Saturday, June 27, 2015

Facts about Hinduism


The Symbol of the Hindu Religion

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions and most complex religions in the world. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, it has no known founder. Even the date of its origin has been lost to history. The word "Hindu" comes from the name "India," and in modern usage, it refers to a number of religious expressions.
Because Hinduism has a variety of expressions, some people think that all Hindu beliefs and practices are customized to the individual, and therefore it is impossible to speaks about "facts" of the faith. This is not true. Many facts can be known about its adherents, size, location, and much more. This page is intended to help people begin learning about the facts of the Hindu religion.


Ancient Hindu Temple in India
*          *           *
About 80 percent of India's population regard themselves as Hindus and 30 million more Hindus live outside of India. There are a total of 900 million Hindus worldwide, making Hinduism the third largest religion after Christianity and Islam.
The term "Hinduism" includes numerous traditions, which are closely related and share common themes but do not constitute a unified set of beliefs or practices.
Hinduism is thought to have gotten its name from the Persian word hindu, meaning "river," used by outsiders to describe the people of the Indus River Valley. Hindus themselves refer to their religion as sanatama dharma, "eternal religion," and varnasramadharma, a word emphasizing the fulfillment of duties (dharma) appropriate to one's class (varna) and stage of life (asrama).
Hinduism has no founder or date of origin. The authors and dates of most Hindu sacred texts are unknown. Scholars describe modern Hinduism as the product of religious development in India that spans nearly four thousand years, making it the oldest surviving world religion. Indeed, as seen above, Hindus regard their religion as eternal (sanatama).
Hinduism is not a homogeneous, organized system. Many Hindus are devoted followers of Shiva or Vishnu, whom they regard as the only true God, while others look inward to the divine Self (atman). But most recognize the existence of Brahman, the unifying principle and Supreme Reality behind all that is.
Most Hindus respect the authority of the Vedas (a collection of ancient sacred texts) and the Brahmans (the priestly class), but some reject one of both of these authorities. Hindu religious life might take the form of devotion to God or gods, the duties of family life, or concentrated meditation. Given all this diversity, it is important to take care when generalizing about "Hinduism" or "Hindu beliefs."
The first sacred writings of Hinduism, which date to about 1200 BC, were primarily concerned with the ritual sacrifices associated with numerous gods who represented forces of nature. A more philosophical focus began to develop around 700 BC, with the Upanishads and development of the Vedanta philosophy. Around 500 BC, several new belief systems sprouted from Hinduism, most significantly Buddhism and Jainism.
In the 20th century, Hinduism began to gain popularity in the West. Its different worldview and its tolerance for diversity in belief made it an attractive alternative to traditional Western religion. Although there are relatively few western converts to Hinduism, Hindu thought has influenced the West indirectly by way of religious movements like Hare Krishna and New Age, and even more so through the incorporation of Indian beliefs and practices such as the chakra system and yoga in books and seminars on health and spirituality.


