A Leap of Faith

Human skin is instantly destroyed at 72°C. The “Timiti” or fire-walking ceremony is a Hindu festival originating in South India in honour of Draupati Amman. Devotees carry milk pots on their head as they walk across a fire pit filled with red hot coals.  It is said that true devotees to Draupati will walk out unscathed.

Faith is such an indispensable part of life in India. From the large number of vegetarians to the temples that are found in houses it has a very real presence in everyday life. However, faith is more than these displays, it is more than the rituals. It is not trapped in the temples but seems to be at the core of every decision or major life event that occurs. It is something that provides hope and a set of values that embody generosity, empathy, respect, and integrity.



Bathing in the Ganges


Last weekend we visited Haridwar, one of the 7 holiest cities in India. Arriving there I was overwhelmed by the bright reds, deep blues and majestic yellows around me. The entire river was moving with a sea of people looking to cleanse their sins away with the holy water of the Ganges River. Everyone in India seemed to be at the river with people regardless of their position in life all striving to make the journey to the holy place. A crossroads of India, Haridwar was where I saw faith, a happy faith rejoicing in the blessings.

On the way back, we drove by Gurudwara Paonta Sahib, a Sikh temple honouring Gurudwara Paonta Sahib. After covering my head and carefully washing my feet and hands, I walked into the temple to the chanting of a hypnotizing mantra. Our host gave us ten rupees and I quickly went to the offering box to say my prayers. Tired, I decided to sit on some mats on the side (I promise I did not fall asleep) and listen to the mantra which soon became a haunting harmony in my ears. Intrigued by the temple, I watched the worshippers come and go. For me, faith is something that is very hard to describe, it can be both so private and so explicit. Watching the worshippers pray, I was given a unique chance to observe the privacy of faith, a fleeting glimpses into their deepest emotions. Gurudwara Paonta Sahib was where I saw faith, a respectful faith honouring the power of leaders.


A Wedding is an Elaborate Affair 

Perhaps one of the places where I saw the most faith was in a Hindu wedding. I was lucky enough to have been invited to one of my student’s sister’s wedding. The wedding started off quite uneventfully with music and an unending supply of food. However, as the evening went on and as my stomach got bigger and bigger (hopefully not permanently) the music slowly died down and the fera ceremony began. This is the ceremony where the bride and groom walk around a sacred fire to assert their vows. Here, through the smoke from the fire burning in the center of the room, I could see faith on the faces of everybody in the room. The bride and groom and their families were dutifully performing all of the intricate rituals. Their faith for their religion seemed to be even stronger than the faith that they had to have in each other as lifelong partners. Even as the sun started rising they were still up listening to the instructions of the priest. The fera was where I saw faith, a hopeful faith looking for a better future.

Faith is a key part of the identity of India and I can’t even begin to imagine how different it will be without it. It certainly shapes the way people act and interact with others. I think that faith in India inspires a genuine kindness in the people. Despite the prevalence many social problems, I always see happiness and a continual faith that life will be better.


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About Bill Cao

I am a rising sophomore pursuing a dual degree in Management and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. I am interested in social entrepreneurship and love reading, traveling, exploring.