An incredible country called India
I have for quite some time wanted to write about India, the country where I was born, grew up and was educated but eventually left to settle down somewhere else. I was born in a country at a time when it was going through tremendous political turmoil and nationwide upheaval unprecedented in its long history.
India was in bondage for a long period in its turbulent history and the foreigners like Babur or the British, French, Portuguese and even Dutch, all tried and some succeeded in getting a foothold in this ancient land of milk and honey, of extreme riches and extreme poverty side by side.
They brought with them their brand of religion, their culture, their trade and commerce and most of all their greed to exploit the country that they claimed in the name of their monarchs or their religion and ruled ruthlessly causing immense loss of life in order to establish their firm control over a land mass that stretched from Afghanistan in the west to Burma in the east and its diverse and culturally distinct people who were unique in the whole world.
Babur as a child was mesmerized by the tales of “Hind” that was somewhere in the south of central Asia where his father ruled as a monarch and he constantly begged his nanny to tell him more about Hind that was like a fantasy land so full of riches and vowed at that age to someday go and become a king there.
He took his first step as a young ruler to gather a huge army in Afghanistan and then marched on through Khyber pass to engage the ruler of India in a battle north of Delhi in the plain called Panipat, defeated the sultan of Delhi and firmly established his rule over a small part of India that grew over a period of time and set up the Mogul dynasty. They ruled India for hundreds of years and were defeated by the British when the last Mogul ruler Bahadur Shah Jaffar was taken prisoner and sent to Burma where he died in his old age.
But long before Babur ever came to India and set up the Mogul dynasty, there were other rulers from Afghanistan who repeatedly invaded India through the Khybar pass and set up their sultanate in Delhi among whom Lodis were prominent. One can see their mausoleums in Delhi in the midst of acres of garden . Others were purely marauders who came to loot, pillage and kill every year and left with booties loaded on camel caravans miles long because looting India was so profitable. The spread of Islam by their sword was just a bonus and bought them indulgences and a permanent place in their paradise where 75 virgin houris waited on them hands and foot if they happened to die doing so.
The temple of Somnath known for its riches was looted no less than 15 times by the same gang of bandits who were pleasantly surprised that the temple had so much for them to loot and pillage and had no defenses.
But going back in history, it was Alexander who came to India to loot, defeated the King called Puru and asked him how he should be treated. Puru answered that he should be treated the same way a king treats another king which impressed Alexander and he decided not to invade and went back to Macedonia.
His soldiers were tired of long endless wars and wanted to return home to their families and wanted no more to fight in a strange land where thousands of armored elephants formed formidable defense lines that they could not easily penetrate and took heavy losses. They were also sick of the heat and mosquitos.
The Arabs called him Sikandar so this name stayed in India .Akbar the great Mogul who wished to be buried in a place called Sikandara near Agra had a big mausoleum built for him but people have forgotten how the name Sikandara came into being. Most people do not know India’s long history.
A Portuguese explorer called Vasco de Gama came to India to trade centuries ago and the Portuguese managed to get hold of three places, Goa, Daman and Dieu where they set up their colonies until they were forced out by the Indian army back in the 1960s. Nasser helped block the Suez Canal to stop the Portuguese sending the soldiers to take their colonies back.
When people come to India for the first time, their senses are assailed by strange sounds, smells, aromas, crowds, a cacophony of everything strange, a riot of colors, flora and fauna in abundance, beautiful peacocks pecking at insects in the vast gardens of Delhi, extreme riches and poverty side by side.
Nowhere in the world such a contrast exists and they can’t make up their mind as to what to think of India. Most will just visit the Taj Mahal, see a few palaces in Delhi and Rajasthan and go back home. A few will wander to see other parts of India and will be mesmerized by what they see. From the lofty snowy peaks of Himalayas to the end of the land in Kanyakumari and from the green emerald tea gardens of Assam to the desert sands of Rajasthan, India never fails to impress anyone with its ever changing landscape.
I used to think of India as a jewel wrapped in rags but those rags are finally coming off and India is emerging as the fastest growing economy in the world. I have written a blog called Yesterday, today and tomorrow where I wrote about the India when I was a child so that is perhaps worth reading in this context.
But that is the physical beauty of India that most tourists see and pay a price to see it. The tourists local as well as the foreign are always taken advantage of by the hordes of unscrupulous people who swarm around as soon as they figure you out for a sucker. In that sense they are no different from the Italians or Greeks and others who do exactly the same and laugh at you behind your back.
The spiritual India:
What most people do not get to see is the spiritual side of India on which many books have been written. Hinduism is the only religion that does not have a leader, a prophet like Moses or Jesus or Mohamed who gave rise to a religion and his followers then wrote a book called Bible or Koran to guide their co religionists.
