VRINDAVANA PARKER’S REPORT ON HIS TOUR OF ARUNACHAL PRADESH, N.E. INDIA,
DEC 20-30, 2003
I flew in to Gauhati, Assam from Kolkata, West Bengal. A Bandh/Strike had been declared for Assam, so everything was very peaceful. I spent a night at the Vivekananda Kendra, on the banks of the expansive Brahmaputra River. I next journeyed 10 hrs by bus to Bandhardeva, Arunachal Pradesh, via Tezpur. I spent the night in Bandhardeva area then traveled by jeep for 12 hrs on the most rugged and windy road trip I have ever experienced. I stopped for lunch in Ziro then arrived in Daporijo that evening.
After a public lunch gathering, I attended a program at the Vivekananda School. There was an excellent presentation, by the students, of indigenous tribal dancing and singing. I gave a short talk on the irreplaceable value of Indian culture and its prevalence all over the world. In a great question and answer session, I was able to clear up some misconceptions about western civilization. Whether it's Coca-Cola versus coconut dobs, from every angle it's obvious that indigenous cultures are highly advanced because they represent a way of life beneficial for all. On the other hand, the impact of Western civilization has been environmental imbalance and social chaos.
In the evening, I visited a new Shiva temple built for a very ancient Shiva Linga. A tribal man owns the property. While he was constructing a house on the land, he had a dream of Lord Shiva. The next day, he uncovered an ancient Shiva Linga. He dedicated the site for the construction of the Shiva Temple, now housing the ancient Sacred Deity. The man formerly hunted but now he and his whole family had become strict vegetarians. They have completely forsworn violence in their dedication to Lord Shiva. "We will not kill even an insect." I had breakfast at his house consisting of baked sweet potatoes, apong, and some fruit. Then I traveled to the town of Raga. I gave a lecture to about a hundred people, and it was here that I met the chief priest for the indigenous Danyi Polo religion in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. He was in his nineties and appeared very healthy and effulgent. Through a translator he spoke about the great struggles his people are going through. He said that through petty trickery, bribery, and other unscrupulous methods, western missionaries were destroying the native culture and civilization of his people. He said that he and the priests of Danyi Polo have performed many of the same miracles attributed to Christ and other saints. He felt that such miracles were not very important, that what matters is to be good, honest, and to love God, and to respect the religion of others while accepting that everyone has a unique relationship with the divine. He said it is wrong of the Christians to attack the faith of our ancestors. As soon as the Christians and Muslims accept that God is one and that there are different expressions of love that bring one to God, if they can accept this, all disputes will come to an end. I asked him to bless me and he said that he could not. He said that he will pray to God to bless me and to protect me. Referring to the Christians method of stripping converts of their indigenous clothing he said "I will never throw down my sacred cap."
I then headed to Ziro. Here I went to Hari Village. The local Tribals, the Aputani, are considered some of the world's greatest agriculturalists. Japanese researchers investigating various rice production methods rank them as the world's best. Aputani women over forty-five years old are tattooed and have large nose plugs. This practice was banned thirty-five years ago. It's probably an ancient custom, but I was told that the reason was the Aputani girls are considered very beautiful so when the Chinese invaded the women all tattooed their faces and bodies and put big plugs on both sides of their noses. I must admit, the technique does make them look otherworldly and extreme. The village welcomed me with songs and flower garlands. I was later quite surprised by such a wonderful and warm welcome. It wasn't until after my talk that the people realized that I was not there to convert them away from their roots. The chief priestess told me "All we heard was that an American brother was coming. The Christians say that all Americans are Christians so we expected that you were here to push Christianity on us. We feel that the influence of Christianity on Western culture is very negative for our people. So we are very happy and inspired to hear what you are saying. Our traditions have kept us strong since the beginning of time, why give them up?" I encouraged them by telling them that millions of people are looking towards the ancient indigenous cultures for solutions for modern problems. They were pleasantly surprised and humored to hear about the western subculture of body piercing and tattooing. All along they had been told that the West was a highly civilized technological wonderland where everyone was a Christian. And that if they wanted to benefit from the advancements of technology they also must be Christians. Suddenly they find out that not only has the West's social balance collapsed, but that millions of disenchanted westerners are adopting their own ancient indigenous practices. It's ironic that western missionaries force their converts to abandon their ancient cultures. Just before I left the gathering, the tribals had a final request. They wanted me to stop all the vulgar and scandalous television broadcasts because it was threatening the tribal youth and their cultural stability. I said the best way we can deal with the media is to create our own media
An interesting thing about the Aputani tribe is their sacred symbol. It is the sign of the Sun Goddess. It looks very much like that other so-called solar emblem, the Christian Cross. So here in the Aputani regions one can see the prehistoric tribal cross and Christian cross dotting the same town. Tribal elders rightfully point out that everything in Christianity, including even the symbol, is already known to their people.
