Monday October 23, 2017

Manikarnika Ghat: A lavish celebration of death on the banks of River Ganga

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By Rukma Singh

The city illumines truth and reveals reality. It does not bring new wonders into the scope of vision, but enables one to see what is already there.  Where this eternal light intersects the earth, it is known as Kashi.” -Diana L. Eck

Kashi, or Benaras as it is popularly known, is a phenomenon in itself. It is where all lives are believed to have begun, and where all lives should ideally end.  A brief picture of Benaras would be incomplete without the endless course of pilgrims going up and down the ghats all day, air filled with chants of priests, hues of saffron and yellow all around, and well sculptured temples. But even in the constant hustle-bustle of the city, everything is ultimately believed to fall into perspective. The mayhem is almost natural, as if it were meant to be there.

Whatever fruit is said to accrue from thousands of lifetimes of asceticism is known to be obtainable from just three continuous days of fasting in Benaras and a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga.

Out of the 87 ghats along the Ganga, there is one ghat that serves as a window to the other side of Varanasi ; the side where life comes to an end, and where the end of life is made ‘worthwhile.’

Manikarnika Ghat houses some sharp contrasts. Cremation areas are considered to be unlucky and are situated beyond the main city to keep it away from ‘grief’. But Manikarnika happens to be situated right in the middle of all the ghats. The reason behind this is the fact that the entire city of Benaras is considered to be a ‘Great Cremation Ground’ or a ‘Maha Shamshan’. A life that ends here is a successful life.

“Death in Kashi is not a feared death, for here the ordinary God of Death, frightful Yama, has no jurisdiction. Death in Kashi is death known and faced, transformed and transcended.”

Death Tourism

To think of death being ‘utilized commercially’ is a scary thought. But, Manikarnika Ghat has given rise to the phenomenon called ‘Death Tourism’. Due to the ‘guaranteed’ liberation of a soul from the endless cycle of life and death, thousands of tourists come here every year only to witness the large scale cremation activities and to gain peace and perspective in life. Even though photography is seen as an act of insensitivity and hostility, tourists don’t refrain from it.

Some of the local residents, however, do not allow their young children to look at the ghats or to even go that way. They believe that it could have a negative impact on the kind, because of the grief associated with cremation.

The ghat is lined with a series of shops providing material for cremation. These range from different types of cloth to a variety of woods: sandalwood being the most expensive and most preferred one. Death, here, is a lavish affair.

The legend

Legend is that Lord Shiva gave the boon of eternal peace to the Manikarnika Ghat. It is believed that for thousands of years, Lord Vishnu prayed to Lord Shiva asking that the holy city of Kashi, as Varanasi was known earlier, not be destroyed during the then planned annihilation of the world. Pleased by Vishnu’s prayers, Shiva came to Kashi along with his wife Parvati and granted him the wish. And by consequence, any departed soul that gets its last rites performed in Varanasi attains moksha (liberation).

There are a few more myths around how the Maha Shamshana got its name. One is that Vishnu dug a well for Shiva and Parvati to bathe in. When Shiva was taking a bath, one of his earrings fell into the well and since then it has been known as Manikarnika (Mani is the jewel in the earring and Karnam is the ear).

At Manikarnika, death is celebrated in a worldly fashion. Amidst the chants of remorse and the smoke engulfing the ghat, there’s an unusual happiness – the happiness of leading a loved one to the ‘gateway of heaven’.

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Hinduism is Not an Official or Preferred Religion in Any Country of The World, Says a New Report

Though Hinduism is the third largest religion of the world, it is not the official state religion of any country according to a Pew Research Center Report

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Hinduism
Hinduism is not an official religion of any country in the world. Instagram.
  • No country has declared Hinduism as its official state religion – despite India being an influential Hindu political party
  • Hinduism is not an official or preferred religion in any country of the world, according to a Pew Research Center report.
  • 53% of 199 nations considered in the study don’t have an official religion
  • 80 countries are assigned either an “official religion” or “preferred religion”

Nevada, USA, October 16: Hinduism is the primeval and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion followers of moksh (liberation) being its utmost desire of life. India is among the category of nations where the government do not have an official or preferred religion.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank headquartered in Washington DC that aims to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The report states that a country’s official religion is regarded as a legacy of its past and present privileges granted by the state. And a few other countries fall on the other side of the gamut, and propagate their religion as the ‘official religion’, making it a compulsion for all citizens.

It adds up on the context of allocation that more than eight-in-ten countries (86%) provide financial support or resources for religious education programs and religious schools that tend to benefit the official religion.

Hinduism
Islam is the most practiced official religion of the world. Instagram.

Commenting on Hinduism, the report states:

In 2015, Nepal came close to enshrining Hinduism, but got rejected of a constitutional amendment due to a conflict between pro-Hindu protesters and state police.

Although India has no official or preferred religion as mentioned in the Constitution,it was found by PEW that in India the intensity of government constraints and social antagonism involving religion was at a peak. “Nigeria, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt had the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2015. All fell into the “very high” hostilities category,” the report added.

