How Important is Religion in India?

Cultures grow on the vine of tradition.     

Jonah Goldberg

Religion plays a very big part in the lives of Indians. There are mosques and temples scattered everywhere throughout the city of Delhi. Not many churches are visible. Hinduism is practiced by 82% of the population, Islam 12.8%, and Christianity 0.87%. People who are Hindus have altars in their homes. They pray every morning and night in hopes that these gods will bring them happiness and health. The altars are decorated in bright colors and are usually placed in their bedrooms. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of gods and goddesses in the temples nor in the home of Hiroko’s friend.

If religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.
Emile Durkheim

Jama Masjid Mosque

This is my first time to visit a mosque. Jama Masjid is one of the largest Islamic mosques in India. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it in 1656. I took eleven years to build. We arrive during prayer time which begins at 12:00. We must wait until 1:30 to enter. The mosque is in the center of one of the busiest marketplaces in the area. There were white-haired tourists taking their pictures while riding on the rickshaws. I am sure this was part of their tour package. Some of them have very nervous faces. Their rickshaw drivers are trying to navigate the traffic while these tourists feel that their lives are at risk. The air is thick with smog. Many of the stalls are firing up their gas stoves getting ready to prepare food for the lunch hour. The prayer at the mosque as ended. The people descend in groups down the stairs and pour out into the streets. It looks like a dam has let all of its water flow at one time. The streets instantly fill over their capacity. People stand in line waiting for food. I feel vegetarian and confused. I lose Hiroko for about 1 minute. It felt like a lifetime.

We finally emerge from the hoards of people and walk up the stairs to the entrance of the mosque. We are greeted by a young man who feels that he has a very important job.  He tells me I must wear a robe over my clothes. My forearms are exposed. We must also take off our shoes. We take off our shoes and carry them. We could have left them at the front entrance and paid a fee to get them back.  I didn’t trust the guy manning the shoe stand. Hiroko gave me the signal to carry them with me. We walk around the mosque barefoot. I must admit it didn’t feel very comfortable. The ground was not very clean and everyone was walking around barefoot. Hiroko gave me the heads up about leaving our bags in the car safely guarded by our driver. Bags and backpacks are not allowed into the mosque area.

Carol at Jama Masjid in my cover up

The mosque is completely outside. People are washing their feet, face, and hands. The men are in one area and the women in another. An Indian family rushes up to us and wants us to be in a picture with them.  The children are all smiles and ask us where we are from. Hiroko says, “I am from Japan” and I say “I am from America”. Most Indians can’t tell the difference between a Japanese and a Chinese. Hiroko is sometimes referred to as being Chinese. The country “America” has the same meaning as the USA. They can’t distinguish between North, South, or Central America.

Carol and Indian family at Jama Masjid

It was the first place that I didn’t feel very comfortable visiting. Most of them just stared at us and we didn’t spend more than 40 minutes walking around and taking pictures. We exited the mosque and I handed in my coverup for the next foreign tourist to wear. On our way out of the mosque, we were approached by a Canadian couple. The young woman was less covered than I was. They had their backpacks and cameras. I told them that they would have to leave their backpacks with the shoe guy and she would have to wear a cloak over her clothing. They asked if it was worth the chance. I said no. They decided to not go in.

Hiroko calls her driver and instructs him to take us to her favorite restaurant.

Vinod is our driver. He is employed by the company where Hiroko’s husband works.  He is 27 years old. He has been married for 3 years. His wife is expecting their first child in May. He doesn’t see his wife very often because she lives 8,000 kilometers from Delhi. Before becoming a “driver” Vinod owned a cigarette stall for three years. It was shut down by the police. Someone turned him in for not having permission to operate his stall. He says it was a disgruntled customer. He had to find another job. His brother taught him how to drive. He practiced four- six hours a day.  He obtained his license and applied for a driving position. He hasn’t had any accidents. I commended him every day for his driving skills. He was ready every morning with a huge smile and greeting.

Our driver Vinod

Claustrophobic Mandir

Understanding the Hindu religion is not an easy task. For this reason, I present you with a description of the goddess Kali. She is one of the most worshiped goddesses in India.

The idea that women are innately gentle is a fantasy and a historically recent one. Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, is depicted as wreathed in male human skulls; the cruel entertainments of the Romans drew audiences as female as they were male; Boudicca led her British troops bloodily into battle.
Naomi Wolf

It is partly correct to say Kali is a goddess of death but She brings the death of the ego as the illusory self-centered view of reality.

