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.
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.