our tour across the country
India - magnificent cultural
treasures and bitter poverty...
The exotic sound of Indian music from a tape which gave us our Indian
friends as well as the many beautiful photos and videos we took
in India, recall the flair of the orient and convey a vivid picture
of all the fascinating and conflicting impressions we had on our
trip. Omnipresent and unforgettable are the pictures of the
and Maharaja palaces,
forts from white marble,
red sandstone and other refined material with most elaborate stonemason
works and inlays of semiprecious stone and one feels, nothing will
ever surpass the beauty of this amazing cultural heritage. Above
all the legendary Taj Mahal
is an overwhelming sight and exceeds all you ever can imagine. It's
fascination arises from the awareness, that it is a creation of
love just as from its beauty, which lies in the boldness of its
inception, the faultless architecture, the magnificence of the structure
and the sense of proportion in all its components. The layout is
superb, the setting on the banks of river Jamuna, amidst beautiful
lawns and gardens, and the construction in pure white marble are
incomparable. The Taj is as beautiful during daytime as it is in
the moon light. It is indeed the most magnificent monument and memorial
of love which mankind ever has seen!
marvelous Mogul- and Maharaja palaces, mosques and temples are the
one side and the real reason to visit India, however the real life
presents a very different picture from what the normal European
ever can imagine. Inseparable from the magnificent cultural treasures
through our minds and dreams go the pictures of the unbelievable
and unimaginable poverty of so many people right around us everywhere
and all day long. All our lives we'll never forget those terrible
sights. It is a very different thing to watch the misery on TV than
to experience it in person. We did not know what it means to be
faced with living conditions of the so-called "third world". Beggars,
misery and bitter poverty wherever you go. We gave alms to handicapped
people and pleased children with sweets, balloons and bananas ...
however of course the single people can't help it.
is a very wide diversity of economic status and education in Indian
society. Just recall, that about 50% of the Indian people are illiterates
while Indian computer scientists are appreciated specialists in
the sophisticated Western countries! By the side of palatial residences
one can see the crowded slums where people live in sub human conditions.
In the cities imported cars move side by side with rickshaws. Like
in economic conditions there is also a very wide variety in customs,
languages and religions in this amazing country.
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the great diversity India is one Nation with an amazing potential.
However it will take a long time and need more international support
to create dignified living conditions for all people in this vast
Hinduism - religion is way of life
In India religion is way of life. It is an integral part of the
entire Indian culture and permeates every aspect of life. Hinduism
is the dominant faith, practiced by over 80% of the population.
But India is a secular state. People of many religions freely live
here. Hindu Religion is the most peaceful religion I know. That's
why Hinduism can be passed only by birth and thus there are no missionaries
who try to convert people to this religion.
Hindu religious thought is based on the "Vedas". In fact the
name of the religion truly is "Vaidic" religion and not "Hindu"
religion. The name Hindu came to be attached because the people
practicing it were living on the banks of river Sindhu then. The
"Vedas" were written down in Sanskrit about 3000 years ago and give
a detailed description of customs and belief of the "Aryas" who
settled India in those days. They are considered to be one of the
earliest literary works of mankind. For Hinduism the "Vedas" are
the scriptures incorporating the science of living as revealed to
the sages in the state of deep meditation .
The Hindu believes, that each being has an immortal soul, which
will migrate to another body after death. Rebirth (reincarnation)
can happen in form of any creature. That's why faithful Hindus are
strict vegetarians. The Hindu understands his present state - sickness
and misery as well as health and prosperity - as a deserved consequence
of the good or bad deeds in his previous life. Thus he would not
envy someone his fortune or complain about his bad luck . A handicapped
Hindu said: "I don't know what I have done in my previous life but
I have to suffer for it now". This philosophy of Karma should encourage
him to be virtuous.
The visit with our Indian friend and our observations in the
different temples and especially at the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi
(Benares) gave us deep insides in the spiritual world of Hinduism
and lead us to a better understanding of this belief. It is unimaginable
how strongly Hinduism determines people's life with all the rites
as for example daily worshipping different deities at the domestic
altar. The domestic altar is a "must" in each home but as well in
public establishments like shops, restaurants etc. Such an altar
mostly consists of a board on which are placed small statues of
the different deities, decorated with flowers, an oil lamp and religious
One hardly can get a true picture of Hinduism without having been
to Varanasi (Benares),
which is the most important place of pilgrimage for Hindus. Countless
temples and places of cult give the place an unchangeable face.