That night was Christmas Eve. I spent the night at a hotel. It was nice to have hot running water because it was quite cold. That night I was awoken by loud explosive sounds that shook my room. Due to the continuing Bhutanese military action against Anti-Indian insurgents, the whole region was on high alert. We were about 100 miles from the frontlines and insurgents had been captured in nearby Tezpur. The whole region was highly militarized and politically sensitive. The booming went on for about a half hour. I turned off my light so as not to be a target and went to sleep. I later found out that the explosions are the way the local Christians announce Christmas to the neighborhood.
Christmas day, I participated in a Fire Yajna or Sacrifice. The function was held at the Goddess Gayatri Temple. The Head Priestess was a local Aputani Tribal. She was fluent in Sanskrit and led the rituals while explaining the significance of each action. We offered ghee, colored powders, fruits, coconuts, sandalwood and other sacred and fragrant items. We all followed along in the chanting and ended the ceremony by having darshan of all the various Temple Deities. The experience was very healing and empowering.
Also in Ziro, I attended the official BJP party's celebration of Indian PM Vajpayee's birthday. Born on Dec 25 his birthday is celebrated all over India. I gave a short speech on the true identity of the BJP. The Bharata Janata Party means the Indian People's Party rather than a "Hindu Nationalist" Party. The chief coordinator of the function was the BJP district chief and a practicing Catholic. His presence was a case in point.
The next day, Dec 26th, I gave a public lecture on the importance of cultural preservation. Approximately 300 people attended, including the local Christian leadership. I spoke on the interfaith efforts in the West and the need for the Christian and Muslim Conversionists to practice a non-combative approach. All are welcome to follow their spiritual traditions, promote their own culture, but without demonizing the faith and beliefs of others. I also spoke on the impact of Srila Prabhupada's Krishna conscious movement on the western world. Throughout the 12 years he traveled the globe, he was treated with great respect and admiration. Many people, including Christian leaders, accepted him a great saintly spiritual teacher. Because God is One, true spiritualists recognize Him in all religions.
I took this opportunity to point out the great injustices being perpetrated in the name of Christian conversion. Friends and family no longer drink, eat or celebrate together. Converted tribals are taught to refuse water, food or invitations to traditional gatherings. Non converted Tribals frequently attend Christian celebrations while maintaining their ancient native traditions. However Christian tribals completely divorce themselves from the ancient ways. Christian preachers refer to the non-converted as Satans. Converts are ashamed of everything to do with their ancestral ways. A new pride is instilled in their hearts and minds, the pride of belonging to the supposedly superior Christian civilization. Everywhere I traveled the Christians would do everything louder and longer. Their presentations were flashy and slick. I was also surprised to note the promotion of beauty contests. Of course, the standard of beauty and fashion imposed is totally western. Young girls are instilled with the idea that to be beautiful and successful they must be modern. They are told that modern means to be western in outlook, fashion, language and lifestyle and that the old ways are backwards. Thus the traditional understanding of success and progressiveness is radically changed. All over India, there is a belief that western speech and mannerisms is a sign of sophistication and achievement. It is quite ironic because Western civilization has failed the West. Therefore millions of westerners are adopting the ancient indigenous paths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Paganism.
After my speech a Christian minister informed me that all the complaints I had heard were exaggerations and untruths. I simply asked him in all sincerity, "Sir, does this mean that everywhere I go in this country, everyone is lying to me?" He couldn't respond except to say that the most important issue is that we have peace and non-violence.
