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Nashik Kumbha Mela Begins

Posted on 2003/7/31 9:49:02 ( 864 reads )


NASHIK, INDIA, July 30, 2003: Despite monsoon floods, hundreds of thousands of Hindus on Wednesday thronged to the temple city of Nasik for the beginning of the Kumbha Mela. The Mela kicked off in the Trimbakeshwar at 11:51 am when the Sun and Jupiter entered the constellation of Leo. Over half-a-million people took part in a colorful inaugural ceremony. The festival will see millions of devotees plunge into the river Godavari over the next month, with holy dips scheduled for August 17 and 27 and September 1 in Nasik and August 12 and 27 and September 7 in Trimbakeshwar. The Kumbha Mela is held every three years alternatively in four holy sites -- Hardwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Nasik and Trimbakeshwar, and Ujjain. Security was tight after Monday's bomb blast in nearby Bombay, with more than 3,000 policemen deployed at the 12-day festival. Hundreds of lifeguards have been stationed along the Godavari, which until yesterday was flowing at least 5 feet above its normal level. Heavy rains have fallen in the last three days amid inappropriate arrangements of shelter and food, and have affected the work of setting up infrastructure. Hindu devotees are meanwhile all set to kick off the fair despite the hurdles. Millions of Hindus are also gathering downstream for a parallel festival. The Godavari Pushkarma also known as the "Kumbha of the South" is being held at Rajahmundry in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

World Heritage Status for Holy Cities

Posted on 2003/7/31 9:48:02 ( 1015 reads )


NEW DELHI, INDIA, July 26, 2003: The Union Ministry for Tourism and Culture has recommended to UNESCO World Heritage Center that the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the city of Varanasi be included in the world body's list of heritage sites.

The Golden Temple is the principal place of worship of Sikhs, a three-storied shrine crowned with a golden dome. Rising from the middle of the Amrit Sarovar Lake, the monument atop a rectangular platform is surrounded by a white marble corridor and linked to a causeway. Its lower storeys are made of white marble while the upper portion is done with gold plating. Four hundred kilograms of gold-leaf were used for the renovation of the upper parts of the shrine which was sponsored by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1803. The inner walls are decorated with carved wooden panels and elaborate inlay work in silver and gold.

Also known as Kasi and Benaras, Varanasi is considered to be the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus. A great hub of culture, the city literally breathes history and is know as a "city of thousand temples." The city is internationally-renowned for its nearly 100 ghats along the river Ganges. Although many of them are bathing ghats, some are meant to be used for cremation.

There are now 24 World Heritage Sites in India, of which 18 are cultural and five natural. Information on recent site declarations and sites being considered for World Heritage status may be found at the "source" above.

Priest Claims He Was Held Hostage By Temple Protesters

Posted on 2003/7/31 9:47:02 ( 964 reads )

Sunday Times

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, July 20, 2003: The Durban High court has heard how the spiritual head of a Hindu movement and his followers were allegedly "taken hostage" by a group of sign-carrying protesters.

The trustees of the Chinmaya Mission of South Africa, based in Chatsworth, asked the court for an urgent decree to prevent 27 members of the movement from assaulting and threatening the head priest, Veejay Muckoon. The trustees also asked the court to prevent the members from interrupting services and prayers conducted by Muckoon and to prohibit them from entering the temple. Judge Achmat Japie turned down the application, saying he did not regard the matter as urgent. Devotees were split into two sides after Muckoon's predecessor was dismissed last year "for conduct unbecoming of a swami." Muckoon told the court that while conducting a prayer service recently, a group of people entered the prayer hall carrying signs and shouting slogans. He said they blamed him for the division at the ashram and restrained him from leaving. The local police were called. Sergeant Ramathar said the mob was engaged in peaceful protest and had the right to do so in terms of the Constitution. Raksha Singh, one of the 27 devotees, said that she and a group of followers had gone to the temple to pray and submit a petition "of our vote of no confidence in the management and decisions that were taken by the trustees at certain meetings." Singh said that, as long-standing members of the temple, "we have a right to express our concerns with regard to decisions that were made." The matter was adjourned to August.

