Where Religion and Secularism Meet: An All Girls School in Ahmedabad

 

https://youtu.be/ivXinHdnY5Q

Video by Roda Osman

 

Written by Ana Singh

AHMEDABAD – On most days, Dr. Nita Shah feels like she is the mother of 400 girls. She helps them with their homework, with making their beds and comforts them when they are homesick. In fact, many of the girls at her school, SV Randesan, call her “Ma.”

“She is naturally like that,” said her assistant principal, Bharat Mavadia.

And if she is the mother, Mavadia is the father figure on campus. “I just picked up the role that was then required,” he said. “I needed to be the disciplinarian guy.”

SV Randesan, a residential boarding school in Ahmedabad for girls in fifth through twelfth grades has nearly doubled in size since it first opened its doors two years ago. With 370 current students, there is no plan to stop growing. Instead, over the next few years the school hopes to have 1,000 students.

“There was a demand from parents for a school which could accommodate under-privileged girls,” said Shah. “They live at their remote locations villages where good educational systems are not there.” The majority of the students receive some form of financial assistance and many of the girls from poor rural areas are given access to a free education.

Financial aid for the school is made possible through the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism. But despite the religious affiliation, the school prides itself on providing a traditional secular education to its students. The classrooms are enhanced by the state of the art facility and fully equipped with the latest technologies. “Having technology helps get our students ahead,” said Mavadia.

Technology is one of the ways in which SV Randesan is trying to empower its students from underprivileged backgrounds. Literacy, especially among girls and women, is woefully low in India. The overall literacy rate for women in India is 39 percent in comparison to a 64 percent literacy rate for men. As a result there are 200 million illiterate women in India.  Educational disparities for women become even more exaggerated in rural areas where only 31 percent of all women are literate. In urban areas the literacy rate among women is drastically higher at 64 percent.

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A few of the girls inside their dormitories

Ana Singh

Besides poor job prospects, low illiteracy rates have other societal implications for Indian women. Thirty-eight percent of illiterate married women were married below the age of 18 in comparison to the 23 percent of literate women who got married below the legal age according to the most recent census data. One of the intentions of both the school is to give girls and young women access to education in the hopes that they can achieve financial success without depending on an underage marriage for security.

In addition to providing a quality education for young girls, SV Randesan also emphasizes values such as honesty, obedience and good behavior, both in and outside of the classroom. Although all school lessons are secular, these values connect back to the teachings of the Swaminarayan faith. “From religion there this value system which will make individual a better citizen,” said Shah.

The obedience and good citizenship of the girls is especially apparent inside the dormitories. In every room, all the beds are perfectly made and not a single article of clothing lingers on the floor. Across from the dormitories, in the aarti room, a large chart containing a daily checklist of good behavior hangs on the wall. But this checklist was not the doing of a teacher or a school administrator. Instead the mastermind behind the chart was none other than an eager young student.

 

Like the rest of the school, the cafeteria is brand new and impeccably clean. In long tables, many younger girls could be seen finishing up their lunches. One of the girls, Mahima Gohil, 11, was eager to chat about her experience at SV Randesan.

“My favorite class is chemistry,” said Mahima. Her English is good considering that when she arrived at the school less than a year ago, she could not speak the language. Like all other students at SV Randesan, Mahima’s schedule begins at seven in the morning and ends at nine in the evening.

 

The 14-hour day extends beyond the confines of the classroom. The girls participate in dance, play time aarti, a Hindu religious ritual of worship. [Also included in the schedule is a compulsory hour of yoga. “It helps me with my schedule,” Mahima said.

 

Shah also spoke of the benefits of yoga. “Their bodies and mind are totally different. It helps them settle,” said Shah.

 

In contrast to the younger girls who sit at the tables and talk in excited chatters, several young women calmly stand in line waiting for their turn to receive food from the lunch buffet. The women are members of the first graduating class of an intensive four-month long vocational training program. The program provides English classes and computer training to young women ages 21 to 27 in the hopes that these young women will be able to find jobs and be independent without feeling pressured to be married.

A devoted follower of the Swaminarayan faith, Shah is clearly guided by the ethos of her own faith. In addition to her position as principle, she takes on a more nurturing role to her younger students especially to the new ones who are unaccustomed to living away from home and need extra attention during the day and sometimes in the late hours of the night.

