India is mother to a number of cities that have been continuously inhabited since time immemorial. Examples include the famed Benares/Varanasi, Hastinapura/Indraprastha/Delhi, Pragjyothispura/Guwahati among others. Also, a number of religions originated in this land. Foremost among these is the Hinduism. From Hinduism evolved Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Interestingly, all the four religions coexist even today. Additionally, India opened its doors to exotic religions like Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Bahai’.
In the present photo essay, starting with the badge of India, the India Gate, I present to you the monuments that signify the varied religions that are characteristic of a melting pot called India.
This is indeed a perfect structural tribute to the fallen soldiers irrespective of their faith, belief, nationality and culture. This photograph is essentially included in the present essay to indicate to the travellers that some of the religious places in India is characterised by the military presence, and the travellers to these places might be required to establish their identity, purpose of visit and perhaps might even be required to submit their mobile phones to the controlling authorities. Photography, obviously, in such areas is prohibited.
Surprisingly there is a replica of the Great Wall of China within India, albeit smaller in size. This is at the Amber Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan. Although this wall does not represent any religion, I have included the photographs of this wall to symbolically indicate the absence of certain far eastern religions, viz, Taoism, Shintoism and the like in India. And in this process, I present to you the wall to drive in the point that this historical monument is indeed a big wall. Incidentally, Jaipur, the Pink City, is identified with another landmark wall – The Hawa Mahal.
Bahai’sm is said to be a religion derived from Islam. Despite this, the Bahai’s refer their places of worship as Temples. The one in Delhi is lotus shaped and is considered a structural marvel. Increasingly, Delhi is being identified with this landmark. However, the Bahai’s in India represent one religious minority. Photo 8 here.
India is not only home to Gauthama Buddha, but also provides refuge to the present Dalai Lama, the high priest of Buddhism. Therefore, we can expect India to be strewn with Buddhist monuments and monasteries throughout its length and breadth. I present here the prayer wheels/cylinders of the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Dharmasala, Himachal Pradesh. Signifying Buddhism in the present essay is also a monument in Cuttack, Odisha that commemorates the relinquishing of arms by Ashoka, the great.
Christianity in India represents a unique situation for two reasons. Firstly, a number of people and religious sects, viz, the Ahmadiyyas of Islam, believe that upon crucifixion, Jesus Christ survived, migrated to and died in Kashmir in India. The list of people who believe in this aspect includes the late sex-guru Osho Rajneesh and Holger Kersten, author of a popular book on this controversial aspect of Christianity. Elsewhere, I authored a book review of Holger Kersten’s book, which is now in its thirteenth edition (see Contemporary Literary Review India, July 2013).
Secondly, contrary to the popular belief that Christianity arrived in India with the European explorers, like Vasco da Gama, there are tell-tale evidences to indicate that both Judaism and Christianity were present in India by AD55 at least in the Malabar region of Kerala. Therefore, we find instances of Christianity even in the remotest of the remote places in India.
Despite this, one hallmark of Christianity in India is the presence of, perhaps now extinct, art of ‘Stained Glass’ windows. This art was a common feature of Churches and other places of worship of Christians, constructed prior to 1950s. Thus, to represent Christianity for the present purpose, I proffer to you photographs from insides of the Shimla Church, and the Kasauli Church. Both these places are in Himachal Pradesh. Incidentally, since Shimla was iso-thermic with London, the then British used Shimla as their summer capital. Also, churches in India, because of their big size and captivating architecture, are considered landmarks. For example, the Shimla church is visible from the nearby hills.
Madurai Church in Madurai, Tamil Nadu is indeed a unique landmark (Photo 14 here).
Hinduism is ubiquitous in India. Therefore, numerous interesting examples of the same are found throughout the country. Hence, I present to you only the modern energetic examples of Hinduism. These include very tall statues, particularly of the monkey-god Hanuman, in remote locations and in public places. These idols seem to compete with each other in height. The Jhandewalan statue is adjacent to the fly-over in Karol Bagh, New Delhi.