Hindu Temple in India
Hinduism embraces a diversity of beliefs, a fact that can be initially confusing to Westerners accustomed to creeds, confessions, and carefully-worded belief statements. One can believe a variety of things about God, the universe and the path to liberation and still be considered a Hindu. Perhaps the most well-known Hindu saying about religion is: "Truth is one; sages call it by different names."
Still, there are some beliefs common to nearly all forms of Hinduism that can be identified, and these basic beliefs are generally regarded as boundaries outside of which lies either heresy or non-Hindu religion. These fundamental Hindu beliefs include: the authority of the Vedas (the oldest Indian sacred texts) and the Brahmans (priests); the existence of an enduring soul that transmigrates from one body to another at death (reincarnation); and the law of karma that determines one's destiny both in this life and the next.
The gods of modern Hinduism are many, and include the chief gods Shiva, Vishnu and the Goddess Shakti as well as a myriad of local community gods. Devotion to these various deities is based primarily on one's region and needs, and even when devotion is given to only one, the existence of others is acknowledged. Hindu worship virtually always involves sculptures and images, to which offerings are made and rituals are performed. But, a specific belief about God or gods is not considered one of the essentials in Hinduism, which is a major difference between it and monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. Most Hindus are devoted followers of one of the principal gods Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti, and often others besides, yet all these are regarded as manifestations of a single Reality.
Hinduism incorporates a vast pantheon of deities, some of whom are manifestations or combinations of others. Most of the deities mentioned in the Vedas are no longer worshiped; much of today's popular devotion centers around the major deities of Shiva, Vishnu, and the Goddess.
The Vedas describe a number of deities, most of whom are personified forces of nature. The most oft-mentioned are Indra, Agni, Soma, and Varuna.
Indra is the chief deity and the god of war and rain, the greatest concerns of the people at that time. He separated the heavens and the earth by defeating Vrtra, a snake-dragon representation of chaos and obstacles.
Another Vedic myth describes his defeat of Vrtra using wind and a thunderbolt as his weapons, enabling the monsoon rains to end. Indra must be strengthened with the drink soma, provided by worshippers, to accomplish this task.
Agni is the fire of sacrifice, and thus a mediator between man and the gods, and Soma is the hallucinogenic drink of the sacrifice. The personalities of the latter two are left largely undeveloped.
Another significant Vedic deity is Varuna, who is associated primarily with issues of morality, guilt and forgiveness. Varuna is the god of the rita, a concept having to do with faithfulness to allegiances, both between humans and gods and humans and one another. So, Varuna is the god petitioned for forgiveness, deliverance from evil, and protection.
Thus, Hinduism is a theistic religion, but it can be difficult to determine whether it is a polytheistic, pantheistic or monotheistic religion. Of course, this is chiefly a western question. The Indian mind is much more inclined to regard divergent views as complementary rather than competing.
It has been said that Hindus have a holiday for every day of the year, but even that may be an understatement! Exactly how many Hindu festivals are celebrated is not known, but one scholar of Hinduism has listed more than a thousand different Hindu festivals.
As in most ancient religions, many of the Hindu holidays are based on the cycle of nature. They mark the change of seasons, celebrate the harvest, and encourage fertility of the land. Others are dedicated to a particular deity, such as Shiva or Ganesha.

Ganasha
Still other popular holidays commemorate events in the lives of Rama or Krishna. In addition to the major Hindu festivals that are celebrated throughout India, many regional festivals are also held in honor of various deities.
*          *           *
In general, Hindu festivals "are intended to purify, avert malicious influences, renew society, bridge over critical moments, and stimulate or resuscitate the vital powers of nature." They include a wide variety of rituals, including worship, prayer, processions, magical acts, music, dancing, lovemaking, eating, drinking, and feeding the poor.
Major festivals likely to be observed by most Hindus are:
Holi (also called Holaka or Phagwa) is an annual festival celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna (early March). It celebrates spring, commemorates various events in Hindu mythology and is time of disregarding social norms and indulging in general merrymaking. Holi is probably the least religious of Hindu holidays.

Diwali, from the Sanskrit word Dīpãvali, meaning "row of lights" is a Hindu festival of lights lasting five days. For many Hindus, Diwali is also New Year's Eve. Diwali is held on the final day of the Vikram calendar, a type of Hindu calendar followed by North Indians.

Mahashivaratri (also called Shiva Ratri) is the Great Festival of Shiva. It is held on the 14th day of the dark half of the lunar month of Phalguna. Mahashivaratri is especially important to Saivites (devotees of Shiva), but it is celebrated by most Hindus. Other sacred days are:
 Rama Navami - birthday of Lord Rama (April)
Krishna Jayanti - birthday of Lord Krishna (July-August)
Raksābandhana - renewing bonds between brothers and sisters (July-August)
Kumbh Mela - pilgrimage every 12 years to four cities in India
Ganesha-Chaturthi (Ganesha Utsava) - festival of Ganesh (August-September)
Dassera - victory of Rama over demon king Ravana (September-October)
Navaratri - festival of Shakti (in Bengal) or Rama's victory over Ravana (South India) (September-October)


