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#MondayMusings – Religion is a Matter of Faith

“Thappa kahan laga hai bhai?”

Remember this hilarious scene from Aamir Khan starrer PK? He was aptly questioning how the religion of a new born child is determined. This scene tickled my funny bone a lot as I have an angst about children being labeled into a religion from the day they are born.

I remember as a child I would question our religious practices a lot and was often rebuked for them. Born to a Hindu family, I  was taken to temples and priests, much against my will. I would point out the temple compound is dirty due to water in several places. The loud noises that are omnipresent in temples in guise of “aradhana” and the fat bellied priests who frowned and bullied people in giving “dakshina”., didnt help matters either. And all the adults around me would shake their head and admonish me in various degrees.

I have always maintained that religion is a matter of personal faith. The human interpretations of the religious teachings is at the heart of all warfare over religion.

Let me regale you with some interesting anecdotes on my tryst with religion. These aptly explain my frustrations with the adults as well as religion as practiced around me.

Mata ka bulawa

The year was 1987 when some of my cousins came down to go for mata ke darshan to Vaishno Devi. Not being religious, I would always skip out of this trip while my parents and younger sibling would accompany them. This time around I was cajoled into it and I gave into my curiosity. The trip on horseback was exhausting, not to mention fearsome as the horse would stray near the edge of the road all the time. Plus it rained all night, making us wet and cold and uber miserable.

Finally reached the Bhawan and crawled through a tiny hole in the mountain side into a stream of ice cold water. Walked on and came to a corner where a burly priest snatched the offerings out of our hands and then pushed us into the other direction. I walked on till I realized we were out of the cave.

“Where is the Devi?” I asked.

“Oh she was inside where the priest was standing.”

“But I didn’t get to see anything and that jerk just pushed me.”

“Now now, we mustn’t say things like this in a temple”

My parents then showed me the poster gracing the shops around to tell me what was inside the cave. My reply was why the hell couldn’t I just see the poster. What was the need to climb all the way up here if this is what it boils down to?

Needless to say I was hushed and told I should consider myself lucky that I came here for a darshan. Only people who get Mata Ka bulawa come here!

The Holy Guide

In 2013, on our way to Udaipur, my father wanted to visit Nathdwara temples. I objected as I wasn’t  keen to take the detour for a temple. But he persisted as it was a childhood memory for him. As soon as we parked the car, a fat pandit came hurrying by and managed to assure my father of impeccable darshan. He quoted a fee and my father agreed. I protested that this was unnecessary but my mom quickly frowned at me to keep shut.

The Pandit hurried on in the teeming crowds and we paced to keep up with him. At the gate, we were asked to relieve ourselves of all our belongings like phone, camera, purse, etc. The locker room was a huge joke and I refused to part with my DSLR. So I stayed put at the gate while my parents went inside with him.

I watched the way the guards bullied people into submission while cleaning out some tobacco and proceeding to fill their mouths with it. When I asked them why were they dirtying the temple compound, they replied that they weren’t inside the temple! One big fat gentlemen sailed in, loudly talking on his phone while a huge wad of something was lodged inside his cheek. Appalled I turned to the guards who laughed at my horror and informed me that’s a temple priest.

My parents were inside for two hours and I was getting worried. When they finally came back, they were sweaty, tired and angry. The Pandit had taken his money and ditched them at a point in the temple. He told them now they can find their way once the main doors open for a darshan and he has to go on to find his next customer. OUCH!!

I gave my dad a “I told you so” look which was again shushed up by my mom. Dad ranted all the way to the car about how he will never come back here again.

The Milky Way

A couple of years back I was home and my dad was going to the temple, something he did daily. In his basket he had put in some flowers and then proceeded to add a 250 ml tetrapack of Amul Milk. Intrigued, I asked if this is for the beggars outside the temple. And he said no, this is for the Shiva-ling. I was gobsmacked and got into an argument with him over wasting milk when people are starving. In extremely curt tones I was told to stay out of his religious faith and mind my own business. And this is the man who applauded enthusiastically when this was questioned in the movie PK?????

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Growing up, I fell in love with the Church as I studied in a Convent school and loved the peace and cleanliness there. Next came the Gurudwara which again is amazingly clean and serene. I love how people of all ages and sects get down on their knees to perform “sewa” without any ego. Dargahs too find a lot of favor from me as a religious place. There is no one haranguing people to “pay-up” or else evil shall befall you – a common refrain at almost every Hindu religious place. Why is it that the Hindu gods need financial bribes to protect their devotees?

Nobody has an answer for me. The usual shake of head is accompanied by them moaning at my being so irreligious. I am surprised none have ventured to take me to an Ojha yet for my reformation 😉

What do you think of religion? How has it helped you in your life? What do you tell your child about religion?

