Devo(id)tion, Amen!

Hindustan – The land of the Hindus. A name referred to India even today in some languages. Great name. Strong name actually, for a country that has openly declared itself as a secular and socialist republic in its constitution.

For a religion that almost 80% of India’s populace follows, Hinduism has well stood the test of time. Or has it? Are Hinduism and its ideals being followed religiously in today’s neo-sapien society?

For all I know, what was once more of a consensual feeling of oneness than a religion has been reduced to a mechanical way of life where rituals and practices are performed out of fear that arises by NOT propitiating the Gods. Most of the ‘learned’ are involved in the exploitation of the ‘devotees’ who are willing to go to any extent to satiate their ‘spiritual’ needs. Religion has become more of a business today, a means to make money.

Numerous examples can be quoted to substantiate what I am saying. All of the instances I am quoting are to do with Hinduism as I have experienced them as a Hindu.

Disclaimer – I am neither an atheist nor an agnost. I truly believe that there is a power which surpasses my limits as a human. Any debate on this point is welcome 🙂

Why does a Hindu visit a temple?

I believe that the fundamental concept in Hinduism is nature worship. We started worshipping something that we cannot completely control, something that surpasses human limits as a power that sustains life. But today, this essence is lost and is more oriented towards idol worship. This implies that devotion comes from sight and NOT perception. Later on, devotion from sight becomes my perception of God!

As a devotee, I go to a temple to see the deity whom I perceive as God, and surrender myself in full to His greatness [as I have been told in my growing years]. So, a Hindu has been groomed to be spiritual when he sees an image of a deity, physical or mental.

Idol worship is a hugely debatable topic and I do not intend to discuss the basis of its formulation in here. When I visit a temple, as a devout Hindu, I expect to see the Lord in full, feel sanctified by the experience and be uplifted spiritually.

Having said that, let me throw some light on practices in temples today.

Situation #1 –

Consider Tirupati – the world’s richest temple. [Or has Tiruvanathapuram overthrown its monopoly? I’ll get back to this later J] An estimated 40 million people visit this temple annually; all of them expecting to see Him and be satisfied on having His grace. The first thought that comes to mind is about the waiting time – 8 hrs for general queue. But we are blessed with immense business acumen! It would take 4 hrs for special queue with an entry ticket of Rs.100 and 1.5 hrs for a VIP queue, with an entry ticket of Rs.300. [I am unsure of the rates but there are three tiers of devotees for sure J] One thing common across all queues is that we are allowed to see Him for about a second or two, not more than that. At the first step itself, I am ‘bribing’ Him by paying money for the ticket which gives me faster access to Him, when there are thousands more waiting to get the same fleeting glimpse. Apart from this, the queue leading up to the main deity is fraught with people who will go to any lengths to establish their dominance in the queue – push, pull, stamp, box, nudge, elbow; and many more moves that are yet to be named. A simple devotee like me, who is not high on spirituality on the likes of Adi Shankara or Ramanuja, will not have their unwavering concentration to still think about Lord Venkateshwara’s greatness when I constantly fear if I can get out of the queue alive. When the basic concept of ‘sight’ and the serene environment of a temple is compromised, devotion is too hard to get. I would rather prefer a relatively unknown, not-so-popular Venkateshwara temple next to my house where I can see the deity in peace for 5 min. I have also been told that the deity at Tirumala is ‘very powerful’. No disrespect or offence meant to anyone; but aren’t all Venkateshwaras across all states and countries the same? The satisfaction that I get from the nearby temple is profound whereas at Tirupati I am holding on to dear life!

Situation #2 –

I have already established that the main criterion to invoke devotion in Hindus is to see the deity. Most temples in India are old and the deities are made from a ‘sacred’ black stone which is found in abundance in India. I understand that natural lighting is limited as yesteryear architects had limited resources and had to depend on oil lamps for illuminating the deity. This sufficed when the whole population of India was about 5% of what it is today. But today, in the world of LED lighting, the same number of oil lamps that were used 5 centuries ago is used to satisfy the needs of a population that has grown 20 fold. Visibility is seriously compromised and thus devotion invoked is zero. I have been grossly disappointed on numerous occasions – Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram, Guruvayurappan temple at Guruvayur, Tirupati etc. The various photos that are displayed in the stalls outside any temple are more clear and pronounced than the deity itself! When I get more satisfaction from seeing a photograph than from the deity, why would I want to visit the temple in the first place?

Situation #3 –

The immense commercialization that accompanies your entry into the temple premises makes you wish you would have been better off staying at home. Apart from the previously mentioned ticket rates, you can also find sleuths frolicking around you to get you a ‘special darshan’ and a guided tour of the temple for 200 – 300 rupees. Be it Mathura [the birth place of Krishna], Haridwar, Hrishikesh, Nathdwara or any other place that has mythological significance -the sanctity of the place is lost!