Hindu Temple with Deities Statues


*         *         *
In Hinduism, the cow is revered as the source of food and symbol of life and may never be killed.
The Sanskrit word karma means "actions" and refers to the fundamental Hindu principle that one's moral actions have unavoidable and automatic effects on one's fortunes in this life and condition of rebirth in the next.
In Hinduism, there is not just one purpose of human life, but four: Dharma (fulfilling one's purpose), Artha (prosperity), Kama (desire, sexuality, enjoyment), and Moksha (enlightenment).
The authority of the ancient scriptures known as the Vedas as well as that of the priests known as the Brahmans are two concepts that are fundamental to Hinduism and differentiate the faith from Buddhism and Jainism.
Most Hindus venerate one or more deities, but regard these as manifestations of Ultimate Reality. So who, or what, is the Ultimate Reality that is behind the universe and all the gods? In the Rig Veda, it is referred to as "the One." In the Purushasukta, it is given the name "Purusha," and in the Upanishads it is called "Brahman," "the One," and several other names.
The most well-known historical practice of suicide associated with Hinduism is that of suttee (Sanskrit sati), the self-immolation of a widow on her deceased husband's funeral pyre. In the Hindu epic Mahabarata, some queens commit suttee.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the custom of suttee probably had little to do with the religion of Hinduism; it was rather an ancient custom based on beliefs that a man needed companions in the afterlife. In the medieval period, the hardships suffered by widows may have contributed to the spread of the practice. In theory it was a voluntary practice, but there were instances of compulsion to suttee.


Hindu Temple in India

The Indus Valley culture began to decline around 1800 BC, due possibly to flooding or drought. Until recThe practice of suttee was not universal throughout Hindu history. The first mention of it outside the Mahabarata is made by a 1st-century BC Greek author writing about 4th-century BC Punjab. Tombstones commemorating women who died by suttee are numerous in India; the earliest is dated to 510 AD. Suttee was abolished in India in 1829, but it continued to occur for at least another 30 years.


As in Buddhism, Hindu views of euthanasia and suicide are grounded in the doctrines of karma, moksa, and ahimsa. Karma is the net consequence of good and bad deeds in a person's life, which then determines the nature of the next life. Ongoing accumulation of bad karma prevents moksa, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth, which is the ultimate goal of Hinduism. Ahimsa is a fundamental principle in Indian religions, and means doing harm to no other being.
Suicide is generally prohibited in Hinduism, on the basis that it disrupts the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth and therefore yields bad karma. According to one Hindu website, suicide is not approved in Hinduism because human life is a precious opportunity to attain higher states of rebirth that even the gods envy. It also has dire consequences for the soul's spiritual progress.
According to Hindu beliefs, if a person commits suicide, he does not go to the heaven or hell. The dead person remains on the earth as a bad spirit and wanders aimlessly till he completes his actual and allotted life time. Then, the person goes to hell and suffers. After that, the person returns to the earth again to complete his previous karma and start from there once again. Suicide puts an individual's spiritual clock in reverse.

One exception to the Hindu prohibition of suicide is the practice of prayopavesa, or fasting to death. Prayopavesa is not regarded as suicide because it is natural and non-violent, and is acceptable only for spiritually advanced people under specified circumstances. 
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a Hindu leader born in California, took his own life by prayopavesa in November 2001. After finding that he had untreatable intestinal cancer the Satguru meditated for several days and then announced that he would accept pain-killing treatment only and would undertake prayopavesa (taking water, but no food). He died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast.

Given the complex history of suicide in Indian thought and the various considerations outlined above, not all Hindus agree on whether euthanasia should be permitted. In the end, there are two Hindu views of euthanasia: From one perspective, a person who helps other end a painful life and thereby reduce suffering is doing a good deed and will gain good karma. From the other perspective, euthanasia interrupts the timing of the cycle of rebirth and both the doctor and patient will take on bad karma as a result.
The history of Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it has no founder or date of origin. While most major religions derive from new ideas taught by a charismatic leader, Hinduism is simply the religion of the people of India, which has gradually developed over four thousand years. The origins and authors of its sacred texts are largely unknown.
Although today's Hinduism differs significantly from earlier forms of Indian religion, its roots date back as far as 2000 BC, making it one of the oldest surviving religions. Because of its age, the early history of Hinduism is unclear. The most ancient writings have yet to be deciphered, so for the earliest periods scholars must rely on educated guesses based on archaeology and contemporary texts.
In the last few decades, the history of India's religion has also become a matter of political controversy. The history of any nation (or individual) is an important part of its self-identity, and this is especially true of India, which so recently gained independence after centuries of colonial rule. The controversy over India's history centers on the origin of the Aryan culture.


