June 23rd, 2008.
I ventured into unfamiliar territory today and emerged with cut marks on the heart. Ok, so I was only visiting a temple, this one being the Adiparashakthi temple at Melmaruvathur. But, my heart bled nonetheless.
Things in Tamil Nadu nowadays get so much out of hand that you’re left helpless and pleading for the country not to be thrown to the dogs. Like take for example my recent outing to a famous temple in Tiruvallur. Even as I entered the house of God, I turned around to check whether this really was a temple or a market place. On both sides of the aisle were shops selling garlands, flowers, cool drinks, water bottles, snacks and even paan. There is a line that separates commercialization and religion. But, that line seems to have disappeared. If this was not enough, a young priest approached me and asked me whether I would be interested in a special darisanam. It was a good thing considering the size of the crowd and our hurry to vacate the place. I diverted the young man’s attention to my father who agreed to it immediately. The priest said it would cost us Rs.200 i.e. Rs. 50 for each of us. My father, who might have sensed something amiss, asked the priest if he could lower the cost to Rs. 100. The asshole, who proclaims himself to be God’s servant, started to bargain and at last asked my father to give him a hundred and fifty rupees. You see, we’ve sunk to new lows in the treatment of God and people. You could easily understand from him bargaining that there is no such thing as a special darisanam and that it had been installed recently to serve the selfish interests of such young priests and his fellow mates. Using his influence among the security men who guard the gates inside the temple, he took us through some shortcuts and then linked us to the main crowd waiting for so long to catch a glimpse of the lord.
And if this ill-treatment had ended there I would have forgotten the incident as unimportant and a poor man’s desperate measure to find himself and his family some food. It didn’t. Even as we were waiting near the temple steps, one man with a container approached us saying “Sir… Prasadam” and gave us four glasses of sweetened milk. I began to think that this temple deserved better and started to believe that there really were some kind people around when suddenly this man said “Sir, Rs. 20” Oh, so they sell prasadam nowadays, huh ? Another so called priest, who was simply going through the motions of chanting to the lord in a disinterested manner, finally lit up when he sensed us near him waiting to shower money on his aarthi plate. But we were in no mood to as we wanted to put the money into the hundi. This asshole remarkably said “Archadai podunga sir…” “ Archadai podunga…” and when we started to move away to let the other people catch a glimpse, this man, gritting his teeth and eyes lighting dangerously up said “Archadai poduvengala mattingala” I was stunned for a moment but then anger took over me. It was then that I realized why this temple was so like a marketplace. I realized that this ass also would have pocketed the money if we had given archadai. Why else would he get so murderous and utter threats? I’m not cooking up these incidents just to attract interest to my blog; I’m genuinely concerned about the falling standards of religion and religious beliefs in our country. Where the hell is the local administrator? Where the hell is the local MLA? Have they even visited these temples? Or are they, just like these priests, getting money through illegal means and hence maintaining silence on the falling standards of the temple?
And that’s not all at all. The one thing I conveniently forgot to mention was the fact that the men, right from kids to grandfathers need to step into the temple half-naked. No, not the bottom part, just the top part. Just the top part, huh? Then what happens to a self-respecting youngster like me? And what the hell is the logic behind the move huh? Why don’t women go half-naked? Don’t the elders have any self-respect? Almost, all the time I see them they are half-naked. Even in homes, toilets and temples. Come on, you haven’t got the body of a Tom Cruise to flaunt it in every other place. And where the hell do the women turn their eyes to, then? Or is it that God bestows his blessings only upon half-naked men alone? Is it then that God is a woman who fancies half-naked men? These questions will remain unanswered as they form part of tradition and to answer it means sin to God himself. If you can’t, then you are not fit to even worship God. If half-naked men get all the blessings of God in the world, then those poor destitutes in the streets, the beggars and the people who live on the roadside, who haven’t got even proper clothing for their children let alone themselves, must have got the most blessings. But that isn’t the case, is it?
And still, that isn’t the end. I’ve forgotten to mention yet another tradition of ours to ward off the evil eye. Coconut-breaking. There was this couple with their child, a boy of about ten years of age. They had with them a coconut each. Dad went first, mom went next and the kid went third. But, in the end the kid was left hurt and crying on the temple ground by the parents who turned a deaf ear to his wailings and walked away as if they hadn’t heard him. The reason: The kid did not manage to break his coconut. But the father did manage to break his cheekbone and his heart by slapping him across the face. What these asses don’t understand is that to not break a coconut doesn’t necessarily bring you bad luck. But when you do not break it, then you go home feeling sad and dejected and brooding over the issue, not concentrating on other important matters on hand and voila… bad luck.
Even as you start to finally breathe fresh air outside the temple, palmists and beggars chase you till you reach the safety of your car and even then some gutsy beggar bangs the window of the car and mouths words till you’ve started the car and driven forward. If you had come walking? The thought sends shivers down my spine.
You see, I really haven’t got a problem with God, but I have a problem with the people who project an idol as god purely as a means of commercialization. As Kamal Hassan says in Dasavatharam “I never said that God doesn’t exist. I just said that it would be nice if He exists”