Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Visit To A Temple

(Suchindrum Pond, Image by Vinayaraj, Wikimedia Commons)

Recently visited a temple in the idyllic town of Suchindrum for an elaborate Hindu ritual. What I expected to be a benign few minutes, turned out to be one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, although one should be careful with such statements. Despite being used to such ordeals growing up with Hindu culture, it seems as though in the past I was infinitely more accommodating and complaisant.

Stuck in the severely cramped, damp and dingy interiors of the temple, I couldn't help but marvel at what I was witnessing. It was deathly hot, and not a wisp of wind blew in the insulated, and almost hermetically sealed stone chamber, despite the brilliant evening breeze outside. Several lit oil lamps, along with some burning dried grass in a pot by the side, filled the entire still and unventilated room with smoke, accumulating under the extremely low ceiling. The room was packed with devotees, jostling about a set of rails trying to get a glimpse of a stone idol kept within a deep cavity in a wall. Everyone was sweating profusely. It was a claustrophobic and painfully uncomfortable environment, a living hell.

And yet everyone stayed, staring at an idol that was neither aesthetic nor interesting in any way, as though they were expecting it to come alive at any moment; and staying by the rails required constant effort to fend off advances from others trying to displace you and get a glimpse. The priest, within the cavity (the inner sanctum) was chanting some mantras which no one knew the meaning of, most probably not even himself. The inner sanctum was a sooty blast furnace, and the priest would have to be really lucky if he doesn't end up with lung cancer with all the smoke.

It was as though I was in a room of mentally ill people. I've really never been able to figure out how Hindu religious experiences are uniquely unpleasant and so physically uncomfortable (as compared to other religions), and why people would force themselves to endure such elaborate rituals, taking a toll on the wallet and the psyche. Even a casual believer, as I was before, would intuitively prefer simple and less exhaustive rituals, since even the relative prospective spiritual merits are not quantified in scripture, and is merely based on hearsay and 'expertise' of priests.

It was sad to see the spectacle - human beings, chained by the dogma inherited by tradition; slaves to the will of Hinduism. What was even sadder was the presence of children in their midst; confused, bored and constantly urged to conform to the existing order.

The priest, after reciting some mantras, emerged from the den with a pail of water and a bunch of leaves. He immersed the leaves in the water and whipped it around in a frenzy, splashing everyone present. It's a routine feature in every temple ritual.

At that instant, a young child began crying; began bawling at the top of his lungs. It reminded everyone of the smoke, heat, damp, noise and stuffiness. Everyone ignored the child, continuing in their trance and fixation.

The scene seemed so ironic. It seemed a perfect allegory of the young child pointing at the naked Emperor, and saying that the Emperor was naked. It was as though the child was drawing our attention to the ludicrousness of the entire exercise, by an innocent mind saying it as it is - an unpleasant experience, but no one was willing to listen.

It was as though the child was the voice of a sane person mistakenly confined in a mental institution desperately pleading his case and proving his sanity; yet ignored by the doctors. In time, with substantial probability, the natural free spirit of the child will be broken; the cost of resistance would outweigh the point of doing so, and the child would become another victim, believing the projected insanity, another mind surrendered.



Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written.

Mind-pen said...

The silver lining of the religion is choice of mode of worship which is unique to Hinduism. Pleasantly polytheistic, it suits the whims, fancies and desires of the priestly orthodoxy and the colorful imaginary of the common man. One may choose the temple ritual, or one at home, or simply go about their duties. Although what you say is true, you forget the central tenet of this highly unorganized religion - realization of self, the joining of the atman and brahman.You want to read Wendy Doniger's 'Alternative Hinduism' to clearly understand the lack thereof of fixed dogmas in the religion, unlike any other.