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For Your God And Mine: What Matters More, Religion, Ritual Or Belief?

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By Lata Jha:

I’m not religious in the ritualistic sense. I don’t believe in the conventional methods of praying, painstakingly arranging for offerings and then seeking blessings. I can count the number of times I’ve been to a temple in my life, and I don’t recall ever spending more than ten minutes there. If I’m not in the mood, I might not even fold my hands. And yet I’d like to think that I not only believe greatly in the powerful existence of my God but that I share a deep connect with Him.

interfaith

Allow me to explain myself. By putting it as ‘my’ God, I’m only talking about my belief in the unique bond I think I share with the force who watches over me, a bond of the kind that no one else shares with Him. He knows me better than anyone else, and He seeks me out not just when I need Him, but also when I think I don’t but actually, I really do. He knows my moods, my secrets, my misgivings and my fears, as irrational as they may all be, without me ever having had to tell Him. Which is why I believe He’s mine. Just like He’s yours, and his, and hers. There is something special all of us share with Him in our own little ways, I feel. There is ample opportunity for each of us to develop an equation with our God, and indulge ourselves to believe that there is a little part of Him that is only ours. And that it’s going to remain so, no matter what.

Exactly since I believe I hold possession of a part of Him that’s meant only for me is why I don’t feel the need to participate in the worldly, ostentatious methods of seeking Him out. I don’t look down on those ways or the people who follow them; it’s just that I don’t get them. I don’t see why ‘Gods’ have to be named in the first place, and divided, or why there has to be the concept of the worship of one particular God in one household, and not another.

Why you would especially make laddoos for Ganesh and believe Mata Rani will help you combat every obstacle, but not find time to read the namaz, which is just as exhilarating and fulfilling an experience. After all, they are both accepted forms of worship. Why then would you condition yourself to believe in one and not in another? I am aware of the concept of family, religion and the idea of birth and belonging. But I don’t see why religion has to define our ideas of seeking and interacting with God. Either you develop a purely personal equation with Him that goes beyond worship and expensive paraphernalia, or you worship Him in every form that you know of.

Did He ever tell you He prefers Himself as Vishnu and not as Christ? Or vice versa? Or better still, did He ever tell His disciples that He shall be pleased only with material offerings? That milk, chadar, prasad or even fasts are things He lays down on the priority list? I’m not demeaning people who believe in, save and spend on these things. My mother fasts every Tuesday, and I don’t eat non vegetarian food myself on Mondays. We are all followers, and we do things we’ve been taught and told. What I don’t understand is who formulated these norms in the first place and why they should take precedence over faith and individual connect. And why religion and rituals should divide us and keep us from leading our lives the way we’d want to. Why, for instance, women are not allowed in mosques or at funerals, or why they are the ones in the family required to fast, but not enter temples while menstruating.

One could make peace with the trivialization and humanization (or rather, de-humanization) of every aspect of life. We’re all cynical about it, and it really doesn’t bother us beyond a point. But it hurts when this is extended to the force you look up to for everything. I visited Vaishno Devi about two years ago, and I swear to the God up there, I shall never go back. Like cattle, people swarm to take their chance. And the priests there are more like bodyguards around coquettish starlets who don’t want to be touched or groped. They ward you off like flies if you demand another fraction of a second with the deity. It’s ridiculous that something as pure and personal as prayer should find itself relegated to such shameless levels of the public domain. The frills end up making a much more lasting impact than the actual time you spend with your God. It’s more about what you offer, how much of it, what you wear, who you are and what restrictions you should be subjected to by self-designated authorities.

You can’t do certain things if you’re a female, or a male, for that matter, of a particular caste, or economic status. You can’t know your God by a name other than the one your family’s chosen centuries ago, and you certainly can’t separate religion from worship.

In the midst of all these shenanigans, I don’t know how much thought we give to the need for that connect with God. The connect that will see you through when you can’t afford the paraphernalia, and the connect that exists regardless of your demographic identity. I’m not too sure of the definitions and benefits of spiritual healing and all the fancy stuff those Godmen talk of. But I do feel that having faith in Him helps more than and regardless of everything else. And I don’t mean to decry rituals in any way. I’m well aware of the societal traditions we’re born with. You or me can’t just wake up one day and decide they don’t matter. I just feel rituals and traditions need not take precedence over faith and belief. They need not dictate our lives, and they should not act as divisive forces. He certainly didn’t intend it this way and I’m sure he feels suffocated by it sometimes. Give it a rest, guys.