Hindu Temple in India
*        *         *
In 1921, archaeologists uncovered evidence of an ancient civilization along the Indus River, which today runs through northwest India into Pakistan. The so-called Indus Valley civilization (also known as the "Harappan civilization" for one of its chief cities) is thought to have originated as early as 7000 BC and to have reached is height between 2300 to 2000 BC, at which point it encompassed over 750,000 square miles and traded with Mesopotamia.
Some writings of this period have been discovered, but they have yet to be deciphered. Knowledge of this great civilization's religion must therefore be based on physical evidence alone. Baths have been found that may indicate ritual bathing, a component of modern Hinduism. Some altar-like structures may be evidence of animal sacrifice, and terracotta figures may represent deities. An important seal features a horned figure surrounded by animals, which some conjecture is a prototype of Shiva, but it ently, it was held that the Aryans, an Indo-European culture whose name comes from the Sanskrit for "noble", invaded India and Iran at this time. According to this hypothesis, both the Sanskrit language and the Vedic religion foundational to Hinduism is attributable to the Aryans and their descendants. The original inhabitants of the Indus Valley are thought to have had a Dravidian language and culture, which became subordinate to that of the invading peoples.
Proponents of this hypothesis point to similarities between Zoroastrianism (the ancient religion of Iran) and the Vedic religion of ancient India, as well as similar finds in ancient cemeteries in modern-day India and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In addition, no trace of horses or chariots have been found in the remains of the Indus Valley culture, but were central to Aryan military and ritual life.
Since the 1980s, this "Aryan Invasion" hypothesis has been strongly challenged as a myth propagated by colonial scholars who sought to reinforce the idea that anything valuable in India must have come from elsewhere. Critics of the hypothesis note that there is lack of evidence of any conquest, among other historical and archaeological problems. 
One alternative hypothesis is explained by Encyclopedia Britannica as follows: Between about 2000 and 1500 BCE not an invasion but a continuing spread of Indo-Aryan speakers occurred, carrying them much farther into India, to the east and south, and coinciding with a growing cultural interaction between the native population and the new arrivals. From these processes a new cultural synthesis emerged, giving rise by the end of the 2nd millennium to the conscious expressions of Aryan ethnicity found in the Rigveda, particularly in the later hymns.
The 19th-century Aryan Invasion theory has generally been abandoned as inaccurate, but most scholars do not reject the notion of some outside influence on the Indus Valley civilization. For many, it is a political issue as well as a historical one, with the original theory is regarded as racist and offensive. Many people argue that there is now evidence to show that the original proponents of this hypothesis were wrong. Others, however, believe that the case against the Aryan invasion theory is far from conclusive.


Hindu Temple in India



Hindu Temple with Fountains in India

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some of the Most Evil People in History- about whom you are probably unfamiliar


Countess Elizabeth Báthory
 
Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (1560 - 1614) was a countess from the wealthy Báthory noble of the Kingdom of Hungary. She is known for being a serial killer and has been labeled by Guinness World Records as the most prolific female murderer in history although the exact number of her victims is unknown. Báthory and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of young women between 1585 and 1610. The highest number of victims cited during Báthory's trial was 650. However, this number comes from the claim by a woman named Susannah but Báthory's court official claimed to have seen the figure in one of Báthory's private books. The book was never revealed and never mentioned it in the testimony.  The countess was imprisoned in December, 1610, within Csejte Castle, Upper Hungary (now called Slovakia) where she remained there in a set of rooms until her death four years later.

According to all testimony, Báthory's initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to her castle by offers of well-paid work as maidservants. Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her private quarters by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. The atrocities described most consistently included torture, severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. The use of needles was also mentioned by the her collaborators in court.