Linking this post with Corinne for the #MondayMusings

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My previous post for #MondayMusings was about the Hindu Muslim divide in our country which you can read here

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21 thoughts on “#MondayMusings – Religion is a Matter of Faith

  1. I don’t think it’s an only Hindu phenomenon. Whenever a place of worship becomes ‘famous’ ‘scared people’ (quoting from PK again because it’s one of my favourite films) flock there. You must have seen pictures of the Haj. it’s the same thing. Personally I give the ‘famous’ ones a wide berth and I try not to judge people who do go there as long as I’m not pulled along. When it comes to religion it has to be ‘To each his own’.

    Not all temples are noisy or loud or dirty. I like to go to one close to where I live, specially on days that I’m not feeling good. And it always makes me feel better. It is a large open space with small temples for various Gods and is quiet and peaceful. I find the sound of bells with the priests chanting their mantras very soothing. For the same reason I love churches since we used to frequent the tiny chapel in our school.

    1. Oh yes the “famous” ones are a total story in themselves. Its such a racket and I have an issue of “paying” to go worship; despite my family shushing me up over it 😉

      I agree not all temples are so – its just my childhood memories and thats the way its in my head. There is this temple behind my colony and it litters the forest area all around with tonnes of garbage. There are huge mounds and no one has the guts to go and tell them anything since its a temple. The forest officials themselves dont want to go as they fear repercussions. This is what I have a angst with.

      With you on the churches – they have the best acoustics and christmas time the concerts there are just awesome.

  2. I am like you Shalz. I have a deep faith in God and know that He is always there to protect me. I must admit I am not a good Hindu but am proud to say that I am one. I also resort to saying a few prayers when I am in trouble and do visit temples from time to time. But like you, I don’t like the idea of paying more for a special darshan. Also I get annoyed at the greedy priests and the shoving crowds.
    I have a very funny story to narrate : soon after our wedding my husband took me to Tirupathi. In those days there were no queues or special darshans. But the outside of the temple was wet and slippery and even inside, I was a bit spooked byt he large, fierce looking devotees and the ash smeared priests who kept pushing everyone and saying “Randi, Randi, Randi”.
    I was horrified when one of them looked at me and uttered those words. I was even more shocked that my husband didn’t say a word to the priest.
    Then he told me not to get affronted as it was Telegu for Hurry up!
    On the whole I love visiting temples especially when they are quiet and peaceful. Even today if I have to go to a temple, I visit ‘Off Season” because I know my God will then have time for me.

    1. Oh god that was hilarious – I would have been horrified too Sunita by that word 😉
      And going to temple in the “off season: – imagine we actually are saying this!!!
      I am so glad to hear our wavelengths match on this 🙂

  3. The big, famous temples are infamous for the devotees getting pushed and shoved by the horde of devotees and security guards and the pandits, too. You wait in the queue for hours and hours and don’t get a 1 minute of darshan!
    My religiousness has lessened over the past year and now I feel God would bless me even if I didn’t step in a temple for the rest of my life coz God resides in my heart and He knows what I feel/think. I too don’t like being forced to do any religious duties if my heart is not in it.
    It’s all man’s over-imaginative mind that gave birth to religion and the 36 crore Gods who would punish us if we did or did not do something, isn’t it?
    We really made a big mess on this planet by coming up with this thing called Religion!

    1. I hear you on the lessening religiousness Shilpa. And yes god dwells in our hearts and not in temples as we have witnessed time and again. Good of you to follow whats your belief rather than intoning the preachings which make no sense at all. Its the man made interpretations of religion that have indeed destroyed humanity to such a large extent. Its horrifying to see intelligent people becoming zealots and pure haters in the name of religion. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with me 🙂

  4. Agree with you, by and large all famous temples are dirty, chaotic and noisy! My experience at Nathdwara was terrible. I had to stand on the large nails of the door to have a glimpse of the deity. Praying peacefully was not even on the agenda as there were sea of people pushing and making noise and this was when we were getting the ‘VIP darshan’! I find small temples and all gurudwaras and churches peaceful and better managed. Yes, religion is a personal choice and should be free from any compulsion and influence.

    1. Uff sounds terrible Shilpa – I dont know what my parents faced when they were in there but they were very disgusted and angry when they came out. Thats not how one should be feeling after visiting a temple. I feel all the hype that we surround around the temple places is what leads to such a farce. Look at Dargah Sharif or the Golden temple- despite the large crowds, none of this nonsense is there. At Golden temple, I have requested ppl in front of me that I have a train to catch, so may I go first and the entire 200 strong crowd let me and my friends push forward and get ahead in line. I was so blown away by this – this is faith. This is devotion. Imagine doing this in one of the famous Hindu temples – I think I would have been pushed out of line only.

      Thank you for concurring with me Shilpa – religion is indeed personal and a matter of complete inner faith.

