Category Archive:India

Faith and Food in the Sikh Religion

sduncan post on February 22nd, 2016
Posted in India

By Dawn Green

There is often a correlation between the relationship of food and how it connects people. It is fair to say that food often plays a central part of many celebrations and gatherings across multiple cultures, and there is no exception when it comes to the Sikh community. Perhaps the main differentiation is that a special occasion does not need to be present for this occurrence.

This symbol of Sikh philanthropy, and in fact the founding of Sikhism, dates back as far as the 1480’s, when the first Guru Nanak Dev was sent to town as a teenager with money provided by his father in search of a worthy investment. To his father’s dismay, Guru Nanak stumbled across a group of emaciated and shivering men in great need of food and clothing. He ventured to the nearest market and used all of his money to purchase food and blankets for the less fortunate.

Guru Nanak had always questioned the use of money for selfish reasons, other than to help those less fortunate and clearly in need. He marveled at how families could desert their loved ones and leave them to live in such terrible conditions.

This was around the time that the birth of the Langar took place. A Langar is an open/common kitchen where food is prepared and served to anyone in need. These kitchens are found inside every Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), and in modern day can be found operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Guru wanted to create a community of gathering, no matter the sex, age, religion, creed or social status of its patrons. During this particular period of time, people of varying religions or castes were never seen taking or sharing food and water with someone of a different religion. This fact alone points to the immensity of the movement started by the first Guru.
Sikh families devote much of their time providing service to their community and those around them, preparing and serving food on a daily basis. Known as Sewadars, it is routine for one or more families to commit to this service of Langar, and in some of the largest Sikh temples preparation can take place for as many as 50,000 to 70,000 meals daily. While Sikh’s have an obligation through religion to donate 1/10 of their earnings towards their community, it is more highly regarded to donate service to Langar. This type of service is also thought to teach etiquette of sitting together as a community for meals.

There are some very specific requirements that must take place for a truly sacred Langar. Meals are to be simple vegetarian dishes, preparation must take place while reciting Gurbani (a prayer), all food is to be shared without prejudice and all food must be hygienically prepared. During preparation of the food, the mouth and nose of the Sewadars must be covered with a cloth knows as a “parna”. Upon completion of the food preparation, small portions of each item are put on a dish and placed in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (a juristic person) and a prayer is then performed. Once blessed, the individual dishes are then returned to their original pots, thus passing on the blessing to those who consume the food. As these individuals sit as one on the floor, they savor the meals together and dismiss any social status between them.

Works Cited:

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The Guru Granth Sahib

sduncan post on February 22nd, 2016
Posted in India

By Denise Smith

The true path to God lies in the service of our fellow beings.

– The Guru Granth Sahib

Sikhism arose through the teachings of Guru Nanak (c 1469-1538) in the Punjab region of

India. It emphasizes the importance of family life, philanthropy, service and defence of the

faith. Sikh philanthropy has been extensive and the terms of this service transcends

throughout the community.

The concepts and outcomes of unselfish giving for Sikhs is derived from the writings in the

Guru Granth Sahib which is the spiritual guide for mankind, and it plays a central role in

“guiding” the Sikhs’ way of life.

Its place in Sikh devotional life is based on two fundamental principles: that the text is

divine revelation and that all answers regarding religion and morality can be discovered

within it.

The Concern for others is central to the teachings of Sikhism, as illustrated by the story of

Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith and the Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak went to the river Bain for his bath. After plunging into the river, Guru Nanak did

not surface and it was reported that he must have drowned. The villagers searched

everywhere, but there was no trace of him. Guru Nanak was in Holy Communion with God.

The Lord God revealed himself to Guru Nanak and enlightened him

Through this enlightenment and his missions Nanak established three pillars of teachings:

 Vaṇḍ Chakkō: Sharing with others, helping those with less who are in need

 Kirat Karō: Earning/making a living honestly, without exploitation or fraud

 Naam Japna: Chanting the Holy Name and thus remembering God at all times3

The emphasis on giving is also seen in the institution of the Langar which is a free

communal eating space attached to every temple. Guru Nanak started the practice of

Langar against the nature of the caste system in which the food of a higher caste was

considered polluted by even the shadow a lower caste. The Guru insisted that all people,

rich and poor, beggar and king, should be able to sit together on the same level, to eat a

meal and to be served by those of an equally varied social background.

