“Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” ― Madalyn Murray O’Hair
Ever since I was old enough to form my own opinion on religion and God I have been a non-believer and a staunch atheist. However, I never come in the way of believers or advocated for them to see things my way. Religion has a huge significance in every aspect of life, for a vast majority of the generation my Indian parents were a part of. Religion for me, is simply a subset of culture which is something that I have tremendous joy in learning about. Churches, temples, mosques, gurudwaras and other holy structures are some of the most spectacular testaments to the ancient cultures and civilisations of yore. Why so many different religions were created is a mystery to me.
I personally believe that at the time of inception religion was created to give an ever growing civilisation a semblance of peace, structure and hope in their day to day lives. What it has grown into as the centuries have passed would probably shock even their creators. I love to travel even though I never travel as often as I should. Holy places don’t usually form a part of my itinerary but on the rare occasion that I do stop at any such place the ones that stick in mind are the ones that were uncrowded, peaceful, clean and nestled a midst nature. A soothing balm for a chaotic mind.
On a recent trip to Solapur with my family we took a side trip to a place called Tuljapur which was about an hr’s drive away. Squeezed into the car were me and my wife, our mothers and their mothers both in their 70’s. On arriving at Tuljapur one thing I instantly realised was that it wasn’t going to be calm or peaceful. What should have been a 3 hour side trip, took atleast 6 hours of an entirely good day.
Photography was prohibited on the inside and no sooner had we descended the steps into the main temple courtyard than I noticed people prostating themselves and someone else touching their feet when they were doing this. I don’t really get the meaning behind this but I think it’s a common practice in many cultures. I noticed someone else spit randomly even in this sacred space. I’m sure someone might have chastized him but no one seemed to notice him in the hustle and bustle.
All that people were interested in, was getting in to see the face of God. What made that difficult was the sheer number of people waiting to do the same. Most famous temples in India have 2 viewing options
- Mukh Darshan – Which means to see the idol from afar
- Regular Darshan – Which means to be able to see the idol from up close
When we asked one of the many pandits walking about the place he very non – chalantly told us. Mukh Darshan – 1 hr, Regular Darshan – 3 hrs. If it was up to me I would have chosen a third option which was get going the moment I heard this. Our grandmothers wouldn’t haven’t it any other way though. They hinted to us that they were too old and fragile and wouldn’t know if they would ever be able to make a trip like this again in their lives.
While I just stood around blankly we heard some people with raised voices in a particular section of the temple structure. It turned out that there was a locked gate that allowed you to skip the long queue and and get a jump on your chance to see the idol. What had happened was that the gate had been briefly opened by the security guys and several people milling about the gate were also trying to squeeze through. By the time we approched the gate it had already been locked up and we could sense the tension in the air. A tall man, who seemed to be sweating profusely began screaming at the security guard that his father had been waiting to get in since an hour and couldn’t he see that the guy was paralysed. Apparently this special gate was meant only for the disabled.
I quietly sidled away to let the other people of my family decide what they really wanted to do in this situation. They did try to sneak in our grandmothers through the disabled gate owing to their advanced age. When that didn’t work one of the many swamis milling about saw their hapless faces and unashamedly offered us a direct darshan service for the very reasonable sum of Rs 3100. Apparently for this small price we could all have the privilege of seeing God directly while skipping the lines of ordirnary wordshippers. Paying a little attention to the people around I realised that there were several swami’s offering the same service to anyone they thought could probably pay the price. I just stood quietly observing all this, my emotions alternating between amusement and despair.
The family finally decided that they would wait in line for the Mukh Darshan with a very reasonable waiting time of 1 hr. That was too much time for me, but my wife even though she wasn’t too keen on it decided to wait in line anyway. Since I would end up alone for an hr with nothing to do I tagged along. The entry point to this line was through some sort of building. The line moved upwards floor by floor. An hr and 20 mins later we had only moved up one floor with God nowhere in sight. Asking around we quickly realised that the line we had joined was the Regular Darshan line which always took a minimum of 3hrs. The rest of my family were a few places ahead of us in the line. I asked them once if they were really gonna wait it out. When they said yes, with an incredulous look on my face told that me and my wife were getting out of there that very instant. We quickly stepped over the railings that were placed for the lines and exited the building via the stairs and settled ourselves in a small resto outside the temple.
While we sat and gorged on some snacks and sipped on some refreshing drinks, they emerged 2 hrs later not looking very enlightened or blessed but red, drained and with an expression that could only be read as I don’t think I am ever going to do that again.