It is a tad strange to see the western fascination for Hinduism - strange in a good way.
I bumped into http://omnamahshivay.tribe.net/ yesterday, which is kinda like user groups in the US - has so many California natives actively discussing Shiva Ratri etc. ....
So many in the west have renounced their lives in search of that spiritual experience they crave for. It seems to me that they truly make an attempt to understand the essence of Hinduism, follow it with a passion as against the layman Indian - we do take our culture for granted. I do believe in the Indian urban circles - it is considered to be a bit of a miscast or middle-aged to be spiritually inclined, unless you follow some cool new-age guru. Amongst most Indians it is considered taboo to discuss our religious beliefs with any semblance of passion. Certainly my resurgence with Hinduism happened after I moved West, but the seeds were definitely implanted back in India. I see 2nd gen Indian kids in the western world learning the shlokas and conversant with stories of Shiva, Krishna and Ram - whereas growing up in India, I scarcely knew any shloka - I heard about the gayatri mantra when I was in college.
I do believe that being away from India, keeps us a bit closer to our culture and the heritage - makes it all a lot more dearer, something to value, cherish and grow. I remember dining one evening in a vegetarian Indian restaurant and a caucasian walking into and inquiring if there is any special dinner planned for Ekadashi. The restaurant host was taken aback and had a flabbergasted response.
I also find a new accent evolving as folks from the west follow Amma to her ashram in Cochin every year. They come back with American accents that have a twang of the South touch.....Gives it, its very own beauty. I do believe they have a totally refreshing perspective to all things Hinduism and strictly follow certain customs and traditions and have a better understanding too of , why we do this etc. The typical Indian urbanite follows things blindly at times, because that is what they have seen their fore-fathers do. But we are fortunate in the sense that spiritualism soaks into the essence of our very soul, thanks to just being in India. Just stepping into India is enough, be it sheer fright or otherwise, we are very likely to be seeking the magic mantra.
I do believe the world is evolving spiritually and once the spiritualism hits mainstream, kinda like the latest morbid fascination for the iPhone that Steve Case * . That is when we truly are on the path of progress for mankind and for peace to finally descend upon this world. That will take humanity to new zeniths. And I see that as part of Nostradamus's prediction - peace for a few thousand years - wars being perceived as too passe and something that savages did....kinda like how we currently view the classic cartoon of the homo sapien dragging his woman by the hair.
* Steve Case is he the new avatar of Lord Vishwakarma the presiding deity of all celestial construct? If Saddam was an avatar of Hiranyakaksha, Steve Case with his magic touch may very well be Vishwakarma) has only announced (Yes, I too am excited like hell about it, a truly must have - have to delay replacing my TREO just a few more months now)
Indian culture fascinates them
Shivani Chaturvedi From HINDUSTAN TIMES
CUSTOMS, BELIEFS and life styles may be different but, the Indian culture fascinates them all, almost in the same manner.
Devotees from abroad may be seen strolling in groups in the Sangam area as this mega religious fair -- the Ardh Kumbh had been a centre of attraction for them quite some time.
Paola, 74, from Italy says, "Indian life holds great attraction for me. The religious ritual, the concept of art and the philosophy of India are much like that of Italy and this has drawn me to this country".
It is Paola's 10th visit to India but the very first experience of the mega religious fair. "In such religious fair one can find various expressions of Hindu faith," adds Paula, with a gleeful face.
Yet another visitor Rebecca Wilson from England says that Kumbh Nagri is the place where one can find inner peace and spiritual realisation.
Wilson says that she had watched a documentary on Kumbh prepared by New York-based documentary producer. "The documentary fascinated me to such an extent that I wanted to feel the real significance of this religious fair", says Wilson.
Wilson, editor of an art magazine, finds that the mega religious fair is somewhat similar to the fair of 'Burning Man,' which is organised in the deserts.
