Agni Keli – Unique Indian Tradition Encourages Fighting Fire with Fire

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Agni Keli, also known as the Fire Fight of Kateel Durga Parameswari Temple, in Mangalore, India, is a unique ritual which has hundreds of devotees throwing burning palm fronds at each other, to appease the Hindu goddess Durga.

Each year, the Festival of Kateel Durga Parameswari Temple is celebrated over 8 days, in the month of April. It commences on the night before Mesha Sankramana Day, and features a series of themed performances, the most intriguing of which is Agni Keli. On the second night of the festival, hundreds of devotees gather at the temple of Durga, in Mangalore, to carry out a centuries-old tradition that involves throwing and getting hit with burning palm fronds. The fiery action attracts thousands of spectators, who watch as the torch-wielding men try to set each other ablaze.

Photo: Daijiworld ..

Unique Animal Art at the Bikaner Camel Festival

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If you thought your hairstylist was amazing, wait until you see what living masterpieces these Indian camel enthusiasts can create with just scissors and a lot of patience.

Every year, the desert city of Bikaner, in India’s state of Rajasthan, hosts one of the most colorful events in the world – the Bikaner Camel Festival. Home to the only camel breeding farm in India, and one of the largest such farms in all of Asia, it’s only natural this city should have a festival dedicated to the useful humped animal. The popular event takes place over two days, in January, and draws in camel breeders from all over Rajasthan, as well as tourists from all around the world. This homage to camels includes various events, from camel races and rides, to camel haircut competitions and even a camel beauty pageant.

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Indian Woman Has Been on a Hunger Strike for the Last 12 Years

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When someone famous, like the former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, goes on a hunger strike, the whole world knows about it, but Irom Sharmila Chanu, an ordinary woman from India, has been on a political fast for the last 12 years, and hardly anyone even knows she exists.

Irom Sharmila Chanu, also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, went on a hunger strike on November 4, 2000 in an effort to  have the Government of India withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) from Manipur and other parts of India. This draconian act practically gives the military the power to do as they wish, as it prohibits any legal or judicial proceedings against army personnel without the previous sanction of the Central Government. It has taken away the people’s right to protest against atrocities or engage in any lawful democratic activity. Simple civilians can easily be labeled as ‘terrorists’ or ‘suspects’ and taken into custody. According to official figures, 25,000 people have been killed in Manipur alone, since this Act came into force, in 1980. Back then, there were only four insurgent groups in the area, now there are 25 on the army’s watch list.

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India’s Controversial Baby Dropping Ritual Is Back

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The devotee scales the high walls of the religious shrine on a rope, a bucket dangling off his back. Once he is at the top (typically about 30ft high), he miraculously retrieves a baby from the bucket, handing it over to a bunch of men standing on the balcony. One of these men takes hold of the baby’s hands and feet, holding the child as though it were a basket. He swings the kid back and forth in the air, exclaiming a chant in the praise of the Lord. And then, shockingly, the baby is dropped.

Baby dropping could be India’s most bizarre ritual. Screaming, wailing babies are dropped from several meters into the air, and there are a group of 14 to 15 men standing right below, holding a blanket that breaks the baby’s fall. Just as it bounces on the blanket once, it is caught by one of the men and handed over to the mother. Understandably, it takes several minutes before the baby recovers from the shock.

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Indian Man Bathes with Boiling Milk Once a Year

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India is a land of ancient culture, with practices that date back thousands of years. It is hard to trace the origins of any particular ritual, let alone remember the significance behind them. With no logical explanation available, several Indian practices seem superstitious and sometimes even a tad foolish. However, this does not deter the people of India from participating in religious and cultural celebrations with gusto.

One such example is the festival of the nine evenings, Navaratri (Nava=9, Ratri=Evening), celebrated every year in the month of October. Dedicated to different versions of the Goddess, all 9 days are filled with festivities, good food, music, dance and religious ceremonies across the country. Living in India, watching the Navaratri for me is a part of normal life. But then I heard about this man who is certainly unusual, even for Indian standards. Every year, during Navaratri, he bathes with pots of boiling milk. And he comes out of the experience, unscathed.

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Who Needs an Education When You Can Eat Hot Coal

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People will eat the weirdest things. In the past we’ve featured strange eating habits like munching on bars of soap, gobbling handfuls of sand and eating sponges, but Ambuli Abu, from Coimbatore, India, is the only man I know of who can actually eat red-hot coal.

