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 In several homes, local astrologers have been replaced by computer software that serves the same purpose.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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Mauth Ka Kuan – India’s Well of Death

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Circus shows have been getting censored, simplified and overall less exciting just about everywhere. Not in India though, that’s the place where the infamous phrase “death defying stunt” lives on through Mauth Ka Kuan, or the Well of Death.

Though originally performed all over the world, riding a bike on a vertical wall can now only be seen live in the “Land of contrasts” and it makes visiting the place even more tempting. The stunt is old so you’d imagine India’s bike riders have honed and perfected it to the highest level. Actually, the Well of Death – as the arena is referred to – isn’t just a marketing ploy.Riding on incredibly old bikes that haven’t seen maintenance since they left the factory, the Indian bikers ride with absolutely no safety gear at break neck speeds. The walls on which they ride are vertical and built from salvaged wood.

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Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – India’s Hugging Saint

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Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is a spiritual leader of a different kind. She doesn’t preach, she doesn’t ride around in a massive bullet proof Mercedes, she doesn’t sit atop a mountain and she’s really ruining the business for everybody else as she allows commoners to touch her. In fact, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is such a spiritual person that when the occasional reference of a saint is attached to her name, nobody seems to mind.

Achieving this level of notoriety was, as you’d imagine, not easy, but not for reasons you might imagine. Amma, as she’s commonly refered to, is famous for having touched the lives of more than 20 million people.Unlike your average politician, Amma (which translates into English as “mother”) has gotten this far by offering each and every one of them a motherly hug. Unlike your average free hug mob situation, when Amma is in town nobody shies away from the proceedings.

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Fan Turns His Home into Altar for Bollywood Star

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Shah Rukh Khan is one of the most popular actors in the world, but no one’s a bigger fan of the Bollywood actor than Vishal Singh, a man who has turned his home into an altar to the movie star.

The 38-year-old businessman who runs a homeopathic medicine business in Lucknow, India says there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to make Shah Rukh Kahn happy. So far he’s covered every surface in his house and even his car with photos of the Bollywood icon, changed his name to Vishahrukh Khan, and even spent his honeymoon in front of the actor’s mansion in Mumbai, hoping to catch a glimpse of his idol. Although he says no one cam be like Shah Rukh, he wanted to bear his name and even gave his children names related to the Indian actor. His son is named like Kahn’s child, Aryan, and his daughter Simran, is named after one of the female leads in one of the actor’s biggest movies, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

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India’s Richest Man Won’t Move into Billion-Dollar Home for Fear of Curse

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The 27-storey, billion-dollar tower home in Mumbai, called Antilia, was completed a year ago but India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and his family refuse to move in for fear of bad-luck curse.

Dubbed the most expensive home in the world, Antilia has been dominating the Mumbai skyline ever since it was completed last October, but Mukesh Ambani, who is ranked by Forbes as the ninth wealthiest person in the world with a fortune of $27billion, has been reluctant to move in. There’s been a lot of speculation around the subject, considering the chairman of Reliance Industries spent around $1 billion building the impressive tower home for him and his family, but according to reports cited by the Daily Mail, the reason is the building fails to conform with the ancient Indian architectural principles of vastu shastra.

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Vampire Husband Drank Wife’s Blood for the Last Three Years

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Deepa Ahirwar, a 22-year-old woman from India’s Madhya Pradesh state, has recently accused her husband of drinking her blood on a regular basis, for the last three years.

Although it sounds like the story of a cheap vampire movie, young Deepa swears she’s telling the truth and even bears the scars to prove it. She and her husband, Mahesh Ahirwar, an agricultural worker, got married in 2007, in Shikarpura village. A few months later, he started drawing blood from her veins, emptying the contents of the syringe into an empty glass and drinking the contents. He threatened he would do terrible things to her if she dared tell anyone about his habit, and she kept quiet for about three years.

Mahesh claimed drinking his wife’s blood kept him strong and boosted his virility, so he didn’t stop playing the vampire even when Deepa was pregnant. After she gave birth, seven months ago, she started protesting for the first time, because she would feel weak and nauseated after each blood extraction. Every time she resisted, her husband beat her, and when she couldn’t take it anymore, she ran to her parents, who after hearing her disturbing story, alerted the authorities.

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Indians Swallow Raw Fish to Cure Asthma

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India is known for the wide variety of folk remedies for various ailments, and one of the most popular right now is the raw-fish-swallowing therapy practiced by the Goud family, in Hyderabad.