Also in Ziro, a TV crew from a local channel recorded all my speeches. They were all aired in the Ziro area a week after I let. On Dec 27th, I returned to Itanagar, the State Capital. Here I was a guest of Tedi Techi, a member of the Nyishi Tribe and the founder of the Indigenous Faith and Culture Preservation Association. I stayed overnight in his native bamboo house. The tribals always keep a nice fire going in the middle of their house. It is considered the God of the house. We had some delicious food and good conversation next to this blazing sacred fire. My host was also a videographer and had produced two documentaries on his tribal culture and traditions. One video featured the house-warming ceremony of the very house we now sat. The other documentary was very intriguing. It was the story of my host's miraculous health recovery. Two years earlier, he was unable to walk and was scheduled for back surgery. At the last minute he changed his mind and turned to the native healers of his tribe. After 3 days of intensive healing ceremonies, he was completely cured. All the evidence was there for me to see. Though unable to even walk in the beginning of the video, by the end, my host was stronger, healthier and full of strength. All the evidence for this recovery is in the documentary. There were the x-rays, the doctor referrals and before and after footage among other things. That night I slept by the fire and had a dream that the dignity of the indigenous people was restored. In my dream an Abrahamic radical fell flat on his face as he tried to attack me. The next morning I told Mr. Techi about my dream. We both agreed that it was a good sign.
The next day, I attended a press conference. All the National and Local TV, radio and news agencies participated. I spoke on various topics for about 2 hours. I specifically raised the issue about Christian conversions. I pointed out that these groups raise millions of dollars in the west in the name of humanity. They point out the impoverished state of the poor and ask for funding to build schools and hospitals. With this money they will first build churches and publish literature in a campaign of conversion. In the America nonprofit groups are only required to use 1%-5% of their funds for actual charitable work. In this way, some Christian groups have developed massive humanitarian and charitable organizations yet use very little of their funding for humanitarian and charitable causes. The press conference was very well received. Two days later a report appeared in all the major newspapers of NE India. Vedic Friends Association Vice President Vrindavan Parker said," Some groups have made it rich highlighting the wretchedness of India's poor and then using the proceeds to convert the innocent tribals." "All of India's problems, religious intolerance, can be solved through the indigenous wisdom and experience."
After a couple days of rest and various talks at some Danyi Polo temples, I traveled to the isolated town of Seppa in the NW part of the State. The drive there was a spectacular vision of waterfalls, mountains, valleys and wildlife. Every bridge we crossed was manned by a platoon of heavily armed Indian soldiers. This whole region had been taken over by China in the 1960s and was still an extremely politically sensitive area. After a day of travel and a night in Tezpur, we arrived in Seppa after sunset.
ARUNACHAL PRADESH VFA REPORT PT 2
After a day long journey, I arrived in Seppa, feeling ill and dead tired. Of course I was expected to give an arrival speech. In the worst of moods, I did my best to give some encouraging words. It was a strange situation. Here were all these people enlivened that an American supporter had come, yet all I wanted to do was have a long sleep. Fortunately, a majority of the people understood my predicament. However, a few were not impressed. At one point I spoke of the collapse of the western family structure. I used my own family as an example and said that out of my five siblings only two of us had the same father. This shocked some of the audience and evoked disparaging laughter. In their minds I should have been ashamed, but instead I highlighted the fact. I wanted to expose the true impact of western culture on one of the most basic structures of civilization. It was crucial that these Tribals understood the real impact of Western civilization.
The next day, I awoke early. Today was December 31st, Danyii Polo day. It was also the first official Danyii Polo day festival to be held in Seppa. At the festival site, I was greeted by hundreds of teenage boys and girls. They were all dressed in traditional clothing. The boys were decorated with swords, shields, bows and arrows, helmets, etc. Danyii Polo flags and banners fluttered everywhere.
The Danyii Polo flag is similar to the Japanese Banzai flag; a white field with a red sun burst in the middle. I was invited to join a procession through the town with hundreds of young tribal men on the right and women on the left. I was pushed to the front. In front was a large banner that read,
Loss of Culture means Loss of Identity
December 31,2003= Danyii Polo Day.
