What inspired me to want to go to India

India is, to me, one of the most fascinating countries in the world. The variety of peoples there, the variety of religions and philosophical perspectives, the continuity of it’s culture that spans at least 2000 years… and not least the smile on a beggar’s child’s face. I’m probably being a bit romantic about this, but I fell in love with the country when I visited Chennai for a month in 1997. I started this site, in 2010, when I was planning a visit for several months to North India. In the end I didn’t go, for health reasons. However, the attraction remains.

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure

While I don’t think this book was decisive in my decision to go to India, I do think it influenced me. Somehow people seem to come out changed and inspired when traveling to India. Things happen there, somehow. I have since found that this is also quite possible in one’s own country, if one is willing to change and be open to other ways of looking at life. However, the pilgrimage is a traditional practice and in our time a pilgrimage to India seems to have taken the place of more conventional spots like the Vatican. The difference between tourism and pilgrimage is clear – the motivation. Of course she also did yoga.

Book review of an upbeat introduction to India and its spirituality

These are the main religions and spiritual traditions in India:

  • Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma
    Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of South Asia. Hinduism is often referred to as Sanatana Dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning “the eternal law”) by its adherents. Generic “types” of Hinduism that attempt to accommodate…
  • Islam and Sufism in India
    Islam is second-most practiced religion in the Republic of India after Hinduism, with more than 13.4% of the country’s population (over 138 million as per 2001 census and 160.9 million per 2009 estimate) identifying themselves as Muslims. India’s Muslim…
  • Tribal religions in India
    Among the 68 million citizens of India who are members of tribal groups, the religious concepts, terminologies, and practices are as varied as the hundreds of tribes, but members of these groups have one thing in common: they are under…
  • Christianity in India
    Christianity is India’s third-largest religion, with approximately 24 million followers, constituting 2.3% of India’s population. Christianity was perhaps introduced into India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 CE to…
  • Sikhism, Sikhs
    A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. Sikhism (Sikhi in Punjabi) primarily originated in 15th century India and now constitutes one of the major religions with adherents throughout the world. The term “Sikh” has its origin in the Sanskrit term…
  • Buddhism in India
    Though Buddhism started out an Indian religion, it died out in what’s now India in the 15th century. Buddhism in India today is the result of Dalits converting to Theravada Buddhism and the immigration of Tibetans to India following the…
  • Jainism, Jains, Jainas
    Jainism is an ancient religion that prescribes a path of peace and non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on self-effort in progressing the soul on the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness. Any soul which…

We use the word Hinduism so easily, but the word is really a construction by Westerners looking AT India. The many Hindu Gods are famous, but what many people don’t realize is that each Hindu has their own favorite amongst the set. There are local gods, regional gods, gods devoted to the arts and other human activities – and of course the famous Gods that anybody with an interest in the region knows about: Krishna, Shiva, Brahma, Vishu. But hardly anybody worships Brahma…

These are only a few of the mysteries of the Hindu religion. Unfortunately, in recent years, Hinduism has become politicized. That is – it can now be called a religion, because people are calling themselves Hindu as opposed to say Muslim.

Sacred Books

In India there is, as most people realize, a lot of social stratification. This social system is usually known as the ‘caste system’. Though in theory there are five of these (or 4, or 6, depending on how you count), in practice there are a lot more. One way of looking at it is that there are a lot of subdivisions in these casts. Another, probably more realistic way of looking at it, is that India never really grew beyond a tribal social organization. Each tribe (jati) is placed, in comparison to the others, somewhere in a long hierarchical list.

Why am I bringing this up in my introduction to India’s sacred texts? Well – the tribe that kept the texts was -and to an extent is – the Brahmans. That means that if we define religion by it’s texts, the Brahmans get to decide for everybody else what the essence of their faith is. Of course that’s just what the religious Brahmans would like. It confirms their spiritual status in the hierarchical social setting.

Over the past 2000 or so years Brahmans have in general been successful in the PR venture which places them at the top, or the center, of the Hindu spiritual universe. That means that any jati wanting to move up in the world has to conform to their ideals. This is called ‘Sanskritization’ in religion studies.

This involves of course the language Sanskrit, in which the most highly revered texts are written, but also things like vegetarianism. However, all this does not detract from the value of these texts, some of which are of high philosophical merit.

Women’s rights in India

Unfortunately in India women don’t have as many rights as men do. I’m not talking law here: the government does do a lot to try and protect women. I’m talking custom and social pressure. I do think things are moving in the right direction, but there are still too many women who get raped, disfigured by acid thrown over them, and killed over dowry disagreements.

More about Indian spirituality

Hindu gift ideas

  • India and Hinduism Wall Calendars, B.G. SharmaI found you a calendar with paintings and textiles from the ancient courts of the country as well as calendars featuring photographs of Indian women, modern popular Hindu religious art and posters that were once spread to make Indians into proper…

Hinduism and India: terminology

India is an ancient country. It is sacred to all religions that started there. Whether because of this or for some other reason: there are a lot of names by which India is known. Each has its own connotation.

  1. Bharat – The official Sanskrit name of Republic of India.
  2. Hindustan and Hind – These words are usually reserved for the northern part of India, but have also used for the whole subcontinent (including current day Pakistan and Bangladesh).
  3. Tenjiku – Japanese name for India. It signifies it’s place as the origin of Buddhism.
  4. Jambudvipa – Old name used in ancient scriptures for one of the seven continents, namely the inhabited one. It can be inferred that the Indian subcontinent is meant, though Buddhists today often interpret it as the whole earth.

Hinduism too has other names. The best known is Sanatana Dharma (or Sanatan Dharm), which means ‘eternal law’ or ‘eternal wisdom’.