Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pilgrimage to nowhere

Hi, at the outset let me warn you that this is a controversial post. The objective is not to provoke anger or fury at any reader but it is just an attempt to think about the issue being posted.

Recently I happened to hear two friends talking (no, I was not eaves dropping!) and the topic veered to the recent trip to Thirupathi that on of my friends had made. To those in the know, the seven hills of Thirupathi are sacred to Hindus and is one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in India. It is also the second richest religious institution (it is a massive institution) globally. I have been planning to visit this temple for awhile now but somehow it never worked out. I am a big fan of visiting the South Indian temples of architectural importance to revel in their sheer beauty and I take immense pride in my culture and my ancestry. I must add I have visited many temples and I delight in these visits.

So coming back to the topic, I was not paying much attention to the discussion of my friends till I heard the remark “I saw God, and it was a satisfying darshan”. This really shook me up. Now how can somebody see God, no, I’m not an atheist. I want to know how God can be in an idol made by man. God is universal and it is man’s folly to restrict him into the confines of a small chamber in the seven hills.

Personally, I have been on pilgrimages and it is my aspiration to do many more time and finances permitting. A pilgrimage site is not where God resides but it is a place sanctified by God by his deeds or by his presence. Every religion has its fair share of pilgrimage sites and holy lands. Lourdes, Mecca, Thirupathi, Sabarimala, Vatican, Jerusalem, Bodhgaya etc all have their respective allure, but tell me do people go there to see God?

I go to have an experience of the place and to learn and delight in the works of God that have been manifested there. Miracles and graces abound in these places and the faithful attribute these to God. I do the same. I value the different faiths, but surely God is also in these places and not only there.

When did God take residence in these addresses? Is not the universal truth that God resides in you and me? Then why do people aspire to see him in these places? Before God all men are equal but man makes distinctions even today. We have been burdened by caste but now even financial standing differentiates people before God. The fortunate few “can pay a fee and see God” while the others stand in a line for hours and days before they reach the sanctum sanctorum where they get a passing glance as they will be more often than not pushed away by the ushers. When did got start charging premium rates for time with his faithful?

To see the image of God as visualized by one or more human beings is one thing, but to see God and more specifically in these hallowed addresses are not acts of faith. What we have in these places is the image of God and not God. Many religions including my own have various images of God as visualized by the makers, however they are just a pointer to worship of the divine being and they are never the divine being. It pains me to see people including those of my faith; paying obeisance to these idols and making offerings to them. Wake up people God is not in these, it is your folly if you want to see God in these. God is much more that what the human mind can encompass let not God be reduced to such trivialities.

We have pictures of our loved ones and often have statues made of our leaders, these are reminders of what the people whose images they bear stood for. We have innumerable statues of Gandhi and when we look at them they should remind us of what Gandhi stood for: non-violence, peace, virtuousness etc. But is the statue Gandhi?

If you have seen the movie Muthu starring Rajinikanth (my favorite), Rajini (old man role) asks where the lady of the mansion has gone to, the servants reply that she has gone to the temple. So Rajini asks, why she has gone to the temple, the servants mock him and say “To see God”, to which our super star points to a small temple and the deity within nearby and asks “so, who is that”. Superstar signs off in style saying “Fools, they are keeping God inside and they go out searching for him….”

I invite your comments….


Anonymous said...

And I give my comment! Based on the teachings of our faith, calling an 'idol' God is foolishness. I think even those who worship the idol know this. God cannot reside in a stone, he resides in hearts, in the beauty around us, among us. Even I have heard my friends say similar things about ' i saw God'..i used to marvel at their apparently immature choice of words.
Even we christians give way too importance to statues, of course, we dont worship those statues, but rather what they portray, but I have seen people put garlands etc to the statue. God hates it, he says so, in the Bible. Yet, we dont seem to change our ways.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trinity said...

Me too not in for the idols and statues... but the concept or the psychology behind in it is this: we all know that God is omnipresent and cannot be contained in an idol or picture...
but think of this when we are travelling away from home we carry pictures of our loved ones and when we feel their absence we look at their picture and feel better...dont we? in the similar way these idols and statues are nothing but tangible forms.. reminders of the lord's presence. But then if it is the only thing that inspires faith, then there is a lot to question :)