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A small stack of chillies, a lime and coal, all  neatly tied together hang above the front door to houses, entrances to restaurants, off the tow hitch of cars and in many a rickshaw and taxi. So what are these little bundles of partly made curry and fuel about?

 

Folk wisdom has it that spirits that can harm are constantly looking for food. When they find none, then they attack humans. Lime is used, because it is sour, chillies because they are pungent and coal because it is black and much loved by malevolent spirits. By distracting these spirits we distract their virulent attention from us.

 

 

 You can spot the little pile of goodies at the top of this image. This is the local barbers by the way…..

 

Hang on a minute surely chillies, lime and coal is not the best of diets.. Where’s the essential carbs, nutrients, fats and roughage, Crash diets are not healthy even for the most evil of spirits.

 

I love you India.

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Linking Road is the Oxford Streetof Mumbai. It is set within the well to do area of Bandra,  and similarly to Oxford Streetit is full of complete and utter crap. Adidas and Nike labels and low quality replicas of Adidas and Nike labels proliferate like the plague. Sitting on a bench, a fiberglass Ronald Macdonald lures in the modern Indian youth as if he were a bag of sweet wielding phaedophile outside an all boys Catholic school.

 

Now I can justify to myself for going in many ways: I want to compare what it is like to the UK MacDonalds; I have eaten curry every day, twice or 3 times a day; one needs to experience all manifestations of the culture; a press gang whacked me over the head and dragged me in; I am a naïve Catholic boy. But, you would not believe me, so i fess up, I don’t mind a MacDonalds from time to time. There I said it, i will burn, i will burn.

 

Anyway, I’m in, and there is not a flippin’ burger in site. Instead of the limp beef burgers, that  bear no resemblance to their advertisements there are limp chicken burgers that bear no resemblance to their advertisements. The chips are the same though and fortunately the coke is coke and not some hybrid adaptation. Mind you coke is coke wherever you are in the world. Change is good, but sometimes what you know is the best.

 

Sitting in my formica wonderland I peer out of the window and watch a holy cow stroll down the middle of the road like a tart from some Northern English town, with a tiny skirt and new stilettos. I look at the cow, then at my burger, then back to the cow and I am sure he is laughing at the fiberglass clown perv. and thinking 70% Hindus in the country….my arse is safe here.

 

Every civilization has a unique way of looking at the world. A cluster of ideas which define the goal of human existence, the ways to reach this goal, the errors to be avoided and the obstacles to be expected on the way. This view defines central human experiences and answers questions as to what is good and what is evil, what is real and what is unreal, what is the essential nature of men and women and the world they exist in, what is their connection to nature, other human beings and to the cosmos. What is god, and should that cow be in my burger.

 

Three interlinked elements comprise a major part of this Hindu world view; moksha, dharma and karma, with this trinity forming a large part of the Indian psyche.

 

Moksha – the goal of life

 

Self-realisation, transcendence, salvation, a release from the world – Hindus see moksha as the goal for life. This ‘ultimate’ reality is considered beyond human comprehension, conceptual thought and the mind by many gurus, but is considered as the highest goal and meaning of human life.

 

Hindus see life as a combination of the tragic and romantic. Tragic in that it is pervaded by ambiguities and uncertainties where man has little choice but to bear the burden of unanswerable questions, inescapable conflicts and incomprehensible afflictions of fate. But within this journey is the romantic, and the seeker if he withstands the perils of the road will be rewarded by exaltation beyond normal human experience, an ultimate reality.

 

One of the manifestations of this understanding is the feeling of hope, even in the most dismal of living standards. The Indian mind tends to convert even the smallest ray into a blazing light. Clutching at straws many millions live in slums and an absolute poverty and are happy because they live with the possession of hope for a better future.

 

Furthermore, being connected to a higher reality, the divinity immanent within each human being , gives a feeling of self worth that comes from a pre conscious conviction of ones metaphysical significance. However bad life is, by being connected to this ultimate reality ones self esteem is nourished and stands against life’s despairs and inequalities.

 

Dharma

 

If Moksha is the goal of life, then dharma can be seen as law, moral duty, conformity with the truth of things, the means through which man approaches the desired goal.

 

Years ago every person knew that it was not what you did that was important for spiritual progress, but whether you acted in conformity with your dharma.  Whether you were a shoemaker, priest, housewife, prostitute or doctor all were considered equally good and equally right if it was consistent with your dharma.

 

Dharma, is being vigorously challenged by modern india, as it embraces Western ideals. Individual choice, material rewards and human aspirations as opposed to spiritual activity have led to social envy, greed and selfishness. Dharma is crumbling under modernity.

