When the writer Gita Mehta was growing up in Orissa, a small ancient image of Ganesha was unearthed in a mound of dirt as the foundations of their family home were being laid. “I’ve always kept the Ganesha which came out of my parents’ home,” confided Mehta when I interviewed her once in New York. “That is the one image that goes with me wherever I go. He came out of the Indian soil so to me he’s like an umbilical cord that connects me to India. So it doesn’t matter where I live – he is my India.” A lovely book from 2009, to check out this Ganesh Chathurthi.
This isn’t Kashi or Prayag but thousands of devotees clog the streets, dancing and chanting as Ganesha’s Ratha Yatra takes place – in Queens, New York. Yes, this pilgrimage spot happens to be in Flushing, Queens, and people came to celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi from as far as California, Florida, Texas, Atlanta – and even India!
It is Lord Ganesha’s birthday and everyone is invited to this giant block party. Over 50,000 lunches are prepared; there are hundreds of pounds of sweets and hundreds of gallons of rose milk. About 20,000 people turn up over the course of nine days at the Hindu Temple Society of North America. (Photo: Chirag D. Shah)
“But isn’t yoga an English word?”
This was the plaintive response one American had when she was told that yoga’s original birthplace was India. Indeed, this ancient practice from India has traveled so far and been so cut off from its moorings that many current day practitioners in the west seem to think it was always a part of American life.
Now comes a comprehensive art exhibition in America, the first of its kind, which through the language of visuals – paintings, sculptures and photographs – traces yoga’s roots back to India, back to Gods and Goddesses, back to spiritual and philosophical aspirations. It can be seen at the Cleveland Museum of Art from June 22 to September 7, 2014.
“These sadhus are like a living question that people have forgotten to ask,” says noted photographer Thomas Kelly. “Their painted bodies confront us with essential questions at the heart of existence…provoking the questions, ‘Who am I?’ ‘What do I need?’ ‘What is really important?’”
So as we ponder this, we can take a stroll through the beautiful Rubin Museum of Art situated in frenzied Manhattan and see how the sadhus are trying to make sense of the world.
I’m always intrigued by the fact that this gorgeous museum devoted to the soul and to spirituality was once a highly materialistic shopping heaven – Barneys! Now to walk through it is like being in a temple of peace, and each of us is free to find our own path to salvation.
While Christmas is important to Indian Christians as a celebration of faith, many non-Christians enjoy it as a secular holiday in ways small and big. Indeed, Christmas is such a huge, high voltage commercialized event in America that few can escape its allure, be they Christians or not.
Some stories are evergreen and resonate year after year. I remember spending a lot of time researching these stories and talking to the families profiled here. For me, these stories are almost like Christmas ornaments that I take out every holiday season to share and add sparkle to the holiday!
The fireworks still explode in the memory, and the taste of nuts and cream and sugar still linger on the tongue. For immigrants from India, the childhood memories of Diwali are strong, for it is a time when India transforms into one glittering celebration. Public buildings are illuminated with neon lights and every home, no matter how humble, is ablaze with earthen lamps. In fact, entire villages are turned into fairylands, dotted with millions of lamps, glowing in the dark of night.
Some things never change. Lord Krishna played holi with Radha and her sakhis in the lush groves of Brindaban in timeless time – and now we are still playing it in the 21st century, not only in India but across the diaspora – even on board a ship anchored off New York city, no less!
Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, is here heralding spring, joy and togetherness. In India, the streets are turned multicolored with every hue imaginable. At private parties there are pichkari-fights as revelers get splashed with color, dunked in pools full of colored water, and splurge on sweets and gets intoxicated on thandai, often laced with bhang. We share a wonderful video of the late great showman Raj Kapoor whose Holi parties were legendary. Enjoy!
As we, the New Americans, mature and root ourselves further in the sacred and secular landscape of America, we see a need to build national and local organizations focusing on serving — with Seva Bhava — contemporary needs of our growing community and the community at large.
Seva or service is an integral part of our culture and traditions, an inside-out approach to life. Many individuals and organizations volunteer and serve in soup kitchens, shelters, health camps, and disaster relief. But few Dharmic – Hindu, Jain,Sikh, Buddhist – institutions have the capacity to provide sustained social services and do seva as is prevalent in other faith based institutions in America. GUEST BLOG
(Photo: Amal Biswas)
Ever wondered why Hindu Gods and Goddesses have multiple heads, limbs and eyes?
Word as a vehicle of expression of thought is a powerful instrument – but its adequacy is limited to the phenomenal world. That is why an individual’s personal spiritual realization is inexpressible in its totality.
Mythology is an offshoot of this inefficacy of word while dealing with celestial events. The saintly scholar in Hinduism is seized with the problem of adequately narrating a superhuman extraordinary event, and tends to exaggerate. He needs to respond to his inner clamor to bestow the highest glory to the Lord with love, respect and adoration.
This has inevitably resulted in the Hindu pantheon having Gods and Goddesses with multiple heads and hands, but then so do cosmic evil forces too. There is a deep philosophical significance in this.
– Guest blogger Tapas Mukherjee
“My blogs usually are about trips to exciting and exotic international destinations, and these trips typically last about two weeks or so. Today I’m writing about a very different journey – my journey on the path of meditation that I have been on for about three years. When I set off on that trip, I didn’t even know that I was embarking on a journey.
I started learning meditation out of exasperation. My sister had been insisting that I attend a course with Art of Living (AOL) because it would help me. I was quite sure I didn’t need help. My experience growing up in India and then living in the US for several years was that this stuff was either for the ultra-religious Indians or new age Americans. I was neither. But I took the course anyway – so I could turn around and let my sister know that it was no good and a waste of money!” Guest Blogger Jinny Uppal