Each Hindu at least once in his life should go to Varanasi to take
a holy bath in "Mother Ganges" and to pray to Lord Shiva, the creator
of universe (see picture above). This bath is a spiritual act with
special rites. It will purify his soul from sins and is an important
step on the way to his ultimate goal - to enter the Nirvana, which
means the salvation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and
ultimately to be one with the almighty God, the creator. Varanasi
is also a favorite place to die, as Hindus believe, that one who
dies at Varanasi gains salvation automatically, such is the greatness
of this place! There are ritual cremations on pyres (for affluent
people from Sandle wood) and in crematoria each night. All Hindus
desire, that no matter where they die, at least their ashes will
be merged in the sacred waters of Mother Ganga, who in Hindu's belief
in her immense love for her children will bring salvation from the
trauma of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth
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Most impressive and charming is the colorful traditional clothing
of all the women, especially in the country Rajasthan. They wear
their saris each day, even while working in the field (see chapter
"experiences in the country" and
The sari is a 6 m long and 2 m broad scarf and sure it demands
some skill to dress oneself with it. It is available in different
materials (cotton, synthetic, silk...) accordingly to the intended
purpose. For festive occasions there are precious, elaborate, handmade
saris from pure. finest silk with golden threads in marvelous designs.
The Indian women have an amazing sense for tasteful clothing and
pay attention that all the accessories like bangles and the point
on the forehead match in color with the sari. The festive saris
are incredible beautiful and the women make a charming sight! Such
valuable handmade pieces are very expensive in relation to an average
income in India. However men spend much money to dress their wives
and sisters accordingly to their social position.
The traditional clothing of men consists of long wide shirts and
trousers from different materials, beginning with simple cotton
up to fine pure silk, according to the occasion. In Rajasthan some
men by tradition wear a great looking twisted mustache and sometimes
a turban. However, men dressed like on the picture are seldom. To
see a festive dressed family see picture under the chapter "Diwali".
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Diwali, the happiest festival in Hinduism
If you ever go to India you should do it around Dusherba/Diwali
in October. We had the unique fortune to share Diwali with our Indian
friends and owe to them the happiest days of our trip as well as
unforgettable beautiful experiences. Diwali is the festival of lights,
celebrated all overIndia, to commemorate the victory of Lord Rama
over demon King Ravana. The festival denotes, that truth always
triumphes over the evil. This is the happiest festival of Hindu
calendar. At night countless oil lamps light Rama the way home from
his period of exile. Today the festival is also dedicated to Lakshmi
and to Kali in Calcutta. The picture shows the family of our friend's
son on Diwali in festive traditional clothing eating sweets.
All in all the festival lasts for five
On the first day The houses
are thoroughly cleaned and the door steps are decorated with intricate
rangolis [chalk design].
Day two is dedicated to Krishna's
victory over Narakasur, a legendary tyrant, in South India on this
day, a pre dawn bath is followed by donning of new clothes. By custom
you have to take a pre dawn bath because it is said, that angels,
Gods etc. roam on earth in the pre sunrise time.
Day three is spent in worshipping
goddess Lakhsmi, the goddess of fortune. Traditionally this is the
beginning of new financial year for the companies.
Day four commemorates the
visit of the friendly demon bali whom Lord Vishnu put in his place.
On day five men visit their
sisters to have a tika put on their head (tika is an application
of red vermilion on the forehead. Hindus apply it).
Exchanging sweets has become a part of tradition as well as lighting
of oil lamps. Diwali marks also the beginning of the New Year in
North India, which is welcomed with crackers and street fireworks
like everywhere in the world.
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Indian traffic - an unimaginable experience...
Actual the travel agent and my Indian pen pals warned against
the long rides by car through the country - they would be too stressing
and tiring but they were next to the sights and the place of pilgrimage,
Varanasi (Benares), the most interesting and informative part of
this trip. They gave us unique experiences and unforgettable impressions
of Indian life, living conditions and culture.
The Indian traffic is the most incredible experience you can have
as a European road user. No matter if you are in an old city or
ride through the country you share the road with camel carts, hand
pulled fruit carts, thousands of bicycles, hundreds of rikshas as
well as with free living pigs, cows, dogs and sheep. In this way
the speed limits itself in the towns of 10-15 km/h and on the roads
outside of about 45 km/h..... The picture shows a view from the
rear window of our car of the traffic in Varanasi. A motorbike is
used for as many as 4 people as we watched and so it goes for example
for a family: behind the driver (father) a child and at the end
of the seat sitting across the mother, dressed with her sari holding
a child on her lap.