 

It does sound different – “My dharma in life is to be a shoemaker and provide the best shoes I can, so that i may provide shelter, feed and clothe my family, to perform this i am on route to achieving moksha” as opposed to “My dharma in life is to work in a call centre for British Gas and buy real Adidas trainers and hang out at Mac Donalds eating limp chicken burgers that bear no resemblance to the advertisement, to perform this I am on route to becoming obese and soulless, but at least my feet look cool”. 

 

Karma

 

The third essential idea of the Hindu world view is Karma. An opinion may go thus “even at time of death a man should wish to do good deeds and wish to be reborn in a place where he can do good deeds again. After many lives of good deeds (living in dharma) a man will attain moksha. If he does evil deeds, his form changes till he falls lower, till he becomes a jar (an innanimate thing). So karma can be seen as the cycles of birth and death in which an individual soul progresses or regresses through various levels of existence; and the control of this movement by the karma of the individual soul, the balance of right and wrong actions that accompany the individual from one birth to another.

 

This can allow Indians to accept the inevitable dissapointments that afflict even the most fortunate of lives but it can also lead to denial. I perform an action now, because of  actions from a past life.

 

 

So to consider this in context I look at the holy cow walking down the road. Its soul must be heading towards moksha to be experiencing the existence as a holy cow, which incidentally is supposed to be holy, because it contains all the gods.  Its current dharma, well that one seems easy, it just needs to wander around and be holy and not get itself trapped in the christian area and its karma, well I don’t know where it came from or where it is going, but it sure isn’t going to be eaten here, not for a few years yet anyway.

 

Now kfc over the road………Are there holy chickens?

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend saw the end of the Ganpati festival. Thousands of people followed processions around Chowpatty and Yuhu beaches in Mumbai. There was no chance in getting anywhere fast.

The idols were led down to the beach and then after various, more or less, vigorous rituals immersed and left in the sea.

This is one of the greatest festivals in the world…. though if I were to question the blatant abuse of the environment, as thousands of idols made from non bio degradable and poisonous substances are just left in the sea, would that make me a real party pooper.

India has far bigger problems, but maybe the festivals are the perfect opportunity to encourage a better understanding of human impact. Lets face it communication of an ideal is what the festivals were designed for in the first instance.

Click link to see the aftermath.

http://www.ultrabrown.com/posts/the-…of-kurukshetra

Click image for more from the festival.

The rickshaw is a beautiful place to meditate and study the city. It is like your own personal, portable hide from where you can examine the city’s goings on.

Click the picture below to take you to the new set on Flickr.

Indian portraits has been updated, click picture below to see full set

Also, more photos added to those random images of Indian life

 

Following on from my previous blog entry on how Ganesh (Ganpati, Ganesha) was created here is a break down of some of the symbolism associated around him.

Symbolism within Hindu culture is prevalent in all of its deities and the rituals that go hand in hand with them. From a Western point of view all these gods and the mythology that surrounds them, seems quaint, but may seem absurd to worship. However, when you consider the symbols and the totenism associated with them and consider the meaning in the context of your own existence, then there is something beautiful about them.

So some meanings about the icon of Ganesha.

 

Trunk

An elephants trunk has the strength to uproot a tree and the finesse to pick up a needle. Ganesha’s trunk symbolises the fact that the wise person has immense strength and fine discrimination.

Ears

Ganesha has large ears. The wise man hears all.

 

Hands

Ganesha has four hands.  In one he holds a lotus, the symbol of enlightenment. In the other a hatchet. That is, the old karma – all your sanskars, the accumulated good and bad of past deeds get cut when enlightenment comes.

 

The third hand holds laddus, or sweet meats. They are the rewards of the wise life. However, Ganesha is never shown eating the laddus. The wise man never partakes of the rewards of his deeds. He is not attached to them.

 

The fourth hand is shown blessing the people. The wise man wishes the best to everyone.

 

 

Tusk

Ganesha has only one tusk, the other is shown broken off. The symbolism here is that the wise person is beyond duality (Our ego separate from our surroundings). Once we transcend this duality we see the universe as a single whole and we become aware of our true selves. Wisdom allows us to see all as one and ourselves as an integral part of the whole.

 

 

Feet

Ganesha is shown sitting with one foot on the ground  and the other resting on his knee. The wise person is of the earth, but not entirely.

 

Rat

Ganesha is seen seated on a rat. The rat is a symbol of our senses, because it is said that the rat has to keep nibbling all the time – like the senses they are never satisfied. The wise person rides on his senses, he keeps them under control.

 

Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati, the god governing the life force and the earth mother. This symbolises the spirit and body of the wise person. Finally the wise person has the dignity of an elephant.

 

If you say “Aum Ganeshaya Namah”before starting anything what you are saying is “in what we are about to do, let wisdom be our guide”.

 

In a sense Ganesha is the most powerful god and he is usually remembered before starting any rituals for other deities.

