CUL­TURE:

We should strive to make tem­ples cen­tres of so­cial ac­tiv­ity where peo­ple come to­gether to shrug off their prej­u­dices and in­stead act col­lec­tively

Gfiles - - CONTENTS - by ARUN KU­MAR IAS ( RETD)

We should strive to make tem­ples cen­tres of so­cial ac­tiv­ity where peo­ple come to­gether to shrug off their prej­u­dices and in­stead act col­lec­tively

PLACES of wor­ship have spe­cial place in our lives. How and why this came about is dif­fi­cult to say. It may well be a corol­lary of fear of nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena, lead­ing to ap­pease­ment prac­tices by com­mu­ni­ties. They de­vel­oped in due course, but the ba­sic psy­chol­ogy re­mained in­tact. Dif­fer­ent re­li­gions gave their places of wor­ship dif­fer­ent names like church, mosque or syn­a­gogue, but tem­ple seems to have been a generic name long in use. Not only In­dia and east Asian coun­tries, there are ref­er­ences such as Greek tem­ples, Fire Tem­ple of Zo­ras­tri­ans, King Solomon’s tem­ple, Ba­hai tem­ple, among oth­ers. What­ever their ear­lier pur­pose, they be­came places of wor­ship over time. Tem­ples, gu­rud­waras, churches, etc., are not the only places of wor­ship or held sa­cred by their cus­to­di­ans. Na­ture and its cre­ations of­ten get ex­alted to sta­tus of God and get sanc­ti­fied. In many parts of In­dia, parts of for­est or small en­clo­sures are held sa­cred, where reg­u­lar rit­u­als are per­formed. Ex­am­ples are: Kavus in south­ern In­dia, es­pe­cially Ker­ala, which means an abode of snakes and are revered as such; peepul tree is wor­shipped all over the coun­try; and, groves of for­est in sev­eral parts are held sa­cred and pro­tected by the com­mu­nity along with the wildlife therein. Looked at sci­en­tif­i­cally, these are clearly mea­sures de­signed to pro­tect na­ture, flora and fauna. They may

well be re­garded as pre­cur­sors of wildlife pro­tec­tion ef­forts, to­day seen in shape of sanc­tu­ar­ies and var­i­ous pro­tec­tion acts. Peepul tree like­wise is revered on ac­count of its in­valu­able prop­erty of re­leas­ing oxy­gen not only in day, but also at night. Obei­sance to rivers, trees groves and wildlife, el­e­vat­ing them to holy sta­tus and even rit­u­als around them are all part of a well thought out plan of pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion against the most dan­ger­ous an­i­mal of all: hu­man. There is an­other set of “holy” shrines like ma­jars of peers and graves of saints, who are be­lieved to be en­dowed with heal­ing pow­ers. Whether holy men have di­vine pow­ers will per­haps re­main de­bat­able. In any case, very of­ten the process of heal­ing may well be out­come of faith lead­ing to pos­i­tive thoughts. Be as it may, Hindu tem­ples have not re­mained un­touched by blind faith, whereby gods be­stow bless­ings through their “agents” in form of priests of tem­ples. It is hardly sur­pris­ing that, by and large, tem­ples widely known for their pow­ers are also among the rich­est. Need­less to say, when such wealth passes through the hands of those as­so­ci­ated with the tem­ples, it is bound to leave its mark on them. Ex­cep­tions will only prove the rule. A new phe­nom­e­non came to the fore when some of the most un­likely young­sters started look­ing to­wards Hin­duism, or rather Krishna, as their lib­er­a­tor and started move­ment of Hare Krishna and Iskcon. This de­spite the fact that Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies had left no stone un­turned to den­i­grate Hin­duism in their bid to pros­e­ly­tize. Many of these young­sters were inheritors of large for­tunes. There were all kinds of fol­low­ers: many sim­ply liked the free­dom it gave them, many thought it as a way to sal­va­tion with­out un­der­stand­ing a word of what they were say­ing or do­ing. Yet there were some who re­ally took the trou­ble to learn San­skrit and read scrip­tures, took dik­sha and Hindu names, be­came preach­ers and even worked as priests in Iskcon tem­ples which came up in many cities of In­dia and abroad, in­clud­ing one in Vrin­da­van. These tem­ples are pleas­ing struc­tures and have ob­vi­ously been de­signed by com­pe­tent ar­chi­tects. They at­tract In­di­ans in a big way, ei­ther be­cause of their well dis­ci­plined, clean and hy­genic precincts, or be­cause our love all things for­eign—es­pe­cially fair skinned. Some prom­i­nent In­di­ans are even on the man­age­ment teams. These tem­ples also seem to at­tract young In­di­ans, who shy away from “desi” tem­ples with their un­tidy look, avoid­ing rub­bing shoul­ders with “desi” mul­ti­tudes. As an aside, it re­minds me of an in­ci­dent dur­ing my maiden visit to an Iskcon tem­ple. A young teenage boy in jeans en­tered, sat cross-legged and started singing ‘ Raghu­pati Raghav’— pro­nounc­ing the words as ‘Raghu­patti’, as any Euro­pean would do. On en­quir­ing, he ad­mit­ted to be­ing an In­dian. So, I coun­selled him to pro­nounce the words of his mother tongue right and, in fact, guide his for­eigner friends. Be­ing a good boy, he re­sponded pos­i­tively and started singing with per­fect pro­nun­ci­a­tion. There is no uni­for­mity among tem­ples. For in­stance, while all gods and god­desses find a place in most tem­ples, pre­sid­ing de­ity dif­fers ac­cord­ing to the be­lief of con­cerned sect, like Shavites, Vaish­navites, Durga-cen­tric and oth­ers. This is per­haps in keep­ing with open­ness of Hindu re­li­gion which has no prob­lem with such di­ver­sity. There are dif­fer­ences also in tem­ple en­try rules: many Ker­ala tem­ples do not al­low en­try ex­cept in lo­cal dress con­sist­ing of a waist gar­ment ( mundu) and a small towel for bare-chested men. Non-Hin­dus are gen­er­ally not al­lowed in most Ker­ala tem­ples, which is not the case in rest of In­dia by and large. Then there is Sabari­mala tem­ple, where women in their re­pro­duc­tive age group are not per­mit­ted.

