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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 14:15 GMT
Hinduism and India Cool
Bachi Karkaria
Associate Editor, The Times of India

An Indian holy man on a mobile phone
Modern Indian culture combines the new and the traditional
Indian youth has a new relationship with religion. As the BBC programme, What the World Thinks of God explores the modern world's relationship with God, Bachia Karkaria writes about contemporary attitudes to faith and in particular Hinduism.

God has a new incarnation in India - cool, user-friendly, results-oriented, upwardly mobile, and probably carrying one too. Seriously. Cell-phone ring-tones come in the tunes of popular Hindu hymns.

Atheism may be universally endemic to the young, especially male, but India is the exception to the dictum that "Everyone is a Marxist in his youth".

For the record, young Indians remained equally immune to communism's mystic alternative - the hippie movement of the 60s.

Today's New Age cults are nothing more than flower-power Gen-etically modified.

Like the sitar, guru shirts and transcendental meditation in the Beatles-era, India Cool has discovered nirvana, yoga, joss-sticks and Vastu Shastra, the Hindu equivalent of Feng Shui, via the West.

Hindu children from a London school performing a traditional dance
A series of images created for What the World Thinks of God

Ordinary, middle-class 20-somethings have an equation all their own with God.

They have been influenced by the political tsunami of Hindutva, the political incarnation of Hinduism.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which started it all, has displayed an increasing ambivalence towards militant Hinduism, first to appease its more secular allies, and now to advance their new 21st century globalised image.

Young Hindus are woven out of these contrary strands, but the result is a seamless breed with varying levels of religious involvement.

Pretty young things genuflect to patriarchy by fasting for the long-life of future husbands, even as they invoke the goddess, "Shakti", which literally means `power', to fight their social battles.

The computer geek is quite likely to decorate his desktop with stickers of both Garfield and Ganesha, the phenomenally popular god of auspicious beginnings.

His home probably boasts a stylised idol sculpted by a best-seller Indian artist in collaboration with Murano glass.

The mystic word `Om' once had an exclusively religious context. But it has acquired a dubious universality courtesy of Madonna mantras and Sunset Boulevard spiritualism.

There is a new Om-ni presence even among those who never chanced upon the Time story on yoga featuring Christy Thornton sitting in the lotus position on the cover.

Fashion accessory

Rituals, surprisingly, are still important to young Hindus.
Young Indian men and women sport Hinduism's most potent symbol as a fashion accessory.

Designer "Om" pendants dangle from throats and jangle on charm bracelets, alongside little Ganeshas - and yin-and-yang medallions.

They rock to the souped-up Om beat of a Grammy wannabe. The spiritual O-Word seeps into them from almost every episode of popular TV soaps.

In the blockbuster "Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai", a Britain-returned heroine in a micro-mini belted out the hymn, "Om Jagdish" to prove that she remained uncorruptedly Indian.

Rituals, surprisingly, are still important to young Hindus. In fast-paced, commuting-harried urbania, the temple comes to the worshippers' drawing room via the tele-puja and even a votive tele-viewing of the deity.

Conditional faith

Where the young differ from their parents is their attitude to faith. If faith wants to keep them, it has to work for it.

It's a commercial relationship. You can have my prayers, provided you get me my girlfriend back.

But it's not all sanitised sanctity. A regressive fundamentalism is clearly evident in sections of the young of all religions, including such traditionally liberal ones as Zoroastrianism.

Its disturbing manifestation is an obdurate intolerance, communal exclusivity, and the demonising of the Other.

They don't want to hear that dying for your belief is quite different from killing for it.

A version of Bachi Karkaria's article has also appeared in The Times of India

What The World Thinks of God is broadcast as follows:

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