Sikhism is viewed by many as a unique religion outside of Western tradition. It is known for

the special concept of Wand Ke Chhakna (charity). It is a concept of giving to those and

caring for the welfare of the needy, less fortunate and sick. The concept is to have co-

operative and peaceful living. It is serving each other without selfish motives and to achieve

a sense of social and economic equality through social responsibility. The sharing of

earnings, labor, wealth, religion and knowledge is a platform for the welfare of human

beings as a whole without discrimination of caste, colour, creed and gender.

The message of Sikhism is that giving of charity to the less fortunate is fine, but we should

also be prepared to give up something of our privileged status and standard of living, often

obtained at the expense of the less fortunate.

Works Cited





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Durga Puja

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in India Tags: , ,

By Dylan Cohen

Durga Puja is a truly vibrant celebration of art, culture and religion. Taking place over a five day period in the South Asian region, Durga Puja is celebrated predominantly by Bengali Hindus. Outside of South Asia, Durga Puja festivities also take place in Bengali Hindu communities all around the world. The largest celebrations of Durga Puja take place in the Indian state of West Bengal , but also hold major importance in the municipal regions of New Delhi and Kolkata. Outside of India, the largest Durga Puja celebrations take place in Bangladesh, where approximately eight percent of the population is Bengali Hindu. The festival celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. The story of Durga’s victory over Mahishasura manifests itself as a celebratory example of good winning over evil, but also as an important religious example of the power of the female spirit. Durga Puja is known internationally as the largest open air art show, as art and visual representations of the Goddess Durga appear to be the festival’s main focus. However, philanthropy and charity also hold an important role in the Durga Puja, a role that has evolved greatly as the festival’s prominence has caught the attention of multi-national corporations and regional big business.

From a religious standpoint, there are many ritualistic elements to the festival of Durga Puja. “Puja” has a close resemblance to the English definition for “ritual”. Bengali Hindus typically wake up at four am on the first day of the five day festival, to listen to pop culture personalities retelling the epic tale of Durga and Mahishasura. Ritual drummers, known by the name “Dhakis” walk the streets performing prayers and ritualistic dances. Statues of the goddess Durga are also constructed and hand painted, later to be dissolved in water at the end of the five day festival, usually in the river Ganges or a waterway that flows into it. The most well known religious element of Durga Puja, however, are the Pandals. Pandals are outdoor prayer chambers of sorts. They are manually constructed, and are used to perform the “pujas” or prayer rituals within. Pandals have come to take a most well known position amongst all the religious elements involved in Durga Puja, because of the decorative, communal work involved in their design and construction. Pandals are typically highly decorative and usually depict Durga with her children. Pandals can also be themed, as they often are, manifesting the physical characteristics of t.v shows, ancient civilizations and world cultures within their design and construction.

Fundraising and charity also have a part to play within the context of Durga Puja. Historically, local communities would go door to door, fundraising for the actual construction and preparation of the often ornate Pandals. The money not used towards the construction and preparation of the given community’s Pandal would be donated to a charity or cause chosen by the community members themselves. However, with the emergence of multinational private interest, fundraising for the construction of the Pandals has changed drastically. Now, in major urban centres all over northwestern India and Bangladesh, construction of communal Pandals has been funded largely by private corporations and interest groups. At present, when a community does choose to fundraise, it is usually to recognize tradition for symbolic purposes, and not actually required to prepare the Pandal for Durga Puja.