But the additional hours spent comforting a homesick child does not seem to bother Shah in the slightest, “So you know becoming a parent of 400 girls. Don't you think it is very interesting for anybody who really want to see some good things in life?” she asked with a slight smile.


Sufi Shrine Diversity

With so much of the world's conflict stemming from religion, this Sufi shrine has created a space where all faiths meet and worship side by side. The following piece is an audio story about how Nizamuddin shrine in New Delhi creates a welcoming space for believers of all faiths and tourist to enjoy Qwalli music and build a spiritual connection to their higher power.


Many Shades of Love: Multimedia Reflections on Holi

The following piece is a compilation of videos created by Thea Piltzecker and Cole Pennington and photographs taken by Sylvia Kang and Ana Singh that focus on the immersive, fluctuating and transcendent celebrations of love we all experienced throughout our time in Vrindavan during the festival of Holi. We have included some of the insightful thoughts on Holi by Professor Jack Hawley, a South Asian Religion expert at Barnard College and Acharya Srivatsa Goswami of the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram.

INTRODUCTION BY Thea Piltzecker and Ana Singh

 

For all Hindus, Holi is the festival of love. But in Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram in Vrindavan, the love between Krishna and his consort Radha took center stage in a rasa lila theatrical performance that commemorates the original Holi.

 

https://youtu.be/vbihvzebS3k

A Rasa Lila Theatrical Performance. BY THEA PILTZECKER  

The performance that we saw recreated the story of Krishna’s lighthearted interactions with the gopis (milkmaids) and his favorite gopi and consort Radha. An all-male troupe dressed in elaborate gold saris danced onstage; these were the gopis, enjoying their work in the village of Barsana. Krishna and his friends arrived next, decked out in gold pantaloons and bristling mustaches.

The two groups engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, drawing laughter from the large audience. After a tug-of-war and whirling musical numbers, Radha won their game. She sat triumphantly on Krishna’s throne, enjoying her victory as the musicians sang their praises. She and Krishna were ceremonially bound together by the flower petals poured over the couple.

Once the rasa lila performance ended, the love between families a could be seen through traditional Holi play as children enthusiastically grabbed handfuls of the leftover flower petals from the performance and promptly threw the petals at their parents.

 

Holi in Vrindavan
Rasa lila theatrical performance at the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram in Vrindavan. BY SYLVIA KANG
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Holi Photographs. BY SYLVIA KANG & ANA SINGH

In the backyard of the ashram, the love of Holi continued to spread playfully among friends. A group of young adults could be seen pouring large buckets of colored water on each other as they gleefully laughed about their soaked clothing.

Outside the ashram, on the brightly colored streets of Vrindavan, spreading love was not exclusive to friends and family. Strangers proudly shouted the words “Hare Krishna!” as they smeared vibrant colors on each other’s faces. It quickly became apparent that not a single face or article of clothing can go untouched during Holi.

“Holi touches on the roughness of love,” said Professor Jack Hawley on the nature of Holi play among strangers, and more specifically between men and women. “If it’s about love, then it’s about love in very dramatic ways,” he added.

https://youtu.be/ZMIHFCPtLdE

Reflecting on Holi in Vrindavan.  BY COLE PENNINGTON 

 

But in a sense, that rough nature of Holi is able to penetrate right through India’s rigid social hierarchy system.  During Holi, the traditional rules of the caste system break down, according to the Goswami. “In the multi-colors of love, all the shades of skin are gone,” he said alluding to the caste system’s traditional emphasis on skin color as an indicator of status.

As multimedia journalists, we attempted to capture the many forms of love we experienced during Holi, as the Goswami eloquently summarized. The flower petals offered to the divine contain many colors, which he said is a symbolically important detail. "Love is not just the pure red rose, you know," he said. "Even the love has different shades."


Ragini Shankar: Playing in Harmony with God

Ragini Shankar in Concert. Video by Thea Piltzecker

 

 

RISHIKESH – Ragini Shankar, sitting with her legs folded under her on the small stage, takes her violin, raises it up and flips it over so that the top, known as the scroll,  rests on one leg. The violin, a gift from her maternal grandmother, is more than an instrument in her hands, she says. It is an extension of her very being. The audience can sense this even before she starts to play. Shankar looks out and smiles as she raises her bow to the strings.  A sound akin to a melodic human voice fills the hall. Is it Shankar or her violin that we hear? The two seem inseparable.

