Monday, March 26, 2012

Oh My God !

Highlighted and translated by Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

One of Mumbai's temples, from the early part of the 19th century, in fact , consecrated in 1801.  Constructed by a contractor called Mr Patil, and financed completely by a rich Agri lady called Deobai. Such was the munificence of mind then that , although she herself, was,  and remained childless, she built this temple, because she was convinced that many other women would be granted their wish by the  Lord resident inside.  

A November night in 1975. It was then, from the outside, a very ordinary , managlore-tile-roofed  single storey set-up, situated in the heart, of what was then , solid middle-class-Mumbai,  on the main western thoroughfare of Mumbai that went from south to north.   Traffic was then  a delight , and it was still possible to make impromptu decisions to stop the car, park the car without tow-truck-trauma, and go visit the place .

There was one entrance, unguarded, but with a gate of sorts. You could walk right into the sanctum sanctorum, pray, acquire prasad , and leave leisurely after enjoying the ambiance.  Newly weds came there to pray, sometimes straight from a wedding reception, when the bride travelled to her new home with her newly acquired family. Folks came there with their newborn kids, to lay them at the feet of the deity, and the Lord always showered his blessings. Then there were the regulars, who came daily, some who came and recited stuff to one side, and some, who came to redeem a promise made to the lord.    

Times have changed.  For that matter, everything has changed.

The place is now a multistoreyed place, with offices et al, and priests travel up  and down in elevators to perform their assigned worship duties vis-a-vis the public.
There is a dome above all the floors, gold coated, that glistens far and wide on a sunny day.   The old entrance is now an exit. And in an adjoining road, named after one of India's greatest economists,  is a huge line of shops selling all kinds of things like flowers, sweets, souvenirs,  pooja items, and  some spurious services.

When we visited on a Saturday noon, we had to park at least 5 blocks away, and then walk through a road with police roadblocks,beeping doorways, folks in uniform peering into an xray machine, as your purses and bags tumbled by them on a conveyor belt, like at airports.  There were also some folks frisking visitors with some kind of probe.

There must have been at least 1000 visitors ahead of us as we continue walk towards what we thought was the end of the line. All the while, there were touts outside  the shops, offering to  store and look after your footwear,  advising you on specials deals by them which would allow you to skip the huge line, and or jump it. "VIP Darshan" as they called it was repeatedly on offer.  Then one enterprising guy took a look at the silver wisps of hair   predominant on our crowns, and  told us there was a special Senior Citizen's gate through which we could get in. Even accompanied by a junior citizen daughter. (I later looked for such a gate , but could not find it.)   All this while, our queue kept snaking ahead in the shape of a U, before we entered into what was a barricaded area, where you went up and down through  a maze.  At one end , we saw a gate festooned with official signs that announced priority entry for folks buying a 50Rs ticket, as well as thrilling entry facilities for folks choosing to buy a gold, or silver pass, like a season ticket.

The queue soon snaked around close to the road entrance from which folks were emerging after being frisked. Some folks develop selective vision at such points. They could not see the queue, and pretended to seamlessly merge with the queue, at a point, where at least 500 people were still in line.  The selective vision meant their feet moved surreptitiously while they looked at the temple in a dedicated manner. Fortunately, and much to their chagrin, some folks took the trouble of pointing out to them the end of the queue, and they went off trying to suppress a huff. Inching ahead, and we were soon inside, with the sanctum in sight, brilliantly lit up, profused with puja flowers and worship items.

Mumbai roads habituate us to adjusting suddenly from 6 lanes to 2, and something similar happened when it was suddenly a single line to the Lord.  True to reputation, folks simply pushed and changed lanes. I wondered what the Lord must have felt, day after day, month after month, year after year, this surge of humanity flowing in front. Several temple volunteers and folks in uniform, pleading with folks to keep moving, hold their children together, and after a quick darshan , we were out.  Collected our prasad at the exit gate, amidst assorted pushy folks, and proceeded on the final trudge home.

This particular deity, is known to grant wishes.  Its devotees are many, from all the religions.There are many stories on how people walk barefoot all night from far off places  to visit this deity, and ask for favours and blessings. I've even heard of someone who walked backward from a far flung suburb of Mumbai. Many prominent folks from the film fraternity, do this walk, followed by their security guards  and assorted cars  driving there to take them back . And millions of ordinary folks crowd there to see them. You see countless young folks in line, with families , friends, and many who make it a regular thing  as soon as examination time approaches.

I grew up in another town , where too, there are several extremely well known temples, as old as this temple, and even dedicated to the same deity, and unique  in the style and rarity of form of the deity.

