Hinduism

Bollywood movie 'Padmaavat' draws mixed coverage on Hindu-Muslim themes

Bollywood movie 'Padmaavat' draws mixed coverage on Hindu-Muslim themes

About 11 years ago, I was in Rajasthan, India, to research some stories for the Washington Times when I decided to take off a morning and visit one of the stupendous hill forts just north of the “pink city” of Jaipur, so named because of its stunning rose-hued buildings. We went to two of them, but it was the 17th century Amer –- or Amber -– Fort that caught my attention for its open air balconies, latticed stonework and gardens.

It was either there or in a similar palace that I heard of jauhar, a form of mass suicide by royal women and their retinues –- to escape abuse and rape -- should their menfolk fail in battle. A guide showed me bloody handprints on the wall from several of these women, left there before they went to die.

A new epic Bollywood film, which ends when the main female lead commits jauhar, is now out. If you wish to understand the Hindu-Muslim enmities that persist to this day in the Indian subcontinent, read up on “Padmaavat” and the mayhem among India’s Hindus before its recent release. According to the Associated Press:

NEW DELHI (AP) — There was anger about a rumored romance between a Hindu queen and a Muslim invader. There were death threats. There were buses burned and grandstanding politicians.
But when the Indian film “Padmaavat” was finally released on Thursday (Jan. 25) amid heavy security and breathless TV coverage, Bollywood’s latest over-the-top offering turned out to be just that: an opulent period drama with multiple songs and dances and a thin storyline and not the slightest hint of the rumored relationship…
The film is based on a 16th-century epic Sufi poem, “Padmavat,” in which a brave and beautiful Rajput queen chose to immolate herself in a ceremonial fire rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi, Allaudin Khilji.
Over centuries of retelling, the epic has come to be seen as history, despite little evidence. The main character of Queen Padmini has become an object of veneration for many Rajputs, the clans of former warriors and kings from the western state of Rajasthan.

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Bodies trapped on Mt. Everest: The New York Times gets the Hindu details in this tragedy

Bodies trapped on Mt. Everest: The New York Times gets the Hindu details in this tragedy

If, like me, you have read journalist Jon Krakauer's classic book "Into Thin Air" more times than you'd like to admit, and you own the IMAX film "Everest," then the New York Times has a story for you.

This is one of those multi-media deep-dives that has to be seen, and read, to be believed.

Seen? Yes, the images and videos from Mt. Everest are stunning. This includes final looks at experiences in the lives of climbers who died on the mountain and whose stories are at the heart of reporter John Branch's epic "Deliverance From 27,000 Feet."

This is an amazing, multi-media mini-book. But why write about it at GetReligion? As several readers noted, in emails, this is not a religion story. However, this report on how three West Bengali climbers died on the mountain -- and the amazing efforts to retrieve their bodies from the "dead zone" high on Everest -- is in large part driven by details about their Hindu faith. And it's crucial that these climbers were not wealthy people clicking one more item on bucket lists. They were middle-class people whose families made great sacrifices to back their climbs, and then to recover their bodies -- for reasons both spiritual and practical.

If you connect the dots between several passages, you will understand the big themes woven into this must-read feature. Let's focus on Goutam Ghosh, a 50-year-old police officer. As the story notes, the "last time anyone saw him alive was on the evening of May 21, 2016." This passage is long, but essential:

At the time of the tragedy, the climbing season for Everest was almost over. On their way to the summit over the next two nights, the last two dozen of the year’s climbers had come upon Ghosh’s rigid corpse on a steep section of rock and ice.
To get around him, climbers and their guides, sucking oxygen through masks and double-clipped to a rope for safety, stripped off their puffy mittens. They untethered the clips one at a time, stepped over and reached around Ghosh’s body, and clipped themselves to the rope above him.
Some numbly treated the body as an obstacle. ... One climber stepped on the dead man and apologized profusely. Another saw the body and nearly turned around, spooked by the thought of his own worried family back home. Another paused on his descent to hold a one-sided conversation with the corpse stretched across the route.
Who are you? Who left you here? And is anyone coming to take you home?

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Hindu and Hawaiian: The New Yorker sings praises of up-and-coming Congresswoman

Hindu and Hawaiian: The New Yorker sings praises of up-and-coming Congresswoman

You can always tell when the New Yorker team meets a religious person they deem to be either progressive-cool, such as former NYPD Muslim cop Bobby Hadid; or a refugee from weird Christian movements (Westboro Church’s Megan Phelps Roper). There are some exceptions, such as their sympathetic treatment of Rod Dreher’s vision of the Benedict Option.

But then there was their anemic coverage of Mike Pence’s faith and their jaundiced view of religious liberty. And then there's their no-holds-barred hostility-verging-on-incoherent treatments such as this review of the faith-based film "Let There Be Light." 

