Monday, July 9, 2012

Om Venkateshay Namah

I am not religious to the point of observing fasts, visiting temples and keeping mannats. I am religious in my own personal way. I believe there is a higher being. My faith is mine to deal with and my relationship with Him is my business.

But when the family suggests a trip to Tirupati, I am not one to refuse. So this weekend saw me in Tirupati. It's a famous temple of a very rich God. But we were told there won't be much of an issue in getting darshanam, it being ashaadha. I didn't understand the logic, and didn't care enough to ask.

I was impressed by the drive up from Tirupati to Tirumala. There is a one-way traffic system up from one side and down the other. The town is beautiful and clean. When we got in the line at 1 in the afternoon, we anticipated a wait of 2 to 3 hours before the darshanam. It ended up being a 9.5 hour wait in a moving mass of people through heavily grilled passageways, claustrophobic corridors and ill-managed waiting areas. There were small-time sellers who sold frootis and biscuits to the bhaktas. And twice in the day, they distributed bisibele bhaat as free prasadam to the people. There was such hypocrisy and commercialization, I couldn't believe I fell for it!

I can't imagine a worse bestial treatment than this. Blind faith is one thing. But being practical about safety measures and preparedness for emergency situations is another! The whole time I was looking for escape routes (there were none!). Whatever gates were there were locked. There were no volunteers in sight and the crowd was left to manage itself. It was a ready recipe for a stampede.

I haven't visited a lot of religious places. But the lack of experience did not find me wanting. My physical endurance and mental character were tested. Years of training and performing came to my help. It was a mission that had to be completed, come what may! I sang and chanted all along the way to the sanctum sanctorum. The best part is that 9.5 hours of standing in line didn't even get me 10 seconds worth of time in front of the deity. I didn't know what to register while I was trying to survive through being crushed by people.

This isn't a diatribe against religion. I respect religion. I don't appreciate being cheated, being treated like this. No God has asked for these shrines. We have created them. It is up to us to maintain them! God doesn't only belong to the rich who can afford to build and expand shrines. He doesn't belong to anyone. Period. No one, whether he is a firm believer, a person of blind faith, or someone like me should have to go through this kind of treatment to pay respects to their God.

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