 

So Ganesha is up there with the biggies and worthy of a 10 day festival. Check out the position of any Eastern statue, icon or totem and question “What does this really mean?” or more importantly “What does this mean to me, how can this be an inspiration to me?”

 

Ref: Kishore Asthana –  unknown paper

 

Ganesh Chaturthi is now well underway – a ten day festival which sees one of India’s greatest deities celebrated and culminates with his immersion in the sea.

To understand who Ganesha was and how he was created I will adapt his story, purely because mythology is based around an oral culture and thus the story must be colloquial to my perceived audience. In no way is this out of disrespect to the Lord himself, but out of respect to him and the traditions of story telling.

Ganesha or Ganpati is the elephant headed lord from Peckham, South London. According to legend, Lord Shiva was busying himself away at war like activities. Fighting on the terraces – Millwall v Pompey or something like that. Now his missus, the old growler, ‘er indoors, Parvati, being a tidy sort of squeeze wanted to take some quality bath time. A few candles, bubble bath, Mills and Boom – you picture the scene.

However, she didn’t have anyone to guard her chambers. That’s a posh word for avocado bath suite. So guess what she goes up and does, she only conceives herself a son, for this soul purpose. No Securicor bill, nothing.

Anyway Shiva, pretty riled up from throwing plastic patio chairs, returns home. Forecourt flowers in hand, he fancies a bit of slap and tickle with the missus. But, what’s this, “who is this surly geeza at me missus’s avocado coloured chambers” thinks Shiva lord god of resolution “I’m gonna have myself some resolution here”. So he promptly cuts his brown bread clean off.

Parvati clambers out of her corner bath; pissed that she has been disturbed from page 86 of the Mills and Boom, a page of great sexual insight if you know what I mean;only to discover her newly created son headless. “Feckin ‘ell, where’s ‘is feckin ‘ead – don’t even think ’em feckin’ flowers going to get you out of this one Shiva me lad” she cries.

She is right moody and takes on the form of the Goddess Kali and only goes of and threatens destruction to the three worlds Heaven, Earth and subterranean earth. That’s Rock Steddie Eddie’s cafe, man what sells plants down the market and Stockwell tube to you and me.

Shiva, knowing that she is off on one and realising that it will take him weeks of getting it in the neck, thinks “I better resolve this.” So he sends out his ganas or hordes to the north (direction of wisdom, well Peckham Library) to bring back the head of the of the first living thing they come across.

It being a Sunday morning, living things are few and far between in Peckham, so anyways he’s hanging around, smoking a fag, when the hordes rock up. “What the bloody hell is that.” “An elephant’s head my lord” reply the hordes. “Well I can see its a bloomin elephant’s head can’t I……Couldn’t you have found something smaller” cries Shiva, stubbing out his Marlborough light. “Well it just ‘appens that there was an elephant 20 yards down the road, the owner was none too happy” reply the hordes. “Well stick the thing on that headless body over there, the missus is right on one, stuff about heaven, Earth and the subterranean, I am not going to see any action for weeks less we resolve this”.

So the hordes place the head on the lifeless body and Shiva blows life into him. Parvati is over the moon. The hordes cheer. Shiva names him Ganesha lord of his ganas. Problem solved. And so the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune is born. Dealing with the DHS and family benefits though is completely another story.

And so the celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi is there to celebrate the day when Lord Ganesha is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all of his devotees.

An interesting point is that the festival, a private event in people’s homes, got made into a public event in 1893 by Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian nationalist. He used the event to bond and build unity between all castes against a common enemy, you guessed it the British empire. It was a way of bringing people together when the British had banned all social and political gatherings to exercise control over the population.

For ten days the festival continues, with small statues in homes and larger ones in community areas or brightly decorated mantapas. A ritual of chanting, mantras and offerings is made. Then on various days, but most notably the last day, the statues are taken to the sea and immersed. And here is where they are left.

More stories of deities and historical figures in contemporary context to come.

Some friends invited me around to see the opening ceremony for the Ganpati festival (Ganesha) at their home. The festival lasts for 1.5 to 10 days, depending on how long you want to worship him, and culminates with the immersion of Ganpati in the sea. At home the opening ceremony goes on for several hours. Chanting, prayers, singing, offerings, and orientating the body towards the Ganpati all flow from a manual of conduct, more complex than an ikea kitchen suite.

After 1.5 days they took gunpati to the sea. More chants and offerings. Followed by rotating 7 times and then taking him out and leaving him at the bottom of the sea.

Click on image to see the full set of pictures

This is one of Mumbai’s nicer slum areas. They have walls, running water, electricity and not too much blue tarp.!! It is typical for a slum to be located in the gaps of land between developments. The developers and government would love to develop areas like this. With a population of 20 million land like this is a premium. But the slum holds a whole community, a slum city within the city. These people will not move without a fight. Some figures say that over 50% of Mumbai’s population live in an area designated as a slum.

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Slum

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