Many people do not know it, but India is one of the world's oldest civilisations. It has been the birthplace of many fundamentals recognised by today's society, in science and in the arts. After traveling tirelessly around India and immersing myself in its flavours and traditions, I wanted to bear witness to its incredibly rich cultural and spiritual heritage. If this website sparks a desire to pack your bags and set off for an Indian adventure, it will have achieved its purpose. Have a good trip around the website and pleasant wanderings in the sacred land of Bharat!
India has an unrivalled heritage influenced by a history that is several millennia old; the palaces are part of this cultural wealth. The palaces of Rajasthan (North West India), with their idyllic romantic setting, are the most famous; there are, however, several other ‘palatial treasures’ scattered here and there throughout the Indian continent … Here is my personal selection …
Kartighai or Kartikai Deepam is a Hindu festival of lights that is mainly celebrated in Tamil Nadu, South India. It falls at the full moon (purnami) between mid-November and mid-December –the month of Kartikai in the Tamil calendar, when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Kritika, the Pleiades.
In Tamil Nadu, the nine-day Navaratri festival honoring the Shakti or universal primordial force, is celebrated in a unique way by venerating successively three goddesses: Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati; three days are dedicated to each of them. This festival punctuated by precise rituals symbolically ends with the victory of light over darkness called Vijayadashami.
In Sanskrit, Nava means ‘nine’ and Ratri ‘night’, the festival is thus celebrated for 9 nights and 1 day, the tenth day being that of Vijayadashami.
The first three nights of Navaratri are dedicated to Durga, the warrior goddess, whose mount is a lion or tiger. She symbolises the forces of destruction and the impurities of the mind.
The last three nights are dedicated to Saraswati, who holds a veena (a stringed instrument) and symbolises art and wisdom.
On the next three nights, Lakshmi is worshipped. Seated or standing on a lotus, gold coins pouring from her right hand, she symbolises spiritual prosperity and plenty.
“Durga brings out the concealed negativity and Kali destroys this negativity; Durga reveals the hidden garbage and Kali completes the inner cleansing. After three days of removing the ‘weeds’ from the field in this way, the moment comes to plant the seeds. These next three days are Lakshmi’s time to act, purifying our intentions and hearts. After ploughing for three days, it’s time to harvest what you have sown. During the last three days Saraswati manifests herself, bringing wisdom, creativity and clarity of speech.” (source: pathheart)
Originally, the warriors had their weapons blessed. Nowadays, all the tools used by people for their work are blessed. Farmers, for example, have their agricultural tools blessed, musicians their musical instruments and students their study books. The vehicles are also blessed.
The small tools and instruments are placed at the foot of the Kolu (see below), a pottu (a point) of sandalwood paste and kumkum is applied to each tool and a flame offering is made (aarti).
According to Hindu mythology, Vijayadashami is the day the goddess Durga defeated the demon god Mahishasura. Symbolically, it means you have conquered all the qualities of the previous 9 days. It is a day of good omen for starting a new job or a new business.
During festivals in Tamil Nadu and in a large part of India, the front of the temples and houses is decorated with Kolams (Rangolis in North India). They are geometric designs made on the ground with rice flour or colored chalk powder. Hindus believe that Kolams bring prosperity and good luck.
This ritual is followed by the construction of a staircase made of odd-numbered wooden shelves called ‘Kolu‘. After the Kolu has been covered with a cloth, various figurines are neatly placed.
Thus, the sacred figurines, just like the king, are supposed to grant audience to the devotees. Kolu represents scenes of Hindu mythology as well as scenes of everyday life.
Traditionally, the most important figurines in a Kolu are the ‘Marapaachi’ ie those carved in the wood. Among them, the wooden figurines of married couple called ‘Marapacchi Bommai’ are the most appreciated; they are decorated with new clothes every year and passed from generation to generation to the bride of the family.
On the first day of Navaratri, nine kinds of seeds called Navadaniyam are planted in a planter or a clay pot: Koodumai (wheat), Nel (rice), Thuvaram (pea), Payaru (green soybean), Kadalai (Bengal bean) , Avarai (peas), Yel (sesame), Ulundhu (black soy), Kel (chickpea).
Nine kumbams (traditional brass pots) with coconuts on the top are also placed in the planter. On the last day of Navaratri, these nine pots are poured on the statue of the Divine Mother. It is said that the seven sacred rivers of India* are then in these kumbams and give the statue a divine vibration.
* Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu et Kaveri
Abhishekam is a Sanskrit term for an activity of devotion, which consists of pouring libations on the statue of the deity, punctuated by the sound of the mantras.
Traditionally, the offerings to the Divine Mother include milk, yoghurt, ghee (clarified butter), honey, panchamritam (a blend of five sweet ingredients), kumkum and rose water.
The statue is also washed with lime and vibhuti (scented ash), she is dried and ‘pottu’ (dots) of sandalwood paste and Kumkum are applied. The statue is then dressed in beautiful clothes and decorated with garlands of fragrant flowers.
Here is what Swami Premananda, a holy man of Tamil Nadu, says about the Abishekam: ““We give names to describe God. We call it God, Lakshmi, Muruga and so on but we cannot see that great energy, the Divine. You do an abhishekam and wash the statue of the Divine Mother in the Ashram. You give the statue a name and put it in a particular place. But you are not doing abhishekam to the divine shakti – only to the statue. Where is the divine shakti? That shakti is inside you. You do the pooja to the shakti outside but you have to come to the stage where you do the pooja to the shakti, the divine energy, within you. You are doing the ‘outside’ pooja. Now you must do the ‘inside’ pooja. The first stage is doing the pooja to the deity, the second stage is doing the pooja inside yourself.”
Shakti means ‘power’ or ‘energy’. It is a fundamental concept in Hinduism, which is often associated with the feminine principal and personified by Devi, Hinduism’s primordial goddess. The Shakti is venerated all over India and devotion culminates during the 9-day festival of Navaratri.
Jainism derives from the Sanskrit verb ‘ji’, meaning ‘to conquer’. This refers to the battle that Jain ascetics must fight against material temptations. It is a religion that probably appeared around the 5th century BC. Its origins remain unclear, Jainism has no known founder but it was taught by enlighted teachers called ‘Tirthankaras’ (bridge-builders). There are 720 of them, but only the last 24 are venerated. Jain temples and Tirth (pilgrimage sites) are present throughout all India and they are distinguished by their refined architecture where the Tirthankaras are represented by naked statues, either standing or sitting in the lotus posture.
Buddhism has more than 300 million followers around the world, which makes it the fourth religion (or philosophy) after Christianism, Islam and Hinduism. The history of Buddhism begins around the 5th century BC when Siddharta Gautama, prince of the kingdom of Shakya, received a spiritual awakening under a ficus tree. Siddharta Gautama then became the ‘Buddha Samyaksam’ or ‘the One who is fully enlightened.’ Until his nirvana, Buddha visited several cities in the north of India spreading his message from the middle way.
In a pious country like India, the pilgrimage is one of the pillars of the faith.There are tens of thousands of pilgrimage centres in India but some of them are the most sacred and every believer makes at least one of the subcontinent’s major pilgrimages in his or her lifetime.