Like any South Indian Hindu from Tamilnadu, I was brought up on a staple diet of temples. Every important occasion – birthdays, New Years’, first day of the exams – involved a customary visit to the abode of God; critical ones demanding a visit to the family deity in a remote village. Annual visits were carefully planned to famous temples in far off locations.
In fact, my childhood home shared a wall with a temple. During temple festivals, my parents would throw the doors open to public so that people can go up to the terrace and watch the proceedings.
Naturally I grew up loving temples. The grand design, lively sculptures, the serenity, the history and mythology associated all captured my imagination and made great fodder my dreamy rides.
So it is with a lot of expectation that I went to Thiruvannamalai yesterday. A temple that is more than 1500 years old, which is said to inhibited by siddhas, deeply spiritual beings, even today.
To my despair, the place was crowded. People were stopping by en route their pilgrimages to Sabarimalai and Melmaruvathur. There were queues leading up to the sanctum santorum. After surviving the pushing and being herded like cattle in the narrow make shift lanes, when one finally grot to glimpse the God’s statue, they were driven off pretty rudely to make way for those waiting behind them in the queue.
There was no spirituality; no time to connect with the divine; no time to even mutter a prayer.
I walked out questioning the meaning if it all.
Why does one go to a temple?
What is the point of having a fleeting glance at the deity?
Temples and other religious places were created for two purposes. The first one is social. This was a centre to bring people together. This is evident from the huge spaces and halls usually find within such centres.
Second one is more spiritual. These places served as energy centres collecting and dissipating positive energy. Years and years of prayers and chantings make these powerhouses of calming spiritual energy.
Yet we go to the temple for Darshan, for a glimpse of the idol. Devdutt Pattnaik explains this beautifully.
“According to Hindu mythology, life is not a problem to be solved. It is a sight to be seen, and contemplated upon, so that we ourselves truly and eventually open ourselves to joy without seeking change in the world. Hence the great value given in India to Darshan, the act of seeing”.
With time, the act of Darshan seems to have taken prominence over the intent of it. People go to lengths – bribery, getting some powerful person to recommend – whatever it takes to get a proper view of the deity. The magic and mythology of the temple is lost in the supposed goodness Darshan at an auspicious time can yield.
Not for me. For me, a temple’s magic comes alive when I can visualise the kings and queens who rode through the place, praying for victory in a war or commanding sculptors to add another piece of architectural marvel. It is not complete without the spiritual and romantic stories that would have unveiled in the long corridors among the ornate pillars.
If I have choose between boring long queues that end with a tenth of a second of glance at a deity and having conversation with God in my bedroom, I will happily choose the latter. After all, Hindu mythology also says God is you and God is me; God is everywhere.