The book for me was more than learning about the different cultures.
Why do people follow certain traditions? What is their definition of God? Did the God they hold so dearly protect them from all evil?
One thing was clear from all the stories. The cause or the reason why a person ended up following a God or the sacred tradition was more than just something that got passed on from generation to generation. Most of the stories in the book were of people who chose to become a Theyyam dancer, or a tantric, or a sufi singer or a monk.
For people of lower castes and those lower in socio economic ladder, the tradition of dancing or giving blessing as if they 'become' God is a source of food and some extra money. It is also a source to gain respect from other portions of the society who otherwise would not even look at them in their real life.
There is some kind of conflict between the day to day lives of the people and the special days or nights when they were in their avatars. Or there was a conflict in what they believed as part of the faith and what they really felt inside.
The Theyyam dancer for example digs well for rich people in town who would not allow them to touch the water of the same wells after they are complete. The Tibetan Monk who follow teachings of non-violence and love, have to pick up swords and guns to fight the Chinese army. The deva-daasis are bitten by the deadly disease of aids from people who come to them to wash away their sins. The Jain Nun is looking forward to moksha, a form of suicide which would unite her to a friend who died at an young age.
So what is real? The pain of the Nun or her belief that she will meet her friend after death? The well digger's belief that he is God for few months of the year?
I think it doesn't matter to us, as an audience. Our belief system becomes or reality. For the Sufi singer, or the tantrics, the beliefs they hold is their reality.
And as for us, it goes along the same line. It bothers me to see how my family and relatives follow traditions and religious beliefs which most don't know the meaning of or the importance of. But again, it doesn't matter. For people who do those acts, they make that their reality.