I’ve seen people consume some of the hottest foods on Earth, but none can even hold a candle to Ambuli Abu, an Indian man who likes his food right out of the fire. The school drop-out has been making a name for himself by eating hot coal and light bulbs. It’s not the career everyone dreams of, but for Abu, this was apparently the best way to achieve his goal of setting a world record. In a video interview, the fire eater says he is aware that his mouth and stomach must be suffering as a result of his eating hot embers, and admits that it does cause him pain, but he tries to keep his heart strong in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a record setter. He adds that just the fact that he can do thins other cannot, keeps him going.

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India Introduces Stylish Stilettos for Men

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Sleek stilettos, often considered the ultimate, or ‘queen’ heel, are all it takes to make a woman go weak in the knees. There’s nothing that lends a woman power and confidence than to be seen strutting down the street in a great pair of heels. The attraction that the perfect pair holds over a woman is normal, and quite understandable. But apparently now men want it too… According to The Times Of India, stilettos for men have recently been introduced in fashion circles around India. That is just weird!

I hope this is not men’s answer to women who have been borrowing from their wardrobe all these years. I mean, it’s nice to see a woman wearing pants or shorts, but a man in stilettos? But believe it or not, heels are indeed becoming the latest fad in men’s fashion. But we’re not talking about the common Indian man here. I can confidently say that if I went out on the streets of India and asked about a 100 men if they would like to be seen in a pair of stilettos, they would ‘flatly’ refuse. Some might even ask what stilettos are, others would just run away, but most would probably punch me right in the kisser. But that’s not how things stand with the men of India’s high society.

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Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants a Whole Forest

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It’s truly amazing when we get to cover news of people who single-handedly create something truly significant. Churches on a mountain side, for instance. Or in this case, an entire forest. Jadav Payeng, a man in his mid-fifties, has been instrumental in converting a sand bar in the middle of the river Brahmaputra in Assam, India, into a huge forest. His work of the past 30 years is being recognized by tourists and film-makers, the world over.

Mulai, as Jadav is known among locals, started work on the land in 1980. A scheme was launched at that time by the social forestry division of the district, involving the planting of trees on only 200 hectares. The project was completed after 5 years and all the laborers left, except Mulai. Dedicated to the forest, he stayed on and single-handedly looked after the trees, continuing to plant more of them. Eventually, the forest expanded to 550 hectares. According to Assistant Conservator of Forest, Gunin Saikia, this is perhaps the world’s biggest forest in the middle of a river. Mulai says there’s potential to extend this even further to 1000 hectares. Inspired, the department has planned to launch another plantation program this year.

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Indian Artist Paints with His Tongue

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Now here’s a hobby that’s bound to leave a bad aftertaste. Ani K, from Kerala, India, makes paintings using his tongue. No, he doesn’t hold a paintbrush with his tongue, as I mistakenly believed at first. He actually slathers paint on it, which he then transfers on to canvas to create beautiful images.

Sounds rather gross to me, but the talent is certainly something to behold. Ani K, who works as a drawing teacher, says he was inspired by an artist who painted with his foot and wanted to do something like that. He started off using his nose, but he realized that was done before and he wanted something unique. That’s when he zeroed in on his tongue. “I thought of giving my tongue a try and succeeded,” he says. “Many newspapers reported it. I got a good response. Then, I made it a regular practice.”

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Vrindavan – Where India’s Widows Go to Die

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Superstitious beliefs are generally perceived in light humor, like when a black cat crosses your path, or you look into a broken mirror. But what about the ones that could cause several women to live in poverty and destitution for the rest of their lives? Unfortunately, that’s the ugly side of superstition and it does exist in several rural, underdeveloped societies of India. Societies, where it is normal to believe that apart from being a financial burden, widowed women and even their shadows, bring bad luck. Within such circles, widows – both young and old – are shunned and forced to leave their home. Their bangles are broken, red vermilion (the mark of a married woman) is wiped away from the forehead, and they’re forced to wear nothing but white saris, before being turned away from home. Thousands of these homeless widows gather at one place, Vrindavan, where it is believed that death will bring them salvation. So they go there to live in ashrams, awaiting their turn to die.

Unfortunately, life in the ashrams of the holy city of Vrindavan is not exactly a bed of roses for the lonely and abandoned women. In fact, some of them are so poor that they have even left the ashrams and taken to the streets to beg for their food. The north-Indian city, with a population of about 55,000, is believed to have about 20,000 widows today. The ones who do stay on in the ashrams receive only one small plate of food a day, and live in the poorest of conditions. Young widows face a threat to their safety as well, due to sexual abuse and human trafficking.