Hiroko’s friend Lily has lived in Delhi her entire life. She like many other Hindus worships in mandirs, temples. She accompanies us to vegetarian Mandir. It is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the world. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Lily has connections with the Chief Priest at this temple. We arrive and are led to the room where the Chief Priest will present himself. We are served masala chai and butter cookies. Masala chai is always presented to visitors and customers. We sit on long brown leather sofas. A recliner is sitting on a stage. A gold curtain is behind the recliner.  Very important meetings with other religious leaders take place in this room.

The chief priest arrives forty minutes later. We rise to bow before him. He talks to Lily in Hindi. They have been friends for a long time. I think Lily donates much of her money to this temple. We are led into the worship area. It is jammed. People are chanting mantras in very loud voices.

Kali Mantra for Worship

Kring Kring Kring Hing Kring Dakshine vegetarian Kring Kring Kring vegetarian Hiring Hung Hung Hring
The Mantra consists of three seeds, krim, hum and hrim, and the name ‘dakhshina kalike’ and ‘swaha’, which signifying offering. This mantra is used by the devotees of Kali, the preserver of Earth, who saves us from all the ignorance and the fear of death.

They are lined up and pushing each other into the worship area. We are led into the area and people are instructed not to push us. The people are so surprised to see foreigners in their temple. The statue of the god is hardly visible. Worshippers bring garlands of flowers to throw onto the statue. They throw some money and before they leave the area, they are given gifts to take back home. Most of them have altars at home. These altars have a statue of the god sitting in the main position. They decorate the altars with flowers and food. They pray every day for wealth and happiness.

We give our thanks to the high priest and I am relieved to be able to breathe air again.

Gifts are given to us at the mandir

Holy Cows

Cows are revered among Hindus. Most Hindus practice vegetarianism. They refrain from all meat.

SRI CHAITANYA CHARITAMRITA, Adilila, Chapter 17, verse 166,
Caitanya Mahaprabhu confirms:
o-ange yata loma tata sahasra vatsara go-vadhi raurava-madhye pace nirantar
Cow killers and cow eaters are condemned to rot in hell for as many thousands of years as there are for each hair on the body of every cow they eat from.
It is further written – Those who fail to give cows reverence and protection and choose to foolishly oppose and whimsically ignore the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures by selling a cow for slaughter, by killing a cow, by eating cows flesh and by permitting the slaughter of cows will all rot in the darkest regions of hell for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of each cow slain. There is no atonement for the killing of a cow.

Cows are highly prized as gifts. Do you want to impress someone? Give them a cow for their wedding gift. There are more than 44,900,000 cows in India.  The highest population in the world. Cows in India roam the streets, eat garbage, stop traffic, and sleep on the streets. Most of them are not owned by anyone. They are dirty, smelly, and many of them are old and sick. There is relief for some of these cows. Gaushalas  offer a home for sick and homeless cows. They recieve medical treatment, a lot of hay, a clean place to rest, and music.

Happy cows at the gaushala

Hiroko and I are on our way to visit a gaushala. We travel down the street hitting various potholes, a mother pig with her six piglets trailing behind her and three dogs barking and running around going nowhere in particular. It is just another dusty day in Delhi. We arrive in front of the gate and are greeted by two girls who work at the “compound”. We enter the gate and the ground is covered with green grass. I haven’t seen green grass for three days. There is not visible grass in Delhi unless you visit a park. Even the trees in Delhi are dusty. There is a small courtyard very neatly taken care of. Flowers of various colors yellow, red, and white are blooming near the courtyard. No dust anywhere. Four older men are sitting on the benches sharing the news of the day.

Our guide, Manisha, shows us around. Manisha came to Delhi when she was seventeen. She received her B.S in agriculture. During her college years, she became very interested in helping others. She became involved with this project. The first stop is the gaushala. The gaushala employs people who previously did not have jobs to clean, milk, and feed the cows. These workers are provided housing, food, wifi, and electricity within the “compound ” they live. The compound is much cleaner and healthier than living on the streets

The gaushala is only a part of a much bigger program on this compound. There is a center for women to receive sewing classes. The women make bags and purses that are sold at the market. Many of them are just beginning to sew. The center also provides after school homework help for the children. The children are taking English classes as we walk in the room. They greet us with “hello, hello” and “konichiwa”.  Hiroko volunteers her time at the center by teaching Japanese language and Japanese handicrafts. Her Japanese friends join her to teach Japanese traditional songs and dances.

Sewing classes

Children getting help with homework

The center receives donations to help continue their work. It is part of a grassroots movement to help those in need.

We say goodbye to the children and the volunteers. We exit the gate to the dusty street and wait for our driver to retrieve us. He didn’t go too far. He was parked in front of the compound. I wonder what he does while he is waiting for us.

Please read the next entry coming soon: A trip to Jaipur



















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