astrologically, the festival’s date is also of great significance because the Sun marks entry into Mesh Rashi (Aries) on the day, thus the festival is also known as Mesha Sankranti.

With around 1,000 Punjabi speaking people, the city of Prince George in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, remains quiet and dull throughout the year, but gets transformed into a lively party during the annual Sikh festival of Baisakhi.

“It’s cold here on Baisakhi, but it doesn’t dim my excitement. Visiting my neighboring Gurudwara kick starts my Baisakhi day for sure,” Rashmeet Kaur Dhillon, a resident of Prince Georgia told NewsGram.

A cheerful shout of “Jatta aai Baisakhi”, enlivens the atmosphere as the crowd breaks into the Bhangra and Gidda dance to express their joy. Energetic movements of the body accompanied by ballads and dhol music beautifully expresses the everyday farming scenes of sowing, harvesting, winnowing and gathering of crops – that’s a lively scene from Southall, the heart of Sikh community in London.

The Southall procession, called Nagar Kirtan, is led by five ‘panj pyare,’ who are dressed in traditional yellow attire along with turbans of the same color, represent the first five members of the Khalsa.

“I wait entire year for Baisakhi just to attend the Nagar Kirtan. It’s this time of the year, which gives me a chance to experience the nostalgia of being at home once a year. My relatives and friends who live in remote areas and are not able to attend a Gurudwara regularly drive for hours to celebrate Baisakhi at Southall. It feels like home here at this time of year,” said Ramandeep Singh excitedly to NewsGram.

From Southall, NewsGram went to Surrey, B.C., the most western province of Canada. Ramina Kaur, a resident told us about the significance of Baisakhi. “For us, it is the one event we anticipate for the entire year. In Surrey, there is an annual Nagar Kirtan where thousands of Sikhs gather to celebrate this auspicious occasion. It’s very dear to the hearts of us all because it reminds us of our roots and the most important staples of our faith and identity as Sikhs. Baisakhi reminds us that we have a unique life purpose to serve the world, remain humble, have faith and be fearless.”

In Fairfax, Virginia, USA, the parking lot of the new suburban Gurdwara gets jam-packed in the evening for the celebration of Baisakhi. Men come dressed in their best attires and turbans, and women make sure to get dressed in the silk salvar with the colorful and vibrant silk print kamiz coupled with beautiful transparent long scarves draped over their heads.

Also called as the festival of harvest, Baisakhi paves way for delicious food items – all homemade and cooked with love. Ramina adds, “We typically distribute sweets and set up different stalls on the day of the parade to give out samosas, bread pakoras. Food items range from curry chawal, chaat papri to pizzas – all for free – and everybody over eats.”

The streets of Surrey transforms into colorful Punjab with members of the Sikh motorcycle club moving ahead of ‘panj pyare.’ The procession includes various floats where one carries the Guru Granth Sahib. Till the time parade ends, dadhis (minstrel or bard) sing Punjabi folk songs and teenagers perform Bhangra and Gidda. The lively parade is performed at such a big level that even the local Mayor and Indo-Canadian MPs also mingle with the revellers.

When NewsGram asked if the natives are really ‘cool’ about the parade, Ramina responded, “Some of the residents can become racist and feel angry as the routes get blocked resulting in traffic due to Nagar Kirtan. Also, there are lots of waste and garbage; however, now we have teams to keep the event environmentally friendly.”

On the other hand, Pakistan’s Gurudwara Panja Sahib in Hassanabdal, some 45 kilometers away from Islamabad, attracts thousands of believers from all over the world, especially India, to celebrate the festival and show their gratitude towards Baba Guru Nanak, the first of the Sikh Gurus.

“Being a follower of Sikhism, it was my dream to visit the Panja Sahib at least once in my life. I’ll pray that the two countries resolve their issues soon and allow their people to visit each other without any visa restrictions,” expressed Badal Singh Kohli, a New Delhi resident, who reached Pakistan to visit the Panja Sahib.

