India is one of the most fascinating and contradictory countries I have ever had the privilege to visit. An explosion of colour, laughter, freedom, poverty, wealth, beauty and dirtiness amassed together in a land frontier expanding 15,200 kilometres and embodying 1.2 billion people.
What was even more intriguing is their absolute, unwavering belief in the signs and symbols that they use as a guiding point for every day life.
In Western culture if you feel stuck in a negative pattern and can’t seem to move forward in any area of life, a therapist, long conversations with friends or alcohol might be some of the things you turn too. In India, they simply buy some oil for their God of Saturn and offer it up to him via one of the various statues that are dedicated to his honour throughout the country.
The Indians believe that Saturn is the planet that causes havoc with many of our lives causing major stress and upset by literally getting in the way and blocking the energy of more positive planets to come through and make our life sweet. Damn you Saturn! Their solution is to find a way to shift it. They understand that mere brutal force won’t be enough to do this so have come up with a new way; pouring OIL so the planet can simply SLIDE out of the way allowing positive energy through. Bottles of oil are sold in almost every place that hosts a statue dedicated to the God of Saturn and without fail, if some area in your life is not going right, you chuck some oil over this God. Problem solved!
Despite being an obvious class divide, jealousy is not a common characteristics of the Indian people. This they believe is thanks to seven green chillies tied to a lemon that is hung on their houses and cars; the belief is that this will ward off any ill feelings of ungratefulness and the desire to covet anything that anyone else may have.
Often babies wear black eyeliner; the reason being is that people won’t be so absorbed in their beauty and start to feel jealous of their own, maybe not so beautiful offspring, instead they will focus on the black mark!
Yes, Indian culture and their lifestyle is largely created around symbols and stories and their mission is to live as a true relflection of the revelations received by ancient saints and sages. These are translated in Sanskrit to sacred texts known as the Veda. The Veda is similar to Christians and their faith in the bible, however the Indians live, breathe and integrate the concepts and stories in their daily life.
The saree, arguably the most stunning ‘every day wear’ garment ever invented reflects the contradictories of the place. Originally created with the symbols and colours that reflected the caste, beliefs, merits and regions of where the person came from, this unique piece of clothing has stood the test of time. Now the many ways in which the saree is worn says much about the versatility and durability of the women that wear it.
The colourful clothes adorn equally stunning women as they walk across dirt coloured roads, skin slightly blackened by the dirt, carrying baskets and holding hands with unwashed children. Raw and real whilst still wearing the ‘uniform’ that so significantly represents the pride in their country.
In the midst of these villages with the saree wearing women, men on motorbikes and cows, goats, camels and dogs lazing idyll on the side of the road, you’ll stumble across a 12th century monument with room upon room created with sublime architecture, art work, jewellery and immaculately ‘kept’ in a village where everything else isn’t. As my tour mate Lisa said, this random monument would be considered somewhat of a national treasure in Australia, but here in India it is just one of thousands; part of their history and a huge part of their national pride.
The majority of monuments and fortes were built based on the same concept, a wealthy emperor building a palace with separate, individual, lavish rooms denoting the love he had for each of his wives. The wives were selected to ensure he had at least one from each of the core religions; Christianity, Islam and Hindu. These lucky women were kept very well and looked after by concubines whose job was to keep them looking beautiful for their husband ( pleae note concubines were also available for extra curricular activities in case, God forbit, the Emperor happened to get bored with his mere 12 wives!)
This history is ladled in power, sex, patriarchy, beauty and the hierarchy of a society that still exists on some levels however, all is told from a place of idealism, almost romanticism.
Things do seem to have changed somewhat since the days of multiple wives. The true Indian belief is in one husband/one wife however, finding this person still is dependant on a few key factors: the alignment of the planets, the stars, the viewpoint of the mother and and the village elder. Interesting that in a country that is perceived to be all about the men, it is actually the older women who have the say in one of the families most important decisions.
Astrology is a guiding point in most Indians life. Not just checking out your daily horoscope but selecting your lifetime partner and even the day you will be married, is based on planetary activities and thought to have dire consequences if the wrong day or time is chosen. The family still have a big say in the suitable partner but modern day expectations are prevailing. Our wonderful guide Mahaveer spoke to us about having to renounce his own mum and dad seven years ago due to their treatment and disdain for their daughter…simply because, she was not a boy! Mahaveer took his wife (which he met via an arranged marriage) and children, left the town and started a new life. Since that time his wife, who previously had never before left her village, has gone on to complete three university degrees, has a career as a teacher and the two of them share the household and children duties separately in-between their work. One blessing in my life was having the pleasure to meet and spend time in the company of this legendary man!
Although a decade ago divorce rates were remarkably low for a population of this scale, it is becoming increasingly prevalent due to the inception of Bollywood and Social Media. The Indian way of acceptance is becoming tarnished by having an in-roads into a bigger life with more choice and possibility.
This is a concern, as one of the greatest characteristics of the people and the fabric of their culture is based around acceptance. One of the strongest observations of my time here is in the very strong collective and togetherness of the people. Their willingness to stop and help each other. Their collective belief in the stories; the getting on with life without judgement and this willingness to seem to accept whatever life they have been dealt.
This collective 'we’re in it together' attitude extends thousands of years. A tragic example relayed in the story of Chittorgarh Fort in the town of Chittorgarh where thousands of men were sent to war. Knowing they would never return and not wanting to be raped or tortured by any other man, 16,000 women created a fire in the forte and holding hands with each other and their children jumped to their deaths in unison. This happened on two other occasions until being made illegal. Thousands upon thousands of women and children’s lives being surrendered voluntarily in unity, together. So tragically sad but in some strange way empowering beautiful.
Mahaveer explained that the word ‘racism’ doesn’t exist over here because they believe in unity. This is evident in many of the monument carvings which feature the symbols of the four main religions interlocking together. In a country of 1.2 billion people and so many religions and sub religions, how is it actually possible to have unity?
The Indian people seem to want to please but not in an aggressive manner as I had expected. I was told multiple times before I left not to go anywhere alone and to expect to be constantly hassled. Today Sophia and I spent four hours alone wandering the streets of New Delhi. Yes, we were hassled but it was purely from a place of curiosity “where you from?”, a desperate need to communicate, be kind and show us where to go “Look I have a map!” and of course to ensure we got the best deal “my friend has shop over there!” However, we did not feel unsafe and more than anything just felt they so wanted to help us.
Even a few days ago walking into a village where the residents are unaccustomed to white people, although they looked and the occasional man nearly fell off his motorbike, the overall feeling of calmness and respect remained the same. Mahaveer also explained that their culture will do everything they can to avoid violence, he says “Someone could come in to my home and steal my possessions and I would just let him take them. There would be no violence”
So how is it that in a country with so much poverty and class divide there is not more crime and aggression? At the heart of their being the Indians believe in Karma. Karma is the north point, the core belief concept that all they do in this life will accumulate to create the result of their next reincarnation (I refrained very hard from comparing this to The Good Place!).
I often wander if you pro rated the population of India and Australia, how we would fair in terms of violence and crime?
Everything about this country is fascinating and many of their wonderful stories make us smile, giggle and maybe even want to roll our eyes. However, believing that the stars can choose your partner for life, a bottle of oil can push away negativity and seven chillies can help cleanse your soul; if this motivates nearly an entire population with hope and acceptance for the way things just are then who are we to argue?