The temple timings are also strategically timed. Most temples in the south open early, say by 5 AM and close by 11AM; open in the evening by 5PM and close by 8 PM. In the north temples open by 7AM and close by 5PM. Even during these working hours, the sanctum sanctorum is closed with a curtain as the deity is being decorated. This takes up about an hour each in the morning and evening which is costly especially in the southern temples. During my visit to the Nathdwara temple recently, one fellow had the audacity to ask for 100 rupees to show us around the temple even after it was closed! I’m guessing he must be having a share with the temple’s priests.

Scenario #4 –

God save the money that’s been unearthed from the Thiruvanathapuram temple! Maybe that wealth can be used to clear off our debt to the world bank. Srirangam temple follows suit. No God asks for materialistic wealth, it’s us who are obsessed with satisfying our self made spiritual desires!

I must be unabashed in saying that it is definitely difficult for today’s youth to be pious or spiritually inclined, considering the odds that I have mentioned. After all, we are not the only people to be blamed! The system needs to be changed. There have to be supervisory bodies or mutts that ensure temples adhere to certain norms.

Having undergone all this, the astute part of my brain devised a practical solution to all these problems. The next time I want to visit a temple, all I need to do is an image search on Google! 😀

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6 comments

  1. Nicely written ashwin. I totally agree with you on the mad crowds and poor lighting part of Tirupati. Our generation is more practical and I would, anyday visit a quiet, calm and no-crowd temple rather than be part of that frenzy!!

  2. I definitely agree with all your points here. I agree with Varsha on the temple part.
    I would like to bring contrast between “Big” Venkateshwara temples that I have been to.
    1. Tirupath –outright noisy and commercial.
    2. Gunasheela – (mane devaru, roughly translate to house-deity in English), is calm and just brilliant. I could literally feel Him tunneling into me.
    3. Srirangam – Srirangam is similar to Tirupathi in commercial and crowd sense.
    4. A Venkateshwara temple close to Hyderabad – crowded to the max, but not commercial. Eventhough the temple was crowded, there was a different feeling. I did feel reverence for God.

    Anyday I prefer to go to temples which provide a calm environment to sit and revere God, rather then bombastic ones which are like a fish market.

  3. @ Varsha – Thanks 🙂 Hope we don’t generate more atheists and agnosts in generations to come !

    @Puneeth – I’m surprised about #4, am always under the perception that commercialism and reverence are mutually exclusive 😀 Which temple is this? Shall Google search 😉

  4. You’ve certainly been thinking whilst praying ;). Devo(id)tion is on the rise, thanks to people playing God! Every being of flesh and blood has its share of spirituality. Spirituality has turned out to be a tax free enterprise (so sorry to say that). Its all up to the ‘devotees’ to bring a change.
    The temple as mentioned in Puneeth’s 4th point is one in a million, a wave of renaissance I should say 🙂
    Good observation and well written. Always a taste of meliorism in your posts, appreciated.

  5. I, per se, strongly believe that Hindusim was built on a very strong foundation called “Rationalism” and we called this Rationalism as “God”, All Raama’s Krishna’s were figments or rather embodiments of this Rationalism.

    Krishna told us that life is not a gamble. If you end up picking up the wrong card, you would be in soup. Infact no one should be telling you this, its coomon sense. Similarly Ganesh asked us to be wise enough when we make important decisions in life. No where did the Gods threaten you for not worshipping them. Such is the beauty of our religion.

    Imagine , Hinduism has withstood the invasions of the Greeks, Chinese, Mughals, Persians and the Europeans and this Hindu state still calls itself secular! . Any other religion would have just perished!! Such a great religion is now in dire straits not because of the past, but because of the people who comprise the religion i.e the Hindus themselves.

    We have completely misinterpreted our religion and have resorted to customs and rituals which was never the core of our religion.Customs and Rituals form the outer shell of Hinduism. Rationalism is at the core. We seem to have forgotten the core and given undue importance to practices. I strongly feel this practices are just as old as our civilisation [Before that we were living in caves].Our culture is 10000 years old and so is our practice. These practices[like visiting a famous or powerful temple] wouldn’t have cropped up without us.

    The whole point is we as Hindus haven’t interpreted our religion correctly and some of the religious bureaucrats have exploited our misinterpretation to rake in the moolah in the temples in the name of religion and rituals. I guess we need to question these practices.

    For me Hinduism is not a religion, its a way of life!.

    Thank you Ashwin for bringing up this issue at a time when INDIA is going through a wave of change in every sphere. Its time that we as future citizens stand up and question.

    So stop being foolish, Wake up.
    My India, The INDIA Eternal!!

  6. @ Abhi – Yeah, It’s definitely a tax free entrprise I must say 🙂

    @ Hari – I agree that Hinduism WAS built on rationalism, the keyword here is ‘WAS’. The different Gods were ‘manufactured’ to preach the moral and social values so that people could co exist peacefully. But there must have been a break point somewhere midway, where we lost our way and solely concentrated on religious practices to please God and appease our ‘guilt’.
    The name Hinduism has stood the test of time, not Hinduism as a feeling. Today, I do not see rationalism anywhere. It’s more of a business as we can see. I do not know if there are any people left who know Hindusim as it was when discovered!
    For now, all I can say is; I define my spirituality, because I don’t connect with the one that’s prevalent!!!

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