What surprises me the most about religion is the intensity one can follow it with or one can truly despise it with. For some, the mere idea of disrespecting the supreme power makes them cower away in fear and for some, this power is but a sculpture sitting away in temples or so.
Religion, as Google tells me, is
The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
It uses synonyms like faith and belief. For a long time and it still seems to be, my religion is my faith in Science, my faith in facts, my faith in all that I can see and hear. But how can I explain the faith, the religion of those who would go to any lengths to prove their devotion.
I come from a religious family, a family where my grandmother and aunts spend hours in temples, devoting themselves to our gods, reading books to understand the complexity we call religion, and following rules to please the ultimate power. I come from a family where remembering God before any work is a must, where chanting mantras is a path to success.
I had the fortune of having parents who did not force religion on me, who gave me the freedom to express my opinions, who debated and let me debate. But my extended family did not give the same courtesy. The black goat of the family, I did something you should never do when it comes to religion, I asked questions.
The ones who were smart enough to know avoided and the ones who did not believe joined me and laughed at the idiotic concept. What they never understood was, that all I look for is answers, for a reason to believe, for a fact to support the chanting of those mantras and reciting those hymns.
As I grew up, I started distancing myself from all the religious activities in my family. It wasn’t because I hated it, no. It was because I did not understand it. I learned to live with it, made my peace. But then came the final strike a couple of days back.
A stranger from a small city in Chhattisgarh came to my home. A friend of a relative, he is staying at our home at the time of this writing. One of the purposes of his visits?
To buy things for his business back home. All was fine till then. But then came the question of what is he here to buy.
Beds, caps, coolers, and goggles. There is nothing wrong with that, only that these items were not meant for us, homo sapiens, but for that supreme power, we call God.
It surprised me to the core (So shocked that I couldn’t but google the stuff and I have added a few links below). Who would even want to buy such stuff for idols of gods? Why would someone want to buy it?
I couldn’t help but express my concerns to the gentleman. There was a slight hesitation, I couldn’t help but notice. Probably because I questioned. But then he told me a story.
The gentleman was visiting some friends at their home in some different city. The women of the house told them to be quiet, for the baby of the house was sleeping. Fifteen minutes of awkward silence later the women announced that they are free to talk for the baby was now awake. The gentleman was later asked if he would like to meet the baby.
The exact words were ‘Ap humare bal gopal ke darshan krna chahenge?’
Of course, said the gentleman. What met his eyes was an idol of Lord Krishna but wrapped up as a baby, a real baby. He, later on, discovered that it wasn’t only them but the whole community that treated the idols that way. Caring for them like they are real babies, feeding them, babying them and whatnot.
He went on to tell me the hype of these items. The way people want to make their lords comfortable.
I rebutted with a simple question. Why waste money on things like this? Why not give it to poor people, feed them, maybe.
He said this is about the feelings, the faith, the devotion. An answer I have heard so many times. My confidence grew. Inspired by contentious movies like OMG and PK, I went on to say, ‘There is no point in these things. How can we, humans, take care of the supreme power when he is the one who takes care of us?’
I made a strong point, or so I believed. It wasn’t the gentleman who replied but my mother. ‘You can’t even begin to imagine the number of mouths this business feed. The handmade items, which are so famous in cities like Gujrat and Kolkata, are a result of hard work of thousands of labors. Labor which then runs their home by the money they earn with this.’
I could not reply back. In fact, it got me to thinking. How right she is. I don’t know the number of people it put up to work. In fact, I know nothing about this business. Isn’t the stranger sitting in front of me earns his living by this.
I didn’t know what to feel, so I went with confusion. I still don’t have answers. My religion is still facts and figures. But this new version of religion means the world to so many not only in terms of devotion but living. I cannot form an opinion here, so I will leave it as it is. Is religion today really the religion it once was? Is the devotion today really what it used to be? Should we try to change this woven web of religious acts or should we let it be?