The stories of her serial murders and brutality are verified by the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and survivors as well as physical evidence and the presence of horribly mutilated dead, dying and imprisoned girls found at the time of her arrest. Stories which ascribe to her vampire-like tendencies (most famously the tale that she bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth) were generally recorded years after her death but are considered unreliable. Her story quickly became part of Hungarian folklore. 

She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of food. She remained there for four years, until her death. On August 21, 1614, in the evening, she complained to her bodyguard that her hands were cold. He replied, "It's nothing Mistress. Just go lie down." She went to sleep and was found dead the following morning. She was buried in a church but according to some sources because of the villagers' uproar over having her buried in  the local cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it was interred at the Báthory family crypt. Today, the location of her body is unknown.

*        *          *

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich (1904 - 1942) was a high-ranking German Nazi official during World War II and one of the creators of the Holocaust. He was SS General and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Gestapo and Kripo) and Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (in what is now the Czech Republic). Heydrich served as president of the ICPC (later known as Interpol) and chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference, which formalized plans for the "final solution to the Jewish Question"- the deportation and genocide of all Jews in German-occupied territory.

Reinhard Heydrich was born in Halle an der Saale to a cultured family of social standing and financial means. His father was composer and opera singer Richard Bruno Heydrich and his mother was  Elisabeth Anna Maria Amalia Krantz. His two forenames Reinhard and Tristan) were patriotic musical tributes: "Reinhard" referred to the tragic hero from Amen (an opera his father wrote), and "Tristan" stems from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Heydrich's third name, "Eugen", was his late maternal grandfather's forename (Professor Eugen Krantz had been the director of the Dresden Royal Conservatory). 

His father was a German nationalist who instilled patriotic ideas in his three children, but was not affiliated with any political party until after World War I. The Heydrich household was strict. As a youth, Reinhard engaged his younger brother, Heinz, in mock fencing duels. Heydrich was very intelligent and excelled in his schoolwork especially in science at his school. He was also a skilled athlete, and he became an expert swimmer and fencer. He was shy, insecure, and was frequently bullied for his high-pitched voice and rumors about his Jewish ancestry. The rumors earned him the nickname "Moses Handel".

In 1918, World War I ended with Germany's defeat. In late February 1919, civil unrest including strikes and clashes between communist and anti-communist groups took place in Heydrich's home town of Halle. Under Defence Minister Gustav Noske's directives, a right-wing paramilitary unit was formed and ordered to "recapture" Halle. Heydrich, then 15-years old, joined Maercker's Volunteer Rifles. When the skirmishes ended, Heydrich was part of the force assigned to protect private property. These events left a strong impression on him and he said that it was a "political awakening" for him. So, he joined the Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund (National German Protection and Shelter League), an anti-Semitic organization.

Many historians regard him as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite. Adolf Hitler described him as "the man with the iron heart". He was the founding head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), an intelligence organization charged with seeking out and neutralizing resistance to the Nazi Party  by using arrests, deportations and murders. He helped organize Kristallnacht, a series of co-ordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9th and 10th,1938. The attacks, carried out by SA Stormtroopers and civilians. Upon his arrival in Prague, Czechoslovakia,  Heydrich sought to eliminate opposition to the Nazi occupation by suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. He was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the special task forces which travelled in the wake of the German armies and murdered over one million people, including Jews, by mass shooting.

Heydrich was attacked in Prague on May 27,1942, by a British-trained team of Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to kill him. He died from his injuries a week later. Intelligence falsely linked the assassins to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. Lidice was razed to the ground, all men and boys over the age of 16 were shot, and all but a handful of its women and children were deported and killed in Nazi concentration camps.

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich  was responsible for over sixty thousand deaths while he was alive and over  five million deaths because he was the architect of the Holocaust.

*         *          *
King Leopold II of Belgium

Leopold II (1835 - 1909) was the second King of the Belgians, and is chiefly remembered for the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State, resulting in the deaths of 10 to 15 million Congolese people. Born in Brussels as the second son of Leopold I and Louise of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on December 17th, 1865, reigning for 44 years until his death. He was the longest reign of any Belgian monarch.

