On the first of January 2021 as I was struggling on the steep climb to the very famous Sreenathji Temple of Nathdwara in Rajasthan, only one thought pestered me. Why was the path to the most pious and illustrious temple offering me nothing but garbage, animal dung, spit, and tobacco stains? They say that every night, Kanha travels to Nathdwara from Vrindavan to, I suppose, unwind. Looking at the condition of that place, I highly doubted that. He wouldn’t step into this place, not consciously.
Anyway, as my family and I tread further, I noticed an increase in the set of eyes that followed us. Expectant eyes and at the same time, greedy eyes, prying eyes. Finally, a pundit with such a set of eyes approached us and offered us tickets to the line of darshan. The per head cost of the ‘normal ticket’ was 300 rupees and the per head cost of the ‘VIP ticket’ was 500 per head. Now I understand that there needs to be a crowd count and regulation system in a place that attracts thousands of devotees even during the COVID-19 period, but what’s the deal with separate ‘VIP lines’? And like I told you before, the place was as filthy as it could have been. What were the 300 rupees per person being utilized for? It is bad enough that people have to pay money in order to visit their god but the idea of a completely different, special line is preposterous. Upon asking, my mother was informed that the ‘VIP’ line facilitated a more generous view of the idol and in a lesser amount of time. Well, good for those ‘VIPs’, I thought the extra two hundred bucks ensured only a lesser number of elbows jabs on your abdomen. And fewer armpit encounters of course.
It is sad how people in their drive to commercialize, have commercialized the holiest relationship between that of man and god.
Karwa Chauth is a festival celebrated by Hindu women from the Indian Subcontinent. During Karwa Chauth fast, women starve themselves from sunrise to sunset for the safety and longevity of their husbands. Ring a bell? Yes, that’s intermittent fasting. It doesn’t magically increase your husband’s life but is hokum, just to ensure that women periodically keep fasts and cleanse their system. And there is nobody who doesn’t know how Karwa Chauth has been capitalized, commercialized, and dramatized!
It is not only the gross capitalizing of everything that intrigues me but also how ancient protocols and customs are toyed with to pander to men and to suit patriarchal needs. Take, for instance, menstruating women. Back in the day, women who were on their periods were told not to work and take complete rest. Now, this piece of advice was completely blown out of proportion and menstruating women were stigmatized to the extent that they were barred from entering temples, puja ghars, and even kitchens of their own homes due to the belief that they were ‘impure’ when they were menstruating. The 2020 Sabrimala judgment turned out to be historical in this regard. By a 4:1 majority verdict, the Supreme Court lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 years from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala and held that the centuries-old Hindu religious practice was not only illegal but also unconstitutional and derogatory.
I think it is high time that we start recognizing what we should and can distort on a human whim and what we cannot. The 3 ‘S’s’ go a long way: smartness, sensibility, and sensitivity. Before banishing menstruating women for example, if one gives some thought to why would God consider his own creation impure, things would’ve been hassle-free. People need to stop speaking on behalf of God. Rather, we should rather follow the path he has already created for us. The path of love, of kindness, and of course, of humanity.