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.



13 responses »

  1. Sonal says:

    Faith totally depends on to what extent one can convince himself/herself into following or believing in something. What may be superstition for some could be blind faith for another and vice versa. A matter of choice entirely. Thanks for such a thought provoking blog.

  2. vimala madon says:

    A very thought provoking piece. The difference between you and me is that you still go whereas I don’t care to visit any of the major temples unless it is on a non-fest and non-peak day, that too rarely. I went to Tirupati once and said to myself never again. I mean how can once retain the feeling of reverence and piety when the priest is practically nudging you to move on. Nudging because I was part of a minister’s family group, otherwise I would have been angrily pushed and shoved. I much prefer any day the smaller more humane temple or church or dargah. Also, why should I get a quicker or longer darshan if I pay more – does that make me more worthy of god’s blessings than the man who patiently waits sweltering in the heat for his turn before the deity?
    All this blatant commercialism in the name of God makes my blood boil.

  3. sreelata menon says:

    Indrani the Pandas in Puri are worse though it used to be

    cleaner. Years ago they threw back the fifty rupee note a

    very gracious elderly man was trying to put into the

    Hundi and almost fractured his arm.My husband stepped in

    and collared the Panda and all hell broke loose.And I had to

    run for my life with my two toddlers.

    We’ve been in Allahabad till last year and the callous

    attitude of the religious attendants hereabouts have to be

    seen to be believed.Fleecing and threatening is a way of

    life…specially if they spot a group of grieving relatives with

    ashes.They take you midstream and demand more!I’ve

    seen it happening.

    No proper livelihood despite the population visiting them


    I guess as shernaz says as we need to grow in our belief

    before we begin to understand its complexities

  4. sreelata menon says:

    I used to think going to Guruvayoor was also a real trial till

    now though like you say cleanliness is not so

    much an issue as is the case with most Kerala temples but

    the jostling and the pummeling is prevalent, again a little

    more organized.

    You are absolutely right when you say our

    mental make up needs tuning.

    Example- the statement of

    Bhanot on the std of cleanliness for the CWgames re:

    foreigners having a different std than us! Can you believe

    it.The man needs to have a mental foliate.

  5. sreelata menon says:

    We were scared to even wonder why let alone ask -you

    are right Sneha!

  6. Shernaz says:

    Interesting Shreelata. Right from childhood I have wondered how anyone can fear God and call Him a loving father at the same time. I guess these anomalies, questions, doubts begin to evaporate as one moves from religiosity to spirituality and grows in it gradually.

  7. knot2share says:

    I was imagining Guruvaryoor temple all the way through reading your article. I don’t think cleanliness is really the case at this temple, but on the whole the different levels of service we are received with is what annoys me. It surely does not come across as all of us being one in God’s eye. I have not read any of the religious books but I doubt very much if God has ever said that one should walk through such hurdles to seek darshan and blessings. Only then it proves true bhakti?? Sneha is right. There are many issues that come up with this practice. Why is it that temples outside of India are more visitable? Not that it makes me visit temples here, which is an entirely different story altogether. Our general mental make-up needs tuning. We don’t have to learn anything new because outside our own country we behave differently. But when it comes to doing things in our own country, we take it light, casual, don’t care or who cares!

  8. Indrani Talukdar says:

    I hate it when the pandas push one to offer worship; kills the spirit. GREAT BLOG, Sreelata.

  9. Sneha says:

    Well, from being an atheist to a believer…I’ve done all of this. I remember when, as a small child – I asked the questions that you’ve raised in this article, I used to be usually made to shut up by the ‘elders’ of the family.
    You’ve raised several important issues. Faith is one thing and blindly immersing oneself in something is totally another.

  10. sreelata menon says:

    I’m constantly wondering why I do it.Maybe its the

    conditioning as Shail says,

    maybe it’s the indoctrination as a kid or

    maybe its even superstition…

    Haven’t you ever wondered why we say we are

    a God ‘FEAR ing’ people?!!

    Thank u Shail, Vimala and Beyniaz f

  11. Beyniaz says:

    Very good blog. I always wonder what makes one do this when I watch pilgrims on TV as they jostle and sometimes stampe just to get a proper darshan.

  12. vimala ramu says:

    Hi Sreelatha,
    you echo my feelings. These days at the risk of not gaining punya, we have stopped visiting crowded temples. It is much better to watch the temples on TV in a restful ambience which you never get in the temples.

  13. Dear Sreelata,

    Yes, sometimes we don’t understand what we do and yet we do it especially when it comes to faith. Do you think our conditioning influences us?

    Good reflective article.


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