No. India does not have a book but India has the ancient scriptures called Vedas, Upanishads , Puranas and the stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana. No one knows how old are the scriptures and who wrote them and can only make a guess work like the Scriptures called Vedas were written some say 3500 years ago and others say over 8000 years ago before Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa . But no one is sure.
They know who wrote Ramayana and Mahabharata and who Ram was and where he was born although the Thais and others claim Ram as their own and will show you Ayutthaya as their proof. By the way Ayutthaya is the Thai version of the name Ajodhya in Uttar Pradesh where Hindus believe Ram was born and lived.
The invasion of Moslems and the forced conversion of Hindus to their faith and later the British missionaries who converted some to their brand of Christianity has not been able to suppress the Hinduism because Hindus embrace all religions as the manifestation of the same God and try to assimilate them. They show respect to Moslem Pirs and visit their mausoleums but they could not assimilate Moslems like others but that is another story. I will not write that story.
Many Moslems and Christians disappointed in their faiths reconvert to Hinduism and are welcome through programs like “Return home” or Ghar wapasi . But Hindus are not proselytizers like Christians and Moslems and do not believe in exporting their faith to other lands because they feel that they do not need to convince the world that it is a great religion.
It is called the ancient religion or Sanatan Dharma for a reason. It is the oldest religion whose origin is still shrouded in mystery but more and more people join it and practice it now than ever before. While it is true that some Hindu traders spread the religion to the Khmer empire that grew up in Cambodia and other places like Bali in Indonesia and even Thailand but they were not missionaries per se and did not spread the faith through the sword.
Hindus tend to assimilate people of other faith and thereby smother the harsh tenets of those faiths. So Buddhism which was once a prevalent faith throughout India was assimilated and now one hardly sees Buddhists anywhere except a few places like Dharmashala or Bodhi Gaya. Hindus call Buddha an avatar of Vishnu so venerate him as God. Vishnu has many avatars like Ram, Krishna, Buddha etc.
They also accept the good teachings of any faith and later call it their own. The non violence as practiced by the Buddhists is now a part of Hinduism and ban on slaughter of cows during the Buddhist period is still practiced by Hindus who are mostly vegetarians. Originally Hindus were not vegetarians though.
They ate all kinds of meat including beef and drank alcohol called Somras made from some plants during the Vedic period thousands of years ago.
The Sikhs are also considered a part of Hinduism because they still have Hindu names like Surendra, Virendra etc. except that in their language they write it as Surinder or Virinder. They have their own prophet called Guru Nanak and their own scriptures called Grantha Sahib which contains the words of wisdom of Guru Nanak but that is ok with the Hindus. Sikhs were Hindus who took up arms against the Moslems who tried to convert them by force and developed their brand of faith based on the teachings of Guru Nanak.
Their faith tells them that to be a Sikh, they must always have five things on them. Those five things are long hair and beard, a comb in their hair, a knife, a steel bracelet and cotton underwear which have each a definite purpose.
Among the Hindus there are many factions and many sects that often do not agree with each other just like the Christians or Moslems but they stand united as Hindus and believe that their religion is more of a way of life than religion. They are also taught to be tolerant of other faiths, sects and factions so there is a sort of harmony that exists among Hindus although they may not entirely agree with each other.
Later came some Hindu evangelists like Swami Prabhupada who went to the United States and established what is known today as the Krishna Consciousness movement which grew from its humble origin in New York to what it is today, a worldwide phenomenon but this is a recent development in the spread of Hinduism.
Of course there are gurus or fake swamis who are dime a dozen and take advantage of the western fascination for the Hindu faith , set up their shop somewhere and rake in millions of dollars. Religion has never been so lucrative if you know how the work the crowd, specially young and listless who are fed up with their incessant materialism and consumer greedy culture. They give the religion a bad name but get rich just the same.
But there are those Hindus who reached a very high level of spirituality and who continue to inspire millions of India today including our current leaders.
One such great man was Swami Vivekananda who in 1893 went to Chicago where an interfaith conference was held for many days and where he addressed the people as “ My brothers and sisters of America” . After that people waited in thousands to hear him and followed him wherever he went because they had never heard such forceful presentation of Hindu philosophy that they liked so much. His fame then spread throughout the world as one of the great spiritual leaders and his work published in 8 volumes is widely read.
Today if you go to KanyaKumari, you will see a magnificent temple built on the rock where he used to sit and pray and where his granite life size image adorns the temple visited by millions. Belur is the headquarter of the Rama Krishna Mission that he established that serve the poor and where a majestic temple has been built to honor the swami and Shri Rama Krishna Dev.