SThere are many build­ings in In­dia, in­clud­ing tem­ples, which were built to help ar­ti­sans and labour­ers by pro­vid­ing them work dur­ing lean sea­sons. That is per­haps a rea­son for these struc­tures tak­ing sev­eral years to com­plete

EEING tem­ples in Nepal seems only nat­u­ral, it be­ing a Hindu king­dom till only a decade or so ago. But in­spite of not be­ing a pros­e­ly­tiz­ing re­li­gion, an­cient Hindu tem­ples have a no­table pres­ence in coun­tries like In­done­sia, Bali and other south-east Asian coun­tries. Some of them are mas­ter­pieces of art and are now on Unesco’s her­itage list. It would seem that these tem­ples were a com­bi­na­tion of sen­ti­ment, labour of love and pa­tron­age of rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion. There are many build­ings in In­dia, in­clud­ing tem­ples, which were built to help ar­ti­sans and labour­ers by pro­vid­ing them work dur­ing lean sea­sons. That is per­haps an added rea­son for these struc­tures tak­ing sev­eral years to com­plete. Tem­ples have served sev­eral pur­poses, mainly as assem­bly points for com­mu­nity. Per­haps, over time, they be­came places of wor­ship and rit­u­als fol­lowed. Ac­cord­ing to Jaggi Va­sudev, pop­u­larly known as Sadguru, tem­ples were de­signed to be places to charge

one’s en­er­gies and not for in­stalling idols, per­form­ing aar­tis, of­fer­ing flow­ers and prasads. Peo­ple were en­cour­aged to start their day with visit to tem­ple, sit qui­etly and im­bibe the en­ergy and get to work (There is men­tion of an­cient pyra­mids be­ing de­signed to col­lect en­ergy and store it in­side). There are at least two places one has seen with such am­bi­ence: Vivekanand Rock of Kanyaku­mari and Auroville in Puducherry.

TEM­PLES were also cen­tres of de­vel­op­ment for arts and cul­ture, mu­sic and dance in par­tic­u­lar. They of­fered re­lax­ation and venue for the com­mu­nity to as­sem­ble af­ter hard day’s work. This needs to be seen against the ru­ral set­ting at a time there were few other al­ter­na­tives for recre­ation. Vil­lagers cel­e­brated fes­ti­vals jointly. Well-known ac­tivist, Anna Hazare, has used the tem­ple in his vil­lage, Rale­gaon Sid­dhi, as a place for com­mu­nity cen­tre and used it to ed­u­cate peo­ple, solve their prob­lems and set­tle petty dis­putes. What Hazare has achieved as an in­di­vid­ual could per­haps be a role model for more such vil­lages and in due course for a vast hin­ter­land of ru­ral In­dia. A model where com­mu­nity learns to live as a large fam­ily, where vil­lagers act col­lec­tively, where they shun caste prej­u­dices, learn of their rights, get ac­cess to va­ri­ety of gov­ern­ment schemes. They can learn arts and par­tic­i­pate in sports. Un­let­tered can be taught and young­sters coun­selled. It can be a home away from home. In short, it means mov­ing to­wards a more har­mo­nious, mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial ex­is­tence, lead­ing to greater pros­per­ity. Tem­ple would no longer be a place for im­posed rit­u­als and sym­bolic abode of a god or god­desses, but be a real place of wor­ship of one true God and his cre­ations. In other words, there would be ideal wor­ship in­stead of idol wor­ship. Utopian? May be. This may take a cen­tury or more to achieve, but let us never say never. Af­ter all, what is a cou­ple of cen­turies in life of a coun­try, es­pe­cially one as large and var­ie­gated as In­dia. With hun­dreds of thou­sands of tem­ples dot­ting the In­dian land­scape, even a small per­cent­age at a time be­ing brought into this kind of con­scious­ness and de­vel­op­ment ori­en­ta­tion is bound to make a sig­nif­cant im­pact on the en­tire na­tion.

Tem­ple would no longer be a place for im­posed rit­u­als and sym­bolic abode of a god or god­desses, but be a real place of wor­ship of one true God and his cre­ations. In other words, there would be ideal wor­ship in­stead of idol wor­ship

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