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Your guide to the holy city of Varanasi by Julianne

The holy city of Varanasi

17 July 2015

Varanasi – one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world with more than three thousand years of documented history. Also known as Kasi or Benares, this city is perhaps as old as civilization itself. Awestruck by the legend of this city, the great English author Mark Twain himself once remarked, ‘Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.’ Apart from being known for its long past, the city occupies a significant and in fact a central position in Hindu religion. It is one of the seven most sacred cities in Hindu mythology. Scores of pilgrims descend upon the hundred odd ghats that line up the river Ganges to take a holy dip which they believe would wash away a lifetime of sins. Hinduism believes in a repetitive cycle of life and death. It is believed that dying here would liberate a person from this cycle and provide him salvation. Every day, at dusk, a ritual known as the Ganga Arti is performed by a group of priests in honor of supreme Hindu God Lord Shiva, River Ganges, the Sun God (Surya), The Fire God (Agni) and the entire Universe. Moreover, the most rigorous rites and rituals pertaining to life and death are performed on banks of the river every day. It is no wonder Varanasi is called the spiritual capital of India. For a first-timer, the experience is likely to be overwhelming. It is easy to become perplexed by the huge maze of narrow alleys, the unrelenting flow of people, the ceaseless chaos and not to mention the annoying touts. However, despite all these hardships, a visit to this city would certainly be a deeply enriching experience. It is no exaggeration to state that Varanasi is a unique ecosystem and the memories of this ancient Indian habitat would linger in your minds even long after you have bid adieu Omalaya organizes two exceptional tours to Varanasi namely ‘Journey to the heart of Indian wisdom’ and ‘Buddha’s Path’. To know more about our Journey to the heart of Indian wisdom, please click here. To know more about our Buddha’s Path, please click here.

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Long-life empowerment ceremony in Kalachakra initiation by Julianne

Long life empowerment ceremony

18 May 2015

Kalachakra initiation is a very important ceremony in Buddhist tradition. It is an intense process of prayers, rituals and rites through which pupils are empowered to attain Buddhahood. The initiation is given by his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the entire ceremony lasts for 12 days. Usually the final day of the Kalachakra initiation is dedicated to a long-life empowerment ceremony. Prayers are given so that his Holiness and all the participants may all have a very long, happy and fulfilling life. According to Buddhist traditions, it is believed that if a spiritual leader dies it is because inhabitants of another realm want him to come and share his wisdom and knowledge with them. In order to postpone this moment and lengthen his stay on this world, special prayers and offerings are made on the final day. The three deities associated with long life are Amitayus, White Tara and Ushnishavijaya. Among these deities,  Tara is associated with purity and the special quality of removing obstacles in people’s lives and thereby enhancing the quality and longevity of their life. It is on this deity that the Kalachakra empowerment rituals are usually performed. Once the empowerment ceremony is completed, long-life offerings are made to the Dalai Lama. The offering involves chanting of a lineage prayer and a show of respect by the Monks and the Oracles. It is quite common to see a few devotees get possessed during this event and such devotees to get an opportunity to pay their respects to his Holiness. Members of various communities too take this opportunity to give offerings to his Holiness. The ceremony witnesses participants from all around the world. The last Kalachakra initiation was held in Ladakh in northern India and was attended by over 150000 people. The next Kalachakra initiation is scheduled to be held from 14 to 25 January, 2016 in Bodh Gaya , India. You too can participate in the Kalachakra initiation and the long-life empowerment ceremony. For more information, please click here. To watch our video about Kalachakra 2016, please click here.

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A Monday morning visit to the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Dharamshala by Julianne

12 May 2015

The Tibetan Children’s Village School located in upper Dharamsala was started with a mission to provide a solid educational foundation to Tibetan children and develop a strong sense of cultural identity in them. Today as many as 1500 children study in this school.  The school is often frequented by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, who regularly motivates his students to lead a better life. It is quite evident that his Holiness is very fond of the children for he celebrated his 80th birthday along with this friend Reverend Archbishop Desmond Tutu in this school on April 23, 2015. To watch his birthday celebrations, please click here. Omalaya decided to pay a visit to the school on a Monday morning to get a first-hand experience of a typical day in school.  What we witnessed was in fact eye-opening. Right from kindergarten, children are being taught traditional Tibetan prayers, meditation sessions and yoga exercises to improve their overall physical and mental well-being. During the meditation sessions, the teacher goes around and ensures that the students meditate in the right manner. One or two naughty kids even open their eyes behind her back! *wink wink* During the yoga sessions, the children were made to go through a comprehensive full-body exercise that involved flexing the muscles of their hands, heads, shoulders, eyes, legs and back. Such a curriculum that focuses on the overall development of the children is most certainly holistic and visionary in nature. For the Omalaya team, it was a heartening experience indeed. For more videos from Omalaya, kindly visit our Youtube page.