P.S. I realise that I’ve referred to God as ‘Him’ and ‘His’ everywhere. I did that only for the sake of convenience; I do not believe or endorse that God or any supreme form is necessarily male.

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  1. Sargam

    I completely agree with almost everything that you have to say.Rituals in my opinion are just a money making shallow scam not much different from the IPL. The same fanfare, the same ulterior motives. Too much noise, not nearly enough heart. I admire your unclouded and candid style of writing, but there are some points that I beg to differ on. First, Christ was the Son of God, not God. Even though he is the revered figure of Christianity.
    The form of worship I practice in life, I think, has much to do with my upbringing. Not irreverence to religions other than mine. Belonging to a Hindu household, every time I ring the temple bell, a feeling of complete clam washes over me. The smell of incense sticks, the cold marble beneath my feet, is sometimes enough to clear my mind. Please don’t think I belong to a deeply religious family though. Like you, I could count the number of times I have been to a temple. The most I think of God is maybe before an examination. It’s just that I was raised to identify with the clanging of the temple bell in a way I could never relate to folding my knees facing westward. Yes, we do what we have been told. Like everything else, I believe it requires balance. There is a certain comfort in tradition or routine. I have come to realise this only now, something my immature rebel former self forbade me to admit. I’m not saying that if someone seems fit to denounce or merely alter the traditions they were raised in, I would threaten them with pitchforks. I simply feel that the sheer reason that I was brought up as a Hindu, is reason enough to stay one all my life. I also believe that it is reason enough to become a Muslim or a Christian for the rest of my life.
    As you say He is yours, He is different for everybody. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
    As you rightly said, we live in a cynical, hypocrite world. I hope someday we realise that God resides within, the light inside much brighter than a hawan fire could ever be.

    1. Lata Jha

      Yes. I think we’re pretty much on the same page. And like you, my upbringing also gives me a certain sense of identity, warmth and belonging. I just believe these things can’t be altered one fine day. And you or me might not take it that seriously, but there will be people incensed at the thought. That is how the world is.

    2. Raj

      Son of a god would be a god too, right?
      Anyways, if you think it’s OK clanging bells and feeling calm , that’s your lookout. Just don’t use the Government to give you tax-breaks and subsidies. Religions should be classified under recreation and leisure organizations and they should pay taxes like everybody else.

  2. jack

    The author tries to think out of the box but is too afraid to make a statement or to hurt anyone’s feelings. Result: total confusion and crap.
    #Yes, you can just wake up someday and decide what matters to you and what doesn’t, no matter how you name it: religion , culture or rituals

  3. Lata Jha

    I’m glad you are that brave. Thank you for reading. 🙂

    1. wasif

      one has to be brave Lata….

  4. Raj

    I agree with Jack. Call a spade, a spade. Clearly you are anti-religion. So am I. I hate it when organized religion imposes itself upon me.
    Also this idea that some space daddy is out there watching over you, is not only delusional, but also creepy. And if you think god is trying to communicate with you, perhaps it’s time to see a psychiatrist

  5. Noor

    A query here.. the concept of offering chadars..which religious community exactly practices it?

    1. wasif

      The baraelvis here in pakistan do so..

  6. Noor

    Also, it’s a shame that women are not allowed in the mosques in India, and a few neighboring countries. There is no verse in The Holy Qur’an that prevents a woman from entering the mosque. Almost all the mosques in the west, the middle east and the rest rest of the world welcome women.

    1. wasif

      Thats true.. They can be allowed but……..foolish people here

  7. Jack

    Lata, why do you think your ‘belief’ in Him is somehow better or more justified than the ‘belief’ that Lord Ganesha will help you prosper provided he is fed enough Laddoos? You are asking did he ever told anyone what name he prefers, but do you yourself know whether He is out there or not?

    For me you are only trying to tell us that somehow your set of beliefs is better than the rest of the belief systems. You are asking some good questions, but I wonder if you genuinely don’t know the answers or not!

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