What Influence Does India Have In Modern-Day Brazil?
Brazil has always had a tendency to accept polytheism, though usually in secret. When the original Portuguese colonists began bringing captured African slaves to do the heavy work on their plantations, they also imported the religious beliefs of these Africans. In general, these beliefs included a variety of divinities to express the multitude of characteristics and forces in nature and in the human psyche. To keep from being punished by their Catholic masters, the slaves made use of the Church's images to represent their own deities, pretending to pray or offer gifts to the saints when in reality they continued to revere their traditional African gods. With the passing generations, and the genetic and cultural mixing that resulted, more and more people became exposed to the religions that grew from the older African roots. This left them sympathetic to other, similar faiths. As a result of early forms of globalization, Brazilians studied influences from the ancient traditions of Egypt, China, Scandinavia and Sumeria, but no culture attracted so much attention as that of India. Images of Shiva and Ganesha are popular in many households, if only as decorations. In recent years, there was even an esoteric newspaper named after the elephant-headed god in Rio de Janeiro.
Another philosophical area in which India has strongly influenced Brazil is in relation to the transmigration of souls. Reincarnation was a major belief among the native 'Indians' of the Americas, as well as many of the traditional African religions. With the syncretism that resulted from the mixing of African and Christian concepts, many Catholics began to accept this idea. Allan Kardec's spiritualism in France, teaching of the soul's continuous return to the material world, quickly spread to Brazil, where it expanded and became very popular. In the 1930's, and again in the 1960's, Indian explanations of reincarnation passed more rapidly to the West, where they were integrated into the developing studies of multiple existences. Today, the language referring to this area of knowledge uses many words of Sanskrit origin, including 'karma', 'dharma', 'avatar(a)', and 'atman'.
The Hindu explanations for the multiple levels of reality and the connections we have with those varied planes has also been accepted by many Brazilians. Despite her many detractors, the teachings of Helena Blavatsky a century ago helped to increase curiosity about the wisdom of India. Since then, many modern Indian schools of philosophy have attracted Brazilian members, with branches in the nation's major cities today. Among these groups are the followers of Sai Baba, Osho/Rajneesh, Ramana Maharshi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Hari Krishna movement is very well known here, also to a lesser extent the Ananda Marga. In recent years, Deepak Chopra has also drawn a large following. While knowledgeable Indians may be offended by the indiscriminate collecting of these varied schools and teachers into the same paragraph, Brazilians tend to respect all of these groups as teaching valid concepts, in spite of the political or commercial connotations of some of them back home in India. Through them, the common vocabulary in Brazil now includes words such as 'guru', 'ashram', 'prana', 'yoga', 'asana', 'chakra', 'mantra', 'nirvana', and 'AUM' or 'OM'.
The ayurvedic teachings concerning medicine and human health have also been assimilated in Brazil. The concept of personalized diets based on 'doshas' has been transformed into 'biotypes', but is gradually expanding. The treatment with herbs and plants has always been popular in the Americas, even before the European invasion, but has been improved with information from India. The cleansing techniques for the bowels and the nose have been westernized, and are now commonly used in contemporary medicine. And the practice of yoga and meditation have never been so widely approved and applied. In this world of ever increasing stress, and an ever greater search for methods with which to cope with life, more and more Brazilians are grateful for knowledge preserved and practiced their brothers and sisters of India.
Author: David Michael (Teres'polis, Brazil)
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )