I had the good fortune to visit a temple a few hours’ drive from Mumbai this Sunday….. AGAIN…. In my family that happens a lot. Every time there’s talk of going out-of-town to escape the city, even if it’s for a day, all my family can think of is which God and which religious place we haven’t visited yet. I joke that my youth is being spent in Haridwar when everyone else’s is being spent in Goa. I tell you, it’s so bad, we had gone on a 10 day trip to Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore a few years ago. I was happy there won’t be any temple-run this time but nope… There it was! A Buddhist temple in the itinerary. What was I, a priest in my previous life?
So anyways, me, my parents, my uncle and aunt went in my car to this temple. On reaching there, a scene common in any temple anywhere in India unfolded. Streams of people making their way through lanes of makeshift shops selling stuff to be offered to god. Flowers, coconuts, boxes of sweets, vermilion, and also sarees to be offered to the Goddess. I bet you whatever you ask that all of the stuff offered inside the temple finds its way back outside to be re-sold to others.
As you make your way past people shoving flowers and stuff in your face, there’s the grand Indian ‘Test of Patience’, AKA a long snaking line to the temple. All this management of people, deciding which line goes where, and which one merges where reminds me of how hydraulics engineers plan a water supply system in an area, but only I’m sure there no pushing, shoving, or crying babies in water pipes. (Seriously guys, why subject infants to this torture, and harass everyone including yourself? Bring them here when they’re a little older!)
Don’t imagine that getting inside the temple’s gonna make the crowd any less harrowing. It’s like ants in an anthill in there! The uninitiated will get a panic attack from the EXTRA HARD pushing, fervent bell ringing (that almost make my eardrums split) and screaming of God’s glory (lest God overlook him and not mark his attendance). The climax is the altar where those with offerings shove them at the priest, and the priest has the look of an assembly line worker doing the same uninteresting thing day in and day out…. pick up the offerings from the person giving them, keep them in 1 pile, pick up something from the second pile, give it back to him, repeat. And just so you don’t miss out on any chance to give money, there are sneakily designed donation boxes everywhere. Even the handlebars in 1 temple were makeshift donation boxes with a slit in them to drop money!… and here I thought it was all about God…
How we behave at temples shows a lot of what kind of people we really are. Be it pushing and shoving, line cutting, ringing bells and screaming till other people’s ears burst, refusing to move ahead when you finally reach the altar and generally being aggressive, or letting someone else go before you, helping to carry some of the stuff that old lady brought to be offered to God, praying in silence, showing consideration for other people, making sure you’re not a cause of untoward annoyance to others. I bet this is really what God observes.
Irrespective of how chaotic, scary and dramatic the entire event is, the funny part is that every single person feels a little bit of bliss on exiting the temple 🙂