While Ramina from Surrey went nostalgic when NewsGram enquired how much she misses India especially on Baisakhi. “Sometimes I do miss Anandpur Sahib where the actual events happened in 1699. However, at the same time, since we have such a large celebration here, it really satisfies that longing and helps us feel that we brought a bit of Punjab into a foreign land,” she proudly adds.

No doubt, from Canada to Pakistan, the festival of Baisakhi revives the Desi community. Indeed, the day brings to life a scene from the original Punjab on the foreign land. NewsGram wishes all its readers a very happy and joyous Baisakhi.

 

 

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‘Religion’ in India- Types and its Connection to Country’s Civilization

The Ancient religions of India are Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

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Religion
Ancient Religions of India.

India’s economic and political strata in today’s world have reached a great level, but that is still not what the country is known for. The country is known for its diversity and religions because the term ‘religion’ in India is not just a system of belief and worship, but a way of life too. Since ancient times, it has been an integral part of its culture. For the citizens of this country, religion pervades through all the activities of life- from cooking chores to working and politics. The religion we follow plays an important role in our upbringing as well. Our conditioning is done based on the principles of our religion. India is a home to many religions- Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam and others.

How old is the Indian civilization?

The Indian civilization is around 4000 years old, with the existing Indian religions growing in that period. The antiquity of the religions in India begins from the Harappan culture. It’s a secular country which respects all kinds of religion and culture, but during the ancient times, when the Human civilization was developing, there were three main religions native to India- Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The predominant religion during this period was Hinduism, which is said have originated in the Northern India.

Religion wise Indian Population:

  • HINDUISM – about 82%
  • ISLAM – about 12%
  • CHRISTIANITY – about 2.5%
  • SIKHISM – about 2%
  • BUDDHISM – about 0.7%
  • JAINISM – about 0.5%
  • ZOROASTRIANISM – about 0.01%
  • JUDAISM – about 0.0005%   (stated by adaniel.tripod)

Hinduism

Religion
Brahma                                                                                                                                                          Pixabay

Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. Its followers worship several deities. Unlike the other religions, this religion does not have one teacher. Its followers, the ‘Hindus’ believe in a supreme divine spirit called ‘Parama Brahma’. The concept of Parama Brahma states that Brahma is omnipresent.

Hindus believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakam, which means the whole world is a single family. They also believe in Sarva dharma Sama Bhava, which means all religions are equal. The practice follows the ideas of mercy, charity, compassion, benevolence, non-violence and mercy. It believes the concept of ‘Bhakti’ or devotion.

The sacred writings of Hinduism include the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Upanishads.

Also Read: The history and development of Indian Handicrafts

Jainism

Religion
Lord Mahavira                                                                                                                                                   Pixabay
According to tradition, the founder of Jainism was first Tirthankara Adinatha. However, the religion was widely propagated by the 24th Tirthankara, Mahavira. He was born in Vaishali, Bihar, who belonged to the clan ‘Licchavi’. Mahavira was moved by the sufferings of people, and therefore, left his home at the age of 30 to seek the truth. He supported the teachings of the previous Tirthankaras, and added his own beliefs to the teachings.
He believed in the ideology of leading a good life and not doing any wrong. He did not encourage the practice of needing the help of God for everything.
Doctrines of Jainism:
  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence)
  2. Satya (Truth)
  3. Asteya (Non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (Chastity)
  5. Aparigraha (Non-possession)

Buddhism

Religion
Lord Buddha                                                                                                                                                    Pixabay
Buddhism is a religion which consists of different kinds of beliefs and practices based on the teachings of Lord Buddha. Buddha’s name was Siddhartha. He was the son of the Shakya clan’s leader. It is believed that Siddhartha made three observations, which changed his life:  a feeble old man; a person suffering from disease; and a dead body being taken for cremation. This propelled him in finding the true meaning of life. He left his home at an early age and attained ‘enlightenment’ in Bodhgaya.
He also prescribed the four noble truths and eight fold path.
Four noble truths are:
  • Dukkha (truth of suffering)
  • Samudāya (truth of the suffering’s origin)
  • Nirodha (the truth of suffering’s cessation.)
  • Magga (Direction to eight-fold path)

The eight fold path are- Right aims, Right beliefs, Right conduct, Right speech, Right effort, Right occupation, Right meditation and Right thinking.

-by Megha Acharya of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at twitter @ImMeghaacharya.

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Sikh Awareness Campaign to Inform Americans About Sikhism is being Received Well

The National Sikh Campaign launched the "We are Sikhs" ad campaign on April 14, on the occasion of Vaisakhi to raise awareness about their religion

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Sikhs and Sikhism in the United states
National Sikh Campaign launched the "We are Sikhs" ad campaign on April 14, on the occasion of Vaisakhi. Pixabay
  • According to reports, the Sikh awareness campaign to spread awareness about Sikhism among the Americans has led to a rise in positive perception about their religion 
  • Non-profit organization, National Sikh Campaign launched the “We are Sikhs” ad campaign 
  • The survey took place in Fresno, California, where violence towards the American Sikhs has been occurring repeatedly 

Washington, September 4, 2017: A recent survey has noted that the Sikh awareness campaign to inform Americans about Sikhism has led to a rise in the positive perception about their religion.

The non-profit organisation, National Sikh Campaign launched the “We are Sikhs” ad campaign on April 14, on the occasion of Vaisakhi, which is considered a holy day by the community.

The survey took place in Fresno, California, where a number of Sikhs live and where violence towards Sikhs has been increasing since the past few years. Two people were killed in Fresno, in the recent months.

Television ads, grassroots events, digital ads and significant news coverage, all form parts of the Fresno effort.

The campaign has been actively engaged since April, in airing ads, conducting grassroots events in Gurudwaras across the United States and portraying Sikhs as good neighbors, proud Americans on popular news channels like the CNN and Fox News nationwide.

We are Sikhs campaign to inform people about Sikhism
‘We are Sikhs’ campaign. Twitter

The ultimate objective of the $1.3 million campaign was to spread awareness regarding the Sikh community, their identity, their belief in equality, their values and ethics like respect for women and every religion, and important information like the religion being the fifth largest in the world.

59 per cent of Fresno residents, which apparently makes the majority, say they are acquainted with at least some knowledge about Sikhs who live in America, according to a survey, as mentioned in the Times of India.

Sixty-eight per cent considered Sikhs as good neighbors and 64 per cent saw them as generous and kind.

Also read: Sikhism in Pakistan: Recalling the Forgotten Treasures of Sikh Heritage

The division of residents who had seen the ads are twice as likely to claim that they have at least some idea about the Sikhs living in America (78 percent) than the ones who haven’t seen the ads (40 percent), the survey noted.

According to the survey results, People who are likely to identify a bearded man wearing a turban with Sikhism, makes 57 percent of those who saw the ads, while those who believe that Sikhs believe in equality and respect for all people, makes 67 percent of the residents who have had seen the ad.

And 60 per cent of Fresno residents that happened to have seen the Sikhs ad believe they have American values.

“Despite tense race relations and an extremely polarized political environment, the We Are Sikhs campaign has been able to make headway in creating awareness of Sikh Americans, who can commonly be identified by their turbans and beards,” said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates.

“This effort is a testament to the Sikh community’s commitment to reaching out to people of all faiths to help them recognize that we all have shared values, and that is a ray of hope that proves that understanding can bring people of all walks of life together,” he added.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Sikhs remained to be a softer target in cases involving profiling, backlash and bigotry, than the average American.

In July, two separate incidents killed two Sikh Americans in one week in California.

In March, A partially masked gunman shot a 39-year-old Sikh man in the arm, outside his home in Kent, Washington. The gunman reportedly shouted, “go back to your own country.”

-prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha

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What is the relation between Religion and Drug use?

Is there a connection between religion and drugs? Do some religions advocate drug use? 11 religions and their views on drugs will surprise you.