But India produced many such great spiritual leaders like Shri Rama Krishna Paramhansadev who lived in Dakshineshwar and taught young Vivekananda the essentials of spirituality and how to attain them. Many great leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar and many others had great impact socially to guide the youth of that period away from the western influence ,alcoholism and other addictive vices .
India is called the land of spirituality because of such great men who were born there and taught there. Remember Buddha himself was born in India because in those days there was no place called Nepal.
Krishna was born in royalty but his uncle who was the king in Mathura was told that a child will be born to his sister who will later kill him. He was a tyrant and fearful for his life so had his sister jailed and had all the children born to his sister killed one by one until Krishna was born as the 8th child and he was somehow smuggled out of the jail and raised in Vrindavan by a milkmaid called Yashodhara. Later Krishna as a young man kept the promise of his destiny and killed his uncle Kansha and saved the population from the rule of a tyrant.
Krishna later on played a key role in the battle of MahaBharata where he sided with the Pandavas and convinced Arjun to fight the battle as it was the right thing to do to fight evil. His words spoken during the battle are the Gita that Hindus venerate as the word of God.
So throughout the long history, people like Krishna and Buddha were born to show the Hindus the right way to live and attain a high level of spirituality.
Not everyone takes Krishna or Buddha or the teachings of Vivekananda seriously and many live life of dishonesty or crime but by and large Hindus are religious people who give alms to poor people and help them out in many ways. My Ma used to give money to charities and to the orphans every month and always gave alms to anyone who came to our door.
The beauty of India:
Now I want to write about the beauty of India as a country although I may be biased because I was born there but you can be your own judge and make up your own mind. I have published some nice power points on many subjects in India and you can see all of them at the Google drive. I will post the link below.
India was a feudal country comprising of many kingdoms and their petty kings who always quarreled with their neighbor kings over territory, revenue etc. and fought constant wars to avenge some insults over kidnapping of their princesses or queens. They also built impressive forts to protect themselves and their population from attack and conscripted sons of farmers to the army that needed constant resupply .It was just like in Egypt except that there were many such pharaohs in India and they never considered India as one country.
The foreigners like the Moslems or the British took advantage of this division among the kings and their kingdoms and were able to gain a foothold easily by encouraging fights among the kings. Clive comes to mind who was an expert in this game and he was able to promote the East India Company that was the precursor to the British rule by Victoria later on.
These kings lived lavishly and spent lavishly on themselves at the cost of exploiting the population for their own selfish benefits. Their lavish palaces are now empty for the camera toting tourists to gawk at but once they lived the life of utter luxury there eating from gold and silver plates and wrapping their palaces in silk and filled with imported furniture or Belgium mirrors and driving Rolls Royce. They even had their own private railway lines and coaches while the population lived in poverty and misery only and died for the king when conscripted.
One such King went to England and had two giant silver vessels filled with Ganga water carried on his ship because he did not want to touch the water of England.
All over India you will see the excesses of these past kings and their huge forts, palaces, gardens and their impressive armory. Some hidden treasure chambers have been found where they stored immense quantity of gold and silver and jewels worth billions .Thanks to democracy, these treasures are now put to good use by the Indian government. But many such treasures remain hidden.
Then came the Moguls who took their lavishness to new heights and built their own palaces and forts and accumulated wealth beyond belief but had only whips for the poor taxpayers who dared not to fail to pay their share. Taj Mahal is such an example of lavishness for which the king paid dearly. Its inside walls were once encrusted with jewels that glowed in the candle light but the British took care of that and replaced the jewels with fakes.
Very few such rulers were benevolent in nature and considered it their divine right to rule over hapless people who were meant to only serve the royalty. One such ruler force marched the entire population from Delhi to his new capital in Daulatabad near Aurangabad in central India and decided to frog march them back to Delhi only after seven years. He did not care how many people died in the process. Now his unassailable fort in Daulatabad stands as a monument to his crazy ideas but one can see such craziness and the results all over India.
The abandoned city of FatehPur Sikri near Agra is another example of such folly and lavish spending of the Mogul king Akbar who lived there for a while but the artificial lake he built to store water dried up therefore doomed the city and people left when Akbar died. No one suggested him to dig a canal to bring water from Yamuna river in Agra but perhaps there were no hydraulic engineers in those days although I doubt it.
The royalty did not care how the poor people lived and never built houses for them or schools or roads. A stupid nawab in Lucknow was told that people need jobs so he let them build houses that they had to tear down the next day and rebuild it so that they could have a job. No one told the king that he could have them build thousands of houses for these poor people in a planned way.
There was one king called Sher Shah who was the exception and who built the grand Trunk road but perhaps more to move his troops and military supplies than to move common people. Still a road is a road and people still use it after many centuries.
