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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

smithsonianmag:

Photo of the Day: “Joining hands together is the ultimate symbol of unity. Devotees come together and try to form a human pyramid to break a clay pot containing curd on the eve of the Hindu festival of “Janmashtami.”
Photo by: Sudeep Mehta (Mumbai, India).

What an absolutely brilliant composition.

smithsonianmag:

Photo of the Day: “Joining hands together is the ultimate symbol of unity. Devotees come together and try to form a human pyramid to break a clay pot containing curd on the eve of the Hindu festival of “Janmashtami.”

Photo by: Sudeep Mehta (Mumbai, India).

What an absolutely brilliant composition.

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At a Crossroads: When a Young Hindu Converts to Christianity in Delhi

by Emily Frost, guest contributor

Shivanika, friend of KanikaAt 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.

Read More

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Photos of self-inflicted piercings and flagellation are striking to see, but I do find myself tensing up once in a while. Thanks, quelowat:

PIERCING FOR PENANCE: An Indian Tamil Hindu devotee with a steel rod pierced through his cheeks took part in a religious procession for Lord Murugan in New Delhi Thursday. Tamil Hindus seeking penance and blessings of the Lord Murugan, son of Lord Shiva, pierce their bodies and carry pots of milk on their heads. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Photos of self-inflicted piercings and flagellation are striking to see, but I do find myself tensing up once in a while. Thanks, quelowat:

PIERCING FOR PENANCE: An Indian Tamil Hindu devotee with a steel rod pierced through his cheeks took part in a religious procession for Lord Murugan in New Delhi Thursday. Tamil Hindus seeking penance and blessings of the Lord Murugan, son of Lord Shiva, pierce their bodies and carry pots of milk on their heads. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Hindu Holi Festival of Colors Are Energy, Joy, and Life

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Holi Festival of Colors, Utah 2010 - Chalk Explosion
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!

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Lessons from Hindu Sufi Guru Irina Tweedie

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.”

(via parabola-magazine)

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Bollywood Squares: The Manganiyar Seduction at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"They have the Muslim saints and they worship Allah. And then they also have their … Hindu goddesses. And they sing to both. Like, there would not be any difference if they were to sing a Sufi Islam mystic song or if they were to sing a Hindu mystic song. It would be with the equal amount of devotion."
—Roysten Abel, on the Manganiyar musicians

The Manganiyar Seduction
Musicians from Rajasthan, India, led by Daevo Khan, perform at the Rose Theater in New York on November 23, 2010. (photo: Lian Chang/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Thirty-eight Sufi musicians from the deserts of Rajasthan, India. Thirty-six, open-faced, photo booths draped in red velvet, stacked four high and nine wide. One lone box lights up. One lone khamacha drones. One lone singer begins his song. Then another box alights. Then another. Pulsating, alternating. Percussive rhythms build with dhol, dholak, and karthal. Map Pinpointing Manganiyars in Rajasthan, IndiaVoices of men, women, and children from India’s Manganiyar community layer one on top of the other, enmeshed with harmoniums, kamancha, sarangi, bansuri, murli, and morchang. The theater’s magic. Electric. A crescendo. Quiet.

Roysten Abel, the creative force behind this production, describes the concept as a “dazzling union between the Manganiyar’s music and the visual seduction of Amsterdam’s red light district.”

And I missed it.

Visa issues delayed the performance of The Manganiyar Seduction at the Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater by two days, so I headed back home to Minnesota. At least we have this video from the White Light Festival to give us some access to this dramatic performance.

If you’re in Washington, DC, be sure to buy tickets for their March performances. And, according to Abel’s website, he is currently working on The Manganiyar War, interpreting the Mahabharata through music. That ought to be really fascinating.

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A Very Merry Christmas. Hindu Style.

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Sometimes it takes being on the outside looking in to the find humor in your typical Hindu Christmas. Recently, I attended a friend’s family dinner in suburban Minneapolis. This was the big sort of “cousins, aunts, uncles” family dinner that closely resembles my family’s gatherings. Three generations of Hindu-Americans passed around a Secret Santa basket that made me remember my own family traditions growing up in Canada.

