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Sunday, April 21, 2024

WHOSE RELIGION IS IT ANYWAY?

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Does it strike anyone else in this country that we are making a mockery of religion? Or else why are Ram Lalla songs topping the charts as if they were a Taylor Swift album? Or why did all those who attended the opening of a certain mandir feel the need to post their selfies in gold saris woven with Ram’s name?

Ram is certainly not on social media, so I guess it is to declare their piety to their friends and followers, by visiting the mandir during Ram’s consecration ceremony. And what was that religious fervor when the whole nation was given a paid holiday that afternoon, so that they could watch the telecast of the match, oops sorry Prana pratishtha. You can’t deny all of us felt extra pious as we went to temples in our neighborhoods, to offer prayers or sing bhajans as if in so doing we would attain salvation – as if attaining salvation itself were so simple! 

Our religious frenzy reached such a pitch that we let orange flags flutter from our rooftops claiming this as a victory for religion (which many people believe it was, sadly). However, I ask, how can we not see that all religions are crafted by humans, and are just different paths leading to one supreme being (that is if you are not an atheist and believe we come from nothing and dissolve into nothingness)? Every religion is based on certain tenets and their supreme God is called either Allah or Jesus, Ram or Krishna, or Shiva or Devi. Why not think of these religions as different paths we take on a journey to reach the common goal of liberation? Or, just as we need different foods to satiate our appetite, we need different gods to keep us happy, and especially in Hinduism we have a god for every day, mood and occasion.

The word ‘religion’ itself is concocted by Western Imperialism (or so some believe). It would come as a surprise to many to realize that in many languages, including Sanskrit, there is no word for ‘religion’. The word originates in the Latin word ‘Religio’ ( source Wiki) which has three meanings, none of them have anything to do with God. Only in the Middle Ages, the word ‘religion’ was used for one who joined a monastic order (the word actually was to join a ‘religious’)! In India, I can imagine why Hinduism was not a religion, because the word ‘Hindu’ itself was a geographical term indicative of people who lived beyond the river Sindu or as the Persians called the River Indus. When the term came to be used for followers of a particular faith is unclear; we can conjecture it came either after Muslim invasions or mostly during British rule when they began to categorize people according to their beliefs.

But to most of us, Hinduism is a way of life, more a cultural tag for the way we conduct our life, what we eat, how we dress or even the rituals of worship. Hinduism is a dharma that we follow in our everyday lives – of kindness, decency, and humanity. Nowhere do our gods ask us to build temples or offer golden crowns. It’s our own petty, egotistical self that thinks by offering gods obscene sums of money or gold ornaments we will receive blessings in the form of a job, a promotion, a groom, even a visa! Nor is it necessary for all of us as devout Hindus to visit all the temples ever built and add to the carbon footprints. Even a small temple around the corner would do for the truly spiritual, better still, a god under a Peepal tree. 

Come to think of it, why look outside, doesn’t this God live in each of us, and in every other human we meet? Namaste we say, when we meet someone, letting the Divine in us bow to the Divine in another. How divine is this religion that asks you to look within, and in others to find a god? Let the politicians build temples. Let film stars and business people take selfies and post about what should be a private moment. To me, I can invoke Ram or Hanuman, anytime, anywhere. And I don’t think he will strike me down if I didn’t go to a mandir, that too one built at a great cost that could have been put to better use. Religion to me is a private dialogue with my favorite deity. A sacred moment of quiet. I will not let anyone tell me how to pray or which temple to go to be called a Hindu. 

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