I must start by writing that this is not a blog on a new gastronomic temple in the depths of Sion Koliwada called Gurukripa Dhabbha Di Hatti, as yet undiscovered, or a new `chi chi’ place thronged by trendy wannabes called D’Artagnan Lounge Bar, at the top of some 5 star hotel. This is about temples, Mandirs, devotion, religious beliefs and the trends attached to them. I hope this has raised your heartbeat just a bit.
Before continuing to read, I must point out that you are entitled to your religious beliefs. Personally I have no such beliefs.
India, Bharat has some 1.2 billion souls of which, on a rough and ready estimate some 60 odd percent are called Hindus. This is a large number of Hindus. The rest are Muslims, Christians of various hues, Sikhs and others. From the time I was about 5 years old till I was 33, I lived in a building across the road from the Mahalaxmi Temple. Every year for the 9 days of Dassera or the original Navratri [meaning 9 nights - I use the word original intentionally] there used to be throngs of men, women and lots of children standing in serpentine queues waiting, not so patiently, for a `Darshan’ of the Goddess Mahalaxmi. As children my friends and I would watch with morbid delight as the police raised the barriers to let through the next batch of devotees [Bhatks] and the mayhem that ensued. Stampedes, separations, pick pocketing, chain snatching, molesting and outraging the modesty of women was par for the course. All in the name of God. This was followed by hysteria, anger and on occasion a mild `lathi charge’. Such delightful Indianisms, `Lathi charge’, `chain snatching’, `molesting women’ and `outraging the modesty of women’. As the years passed, you had an increasing number of devotees thronging the temple on Divali day. Made sense I suppose, Divali is a time when a `Laxmi Pooja’ is performed, Laxmi being the Goddess of wealth.
Soon things got a bit more serious. It was increasingly common for women to visit the Mahalaxmi Temple on, I believe, Thursdays. Then a few years ago there came along a new Navratra to add to the original Navratri. This new Navratra is a 9 day period sometime in April/May ending on the Ram Navmi day – i.e. the birthday of Lord Ram. I don’t think you go to the Mahalaxmi temple on this day but the development of the new Navratri was interesting.
When I was working at the hallowed Crawford Bayley & Co, one of my colleagues was a rather passionate Hindu. During the original Navratri she insisted on wearing a sari that was co-ordinated with the special colour of the day. I understand that the day’s colours are published in the Marathi vernacular newspapers. About 3 weeks ago my mother called me to say that it’s December and there are huge lines completely screwing up traffic. This was indeed strange. On asking another of my passionate Hindu friends, he told me it’s the last three days of the Magha Ashish month according to the Hindu calendar. This was because of some Marathi Television serial in which great benefits befell a character who did something or the other during the month. He told me that my mother should expect a similar rush on 1st January as it was New Years day. On hearing this I was completely dumbstruck.
The Hindu New Year differs from community to community. For the businessmen it Divali, for people in Punjab, Nepal, Assam, Kerala, Orissa West Bengal its Baisakhi or Vishu which falls in March or April. For Maharashtrians it Gudi Padva which again falls in March or April. I presume that those who go to temple are passionate Hindus. Then why for God’s sake [no pun intended] do you want to go to the temple on 1st of January which is the New Year according to the Gregorian Calendar?
On exploring the unique concept, visiting a Hindu temple on a Gregorian New Year, I found that many passionate Hindus [temple visiting ones] go to the temple on their birthdays. Nothing wrong with that, but why on your birthday according to the Gregorian Calendar should you go to the temple? Should you not go to the temple on your Hindu birthday? Beats me hollow.
The rise of the `power’ of the Siddhi Vinayak Temple in sleepy Prabhadevi is electrifying. Amitabh Bachchan went to give his thanks to the Lord at that temple after being discharged from hospital following his serious stomach injury. That was the tonic for the Temple. It has never looked back. Today there is an illegal wall constructed encroaching on a public road all in the name of security for the God. People walk to the temple from far flung corners of Mumbai obviously after being forced to apply for casual or sick leave. There is yet no religious leave category.
A small temple at Madhu Park in Khar devoted to Lord Hanuman has now almost subsumed the Park itself. Its unique feature, besides its power, is the multitude of bells that festoon the temple and its environs.
I don’t need to say very much about the phenomenon of Shirdi Sai Baba. According to Wikipedia he taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and guru. I sincerely hope that his millions of followers abide by his teachings. We would all be happier.
One would have thought that with all this temple visiting, bell clanging, red strings on wrists and red tilaks on foreheads, people around me would be better, people would be compassionate, decent, not spit continuously for one, be much improved, but no. It’s getting worse. People are getting unbearable.
India is indeed a deeply religious country.