Monday, August 15, 2011

Jai Hind - Indian Independence Day

Taken from here are some interesting facts about India that you should be aware of on Indian Independence Day:

  • India never invaded any country in her last 100000 years of history.

  • When many cultures were only nomadic forest dwellers over 5000 years ago, Indians established Harappan culture in Sindhu Valley (Indus Valley Civilization)

  • The name 'India' is derived from the River Indus, the valleys around which were the home of the early settlers. The Aryan worshippers referred to the river Indus as the Sindhu.

  • The Persian invaders converted it into Hindu. The name 'Hindustan' combines Sindhu and Hindu and thus refers to the land of the Hindus.

  • Chess was invented in India.

  • Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus are studies, which originated in India.

  • The 'Place Value System' and the 'Decimal System' were developed in India in 100 B.C.

  • The World's First Granite Temple is the Brihadeswara Temple at Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The shikhara of the temple is made from a single 80-tonne piece of granite. This magnificent temple was built in just five years, (between 1004 AD and 1009 AD) during the reign of Rajaraja Chola.

  • India is the largest democracy in the world, the 7th largest Country in the world, and one of the most ancient civilizations.

  • The game of Snakes & Ladders was created by the 13th century poet saint Gyandev. It was originally called 'Mokshapat'. The ladders in the game represented virtues and the snakes indicated vices. The game was played with cowrie shells and dices. In time, the game underwent several modifications, but its meaning remained the same, i.e. good deeds take people to heaven and evil to a cycle of re-births.

  • The world's highest cricket ground is in Chail, Himachal Pradesh. Built in 1893 after leveling a hilltop, this cricket pitch is 2444 meters above sea level.

  • India has the largest number of Post Offices in the world.

  • The largest employer in India is the Indian Railways, employing over a million people.

  • The world's first university was established in Takshila in 700 BC. More than 10,500 students from all over the world studied more than 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education.

  • Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to mankind. The Father of Medicine, Charaka, consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago.

  • India was one of the richest countries till the time of British rule in the early 17th Century. Christopher Columbus, attracted by India's wealth, had come looking for a sea route to India when he discovered America by mistake.

  • The Art of Navigation & Navigating was born in the river Sindh over 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word 'NAVGATIH'. The word navy is also derived from the Sanskrit word 'Nou'.

  • Bhaskaracharya rightly calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the Sun hundreds of years before the astronomer Smart. According to his calculation, the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun was 365.258756484 days.

  • The value of "pi" was first calculated by the Indian Mathematician Budhayana, and he explained the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem. He discovered this in the 6th century, long before the European mathematicians.

  • Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus also originated in India.Quadratic Equations were used by Sridharacharya in the 11th century. The largest numbers the Greeks and the Romans used were 106 whereas Hindus used numbers as big as 10*53 (i.e. 10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 B.C.during the Vedic period.Even today, the largest used number is Terra: 10*12(10 to the power of 12).

  • Until 1896, India was the only source of diamonds in the world
    (Source: Gemological Institute of America).

  • The Baily Bridge is the highest bridge in the world. It is located in the Ladakh valley between the Dras and Suru rivers in the Himalayan mountains. It was built by the Indian Army in August 1982.

  • Sushruta is regarded as the Father of Surgery. Over 2600 years ago Sushrata & his team conducted complicated surgeries like cataract, artificial limbs, cesareans, fractures, urinary stones, plastic surgery and brain surgeries.

  • Usage of anaesthesia was well known in ancient Indian medicine. Detailed knowledge of anatomy, embryology, digestion, metabolism,physiology, etiology, genetics and immunity is also found in many ancient Indian texts.

  • India exports software to 90 countries.

  • The four religions born in India - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, are followed by 25% of the world's population.

  • Jainism and Buddhism were founded in India in 600 B.C. and 500 B.C. respectively.

  • Islam is India's and the world's second largest religion.

  • There are 300,000 active mosques in India, more than in any other country, including the Muslim world.                                             

  • The oldest European church and synagogue in India are in the city of Cochin. They were built in 1503 and 1568 respectively.

  • Jews and Christians have lived continuously in India since 200 B.C. and 52 A.D. respectively

  • The largest religious building in the world is Angkor Wat, a Hindu Temple in Cambodia built at the end of the 11th century.

  • The Vishnu Temple in the city of Tirupathi built in the 10th century, is the world's largest religious pilgrimage destination. Larger than either Rome or Mecca, an average of 30,000 visitors donate $6 million (US) to the temple everyday.

  • Sikhism originated in the Holy city of Amritsar in Punjab. Famous for housing the Golden Temple, the city was founded in 1577.

  • Varanasi, also known as Benaras, was called "the Ancient City" when Lord Buddha visited it in 500 B.C., and is the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world today.

  • India provides safety for more than 300,000 refugees originally from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who escaped to flee religious and political persecution.

  • His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, runs his government in exile from Dharmashala in northern India.

  • Martial Arts were first created in India, and later spread to Asia by Buddhist missionaries.

