North India in 30 key words


For purists, this is the Morris Oxford 1954. For others, it is the most popular car in India. Western tourists, Indian families and the Prime Minister appreciate its robustness and reliability. Riding like a clock, the Ambassador is as comfortable in the Kutch desert as on the roads of Bengal. The Ambassador is used as a taxi in Delhi and Calcutta; in Mumbai, we prefer the “Premier” also called Padmini, which is a copy of the Fiat 1100D, made in Italy in the 1960s.


To go on a trip or choose a date to marry the eldest son; every event in the life of the Indians depends on the position of the stars. Even the arrival of the monsoon is subject to the consultation of a jyotishi (astrologer). And when the horoscopes of two future brides do not match, this is a serious reason for marriage annulment.


The ficus benghalensis is a sacred tree. It is usually found next to the temples. Its aerial roots fall back to the ground and form new trunks. It is beneath a banyan that Buddha attained Enlightenment.


This is the most common word in India for a market. These stalls neighbor each other sell all types of goods (fabrics, food, objects of worship, fruits and vegetables, jewelry, clothing …) and services. Bazaars are the best places to get good prices, the rule being bargaining. A place of life, cultural mix and encounters.


The mecca of Indian cinema takes its name from a contraction of the Bombay initial and the world-famous symbol of Hollywood cinema. It is the first filming and film production venue in India: nearly 250 films a year, which are then broadcast in Hindi and Urdu all over the country but also all over the world (North Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia). Best known for his musicals, the laxity of Indian intellectual property legislation has also allowed the release of plagiarism quantities of great Western hits. In recent years, the most popular genre is the massala (“mix”) which mixes for more than three hours several genres in the same film (comedy, romance, action or even fantastic).


The term is of Portuguese origin ( casta , “unmixed”, “pure”) and not Indian. It gathers two very different local concepts: on the one hand the Varna (“color” in Sanskrit), which is a socioreligious caste of Hinduism, and on the other hand the Jari < / i> (“birth” in Sanskrit) which is a socio-professional caste. These two classifications do not coincide; thus, more than half of the population of the highest caste of Varna (the Brahmans) lives below the poverty line, the latter being a traditional value peculiar to this caste. This Indian system organizes society according to the birth of individuals. Theoretically abolished, it remains highly established in rural areas and in the poorest sections of the population.


A cellar is much more than tea, it is THE national drink! Impossible not to taste it, we will propose it everywhere. With the locals, in the stalls, in the street, in the railway stations and in the trains … Besides, you will quickly learn to recognize the nasal voice of the salesman who shouts “châaaî, châaï!” During the journeys. It is tea with milk, a lot of sugar and spices (masala), it is drunk very hot. If you want plain tea (no milk), you’ll need to specify it by asking for a black tea.


Indians of Hindu confession cremate their dead. The pyre is fed in the best case with sandalwood. Some ghats (the steps that lead to the river) in Varanasi are devolved to this ritual. Be discreet and do not take pictures if you are attending a cremation.


General name popularized by British colonists during colonization to designate a wide variety of spicy Indian dishes in sauce. In reality, this term is not used in India. We prefer the word massala in North India, which means “mixture” (see also “Bollywood”!). The spices contained in the preparation vary greatly depending on the regional tradition. The powder almost always contains pepper, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin and pepper, and by adding yoghurt or coconut milk, can also be in the form of more or less thick paste.


Roadside girl, a kind of very rustic local canteen, where curry (precooked), roti (local bread) are cooked in a tandoor and served hot. There are 100% vegetarian dhaba who serve vegetables, lentils, potatoes …


Dharma is one of the concepts of Hindu philosophy whose root “dhru” means to bear, to support. The term refers to “what constitutes our True Nature”. Dharma is a means, an instrument or a line of life that prevents man from falling and allows him to rise spiritually. It is both a spiritual way of life and a set of principles to follow. Hinduism describes Dharma as the universal natural laws which, if we observe them, make it possible to attain happiness and not to suffer. Hindus regard dharma as the foundation of life. This Code of Conduct involves non-violent behavior, equality, peace, lack of aggression and envy.