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India’s Fascinating Fortune-Telling Robots

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Indians have long since been passionate about predicting the future. Horoscopes are created with the help of an astrologer on the very day a child is born and these documents are consulted from time to time during major milestones of a person’s life. Especially when a match is made as a part of an arranged marriage, an astrologer is duly consulted to make sure the horoscopes of the bride and groom are compatible with each other.

While all this may seem very strange to an outsider, for Indians it’s a part of normal and natural life. In fact , progress in terms of fortune-telling technology has been made too. In several homes, local astrologers have been replaced by computer software that serves the same purpose. One simply needs to enter their name and time/date of birth to receive a complete report of their past, present and future.

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Maramadi – The Famous Bull Race of Kerala

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The most famous traditional game involving bulls is Spanish bullfighting, but the people of Kerala, India, have come up with a way celebration that doesn’t involve torturing and killing poor animals. It’s called Maramadi, and it’s held every year, in the post-harvest season.

Maramadi is essentially a bull racing event, only instead of a track, it takes place in flooded rice fields, which makes it infinitely more entertaining for the crowds watching from the sidelines. In preparation for the event, the freshly ploughed fields are filled with water, thus ensuring that every competing team makes a big splash for the audience. Although bulls are the main competitors in Maramadi, their human masters have the important role of guiding them during the race, making sure they don’t stray off the course before reaching the finish line. Each team consists of two bull and three guides, who have to keep up with the animals if they want a shot at wining. That of course takes good speed perfect balance.

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Amazing Indian Girl Is Friends with Six King Cobras

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India has long been known as the land of the snake charmers. But here’s something very unusual. An 8-year-old Indian girl who plays all day  not with other girls, but with her pet King Cobras.

Kajol Khan lives in the village of Ghatampur in Uttar Pradesh, with her parents, six sisters, two brothers and six pet Cobras, her best friends. She comes from a family of snake catchers and hopes to carry on in her father’s footsteps someday. Her father, 55-year-old Taj Mohammad has been working as a snake catcher in Ghatampur for the past 45 years. While he has already passed on his skills to his son, he’s unexpectedly found himself a mentor to his daughter Kajol. The little girl has been used to snakes crawling around her since she was a baby, and hence feels nothing out of the ordinary in their presence. In fact, she prefers hanging out with her slithering buddies rather than go to school. She has been bitten – on her stomach, cheeks and hands – but this is hardly of any concern to her. Kajol has always been able to make a full recovery, thanks to her father’s herbal medicine, which has been a family secret for generations. “I have a lot of fun with the cobras. It hurts when they bite me but sometimes it’s my own fault because I tease them. It’s quite funny.”

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Human Spit Could Cause Indian Bridge to Collapse

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Howrah Bridge, located in Kolkata,  India, is a cantilever bridge that spans over Hooghly River. Built during the British rule, in 1943, it is one of the most famous symbols of Kolkata.

The nearly 70-year-old bridge however, is in danger of collapsing, not from age, but from human saliva. It is common to find many locals chewing paan (a mild intoxicant containing betel nuts and leaves), and then spitting out red-tinged saliva on the steel hangers of the bridge. This is not only unsightly, but the corrosion caused by the accumulation of several years worth of saliva, is a cause of serious concern. Bird droppings are also a major cause for the corrosion of the bridge, and regular cleaning was undertaken ever since this threat was identified. The cleaning is apparently not good enough to work its way through the layers of spit and local authorities say the corrosion has caused so much damage that the thickness of the hangers has reduced to half of the original, from 6mm to 3mm.

Photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP

Efforts are being made to salvage this old Indian monument from disgrace. Engineers have come up with an idea to cover the steel with sheets of fiberglass. There are other factors that are a cause for concern in the maintenance of the bridge, such as damage from vehicles due to rash driving. Over 100,000 vehicles are known to cross the bridge every day, along with around 150,000 pedestrians on the walkways.

Designer Creates Shirt That’s More Expensive Than a Car

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The Royals of ancient times wore clothes that were studded with precious stones and metals. Now you can too, if you are ready to pay an arm and a leg, that is. Or just five million rupees ($97,500).

This pricey shirt was created by an Indian designer, Amitabh Chandel. A descendant of a royal family himself, he says he wanted to create a shirt suitable for today’s royalty. What makes the shirt so expensive is the fine silk it’s made of, and the diamond buttons, set in gold. The shirt is in fact part of an entire collection, the price range starting at around 50,000 Rupees ($950). He says that modern royal men, as well as commoners are welcome to place orders for the shirts. Mr. Chandel says claims these shirts are a perfect blend of the practical and the royal. Since traditional royal attire cannot be worn every day, these shirts allow a sense of richness to pervade regular clothing.

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