Spirituality and Devotion
Hidden behind a mask of struggle lies the miracle of hope. A gauzy veil conceals a shy smile and an inner peace.
India’s holy men wander among these souls preaching to the masses about tolerance, and about compassion. They speak to the throngs of the promise of a better life for those whose burdens are weighted down by today’s unjust world. These messengers of many gods live with the knowledge that members of their flock endure days that are wrenchingly difficult. Uncertain. For many, their future is beyond bleak.
So crowds listen. And people embrace what they hear. It is with this peaceful acceptance that India’s multitude can then face each endless and challenging day.
The people of India live their faith. They pray. They meditate. They make pilgrimages and set aside holy places in their homes, no matter how humble. The faithful accept whatever station in life they’ve been designated and carry on with a tranquility unknown to many outsiders.
Over the centuries, many invaders have charged across the Indian landscape. With them, they brought not only their firepower but also their faiths. In fact, India is home to four of the world’s greatest religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. While more than 80% of India’s 750 million people, give or take, are Hindus, the rest adopt several other faiths. In descending order, the most popular religions are Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.
There are two facts that make this religion unique. First, no individual is acknowledged as the founder of this religion. And, second, there are no holy scriptures. While there certainly are sacred words, there is no single body of words that serves as the source of guidance for Hindus. The principal gods are the Creator Brahma, the Preserver Vishnu, and Siva the Destroyer.
Hindus celebrate 360 festivals annually. Their holy men are known as sadhus, which means “wandering hermits.” These people possess little more than that on their backs, which are usually yellow or ochre-colored robes. Their foreheads are painted and their bodies covered in a dusting of ash. They chant or meditate in silence.
Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu. Based on his faith, this small but mighty man loved and lived the concept of non-violence.
Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism
By some estimates, one hundred million Indians are Moslems. People of this land first learned of Islam when Arab ships called in their ports in the 1600s. Within 500 years, a Muslim kingdom was established in Delhi. Followers professed a caste-free society and equality for all Indians, and they strongly influenced many Hindus with their philosophies.
Christianity came to India via Saint Thomas, so it is said. Others claim that Saint Bartholomew is responsible for this deed. And still others credit Saint Francis Xavier as being the one to smooth the road for the missionaries who followed. And follow, they did.
Buddha, the Enlightened One, was born in what was then India (today Nepal) to a wealthy and noble family. He was known as Prince Siddhartha. This Prince became troubled by the impoverished world he witnessed when he first left the royal grounds, already a young man. He paused to meditate under a Bodhi (Bo) tree and, while there, he became the “Enlightened One” -- Buddha. Buddha’s image is seen across India and the position of his hands indicates whether he is “teaching”, “meditating”, or “witnessing.”
Jains, Sikhs, and Parsis
The Jains are completely non-violent and totally tolerant of all other faiths. Only three million strong, their religion has no Personal God. The “Three Jewels” of Jainism are: “right faith”, “right knowledge”, and “right conduct.” Their conviction to non-violence is so overwhelming that Jains are often seen wearing masks and sweeping their path so they do not inadvertently breathe in or step upon an insect and kill it.
Sikhs follow the preaching of Guru Gobind Singh. Each carries the surname “Singh” and is called only by his first name. They must never cut their hair but must always wear a turban, a steel bracelet known as a “kara”, a sword, and undergarments. There are fewer than 15 million Sikhs, by most estimates, and their holy temple is in Armritsar.
The Parsis (also spelled Parsees) originated in Persia. They worship the “Wise Lord” and restrict outsiders from entering their holy places. Their people are often in the upper strata of society and business, and are usually fair complected.
The words of many prophets inspire India’s people to love and to accept their lives, especially during troubled times. Observers can often only envy the Indians’ inner peace and spiritual strength that serve as their unfailing guides.