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Tuesday
Dec232008

Binduism?

As an amateur student of religion, one striking feature of the Nepalese is their attention to religious observation.  As I traveled about, fealty to religious tradition and practice was on display everywhere.  Whether it was Hindu murals on walls, Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the wind,  or in many cases a unique blend of both, spiritual symbology inundated my visual sensations throughout my trip.

Along the way, it became obvious that physical geography plays a strong role in the religious practices and iconography of Nepal.  When you recognize that Nepal is sandwiched between Tibet -- the ancestral home of the Dalai Lama -- and India -- the font of Hindu development, you can understand the inevitable melange of religious observation that takes place in the country.

In some ways, Hinduism and Buddhism remain quite discrete.  Sahdu's, for instance, wear orange robes, while the robes of Buddhist monks are safron.  On the other hand, these religious traditions have melded into something that is all together Nepalese.  Something I came to think of as "Bindu".   How does Binduism manifest itself?  A Buddhist temple that reveres monkeys (a la the Hindu monkey god Hanuman), for example.  Or a statue of a multi-armed Buddha (a la the Hindu lords Vishnu and Durga) for sale on a street vendor's table.  Or Lord Ganesha (a Hindu god) seated as Buddha.  Or the Śikhara of a Hindu temple painted with the ever-watching eyes of Buddha.

While a purist in either tradition might see sacrilege, I found myself viewing these mash-ups as authentic.  I saw them not as bastardizations, but rather as proof that the Nepalis are deeply in touch with their spirits, in a way few western religious traditions allow.

When you travel in Nepal, make sure you take time to recognize and absorb it's many forms of spiritual observance.  Who knows.  If you focus hard enough, perhaps you'll even convert to Binduism!

 

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