Ragini plays the violin in a North Indian classical style known as “Hindustani,” but since she left a career as an engineer, she has spent much of her time collaborating with International artists - cellist, singers and tabla players - creating a fusion of Indian and Western classical music, and in the process, Shankar has become an international ambassador for Indian music.

On a cool spring night in March, Shankar, accompanied by the tabla player Shubh Maharaj, performed Indian ragas for our Columbia group on the rooftop of a hotel in Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges. The private concert came on the eve of a concert tour of the United States that would take Shankar to major cities like New York, Boston and Houston. The tour saw her playing at small, intimate venues like the Baithak Center in Boston and the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore college. Ragini says she enjoy playing in America because the sounds are always new to the audience.

Over breakfast the morning after the private concert in Rishikesh and on a long bus ride to New Delhi, Shankar spoke about her musical and journey, her embrace of the violin and her ambitions for the future.

Watching the tabla player and Ragini riff off each other, it becomes clear that Indian sacred music is a combination of score and improvisation, realism and faith. With that in mind, its success rests on a number of factors: the relationship between the musician and instrument, the interplay between the musicians themselves and their personal relationships with the divine. Ragini explains that her name comes from the root word “raga,”  which means melody in Sanskrit and she laughs when it’s suggested that her name alone had her destined for musical greatness.

Classical music

As a brisk breeze rolls over the stage above the Ganges she slows down the cadence of the bow across the strings,  looks up and smiles again at the audience before bursting into a playful construction of ascending notes. She’s playing a raga, and every raga is intended to evoke a certain emotion in the listener: tranquility, devotion, eroticism, comedy, pathos, heroism, wrathful, terrifying, odious and wondrous according to the Bharat Natya Shastra, a sacred Hindu text dedicated to the performing arts.  In this case, it seems to  “color” the listener with joy and delight.

The word raga first appears in the Bhagavad Gita where it points to a certain heightened psychological state. Ragini’s sometimes ghastly, but often cheerful tunes seem to lull our group into a blissful state of mind.  Her performance routine is almost meditative; her face holds an expression of deep joy and concentration. So do the faces of her audience.

To her, the stage is sacred. Her violin is her connection to what she calls “a great force in the universe.”

When she plays, Ragini says that her mind is focused on one thing: the flow of energy. She believes that her energy precedes her; she is “introduced” to the audience by her aura even before she speaks or plays. Every time before she plays, she pauses for a moment and allows the feeling of extreme gratitude to permeate through her bones. This allows her to consistently perform at her best and carry on the legacy that she’s inherited coming from a long line of musicians.

She likes to believe she chose this path in life, but she acknowledges that family, and possible even the divine,  had a strong hand in the way her story has unfolded. She was s educated in engineering from the University of Mumbai, and had been determined to follow this professional path but she realized that the decision had already been made for her, she was to carry on the musical tradition of her ancestors. Growing up, playing the violin was a job, but by the time she’d finished her engineering studies, it had become a passion, a passion that allowed her to ease into a career she truly loves. Her career has taken her to the United States, Canada, Singapore, Dubai, and countless religious festivals throughout her home state of India. She was born in Kerala, in the south of India, but now resides in its capital city, Mumbai.  

The bar is high for Ragini, who surprisingly can’t read Western music. In the West, the violin is tuned to GDAE, whereas Ragini’s violin is tuned to EBEB. Ragini describes her style as fusion, drawing mainly from classical Hindustani music. Her grandmother is Padmabhushan Dr. N. Rajam, her mother Dr. Sangeeta Shankar. She’s the eighth generation in a long line of musicians. Both have created a legacy as India’s most celebrated musicians. Ragini refers to her grandmother and mother as guru-ji, having been raised on the collective knowledge and talent of the two. She inherited violin, which she considers sacred,  from ancestors.  She knows attachment to the physical is frowned upon, but she feels her connection to the inanimate violin. She started playing at age 3, but it was only at age 11 when she switched from practicing to truly enjoying the music she was creating. In the morning, she prays, eats breakfast and then practices and in the afternoon, she makes sure she resumes practice around four o'clock, because the energy in the universe is very high at that time. On a given day, she will practice for anywhere from four to eight hours a day.  

