India is home to the world’s major religions. Hinduism, Bhuddhism and Jainism were all founded here. India has the second largest number of muslims in the world. Christianity was introduced to India by St. Thomas around 2000 years ago. Judaism can trace it’s roots to the 1st century, with some of the oldest synagogues in the world. The Zoroastrains who fled Persian prosecution in the 9th century have made India their home. While over 80% of India’s people are Hindus, the religion which is more of a daily philosophy, covers a vast range of practices, cultures, cuisine and region. The Hindu religion has no single Book or God or Prophet, but God is depicted in many incarnations and each community has it’s own favourite deity. The spirit of tolerance and the general philosophy of ‘live and let live’ has created a great and varied tapestry of faiths and culutures, although increasing exposure to modern innovations of technology are causing great and rapid changes across the country.
Travelling around India, whether in the pulsating cities, ancient temple complexes or the peaceful rural back country, the essential spirit that rises out of this great country and embraces all who visit her, still offers the gifts of spiritual fulfillment.
Indians love festivals and one can celebrate throughout the year! Beginning with Id-ul-Zuha in February to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail, this is followed by the Hindu festival of Shivratri, celebrated in honour of the Hindu God Shiva on his wedding night. March brings Holi, the festival of Spring and the sprinkling of coloured water and the Zoroastrian New Year. The births of Mahavira Jayanti and Lord Buddha are celebrated in April or May, with Janmashtami, the birth of Lord Krishna as the most important celebration during the Monsoon season. The gorgeous Bangalore Flower show is in August and in September/October during Dussehra, nine days all over India are spent depicting episodes from the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic. Diwali is India’s festival of light and the scene of great celebrating in all homes across the nation. On the first full moon night after Diwali, the Sikhs celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. In November, Pushkar in Rajasthan is the colourful camel fair.
While the spiritual character of some cities is more in evidence, such as Kathmandu with it’s living Gods and 5000 year old temples and shrines; Varanasi, India’s most devout city on the banks of the holy river Ganges, Madurai in the south, home to a vast temple complex and the great Goden Temple of Amritsar, most cities towns and even villages are all dotted with the sacred and the spiritual. A tiny niche in a stone wall along the western mountain roads of the south coast, a fluttering of prayer flags in a remote Nepali village, or a glittering temple flocked to by thousands, all have some spiritual power, evident in the the devotion they inspire.
The true spirituality of the people is visible in their everyday lives, their generous hospitality, their eternal optimism and their own indomitable spirit.