By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – Fillet of sole with tyrolienne sauce. Supreme of pheasant Veronique. Chocolate lotus blossoms. These are culinary creations that were served in the past to Indian prime ministers visiting the White House.
But on Monday, when India’s newest leader meets with President Barack Obama, his plate will be empty.
That’s because Narendra Modi will be in the middle of a strict fast for Navratri, Sanskrit for nine nights. It's a Hindu festival devoted to the manifestations of the goddess Shakti, a symbol of purity and power.
Navratri’s timing depends on the lunar calendar but usually is observed once in March-April to usher in summer and again in September-October, before winter. Modi intends to survive solely on “nimbu pani” or water with lemon for nine days. FULL POST
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - To discover one’s self. To find enlightenment. To take a spiritual journey.
What does this language mean? Are these pursuits, these aspirations, really possible? And if they are, what do the results look like?
I can’t pretend to have the answers. What I do know is that I went to India this year on a journalism fellowship to write about religion and spirituality. I landed in a place called Rishikesh, a holy spot for Hindus and magnet for Westerners seeking inner peace.
For two weeks, I set judgment aside and dove in to see what this place was all about. What I found touched me more than I anticipated and left me feeling somewhat transformed. I chronicled all of this in "Indian Awakenings" last month.
Since then, I've had a different sort of awakening. FULL POST
(CNN) - Earlier this year, thanks to a global religion reporting fellowship, I had the opportunity to explore the spiritual landscape that is Rishikesh, India.
It’s a magical little city nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas that’s holy to Hindus and a mystical playground for Westerners.
The journey was something I lightly anticipated as “Eat, Pray, Love … minus the pizza and sex.” It turned out to be so much more.
Maybe you followed the two-week experience, as it unfolded, at #RoamingRavitz. Or perhaps you’re hearing about this adventure for the first time. Either way, I hope you’ll be curious to learn more.
My time in Rishikesh was full. What I learned from the swamis, gurus, astrologers, yogis, healers and seekers I met there left my head and heart spinning.
Months later, I have finally made sense of it all. I invite you to check out the full story of my odyssey at "Indian Awakenings."
Also be sure to read "Lost and found: Missing in Rishikesh, India, the 'Land of Gods,'" where I delve into the mysteries surrounding the disappearance in Rishikesh of two Western men. Some have theorized that they fell victim to "India Syndrome," an unusual condition in which young Western travelers become delusional and, in extreme cases, disappear - often during quests for enlightenment.
I went into both reporting ventures not knowing what to expect. They brought me places I never saw coming.
If a spiritual destination left you transformed, I'd love to know where you went and what you learned. Please feel free to share in the comments section.
(CNN) - Caste. Cows. Karma.
Suhag Shukla knows that’s how some people outside Hinduism see her religion. As the head of the Hindu American Foundation, Shukla, 42, clarifies misconceptions all the time.
Hinduism is ancient, though there is no specific date for when it was formed. The name is a Sanskrit word; Hinduism and Hindu were coined by invaders who used the terms to refer to the people they encountered when they crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and arrived at the Indus River.
Hotel Death: It's a place of celebration and salvation for souls
In America, Hinduism’s profile was elevated by Indian immigrants who brought their customs and rituals with them and perhaps most recently, by the growing popularity of Hindu teachings like yoga and meditation. FULL POST
(CNN) Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, sits a magical place ripe for exploration. It’s called Rishikesh, and for the next two weeks it will be our spiritual playground.
I am going there thanks to a religion reporting fellowship, and I’d like to take you with me.
A holy spot for Hindus, Rishikesh is also a destination for Westerners hungering for a different and deeper kind of sustenance. Among the most renowned Rishikesh searchers: The Beatles, who came here in 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
It’s dotted with ashrams. Painted holy men roam the streets and sit in nearby caves. There are sunset ceremonies along the sacred Ganges River, and yoga classes flow as consistently as the hallowed waters. Pilgrims flock to temples. Visitors can surrender to ancient forms of medicine, find healing and be cleansed. Some are said to arrive in Rishikesh and never leave, losing themselves forever in the quest for enlightenment.
By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
A railroad station crush left 36 people dead Sunday among tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims flocking to the banks of the Ganges River for the world's largest religious gathering, authorities reported.
The stampede occurred on Sunday evening as floods of pilgrims entering the station in Allahabad, the scene of this year's Kumbh Mela festival, broke through temporary barriers and crowded onto already busy platforms, railway authorities said.
By Naomi Canton, for CNN
(CNN) - Diwali is one of the most important Hindu festivals in India - but the colorful customs and meanings associated with it can vary dramatically depending on whether you reside in the countryside or the city.
On the streets of densely populated conurbations like Mumbai, Diwali - popularly known as the Festival of Lights - is often a raucous affair, marked by a cacophony of firecrackers on the streets and a flourish of ceremonial gambling in the home. The wealthier urban dwellers splurge on gold, jewelry, clothes and expensive gifts such as electronics, which they buy for themselves and their loved ones.
Editor's note: David Van Biema, the chief religion writer at Time Magazine for ten years, is author of the illustrated biography "Mother Teresa: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint," now being reissued and made available in Spanish as "La Madre Teresa: La Vida y las obras de una santa moderna."
By David Van Biema, Special to CNN
Fifteen years may be less than an instant in celestial time, but here on earth it's a lot of news cycles.
Mother Teresa departed this Earth on September 5, 1997. What more can we say about the woman who became synonymous with love for the "poorest of the poor," picking up a Nobel and tweaking the conscience of millions? What do we know about her now that we didn't know then?
A lot, it turns out.
Here's a quick Blessed Mother Teresa primer, emphasizing the stuff that you probably don’t know, some of which we only learned recently.
1. She was born a rich girl.
By Moni Basu
(CNN) – India approved quotas for minority groups Thursday in a move that was widely seen as the ruling party's attempt to woo Muslim voters in a key state.
The federal cabinet set aside a 4.5% minority quota in jobs and education within an existing 27 percent quota for what are known as Other Backward Classes, traditionally the lowest rungs of the Hindu caste system otherwise known as Dalits.
The Indian constitution prohibits privileges based on religion but Thursday's decision would allow economically and socially disadvantaged minorities - Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians - to be included in affirmative action programs.
By Moni Basu, CNN
Nwe Delhi (CNN) - What could possibly be more popular than the latest iPhone? An Indian company is hoping that among India's Muslims, it will be the new Quran mobile, a smartphone loaded with Islamic features.
The new ENMAC Quran MQ3500 phone, launched last month in India, comes with Islam's holy book translated in 29 languages and a compass that directs users toward Mecca. Muslims bow in the direction of the holy city for prayers five times a day.
The $76 phone also features an Islamic calendar, downloaded holy books, a calculator for zakat (donation to charity) and an automatic ring silencer that can be set up for prayer times at mosques.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.