Religion in India is different than in the United States. In India, religion is alive and gets respect. A staggering array of practices from earlier times mingle with modernity.
In the past months, I interviewed men and women in India with a wide range of religious viewpoints. In addition to the Hindu spectrum, perspectives include Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Jains as well as academic and agnostic.
FYI: 80% of Indians are Hindus. Some 14% are Muslim and the remainder are Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and others. (Although India is in many ways a model for pluralism, it must be noted that despite neighborhoods where Hindus and Muslims live side by side in peace, there are tensions between Hindus and Muslims because of current Islamic terrorism and the history of Muslim conquest and rule.)
My first interview was with Vipin Bhardwaj, a prominent Brahmin priest at the Delhi Kalkaji Temple. For at least a thousand years, his family has cared for this temple of Kali, a strong female deity in Hinduism. He performs temple rituals and handles administrative responsibilities.
However, Mr. Bhardwaj also works in India’s tourism industry which contributes some 7% of India’s annual GDP, almost as much as India’s IT industry. Mr. Bhardwaj has been President of the Guides of India and is now President of the Guides of Delhi. He advocates tourist’s interests and streamlining travel-related systems.
Kali can be a fearsome deity, destroying evil. The legend of the Kalkaji Temple site is that, in the distant past, evil giants were harassing the gods. Through Parvati, the wife of Shiva, Kali appeared and slaughtered the giants. If in trouble, even the gods call on Kali. She is associated with several Hindu goddesses in addition to Parvati. These include Devi, Durga, Shakti, and others.
Kali can personify our worst fears and the peace that comes from overcoming them. She can be worshipped as the goddess of power and empowerment; the destroyer of evil and ego; a consort of Shiva; the Divine Mother; the Mother of the Universe; or as Absolute Reality. The network of associations among Hindu goddesses demonstrates pluralism in Indian.
Mr. Bhardwaj notes that a major cause of India’s pluralism is the fact that Hinduism has no single founder. Over millennia, subcultures and kingdoms were unified into one civilization and their gods and goddesses combined into the Hindu pantheon.
As Indian thinkers explored an infinite number of religious ideas and as Hinduism became more sophisticated, many Hindus came to see their different gods and goddesses as channels to the one Absolute Reality, Brahman.
VIPIN BHARDWAJ, BRAHMIN PRIEST
Vipin is smart and fun, a vibrant personality. But I would never underestimate his strength.
During his month of Temple service, he performs extensive pujas (rituals) for the goddess and tens of thousands of devotees. He shares his duties with other priests in his extended Brahmin family.
During his month he also supervises a complex operation involving administrative duties and oversight of the large Temple grounds.
His spiritual path is Karma Yoga, work or action for the good of all, without attachment to outcome, reward, or fame. Although trained in the other Yoga paths, his personal choice is the discipline of Karma Yoga. He finds it suites his temperament. Karma Yoga requires close attention to the thoughts and motivations underlying one’s actions and acknowledgement
of one’s natural selfishness and ego. Mr. Bhardwaj focuses on this path whether he works in the Temple and or in society.
PRESIDENT OF THE GUIDE ASSOCIATION OF DELHI
As President of Delhi’s Guide Association, Mr. Bhardwaj is politically active and deals with many aspects of
tourism (for example: the hotel and transportation industries, tourist attractions, travel agencies, tourist problems, and individual guides). He works for cooperation but also for regulation and legislation. Perhaps his most ambitious effort is his battle to reduce corruption in the tourist industry.
Dear reader, this translates directly into your interests. If the legislation that Vipin Bhardwaj has been advocating, presently before The Supreme Court of India, is enacted, it will mean that fewer guides will take you to a shop where you do not want to go and where the guide and the travel agency both get a kickback from your purchases.
KARMA YOGA AND THE BHAGAVAD GITA
Mr. Bhardwaj relates his work directly to The Bhagavad Gita, the great Hindu classic where Arjuna, the warrior, is counseled by Krishna to take righteous action and fight a great battle without thought of ego or outcome.
My next post will introduce the foundation of Karma Yoga, The Bhagavad Gita, the Bible of Hinduism. In the meantime, do leave a comment below. Thanks!