Sunday, August 3, 2008

Commercialized temples

Last Wednesday my MIL (Mother In Law) called up to remind us about my FIL's (Father In Law) death centennial. She enquired if there was any temple here in Bangalore where we can offer our prayers for this occasion. I was not sure and so I assured her that I could check and do the necessary. I verified with my sister and she informed me that it can be done in any of the Shiva temples. It stroked me that there was one in Ulsoor and so we decided to go there. Let me remind you that my hubby dear is an atheist but he would do anything for his father (including a visit to the temple). So we set off early on the auspicious day which was the day of solar eclipse. The elders believe that by offering prayers to the departed soul on this day (new moon day of this particular month), we get bulk blessings for our future generations (28 precisely) by warding away the evil spirits. So, we set off early to do our bit in the benefit of future generations. The incidents that followed almost drew me to close to atheism. I will narrate them in scenes

Scene 1: The foot wear booth
Its early morning and the atmosphere outside the temple is serene. We leave our foot wear at a little booth in front of the temple where the sleepy guy gives us a small piece of paper with a number written on it. Mind you, if we lose it, we get to go back home barefoot. So it's a precious piece of paper and Ajith quickly shoves it into his pocket.

Scene 2: Entry to the temple
As we enter the temple an old lady passes by looking at us intently and even before we begin to ask her, she says it's an auspicious day today. The little temple in the corner is offering special pujas and hence the huge crowd (all this info provided without being asked for). I have to mention that this temple houses 5 little temples in all the four corners with one large one at the center. I ask the lady if we could offer prayers to the departed here for which she points her finger to a man who is busy screaming at particularly nobody and asks us to check with him. We quickly walk towards him and enquire about our necessity. He appears impassive and without answering us, squeal at some pujari (priest: the man who offers prayers for us) to come over to where he is seated.

Scene 3
Without waiting for an answer, we walk in the direction he was howling at, assuming the pujari would be there and we see one of them hurrying towards the source of squeal. We quickly stop him and tell him that we are the one who need to do the offerings for the departed and he smiles broadly at us showing off his toothless mouth. He must have been glad to get a potential prey early in the morning.

Scene 4
The frail pujari is an old man and begins to instruct us on the list of things we need for the prayers. His first line is "You have to offer me dakshina (donation)" get some flowers (don't forget the dakshina), a coconut, some bananas (the dakshina hehehe), some grass stressing the fact that people usually plan earlier for such occasions in which case he is offered clothes and cash as dakshina and since we have not planned earlier, we are given the option of donating entirely in cash.

Now we begin to wonder if the pujari forgot about the puja so we remind him if there is anything else we need to get for the puja other than the dakshina. Oh yeah, the beetle leaf and the nuts, he reminds us. We frown and walk deep in thoughts wondering if we are in the right place.

Scene 4
We step out of the temple where we see couple of people selling the above listed items in a packet. I buy that and realize that the beetle leaf is missing. I check with the lady and she says "not available anywhere". We check with the lady beside her selling the same items and she says that she has it but can't give it to us until we purchase the whole packet from her. Now that's mean!!! I begin to retort but realize it's futile. We walk away and check with another lady who seemed a bit more considerate. So off we return to the pujari with the packet in our hand.

Scene 5
The pujari upon seeing us leaves the gathering he was tending to excusing himself by convincing that something important has come up and he has to leave.(I am sure you guys may have guessed the reason behind it). He approaches us and makes us sit in a corner and quickly recites some mantras. It's over in a record breaking time of 2 minutes and he quickly asks for dakshina. Ajith thrushes a 50 rupee note at him and the man stares in disbelief (He had difficulty in reading the number there).

Pujari : I cant accept that
Ajith : I have no change
Pujari : How much have you got?
A : 500
P : I have change for that

A gives him 500 and P hurries inside to get change. He gets 100 rupee notes and gives them to Ajith

P: Now give me what you please?
A gives him 100.
P: that's less
A gives 200

P frowns, takes it and says
P : People give me more than 500.

Meanwhile I avoid looking at Ajith since he is all the more convinced that he has chosen the right path. He advices me that people lack a pure mind in the first place. Having a pure mind and not believing in GOD is better than having a crooked mind and claiming to be a believer in GOD. Its worse when people meant to act as a median between common people and God bribe in the name of GOD.

To top it all we got to see another incident in the temple where another pujari who was initially impatient with the devotees for crowding the temple became a saint as soon as he saw one of the TV channels videoing the event. He ran towards the spot in a hurry and started off with a fresh 'organized' prayer and continued it religiously until he was videoed. WOW! Do we really need these kind of pujaris to act as median between us and GOD or is it better to offer our prayers personally with a pure mind and heart.



deepa said...

I really really second your thoughts, viddi.. We hv 1000 similar experiences in most of the temples('coz we visit thm more oftn than u guys).

SK said...

There are cellphone Pujaris available in diff parts of N.India where you just need to dial him on his cell phone instead of going all the way to the temple. He will get you connected directly to GOD by chanting mantras etc on your behalf and you can over hear that. (Ofcourse, all these value added services from Pujaris come at an additional cost)...SK

Miss Stymie said...

Thank God! there are no sms pujaris.

Stumped said...

THere is video podcast pujaris too. ;o).. Well, it's like that anywhere. It's like the old saying, "Devaru kotru pujaari Koda" meaning, even if God grants ur wishes, Pujari won't.. ( so keep them happy with Dakshinas)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, i guess its just business for these mediators of God. I haven't been to a temple for a long time.

I even find visiting temples for sightseeing irksome due to the environment.

I mean these places are supposed to provide you with positive vibes from all the good people who frequent them. Yet I always tend to get a feeling like i am visiting a police lock up (with thieves and petty criminals and others looking to earn a few easy bucks)!!