Magazine article New Internationalist

Mickey Mouse Hinduism

Magazine article New Internationalist

Mickey Mouse Hinduism

Article excerpt

MY thoughts, as I slipped down the Ganges past eerie, shadow-shrouded palaces under a yellow-rimmed full moon, were drifting backwards through time.

A rickety two-storey barge lit by ghostly neon lights bore down on my small canoe. Fifty young men were feverishly gyrating, hip to hip, on its roof. I stared at their ecstatic faces in disbelief. A floating disco on India's most sacred river, and in the holy city of Benares to boot! The cheap sensuality of a Hindi film song drowned the sounds of temple bells. This was modern Indian youth culture brazenly asserting itself in the face of Hindu tradition.

Hinduism encompasses a broad spectrum of different sects, a vast array of gods and goddesses and an even more varied collection of adherents. Some say there are almost as many Hinduisms as there are Hindus. It has withstood the threat of alternative systems of belief for over three thousand years. But now certain popular aspects of the religion seem to be mutating. 'Mickey Mouse Hinduism' is evolving in response to modern Western influences.

Because of the pervasive influence of satellite television, many Hindu teenagers want to dance like Michael Jackson, look like supermodels and have sex before marriage. They want to drink and smoke, to break out of their families and go on dates. However, Hinduism still has a powerful hold over Indian society and, at least for the moment, most young Indians can't reject its norms completely.

Ceremonies provide the framework for socializing in Hindu society. The village comes together each evening at the temple to give praise, to gossip, complain, commiserate and even fall in love. Similarly, the births, marriages and triumphs of the gods and goddesses are an opportunity for Hindus to eat, drink and celebrate. In the past, there seems to have been an harmonious relationship between socializing and devotion. Temple compounds buzzed with gossip, but during the arti (fire ritual) all mundane interests were submerged in communal worship. Private rituals and pujas in many rural temples still retain this fragile balance between the sacred and the profane.

Hinduism is a way of life as well as a religion. Young Hindus unable to break from tradition are bringing their consumer instincts and increasingly explosive sexuality to their parents' festivals and ceremonies. As a result Rama is beginning to resemble Rambo and, blaring from temple loudspeakers, comes disco music rather than religious chant.

A thousand miles away and 13 hours by bus is Kulu in the Himalayas. High in an autumn-streaked valley, Kulu during the Dussera festival ijs the bustling meeting-place of the regions' gods and their devotees. …

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