Christmas is always a huge deal for us. It revolves around Christmas trees, gift exchanges, “Santa,” and Christmas crafts. Food, multi-ethnic potlucks, are always eaten in the Indian style. First the kids grab food and eat wherever there’s room — table, floor, couch — until we eventually clear out and make space for the adults. We even used to sing carols. My parents, aunts, and uncles with their Indian accents would follow along with lyrics printed out. Songs ranged from the more secular “Jingle Bells” to my favorite, “We Three Kings.”

Watching my friend’s family argue over the rules of Secret Santa made me aware how many Hindus are pretty loosey-goosey about adopting cultural traditions, as long as they’re fun. Even though half my Indian friends growing up didn’t celebrate Christmas, there was never a judgment or debate about it. Other Hindus never called me a traitor or a sell-out or even, frankly, questioned my festivities.

So it’s probably completely natural that Nickelodeon created a Bhangra Jingle Bells, and a few years ago Boymongoose, an Indian musician, created a comedy album titled Christmas in Asia Minor. Maybe, from the outside, our family really is that funny!

Tagged: #Hindu #Christmas
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Diwali: The Festival of Lights
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world recently celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. From an American vantage point, Diwali is a mash-up of Christmas and the Fourth of July; people exchange gifts, gamble, eat sweets, and set off firecrackers all night long. For Hindus, it marks the beginning of the new year.
There are different stories connected with Diwali, but one of the most central is rooted in the Hindu Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. The holiday marks Lord Rama’s victory over the 10-headed, demon king Ravana and Rama’s return to the city of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. People illuminated clay lamps, or diyas, to celebrate Rama’s homecoming — a tradition that continues to this day.
In broad strokes, Diwali marks the triumph of light over darkness, good  over evil. The holiday’s name comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, which means “row of lights.”
Chandigarh, India (photo: Harpreet Singh/Flickr)
This NPR interview with the writer Sandip Roy offers helpful, accessible context on the history, lore, and rituals associated with Diwali. Roy recently interviewed interfaith couples here in the U.S. to learn how they’ve shaped Diwali celebrations to complement “mixed masala” family configurations.
In Nepal, Diwali unfolds over five days. On the second day, dogs are the center of attention. They’re lavished with treats and trot around wearing festive marigold garlands.
Kathmandu, Nepal (photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)
Major Diwali festivities fell on November 5th this year when revelers took to the streets with candles, sparklers, and other creative forms of illumination.
Chennai, India (photo: Mckay Savage/Flickr)
Srinagar, India (photo: Rouf Bhat/AFP/Getty Images)
For our associate producer Shubha Bala, Diwali is a time for buying and wearing new clothes — also for sharing a meal with family.
An Indian woman flicks through a rack of clothing at a pre-Diwali sale in Calcutta, India. (photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images)
Growing up in Canada, Shubha remembers decorating the house with Christmas lights. This was the first year her parents didn’t give her money to buy new clothes, which, she says, was a little disappointing. One year, she used her Diwali money to buy shoes. Her parents disapproved of this Diwali acquisition so she bought a t-shirt instead. When Shubha recently followed up to ask why shoes are not a Diwali-appropriate purchase, they didn’t offer up a clear explanation other than “it’s just the way it is.” She likens it to how some people say it’s disrespectful to wear a hat to church.
Do you have Diwali memories, stories, or traditions that have been meaningful to you? We’d love to hear about them.
A suspended sign in Bangalore, India. (photo: Saad Faruque/Flickr)
Photo at top: Delhi, India (photo: nowyou33/Flickr)

Diwali: The Festival of Lights

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world recently celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. From an American vantage point, Diwali is a mash-up of Christmas and the Fourth of July; people exchange gifts, gamble, eat sweets, and set off firecrackers all night long. For Hindus, it marks the beginning of the new year.

There are different stories connected with Diwali, but one of the most central is rooted in the Hindu Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. The holiday marks Lord Rama’s victory over the 10-headed, demon king Ravana and Rama’s return to the city of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. People illuminated clay lamps, or diyas, to celebrate Rama’s homecoming — a tradition that continues to this day.

In broad strokes, Diwali marks the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. The holiday’s name comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, which means “row of lights.”