As a child , I lived  on the road leading to one such temple, and was witness to several old devotees , who had their own methods of paying obeisance to the lord.  And old gentleman, would , without fail, go by at 5:30 am every single morning,  doing suryanamaskars  instead of walking all the way, reciting the concerned prayers. Regardless of season and weather.  And unaccompanied by caretakers. On reaching, he would sit inobtrusively, recoup his energy for a bit, recite his prayers, prostrate himself  before the deity (even from a distance) , collect the prasaad, and then leave,  like any other devotee, walking.

This deity also had its share of folks who got desperate as exams approached. Close to the date of the board exams, you could see young fellows doing 108 rounds around the inner sanctum, muttering their prayers earnestly.

Somewhere in the late 80's , my mother was amongst and  a member of the board trustees appointed by the government for temples such as this one and some others , like the Parvati Hill temple,  associated with this one. Then (and till to-date), the only woman amidst the board of trustees, she had been a daily visitor to these temples for several decades and was known to many.  A very god fearing, knowledgeable, fearless, and  terribly down-to-earth person, she once stopped one of these students  to ask about them spending hours doing these 108 rounds.  Turns out that they were totally depending on this deity to see them through an exam when they had not bothered to study for it.

For someone who thought studies and sports were to be pursued with equal dedication by students, and prayers and worship was part of a daily short routine
she thought, this business of throwing the onus of passing exams on the Lord was like cheating the lord.

She took them aside, and urged them to actually go back and concentrate on their studying.  Advised them that the Lord would help anyone who made an honest effort at the exams,after putting in preparatory efforts at the highest level, and that just doing 108 rounds of the inner sanctum without studying was not going to work. Of course, some listened, some did not. But she tried.  I like to think some lives changed in the way they thought about things.

I don't know if she would have succeeded today. Everyone wants quick answers and solutions.  Some folks also think that money can be earned by dubious means, and then you can redeem yourself by worshipping the lord with some huge gift  and a special family puja session with all the trimmings. Elections fought with unaccounted money power, and wins celebrated by documenting your very public gifts to some temple.   What those at the top do, the folks at subordinate levels, emulate.  Gold passes, silver passes, special entries to visit the lord, and shower him with gifts. I doubt if any crooks ever come there to apologize for their crooked sins.

Somewhere in all these folks, are the old faithful. Who have immense faith, but whose resources are not so full.  Those who worry about savings being depleted, and how they are going to manage someone's school fees. Visiting temples , for them, is like having food, a simple meal. A daily affair.

But it gets more and more difficult. Some feel I shouldn't even be complaining.

A news item in today's Times of india, refers to  the fact that the waiting time to see the idol at the famous Hill Temple at Tirupati, is 21 hours. With close to 65,000 pilgrims on weekdays, a view of the deity for  0.80 to 1.5 seconds amidst a lot of shoving and pushing by temple guards and Srivari volunteers is defined as adequate.
    A time-motion study found that 2,000-2,200 pilgrims are able to ‘finish’ the darshan of the Moola Virat (main deity) in one hour when they are pushed around. If temple volunteers exercise restraint, the numbers come down
to 1,400-1,600 and further down to 1,000-1,200 if they only say ‘move move’ inside the garbha griha.

With Arjitha sevas and other rituals taking up 8 hours and VIP pilgrims allowed darshan for 3-4 hours, common pilgrims are left with only 10-12 hours.
 In the Maha Laghu darshan (100 feet away from the Lord), the line moves at lightning pace as some 5,000-6,000 pilgrims are accommodated in 60 minutes. “Even a glimpse of the Lord is difficult as pilgrims are dragged away like players in a kabaddi match,” a temple insider said. .....

Just wondering. Why things have reached such a stage ?  Should money be the deciding factor in defining classes of worship ?  Is this like bringing in "reservations" ?

Are we as a people sinning more ?  Has it reached such proportions that a disgusted  God is feared  and placated  with limitless resources ?  Does anyone think an entity like a God  can be bought, like some folks in the corridors of power ?  

 What happened to thinking of God as a kind of benevolent monitor in our daily life, where we put in a lot of thought before responding  to some underhand, illegal or plain cheating stuff ?

Is God now an industry ?



  1. From all that I see on a daily basis here in the states, I am afraid that God has indeed become an industry -- particularly with our politicians! Terrific post -- sad, but terrific!


  2. You have taken your time writing this exquisite piece of prose. There is nary a hurry as the reader moves inch by inch on his way to meet the Diety through the enormously serpentine queue. The desperation and the listlessness of the ordeal has been beautifully captured by the language. And so are the acts of brinkmanship, deceit, and feduciary high-handedness, set as a counterblast to devotion and obesiance.

    It is sad that the the business of God has evolved into granting redemption to ghastly sinners and worthless laggards. Perhaps the bustling office complex that he occupies now is a cue.

  3. I love observing people worshiping things. Just waiting for a good idea to monetise this activity.

  4. God is not an industry ! But religion is. In Gods name !