  • Yoga has its origins in India and has existed for over 5,000 years.                                           

  • Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Raksha Bandhan - The Bond of Protection

    [Examples of rakhi]
    Today India celebrates Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi. Rakhi is a festival celebrated primarily by Hindus, to honor the relationship between brothers and sisters, whether biologically or symbolically. The "sister" will tie a sacred thread (rakhi) around the wrist of her "brother" to symbolize her love and prayers for his well being. In exchange, the brother must vow to protect her lifelong. Generally there is an exchange of sweets during the tying of the bracelet as well.

    In traditional ceremonies, prayers are said before and after the tying of the bracelet as well as a special meal prepared for the brother.

    There are many possible origins for this holiday, here are a few:

    Draupadi (Wife of Pandava) and Lord Krishna:
    In the fight between Lord Krishna and Shisupal, Lord Krishna's finger was found to be bleeding after he defeated Shisupal. To stop the flow of blood, Draupadi tied around a strip of fabric taken from her Sari to the wrist of Lord Krishna. In exchange, Lord Krishna vowed to protect her and promised to repay his debt. He spent the next 25 years of his life doing just that.

    Lord Vishnu and Demon Bill:
    According to this legend, the Lord Vishnu, with the extreme devotion of his devotee the demon Kang Bali, promised him to serve as guard in the Mahal. Lord Vishnu left his Vaikunth and began to live in Bali's palace. Goddess Lakshmi wanted Lord Vishnu back in her Vaikunth. She went to the King Bali disguised as a Brahmin and sought shelter, telling that her husband had gone away on long journey. On Shravan Purnima, she tied a thread on the wrist of King Bali wishing for his wellbeing. In return he granted a boon vide which Goddess asked him to send her husband back to Vaikunth.

    Lord Yama and Yamuna
    It has been found that Lord Yama and his sister Yamuna also celebrated Rakhi. Yamuna tied sacred thread on Yama's wrist. Since then, Yama promised that whosoever gets a Rakhi tied by his sister vows to protect her.

    Alexander’s wife and Porus
    A battle was fought between Alexander the Great and the King Porus. Fearing for the life of her husband, Alexander's wife approached Porus and tied a Rakhi around his wrist. In return of that, she got blessings from Porus that he will never kill Alexander. During battle when Porus lifted his hand to kill Alexander, he saw the Rakhi and refused to kill him.

    I've been told that on this day in schools many of the boys will stay home or skip class to avoid having a bracelet tied on them. Their biggest fear is having a girl they have a secret crush on present them with a bracelet, thereby dashing any chance of the two of them having any sort of romantic relationship and him instead being looked upon as her brother.

    Although I'm not Hindu, I did partake of this holiday and present my good friend Rupert (also not a Hindu) with a bracelet. Rupert's been an amazing friend to me for the past year and I'll always consider him my brother from another mother. Here's a photo of us taken in Delhi last fall. I was forturnate enough to see him  today as well and spend time with his real life sister and brother, Anna and Richard. Thanks for everything, Bhai!

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Mirror Mirror On The Wall....

    ...who's the fairest one of all?

    In the West, the focus has historically been on tanning, whether through natural sun exposure, tanning beds, or tanning sprays and creams. I spent countless days in my youth worshipping the sun in the hopes of capturing a darker, even toned complexion. I had even prayed that at some point, after spending enough time lounging in the sun, my freckles would some how unite and provide me with a darker overall look. People with that natural "sun kissed" look are often seen as healthier then those of us on the fairer side.

    In India, the opposite is true.

    My first experience with this mentality was back in January when I visited and needed to have some photos taken for identification purposes. I had some Indian friends along and we thought since we were there, it would be fun to do a little photo shoot so we could all have a souvenir of the visit. When we returned to the studio to pick up the photos I could hardly recognize anyone in them. The studio had digitally lightened their skin to the point that rather then the picture being comprised of a fair skinned westerner and three Indians, it instead looked more like a family from Woodbury. There was no differentiation in our skin tones what so ever. No one in the states would ever believe that those appearing in the photo with me were my Indian friends.

    It's estimated that Indians spent over $432 million dollars in 2009 on skin whitening products. These products are geared towards every demographic, with the industry more recently focusing on products for men. The products range anywhere from face creams to deodorant, and are available in all the major brands. Each television commercial break results in exposure to at least two commercials for products that promise to give you a more desirable appearance in the form of a lighter complexion. It's really sad to see blatant racism being propagated by the media.

    I was at first shocked by the brands offering these types of products. Nivea. Dove. Olay. Garnier. What happened to "Love the skin you're in?” At the end of the Garnier ad in India, the spokesperson (always a top Bollywood star) says "Take Care." As though not using their lightening products and instead, embracing your genetically disposed darker complexion, somehow implies one's not taking proper care of themselves. Product lines for Men, Women, and Teen fill the shelves of every grocery and convenience store on every street.

    It's most disheartening to see products such as these geared towards the teen population. Girls in India are trained at a young age through the media that if they are on the darker side, they are less desirable and may even find it harder to be matched with a husband. There is a perception that if someone is darker they are of a lower class. Fair skinned Indians are revered and admired, regardless of their actual accomplishments in life.

    I still hold the mentality that a little color is nice. What can I say; it's been ingrained in me my entire life. I imagine it's no different for the Indians who keep these product lines profit margins fat.