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Published: February 8th 2011
Am suffering from writers block so this will be short with mostly pictures.
The first are set from the Rock Fort in Trichy. In order to get to the top you have to walk up hundreds of stairs. The sign said that the mountain was "3500 billion years old," and that "it is a proven fact that women who worship here have an easy child birth."
The second group are the Brihadishwara Temple in Tanjore. This is by far my favorite temple complex I have visited. The massive Shiva Temple included many paintings, hundreds of words written in old Tamil scrawled on the walls, a large statue of an elephant (and a real elephant) among others.
I stayed with a friend in Trichy for a week and used the time to try and discover more about Hinduism and Indian politics. Hindu is hard for me to wrap my mind around, and reminds me more of ancient Greek mythology than the western religions I am familiar with. There is one God, Brahman (some people I talk to describe it as a monotheistic religion), who is manifested in the forms of hundreds of more accessible gods, the most important being
Brahma (creator), Vishnu (sustainer), and Shiva (destroyer, everyone's favorite). The gods sometimes take the forms of people, most notably Krishna and Rama, the heroes of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, two epic poems that are the Indian equivalent in time period and length to the Iliad and the Odyssey. It is difficult getting a grasp largely because people that I ask say vastly different things. Some say that it is not so much a religion as a set of customs and rituals based on ancient Vedas, others emphasize the importance of Karma and Dharma (good actions). To some Caste is an important part of the religion and is integral to the cycle of rebirth, to others it is only a way of marking occupation and only has religious carryover to the extent that some occupations leave the laborer unclean for certain religious practices. The degree that they believe that these Gods actually exist or are metaphors for how the world works is different based on who you ask. It seems many local tribal customs and religions have been fused with Hinduism over the centuries creating an umbrella of beliefs and practices. Nobody has been able to answer how it spread over
such a vast landmass and through so many different language barriers. The word "Hindu" was originally synonymous with "Indian" and was used to differentiate traditional Indians from Muslims. Any Indians reading this who like to send me a message explaining it more thoroughly or giving links to informative websites, I would appreciate it.
Indian politics seem to be just as difficult. I have spent a lot of time reading the newspapers and talking with people on the trains and buses and it seems that democracy here is an ugly stepsister to the ideal we have in our western imaginations. Everyone that I talk to laments that India is very corrupt, and that it permeates all levels of government (though notably most people have nice things to say for the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Singh). In fact over probably close to a hundred conversations I can't recall an Indian saying a single positive thing about the state of their country. There are a wide variety of political parties at both the national and state levels which are divided by caste, religion, and language. The individual parties seem to be monolithic, meaning that individual party members follow the party leader without
question. Because the parties are so rigidly defined through these group identities there doesn't seem to be much motivation for compromise, and vote pandering to individual constituencies at the expense of other groups seems to be the norm. To quote one article on the front page of The Hindu (12/27): "A standard politician is now seen as someone devoid of ideals but replete with ambition, a pygmy in reliability but a giant in cunning, with no law ruling him, no principle governing him, save ruthless self-interest." This sums up the general feeling well. One person told me he wished there could be a dictatorship for a few years so that things would actually get done. This naturally made me laugh at the fickleness of humanity since I just left a dictatorship and all the people there apparently think a democracy will solve their problems (Egypt), and then I come to India which is the largest democracy in the world and some people would prefer a dictatorship. Bah Humbug!
I finished the complete 1700 page Sherlock Holmes Anthology, the longest book I have ever read. It was wildly entertaining. Also saw "127 hours" with James Franco, good music, beautiful scenery
and a very compelling story. Well worth the dollar I paid to see it.
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