What it is it that makes us want to climb mountains, wade barefoot through filth and muck, avoid cursing beggars, jostle and be pummeled by selfish humanity to reach in many cases dark dinghy ‘sanctum sanctorums’ for a bare five minutes of diluted ‘darshan’, before being shoved out of the way by man handling volunteers? Is that brief but undoubtedly beautiful glimpse of the Lord enough to attain salvation and immortality or is it just our faith?
Lord Vishwanath in Kashi or her grace Kali in Kolkata, both of them including many others of their ilk and antiquity across the country have all something in common – Its powerful deities and filthy surroundings. Why?
Usually the approaches are unbearably dirty, the touts aggressively persistent, Crowded beyond belief, chaos rules. The waiting, pushing and jostling can be endless and nightmarish especially with a restive queue that has been in line for awhile. In such closed confines it is an accident waiting to happen as it has so many times. We never learn and in this quest to call on God selfishness reigns supreme. ‘You before me’ is out and it’s ‘I, me and myself’ all the way. Why, why do we perpetrate it?
Then inside the temple it appears to me that it is not the writ of God that runs but that of his ruthless henchmen. And they make no bones about it. ‘Dakshina’ and the size of the amount decide where you should stand or sit, whether you will be allowed a glimpse or an hour. And woe betides anyone who dares to go it alone. For hell hath no fury than a Panda denied. At Kali Bari hundred rupee notes are passé as one has learnt to one’s cost .Five hundred no less- rudely snatched- ensures unhindered view for all of 5 seconds! A second more perhaps than the fellow and his family behind who is breathing down your neck, waiting to shove you aside.
Pulled and squashed, suffocated and trampled upon you manage to extricate yourself. Devotion before God you have realized makes for no gender distinction or personal space. Then sheer exhilaration, akin to having fought and won a successful war, cruises through your veins. In that euphoria of finally having been able to reach Her presence in one piece, you fail to realize that you have forgotten to pray. You were too busy maneuvering. And this happens not only on festivals. Why, why do we allow it?
In Varanasi streams and streams of pilgrims, visitors and devotees have over the years described the scenes of filth and treachery that abound but to no avail. They still continue unabated. The living and the dead jostle for place while callous touts with their clueless victims carry on regardless. The locals revel in them while the administration couldn’t care less. To achieve a modicum of the kind of holy blessing you seek, it is implied, is to ignore or bear such indignities. Why, why do we tolerate it?
Why is that we are unable to comprehend that ‘Cleanliness is akin to Godliness’? That cleanliness is vital .That the cleanliness we maintain within our homes need to be maintained without as well. That divinity actually comes clothed in it. Why else the stress on the importance of personal hygiene before entering a Godly abode? Why else perhaps all the abhishekhams and the shringar of the deities?
Yet the same scenes are played out year in and year out.
And yet despite every bruising visit to a popular temple I find myself along with many others standing in line- barefoot- in another queue at another temple on another day braving the odds.