Monday, October 09, 2006

How temples should be

The place where I stay in Pune fits perfectly into my imagination of what a hostel should be like. It's a huge bungalow, with such utilisation of space that we have as many rooms as could be built in, a large veranda and a spacious courtyard. Girls have enough places to talk in peace on their cell phones thus...

Just as I step out of the comfortable recluse, I find myself on a narrow, busy street. By general observation, most streets that are narrow buzz with unusal activity...Merely ten steps of walk leads to an unassuming little gate on the left. From this gate, one can see a small black stone ox sitting patiently on a concrete block. An elementary garden of sorts is formed by a few rows of plants neatly maintianed in the little space available.

A frail old man sits on a plastic chair near the entrance. He is dressed in khaki, and wears a calm expression. Ocassionaly he rubs off the drops of sweat from his bald head. His eyes are deep and soft and bore right through the believers with a mix gentleness and aloofness. On hot afternoons when I return to the hostel, I peek inside the temple to see the old man sleeping on a sheet in the courtyard. In the mornings and evenings, he sweeps the floor clean. Around nine at night, he usually checks if everything is in place, perhaps puts the broom to use again and gets out of the temple. I don't know where he goes, but each morning he is right back.

The temple from the inside, is spic and span. There are two large bells, and a small raised platform where diced sugar is kept in a bowl, covered with net. This is the daily prasad, simple and sweet, literally! On either sides of the entrance inside, two clean mattresses are placed. A mirror is arranged at a perfect angle, that I can see the Shivling from far behind.

In visiting this temple, I feel like paying tribute to an old man's conviction in his job. His slow movements never alter the state of the temple. Everytime I have entered this temple, it is just as clean and quiet as before. His behaviour is so dutiful, so disciplined, that he personifies worship in itself. He is not a priest, no sir! God bless the trustees who decided to keep him there. His gentle demeanour is much more spiritual, than the fanatic pandas I encountered in Pushkar, near Ajmer and many other 'famous', 'jagrut' temples..

There are never queues lined up at this temple though. Like the ones at the Camp Hanuman in Shahibaug, Ahmedabad, or at the Dakshineshwar temple near Kolkata. Does that mean that the black stone which is carved out in this temple is 'less Godly' than the others I mentioned before.

I was angry at myself for standing in a long queue at the Dakshineshwar temple, When, finally when my turn came to 'pray' after about half an hour of standing in a long line, the priest inside the temple matter of factly asked what I had to offer. When I said 'nothing', he gave a loud expression of disapproval and hurried me to exit. My father persisted and he thrust a few flowers and two pieces of sweet in his hand. Three priests were 'maintaining' the queue by hurrying devotees to back off as soon as they stepped in front. I don't need flowers, fruits and mithai and money to please my God. Thank you.

What drives people to such random belief in God. Why do people walk miles, eat the offerings which might have turned sour from heat and drink water which is more than guaranteed to be impure, as a sign of devotion? Why smear the kumkum, which is chemical to the core and can spark of an allergic reaction with ease? The reason my bafflement multiplies ten fold is that most often, most people do this by choice.

We all need somekind of external, inexplicible and supposedly higher source of referance to look up to at one time or the other. We conveniently label this abstract idea as God, go on to complicate it further and further, in the form of different manifestations, rituals, scriptures, idols and omens.

What started as a source of positive energy perhaps becomes a form of bondage without our realisation. Not all bondages are bad. Life, in itself would be meaningless if we were loners, not bonding with our surroundings, people and ideas. But when those ideas and actions hinder your intuition and impulse, become a morbid compulsion and an aimless destination, the soul rebels.

My soul, to cut things precise, something in me always rebels when I see large queues of people lined up at temples. I love the temple opposite my hostel. It gives me time to be with myself. This is how temples should be.

-Gauri Gharpure