What runs in the magazine is light years away from classic pieces like Peter J. Boyer’s Sept. 15, 2003, piece on Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.” (Boyer now writes for The Weekly Standard).

So when I saw their latest piece on a Hawaiian politician who’s the first Hindu in Congress, I figured here’s another gushy article in the here’s-a-religious-person-who-isn’t- one-of-those-medieval-conservative-folks vein. As this piece in People magazine on her 2015 Vedic wedding illustrates, Gabbard is a colorful politician who's no stick-in-the-mud.

What saves this profile is how the writer actually did some work on the odd-ish guru that Tulsi Gabbard calls her mentor. First, the intro:

“(Gabbard) is thirty-six, and has a knack for projecting both youthful joy and grownup gravitas. Her political profile is similarly hybrid. She is a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter with equally fervent bipartisan tendencies—known, roughly equally, for her concern for the treatment of veterans and her opposition to U.S. intervention abroad. She is also a vegetarian and a practicing Hindu—the first Hindu ever elected to Congress—as well as a lifelong surfer and an accomplished athlete.
On Capitol Hill, she is often regarded as a glamorous anomaly: a Hawaiian action figure, fabulously out of place among her besuited colleagues. “She’s almost straight from central casting, if you need a heroine,” Van Jones, the progressive activist, says.

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Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

How does potentially good journalism go bad? Perhaps it's when reporters fail to find (and editors fail to insist upon) more than one side to a story. Let's call it a context deficit disorder.

Today's nominee is MarketWatch.com, part of the Dow Jones media group, which no longer includes The Wall Street Journal, it should be noted. (That daily is now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

MarketWatch readers are promised an explanation of "Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology." Instead, we're treated to what essentially is a puff-piece for some firms in the metaphysical realm without much, yes, context about whether this really is a thing.

Let's start with the introductory paragraphs. This is long, but essential:

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”
“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry -- which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services -- grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Can you say non-sequitur, gentle reader?

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Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

In the beginning, it appeared to be merely a story about quasi-abandoned horses in northeastern India and for the most part, that’s what “In the Kingdom of Dying Ponies” was a recent offering of Foreign Policy Review.

Until I began realizing the scene was set in Manipur, that neglected corner of India that tourists rarely get to. Northeastern India is the one part of the country that is either majority Christian or has equal parts Hindu and Christian, which is the case with Manipur.

A bit of history: It was mainly the Baptists who swept through the area converting folks in the late 19th century, plus establishing schools, hospitals and translating the Bible into their language. That area of India has seen its Muslim population grow due to immigration from nearby Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

So … in a piece about society in Manipur, would you expect to see at least a little bit about the religious demographics happening there?

Two paragraphs into the piece:

Polo is the archetypal sport of snobs. But in Manipur, where the British learned of the game before introducing it to the world -- or at least the aristocracy -- polo is still a commoner’s game. And the exalted status of the Manipuri pony, the only breed used at the Manipur tournament, is one reason why. The indigenous semi-feral pony is a sacred figure for residents of Manipur, featuring prominently in the ritual life of the Meitei people, the area’s majority ethnic group. The ponies are treated as regal mounts, never put to labor, and trace their origin in local lore to the Pegasus-like Samadon Ayangba, the “swift first among beasts.

The Meitei, by the way, are Hindu.

But the ponies’ regal status has not stymied their slow demise. For decades, the ponies’ numbers have gradually dropped and now there are thought to be only around 500 left. In Imphal, one spots them on the streets, huddled together in pitiful herds, red-eyed, skinny, and surrounded by honking traffic. At night, they forage through garbage piles alongside cows and mongrels. Many of them seem hardly in a condition to be used in sport, which is just as well, because there are far fewer places in Manipur to play polo than there once were. “People in Manipur have forgotten the legacy of the pony,” lamented one local musician.
The ponies’ sorry state is a symbol, and result, of Manipur’s own downward trajectory. For centuries a prosperous, independent kingdom, it is today a pariah on India’s fringes. If it is ever in the national conversation, it is over its separatist unrest, heavy militarization, endemic corruption and overall dysfunction. But for residents of the New Jersey-sized state, the biggest shift isn’t just the violence and disorder -- it’s the area’s marginalization, and the way it has sapped the city’s pride, autonomy, and political will.

The author only sees political reasons behind the region’s poverty of spirit. Something is missing.

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Post-Olympics: The Atlantic sees psychological, emotional issues, but not spiritual ones

Post-Olympics: The Atlantic sees psychological, emotional issues, but not spiritual ones

The Atlantic meant well. Its post-Olympics feature examines the depression that athletes often suffer after such sports events, as they strive to cope with their futures and stress linked to big wins and big defeats.

It's a literate, sympathetic piece, gently but incisively examining the emotional crash; the reluctance to ask for help; how intensely athletes identify with their achievements; how  much they fear losing themselves by losing in competition.

Almost every angle is covered, it seems, but -- you knew this was coming -- the spiritual one. The story leaves Mount Olympus haunted with religious "ghosts."

