Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Our Temple towns, matter of hygiene & discipline

We all participate in religious festivities, visit temple towns, on special occasions, or for performing 'promised' rituals on fulfillment of wishes. Many of our places of worship, are robust business centres, and why our ancestors stressed on pilgrimage was probably to help the economy of various places, at various times of the year. If we analyse our festivals, temple town activities, they are so well spread out, the devout will have enough places to visit. It also tells a lot about our cultural diversity, and travelling to these places, is a great way to know our country better.

In all this, one of the major problems is, of being able to find, and, book a place to stay in advance. On visiting the place, finding it as promised is a big ask (many private operators are either too liberal with hygiene factor or charge exorbitantly).

Yesterday, we had Shivaratri, a day on which all Shaivaite places, Shiva temples had huge number of visitors attending, praying, fasting, keeping awake the whole night as a practice. Many television channels, regional, national covered the event in fair degree, showing the rituals and talking to devotees for their views.

Kannada Prabha, carried an article about a Russian devotee, who works as dubbing artist in Mumbai, but has found solace in praying to Lord Shiva. He worships Shiva, at the Koti Teertha in Gokarna. He has to swim the waters (supposedly infested with Crocodiles!) to reach the Linga. Sri. Ramadas, by birth known as Sergei (/ Surkozy?), is fearless and says "the Lord protects me!" when asked about potential danger he faces. He is probably more devout than many Hindus, and I wish he gets to pray at the Atma Linga temple of Gokarna. He himself is supportive of Swami Sri. Raghaveshvara Bharathi's plan to train visitors (foreigners) in temple practices before they are allowed entry in to the temple.

It is not uncommon to find in our temple towns, hygiene at public places, like bathing spots, streets, etc., is highly neglected. These foreign devotees did the best Seva (service) on the occasion of Shivaratri by taking up the initiative of cleaning the Koti Teertha. They made a very telling point that when you worship, you got to ensure the place is clean too. In this regard, I find the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) score very high. There is a huge voluntary service, neatly organized and managed by the trust. Rich and poor come and provide service of every kind. [This is my personal experience, but no offence meant to followers of any other belief.]

As Indians, we need to develop zero tolerance for many things. We need to ensure anything non-hygienic is NOT allowed in any place. Another common issue we see is indiscipline in these places. People take short cuts for everything. A queue is meant to be for our safety, for an orderly opportunity for all to pray, visit the sanctum sanctorum. We come across so many reports of stampede, resulting in tragic deaths of elderly, women, children, etc. Why? Why can't we have some patience to wait for our turn? I feel at times whether God is not scared by such crowds and such unruly behavior! Every time such incidents take place, the local administration announces enquiry, some compensation, some noise in the press and TV studios. Then everything is forgotten by all. No one is ever identified for their mistakes and punished. The temple authorities, local law & order authorities, etc., go scot-free.

In some of our temple towns there is a practice of tonsuring as offering to the deity. But, in some of these places, people throw the hair in to water bodies. It is such an unhygienic practice. We can't bathe in such water, nor can think of taking a sip as holy teertha (Impossible as many of our rivers are highly polluted by other effluents - calls for another post!). Why can't authorities and deities think of effects of polluting the water with such waste? In a place I visited last year, I saw some devotees, taking bath in a pond which had so much of bleaching powder thrown in! I was aghast at the ignorance of the people, authorities.

Another problem we have is the problem of plenty. It is made much worse by the adoption of technology too, instead of streamlining matters! The deployment of ill conceived technical solutions too has not exactly made life easy for pilgrims. These days it is so difficult to book for any sevas on some of the popular shrines that have implemented on-line booking of sevas, darshan tickets, etc. In spite of raising seva charges high, people still flock and pay those sums, wait for years for their turn. In some cases, booking have been made beyond 10 years! Probably, we have forgotten what Bhima told Yudhishtira (Dharmaraja), when Yudhishtira asked a brahmin to come tomorrow for the alms. Bhima went and rang the justice bell, called all the town people and said "Do you know my brother knows he won't be dead by tomorrow!" Yudhistira asked why is he saying that. Bhima replies "How do you know that Death won't visit you now, or, tonight?" Then, he realizes his mistake, calls the brahmin seeks his forgiveness and gives him the alms and sends him home. It simply beats all logic to book for a ritual in advance for so many years. This is an abuse of software technology by the implementing teams. The temple authorities, knowingly, or, unknowingly, accept it as it brings in the money in advance. What about the inconvenience to the other devotees by such actions? You land at the place of worship, to find no darshan tickets, queues too long, VIPs jumping the queue and lot of people made to wait longer, when you go inside the sanctum-sanctorum the volunteers do not even let you have 10 second view of the deity in many places. Added to that the jostling by the impatient public as it nears the deity.

There is a lot that is good about our places of worship. But there is a lot more that needs to be done to make the experience of visiting them a truly rewarding, memorable one. Its the job of local authorities, local business folks (who should not fleece devotees), temple boards, the devotees who visit the place (by maintaining hygiene, discipline). The Gods may then be happy to be  there to shower their blessings on us, if we respect the word "Cleanliness is Next to Godliness". Thank you.

[A few points, related to social issues, I thought of mentioning, I might do a full post later on:
1. I appreciate the work of Mr. Janardhana Poojary to change some temple practices in some parts of Karnataka, because those are not very hygienic practices. It has also created controversy, awareness on other social divisions, and calls for a fresh re-look at the practices.
2. Also, one must appreciate the changes being worked on by Pejavara Swamiji, and others to get rid of the caste issues, and restrictions on worshipping, dining halls, etc. There is a need for educating the people of practices to be followed, than simply banning access. It will help the Hindu society in the long run.
3. In the same breath, I also want to see the Guruvayur Temple authorities permitting Sri. Yesudas, the renowned singer, devoteee of Lord Guruvayurappan (form of Lord Vishnu). My view is any devotee, who observes the temple practices, respects the deity, while inside the temple, should be permitted entry. They can be accompanied by some trainer persons to help them know and follow instructions given.] 

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