To get true emotions, real essence of spirituality and different colours of this country, another pilgrim Roberta from Italy has been in Triveni to witness various rituals of faith during the Ardh Kumbh.
Sharing her experience of the Sangam Nagri, she says, "One can get the feel of eternal peace in the holy place." It's her third visit to India but the first experience of the mega religious fair which she finds to be marvelous.
Ash-smeared naked holy men draw huge crowds at Kumbh
Allahabad, Jan 14 (ANI): Dread locked and ash-smeared reclusive holy men who have come out from their hideaways in the Himalayan caves have captivated the foreign visitors and pilgrims alike at the Ardh Kumbh mela here.
Thousands of foreigners and millions of Hindu devotees have flocked to the Kumbh mela, drawn in by the magnetism of the Naga mystics and a chance to cleanse their souls by taking a dip in the holy waters of the Ganges River.
As many as 70 million people from India and abroad are expected to take a dip till the festival lasts.
The festival falls midway between the "Maha Kumbh Mela", celebrated once every 12 years and is billed as one of the largest gatherings on the earth.
The Naga Sadhus, followers of Lord Shiva, wear practically nothing on their bodies and largely exist on a diet of herbs, roots and plants and occupy a prominent place in the Kumbh.
Digambar Baba Vishwanath Giri, one of the naked mystics popularly known as the Rudraksha Baba - as he claims to wear 11,000 beads of the Rudrakasha on his body, said the Kumbh festival provides the followers an opportunity to seek the blessings of the saints and wash away their sins.
"I have come here so that our followers can get a chance to see the holy men. The holy men have come here from far away places to bless the devotees and help them cleanse their sins," Digambar Baba said as he showed his pictures to a perplexed Italian woman.
Digambar Baba, who considers himself to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva, said he comes out of his Himalayan cave once in years to bless his followers.
Like every Kumbh mela, 13 Akharas or religious schools have been set up on the banks of Ganga where the holy men and their followers live and pray.
But there are many who also provide a dash of exotica along with a touch of mysticism. Many spend their time smoking pot as they sit in a state of meditative trance.
Some of them display their powers by lifting men on their organs or performing yoga as they squeeze their organ between their legs and there are others who perform prayers while hanging upside down from a tree trunk.
"Naga is an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Even Lord Shiva himself used to live like this," said one mystic as he explained the reason behind them not wearing any clothes.
They believe that Lord Shiva also used to smear ash on his body as he renounced many of the worldly possessions.
For the foreigners, many of them backpackers who timed their visit to coincide with the Kumbh, said seeing the festival and the Naga Sadhus was an out of the world experience.
Tina, a visitor from Germany, who also got her hair dreadlocked like the Nagas said: "It is unique there is nothing in the whole world that is anything like this. It is amazing, really amazing."
While foreigners soaked in the exotic flavour, the devotees were busy counting their blessings after seeing the holy men.
Pradipto Sarkar, a pilgrim from Assam, who had come with his wife and mother, said it was nothing less than a divine experience.
"So many holy men are here. It is such an uplifting experience. People have come here from such far flung areas, I am feeling extremely happy to be here and I feel my life has been blessed by coming here," said a visibly elated Sarkar.
Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges during the festivals cleanses them of sin, speeding the way to the attainment of nirvana or the afterlife.
Allahabad, is one of four spots where Garuda, the winged steed of Hindu god Vishnu, is said to have rested during a titanic battle with demons over a pitcher of divine nectar of immortality.
Garuda's flight lasted 12 divine days, or 12 years of mortal time, hence the celebration of "Maha Kumbh Mela" every 12 years.
The midway point between two such celebrations is also considered highly favourable because the position of the sun and the moon are the same as during the "Maha Kumbh".
The "Maha Kumbh Mela" in 1989 attracted 15 million pilgrims and the Guinness Book of Records dubbed it the largest gathering of human beings for a single purpose.
The festival in 2001 drew between 50 and 70 million. (ANI)