Saturday, May 5, 2007

Money gets you to god. Faster!

It's wedding season. Or so they say. I frankly cannot imagine how someone can get married in this..excuse the expression.. heat!! It's way too hot to dress up and play bride and groom. It's way too hot to attend a wedding in your best suit and eat all the oily food.

But common sense, isn't, and people end up tying the knot in just such times.

Note: If you are reading this and planning on inviting me to YOUR wedding, please make sure its in cooler climes if not downright winters!

I recently took 3 days off from work and went to attend a wedding reception of a not so near cousin. That being in Indore, I absolutely had to visit the Ujjain temple (more on the why part later).

So off I went, in a nice looking car with the sun glaring down and doing its best to roast me with the 43 degree C temperature. Inside ofcourse, thanks to Willis H. Carrier, I was sipping on a coke in a very comfortable 19 degrees (the minimum the in-car a/c could do)

The comfort however, was rather short lived as I was about to find out.

On arriving at the Mahakaleshwar temple, I was greeted with a deceptively friendly sight. There were no queues. I was about to find out why.

Stepping out of the car instantly brought me to the harsh reality of heat. It was hot. So hot, that I was dehydrated in less than a minute. And then it really got worse.

The idea is, being a place of worship, you cannot wear any footwear inside the temple. So while common sense would entail that you take your slippers out right at the entrance to the temple, here, you have to do it at a road side stall. This means, you have to walk, barefoot, across a road so hot, you would be forgiven for thinking the tar had only just been laid.

I ofcourse found out how hot the road was the hard way. I stepped on it barefoot. A few explitives from me confirmed to everyone that I wasn't a veteran at this and wasn't too good at coping up with walking barefeet on near molten roads.

Things didnt improve once we reached inside the temple. Only the gate had any kind of shade. The rest of the way to the Jyotirling (more on this later as well) was a giant exercise in crowd control with those rows created like you normally see at immigration points at airports.

Finally, reaching the designated place, I found out, it wasn't "it". This was where one hires a pundit and he gets all your puja done.

Now there are two ways of doing the Puja. One is, to stand in the "queue" (and there was a long one inside the temple) and wait for your turn to go in. And yes, you wait under the sun with your feet getting blistered on the burning hot floor. You have to shell out $4 per person for this "experience"

The other alternative is to pay around $30 to hire the Pundit who then takes you through the "V.I.P" route. No points for guessing what we paid, $30 it was!

Our misery didn't end here though. It turned out the V.I.P entrance was really just that and for convenience was built right at the main entrance of the temple. This meant we had to troop all the way back on the super hot floor (no feet hadn't become used to it yet. I don't think they ever would've)

From there it was mostly ok, except one mad dash across a large verandah which was again bathed in sunlight and was hot as hell. Our Pundit chap then shoved all the other non VIPs out of the way and got us an exclusive spot we could stand on, while he directed the hoardes of human traffic around us. We performed the puja to our satisfaction (I was distracted though, more on this follows below) All this, from taking our slippers off to putting them back on, took us 45 minutes. The time that an average $4 payer spends just standing in the queue!

Money apparently, gets you to god, faster and you also get more time to explain precisely what you want him to give you.

The story ofcourse, doesn't end there. Once we did come out, we realised one of us had lost our wallets inside! It had been flicked! The wallet had little money but 2 dozen credit cards inside!! Then began a frantic dash to get them cancelled and we finally returned to the hotel.

But all through this, the one thing I was thinking was how wrong the whole thing felt. I mean, sure I felt elated to not have to stand in the line, but just because I can pay more money, why should I be allowed to stay longer than other, needier people?

By definition, any place I go and worship, I would expect it to bring me peace. A sense of security and calm. The experience at the temple was none of the above. It was uncomfortable, taxing and with the massive crowds elbowing everyone out, including themselves, it certainly didn't bring me any peace. It was more like a race of who can pray the longest in the minimum time that the operators were allowing people to stand for. Unless ofcourse, you paid VIP money then you could take as long as you wanted.

Oh and it definitely wasn't reassuring on the security front either. We had a wallet flicked.

I am more agnostic than an atheist but even I can tell this is the wrong way to go about instilling faith in today's youth. A generation that is more object oriented than any other before it. A generation that texts and chats and knows more people online by class 10 than its elders ever met in their entire lives. But still, a generation that understands religion and rituals for what they were really meant to signify and achieve and not just blindly follow them. A generation that respects tradition and culture more than before and follows it willingly where it makes sense.

For a generation already as mature as this, our institutions are depressinglyand hopelessly out of synch and frankly, I don't really see anything changing this in the near future.

This temple, for example, is supposed to be one of the holiest places for Hindus, but if you ask me to go back, I wouldn't and I suggest you don't try it either. It just isn't worth it.

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