As per the 2011 census, it was found that 79.8% of the Indian population idealizes Hinduism and 14.2% practices to Islam, while the rest 6% pursuit other religions.

While Hinduism stands up with the majority, Article 25 of the Constitution of India contributes secularism allowing for religious freedom and allows every Indian to practice his/her religion, without any intervention by the community or the government.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, applauded the Hindu community for their benefaction to the society and advised Hindus to concentrate on inner purity, attract spirituality towards youth and children, stay far from the greed, and always keep God in the life.

According to Pew, these are “places where government officials seek to control worship practices, public expressions of religion and political activity by religious groups”.

-by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram.  She can be reached @tweet_bhavana

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5 Events Of November Which Are Ideal For Family Vacations

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Events in November which will give you a vacation mood.
Events in November which will give you a vacation mood. Wikimedia.

As we approach the year’s end, Indians not just bid adieu to their summer outfits but also welcome the festival seasons. October and November are two months in India which are full of cultural events and festivals, which make these months, the ideal time for going on family vacations.

Below are the events of November 2017 which you will regret missing. They are worth the try for family vacations:

1.  Dev Deepavali, Varanasi

family vacations
Representational Image. The ghat of holy city Varanasi. 

Varanasi, the holiest city of India, celebrated Dev Deepavali on Kartik Poornima every year. The festival is celebrated with joy. The ghats of Varanasi are lit with beautiful diyas (earthen lamps). God is believed to have descended to the banks of Ganges, to take a holy dip. The festival will take place on November 3, 2017.

 2. Dharamsala International Film Festival

Filmmaker, cinema buffs or all those people interested in the art of films come together of Dharamsala International Film Festival (DIFF). This film festival will witness filmmakers coming from different regions to show films on various issues- socially relevant, contemporary etc. DIFF will take place from November 2 to November 5. If you are a movie buff, then you should immediately pack your bags and seal a date for attending the festival.

3. Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan

Family vacations
Representational Image. Camel Fair is celebrated in Pushkar. Pixabay

Pushkar Camel fair, a cattle fair, in Pushkar which truly defines the real meaning of culture. The Pushkar Camel Fair has been in tradition for a very long time. The fair attracts a huge crowd every year. One of the most ideal and happy places for family vacations. It will take place between 23rd October to 4th November.

Also Read: 7 Beautiful Places To Visit In North East India

4. NH7 Weekender

The five seasons old Indian multi-city music festival has indeed garnered a lot of attention and love from the musically inclined youngsters across the country. It is a combination of national and international studies coming together. In Meghalaya, the event will take place from October 27 to October 28.

5. Guru Purab

family vacations
Sikhs celebrating Guru Purab. Wikimedia.

Guru Purab, one of the most important festivals for Sikhs. The golden temple celebrates it with a lot of joy. The celebration which Amritsar witnesses at this time are unbelievable. It will take place on November 2017. Golden temple is indeed one of the best places for family vacations.

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

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Ram and Ravana Have More In Common Than You Think : 5 Traits of the Anti-Hero Ravana That You Must Learn | Dussehra Special

An individual who questions principles, assumptions and values is always painted dark. I believe Ravan was one of them.

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Have you ever noticed how we have more in common with Ravana than Lord Ram? Wikimedia

New Delhi, September 30, 2017 : Happy Dussehra or Vijaydashmi – the day we all rejoice the defeat of the evil Lanka Naresh Ravana by Shri Ram. But the essence of the festival is much more than plain revenge. We have been told since times immemorial that the festival symbolizes the triumph of truth over deception and good over evil; the victory of Lord Ram (who we must aspire to be) over the evil Ravana (who should be despised). But is that all there is to devour from the epic?

Lord Ram is held in reverence across the country and is seen as the ultimate role model. Popularly addressed as ‘Maryada Purushottam’, we have all, at a point, aimed to inculcate similar traits in our life.  But do we truly aspire to live a Ram-like life? If your answer to that question is in the affirmation, what are you doing to lead a life defined with such high morale and ideals?

We Have More In Common With Ravana Than Ram

‘Respect your parents’, ‘One must not steal’, ‘Do not lie’, ‘Honesty is the best policy’.

Despite being repeatedly exposed to these virtues, we are still dishonest.

Lord Ram, who we aspire to be, supposedly never lied.

The veneration with which the Raghuvansham looked up to his parents is not only impossible to trace in the present day, but also hard to emulate.

An epitome of ethical demeanor and exemplary disciple, are we as devoted as Ram?

This brings me to a larger question.

Have you ever noticed how we have more in common with Ravana than Lord Ram?

Maybe because it is easy to be a Ravana today, than be the ideal Ram.

So, this Dussehra, as people from all across India burn effigies of Ravana as part of the popular ritual, let us dig a little deeper and introspect what makes the anti-hero, Ravana so special and traits we can learn from his life,

What Can We Learn From Ravana

  1. Undying Faith and Devotion

Ravana performed an extreme repentance (or tapasya) to appease Shiva that lasted for tens of thousands years.

