Long live Religion! Long live God!

On the Ghats of the Ganga in Varanasi, religion and its relationships with modern day Indians is well understood. A little girl dressed like Shiva is taking selfies with a young tourist boy, another group of people are reciting verses of the Ramayana on a loud speaker while checking out the tourist, a cow is being worshipped by a group of women, a sadhu is sitting peacefully meditating amidst the chaos, the river is being bathed in, offered milk and flowers while devotees take a holy dip to wash away their sins to start life afresh. And at a nearby ghat, the river is also offered ashes of those burnt on its banks in order to attain moksha. Sailing in the river, one also sees spectacular sights of an age-old civilization and as well as the contours of a mosque. Amidst these eighty-four ghats, we find mysticism and secularism. Age old rituals and practices from the journey of life till death.

God is everywhere in India. We worship the source- the cow, as it provides nourishment, the river, as it is the source of water, trees, and stones. We even have living human Gods showing us the path and a way to live. Religion, to us, in India, has been a tale told through mythology- embedded in stories, symbols and rituals and also through geography and history.

Embedded in everyday life, religion in India has not only anchored Indian society to live and stride through life but has built a framework for living well. Not only is it about human life, it is also about the entirety of a universal Long live Religion! Long live God! famous pilgrims and temples, the renewed confidence and the desire for more religion is vividly visible. Urban India also exhibits adoption of festivals and faith in new Gods. Bringing home of the Ganpati which was dominant in the Maharastrian community, has now become a Delhi and Bangalore phenomenon too, not restricted to the Maharasthrian community alone. Holi and Raksha Bandhan have emerged as India’s most secular festivals. India’s self confidence in itself as a country has escalated- Yoga, Ayurveda, FMCG products, well being, tolerance, vegetarianism are all dimensions of India’s religious-spiritual-philosophical living. The questioning of religion, the existence of God are still faint questions in Indian life. With revisiting of rituals and the open sourcing of religion, we Indians are adapting it with times, embracing it to create modern day rituals, occasions and festivals. For seekers, religion provides meaning and path, to the youth it provides occasions to enjoy, places to travel entertain and pass time. Most importantly religion creates belonging – belonging and belief that one is born into and rarely questioned. Long live Religion! Long live God! experience- of earth, stars, water, wind and fire. The calendars founded on the basis of these cosmic connections and their manifestations in day, night and seasons have defined and provided the total rhythm to India’s day-to-day behaviours. To eat, to cook, to celebrate, to buy, to give, to marry; all the actions of one’s life are driven by these calendars that are part of our philosophy, culture and ofcourse religion.

Most interestingly, these beliefs and practices have not ceased to exist as India has evolved and adopted modern ways of life and living. Religion is enmeshed in urban life as much as it is in our smaller towns and villages. Large family run business houses build temples in their names, much of donations and charity in the country happens in the name of religion and temple trusts run as efficiently as businesses.

If at all religion is permissive and a more democratic force today than before. Sanskrit and Prakrit the language of interpretation created distinction amongst the masses and classes. Caste order also restricted access and created codes of behaviours.

But today’s religious movements are more egalitarian, rooted in spirituality first and then rituals and one where relationship with God is not located in fear alone.

In the recent past Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Sri Aurobindo, J Krishnamurthy, Osho, reinterpreted religion for the elite. Today religion is being recast for the masses, with new cults, Babas, Gurus and television evangelists. Democratized by Baba Ramdev, Gurpreet Ram Raheem Singh (MSG), the deras, Nirmal Baba, Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj, Sadguru, Art of Living new pilgrim points and sacred geographies are emerging. Not necessarily on the banks of rivers and in established temples and places of worship alone but in yoga camps, in ashram campuses and even in homes.

However, while we adopt the new we retain the old. Religion in India provided reasons and justified socialization, consumption and travel and it continues to do so even today. In fact, as we embrace the modern, the need to reconnect with the roots is emerging even more strongly. The young of India today are seen in temples and other sacred places. In jeans and in other modern attire, we collaborate with tradition. The amplification of jagrans, foot visits to famous pilgrims and temples, the renewed confidence and the desire for more religion is vividly visible. Urban India also exhibits adoption of festivals and faith in new Gods. Bringing home of the Ganpati which was dominant in the Maharastrian community, has now become a Delhi and Bangalore phenomenon too, not restricted to the Maharasthrian community alone. Holi and Raksha Bandhan have emerged as India’s most secular festivals.

India’s self confidence in itself as a country has escalated- Yoga, Ayurveda, FMCG products, well being, tolerance, vegetarianism are all dimensions of India’s religious-spiritual-philosophical living. The questioning of religion, the existence of God are still faint questions in Indian life. With revisiting of rituals and the open sourcing of religion, we Indians are adapting it with times, embracing it to create modern day rituals, occasions and festivals. For seekers, religion provides meaning and path, to the youth it provides occasions to enjoy, places to travel entertain and pass time. Most importantly religion creates belonging – belonging and belief that one is born into and rarely questioned. Long live Religion! Long live God!

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