Who are you?
What is your identity?
Are you Indian, American, Chinese, Mexican, Iraqi?
Are you Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim?
No, none of the above
I am a citizen of the world
And my religion is Human.
India is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.
It is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism which are known as the Dharmic religions. Hinduism and Buddhism are the 3rd and 4th largest religions in the world with over 2 billion followers.
All these religions share some common rituals, traits and beliefs such as the concepts of karma (action or deed), dharma (duty), samsara (continuous flow of the cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation), moksha (release of the soul from the cycle of samsara and end of all suffering) and yoga, though the interpretations may vary.
They also share the concept of cremation of the dead known as antim samskara or ‘last rites’; wearing of vermilion on the forehead by married women, as well as several marriage rituals.
Buddhism was originally founded by Siddhartha Gautama (Gautama Buddha) a Kshatriya prince turned ascetic somewhere between the 6th and 4th century BCE. Buddha meaning ‘the enlightened one’ taught ‘the Middle Way’ as the path that when followed leads to liberation.
Ancient Buddhist rock cut cave shrines located in Karli near Lonavala, in the state of Maharashtra, India about 150km from Mumbai. The oldest cave dates back to around 160 BC.
Indeed, in Hindu culture and religion the cow is revered as the Goddess mother, a symbol of Ahimsa or nonviolence and of wealth and fortune.
In the Rig Veda (An ancient Indian collection of sacred Sanskrit Hymns,) the cow is identified with Aditi (the mother of Gods.)
Vegetarianism is encouraged.
“There is no sin in eating meat… but abstention brings great rewards.” (The Laws of Manu, V/56)
Cows were also considered appropriate as gifts for high caste Hindus or Brahmans and to kill a cow is equal to killing a Brahman.
“Among the cows, I am the wish giving Kama Dhenu” (Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita: Chap 10 Verse 28)
Many Hindus are against the consumption of beef. Some Indian states have even passed laws which makes the slaughter of cows a serious offence.
Indians in general are deeply rooted in tradition. Our culture gives us our identity. Most of us (especially those living away from the homeland,) cling to it, even though several aspects especially in these modern times, make no sense at all.
Why do we do so?
Perhaps because it brings us together as a community and provides us comfort in a foreign environment. The same I think applies to immigrants from all across the globe.
Here I will try to expand a little (very little,) on the various aspects of Indian culture, traditions, customs, beliefs, religion, art, architecture, music, dance, cuisine and so on.. Essentially all the things that defines my country to me and others in my community and which I hope would help people of non Indian origin understand India and Indianness a little better.
I encourage everybody to pitch in, and take the opportunity to discuss possible similarities or dissimilarities which exist between our various cultures.
Let me start with a subject which continues to baffle a lot of people in the west: Arranged Marriages.
I have been asked by some of my friends to elaborate on the tradition of arranged marriages and explain why they continue to be so popular, as well as describe the various rituals which take place during a typical wedding.
As a part of Hindu culture, arranged nuptials remain resilient even today despite the invasion of modern thought into every aspect of Indian society. Times are definitely changing but many young Indians still prefer it.