28.7.11

Faith here and there

A collection of images from cities and villages from around the world depicting the variety of beliefs and different practices related to faith.

religion [noun] the freedom to practice their own religion: faith, belief, worship, creed; sect, church, cult, denomination. faith [noun] 1. he justified his boss's faith in him: trust, belief, confidence, conviction; optimism, hopefulness, hope. 2. she gave her life for her faith: religion, church, sect, denomination, (religious) persuasion, (religious) belief, ideology, creed, teaching, doctrine. 


• Buddhism in Tibet 
Tibetan Buddhism is most well-known to the world through the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Since China occupied Tibet in 1951 almost all traces of Buddhism were destroyed and the Dalai Lama was driven into exile in India along with thousands of people. Despite the extremely difficult circumstances in exile, Tibetans have succeeded in rebuilding their monasteries, preserving their culture and keeping it alive from the exile, not only in India, but in Western countries.
Today Tibet is still occupied by China and Tibetans have a limited religious freedom in their own homeland. However, a few monasteries have been rebuild and monastic education resumed even though the number of monks imposed is strictly limited.
Religion is extremely important to the Tibetans and has a strong influence over all aspects of their lives. Tibetans can be seen practicing their distinctive 'Kora' while spinning prayer wheels, chanting mantras –such as Om Mani Padme Hum–, counting mala or prostrating. Kora is a type of pilgrimage and also meditation, performed by making a walking circumambulation in clock-wise direction around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site.

Sera Monastery is one of the Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet and is located 2km from Lhasa. It's the best location to witness the Monks debates on the teachings of Buddha and the philosophy of Buddhism.



  
Ferocious guardians at the entrance of Pelkor Chode Monastery, the main monastery in Gyantse, Tibet. In the Buddhist faith, the Four Heavenly Kings are four guardian gods to protect the Buddha and Buddha's followers from danger.



Buddhists show their reverence to the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) by practicing prostrations, a practice that can be seen in Temples or along the streets or roads. Some Tibetan pilgrim their way throughout vast distances, usually from their village to Lhasa and the journey can take from few weeks to several months.
Everyday hundreds of pilgrims go to Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, one of the holiest and spiritual places in the world to pray, prostrate or do the Kora.
Bellow, a Tibetan pilgrim prostrating while chanting mantras and doing the Kora every single day around Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. The permanent dark mark on his forehead is caused by repeatedly placing the head on the floor.


Top picture: Tibetan pilgrims prostrating at the entrance of Jokhang Temple, and two Tibetan women spinning prayer wheels while doing the Kora around Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.


The colourful Prayer Flags, usually found on the peaks high in the Himalayas and on the top of Tibetan houses, are used to bless the surrounding area. Tibetans believe that the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. They come in sets of five flags, one in each of five colours. The five colours represent the elements: Blue: sky, space. White: air (sometimes referred to wind or cloud). Red: fire. Green: water. Yellow: earth.



• Buddhism in Nepal
The largest population of Tibetan refugees from China live in the village of Boudhanath (also called Boudha), about 11km from Kathmandu and it's a UNESCO world heritage site.
Everyday hundreds of pilgrims and monks circumambulate this ancient Buddhist Stupa –one of the largest in the world– to practice the kora and give offerings to their deities. 
Prayer flags and a depiction of the Buddha's eyes are frequently seen in Nepal (especially on stupas). They look in all four directions representing the omniscient mind of a Buddha.




Tibetan refugees dressed up in traditional Tibetan costume spin the prayer wheels, always in clock-wise direction, while circumambulate the Stupa, also in clock-wise direction.

Buddhism statues at a small courtyard in the streets of Kathmandu.

Prayer wheels surrounding the Stupa of Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) atop a hill in the west of Kathmandu, Nepal.

Making offerings is a very common practice in Buddhism and every offering has a specific meaning:
Flowers signifies the practice of generosity and opens the heart.
Incense symbolizes moral ethics or discipline.
Light (butter lamps, candles) signifies the stability and clarity of patience, the beauty which dispels all ignorance.
Food signifies to feed the mind.

Prayers offering light at the Stupa of Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) atop a hill in the west of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Locals from Kathmandu preparing offerings in Durbar Square, Kathmandu–Nepal.

Worshipers ring the bells at a temple in the streets around Durbar Square, Kathmandu–Nepal.

Buddhist monk doing the kora around the Stupa at Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) atop a hill in the west of Kathmandu–Nepal. Stupas in Nepal frequently have a depiction of the Buddha's eyes, which look in all four directions representing the omniscient mind of Buddha.

