Varanasi, India—On a crisp February morning, in this ancient city, perched along the banks of the Ganges, the sun shines brightly on a landscape saturated with saffron. A sea of pilgrims gather restlessly around a stage at the Bharat Mata Mandir, the Mother India Temple, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the priest. Youths dressed in casual western attire, accented with saffron stoles draped around their necks, talk excitedly among themselves. Women seated on plastic chairs observe the veil, one end of their saris covering their faces, while others cover their heads informally. Seers wielding tridents and carrying clay pots filled with holy water amble with pride among the devotees. On the stage, bearded ascetic holy men with their faces covered in white and vermillion paint, gaze intently at the onlookers. A blue banner above the stage reads in Hindi “Viraat Hindu...

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