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Relationship between Religion and Drug use
Relationship between Religion and Drug use. Pixabay
  • Buddhists are meant to refrain from any quantity of fermented or distilled beverages
  • The goal of Jainism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation
  • Ayahuasca is used by South American tribes as part of a powerful religious experience

August 12, 2017: Throughout the history, Religion and Drug use have been seen as intertwined but the nature of this relationship has changed over time, from one place to another, one religion to another and with changing times. It’s true that Alcohol and other drugs have played some crucial part in the religious rituals of numerous groups. Some religions have specific laws, others have interpretations from religious texts, while some religions have no official message about the use of narcotics.  In this article, we will explore the relationship between religion and drug use as per different religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism and many others.

Buddhism

Buddhism is not in favor of drug use.  Though it offers suggestions on how one should try to lead their life. Buddhism make a valid point that alcohol and drugs should be avoided.

According to the fifth precept of the Pancasila, Buddhists are meant to refrain from any quantity of “fermented or distilled beverages” which would prevent mindfulness or cause heedlessness. The Pali Tipitaka (Buddhist scriptures) says, “I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.”

The Dalai Lama has stated, “drug use hurts the mind’s ability to be introspective, which leads to unintended and unguided consequences”.

Jainism

Followers of Jainism are instructed to abstain from anything intoxicating, unless for a medical purpose. The pollution of the mind should be avoided so as to avoid disrupting the state of the Supreme Being called Jina (Conqueror).

Jainism has a strict diet that is vegetarian and also excludes some vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrot, and radish, basically all root vegetables. Unlike some other religions, Jainism does not allow alcohol use as the process of alcohol formation involves fermentation, which includes microorganisms, thus it is not considered vegetarian. This is because they follow the principle of non-violence. The goal of Jainism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation. The spiritual effect, or Karma, of violent actions, stop them from attaining this. Mahavira, also known as Vardhamana, was the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankara (who achieved salvation) of Jainism, said, “Kill not, cause no pain. Nonviolence is the greatest religion.”

Hinduism

Hinduism has one of the most intertwined connections with narcotics use in its origin. Arthashaastra of Kautilya (an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit) states, ‘The mind of a drunken person becomes confused, then the confused mind commits sins…a wise person should never even try wine and other intoxicants.’

While there are some Hindus who still use marijuana or psychedelics most of the Hindus dissuade their use. Soma, a drink with psychedelic properties, is directly mentioned in the Vedas (the first Hindu texts). Some images of the god Shiva depict him with a marijuana pipe. While there is no direct religious text denying them, leaders declare it hurts the ability to achieve spiritual harmony. Again, the goals of spiritual harmony and drug use are seen as contradictory. Laws of Manu an ancient Hindu text states that ‘He must not get willfully addicted to any… substances of self-gratification; he must try to overcome such dependence through will power.’

Also Read: Are you addicted to Drugs? Well, it may cause Tooth Decay and periodontal Disease

Islam

Islam is one religion which has a strong stance against the use of any substance, with direct quotations in the Quran about it. “Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer.” Therefore, many Muslims are taught to be completely substance free. Under Islam, it is considered to be haram (unlawful). Quran states, ‘concerning wine and gambling…as per them is a great sin…the sin is greater than the profit.’ Though some Muslims argue the Quran only bans alcohol and if the Quran does not explicitly deny something, it is permissible.

Interestingly some extremist Islamic groups like ISIS give their fighters amphetamines and justify it by saying that it is being used for a higher authority and has medicinal purposes.

Sikhism

Sikh doctrine is one of the few religions to specifically mention drug use. It is not vague about the prohibition of drugs, Bhagat Kabir said, “Those mortals who consume marijuana, fish, and wine – no matter what pilgrimages, fasts, and rituals they follow, they will all go to hell.”

As per Sikhism use of alcohol, wine and other recreational drugs used with the intention of creating or enhancing recreational or religious experience are condemned by the Sikh Gurus. Recreational drugs like LSD, PCP, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy as well as inhalants like shoe glue, gases, aerosols, shoe glue, solvents etc are abhorred in Sikh religion.