This is the kind of eloquent passage that makes me loathe to write off the article totally:

Take the Michigan-born swimmer Allison Schmitt. After winning five medals, three of them gold, and setting a world record in the 2012 London Games, Schmitt sank into a hole from which she couldn’t emerge. She had no idea why she felt depressed -- especially considering her undeniable success -- but realized she needed counseling. The decision didn’t come easily; depression is still a dirty word in the locker room.
"I didn’t want to show my weakness," she said in an interview with Channel 4 in Detroit. "I didn’t want to ask for help, but in this situation I found out … that I couldn’t keep fighting it by myself. … There’s this thing that they call post-Olympic blues and I think I had a little bit of that and I kept isolating myself and isolating myself."

The Atlantic also quotes sports psychologist Scott Goldman noting that the Olympics amount to a "hundred-mile-per-hour ride" that "comes to a screeching halt." He says the sudden end leaves athletes "just physiologically depleted, as well as psychologically."

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A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

Ah, you tame Americans, with your talk about "idols" and "hero worship."  Until you know something of the frenzy around Indian movie star Rajinikanth, you ain't seen nothin'.

Stories abound about the action hero, who has just turned out his first film in two years. But few western news media have captured the fevered fervor like the Washington PostAnd it does so right from the start, with the headline: "India’s biggest action-movie star isn’t just an actor. ‘He is god.’ "

The religion ghosts are dancing right out in the open, in this report. Why didn't the Post team ask specific questions about that? We will return to that subject.

Meanwhile, one fan speaks of an "unmatchable energy" in a theater during a showing. Another compares viewing a Rajinikanth film with seeing his wife's baby for the first time. And in India, some companies are treating the release of one of his films like a religious holiday:

In Chennai, some companies gave employees the day off Friday so they could go see "Kabali," Rajinikanth’s first film in two years. Others had booked entire cinemas for their staff. Air Asia flew 180 fans to the city for the first-day showing in a plane ­custom-painted with the star’s likeness. One county was giving away free tickets to people who pledged to install an indoor ­toilet, taking advantage of the movie’s popularity to address the issue of widespread public defecation.
"Rajinikanth is not a human being. He is not an actor. He is [a] god," said S. Thanu, the producer of "Kabali."

And no, the producer isn’t the only one who talks like that.

Indiaglitz calls him a "demigod." 

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Whose yoga is it? Journalists, proceed with care because the details matter

Whose yoga is it? Journalists, proceed with care because the details matter

One of my most uncomfortable experiences as a journalist was a story I did in 1995 to mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. I worked in Washington for Religion News Service at the time, and my task was to come up with a story with national appeal.

I decided to check in with Native Americans to learn what the day meant to them as members of a culture that non-Indians such as myself naively believed still held closely to traditional spiritual beliefs about humanity's place in a holistic world order. (In truth, there were dozens of distinct indigenous cultures spread across the Americas prior to European colonization.)

I'd connect environmentalism with indigenous beliefs for mainstream newspaper readers (RNS's main client base at that time). It was, I thought, a story sure to get widespread national play.

So I started making calls, beginning with the editor of Indian Country News, then the leading national publication covering Native American interests.

Did I get a tongue lashing.

What a silly premise, he told me. Poverty-stricken contemporary Native Americans cared more about day-to-day survival than Earth Day. Nor did he wish to indulge some white reporter's attempt to link contemporary environmental concerns with some generalized, romanticized and fantasized indigenous spiritual trope.

You took our land and now you're after our beliefs! I was, he bitterly insisted, committing cultural appropriation.

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Memories of Mother Teresa and a religious-freedom story worth watching in India

Memories of Mother Teresa and a religious-freedom story worth watching in India

One of the highlights of my journalism career came in 1982 in Bombay (now Mumbai) where I had the opportunity to conduct a news conference for Mother Teresa, the late Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun and current candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood. The occasion was a conference staged by the International Transpersonal Association. My wife, Ruth, and I handled the press and Mother Teresa was one of the star presenters, hence the news conference opportunity.

Her talk and media comments were boilerplate Mother Teresa. Love the unloved, love the unwanted, love the dying; love, love, love until you think you have no more love to give -- then force yourself to love even more, for that is the way of God.

The diminutive, stoop-shouldered nun repeated some variation of that formula endlessly, in her talk and in response to every question asked at her news conference, and I, for one, was impressed. So it came of something of a shock to me years later when she famously admitted -- despite her popular image of saintly devotion to the poorest of the poor and the global public's assumption that her faith gave her the strength to persevere -- that she suffered for years from a spiritual dryness that distanced her from feeling connected to her God.

I'm sure that long ago news conference was just another day on the job for Mother Teresa. For me, though, it was a day to remember.

Mother Teresa, however, was a controversial personality, despite all the charitable work done by her and the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity.

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