Rains Ruin Kumbha Preparations

Posted on 2003/7/30 9:49:02 ( 974 reads )


NASHIK, INDIA, July 28, 2003: Steady rains in Nashik the past two days have inundated several low-lying areas, including the Ram Kunda on the banks of the flooded Godavari river, the site of the Sinhastha Kumbha Mela scheduled to start on July 30. "All low-lying areas are flooded ... many tents in 'Sadhugram' here and at Trimbakeshwar are submerged now," officials said. With the weather office forecasting more rains, there is anxiety in official circles. Several roads that were redone for the Kumbha Mela have been damaged in the rain and several temples in the Ram Kunda area are under water. The rising water levels in the Gangapur dam have, however, come as a blessing to the water-starved Nashikites. Farmers in rural parts of the Nashik are jubilant, too.

Pilgrims Coming to the Kumbh Mela Will be Protected

Posted on 2003/7/30 9:48:02 ( 927 reads )


MUMBAI, INDIA, July 24, 2003: (Note: this report appeared four days earlier than the above report) Preparations for pilgrimage on a grand scale are being made in Maharashtra for the Grand Pitcher festival or Kumbh Mela. Expecting hundreds of thousands to millions of Hindus in the twin towns of Nasik and Trimbakeshwar, 125 miles from Mumbai, the high point of the festival will be on August 17. On that day, ash-smeared sadhus and other devotees will bathe in the Godavari River in groups of 10,000 at a time. To protect pilgrims, India has hired 10,000 police and installed hidden cameras for the duration of the event. Senior local official Vinay Pathak says, "We have taken full precautions against terrorist attacks." Click here for a list of Mela web sites.

Eastern Languages To Remain On South African Syllabus

Posted on 2003/7/30 9:47:02 ( 981 reads )


SOUTH AFRICA, July 24, 2003: The National council for Eastern Languages claimed a major victory when national education minister Kader Asmal overturned his decision to remove Eastern languages from the school syllabus. The council, officials of the South African qualifications authority, South African Hindu Maha Sabha and the SA Tamil Federation met Asmal in Pretoria this week to discuss the fate of Eastern languages amid rising fears that the national education department was considering scrapping some of these languages from the country's school syllabus because of their inability to attract sufficient numbers of pupils. The minister agreed to retain Tamil, Urdu, Hindi, Telegu and Arabic in the Further Education and Training phase up to Grade 9. "We are very pleased with the outcome and this serves to confirm that the minister understands the potential of these languages," said council chairman Ram Maharaj.

Cell Phone Matchmaking in India

Posted on 2003/7/30 9:46:02 ( 1039 reads )


BANGALORE, INDIA, July 27, 2003: The age-old tradition of arranged marriages is surviving in India, while technology strives to keep up. After using newspaper advertisements and web-sites to find a suitable partner for their son or daughter, parents can now subscribe to a text messaging service on their cell phone. Arun Sikka, vice-president for sales and marketing at RPG Cellular says, "Parents can register the profiles of their sons or daughters with us and ask for matching profiles. They just need to send a 'short message service' to a specified number to do all this." If a prospective match is found, a meeting can be arranged between the two families involved. So far Sikka's company is not charging for this new service. Later on they will offer an exchange of photos and horoscopes as part of the service.

Malaysia Permits Text Message Divorce

Posted on 2003/7/30 9:45:02 ( 980 reads )


KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA, July 27, 2003: Getting a quick divorce has taken on a whole new meaning in Malaysia after it was decided that a man can divorce his wife with a text message. The government's adviser on religious affairs, the man who counsels Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said as long as the message was clear and unambiguous it was valid under Islamic Sharia law. "SMS is just another form of writing," Dr. Abdul Hamid Othman was quoted by the New Straits Times daily newspaper as saying. The decision follows a Malaysian court's ruling on Thursday in favor of a man who served divorce on his wife via a text message. Sharia judge Mohamad Fauzi Ismail declared that the divorce declaration was valid and that, as such, the marriage between the plaintiff Azida Fazlina Abdul Latif and defendant Shamsudin Latif was annulled, the Utusan Malaysia newspaper reported. Mr Shamsudin was said to have sent Ms. Azida a text message saying: "If you do not leave your parents' house, you'll be divorced." Although such a notification of divorce may seem astonishingly brief to some, under Islamic law men are allowed to divorce their wives simply be saying the word 'talaq' - I divorce you - three times.

