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Modernity and divinity

open page kartyani 200817

open page kartyani 200817  

Have temples become the religious pharmacies of our times?

What do you think of when you think of Hinduism? Many in their mind’s eye see the saffron-clad sadhus who trek their way around the Himalayas, some picture the glowing lamps of a Ganga aarti and some see the beloved temple that occupied a corner of their street and their hearts.

Rituals have become synonymous with the true expression of Hinduism, whether the many submerged Ganeshas around monsoon or the gaily dressed elephants in the Guruvayur temple square.

So much so that many have forgotten the essence of these rituals; that there is a religion of incredible complexity hidden beneath the layers of milk and turmeric and flower garlands. So many children are clueless when it comes to the meaning behind the scriptures, but can mouth the Bhagwad Gita verbatim. These rituals have taken precedence over everything else in this religion; priests prescribe pujas as doctors prescribe drugs.

Need to get that job? Yes, one Ganapati puja should get you there. Child not listening to reason? A few abhishekhams will do the trick. Insistent, throbbing arm ache that plagues your days and nights? Oh, this will be an expensive one, one solid gold arm to your local temple.

Indeed, every problem has a cure, and temples have become the religious pharmacies of our days, dhoti-clad priests the pharmacists. No side effects, no specific dosage. Divine medicine is one-size-fits-all.

You may say that is just the older generation. My generation prides itself on being rational and scientific; we don’t blindly follow god-men’s instructions.

You might see the occasional teenager at his local temple, but it is a rare sight; the strength of faith, like old medicine, loses its potency over the generations. But come examination time, when NEET and JEE and AIEEE papers are being printed en masse and desks are laden with half empty coffee cups?

No, that isn’t a tsunami but a flood of students putting their faith in divinity to chariot them past the ranks to the IIT or the AIIMS. Pizza, Coke, and Game of Thrones? No, two months before entrance it becomes puja, kumkum, and Gita Chapter 16. The irony in the fact that we have pledged ourselves to the gods before an examination in order to show our mastery of science, somehow escapes us.

And as for our level-headed, collected adults? A shrine turns them all into fanatic subjects looking for a glimpse of their divine king. Visit Shirdi, Tirupati, Guruvayur or any other major temple in the subcontinent and you will know what I mean. Baths are taken, the best clothes worn. In ten minutes the cramming will have you drenched in sweat and fanning yourself with hands already heavy with flowers and money.

This line would fuel the ubiquitous angry mob if it was anywhere else, but this being a temple, emotions are dulled by the anaesthesia of faith. Trapped in the sea of humanity inching centimetre by centimetre towards the all-pervading idol at the front, it is every person to himself or herself. Feet are trodden on, offerings dropped. A few whispered curses are heard through the aura of intense worship, and glares are passed back and forth among the women who jostle for space.

Rush hour

Time seems to move as slowly as molasses, and when it does, the rush begins. Push! Shove! Squeeze through! Quick, there seems to be an opening here; no, I was there first!

All the civilised sense of patience and courtesy goes up in flames as people fight for any opportunity to get closer to the aforementioned idol. Proximity, it seems, equates to divinity.

The closer you are, the more blessings are heaped upon you. Get to the front and atone for your sins, and as you finally leave, elbow someone in the face so you can have one last glimpse. It is okay.

In matters of love, war, and now temples, all is fair. Just don’t forget to put that ten-rupee-note in the collection box before you leave.

kswrites4@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 9:58:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/modernity-and-divinity/article19525308.ece

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