  5. So proud of you for writing this! <3

    This is not only a Hindu thing, God and religion are crazy money making business, just like cricket and bollywood.

    I'm not religious at all, but I believe in a super-power above us all. I do not visit temples often or offer money to Gods. What I do is charity that I know impacts a lot of people and I know that it will bring me back some good karma. That is all that matters at the end of the day.

    1. I hear you on the charity bit Somz – thats what I do too. I really dont get the way temples ask their followers to donate money in the name of religion. All the money goes to waste in these cases. Not an ounce of goodness is being done by temples whereas you see Gurudwaras that run charitable hospitals and a food kitchen daily for everyone, regardless of faith.

      Yup God is a huge business in India, especially in temples. Wonder how history would judge us 100 years from now when they see this?

  6. My parents were thankfully atheists, so I grew up without any pressure to visit temples etc. However, the story changed completely the day I got married. My husband’s family is not only religious their world revolves around food and religion. They made me do everything that I had never done at my parent’s place. I was even criticized for not knowing enough about religion. For the initial years, I took the pressure of obeying religious rituals but now after 13 years, I give a fuck (sorry about the language, but couldn’t have expressed with any other word). My MIL keeps telling me ‘do this’, ‘do that’ but I just show her a middle finger (in my mind). I am trying to raise my son without religion but it is difficult as his father and grandma and his paternal family is always trying to put kachra thoughts in his mind.

    This post touched a raw nerve in me, and am so happy that you wrote. I would refer to this post and write my next Monday Musing. Hope that is fine.
    P.S. I feel we are quite similar in thoughts..do you feel the same?

    1. Oh wow -thats feels so so so awesome to hear Balaka. Yes please go ahead and take this post further. I am looking forward to reading it. I am also surprised to find our wavelengths so similar. Good on you girl for standing upto your MIL and others for pushing you into things that make no sense to you. Dont worry about the language, I also use this word when I really want to convey my angst well and truly.

      Glad to see you doing the right thing by your child; he will grow up to figure it out for himself eventually; no matter whats been pushed into his brain. SO long as he has one parent supporting him otherwise.

  7. I enjoyed reading this because I could relate to some of the incidents while I travelled with my own family. There’s a couple of times I ended up asking, Wait I didn’t see the deity and before even me conveying things, we were already out. I enjoy temples for the main reason of the history behind it. My husband and I visit temples mostly on the off-season, only the regular localites visit for their darshan that time. We prefer to go by history from a friend who is terrific when it comes to it. He lists the science behind each temple and the deity and it makes our visit purposeful. I don’t prefer to visit temples when it is crowded, I believe in God, but not in the business that is built around it.

    Personally, when we visit the temple during off-season, apart from the deity we also got to know that one stall for the oil/ghee lamps is around 1.5 lakh per year in tender. Imagine the money that must be going around in the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&C) which is one of the most richest and we got to know many insider details as well. It felt ridiculous and I felt I’d rather give the priest his money which he uses for his daily bread.

    1. Very well said Jayanthy – you are the second reader who mentions going to temples in “off season” – imagine how we are perceiving our place of worship. Yes that ghee lamp money is something prevalent in almost all temples. You should see the annual figures as declared by the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine board every year for the amount donated by people as “chadawa” – it tuns in hundreds of crores.

      The business built around the temples is the saddest part about our religion and we pass it on to our children without any thought. Atleast thats what my parents have done and its something we fight about all the time.

      Temples are running scams for decades with no check and people are mindlessly giving into it. Its really sad to see the priests manipulating faith in this manner to benefit them.

      I like that you visit the temples for the history – thats the reason why I have visited a few of them too.

  8. I’ve done the rounds of a lot of temples when I was young, Shalz. I always found them fascinating. I was put off when I inadvertently offered my left hand for amruth – and got yelled at by the pandit! What I find eerie are Buddhist monasteries – no offence to anyone – but I’ve always felt an emptiness in them. As much as I love my religion, I no longer practice is, because the nonsense that has gone on in the Catholic Church – the abuse, etc. I’ve come to appreciate the God within much more than ever.

    1. I hear you C! The abuse and misogyny is abounding in our religious places everyday. Who can pray and where has become a vote bank issue to be harnessed to create disharmony and strife. I like your thought of appreciating god from within – thats the best thing to do!! 🙂

  9. Im glad to see most of the comments have also had a similar experience. Because I thought I would be the only one saying so. My own one was in palani where the priest actually checked my hand to see how much money i had before shoving me aside… This after climbing up those damn tall and tiring steps!!

    Have so many rants on Gods and God en I’ve encountered… Probably a book there.

    1. Definitely a book Roshan – its pathetic how the priests have the powers to do such sick acts in the name of God. I am so happy to find so many like minded peeps here on this topic. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

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