by Emily Frost, guest contributor
At a coffee shop in Delhi, Kanika thought she was spending just another afternoon passing time with her childhood friend Jo Jo, avoiding the heat and the crush of people outside. But there was something different in the way Jo Jo approached her that day. He had a special question for her: Do you know what is happening to your soul when you die? Kanika had no idea, and that worried her.
Surprisingly, in their twenty years of friendship, Jo Jo, an Indian Evangelical Christian, and Kanika, a Hindu, had never discussed their religions. That day at Costa Coffee though, Jo Jo started a long discussion, scribbling Christian themes and images on the napkins scattered around him. Kanika collected the napkins and poured over them that night in bed.
In the weeks to come, Kanika began talking to other Christian friends and considering a conversion. She knew hardly anything about Christianity and had grown up in a devout Hindu family, but the question of life after death remained unanswered for her.
Now, four years later, at 24, Kanika is at a crossroads. She has become an Evangelical Christian in secret, and her family disapproves of any reference she makes to Christianity.Comments
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Hindus in India and around the world are in the midst of celebrating Navratri, the colorful and light-laden, nine-day festival also known as Durga Puja. Dedicated to Durga, Hindus celebrate the mother goddess’ defeat of the demon Mahishasura — the triumph of good over evil.
Shiva, the Hindu deity of destruction and transformation, then permitted Durga to see her own mother for nine days in the year. The tenth day is known as Dussehra or Vijayadashami, an auspicious time in which Hindus launch new activities or the beginning of learning.
An Indian Hindu devotee reads a copy of the "Durga Stuati" in the 700-year-old Sheetla Mata Temple of the Durgiana Temple Complex in Amritsar on September 28, 2011 during the Navratri festival. (photo Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)
After Durga’s visit to her mother, her image is cast into water to represent her departure on the tenth day after Navratri.
A young boy wades through the river carrying pieces of an idol of the Hindu goddess Durga after its immersion ceremony for the Hindu festival Durga Puja in Bhubaneswar. (photo: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images)Comments
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
An explosion of color results as participants of a Holi festival in Utah throw colored chalk into the air and at each other. (photo: Jeremy Nicoll)
There’s no shortage of photos from Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, which takes place this year on Sunday, March 20th. Around the world, people celebrate the holiday by “throwing colors” at anyone who wanders by. Sometimes it’s in the form of powders, sometimes colored water, and sometimes natural dyes.
According to the BBC’s description of Holi, Ratnaval, a seventh-century Sanskrit drama, has one of the first references to the festivities:
"Witness the beauty of the great cupid festival which excites curiosity as the townsfolk are dancing at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns. They are seized by pretty women while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating. Everything is coloured yellowish red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over."
As with most Hindu holidays, the historical significance of the festival is complex and varied, depending on the region of India you find yourself in. For some, like my dad who grew up in the city of Hyderabad, it represents the beginning of spring, which, coincidentally, also occurs today.
With such differing explanations, I was particularly drawn to this lovely depiction by Outsourced actor Sacha Dawan. He says “it’s a day of throwing unlimited amounts of color. In a way the color represents energy, joy, life.”
If you find yourself at a Holi celebration this weekend, please send us your pictures!Comments
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I hoped to get instruction in Yoga, expected wonderful teachings, but what the teacher did was mainly to force me to face the darkness within myself and it almost killed me…. I was beaten down in every sense until I had to come to terms with that in me which I kept rejecting all my life."
—Irina Tweedie, from Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master
I hadn’t ever heard of Ms. Tweedie before happening upon this quote from Parabola, but her spiritual memoir looks like a compelling read. And if you’d like to hear more of the late Sufi teacher, here’s a poignant interview from Thinking Allowed. She talks about the mind as “the greatest obstacle” to spiritual clarity and that an inherent tension exists between knowledge and the mystical path in which “the less you understand, the better.”
Shubha Bala, associate producer
A couple of weeks before my birthday, my mom sent me an e-mail reminding me when my “star birthday” was — March 14th, by the way — and saying she was donating to a local temple on that day so they can provide free food for the congregation. Although I’ve always been told when my star birthday was, this was the first time I went on a quest to find out what it was.
Simply put, your star birthday is your birthday using the Hindu calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar. Hindu calendars are traditionally used to derive entire individual horoscopes, which are culturally consulted for just about everything — from determining a baby’s name to finding the best wedding location (and person!)
Your birth star, or Janma Nakshatra, is just one component of the calendar. If you draw a line from where you were born, at the time you were born, to the moon, the Janma Nakshatra is the star constellation that the line would pass through. Each month has 27 Nakshatras, which means some Nakshatras will occur twice in a month.
As with most aspects of Hinduism, there is no rule as to what significance a star birthday has. For example, I spoke to Narayanan Kandanchatha, who grew up in the Indian state of Kerala and is from the sub-caste Nambudiripad. He said that each year they would have to do an important prayer on their star birthday. In his case, the star was so critical that if it was missed, rather than do it the next day, they would wait until the Nakshatra of the following month. He also said that in his culture, in order to do a Upanayanam ceremony (the male coming of age ceremony for the Brahmin caste), a boy must have conducted a special ceremony on his Nakshatra 36 times.
For my mom, her tradition was to wear new clothes on her star birthday. Then she mailed me a new shirt to wear. Some people believe naming your baby with the same first syllable as their star is auspicious. My parents didn’t intend it, but in researching this blog I discovered that I coincidentally ended up with an auspicious first name!
Finding your star birthday
Since Hinduism is a religion composed of diverse cultures and history, the details in this procedure can change. Many cultures define their months differently. Also, some people don’t use the Nakshatra at all, using instead the Tithi, a completely different aspect of the calendar. But I’ll leave you to investigate these varieties on your own.Comments