Classical music

Ragini is Hindu, and her devotion to music is what she would call “the highest expression of life.” Creating something out of nothing is her way of practicing bhakti. “When you create something that has never existed before, you are experiencing the divine,” she believes. To her, the creative process is meaningless without a sense of bhakti. Bhakti is to immerse yourself in something and entirely devote your energy and mind to it, and to Ragini’s mind, there is nothing that requires more devotion that art. “Bhakti comes through performing wholeheartedly,” she says. She also believes that the vibrations she creates with her instrument have the power to charge people, to energize people.

A crisp breeze rushed through the small crowd fixated on the young artist. The moon glistened off the rolling Ganges, and a hollow note emanated from the rooftop. It was the closing note to Ragini’s performance; the note hangs there, with varying pitch, like a question. Will Ragini bequeath her musical legacy to a ninth generation?

The next day, on a bus barrelling down a busy Indian highway, horns blaring, she answers the question with a similar smile to the one she puts on while she performs. She pauses for a second to consider the question.  “If it is willed, it will happen,” she says.


Covering Religion: Still Moments and Moving Memories

The following presentation is a combination of photographs taken by Sylvia Kang and Ana Singh. The descriptions are taken from the daily dispatches compiled by the students during the eleven-day trip. 

Many scholars and believers argue that religion as a term and concept in India is a British construct. In some sense that disconnect persists today. Of the thousands of Indian universities, only a handful have religion departments.

This information would seem to suggest that religion is somehow absent from India or perhaps all-pervasive. We found that our western conception of religion could be found everywhere – from the Sikh symbols woven into the fabrics of cloths at the 1469 shop at Connaught Place to the remains of murti idols submerged in the waters of the Ganges. In India, religion could be felt in all domains of life.

Not only was religion embedded in all aspects of public life, but many religious sites had multiple layers of religious identity. While we read about unfolding religious conflict at the Ram temple in Ayodhya, we witnessed signs of peaceful syncretism at the Nizamuddin Dargah in New Delhi where Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and atheists tied threads of wishes on the outer walls of the Sufi tombs.

As photographers, we attempted to capture how religion often served as silent yet visible guide in the daily lives of the people we were fortunate to meet with on this once in a life time trip.

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On route to Nizamuddin Auliya

Photo by Sangsuk Sylvia Kang

DAY 1: NEW DELHI After settling into our rooms and grabbing a quick dinner, we started our religious exploration with a visit to one of India’s holiest Sufi shrines, Nizamuddin Auliya for an evening of sacred song, known as the qawwali. If we expected a narrow look at Islamic practice, we were surprised by how diverse the crowd and the ritual turned out to be. - Roda Griffin, M.S. '17

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We were joined by 29-year old Syed Bilal Nizami (center), a caretaker of the Sufi shrine. When we asked him how the qawwali has changed over the years, he said it has become more and more popular with people of all faiths. “When people pray here, their prayers are answered,” he said with confidence. - Roda Griffin, M.S. '17. PHOTO CAPTION Syed Bilal Nizami (center) at Nizamuddin Auliya.

Photo by Sangsuk Sylvia Kang

DAY 2: Our second day in Delhi was a day for the senses. We met Imams at the Jama Masjid, washed our feet at the entrance of a Sikh temple, rang a hanging bell in Jain mandir, heard a song about a lonesome bride, sampled Indian fragrances in the main bazaar and ate Punjabi food at a market stall that has been in the same family for six generations. -Ellen Ioanes, MS'18.

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Jama Masjid.

Photo by Ana Singh

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LEADERSHIP OVER THE GENERATIONS: The leadership of the Jama Masjid has been in this family for over 300 years. According to Sayid Taariq Bukhari, the brother of the mosque’s Grand Imam, it’s become particularly important since Partition, when many Indian Muslims moved to the newly created state of Pakistan, and his family was left responsible for the political and religious leadership of India’s Sunni Muslims. -Ellen Ioanes, MS'18. Photo Caption -
Sayid Taariq Bukhari, the brother of the mosque’s Grand Imam, photographed with his nephew, the next Grand Iman.