Leopold was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used explorer Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884 - 1885, the colonial nations of Europe authorized his claim by committing the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions. He ran the Congo using the mercenary Force Publique for his personal enrichment. He used great sums of the money from this exploitation for public and private construction projects in Belgium during this period. He donated the private buildings to the state before his death, to preserve them for Belgium.

Leopold extracted a fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory, and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s, by forced labor from the natives to harvest and process rubber. Under his regime there were between  2 and 15 million deaths among the Congolese people. The exact number of deaths is unknown because accurate records were not kept and because smallpox epidemics and sleeping sickness also devastated the population. Leopold took steps to limit word of the atrocities reaching the outside world. Missionaries were allowed only on sufferance, and Leopold was able to silence the Belgian Catholics. Rumors circulated but Leopold attempted to discredit them, Also, publishers were bribed, critics were accused of running secret campaigns to further other nations' colonial ambitions, and eyewitness reports from missionaries such as William Henry Sheppard dismissed as attempts by Protestants to smear Catholic priests.  As a result, for at least a decade, criticism was largely contained.

Inspired by works such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) which was based on Conrad's experience as a steamer captain on the Congo twelve years earlier, organized international criticism of Leopold’s rule mobilized. Reports of outrageous exploitation and widespread human rights abuses led the British Crown to appoint their consul Roger Casement to investigate conditions there. His extensive travels and interviews in the region resulted in the Casement Report, which detailed the murders and abuses of natives under Leopold's regime. A widespread war of words ensued. In Britain, former shipping clerk E. D. Morel with Casement's support founded the Congo Reform Association, the first mass human rights movement in history. Supporters included American writer Mark Twain, who wrote a stinging political satire entitled King Leopold's Soliloquy, which portrays the King arguing that bringing Christianity to the country outweighs a little starvation, and uses many of Leopold's own words against him. And, writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also criticized the "rubber regime" in his 1908 work The Crime of the Congo, written to aid the work of the Congo Reform Association. Doyle contrasted Leopold's rule to the British rule of Nigeria, arguing that decency required those who ruled primitive peoples to be concerned first with their uplift, not how much could be extracted from them. Many of Leopold's policies were adopted from Dutch practices in the East Indies. Similar methods of forced labor were employed to some degree by Germany, France, and Portugal where natural rubber occurred in their own colonies. Reports of the deaths and abuse led to a major international scandal in the early 20th century. In 1908, Leopold was by the Belgian government to relinquish control of the colony to a civil administration.

*          *            *

Tomas de Torquemada

Tomás de Torquemada (Thomas of Torquemada), OP (1420 -1498) was a Spanish Dominican friar and the first Grand Inquisitor in Spain's movement to force Roman Catholicism upon its populace in the late 15th century, otherwise known as "The Spanish Inquisition"

The existence of many superficial converts among the Moriscos and Marranos (aka: Crypto-Jews), who had found it more socially, politically and economically expedient to join the Catholic Church, were perceived by the Spanish monarchs of that time (King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) as a threat to the religious and social life of Spain. This led Torquemada, who himself had converso ancestors, to be one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree that expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492.

Torquemada was born either in Valladolid, Spain, or in the nearby small village of Torquemada. He entered the local San Pablo Dominican monastery at a very young age. As a zealous advocate of church orthodoxy, he earned a reputation for learning, piety and austerity. As a result, he was promoted to prior of the monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia. Around this time, he met the young Princess Isabella I and the two immediately established religious and ideological rapport. For a number of years, Torquemada served as her regular confessor and personal advisor. He was present at Isabella’s coronation in 1474 and remained her closest ally and supporter. He had even advised her to marry King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 in order to consolidate their kingdoms and form a power base he could draw on for his own purposes. 

Torquemada deeply feared the Marranos and Moriscos as a menace to Spain's welfare by their increasing religious influence on, and economic domination of Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella concurred, and soon after their accession to power petitioned Pope Sixtus IV to grant their request for a Holy Office to administer an inquisition in Spain. The Pope granted their request and established the Holy Office for the Propagation of the Faith in late 1478. It still exists today.
The Pope went on to appoint a number of inquisitors for the Spanish Kingdoms in early 1482, including Torquemada. A year later he was named Grand Inquisitor of Spain which he remained until his death. In the fifteen years under his direction, the Spanish Inquisition grew from the single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen  so-called Holy Offices. As Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada reorganized the Spanish Inquisition, establishing tribunals in Sevilla, Jaén, Córdoba, Ciudad Real and Saragossa. His quest was to rid Spain of all heresy. The Spanish chronicler Sebastián de Olmedo called him "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the savior of his country, the honor of his order".