After the parade, we all attended a program of tribal singing, dancing, and speeches. I was privileged to be invited to unfurl the tribal standard. As the priest chanted hymns, and everyone sang, I pulled the cord. The banner lifted and a sudden wind unfurled the sun flag. Bundled in the flag were some sacred bamboo shavings. They all fell upon my head. The priests said that was a very good sign of Danyii Polo’s blessings. After this all the local priests gathered together on a hill. As I looked at the scene, it appeared that the priests were as ancient as the hills. The earth they sat upon, the stones around them, their clothing and priestly symbols and wizened faces combined to create a timeless image. Their bright eyes shone out. They invited me to join them for some singing and photos. The acceptance and kindness of the tribal priests instilled me with confidence and gratitude. These priests were the foundation of the tribal culture. By their acceptance of my presence and words, I was being validated as a true friend and supporter of the tribe.
After lunch, I was asked to speak. I started off by offering pranams to my guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and to Mother India. Upon hearing my Sanskrit prayers, everyone broke out into spontaneous applause. I pointed out the irony of the situation. Here I was coming from a collapsed civilization, giving advice to members of one of the world’s most ancient and successful civilizations. However, it is obvious I have something to share so I am doing my best.
In my speech, I conveyed my impressions of their culture and land. I quoted an old Zen proverb on the meaning of beauty. Sometimes in nature we can see beautiful sights like a sunrise over a lake. A crane flies over the water, the wind gently blows the leaves and flowers on the trees. Overall the scene is one of beauty, yet neither the sun, the lake, the crane, the wind, nor the trees are trying to create a beautiful scene. Yet the scene is naturally beautiful. It is a naturally beautiful scene because all involved are following their true natures. Nothing is being artificially imposed with the intent to be beautiful. It is just beautiful. In the same way, the natural functionality of indigenous culture is beautiful and harmonious. Western civilization has lost this harmony and beauty because it is out of touch with the earth. Built into the ancient indigenous cultures is a natural methodology for balanced and harmonious living.
I spoke about America as well. Yes we all know America is #1 militarily, economically, politically etc. but let’s not forget America also has the # 1 murder rate, accident rate, divorce rate, prisoner rate and overall crime rate. America is a perfect example to highlight the impact of western civilization. There is no denying that European Christianity and commercialism decimated the indigenous cultures of the world. The same tragedy is now being repeated here in India’s tribal regions. Now is the time for the indigenous people of the world to unite and put a stop to the ongoing war of cultural genocide. Preserving indigenous cultural is an issue of global significance. Due to the ecological degradation of the planet, the world at large is seeking out a solution. Time and again, various scientific groups and political organizations, such as the UN, have concluded that the wisdom and technical know-how of the indigenous civilizations can save the world. So we must preserve and enhance this pool of experience not only for the tribals, but for the world at large.
Another myth that is repeatedly heard in NE India is that Christianity means modernity and economic progress. I pointed out that Japan, with the lowest percentage of Christians in the world, is one of the most successful nations on earth. It is without a doubt the most successful nation in Asia. The Philippines, with the highest percentage of Christians in Asia, is politically unstable and has one of the worst economies in the world. Latin America, which is predominantly Christian, sees little economic benefit based on its religious identity. India, being 80% Hindu, has now become an economic and military superpower. When these various ethnic groups immigrate to the USA, again we find that being a Christian is irrelevant. The most successful immigrants to America are the Japanese and Indians while the Filipinos and Latin Americans have the lowest paying jobs. In Europe, it was when people began questioning Christian doctrine that the renaissance began. Looking at the statistics it would appear that being a Christian is a liability rather than an asset. Of course, one’s religious identity is an individual matter. Promoting religion based on the premise of material gain is completely against the teachings of Lord Jesus Christ. I brought up this point to expose the hoax that Christianity automatically means modernity and economic superiority, which is what they are taught.
