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How PM Narendra Modi’s overseas visits are making world aware of Hinduism

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By Devika Sharma

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Mauritius was a balanced mix of promoting the essence of Hindu culture along with strengthening bilateral ties. On March 12, he had visited the Ganga Tales, a place considered to be the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius and offered prayers at the temple of the Hindu Deity Lord Shiva. Seeing him perform the Puja (Prayer) and Aarti at the temple was a scopophilic sight for millions of Indians not just in Mauritius but world over. Modi also poured ‘Gangajal’ on the Shivalinga at the temple, assisted by Hindu priests. This was symbolic of the larger idea of Hindu rituals and practices.

On the same day he hailed Mauritius for elevating Hindi literature through its contribution and talked about how the Hindi language has occupied a special and important place in the world. Mr. Modi also wished the people of Mauritius on behalf of nearly 125 crore Indians on the occasion of the country’s National Day.

Even in his earlier visit to United States, his presence at the Madison Square created a spectacle of the event that symbolized the essence of India as he wanted the world to see. Speaking about the importance of our holy river Ganga and connecting with a sea of NRI’s there, he laid the groundwork for the construction of a World Hindi Secretariat building at Phoenix where he spoke highly about the uniqueness of the Hindi language. By all this he strategically sent out a larger message of the essence of India.

Similarly, in his visit to Mauritius, the Prime Minister, whose government has been pitching for use of Hindi in official works in India, said that the language has made a special place for itself in the world of languages. Modi also visited Appravasi Ghats during his visit to the island nation. The temple site and Appravasi Ghat are associated with the arrival of Indian indentured work force to Mauritius more than 180 years ago.  Modi has been successful in glorifying our priceless heritage on a global scale by acting as a signifier of Indian culture. These practices by the PM in my view are not based on religious lines but strategic lines.

Mauritius is sometime portrayed as India’s backwaters. A chunk of the population sees India’s condescending attitude as a threat to its own identity. But, are these threats legitimate?

People who are skeptical of better India-Mauritius relationship must give due credit to the fact that unlike China’s cheque-book international relations and the west’s economic materialism, India’s engagement with Mauritius is open and transparent and based on mutual respect and friendship.

In the recent years Indian diasporas world over has been stimulated by India’s economic advances and has started to feel a rejuvenated sense of pride and belonging to their land. For instance the Sindhis define Mauritius in a phenomenal way.  They are an important part of the population composition in Mauritius where people from different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds have together built a unique country.

These are the people who can be invoked on grounds of Hinduism. Invoked to do good for the country, invoke NRI’s to send in support not just morally but even financially for the overall development of India. Modi has done just that. In every  overseas visit he has made sure of addressing Indians living world over.

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)