All Ye Faithful

In the years that I believed I managed to develop rather decided views on how faith should be practiced. The voice of god, it seemed to me, was a soft one, best heard in silent spaces. It was also necessary that these silent spaces be temperate. Somehow being sweaty, hungry, itchy, irritated… anything at all that meant an active dialogue between body and mind, would drown out the all important voice. Remarkably sensitive my gods were, which probably explains their departure from my life. 🙂

Fortunately or unfortunately, the rest of the family still holds a faith that is made of hardier stuff. Hardy enough that they enthusiastically set out (even with unenthusiastic dead weights like me) to go meet the ruling god of Mumbai – the Siddhi Vinayak.

It was hot and humid. We were stuck in traffic at Chunabhatti and I realised I was thirsty. Every bead of sweat seemed like it would have to be the last one since my body didn’t have one more drop of H2O to give up. Half an hour of this torture and we arrived. If the Siddhi Vinayak is real, he is certainly a god that likes his pound of flesh (or litre of water – if i were to be metric and accurate)

For a temple of the ‘Vignaharta’ it is chockful of ‘Vignas’. The passage is a veritable obstacle course – dodging fruit & flower sellers and touts – ‘Direct leke jayega didi. Direct’ is the refrain. I didn’t see any of them getting any custom but thinking should go back once, just to see what kind of income stream the job offers.

The next Vigna – security check queue. As is de rigeuer, there is gents queue and ladies queue. I was surprised that the ladies version was shorter here too… but there you have it! Bags through the scanner, touchy-feely with the ‘security’ and through to next level.

The obstacle course of touts and pooja samagri folks continued. Looking down on all this, is the policeman in the ‘Siddhi Vinayak Police Chowki’. I caught his eye as he scanned the crowd, from his seat, high in a watch tower. Wonder what my terrorist potential looked like… I don’t think I looked very devotional! 

This is where the Mumbaikar spirit kicked in and things got a little more pleasant. Orderly queue and first class pass :-D. Even to see the gods… one can invest in pass and get a little ‘less’ crowd. Or atleast one that is a little less smelly. The inside of the temple is a maze of steel bars and as full as dadar station at peak hour but its cool. I looked up and realised the huge steel ducts uglying up the ceiling were for the air-conditioning. Hanging just below the steel duct, was an LCD screen with live action from the Sanctum Sanctorum.  2 epiphanies happened:

a) Appreciation of the naked wiring and piping industrial look for temple interiors

b) Appreciation for Tata Sky and their Active Darshan channel

Clearly though, the Active Darshan audience were all here to see the real thing. Without the sweat and the shouting, some peak of religious frenzy would remain unachieved. The closer we got, the more shoving there was. Someone would shout ‘Ganpati Bappa’ and the crowd would roar ‘ Moryaa’ in response.

Into the sanctum and its like Tirupati. Except instead of Jaragandi you hear ‘Tsala, Tsala’. The air conditioning means folks are a little more patient. The tone almost hits gentle sometimes and the shoving is limited to the most devout – the ones that actually try to stand still in front of the orange idol offering prayers.

Out of the sanctum, a little space finally and I draw a breath. Blah says,’You would think the number of people going out would be the same as the number of people going it. But its so much easier to get out than in.’ Mystery… about as much mystery (to me) as how folks find blessing or absolution or consolation or peace or any of the many things that God is to grant inside that shop.



4 responses to “All Ye Faithful

  1. 38 years ago , SiddhiVinayak was a expansive mangalore-tiled-roof place, with courtyards that reminded you of rural quiet in Konkan. Didnt resemble a Holy Mall , like now. You also never heard of celebrtities walking forwards/backwards/sideways etc in the middle of the night to visit.

    Like us, the Vignaharta probably looks on in exasperation, at the rank commmercialization of access to Gods.

  2. I so relate to the experience. I guess sometimes the hardy self in me takes over… I even tried to do Lalbagh ka Raja last year and stood in the hot sweltering queue for about 4 hours. Seemed like the god was another 6 hours away, so we cut losses, ”
    prayed” fervently to the LCD screen and headed to cooler in door pleasures!

    ps:I wish I’d been at home though.. its walking distance from the temple 😦

  3. The ClustMap has cleared out! How? and why?

  4. thesixteenthzephyr

    I think it’s interesting how frustration with the commercialization of religion stretches across culture. I’ve never been to India (though I fully intend to go someday), but I’ve felt the same thing inside sweaty church buildings where the emotion seems to drown out any sense of divinity. Empty, empty empty.

    By the way, your writing is extremely poignant–I felt like I was actually there.

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