During his atonement, Ravana sacrificed his head for the sake of Shiva and chopped it off 10 different times. Each time he cut his head off, another head emerged, hence empowering him to proceed with his repentance. Finally, satisfied with his severity, Shiva showed up after his tenth beheading and rewarded him a boon of heavenly nectar of eternality.

King Ravana
Ten-headed Ravana. Wikimedia

Ravana additionally requested for supremacy over divine beings, heavenly spirits, different rakshas, and serpents which was granted by Shiva along with his 10 severed heads and an incredible knowledge of heavenly weapons and magic.

  1.  Knowledge

Ravana was the grandson of Brahma, the creator of the universe, the son of sage Vishrava and a sibling of Kubera, the god of riches.

He himself was an exceptional researcher and was learned in Ayurveda, political science and the ways of the Kshatriyas (warriors). His ten heads are known to speak of his insight into the Shastras and the four Vedas A great Veena player, he additionally wrote several books and verses on medicine and composed the Ravana Samhita, a book on Hindu astrology and the Arka Prakasham.

This highlights that despite your ill-deeds, knowledge can win you laurels, even from your staunchest rivals.

  1. Indomitable Leadership

Valmiki recognized Ravana as an exceptionally proficient and just ruler.

Ravana emerged victorious in the battle against the demon king Sumali and assumed control and administration over Lanka, thus gaining the title of ‘Lanka Naresh’. Under his reign, the kingdom came to be known as ‘Sone ki Lanka’ (kingdom of gold) and witnessed the most prosperous and magnanimous period in its history.

Ravana was a minding ruler, who cared for his subjects well. It was only under his rule and guidance that the kingdom, constricted by Vishwakarma, the best of all architects, flourished.

ALSO READ Ramayana : 6 Timeless Management Lessons From the Ancient Hindu Text that You Must Im

  1. Ambition and Belief in Self

After his penance to Lord Shiva, Ravana had wished for supremacy over divine beings, heavenly spirits, different rakshas, and serpents. Maintaining conviction in himself and his abilities, he wanted to emerge victorious and preside over all three worlds. He also fought a series of wars and lost only four times. Ravana also defeated Sumali, the demon king and established control over Lanka.

This tells us that ambition is the key to progress. Without ambition, men would have not discovered wheels, horse carts or chariots, magnificent cities, temples and palaces, or majestic sailing ships. Absence of ambition means an absence of growth.

  1. Staying True to Oneself

Ravana wanted to emerge as the greatest ruler, however, he did not aspire to become ‘God’ or attain moksha.

In response to the great king Mahabali who advised Ravana to shun malice and greed, the Lanka Naresh told him that he would never strive to be a God and shall live like a man and die as one too. Ravana lived exactly as his emotions guided him and did not aim to be a role model for the generations to follow.

This brings forth Ravana’s conviction to live our life to its full and die as a man should, staying true to one’s character and never once aiming to be godly.

Ravana
Ravana’s story is a testament that a single vice in character is sufficient to drag you to your end. Wikimedia

Ram And Ravana Had More In Common Than You Think

Most of us believe Ravana to be an evil rakshas. However, a deeper understanding of the Hindu mythology and its characters reveal that both Ram and Ravana had traits that one must aspire to imbibe.

Throughout the epic, both Ram and Ravana demonstrated outrageous determination in following their convictions, regardless of what they were to face thereafter.  Yet, we only address Ram as the Lord while look at Ravana as an evil force, despite recognizing (however not truly accepting) his traits.

Ram battled with valor against all dangers, until the point he delivered justice for all the wrong that was done to him. Similarly, Ravana remained loyal to his choices (abduction of Sita) and its consequences till his final breath.

In his quest to bring his wife back, Ram fought battles, meandered for miles, and even clashed with the gods of the oceans. Despite all intricacies, what guided Lord Ram to ultimate victory was his determination. Similarly, Ravana (and Shiva) proliferated the best hypothesis of modern humanism “Atma so paramatma” which says there is no more noteworthy power than human fortitude.

Ram touched the hearts of many upon his chance meeting with Shabri and preached lessons of equality and moving beyond barriers of caste upon consumption of her half-consumed berries. In the same manner, the Raksh tribe also proposed faith in nature-worship and universal identity with no predisposition for caste, creed or gender. In fact, Ravan also propagated the ‘Raksh neeti’ which implied equality for all.

ALSO READ Book Review: Was Surpanakha a destructive Demoness from the Ramayana or tormented Woman?

The world largely celebrates Ramayana as a battle the Raghuvansham fought in wife Sita’s esteem. Tales of Lord Ram’s reverence towards his mothers and the female clan in general have been cited across generations that earned him the title of the ‘Maryada Purushottam’.

Ravana
Battle between Ram and Ravana. Wikimedia

In a similar manner, Ravan avenged the disrespect given to his sister Shurpanka by abducting Sita. However, he did not ill-treat her, and instead kept her with dignity in the Ashok Vatika.

These instances draw attention to one of the traits of human sociology – an individual who questions principles, assumptions and values is always painted dark. I believe Ravan was one of them.

Maybe over the years, Ramayana has been over-simplified, and consequently, a little misinterpreted.  I believe a lot can be learnt from both, the hero and the anti-hero of the epic.