Never an ardently religious person, I have always visited temples to give my parents a company. When they visit these places, I feel it’s better to go inside with them, take a look at the idol, the jewelry that adorn it and get amazed by the sculpturer’s talent and the pundit’s memory at reciting hymns, rather than standing outside alone, biting nails and getting irritated by insects that throng dusty places. Once inside, invariably, my mother forces me to bow down before the idol, ring the heavy brass bell that is so typical of a Hindu temple and take some coins and notes out of the wallet reluctantly in honor of the deity.
As a child, one reason I did not protest visiting temples is- I have always been so fond of the prashad and could never afford to miss out on it! I have always wondered if the deity ever got his/her share of the prashad because it came back to us, to feast upon, with the exact shape and size as we had offered. As I grew up, my tongue started desiring different other flavors as well, and I now wish pakoras were also offered to the deity.
After reading all this, you must be thinking that all I am trying to say is- I am an atheist. You are wrong! I pray to God as well, but only when I am in great trouble and feel nothing but a miracle could place things back in order. And when I pray, I just don’t know which God it is; because it’s enough that my prayers are answered, irrespective of who answers it. But I must admit, unconsciously, images of some common deities show up as I pray. There being millions of deities in this religion, probably it’s your upbringing that decides which God you visualize while you are praying, as a Hindu.
Another confession: I like going to churches, gurdwaras and mosques as much as, visiting a temple, if not more. I like the silence of a chapel, the oneness in a mosque and the charity in a gurdwara. As for other religious places of worship, I don’t remember observing what I like about them. Next time I pay a visit to a monastery or a Jain-temple, I’ll surely take note.
On my way to Vaishno-devi, I acquired a belief that faith can make you do wonders. I have seen people taking the long walk along the uphill terrain chanting ‘Jai Mata Di’ at an age when I might even consider before flying in an airplane. Literally, the devotee crowd comprised of all age groups from eight to eighty. I’ve seen men and women in crutches defy their everyday handicap to get a glimpse of the Almighty- it’s faith that drives them.
I live in a country where the long list of cancerous problems we need to attend to keeps growing and the rich are spending money to build architectural marvels in honor of some God. Should I be ecstatic? I can hear you cry out loud, “No!” But to all the skeptics, I say- If not elated, at least don’t be disappointed. It’s important something keeps these people busy- they are not fools who expect miracles out of stone sculptures-they just want something as a last resort to hold on to- it’s faith that drives them to live- it’s something that lets them choose hope over rope!