A tale of two temples: Part II

It was a cool morning at a quaint little temple in an obscure but ravishingly beautiful village in the Konkan region. I was there accompanying a person I respect enormously, somebody who had encouraged me to visit the local deity. In places like these, the village temple is a shared resource. In other words, it literally belongs to the villagers who would prefer to go hungry for a day even if it meant that they could use the money to offer a few flowers to the Gods… the beauty of their unconditional and obviously overwhelming belief in the powers of the heavens inspired me tremendously and I was more than interested in experiencing a few moments of communion, despite whatever counter-religious
emotions I would normally have been feeling. This kind of atmosphere, I thought, was probably the reason that made believers out of atheists.

The temple itself was relatively well maintained, every part of it, and I couldn’t help but notice the cleanliness around. One more thing that I happened to notice was the conspicuous absence of the priest, which is pretty unusual because in places like these, the temple is about the only thing that could keep a priest occupied, unlike some other temples where you would get to see part-time priests. Anyway, the person I was with kept saying that since he was visiting the place after years, he would have wanted to perform a Pooja there before we left. He was well versed with the rituals and decided that in the absence of the priest; we had little choice but to make the offerings ourselves. He entered the Pooja chamber as he had done innumerable times in the past; after all he had grown up here, and was one of the most respected denizens of the village. I had seen ample proof of that during my stay there, with people showering him with hospitality and praise. Just as he was about to garland the deity, a harsh voice sounded from behind us, “Get out of there…”

We looked behind us and saw a unkempt man, in his forties, with a three-day stubble and a million dollar frown, charge towards us asking, “With whose permission did you step in here?”. I took offense immediately; it doesn’t take much for me to do that… I didn’t mind him questioning us, but I definitely objected to the rudeness that he seemed to be showering on us, making a spectacle out of our group and attracting the attention of the other people around, all of who were very familiar with the person I was accompanying and knew how respected he was here. My host kept his cool and requested our angry protester first to lower the intensity of his voice and then to explain why he had a problem with our worship. The guardian of the temple, as he very loudly introduced himself, said to us, no less rudely than before, that the upkeep of the temple had recently been “taken over” by one of the richer villagers, a man famous for making his riches through nefarious means, who had made a generous “contribution” towards improvement of the temple premises and its surroundings. Also, he explained (if explained is the right word to use; barked would have been more apt) that outsiders were not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Outsiders who, you ask? Me, of course, dear reader… didn’t you guess?

Despite the embarrassment he was feeling, and the anger at being subjected to such humiliation, my host proceeded to let Mr. Unkempt (who appeared unbathed as well, and who also claimed that he was some kind of stand–in Pandit), conduct the Pooja for us, in his own style, riding more on the authority that he so enjoyed than any kind of experience in rituals or worship.

At the end of the mind-numbing mumbo-jumbo, we left, quietly, emotionless, at least with no display of emotions at all. We did not speak of this experience after that, even in the several months that have passed since, but I cannot deny the bitterness that followed that spiritual visit.

How spiritual do you think we felt during, or at the end of this episode… any of us: me, my host or the designated guardian of the Gods?

I would never have brought this up, if it weren’t for my recent experience with another abode of the Gods thousands of miles away, in another corner of this country. An experience that opened some wounds in a microscopic part of my soul that still believes that the powers that control the universe are stronger than the humans that occupy it.

Today, talking about religion and which among them is better and which is worse, happens to have become the favored pastime, or should we say, the occupation of millions of religious organizations in the world today, a few of who also happen to occasionally find the time to stake claims to the reins of power in our motherland.

I have some questions to ask of these so-called beacons of faith and spirituality. Though the questions are rhetorical, and I find it unlikely to find a convincing answer, I invite any of them to answer them.

You think it is right for a human being to feel committed to a religion or faith he is born to, or converted to…

You think it is your duty to advocate the word of God to those, who you feel, don’t listen or take it seriously enough…

You think it is your right to decipher and interpret the word of God in your own terms and enforce the same interpretations, however demeaning, condescending, discriminating, or downright ridiculous they may be…

With due respect to your pious intentions and your commitment to your religious beliefs, how do you plan to bring people to God’s doorstep, when there are other people standing in their way, people of the same faith, people with the authority and power to stand above the rest, people to whom you have granted the right to call themselves guardians of your faith, people willing to rob, lie, deceive, suppress, oppress, kill, rape those who willingly and unconditionally come to them, people who seem to create more of their kind every moment… all in the name of the very Gods that they and, you advocate? Who the hell do you think you are?

God ?

We live in times when the demons disguised as guardians of faith seem to outnumber those who unconditionally believe, fear and depend on
their faith…

Why should I use the services of brokers like you, who are as farcical as the values you represent, to communicate with my spiritual self?

Why do I need to see God through the glasses you force upon my eyes?

Why should I not interpret God’s word the way I think it applies to my life, at the risk of interpreting it wrongly?

After all, God will correct me if I’m wrong…

And for those who feel you are witnessing the birth of an Atheist, my sincere apologies, I will keep believing… albeit in my own God… with my own rituals and my own values…

Values that will remain only mine… that I will never impose on anybody else, that I will never justify or advocate, that will remain with me till the day I die and will cease to exist after that…

Values that only two people will know and understand…

Me and…  God !

[Disclaimer: This is one of the posts from my first ever blog, that is now defunct. Though amateur, and in some cases silly, I did want to retain an archive of everything I have ever written in the blogosphere. Thank you for your patience]