The reason given is that the intoxicants affect your ability to focus on God all the time. Gurbani talks in the Guru Granth Sahib that “Those who do not use intoxicants are true; they dwell in the Court of the Lord.” There is an exception though, the Nihang of Punjab, a Sikh military order, used marijuana in meditation. But, this was banned in 2001 by the ruling body of Sikh clergy. The leader of the Nihang at the time refused to follow the ruling and was excommunicated. Its use for meditation is still continued by some Nihang.

Catholicism

There is no official doctrine on drugs in Catholicism. The Bible does not directly state not to smoke marijuana. Though, the Catholic Church has strongly been against the use of drugs and also for the nonprescription use of it. Pope Francis, the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, said, “Every addicted person brings with them a distinct personal history, which should be listened to, understood, loved, and, where possible, cured and purified. We cannot fall into the injustice of classifying them as if they were objects or broken junk.”

Pope Francis has called drugs “evil” and does not support their legalization. His approach, matching his more liberal style, has been to focus on saying “yes” to spirituality.

There are several lines of Scripture recommending a sober mindset in general. New American Bible states, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Though it’s confusing, how can the Catholic Church say no to drugs while allowing alcohol in their ceremonies? The answer is moderation. The Catholic Church argues consumption of alcohol can be moderated, while most narcotics cannot, which is the reason they allow the use of alcohol versus other substances. This does not mean it is encouraged. As most priests encourage sobriety.

Also Read: Formulate a National Action Plan to Combat Drug Abuse among Children, says Supreme Court

Christianity

Christianity has the same view as that of Catholicism: No substance use, although alcohol is okay in moderation. However, there are Bible passages indicating total non-use of it: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”

Shamanism

The variation between different belief systems means there are different variations on the use of drugs according to different religions. Some religious practices directly involve the use of psychotropic drugs. The Native American Church uses Peyote (small, spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids) to have spiritual visions and as a part of their religious ceremonies. They are legally allowed to use drugs this as its part of their religion. Other groups appreciate the influence of alcohol as a part of the natural world.

Ayahuasca (one of the most powerful hallucinogens on the planet) is used by South American tribes as part of a powerful religious experience. This has gained them popularity globally, with thousands of tourists venturing to partake in the drug and the unique ritual.

Shinto

Shinto has an intimate connection with alcohol; it’s an ethnic religion of Japan. There is no mention of narcotics in the religious texts, so it’s left to their personal choice. Sake- the liquor of the gods is consumed at special occasions such as births or weddings. There is even holy sake called Omiki and practitioners drink this when visiting a shrine.

Given the high alcoholism rate in Japan and few seeking treatment, it is unclear if this practice should continue or not. It may be linked to cultural practices that go way beyond the religion. There is some historical evidence that marijuana was used for religious ceremonies, but it was not consumed. There are no moral absolutes in Shinto. The main ethical code is to follow Kami (spirits/deities). But even the Kami makes mistakes and are contradictory at times.

Shinto does try to eliminate impurities. This is called Tsumi and stands for pollution or sin. While there is no specific mentioning of narcotics, it can be argued they are Tsumi. This would require a cleansing ceremony, potentially using alcohol. But, it’s uncertain how many Shinto followers abstain from drug use.

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Judaism

In Judaism, the body belongs to God; therefore, the body must be treated with respect and dignity. While alcohol can be consumed at festivals and ceremonies, like the Sabbath, it must be done in moderation. All other substances are banned in this religion.

Baha’i Faith

The Baha’i Faith explicitly prohibits drug use, Kitáb-i-Aqdas or Aqdas (central book of the Baha’i Faith) states, “Beware of using any substance that induceth sluggishness and torpor in the human temple and inflicteth harm upon the body. We, verily, desire for you naught save what shall profit you.”

Alcohol is also prohibited. Baha’i scholars state this comes from purity of the soul. They believe the spiritual effect on an individual is far graver than the legal consequences or health effects of drug abuse. The sale and trafficking of such substances is also forbidden

Other religions like Rastafarianism (Africa-centered religion) which allow the use of marijuana for worship and as a part of religious rituals, Wicca  (contemporary Pagan new religious movement) there is no official rule condoning or denying drugs and Taoism (Chinese religion)  doesn’t condone drug use.

– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08

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