Kochi is a blissful fusion of religious faiths by Julianne

Kochi a blissful fusion of religious faiths

11 May 2015

The sea-side metropolis of Kochi is one of the biggest cities in Kerala, the South Indian state that is known popularly as God’s own country primarily for its lush green landscapes dotted by pristine backwaters and lagoons. Kochi acts as a gateway to many popular tourist destinations in Kerala such as Munnar, Alleppey, Wayanad, Thekkadi etc. However, Kochi is a unique in itself for it is a prime example of peaceful coexistence of major religions. The followers of the world’s major faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Buddhism – all form a part of the Kochi cityscape. In a country where more than 80% of the people follow Hinduism, Kochi stands as an exception because just one out of every two residents of the city is a Hindu. The existence of a healthy mixture of religious faiths in this region is due to the fact that it witnessed many waves of migrations during the course of its history. For instance, records establish the creation of settlements by Jews in Kodungallur, a port near Kochi, in the first century AD. It is believed that Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, arrived in Kerala in 52 AD and laid the foundations for the spread of Christianity. Today, the descendants of St.Thomas Christians call themselves Syrian Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The city’s Islamic history can be traced back to the eighth century. As early as 3rd century B.C, Buddhism finds a mention in Malayali (Malayalam is the language spoken by the locals) literature. There is a significant presence of Jainism and Sikhism as well. The atmosphere in the city is filled with religious harmony and is evident from the presence of shrines for every major religion. Each individual follows the faith of his choice and at the same time acknowledge the presence of other religious faiths. Some of the renowned religious abodes in the city are: Santa Cruz Basilica With a history spanning more than five hundred years, Santa Cruz Basilica is one of the oldest churches in India. Renowned for its grand décor, the church was constructed in gothic-style architecture. Though it was deemed as a cathedral for most of its timespan, it received the status of a Basilica from Pope John Paul II in the year 1984. Apart from being a centre for religious congregation, the basilica receives […]

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A guide to the Kalachakra Mandala by Julianne

The Kalachakra mandala

07 May 2015

The term mandala literally means a circle or sphere. In religious context it means wholeness, unity or completion. The Tibetan equivalent for mandala is gyilkhor. It is a combination of two words gyil meaning centre and khor meaning surroundings. Hence, in Tibetan tradition, mandala means the centre and the surroundings which cannot exist independent of each other but they complement each other and when combined together they form a totality. The term Kalachakra is derived from two words Kala meaning time and Chakra meaning wheel. This concept is symbolized as a deity which signifies ‘the wheel of time’ whereby the events of the universe are considered to be cyclical in nature and therefore life itself is ephemeral in nature. In case of the Kalachakra mandala, it includes the deity Kalachakra seated at the centre of his palace and many other components and symbols, each with a significant meaning, occupying the surroundings. Kalachakra is made up of five fundamental concepts namely great bliss, wisdom, body, mind and speech. The mandala is a huge palace constructed in such a way that it reflects each of these concepts: The ground level has 4 huge entrances to the palace and it represents the Body mandala. The Speech mandala is located on a platform inside the body mandala and it is also similar in structure to the body mandala. Within the speech mandala, the Mind mandala is erected which has two more levels representing wisdom and great bliss. The Wisdom mandala rises nearly 25 arm-spans above the mind mandala. Finally, the Great bliss mandala is located on a platform in the wisdom mandala and consists of a magnificent green lotus that acts as the seat of the Kalachakra deity and his consort Vishvamata. The grand five-storey palace houses 722 deities in all with the principal deity and his consort present together in a blissful state at the top storey. It is quite common two see two-dimensional images of the Kalachakra mandala in various Buddhist temples. These images are a representation of the floor plan of the palace of the Kalachakra deity. The mandala images are commonly used by Buddhist practitioners as a tool to aid them in the path towards spiritual enlightenment.

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Guidelines for Indian e-tourist visa by Julianne

E tourist visa guidelines

30 April 2015

The Government of India recently announced electronic visa facility for 43 countries. E-visa enables foreign tourists to arrive in India without possessing a physical visa. From June 15, 2015 foreign nationals from 31 other countries, in addition to the 43 countries currently in place, would be eligible for e-tourist visa. E-tourist visa is not Visa-on-arrival It is important to note that the e-visa facility offered by the government is not the same as Visa-on-arrival. Visa-on-arrival is an option where tourists can obtain a visa after reaching the intended destination. However, e-tourist visa has to be obtained a minimum of 4 days before the date of arrival in India. Many tourists misinterpret e-tourist visa to be visa-on-arrival and arrive in India without obtaining a visa. However, such individuals are asked to go back to the country. How to obtain an E-visa? Click here to apply for your e-tourist visa: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html List of eligible countries The table below lists the countries that are currently eligible for e-tourist visa The table below lists the countries that would be eligible for e-tourist visa from June 15, 2015. Important guidelines Individuals travelling for the purpose of leisure, medical treatment for short duration, casual business visit and meeting with friends or relatives are eligible to apply. The required fee is 62 USD. The facility is currently available at nine Indian airports: Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Goa, Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. From June 15, 2015 the facility would be extended to seven more Indian airports: Jaipur, Amritsar, Gaya, Lucknow, Trichy, Varanasi and Ahmedabad.

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