Security Upgrade for Vaishnodevi Pilgrimage

Posted on 2003/7/27 9:49:02 ( 898 reads )


JAMMU, KASHMIR, INDIA, JULY 27, 2003: Authorities on Saturday decided to upgrade the security cover for the pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi, set atop 3,500-feet-high Trikuta Hills, in the wake of the July 21 terrorist strike at Banganga that left six pilgrims killed and 48 injured. A high-level meeting, which reviewed the security for the pilgrimage, decided to strengthen the security set-up in the entire route from the base camp at Katra to the shrine, official sources said. The meeting, chaired by Jammu Divisional Commander L. D. Jah, decided to erect more security pickets in Trikutha hills, besides deploying additional forces to plug the gaps in the security cover of the 13-km route from Katra to the shrine, they said. In view of militants carrying out suicide attacks in combat dresses and uniforms, the meeting decided not to allow people in uniforms to have darshan at the Shrine, they said. Round-the-clock surveillance and patrolling of all high-altitude places in Katra town as well as those en route to the shrine would be intensified and multiple check points would be set up, the sources said.

India Issues Guidelines for Pesticide Residue in Bottle Water

Posted on 2003/7/27 9:48:02 ( 927 reads )


NEW DELHI, INDIA, July 25, 2003: Following the hue and cry over presence of pesticides in bottled water, the Centre has finally come out with a changed rule set on packaged water, which the manufacturers have to follow from January 2004. As per the new prevention of food adulteration (PFA) guideline issued on July 18, the individual pesticide residue should not exceed 0.0001 mg per liter and the total pesticide residue should not be more than 0.0005 mg per liter. This will be applicable only to bottled drinking water. Also the post-marketing analysis on water samples, to be conducted by authorities like Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), have to be done following internationally accepted test methods. In fact, soon after the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment had revealed the presence of high amount of pesticides in bottled water, including all the popular Indian brands, Health Minister Sushma Swaraj had admitted in the Parliament that BIS testing methods were outdated.

Dutch Action Group Gets Apology for Smoking, Drinking Ganesha

Posted on 2003/7/26 9:49:02 ( 1042 reads )


THE HAGUE, THE NETHERLANDS, July 24, 2003: MTV Networks Belgium apologized and has removed from circulation a piece entitled "Festival Report," which included a six-armed Ganesha. In His hands are a guitar, bag of french fries, microphone, cigarette and beer cup, with the sixth hand in the traditional position of blessing. The Dutch watchdog group, AGNI, objected to the producers and received this apology (translated from Dutch) from Michel Dupont, head of operations for MTV Networks Belgium: "As confirmed during out phone call this morning all TV commercials or promo's including Lord Ganesha with beer and cigarettes are removed from screen. I have personally contacted my colleagues in Holland and London to be absolutely sure this will be respected. Unfortunately, some print material was already delivered to the media, and could not be changed any more. But here also I can assure you that all future print material has been adapted. Again, on behalf of MTV Networks, I would like to sincerely apologize for offending anyone concerned, and promise that we will be very careful in the future." The use of a multi-armed Hindu Deity is common in advertising, allowing as it does the artist to include a number of elements in the various hands. Generally Hindus haven't protested the practice, unless one or more of the elements are considered objectionable in association with the sacred image. This incident highlights the favorable response that is common when an organization or company is approached in a cool-headed manner and the issue for Hindus carefully explained to them.

