Most of our much-venerated Hindu temple traditions are under attack. The inimical anti-Hindu forces, pseudo-seculars and Leftists are ganging up to demean, disrespect and finally destroy our most cherished traditions, culture and heritage. If we don’t act now, it will be too late
Calling someone who practices Sanatan Dharma merely as a Hindu and then comparing him and his religion with other Abrahamic religions like Christianity or Judaism is tantamount to insulting his dharma which is as ancient as the Universe itself and which embodies seemingly conflicting philosophies along with its diverse paths. Unlike other religions, Hindutva is not at all bound by One Prophet and his Holy Book, but we encompass every kind of spiritual approach, various forms of worship, countless rishis, sages, and yogis, thousands of religious treatises. Yet our goal is one – that of realising the ultimate Self – the Paramatma.
Age-old Tradition: People from different caste and community gather at temple premises for bhajan & kirtan
I want to share with you my views on Sanatan Dharma and its practitioners – the Hindus. We Hindus do not believe that there is only one God. For Hindus, Ishwar (Almighty) is the Ultimate One. But that Ishwar represents all things in this universe, both manifest and non-manifest. This is completely different from saying there is only one God. To say that there is only one God is to reduce God to a single unit, to the lowest common denominator. This is what monotheists do. For them, God is a unit, not a Unity. Hindus are not monotheists, nor polytheists. Hindus are pantheists, i.e. we believe that Ishwar resides in all things and that all things are in Ishwara: Ishwar is everything, Ishwar is in everything, and everything is of Ishwar only.
But do today’s Bharatiyas know and appreciate this? Our country has been thought leaders since the Vedic times. But today we are bordering on a non-thinking irrelevant society, for had we been a thinking people, we would not have had Hindus. Rather we have become Indians who has no scruples to discredit our Hindu traditions and wreck the holy places of worship in a shockingly-brazen manner.
The recent example of subverting Hindu customs and traditions is Sabarimala
Ours has been a culture that has from time to time updated our societal guidelines. That is why we have 14 Dharma Sastras. Sadly, during the past one thousand years, we had been battling hordes of brutal invaders, and greedy colonizers. And now we have to battle colonised and slavish minds that have little or no understanding of our unique culture and traditions.
Ours is a culture that has always studied and experimented intensely before drawing conclusions and offering guidance to society. Recently I read an article on Sabda Brahma, an in-depth study of sound and its effects, then I read a contemporary article on Physics and Sound, both concluded that sound creates vibrations and that since the entire creation is made up of atoms it is in a state of flux and hence will be affected by vibrations.
Are you wondering what all this has to do with saving temple traditions?
All I am trying to say is that a culture that has studied in depth, will hardly have any meaningless traditions. If any change is called for it, it cannot be done by governments and judiciary based on PIL’s filed by political activists who have no interest or devotion to the temple culture or traditions but has to be done after consultations with Acharya’s and scholars who know the temples tradition and the relevant sastras.
- Our temples were essential players in the ecosystem of society until a few hundred years ago. Once the invasions started and were followed by colonisation communities that centred their lives around temples were destroyed. A lot of temple traditions were suspended, many damaged, many misinterpreted, and life changed drastically
- The need of the hour is to create and foster temple communities, bring people together and have dialogues and share knowledge so that the divisive forces cannot misinterpret and interfere with our traditions
Our temples were essential players in the ecosystem of society until a few hundred years ago. Once the invasions started and were followed by colonisation communities that centred their lives around temples were destroyed. A lot of temple traditions were suspended, many damaged, many misinterpreted, and life changed drastically.
Here I would like to stress on one point, WE DO NOT WORSHIP IDOLS, I want our Hindu samaj to refrain from the term IDOL, our images / murthis in temples are not symbols, but they are manifestations of the Divine. Whether in temples or homes we invoke the presence of the DIVINE and worship, the images are not messengers that carry our prayers to a distant GOD.
Our society and culture recognise 'Divinity' across the entire creation, and they do not think women are less and men are superior. If anyone does, then they are not adhering to Sanathana Dharma. Having said that I do not deny that the invasions and colonisation did not leave its effects and create an imbalance. The imbalances are due to social customs and situations indeed not based on our sastras.
If women were in purdah, we need to look into the history of it and make the change, and when we delve into history we will know that this system came about once the invasions began it is NOT A GUIDANCE FROM OUR SASTRAS it is a social ill that has crept in and needed to change.
Temples were the centre of not the only religious ritualistic activity but of all spiritual centered activities and in cases even of conflict resolution and also of disaster management.
