Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sunday Scribblings - "Pilgrimage"

Pilgrimages are beloved of the religious. Making an arduous, physically, emotionally (and sometimes financially) demanding trip to some distant holy place seems to provide a spiritual satisfaction that can only be understood or experienced by the pilgrims themselves. To the atheist or agnostic bystander, though, this need to deliberately put oneself through hardship and discomfort would probably count as one of the world’s more baffling phenomena. Why does religion have to be so much about suffering and/or making others suffer?

Granted that nowadays pilgrimages are probably a lot safer and less taxing than in the centuries past, but there is still that element of inconvenience. If nothing else, the seething crowds of devotees, all of them hell-bent (pardon, Hell probably isn’t their goal, but you know what I mean, don’t you?) on getting the most blessings for themselves and damn the others, should be enough to put anybody off. It certainly puts ME off. I haven’t been to any hugely popular pilgrimage spots other than Tirupati (that I remember), and Tirupati was bad enough practically every single time I was coerced into going there. (I've been there a few times.)

The temple town itself is quite neat and pretty, and if you choose to walk all the way to the top, it’s quite a nice hike. It’s the temple itself that put me off – the strict regimentation (albeit necessary because of the huge numbers of pilgrims), the discourtesy exhibited by the temple officials, the display of money power (if you’re rich enough to pay for it, you get a special short-cut trip to the sanctum sanctorum without the hours of waiting), the single-minded selfishness of the devotees who all try their best to get as close to the idol as possible, disregarding the safety of the others… all that simply does not encourage any religious feelings – and I speak only for myself here.

I don’t know what pilgrimage spots for other religions are like, or religious festivals where people congregate in their hundreds of thousands. But I have seen photos/videos of the heaving millions at Mecca, and heard of hundreds dying in stampedes there; and equally, such deadly stampedes have occured during the Kumbh Mela and so on… and I can’t help wondering – can it really be worth the trouble to go to such places/events, perhaps to die horribly?

Even if I was religious, I don’t think I’d bother. God is, or should be, in the heart and mind and head, and in everyday deeds. I don’t think he/she resides in Mecca or Medina or Jerusalem - or Tirupati, for that matter. If God is indeed everywhere, then every place is holy. It is possible to be austere in your own home, if austerity is indeed essential in realising God.


CW said...

Coerced sounds about right! Apparently omnipresence is only theoretical.

floreta said...

i pretty much think that 'god' is within you and without you. :D like the beatles. my concepts of god are similar to john lennon. and stampedes... someone died at walmart on black friday too.

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

I sincerely agree with you on this, at every level. I cannot understand the 'ulpathanam' people display in the name of devotion. Very sad, really.

just another mommy said...

I think sometimes temples bring out calmness in me. But no, I don't like the ones where people climb over one another to see 2 seconds of the idol. I prefer the ones that have no publicity stunts. They have an unearthly feel about them that I love!

Pollux aka Paps said...

Shyam: There are all sorts of temples. The spiritualiy in places like Tirupati is submerged by the human masses there. Having said that, I like to commune with the God within and without - and not necessarily only in Tirupati or Srirangam.

ammani said...

I absolutely dread going to Tirupati for all the reasons mentioned and have successfully avoided going there for a good many years now. Have no wish to go there anytime in the near future. I'm sure the good lord would understand.