The emergence of private interest funding of Durga Puja-related activities, has changed the character of the festival on a large scale. As mentioned earlier, Durga Puja has been labeled “the largest open air art festival in the world”. This must be due to, at least or in part, to corporate funding of Pandal construction activities, leading to Pandals being bigger, better and more eye catching. This may be a good thing, yet there may be many unknown negative aspects to this shift in funding Durga Puja Pandal construction. Many communities may no longer have a say in terms of how non-pandal construction funds get distributed my corporate funders/sponsors. Construction of Pandals sponsored through corporate sponsorship may not even include a charitable giving aspect to the festival. Research for this short paper was not extensive, and corporate sponsorship of Durga Puja have only been in full swing since the mid 1990’s, thus, the full effects of this change cannot be exhaustively described here. What can be said, is that the grassroots organizing and the communal choosing of charitable causes is quickly shifting to becoming responsibilities of the many private corporations who sponsor Durga Puja Pandal construction and other activities.

Works Cited

Parmita Borah (2 October 2011). Durga Puja- A celebration of Female Supremacy”. EF News International. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

McDaniel, June (2004). Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516791-0 Pp. 214.

Bhattacharya, Tithi. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol 66. No. 4 (Nov. 2007)Tracking the Goddess: Religion, Community and Identity in the Durga Puja Ceremonies of Nineteenth-Century Calcutta. Pp. 916-965.

Gupta, K. (2006). Concise Encyclopedia of India 3rd Edition. New Delhi: Atlantic. Pp. 986. ISBN 81-269-0639-1.

The Hindu Article on Durga Puja”. Chennai, India. 6 August 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

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Prerna Residential School for Girls

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in India Tags: , ,

By Louise Malhota

In India, a recent charitable act by one single nun is helping to change the lives of many of the countries’ most unfortunate girls who were born into the Dalit (or “untouchables”) caste.
The caste social system originated in an ancient Hindu text, called the Laws of Manu (circa 200 BC) that divided society into 4 main social classes or “castes”. These were Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants) and the lowest ranking caste, Shudras (servants). The Dalits were the lowest sub-category of the Shudras, and historically they were treated poorly, had little to no health care or education, and were segregated from other castes except for their “jobs” as cleaners of latrines and waste.

India’s new constitution in 1950 banned caste discrimination, and modernization and a more mobile society has greatly diminished the caste-based societal structure in today’s India. Intercaste marriages take place, and Dalits do hold prominent positions in modern society. However, caste discrimination is still quite rampant in more impoverished rural areas that make up 70% of India’s population . Furthermore, women are even more disadvantaged as they are seen as inferior to males. Rural Dalit girls are given few opportunities for education and are frequently married off young (typically around ages 12-14).

Into this societal context, a Catholic nun named Sudha Varghese opened the Prerna School for Girls in 2006 in the impoverished Mushahar (“rat eaters”, the lowest sub-sect of Dalits) area of Bihar state. Prerna means inspiration in Hindi. A second school opened in 2012. The schools now house 225 girls. The schools provide a safe place for education, as well as shelter, food, clothes and lessons in hygiene and health for the Dalit girls.
These remarkable schools exist mainly due to Sudha’s exemplary philanthropic efforts. Indeed, she gave up her family home and dedicated her life to her Prerna mission, becoming a nun as it was the sole occupation that allowed her to live as single independent woman alone in the community she wanted to help. She immersed herself in the Mushahar culture for 25 years, gaining their trust, and targeting the mothers with her educational message as they were key in allowing their girls to be educated versus married off young. Finally, in terms of funding, Sudha was instrumental in attaining the money to open, and continue operating, her schools.

According to the Globe and Mail’s Stephanie Nolen, the budget is “totally random. She asks government for the operating budget of the schools and they give it. Then sometimes random other money comes from European charities, from benefactors, now from Globe Readers. The make up of those donations is never consistent or predictable….and varies constantly” . Ms. Nolen goes on to explain that Sudha must harass the government for the funding, whom Sudha believes have a huge obligation to focus on Dalit education, particularly with India’s focus on becoming a global super-economy and eradicating any international perception as a culture with lingering gender and caste biases. For voluntary donations, initially Sudha singlehandedly sought out financial and labour support from her community, and her family (who helped despite their feelings her project was “crazy” ). Now, she just accepts gratefully for voluntary donations that come in due to the awareness and success of her venture, but they are not well organized or planned. And more troubling, a website opened by one of Sudha’s friends in the USA “” now seems to be run by someone “sketchy” and the money never goes to Sudha, according to Ms. Nolen.