Chandigarh, India (photo: Harpreet Singh/Flickr)

This NPR interview with the writer Sandip Roy offers helpful, accessible context on the history, lore, and rituals associated with Diwali. Roy recently interviewed interfaith couples here in the U.S. to learn how they’ve shaped Diwali celebrations to complement “mixed masala” family configurations.

In Nepal, Diwali unfolds over five days. On the second day, dogs are the center of attention. They’re lavished with treats and trot around wearing festive marigold garlands.

Diwali dogs in Nepal
Kathmandu, Nepal (photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

Major Diwali festivities fell on November 5th this year when revelers took to the streets with candles, sparklers, and other creative forms of illumination.


Chennai, India (photo: Mckay Savage/Flickr)


Srinagar, India (photo: Rouf Bhat/AFP/Getty Images)

For our associate producer Shubha Bala, Diwali is a time for buying and wearing new clothes — also for sharing a meal with family.


An Indian woman flicks through a rack of clothing at a pre-Diwali sale in Calcutta, India. (photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images)

Growing up in Canada, Shubha remembers decorating the house with Christmas lights. This was the first year her parents didn’t give her money to buy new clothes, which, she says, was a little disappointing. One year, she used her Diwali money to buy shoes. Her parents disapproved of this Diwali acquisition so she bought a t-shirt instead. When Shubha recently followed up to ask why shoes are not a Diwali-appropriate purchase, they didn’t offer up a clear explanation other than “it’s just the way it is.” She likens it to how some people say it’s disrespectful to wear a hat to church.

Do you have Diwali memories, stories, or traditions that have been meaningful to you? We’d love to hear about them.


A suspended sign in Bangalore, India. (photo: Saad Faruque/Flickr)

Photo at top: Delhi, India (photo: nowyou33/Flickr)

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Hindu Celebration of the Brother-Sister Bond
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
Today is Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, a North Indian, Hindu holiday celebrating the bond between siblings. One of the many legends reported to be the origin of the holiday comes from the Hindu epic, the Mahabaratha. Queen Draupadi once tore a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Lord Krishna’s index finger to stop the flow of blood. Krishna found himself bound to her by this action of love and promised to repay the debt to her. He had this chance when her husband lost her through gambling. Krishna, using his powers as a God, indefinitely extended her sari as they tried to strip her naked so it could never be removed, thus saving her pride and being her ultimate protector.
Raksha Bandhan, as with most Hindu holidays, can be celebrated differently or with different names depending on one’s region of India. In essence, a woman ties a thread, or bracelet, on a brother, blessing him and praying for him to have a long life. In return, the brother vows to protect the sister and gives her sweets, gifts, or money. The traditions have evolved so that the people celebrating are no longer just siblings but often cousins, family-friends, or really anyone that can be considered to have a brother-sister-like bond. In fact, one Twitterer today complained, “Oh man I’m broke giving out envelopes to all my ‘sisters’.”
If you’re interested in hearing more about this holiday, including a story from the 15th century of Rakhi saving a queen’s life, listen to this interview on Radio Canada International.
In the photo above, a man shows off multiple bracelets received for the North Indian Hindu holiday Raksha Bandhan (Vishweshwar Saran Singh Deo/Flickr).

Hindu Celebration of the Brother-Sister Bond

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Today is Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, a North Indian, Hindu holiday celebrating the bond between siblings. One of the many legends reported to be the origin of the holiday comes from the Hindu epic, the Mahabaratha. Queen Draupadi once tore a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Lord Krishna’s index finger to stop the flow of blood. Krishna found himself bound to her by this action of love and promised to repay the debt to her. He had this chance when her husband lost her through gambling. Krishna, using his powers as a God, indefinitely extended her sari as they tried to strip her naked so it could never be removed, thus saving her pride and being her ultimate protector.

Raksha Bandhan, as with most Hindu holidays, can be celebrated differently or with different names depending on one’s region of India. In essence, a woman ties a thread, or bracelet, on a brother, blessing him and praying for him to have a long life. In return, the brother vows to protect the sister and gives her sweets, gifts, or money. The traditions have evolved so that the people celebrating are no longer just siblings but often cousins, family-friends, or really anyone that can be considered to have a brother-sister-like bond. In fact, one Twitterer today complained, “Oh man I’m broke giving out envelopes to all my ‘sisters’.”