Other kings let people build their own habitations where there was no planning so you will see the hovels built by them in all cities where city planning was unknown. These are called the old cities and they exist side by side with the new planned cities that the British built. A good example is Delhi itself.
The flora and fauna:
Did you know that India is the only country in Asia where lions, rhinoceros and other animals are found outside Africa? You can see often the huge nilgais from the train and river dolphins and gharials in many places. Nilgais are a kind of deer.
Millions of birds from Siberia and central Asia cross the Himalayas and come to roost in the wild life sanctuaries in many parts of India every year. You can see the magnificent Siberian cranes and other exotic birds in these bird sanctuaries.
We used to hear the howls of jackals and wolves as well as hyenas from our house so these animals were nearby. Now they have moved away due to the pressure of the population but they are still found in rural areas aplenty. The hills are full of jaguars, black panthers, bears and even red pandas among other fearsome animals like tigers, leopards and cheetahs. The Royal Bengal Tigers are world famous for their beauty .There are many tiger reserves now where they are protected and one can see the Lions living near the villages in Gujrat where they pose no threat to the people because they have plenty of preys in the Gir forest where they usually live. Gharials are also protected and bred in farms and released in the wilderness by the government.
The British were always hunting these beautiful animals and bragged about how many tigers they killed for fun but now they are protected by the government.
You will see wild elephants in the nature parks in the south or in the foothills of Himalayas and Assam. We saw many such elephants while on a trip to the south where the camera toting tourists were taking photos furiously saying that their day will be complete if they can photograph a black jaguar or a leopard or two as if the jaguars and cheetahs were waiting by the roadside for a photo opportunity such are the foolish tourists. It is good that they did not try to reach the wild elephants although you never can underestimate the foolishness of people.
Only in India one can see tamed bears and elephants on the road frequently although there is now a program to free these poor bears and put them in shelters where they receive veterinary care and food and the bear owners who are nomads are taught new trade or skills to earn a living.
I was so impressed by the river dolphins in Ganga just near the ghats in Benares where they were playing joyously as if without any care or concern as they should be because they are protected now. They have become extinct elsewhere because the government wakes up very slowly to such disasters.
The peacock is the national bird of India and killing them will land you in jail in no time so they multiply and are found in many cities, parks and of course in the forested areas . There are over 1200 bird species I put in my PowerPoint on “Birds of India” that you may like to check out. I will post the link at the end of this blog.
But it is the people of India that make the country interesting. There are so many types of people that often you wonder if they are Indians at all. They have more than 18 official languages and many more that are spoken but not official. Their food, their clothes, their skin color, their language, their manners, habits and such vary greatly from state to state. The temple architecture in the south is very different from the north and the east is different from the west.
Modern India :
The modern India that has just put 20 satellites in one shot in orbit using a single rocket made in India generates immense pride in its technological prowess and ability. The Indian space program is a testament to India’s ability to do things that were what only NASA could think of a few years ago like sending a satellite to Mars that sends high resolution photos real time to the space center somewhere in India and that too at a 100th of the cost of such mission sent by NASA. All the equipment is designed and made by the rocket scientists in India proving that they are intelligent and very well trained. India also has its own communication satellites that cover the entire country giving people access to TV , radio and other types of media , weather forecast ability, sharp satellite imagery that show the forest cover or other features.
Indian textile industry has grown phenomenally since independence and manufactures very high quality fabrics of all sorts from cotton to silk and synthetic fibers. The worsted wool fabric is the finest in the world. The handloom industry making silk sarees are known all over the world for the brilliance of color and design and are exported.
There is an abundance of fruits and vegetables in the market and India feeds herself . This is a big deal and the food supply is guaranteed by the government that has built huge storage facilities in every district of every state so that people can buy the subsidized food grains, dal, sugar etc. The excess is often exported.
India has introduced computers in all spheres of life making life easier and more efficient in government services, banking, transportation industry etc. Indian IT professionals make and write their own programs for mobile devices and are well known as computers wizards so their services are sought in other countries.
The defense industry has grown from practically nothing in 1947 to a huge industry that makes everything from planes, tanks and submarines, ships and other related materials that are needed by the armed forces although India still imports all kinds of weapons and technology from other countries.
If you happen to stand on the platform of any railway station late at night, you will see the freight trains a kilometer long passing through carrying military hardware all brand new going somewhere from the factory somewhere.
The communication industry is also growing very rapidly so everyone has now a cell phone and one can call anywhere in India or abroad with clear reception.
Anyway I will stop here and say that it is worth visiting a country like India because it will be your once in a lifetime experience.
You may like to check out the link below for more on India:
It has 18 power Points on various subjects like art, history, crafts, birds, silk , wild life, Khajuraho etc.