Offering light (butter lamps, candles) signifies the stability and clarity of patience, the beauty which dispels all ignorance.

Buddhists always take off their shoes before getting into sacred sites and also tourists are encouraged to do so.

• Buddhism in Thailand 
Nearly 95% of Thailand's population is Buddhist of the Theravada school. Theravada school is based more purely on the teachings of Gotama Siddartha –Buddha– without the refinements added on by later monks. Buddhist believe that existence is suffering, suffering is caused by desire, so the elimination of desire leads to a state of perfect non suffering and non existence called nirvana. This is probably the reason why Thai people is that easy going, friendly and have that constant warm smile on their faces.
Buddhist temples in Thailand are characterized by giant golden stupas, mythological creatures and usually many Buddha images. In front of the main image worshipers arrange offerings such as lotus blossoms and dried flowers.

Buddha postures and the symbolic gestures of the hands of Buddha –called mudras–, are symbols of deeper meaning. In most statues of Buddha he is seated cross legged, which indicated meditation.
If the right hand is raised, palm outwards, indicates protection, peace and the dispelling of fear. The giant reclining Buddha, in which he is seen resting on a cushion with one arm holding his head, refers to the death of Buddha –the point at which he achieved nirvana.

 
Giant reclining Buddha at Wat Po –The Temple of the Reclining Buddha– at The Grand Palace Complex in Bangkok, Thailand (left).

Statues of Buddha in different postures at caves and temples from Chiang Mai, on the north west of Thailand.

Worshipers and Buddhist monks giving offerings to Buddha at The Grand Palace Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.





• Buddhism and Hinduism in India
With the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism in India, religion is considered to be extremely important. Of the two religions, Hinduism is infinitely more popular, with an incredible 82 percent of the population practicing it. Within this majority, there are significant differences in the belief systems and caste divisions. Although there is division in some areas of Hinduism, there are many areas in common. They will all go to the pilgrimage sites, coming from all over India and will– if they go to a Brahman priest for birth, marriage and/or death rituals– hear the same Sanskrit verses from hundreds of years ago. In the shadow of Hindu dominance, there are a few followers of other beliefs such as Christianity, Sikh and Buddhism.

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism and it's also the place where Buddhism was founded. Being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus, everyday its gaths attract hundreds of pilgrims, locals and Saddhus who believe that bathing in the sacred waters of river Ganges they will purify and wash away all their sins.
The river Ganges that ranks among the top five most polluted rivers of the world, is worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. Hindus consider its waters to be both pure and purifying.



Holy cow! cows are considered sacred in Hinduism, being free to wander everywhere.

• Muslims in Turkey
Islam is the largest religion of Turkey having around 90% percent of the population registered as Muslim. Muslim is an Abrahamic religion based on the Koran, which is the central religious text of Islam considered as the verbatim word of Allah as revealed to prophet Muhammad.
There are thousands of historical mosques throughout the country. Their cupolas and minarets enhance the skyline of cities like Istanbul where there are around 3000 mosques.

The Islamic Call to Prayer: Muslims are called to pray 5 times a day: at down, midday, middle afternoon, after sunset and at night fall.
This call –adhān in Arabic comes from a loud speaker on the minarets of every mosque.
Even thought Islamic law doesn't require men and women to be separated in the prayer hall, traditional rules have segregated women and men. By traditional rules, women are most often told to occupy the rows behind the men. Many mosques today will put the women behind a barrier or partition or in separate areas instead of the main prayer hall, which is the area where men do pray.
As ritual purification precedes all prayers, mosques often have ablution fountains or other facilities for washing in their entryways or courtyards. Muslims wash their hands, forearm, face and feet before they pray. Also shoes must not be worn inside the Mosque.
Women should wear loose clothing that covers to the wrists and ankles, and cover their heads with a hijab or other scarf.
Since Atatürk founded the secular state in 1923 banning the use of the hijab (headscarf), this issue debate has been very intense and controversial. Today many women doesn't wear the hijab, especially in big cities like Istanbul. But it's common in rural areas or in those who are more conservative with their religious beliefs.





Top picture shows fountains where Muslims wash their hands, feet, arms and face before the pray at the Mosque. In the next picture men pray in the main hall, while women are kept in a separate area behind them.


Men pray in the main hall of a Mosque, while women are kept in a separate area behind them.


Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul. The top picture (bellow) shows a catholic mosaic probably dating from 1261 when it was the largest cathedral in the world. On the other picture, Islamic elements decorate the main dome, incorporated by the Ottoman Turks who ordered to convert the building into a mosque.



The evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike. 
A nazar, lucky eye or evil eye stone is an amulet that is meant to protect against the evil eye. In Turkey it is ubiquitous in offices and homes, in jewellery, on vehicles, doors and mobiles. It is usually seen in the form of a flattened bead or hanging ornament, made by hand from coloured glass, and used as a necklace, or attached to bracelets or anklets.

Back to the 11th century, people of Göreme at the heart of the Cappadocia Region, carved out rocks to form houses, churches, monasteries that were decorated with unique frescoes dating from the 11th century. These Christian sanctuaries contain many examples of Byzantine art from the post-iconoclastic period.




• Argentina: land of religion, healers and veneration
A majority of the population of Argentina is Roman Catholic. Despite of a significant number doesn't attend to mass, it's common to see individuals expressing their religious devotion on their daily life, for example they perform the sign of the cross as they pass by a church or religious area.
In the north western provinces Catholic practices might be seen combining catholic icons along with Andean indigenous ceremonies, especially during religious festivals. The Pachamama worship is still widespread throughout Salta and Jujuy along with Catholic beliefs.
Although Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in Argentina, the country is also home to other religions such as Spiritualism, Jehovah Witness, Mormonism, Shamanism and Buddhism. Evangelical Protestantism is also gaining pace but primarily within the poorer and working class areas.

Veneration of Saints and the dead and stories of miracles play a key religious role for a significant number of individuals in Argentina. Besides traditional religious practices, there are also a number of unconventional practices, usually part of local folklore. One of the most famous is the veneration of La Difunta Correa –The Deceased Correa–. Devout followers disseminated the figure of the Difunta creating small altars in several routes throughout the country, where they leave bottles of water as votive offerings believing she performs miracles and intercede for the living. Other gifts include food, flowers, money etc. Miracles attributed to la Difunta Correa include the healing of the sick and facilitating the acquisition of homes and cars.

Another popular cult is the 'Gauchito Gil' –the little gaucho Gil–, who become a legend after he deserted the civil war forces, becoming an outlaw à la Robin Hood. His followers build hundreds of small shrines of Gauchito Gil along roadsides throughout the country. These shrines are particularly painted in red and decorated with red rags. Pilgrimages are also organised to the main sanctuary to ask for favours to the 'saint'.
Ceferino Namuncurá, son of the Mapuche cacique Manuel Namuncurá, is also source of veneration all over the Patagonia and was later named venerable by the Vatican.
El Angelito Milagroso, an infant who died of meningitis just short of his first birthday, who people recur to for requests and miracles.
Many other beliefs in advocations of the Virgin, saints and other religious characters exist throughout the country, which are locally or regionally popular and church-endorsed. 

Left: Image of the 'Gauchito Gil' at one of many shrines on the roads of Argentina.
Right: commemorative plaques attached to the shrine by devotees as gratitude for granted requests.

One of the many red shrines of the 'Gauchito Gil' on the roads of Argentina decorated with red rags.


The figure of the Virgin, saints and dozens of other religious characters exist at this local sanctuary where followers arrive from the distance to listen the message of Jesus and his mother which is said to be passed directly to this individual with stigmas (on the picture-left) during apparitions. Religious devotees visit the sanctuary with the hopes of healing, intercession and supernatural favours. They leave pictures and letters along with gifts such as rosary, flowers, etc.
Religious devotees visit the sanctuary with the hopes of healing, intercession and supernatural favours leaving pictures and letters along with gifts such as rosary, flowers, etc.

Saint Expeditus with his typical iconographic attributes is venerated at this small shrine where devoted arrive with the hopes of healing, intercession and supernatural favours leaving gifts such as flowers and commemorative plaques to thank for granted requests.
Saint Pantaleon figure at a small shrine on the road where locals devotees venerate and assist with the hopes of intercession and supernatural favours leaving gifts such as flowers.


• St. Peter's and The Vatican
While it is neither the official mother church of the Roman Catholic Church, or the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, St Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites and also place of pilgrimage.
The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, the famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican illustrates the Biblical story from the Book of Genesis in which God the Father breathes life into Adam, the first man.
Michelangelo's St. Peter's Pietà –Italian for pity– is a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus.
The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (left), and La Pietà at St. Peter's (right) both by Michelangelo.


References:
wikipedia
http://www.viewonbuddhism.org
http://www.religionfacts.com
http://www.buddhanet.net
http://asiatours.net/thailand/info/buddhism.html
http://www.lotussculpture.com
http://www.asianinfo.org
http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/articles/article/Argentina/Religion-in-Argentina/37