The equivalent of our laundromats in more rustic (and cheaper!). Dirty laundry that you have left at the hotel reception or in a shop is marked and sent to the dhobi-ghat. It is sorted and then soaked in a tray of soapy water. Then he is hit by the dhobi against a wall or on the floor. In action, you may lose one or two buttons, but your smudged shirt is like new. Then she is ironed. In the evening your clothes are waiting for you, carefully folded.


A symbolic and sacred animal in India. Sign of wealth and power, it was once of all royal processions. Maharajas used it for tiger hunting. Now he walks and blesses tourists near temples and forts (see Amber). Wild Elephants live in the states of Assam and Kerala (which alone is estimated at about 4,000).


An emblematic character. All Indian political parties venerately refer to the “Father of the Nation” and willingly display some interest in some of his ideals (the attachment to traditional values ​​for the BJP, religious tolerance for Congress, egalitarianism for communists ). However, none can claim the utopia Gandhian. This one, based on a quasi-autarkic economy and on a frugal existence, would not make recipe in these times of opening (without nuance) on the western consumption.


Sacred for Hindus, the Ganges has its source in the Himalayas, crosses the North Indian plain to throw itself in the Bay of Bengal after a course of nearly 3000 km. The river is considered as the ultimate spiritual truth, whose source is Shiva’s bun ( jata-mukata ). Believers can wash all their sins by immersing themselves in it, and the dispersion of ashes in the river frees the souls of the dead. Unfortunately, it is now one of the most polluted rivers in the world.


The “snow house” (in Sanskrit) is a gigantic mountain range of more than 600 000 km², separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. It is home to the highest peaks in the world, 14 of them exceeding 8000 m of altitude, and among them, the famous Mount Everest. Resulting from the collision of Indian and Eurasian plates, this massif is the source of the main national rivers (Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra). If the Himalayas was the main theater of the Sino-Indian war of 1962, modifying their common border to the detriment of India, the chain has mostly avoided many conflicts because of its gigantic size. This is how the Indian peninsula escaped Genghis Khan during the Mongol conquests.


In India everyone is called Mr. Kumar, Mr. Singh, or Mr. Dasgupta. In fact, Kumar literally means “sir”, this term is used to hide his real name that often betrays his caste.


Traditional Indian drink, based on fermented milk from churning yoghurt. It can be plain, salty, spicy or sweet. The best known flavors are rose, lemon, raspberry or mango. Alkaline like all dairy products, it is very appreciable after a strong spicy dish!


In Sanskrit, we call by the term of raja every monarch or prince. The maharaja is a “great king”, a title reserved for the overlords of several rajas . The term quickly spreadin South and Southeast Asia, and also designates a king in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Rulers of Muslim religion were called nawab in Urdu, a word that gave the French “nabob”. They all lost their privileges and territories during the independence of India.


Say hello, because “nama” means salvation, “ace” means I, and “you” means you. So the word literally means: I salute you. The namaste gesture (hands joined to the heart and salvation of the head or placing the hands joined at the height of the forehead and then down to the heart) symbolizes the belief that there is a divine spark in each of us, located in the chakra from the heart, the chakra being “the centers through which the subtle energy of the astral body of man passes” (Dictionary of Oriental Wisdom, Robert Laffont, “Bouquins” Coll.). It is the expression of a deep form of respect.


Prayer or offering. It marks the daily life of the Indians. The owner of a shop makes his puja to his favorite deity before starting his day, same thing for bus drivers or taxi drivers who have set up a mini-temple next to their steering wheel. The big festivals (Holi, Diwali …) give rise to pujas gathering thousands of faithful in the temples.


India is the 2nd largest rice producer in the world behind China. Arable land is devoted to this very demanding crop that requires a lot of labor to transplant the seedlings. During the development of the plant, the rice fields must remain constantly submerged and sunny. At the time of harvest, in the fall, the rice is usually one meter tall and looks like oats. It is necessary to remove the film of sound to obtain a white grain but often in the countryside, one eats it completely to avoid certain deficiencies.


Wandering ascetic. In principle, designates a person performing a sadhana (spiritual journey). The sadhus live most often in renunciation. They are then sanyasin. They are found in pilgrimage towns or isolated in remote places. The wise Shankara (dates very imprecise, between the VI th century before our era and the VIII th century) instituted several orders of sadhus. Some, however, date back to time immemorial. Many of the so-called sadhus that you will encounter in the pilgrimage sites are in fact only beggars without spiritual concern.