Just as at Tirupati, Vatican Has a Dress Code

Posted on 2003/7/26 9:48:02 ( 1035 reads )


VATICAN CITY, July 17, 2003: The famed temple of Tirupati in India, and others around the world, have instituted dress codes for devotees, and encountered protests in the process. This news report in the Detroit Times shows other religions, too, face the same problem of casually dressed people in their sacred places and have imposed strict dress codes as a solution. Excerpts from the report: "With temperatures soaring, tempers are flaring as the Vatican's dress police turn back tourists in shorts and bare shoulders trying to get into St. Peter's Basilica. Vendors are doing a brisk business selling paper pants and shirts -- turning St. Peter's Square into an open-air changing room. Enforcement of the Vatican dress code turns into a battle each summer, but the verbal skirmishes have been heightened this July because Rome is in the grips of a relentless heat wave. At the Vatican, authorities have erected signs showing no one can enter the basilica with bare legs and bare shoulders. Guards -- neatly dressed in shirts and ties -- patrol the entrances. Not only the Vatican, but the diocese of Rome and its hundreds of churches require what authorities consider appropriate dress. Some tourists do come prepared, pulling out pants and shirts from their backpacks and changing in St. Peter's Square."

Seven Million Expected for Nasik Kumbha Mela

Posted on 2003/7/25 9:49:02 ( 969 reads )


NASHIK, INDIA, July 20, 2003: Over the coming months, seven million pilgrims will re-live the ancient ritual of traveling to the Maharashtra town of Nashik for the Kumbh Mela. At exactly 11.51 AM on July 30, 2003, as the Sun and Jupiter enter the constellation of Leo, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will plunge into the Godavari, just as their spiritual forefathers have done for centuries to celebrate Kumbh Parva.

Nashik has never experienced anything on the scale of this year's preparations. The last Kumbh (1991-92), saw an investment of about US$4.5 million. This time, the figure is closer to US$97 million and provides for upgraded roads and new water/sewage systems. Trimbakeshwar, located 30 km away from Nashik and the source of Godavari, has similarly benefitted from the funding and has included a 25-acre Sadhu Gram for the expected holy men. In Nashik, 103 acres have been utilized as accommodations for the expected 250,000 sadhus.

The Kumbh period extends from 11:51 am on July 30, 2003, to 11:49 pm on August 27, 2004. The flag hoisting ceremony will be held on July 30; the Shahi Snans will be held at Nashik on August 17, August 27 and September 1, and at Trimbakeshwar on August 12, August 27 and September 7. The concluding ceremony will be held on August 27, 2004

Kerala Elephants to Retire at 65

Posted on 2003/7/25 9:48:02 ( 1008 reads )


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, KERALA, July 24, 2003: Taking a serious note of growing cruelty towards captive elephants and their violent reaction to human captors, the Kerala Government has issued norms for their upkeep which, among other things, insists that the tamed elephants should be retired from working at the age of 65.

The set of rules issued recently had clear-cut norms for their menu, healthcare, working conditions and qualifications for mahouts, according to a reply furnished in the Assembly by Forest Minister K. Sudharakaran. With quite a few cases of harassed tuskers running berserk and goring mahouts to death being reported, the owners had been asked to appoint mahouts with a minimum of three years experience, with an assistant to help. There should be periodical check-up of elephants by vets, and the mahouts should carry the fitness certificates while the elephants were being taken out. No elephant should be marched for more that 30 km a day, and during the night reflectors should be kept on them to avoid being knocked down by vehicles. They should not be made to work at times of masth and bathed at least once every day. Use of nylon leash or barbed iron chains is banned.

Gujarat Police Arrest Christian Priest for Throwing Ganesha Icon

Posted on 2003/7/25 9:47:02 ( 1037 reads )


AHMEDABAD, GUJARAT, July 21, 2003: Gujarat police arrested a Christian priest from Junagadh on charges of "offending another's religion," officials said here. A complaint was registered against Reverend Suresh Thaker who runs the Grace Ministry of India, an orphanage at Talala in Gir region of the district, alleging he threw a statue of a Deity belonging to a former employee, Veraval circle police inspector S. V. Rathore said. Offending another's religion is a serious offence, and a case has been registered against the priest under various sections of the IPC, Rathore said. Talala police said the complainant Gopal Patel, former driver of the orphanage, had alleged the priest had flung a Ganesh icon.

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