En route Namgyal Monastery near McCleodganj, Himachal Pradesh, there is a mammoth Hanuman in a baba’s ashram. Photo 16 here. Yadagirigutta is one Hindu pilgrim centre that is being aggressively promoted by the Telangana state government. En route this place and outside Hyderabad we find a huge statue of Hanuman. Closer to the place where I live in Hyderabad, there is an auditorium – The Thyagaraja Gana Sabha, where a number of cultural and literary events are organized for the public. The visitors are greeted by a big Hanuman idol in the auditorium compound.
Although a minority religion, adherents of Jainism are found all over India. In fact, Jains enjoyed the patronage of many-a-king in India in the past. The present day Jains are one among the affluent communities in the modern society. Nevertheless, Jainism was founded by Mahavira. Jain temples have statues of either Mahavira or the Jaina teerthas. This is one such statue in a Jain temple adjacent to the Kangra fort, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. Ajmer, near Jaipur, although famous for the Islamic Chisti dargah, has a Jain temple. Externally Jain temples are indistinguishable from Hindu temples.
Muslims of India represent the third largest Islamic population in the World. Therefore, competing for attention as a landmark monument on par with other monuments, are the Islamic structures. The famed Mecca Masjid of Hyderabad is one such indication. This mosque is said to include in its structure the bricks or stones brought from Mecca, Saudi Arabia by the scions of the then Nizam dynasty.
Typical of Muslim architecture are the minarets and domes. This is best epitomised in the Cuttack’s Qadam-i-Rasool. Photo 22 here. A peer-baba dargah exists in the predominantly Christian and Military controlled Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh. Photo 23 here. However, to visit either the Kasauli church or the dargah one need not require any permission or permits. Whether the existence of ‘the iron Ashoka pillar that does not rust’ inside the Qutub minar complex is an example for the marauding Muslim invaders or the co-existence of Hindu-Muslim identities in India is open for debate.
Many Indian people including me believe in a bizarre superstition: when in a bad-patch in life, visit other religious places of worship until the believer tides over the perhaps temporary difficulties in life. It is with this intention I embarked on a pilgrimage of visiting as many religious shrines as possible since 2004. As per my belief, I am yet to complete the pilgrimage for the simple reason that I am yet to visit a Judaic synagogue. It is said that there are at least two synagogues in India: one in Kochi, Kerala and another in Mumbai, Maharastra. Recently, my parents visited Kochi for some conference, whence I asked them to visit the synagogue there. This photograph of Kochi’s synagogue was clicked by my parents for me. I take the liberty of including the same in this essay. And as already mentioned, Judaism has its roots in India as early as AD55.
As per the information in internet, perhaps Sikhs are one community that felt let-down by Indian independence. The Sikhs, it is believed expected a separate nation from the British on par with the Islamic Pakistan. But, the British ended up giving half of the then Sikh Kingdom, Lahore, to Pakistan and the other half, the present state of Punjab, to India. Ever since, Sikhs have been one restless community within India. Thirty years ago, in 1984, the Sikhs waged a full-fledged war against India, whence the Golden Temple complex became the battle ground.
The lake surrounding the main temple inside the Golden Temple complex is believed to have medicinal properties. The Golden Temple derives its name from the gold inlay on its walls. Hindu temples also have a lot of gold inlay, but it is typically on the outside and rarely inside the sanctum sanctorum. Incidentally, the insides of sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple are inlaid with gold.
I began this photo essay with a picture of Amar Jawan, a tribute to the fallen soldier, inside the India Gate. I found a similar structural tribute to the departed soldier in Pondicherry beach road. The photographs of Amar Jawan and the one at Pondicherry are to satiate the Atheist in you and me. Above all, let this photo essay serve as a ready-pilgrimage to the people who believe in the same superstition as I, and who for various reasons cannot physically be present at the different places of worship.
Copyright © 2015 Chetan Datta Poduri