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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Young boys wait on a elevated platform at Jama Masjid for a midday prayer to begin.

Photo by Ana Singh

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SIS GANGJ GURUDWARA: The Gurudwara sits on what Sikhs believe is the execution site of the sixth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who was beheaded by the emperor Aurangzeb. The Gurudwara contains a shrine to the guru, where adherents stop to pray, as well as a bedchamber of sorts, where the Adi Granth, or Sikh holy book, is put to bed each night. The book is considered the living Guru and is revered as such by practitioners. -Ellen Ioanes, MS'18.

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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CAREER ADVICE: Geshe Dorji Damdul (photographed above), the director of the Tibet House, who works closely with His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke to us about the nature of happiness and suffering, and how one must find peace within oneself to limit the influence of external factors on one’s state of being. And he had the following advice for being better journalists: “First be yourself happy,”

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 3: After two days of being shepherded around Delhi by Professor Trivedi and friends, today we were turned loose to report on our own. Alone or in twos, we left our hotel early this morning to navigate a city most of us had never been to with the challenge of reporting in a language we don’t know, within a culture that we’ve only read about in textbooks. Delhi is an absolutely vibrant city, fast paced and full of unexpected moments on every turn. -Elizabeth VanMetre, MS'17

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PERFORMANCE: The gopis began to toss flower petals over Krishna and Radha, ceremonially binding their love with flowers. The couple sat in a growing pile of gold, yellow and red petals as baskets of petals were poured over their shoulders. Then, in a startling move, Krishna and Radha jumped up from the flower pile-Thea Piltzecker, MS'17

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 4: VRINDAVAN- Soon enough, strains of music issued from the ashram’s main hall. We were right on time for the Holi play. The Rasdeva theatrical performance commemorates the original Holi; it recreates the story of Krishna’s playful interactions with the gopis (milkmaids) and his favorite gopi and consort Radha. An all-male troupe dressed in elaborate gold saris danced onstage; these were the gopis, enjoying their work in the village of Barsana. Krishna and his friends arrived next, decked out in gold pantaloons and bristling mustaches. The two groups engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, drawing laughter from the large audience. After a tug-of-war and whirling musical numbers, Radha won their game. -Thea Piltzecker, MS'17

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A young child plays in the leftover flower petals of the play

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 5: In atmosphere, Vrindavan feels like a village. It’s mud streets and tiny alleyways cloak a population of approximately 57,000 people, and yet, in the history of Hinduism, its importance is profound. Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, was born here. Radha, his supreme wife was born in a neighboring village. To celebrate their love and, in turn, love in general, Indians of all faiths spend a good part of the day pitching pigment at each other. Those of us who ventured out of the confines of the ashram came back splattered from head to toe in all the colors of the rainbow.-Gudrun Wilcocks, MS'17

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UNDERSTANDING HOLI: In the multi-colors of love, all the shades of skin are gone,” said Shrivasta Goswami Maharaj in his explanation of Holi. Maharaj is the head of the ashram known as Caitanya Prem Sansthan and photographed with Professor Yogi Trivedi (Left) and Ari Goldman (right).

Photo by Ana Singh

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In the aftermath of Holi

Photo by Ana Singh

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Holi celebrated in the Caitanya Prem Sansthan ashram

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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Playing Holi outside the ashram

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 6: RISHIKESH – The River Ganges sets the pace for life in this city at the foothills of the Himalayas, just as it set the pace for our day of markets and aartis, puja and performance.Even though we arrived in Rishikesh after midnight, a few early-risers took to the river with the break of day. Along the banks, local volunteers filled buckets with water to wash out the last brightly colored dregs of Holi from gats along the river. One man sat in the Lotus position and meditated. Two women in pink and turquoise saris cupped their hands around an aarti’s flame and sent it out across the water. As the sun rose higher, we sat on the hotel balcony with chai, watching the light catch on the swells.-Natasha Frost, MS'17

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Two women participate in an intimate aarti ceremony on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh

Photo by Ana Singh

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ON THE BANKS OF THE GANGES: Haridwar seemed like part water park and part temple. We watched as hundreds of devotees, many of them with families in tow, bathed playfully in the river, the men in their underwear and the women in their saris. This bathing is one part of the washing away of sins – one step along the path to moksha. -Natasha Frost, MS'17

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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A Believer at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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An aarti ceremony at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 7: Rishikesh is a hard place to leave. The city offers an interesting contradiction in Indian culture. A beautiful town on the foot of the Himalayas, it is surrounded by natural beauty. The turquoise hues of the River Ganges flow below colorful bridges and alongside scattered buildings and shops. This morning, a few of us leisurely explored that world for a couple of hours. We wandered, we shopped and we questioned this enigma of a place — a place of countless yoga practices, ashrams, Ayurvedic cafes selling vegan foods and scones to people who have come here from across the world, clad in baggy pants and with yoga mats under their arms, to embrace their spirituality in India.-Nicole Einbender, MS'17

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Shiva representation in Rishikesh

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 8: Ninety-one small, carved elephants appeared to hold up each side of the Sun Temple, totaling 364 mini-elephants: the same number as the days in the solar calendar. The structure was carved out of sandstone from a nearby quarry, a material that absorbs heat. When our group stepped inside the temple, everyone gasped. The details which were eroded by the wind and rain on the outside were preserved in sharp images inside and told the story of the Ramayan. - Andrea Januta, MS'17

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Group Photo at the Sun Temple

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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PRACTICING COMPASSION: “Any being can reach enlightenment. An insect can reach enlightenment, ” said Maiti Jratha Suriji, a Jain nun (photographed with her sister). The two sisters practice a strict interpretation of the concept of ahimsa or compassion, doing everything they can to minimize their footprint on the world and protect life, from the biggest elephant to the smallest micro-organisms.-David Klein, MS '17

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 9: AHMEDABAD- Our day started at 8:30 when we set out for a walking tour of Ahmedabad’s old city. There, in the twisting alleys and secluded courtyards, we had the opportunity to see a few different threads in India’s religious tapestry. Though we stepped into a mosque and a Hindu mandir, we also had the opportunity to sit down and interview two Jain nuns about their lifestyle and experiences. They practice a strict interpretation of the concept of ahimsa or compassion, doing everything they can to minimize their footprint on the world and protect life, from the biggest elephant to the smallest micro- organisms. -David Klein, MS '17

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Jama Masjid Mosque in Ahmedabad

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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AN UNCERTAIN FATE: The Zoroastrian community arrived in Gujarat nearly 1,000 years ago, fleeing persecution in what had become Muslim Iran. Today they face a harsh demographic reality. There are only about 1,400 Parsis in Ahmedabad and the death rate has far outpaced the birthrate in the community, explained J. P Anklesaria , a retired brigadier and leader among Ahmedabad’s Parsis (Photographed above). Though hopeful that things will change, Anklesaria feared that if the trend continues in 25 or 50 years there will be no more Parsis in Ahmedabad -David Klein, MS '17.

Photo by Ana Singh

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A man practices puja in Ahmedabad

Photo by Ana Singh

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An Intimate Dinner with a Jain Family

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 10: Saturday was our last full day in India. After a morning panel with Indian journalists, newspaper editors and media entrepreneurs at our hotel in Ahmedabad, we went our different ways to finish our reporting projects before meeting in the evening for our formal farewell dinner, held at a restaurant called the House of MG. Then it hit us: None of us will ever be the same after this trip. We’ll look at the world through a lens crafted by our experiences in this incredible nation full of religious diversity. We gained the skills necessary to cover religion with an open mind and an empathetic heart.- Cole Pennington, MS'18

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Indian Journalists discuss how they cover religion in their reporting

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 11: We attended two Christian services: the high Anglican Dalit Church and the Mar Thoma Syrian Orthodox church, both in the Christian district of Ahmedabad called Behrampura. The Anglican church service was packed, housed in a sanctuary with dusty pink walls. A wooden cross hung high on the wall behind the preacher but the decorations were simple. Most of the color in the room came from the saris of the women in the congregation, with white lace scarves over their hair. On their laps, under folded hands, lay personal bibles in Gujarati.- Pia Peterson, M'S 17

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Believers raise their bible at the high Anglican Dalit Church

Photo by Ana Singh