Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ooo. I saw God.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the abode of a deity at one of the richest temples in the world. For a self-confessed religious apathetic, this was the first visit to a temple in four years and was more a product of compulsion than free will. However, a minor factor that materialized the journey was indeed free will, although restricted to savouring a certain sweet delicacy the temple gives away, possibly as consolation for having to navigate a mile long maze to catch a glimpse of the deity.


My contingent reached the temple at the crack of dawn. ‘Heh, we’ll beat the queue before it even forms’ was the motive. Sadly, as if to certify India’s upholding of ‘unity in diversity’, several thousand people with the exact motive as my parents’ had already taken their places and there we were, sorry faced, at the far end of the queue. As we inched towards the gold building, I realized the unimaginable: Indians are the most motivated people in the world. The aforementioned citizenry that had thronged a square kilometre space had only one goal that day – get a glimpse of ‘god’. Nothing else mattered. Nobody even bothered to look at the five-hundred year old inscriptions engraved on the temple’s walls, built by an emperor considered among the greatest in Indian history. That the stone temple stood on an entirely stone-based foundation plastered with clay over centuries did not matter to them as did the fact that the food they would later be served is still made from the same recipes the emperor’s cooks used half a millennium ago.


This theory of no-gaze-avert was put to test when the crowd reached the gold-plated architectural marvel. Yours truly overheard discussions revolving around bullion trade and jewellery with miscellaneous entertainment about how many necklaces and bangles could be made with the building’s gold exterior. Again, nobody took a second look at the figurines etched in gold: souvenirs from Hindu mythology that boasts of magical birds, animals and events, all beautifully depicted. But my version of culture shock happened when we were in front of the holy idol. It was a world I had seen only in Discovery’s coverage of the Kumbh Mela – chants, prayers, closed eyes, palms gathered, all with genuine, unshakeable faith. I don’t know if they were repenting for sins, praying in gratitude or seeking the almighty’s help but the faith that was obvious in their intensity of salutation, their desperation to get more than a glimpse of their god, their determination in trying to manage a few more prostrations before being pushed away to make room for more people..was almost like passion, passion I had never felt before, faith that I have never seen nor had in time, people or even in myself. For someone alien to the concept of belief, looking at an idol could never be as meaningfully comprehensible as seeing what it meant for the millions who travelled for days..for that single glimpse of god.


And then surprisingly, it all ended. The tension, the adrenalin they had in front of the deity almost instantly subsided. Theoretically, almost an equal number of people were expected at the Prasadam Counter but I seemed to be among the few lone, obviously exhausted warriors seeking an oasis. With more than sufficient sugary spheres to last the return journey, I exited the oasis in glee.


Back home, nothing had changed. The same people who could grind mountains to dust before the almighty had come back to level zero and went on with their business as usual..daily prayers still being offered, prostrations still made, chants still pursued, finer details of their day still overlooked.


And D.K Bose, still running.