If you’re interested in hearing more about this holiday, including a story from the 15th century of Rakhi saving a queen’s life, listen to this interview on Radio Canada International.

In the photo above, a man shows off multiple bracelets received for the North Indian Hindu holiday Raksha Bandhan (Vishweshwar Saran Singh Deo/Flickr).

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Prayer to Shiva

by Shubha Bala, associate producer


The Shiva Lingam at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota, decorated for the holiday Shivarathri.

Priest Sri Gowtham Sharma, at the new Hindu temple of Minnesota, sings a prayer to his family God, Lord Shiva. This particular temple offers equal devotional space to 19 Hindu deities, unlike many other temples which focus primarily on one. As a result, it’s unique in welcoming the many different Hindus, and also Jains, that make up the local South Asian-American community. For Sri Sharma, although Shiva may be his family God, he prays to all the deities at the temple since, as he puts it, “all the power [of the Gods] is one — like all rivers go to the sea.”


Priest Sri Gowtham Sharma (courtesy of Hindu Temple of Minnesota)

My parents, like many of the members of this temple, were once new Hindu immigrants to North America. My interest in visiting the temple is in part my childhood experience of Hinduism — it helps me create a larger context for my personal experience and shed new light on my own family traditions.

What are some of your stories of reconnecting with your traditions, and where have they taken you?

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What’s Your Hindu Star Birthday?

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

  1. Find your Janma Nakshatra when you were born by using this calculator and your birth year (mine is Satabhisha.)
  2. Next find the Hindu month in which you were born. Scroll to the table of Hindu months here to find the start and end dates for that month. For example, I was born March 5, which would be the month Phalguna, starting on February 20.
  3. Then, go back to this first calculator, and for the date range enter your full Hindu birth month (e.g., February 20 - March 19) for the current year. It will give you a table with all the Nakshatras for the month. Find the date your Nakshatra lands on, and that is your star birthday this year (March 14 for me). If your Nakshatra occurs two times in that month, the second time is when you would celebrate 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.

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The Ramayana, Illustrated
Shubha Bala, associate producer

Sanjay Patel, supervising animator at Pixar, has come out with his second illustrated book on Hinduism, Ramayana: Divine Loophole. Patel is one of the few people who have presented Hindu mythology in a way for North American kids to understand, and enjoy. But he also presents the Ramayana, one of the Hindu epic mythological stories, in a wonderful way for adults too — complete with illustrated character bios and geography lessons in the back.

He says in an Atlantic Monthly interview:

"I grew up in a house where there was no explanation—there was just practice. It was like eating for me: ‘Okay, I’ve got to eat. I’ve got to sit down and pray and stare at these wild illustrations of Hindu gods.’ My parents completely subscribe to these stories as philosophy, of course, but it’s also very much a religion to them, and they do see these beings as gods. I would ask my father, ‘Dad, do you really think there’s a blue guy out there?’ I couldn’t really narrow him down on that. But he seems to believe it.

So the Ramayana was always something my parents would study and worship, but it had no meaning to me until I read the story. Then I was like, ‘Wow, the characters are so cool. The plot is so cool. What they symbolize is so cool. This totally needs to be told!’ I wanted to use all the skills and the knowledge I’d gained at Pixar to put these ancient stories in a package that’s relatable and entertaining. If I have children, I want them to know something about their cultural mythology in a way that’s fresh and dynamic.”

He’s also asked about finding existing images of the Ramayana before creating his book:

"I realized after doing some research that centuries and centuries ago, The Ramayana wasn’t actually illustrated. It was sung and performed, and the actors would bring it to life with masks and costumes. Then later, there were these amazing sculptures. So I was looking at that for sure. But artists only really depicted certain episodes in the Ramayana. I wanted to show all those other scenes, like the part where they meet Jambavan the bear! If I were a kid, I’d want to see cool icons and badass graphics.

That’s what’s so great about this story. If you want to get into the dogma you can. But on a raw level, these stories are amazing conduits for really deep philosophy. I think that’s uniquely Indian in many ways. It’s this profound stuff but told through stories that common people can completely engage with—avatars and man-gods.”

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