Asthma is one of the most serious respiratory conditions a person can have, and since conventional medicine doesn’t offer a permanent cure, many are willing to try any kinds of treatment, no matter how bizarre. One of these is the fish swallowing cure offered by the Goud family, for the last 166 years. Every year, during the month of June, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Hyderabad to try this unusual remedy, on the day of Mrigashira Karthi. Around 500 volunteers administer the miracle cure: live 2-inch to 3-inch long murrel fish which have been fed a drop of the secret herbal formula the Goud’s claim cures asthma within three years.

Ingredients for the medicine are collected two-three months before the big day, mixed the day before using water from the Goud family’s well, and administered to asthma sufferers free of charge. The patient is advised not to eat or drink anything four hours before swallowing the raw fish and two hours after. Also, he must be aware that he must come back for the cure three consecutive years, if he wants to get rid of the asthma permanently.

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India’s Ram Ram Bank Gives Whole New Meaning to Banking

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It has no guards, no locks, offers no interest or credit schemes, and doesn’t event deal in money. Still, India’s unusual Ram Ram Bank, in New Delhi, serves over 5,000 happy customers, with more signing up every day.

Ram Ram Bank was established 25 years ago, by Tewari, a retired school teacher from Sitapur, who quit his job in 1983, after his guru advised him to devote his life to Lord Ram. He got the idea of opening a bank where people could deposit their “Ram naam” (pieces of paper with the Lord’s name scribbled hundreds of times). He didn’t need any security, since the writings were of no use to mere mortals, and all he had to do was deposit them and ocasionally take them to be displayed at a temple in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram.

Scribbling Ram naam notes has always been very popular in India. Some people say it helps them connect with God, others say the faith helps them work harder to achieve their goals, but all of them claim that writing Ram’s name just makes them feel better. In the past, everyone who wrote these holy notes traveled to Ayodhya themselves and deposited them at the temple, but in this day and age fewer people find the time to do it anymore. That’s where the Ram Ram Bank comes into play. All a person has to do is write his Ram naams every day and send them straight to the bank, or hand them over to one of the many volunteers around the city, at their own convenience.The pieces of paper are deposited in a small room, and taken to Ayodhya every six months.

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This Is What I Call a Smoking Car

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In celebration of the World Anti-Tobacco Day, campaigners in Mumbai, India, have created an impressive life-size car model from 200,000 cigarettes. The smokable installation was placed on display in a Mumbai shopping mall, where it attracted the attention of everyone who passed by. But it was the message in the background that really caught my eye; apparently an average smoker will make short work of the 200,000 cigarettes in just a few years…

India is currently the second largest producer and consumer of tobacco, after China. At least one fifth of India’s population (roughly 241 million people) consume tobacco in some form.

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Indian Sadhu Has Kept His Right Hand Up for the Last 38 Years

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Sadhu Amar Bharati is an Indian holy man who claims he has kept his right hand raised in the air since 1973. Now, 38 years later, his hand is just a useless piece of skin and bone, but has become a symbol for Shiva worshipers around India.

Until 1970, Amar Bharati was an average middle-class man who lived a normal life. He had a job, a home, a wife and three children, but none of that mattered when he woke up one morning and decided to leave everything behind and dedicate his life to serving the Hindu god Shiva. He began wandering the roads of India dressed in his simple Sadhu clothes and carrying only his trusty Trishula (a metal trident). After three years, in 1973, Amar realized he was still too connected to the fading luxury and pleasures of mortal life, and decided to separate himself from them by raising his right arm and keeping it raised. 38 years later, his arm is still up and he couldn’t use it, even if he wanted to.

Other sources claim Amar Bharati felt disillusioned by all the fighting going on in the world, and decided to raise his right arm for peace. A respected Sadhu at the Kumbh Mela, in Haridwar, Amar has inspired other Sadhus to raise their arms for peace and harmony, and some of them have kept them raised for the last seven, thirteen, even 25 years. But doing something like this doesn’t just mean giving up the functionality of an important body part, it also implies dealing with a lot of pain. Bharati himself says he went through excruciating pain for a long time, but not anymore. That’s because his arm is completely atrophied and stuck in a bizarre, semi-vertical position, a useless bony structure ending in thick, twisted nails that he never clips.

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