Spiritual Delhi

No matter where you venture in Delhi, you will soon find yourself up-close-and-personal with something spiritual. Everyday life is intimately intertwined with the sacred: the housewife deavoutly performing 'puja' (prayer) each morning at a shrine in her home, the seemingly rupee-worshipping shopkeeper who nevertheless ignores the eager-to-buy customers until after blessings have sought from the gods. Most Delhiites are Hindu and city's numerous Hindu temples range from elaborate structures based on auspicious ancient architectural styles to tiny banyan-shaded shrines lovingly set up by street urchins. Devotion has no social boundaries.

Delhi is also home to a sizeable Muslim and Sikh population and has a number of positively breathtaking mosques and gurudwaras. The Jama Masjid and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, for instance, never fail to leave you tingling no matter how many times you visit.

Although Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism- Delhi's dominant faiths- may tread different spiritual paths, they all attract pan-social-strata devotion, which means you will find dhobi-wallahs and business tycoons side by side at any of the city's temples, gurudwaras or mosques.

Apart from worship, physical and mental purification is also considered a fundamental means of attaining spiritual harmony and is commonly pursued via meditation and yoga. A small but powerfully charged word lies at the centre of many Indian meditation styles: 'Om'. Said to be the sound of the universe, this sacrosanct Hindu and Buddhist invocation represents the essence of the Divine. For Hindus, 'Om' symbolizes the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe and thus the holy Hindu Trimurti of the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is repeatedly chanted to achieve a state of complete emptiness, complete serenity.

Welcome too to Delhi the 'karma' capital- a city where the ancient and revered notions of karma, samsara (reincarnation), dharma (moral code of behaviour) and moksha (liberation) are very much alive.

Soul Food: -

India's fast paced capital is embracing globalization with gusto, but in stark contrast to the material marathon of the 21st century, ancient practices that accelerate spiritual growth are being ardently pursued as well. A skyrocketing number of people are making meditation and yoga part of their daily life- whether it's a meditation session with friends at neighborhood parks or a formal yoga class at a swanky suburban gym.

Some Indians say this hunger for spiritual sustenance is a result of the work-hard-play-hard attitude that has emerged as the new mantra for today's youth. Others say that it's mimicking the West, where meditation and yoga have achieved pop-star status- a droll idea considering that most meditation and yoga styles have their roots in India.

Hindu holy men surrender all material possessions to seek spiritual enlightenment through meditation, the study of sacred texts, self-mortification and pilgrimmage. Known as sadhus, they survive by receiving food and money from others, and good karma is bestowed on those who behave with generosity toward them. Sadhus are deeply interconnected with the Divine: Lord Shiva, a prominent Hindu deity, is often characterized as a Himalaya-dwelling ascetic with matted hair, ash-smeared body and a third eye symbolizing wisdom.

Hindu Deities: -

Hinduism has no founder, yet is one of the planet's oldest and most mind-stirring religions. After all, which other faith can lay claim to such a large number of deities? Hindus believe in Brahman, the ultimate reality and the source of all existence, from which everything emanates and to which everything will ultimately return. Though all of the multitude of deities are regarded as manifestations of Brahman, there are three main representations: Brahma, the creator of the universe; Vishnu, the protector of all that is good in the world; and Shiva, the destroyer without whom creation couldn't occur.

Brahman has no attributes, but all the other gods, the manifestations, do. Hindu gods and goddesses commonly worshipped in Delhi include jolly elephant- headed Ganesh, the god of good fortune; Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu; Durga, who is the mother and destroyer of evil; and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

With domes soaring skyward, Delhi's large Lakshmi Narayan Temple (commonly known as Birla Mandir) was inaugurated in 1938 by the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. He stipulated that all members of the community, including untouchables, be allowed to worship here. The red sandstone complex was built by B.D. Birla, a prosperous Indian industrialist whose family has erected many temples around India. It is dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, and her consort, Narayan the Preserver.

What Goes Around: -

If you are whizzing through downtown Delhi in a rickshaw and suddenly find yourself face down in a puddle of murky water after colliding with a bus, don't be surprised if a well-meaning Delhiite reassures you that the bingle was no coincidence. No, no, it was your karma. A karmic debt has left you drinking drain water on that pothole-riddled road. Hindus believe that earthly life is cyclical and that you are born again and again, the quality of these rebirths dependent upon your karma in previous lives. It's a concept that can turn life into a whole new ball game for karma greenhorns. If you believe that your conduct and actions in this lifetime will have repercussions in your future lives, you start to tread carefully. 'Wrong' choices made today could well come back to bite you tomorrow.

Sikhing Equality: -

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev in the 15th century in Punjab to amalgamate elements of Hinduism and Islam, the subcontinent's two major- and warring- religions of that time. Sikhism has ten gurus; Delhi's Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is an especially significant temple because it was built at the place where the eighth guru, Harkrishan Dev, spent several months in 1664. This guru dedicated most of his time to helping the destitute and sick and was revered for his extraordinary healing powers; a tank on the gurudwara's premises contains water which is believed to have curative properties.

A belief in the equality of all beings lies at the heart of Sikhism. It's expressed in various practices, including langar, whereby people from all walks of life- regardless of caste and creed- sit side by side to share a complimentary meal prepared by volunteers in the gurudwara's communal kitchen.

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