After my speech and a fine lunch, I was engaged in a discussion group. A frequent question I was asked is, “What ever happened to the Red Indians of America?” I explained as much as possible about the history and ongoing struggle for native rights. I told them of the strange habit of America. First they will destroy you physically and demonize your religion. Thus American Indian religion was outlawed until 1978. After obliterating a tribe, America usurps their native heroes and names. America uses the image and power invoked by these words to glamorize its cars, missiles, helicopters, sports teams, etc. Once destroyed, these cultures are romanticized and studied as curious members of the human family. Don’t let this happen to you. Take advantage of technology but don’t become slaves to it.
It was here, in Seppa that I learnt of the local Christian’s regular performance of blood sacrifices. Knowing that conversions would be slowed by too rigid of a Christian standard, Christian leaders have changed the doctrine. One of the proofs of the Messiah is that he was the final blood sacrifice. Thus, according to Christian doctrine, there is no need for more blood sacrifices. Even the Jews ceased performing blood sacrifices after the Crucifixion of Jesus. Yet here, the Christians perform blood sacrifices in order to compete with the tribal celebrations. The natives are being stripped of their indigenous traditions. Ironically, it is being replaced by a form of Christianity that is contrary to the teachings of Christianity. So, for all intents and purposes these converts are following neither their original ancestral religion nor Christianity. They have been forced into a cultural nowhere land.
While engaged in this discussion, the police suddenly showed up. They asked me to go with them. I was a little concerned. I wasn’t sure if a complaint had been filed or whether I was getting sucked into some bureaucratic nightmare. I was escorted to the police station and taken into the Superintendent’s office. As I walked into the main Police HQ I noticed a large picture of Baby Krishna on the wall. He was smiling at me. I felt protected. I sat down and handed over my passport, Indian visa and Inner Line permit. The State of Arunachal Pradesh is a restricted area. Even Indian citizens require Inner Line permits to enter. Foreigners can only come in groups of 4 or more and must stay within certain areas. Actually, when I entered the State, I reported at the check point and was brought into a small interview room. My traveling companion informed him I was there for tourism purposes and to see the non-converted Tribals. The Border Officer said he was a dedicated Hindu and member of the RSS. He looked over my papers and permits then happily greeted me and wished me a successful trip. Just as I was about to leave he looked at me sternly and said, “Now you must promise, No Christian Missionary activities allowed,” and started laughing. He had already seen my Hanuman locket and knew I was a Hindu but wanted to make a joke. Now the police in Seppa apparently wanted to verify my intentions. Here I was, a lone American, traveling through the region attending rallies and giving speeches. I was not sure how the police would deal with me. After going over my papers for about 10 minutes, the police superintendent, suddenly stood up, smiled and shook my hand. He welcomed me to Seppa and said he was extremely pleased and happy that I had come from so far to promote the glory of India’s ancient civilization. I offered my pranams and thanked him.
After that, I went with some of the tribals for a swim in the nearby river. It was fresh, rapid, clear and cold. Flowing down from the nearby Himalayas, it was an invigorating experience. The nights were very cold this time of year. Yet today was a bright sunny day so we stayed at the river for an hour or so.
In the late afternoon, I met with some botanists. They complained that western pharmaceutical companies had been scouring the jungles and stealing rare plants and herbs. It is feared that some foreign patents maybe taken out on this local resource. Therefore these local experts have begun recording the entire local flora and fauna and its traditional uses. They have also begun researching the possibility of filing lawsuits against the corporations involved. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh had outlawed logging. It has been difficult for some people. At one point, whole tribes became very wealthy by logging. Elephants were generally used but still the environmental degradation was extreme. After logging was outlawed, the elephants were set loose. Though difficult in the short term, the anti-logging initiative has tremendous long term benefit. Fortunately, a majority of the people seem to agree with this. I also learned about the central importance of the Mithuns in the Arunachal Tribal culture. Mithuns (pronounced mit-hoons) appear to be some kind of bovine animal. Generally black with lower legs colored white, they roam the countryside. They are semi-domesticated and do not give milk. They are extremely sensitive to heat and stay in the jungles during the day. For tribal society Mithuns are sources of prestige, wealth and also have great spiritual value. A man is measured by how many Mithuns he owns. Though sacred, they are frequently sacrificed and consumed. Even the Christian converts fully participate in the Mithun culture. No man can marry without gifting Mithuns to the girl’s family. It usually costs 35 Mithuns to get married.