Under the edict of March 31, 1492, known as the Alhambra Decree, approximately 200,000 Jews left Spain. Following the Alhambra decree of 1492, approximately 50,000 Jews took baptism so as to remain in Spain; however, many of these were "crypto-Jews" and secretly kept some of their Jewish traditions. Torquemada made the procedures of prior inquisitions somewhat less brutal by moderating the use of torture, limiting its use to suspects denounced by two or more "persons of good nature" and by cleaning up the Inquisitorial prisons. The condemned were made to wear a sanbenito, a penitential garment worn over clothes and of a design that specified the type of penitence. One type, worn by those sentenced to death, had designs of hell’s flames or sometimes demons, dragons and/or snakes engraved on it. Another type had a cross, and was worn instead of imprisonment, then hung in the parish church.

There is some disagreement as to the number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition during Torquemada's reign as Grand Inquisitor. Some scholars] believe that he was responsible for the death of 2,000 people. And, Hernando del Pulgar, Queen Isabella’s secretary, wrote that 2,000 executions took place throughout the entirety of her reign, which extended well beyond Torquemada's death.
During his final years, Torquemáda's failing health, coupled with widespread complaints, caused Pope Alexander VI to appoint four assistant inquisitors in June 1494 to restrain the Spanish Inquisition. After fifteen years as Spain's Grand Inquisitor, Torquemáda died in the monastery of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ávila in 1498 and was interred there. His tomb was ransacked in 1832 — two years before the Inquisition was disbanded. His bones were allegedly stolen and ritually incinerated. 

*           *           *

Pol Pot 
Pol Pot (born: Saloth Sar; 1925 -1998) was a Cambodian revolutionary who led the Communist Khmer Rouge from 1963 until 1997. From 1963 to 1981, he served as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea.  He became the leader of Cambodia on April 17th, 1975, when his forces captured the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. From 1976 to 1979, he also served as the prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea.  He presided over a totalitarian dictatorship in which his government made urban dwellers move to the countryside to work in collective farms and on forced labor projects.  

In 1976, Pol Pot's régime reclassified Kampucheans into three groupings: as full-rights (base) people, as candidates and as depositees, so-called because they included most of the new people who had been deposited from the cities into the communes. Depositees were marked for destruction. Their rations were reduced to two bowls of rice soup or p'baw per day leading to widespread starvation. "New people" were allegedly given no place in the elections taking place on March 20, 1976, despite the fact that the constitution established universal suffrage for all Cambodians over the age of 18.  Hundreds of thousands of the new people, and later the depositees, were taken out in shackles to dig their own mass graves. Then, the Khmer Rouge soldiers buried them alive. A Khmer Rouge extermination prison directive ordered, "Bullets are not to be wasted." Such mass graves are often referred to as "the Killing Fields". 

The Khmer Rouge also classified people by religious and ethnic background. They banned all religion and dispersed minority groups, forbidding them to speak their languages or to practice their customs. They especially targeted Buddhist monks, Muslims, Christians, Western-educated intellectuals, educated people in general, people who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, disabled people, and the ethnic Chinese, Laotians, and Vietnamese. 
  
Some were put in the S-21 camp for interrogation involving torture in cases where a confession was useful to the government. Many others were summarily executed.The combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. An estimated about 3 million people out of a population of slightly over 8 million died due to the policies of his four-year premiership. 

Skulls of Some of Pol Pot's Victims

In 1979, after the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, Pol Pot relocated to the jungles of southwest Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge government collapsed. From 1979 to 1997, he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand where they clung to power with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia. Pol Pot died in 1998, while under house arrest by the Ta Mok faction of the Khmer Rouge. Since his death, rumors that he committed suicide or was poisoned have persisted

.