Except for the younger districts of the big cities we didn't
see any traffic signs like for right of way. The cars as a whole
have no outside rear-view mirror and usually one does not use blinkers.
There is only one simple rule: you have to watch the traffic in
front and to show with your hand if you want to turn off to another
direction - the drivers behind you will realize this and be careful...
The most important part of the car is the horn - how else could
the driver in front know, that you intend to pass and how else could
you push him or get him to make way for you?
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Experiences in the country
On our long way through the country by plain, train and more than
1000 km by car, we contacted many people and found them very friendly,
no matter where we stayed. English is understood almost everywhere
and especially the children and youngsters liked a small talk. Mainly
they wanted to know, where we came from and if we liked India and
were happy to get a confirmation.
The villages are usually cleaner than the old districts of the
cities and we were pleasantly surprised to see, that people
in the country
were amazingly well dressed. With their colorful traditional clothing
the woman decorate like flowers the countryside (see chapter "traditional
clothing"). The picture shows girls and woman cutting the lawn in
the temple garden of Sarnath (near Varanasi). It is the very normal
way to do this work - no lawn mower! It gives them the chance to
earn some Rupies.
The more we penetrated into the interior the more we asked ourselves
in which age we were stepping back. People live like centuries ago
and time seems to stand still there. The small houses often are
made from loam with thatched roofs and small openings for the windows.
The equipment is accordingly poor and mainly consists of a kind
of handmade camp beds from wood and hemp. Often there is no water
and no electricity. So the woman fetch water from a well and carry
it in globular vessels, so-called "matkas", from clay or brass on
their heads to their homes as they carry
everything on their heads. If you watch them as they walk in their
beautiful saris they truly have a kingly appearance (see chapter
about traditional clothing). We have the deepest respect for those
people, who despite of their poverty keep their self-respect and
sense for beauty. However, beggars are everywhere...
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Most interesting for us was a stop
at the "Persian wheel", an irrigation system which is famous in
north India. At the wheel is fixed a long chain with cans, which
scoop the water out of the well into a duct . It works with ox power.
Castes, an elementary part of Hindu social structure
A special social feature in Hinduism is the classification of
people through a system of castes, which was already described about
3000 years ago in the "Vedas" (see chapter about Hinduism). Basically
the castes were assigned accordingly to one's occupation. Through
passage of time however, the affiliation to a caste began to be
irrevocably decided by one's birth. The castes as an elementary
part of Hindu social structure control the living together among
people and in this way their entire lives.
The main castes and their original assignments in Hindu society
1. Brahmans (priest)
Hindu priests don't preach in the
temples like one knows it from Christian churches but have to enlighten
the fellow beings and perform religious functions. They are considered
the Gurus or teachers and are respected by all. Brahmins do not
aim at riches. Theirs is a life of simplicity ,reflecting the principles
of Hindu religion.
Warriors are the nobility.
They are supposed to protect the subjects from enemies and to administer
3. Peasants, merchants
4. Workman, Servants
Amongst these castes there are many sub castes, based on more
finer division of the duties. Thus in the servants caste, those
who did the dirty work came to be "untouchables" though the religion
does not deprecate them only because of their low occupation. They
don't belong to any caste and form the lowest stratum of the society.
In the past they were absolutely without rights and had to suffer
the hardest fate. Many social workers fought for their justice including
Mahatma Gandhi, who called them "children of God" and tried to integrate
them into the society. However only under the reign of Nehru the
discrimination was abrogated by law, but this has not necessarily
changed the traditional opinion among the people and thus most of
them live under sub human conditions.
In the Modern society the social system has undergone considerable
changes and the name of the caste not in the least has anything
to do with the professional development of the people. Thus our
driver and the rickshaw driver proudly pointed out to us, that they
would belong to the caste of the warriors, which is to make out
by the word "singh" as a part of their name. Even if the castes
were officially abolished by the Indian republic many years ago
they form the Indian society still today, at least on the personal
side. Sure this system will survive still some further generations
as for the Hindu it is a question of the ritual purity and now as
ever parents choose for their marriageable children a partner only
within their caste (see chapter