Later that evening, I celebrated New Year’s Day. The tribal youth brought over a big stereo and began playing catchy dance tunes from the Indian pop music scene. A large fire was lit in the middle of the courtyard and fresh apong or home brew was shared. We spent all night dancing and singing. Sometimes we would do traditional war dances and harvest dances and songs. Other times we would dance to mainstream Indian pop music or western music like Ricky Martin and Britney Spears. I also led them, at their request, in singing songs to Rama, Hanuman, Krishna and Shiva.
In the indigenous tradition all was welcome but not at the expense of their culture. Thus the tribals had no problem dancing to Britney Spears and celebrating the Western New Year. As I enjoyed their company, I felt like Kevin Costner in “Dances with Wolves.” Like him I was also given a local name. They call me Hasmukh Parker which means Smiling Face Parker. Earlier I had been warned by other tribes that of all the tribes in AP, the Nyishi are the most dangerous. Of all the Nyishi, the Seppa Nyishi are considered extremely dangerous. Here I was dancing arm in arm with them like an old friend and brother, drinking their home brew. Goodbye 2003 and Welcome 2004! What a unique place and way to ring in the New Year.
The next morning, I was invited to a local leader’s house. As we sat on his front porch, a large man arrived. They said he was the tallest man in the State. He joined us and I was told that he was a local political leader. The whole time I sat there, he spoke in Hindi with my traveling companions. Voices began rising and it was obvious some kind of debate was taking place. I could understand some of the discussion. Basically the politician was claiming that the Hindus were bent on enforcing Hindu Dharma on everyone. He said, “Eating Beef is good for you. So why are you Hindus trying to outlaw beef?” I broke in to say that I have been a vegetarian all my life and am healthy. “My brother Bhima, was born and raised a vegetarian and he is as big as you are, Sir. So Beef is not necessary or good for you. Why should we support massive slaughter houses for the unnecessary gratification of the tongue? There is a difference between a tribal hunting for personal need and massive industrialized animal slaughter. Hindus never have and never will force tribals to change their beliefs. Rather, we encourage them in to preserve their cultures.”
The man considered what I said and then continued speaking in Hindi to my associates. He also tried to say that no matter what I believed I was always a Christian because I am a white American. I responded by reminding him that Christianity is native to the West Asia region and not Europe or America. To top it off, my mother’s side are practicing Jews and my father’s side is German-English. Just as his people are being converted now, our people were converted over a thousand years ago. Distance of time does not deny us the right to return to our Pagan roots nor disinherit us from our ancient identities. Even Jesus Christ himself was attempting a religious reformation rather than the founding of a new religion. So in the same way, millions of westerners are seeking out their roots and expanding their cultural horizons.
In general, this local leader seemed inimical to our efforts but in the end he was cordial and thanked me for coming. He said, “I am a soldier fighting for the dignity of my people. Outsiders come either as Christians or Communists or Hindus and try to change us. I am happy to meet a fellow soldier and wish you the best.”
Since he also spoke about having more of a Chinese identity than an Indian one I asked him if he prefers China to India. He responded by saying that he can not support China because they have a one wife policy. As a man with 24 wives he could never support China for having such a policy. It seemed to me that the man wanted his own little empire independent of either China or India.
After this meeting we were on our way back to Tezpur, Assam. On the way we discussed the trip and the people we met. I was told that the politician we just met was responsible for over-logging the jungles and has done more damage to the local environment than anyone else. When the local organizers of Danyii Polo day approached him for support, he refused. I was later informed that in Arunachal Pradesh, Christians were less of a problem than the anti-Hindu tribals. Victims of the British legacy of divide and rule, some of the tribals refuse to have common cause with the Hindus. This problem was compounded by the Congress Party’s attempt to create dependable voting blocs. This has caused many Indians to develop a Separatist’s outlook. Therefore some resist the efforts of various Hindu organizations to create a unified identity. They misconstrue such efforts as an attack on their unique identities and cultural independence.