Traditional feminine clothing whose success has never been denied since it is more than 2000 years old! It consists of a wide strip of fabric approximately 1.20 m wide and 5 to 6 m long. The drape technique varies according to regions, castes, religions … It is theoretically reserved for married women.


“The one who brings happiness”, in Sanskrit, is certainly the Hindu god best known in the West. Yogi omniscient, he lives on Mount Kailash (second highest mountain after Everest). A complex character, he is the god of illusions and ignorance but above all of destruction. But contrary to the Western notion, destruction has a positive character here: it is creative and always marks the beginning of a new cycle. Shiva is represented in very different forms and has more than 1008 distinct names, but his best-known form presents him with a third eye in the middle of the forehead, a cobra around his neck, dressed in a tiger skin and armed with a trident.


“Sign of Prosperity” and by extension of all that appears related to cosmic harmony. It symbolizes the movement of a wheel and also the micro or macrocosmic cycles. It is found everywhere in India, in temples, shops, painted on vehicles or even on cows. This is the sign that Hitler used to symbolize his views on harmony … This cultural looting coupled with a misuse of symbols is perceived as a cruel insult by Hindus.


The largest wild cat is the national symbol of India. After having almost disappeared because of their intensive hunting until 1970, the country now lists the largest population of Bengal tigers in the world (thanks to the Tiger safeguard program, launched in 1973). It is the symbol of kingship and divine power, and is very present in traditional Indian culture. Shiva is shown wearing a tiger skin, and Durga, the eighteen-armed goddess, has a riding tiger.


Red dot that Hindus apply on their forehead with a vermilion powder (sindoor) or yellowish (vibhuti). Know how to read the fronts of the Indians you come across in the temples: three horizontal bars indicate that the devotee is Shaivite, three vertical bars that he is Vishnuite. Finally, at the beginning, only married women wore the bindi (small round of color in the middle of the forehead) but this use is more and more common among young women who give this round sticker with the color of their sari. / div>


Symbolizing the Mother, it is a sacred animal in India. It has its place everywhere. The big cows you will see in the streets of Delhi are often owned by an owner who cares for them with devotion. The most puny survive thanks to the generosity of passersby. It is not uncommon to see Hindus prostrate themselves before a cow and offer him food. The god Krishna is the protector of cows. This means that the animal must be respected. Even his excrement (Go bar) is considered as a source of blessing. In the villages, you will notice cow dung drying on the walls. They will serve as fuels. Some Hindu pious people even consume cow’s urine, whose virtues would be immune.


Refers to a spiritual discipline that aims to realize the identity of the individual soul (atman or purusha) with the absolute soul (Brahman). The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, a reference text on yoga (between the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD), states: “Yoga is the control of the flow of thoughts, the being then finds its immutable essence …” The adept must abide by strict rules of life: yama and niyama (among which: non-violence, truth, chastity , contentment in simplicity, study of sacred texts …). He must then be able to adopt an immobile position (asana), necessary for the control of cosmic energy (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara). This facilitates the concentration (dharana) which, intensively pushed, becomes meditation (dhyana) and leads to the unity between the meditator and the object of meditation (samadhi) and the realization of the identity of the soul with the eternal Absolute. According to the great masters (guru), only a yogi having reached the final goal can teach. There are various forms of yoga that combine with the previous classical form (sometimes called Raja Yoga or Royal Yoga).


The primordial root of phenomena, the original source of objectification, the matrix. It is represented with an inverted triangle representing the yoni, the female sexual organ, symbol of cosmic mysteries. Yoni is the feminine and complementary part of the lingam, phallic and masculine aspect. The yoni is shakti, energy-consciousness, she is the goddess. The lingam is shiva, the male divine aspect, the emptiness-consciousness. The lingams seen in the temples are mostly lingams united to the yoni. It is a non-anthropomorphic representation of the divine. In tantric sexual rites, the male sex becomes lingam and the vagina becomes yoni, both are the object of respect and veneration.

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