The future of the Prerna Schools is bright but uncertain. Some students have now graduated and broken the cycle of poverty in their families. But with a funding base dependent on an unreliable state government, and unpredictable voluntary donations, Ms. Nolen believes it is crucial for SOMEONE to help Sudha develop a strategy for long-term success. Given what Sudha has accomplished virtually on her own, it is inspiring and hopeful to think that with more philanthropic strategy and support, not only will the lives of many Dalit girls be changed for the better, but also the societal beliefs about caste and gender discrimination may be eradicated for good.

Works cited

Phone interview with Ashok Malhotra, father-in-law, Sept 21/2014.

Nolen, Stephanie. Breaking Caste – Globe and Mail series, December 2, 2011 (“Remarkable School Gives Girls From The Bottom Of India’s Caste System New Hope”)

Email exchange with Stephanie Nolen, South America Bureau Chief, Globe and Mail, Sept 22/2014.

Nolen, Stephanie. Breaking Caste – Globe and Mail series, December 2, 2011 (“Remarkable School Gives Girls From The Bottom Of India’s Caste System New Hope”)

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Giving in the Buddhist Tradition

sduncan post on February 25th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: , ,

By Fatima Valentim

“Nature gives without expectation of return – and we should too” – Phra Santikaro, noted monk

Generally speaking, the concept or practice of giving is “universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence” (Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2010). Read the rest of this entry >>

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An Act of “Daan” in Indian Culture

sduncan post on February 4th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Candice Stone

In India, it is customary to employ domestic help, whether it be cleaning and dusting the house, cooking meals, washing and ironing clothes, or washing automobiles on a daily basis. Such tasks, in the Western world are ordinarily performed by ordinary citizens; the concept of “domestic help” is either non-existent or constrained to the elite in society. However, Read the rest of this entry >>

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The Story of Asoka

sduncan post on February 4th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Shelby Sue Park

​Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Jaya. He lived in a little Indian village where the Gautam Buddha happened to come across one day. The villagers all came to welcome the Buddha and offered him fruits and water to drink. The Buddha spoke throught the day and night to the villagers along with Jaya. Jaya watched and listened to the sound of Buddha’s voice until he fell asleep; Read the rest of this entry >>

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Hinduism: The Duty of Giving

sduncan post on January 29th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Ashley Weeres

Webster’s dictionary defines charity as; “a spiritual love for others” or “generosity to the needy” or “alms given to the poor”. When many of us think of charity we think of foundations and charities such as the Red Cross or The Salvation Army. We think of giving to charity as a generous act, and we praise those who choose to do so. This is a Westernized view of charity and this ideology of charity has become quite prominent; its influences can be seen worldwide.

Canadian society is considered as mosaic society, Read the rest of this entry >>

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The Indian Tradition of Annadan

sduncan post on January 29th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Janet Tuenschel

As a young girl in India, my friend, Renuka would visit the bustling and poverty-stricken city of Haridwar with her father. They spent one busy and eye-opening week there each year. She remembers the shock of seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of people living within the impossibly small area of one city block. The purpose of her family’s visit: to feed as many of those people as they could. A local food preparation company made the food, while Renuka and her father stood in the streets feeding all who came. This generous yearly visit was based on the old Indian tradition of annadan.

Annadan, providing food or drink to those in need, Read the rest of this entry >>

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Hindu Philanthropy compared to Western Philanthropy

sduncan post on January 29th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Abby Rolland

Western culture has come to know philanthropy and giving as acts of generosity bestowed upon others less fortunate by those who personally choose to make a contribution to society. The intention of the charitable act is simply to better their community and perhaps improve themselves as individuals in a positive, altruistic way. Those seeking to make such charitable donations, be it personal time or financial aid, Read the rest of this entry >>

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