Now coming to temple traditions, one important tradition that has been discarded and banned without in-depth knowledge and understanding by our colonisers and later by brown sahibs. Temples were the repository of visual art and architecture, the lot of it is there, and invaders have destroyed a lot, but the intangible wealth of music and performing arts that were nurtured in temples has vanished in temple venues. Most of the Veda gurukulams supported in temples have disappeared too. The wealth of our temples has been looted by invaders and colonisers and even after that. Large tracts of temple lands have been grabbed, jewels stolen and the indirect loot still goes on in the name of management by governments, temples no longer have their ‘Nandana Vanas’ and the lands that were tilled by farmers and produce given to temples. Temples fed and supported so many people but the British came and banned that, closed down our dharmshalahs which we never revived.
Sadly our arts that were purely centered around the Divine was first sullied and taken into the courts of Islamic invaders and reduced to a lowly entertainment and later the outsiders who came to India with their Victorian moralistic ideas deemed that any woman who danced in public was a whore. So they destroyed the soul-elevating system of music and dance being a part of temple worship, castigating those who offered worship through dance in temples as prostitutes and sadly instead of our society rising against this we meekly toed the British line since by then many of our leaders had already turned into brown sahibs.
It took a Rukmini Devi and others to bring our Indian arts out of cloisters and give it credibility and dignity. Till today we have not been able to succeed in taking it back to the temples again. But the Natya Sastra does say that “wherever a dancer performs invoking the Gods that becomes a temple a Divine space.”
We run an organisation “Heritage” which is a not-for-profit trust, and for the past ten years now we have made a great effort to put arts back into the temples. It is still an effort in progress but gradually the temples are appreciating the efforts, and hopefully, at some point in time it will become intrinsic to temple worship as it was.
In Tamil Nadu during Maha Sivaratri, dance performances often take place but it will take a long time before there is a cohesive systematic effort to save this tradition because before we can do this, we have to free our temples from government control. And if the government has to act, it has to first become a people’s movement, it cannot succeed if only a few people are fighting for it in the courts. There has to be an awakening in the society to take responsibility for the places of worship.
Now coming to the tragic things happening in Sabarimala, people have argued for and against the Supreme Court ruling. The whole joke is they are trying to equate ‘triple talaq’ with the opening of Sabarimala doors to women under the age of 50, who presumably are menstruating women at a fertile age of their lives. Which is forbidden in the tradition of Ayyappa temple on Sabarimala.
All of us know the legend of Lord Ayyappa, but we can neither prove it nor disprove it. Lord Ayyappa is a naisthika Brahmachari, and Sabarimala is his abode. For us, any deity in a temple is a living manifestation of go. Hence, even the property is registered in the name of the god. The tradition has been for men to take a vow of celibacy when visiting Sabarimala, the shrine of Lord Ayyappa, in Kerala. Human minds are frail and prone to all kinds of temptations. Hence, women were requested to allow men to focus on celibacy and not be a cause for their minds to be distracted or tempted. Why compete with men? Do women have to force and impose themselves? It seems so ridiculous that it is no longer a matter of equality but a matter of great stupidity. Kerala has been a matriarchal society where women have ruled the roost. Do you think the powerful women of Kerala would have approved of a guideline that is against women?
We have many many sampradayas or traditions, and various ways of worship and these are all essential to the practice of religion. So, they have to be protected under Section 25 (1) of the Constitution. It is really sad that in today's world we are trying to equate and compare two that cannot be compared. Women are women and men are
men. The world cannot survive without the presence of both the feminine and the masculine. Prakriti and Purusha are both a necessity for the jagat to work. The threats that face us are not only from external forces but from our people whose minds are colonised and invaded, who have little understanding of our traditions and culture, this state is across the board, from the common man to those who rule, those in the judiciary and all walks of life.
Hence the solution lies in the beginning to dialogue and debate, to make an honest attempt to understand what is our own and not discard based on what outsiders interpret our traditions and culture. Let us understand the motives of those that are attempting to divide us and break our country and society; let us not give them that strength and power. Let us unite and uphold what is ours and take responsibility of our temples and our traditions.
यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता:।
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफला: क्रिया:।
Where Women are honoured, divinity blossoms there Where ever women are dishonoured, All action no matter how noble it may be, remains unfruitful.
The need of the hour is to create and foster temple communities, bring people together and have dialogues and share knowledge so that the divisive forces cannot misinterpret and interfere with our traditions.
(The writer is founder trustee & secretary of Heritage Trust)