The Business of Faith

How do one feel when your faith used for minting money?  A sense of betrayal of trust.  I guess only this feeling will outpour from within, for your feelings and your emotions are given a raw deal for few quick bucks.  One place from where one sadly comes out after visiting are popular places of pilgrimages. Not all places i am talking about, but, unfortunately many of these places have become centres of emptying your pockets.

This summer i happened to visit North India, this being the third time in three four-years and unfortunately i continue to carry very poor impression about the places i have visited, this trip not providing any consolation either.  I visited Punjab, and i liked that place a lot, the rustic look of the people, their direct way of dealing, the inspiring Wagah Border and the Golden Temple. Golden Temple is refreshingly different from other places of worship, here you do not see all and sundry running after you to perform any pooja or ritual or demanding any kind of money.

After our Amritsar Trip, we visited Ma Vaishnodevi Temple, the experience was tiring one. One incident there exposed the lacunae of conditions of this centre of pilgrimage.  One lady in her mid fifties was returning back and was her downward journey back to the base village at Katra. She was about fifteen feets away from me and suddenly she slipped and fell backwards on the ground, all the impact of the fall came directly on her backhead. The lady laid unconscious, we all gathered, tried to bring her to consciousness, but she was not responding. We ran down and somehow called one policeman, he came almost leisurely treading  as if it was a daily affair.  He took out his mobile phone and called the control centre. After a while all we heard was an announcement on Public Address system for a stretcher, which never came. The pilgrims somehow carried the lady to the hospital of the trust, only to be declared dead!!! This shrine happens to be one of the most popular pilgrim centre, if such is the state of affair of the pilgrims, only god will help  (will he ??).

From there after a short stay at Jammu, we came to New Delhi. The capital of India, the place which i dont like for its shabby environs, barring the National Capital Region the whole of Delhi gives look of extended Dharavi (biggest slum area of Asia).  Unplanned buildings, senseless drivers, huge hanging loads of electric wires on either side of the road and yes, not to forget the people, without any exception, are very aggressive, and cheaters (a tame word i guess), first timers beware !! The Autowallahs, the hotelliers, the travel agencies, the restaurants all just try to offload your cash.

After sightseeing in Delhi, we visited Agra, Mathura etc. And the topic of my article actually begins from Mathura or Vrindavan to be precise. Mathura the place where Lord Krishna was born. Five kilometers from here lies Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna performs his “Leela”.  The first time i visited this place was an enthralling experience than this time, as this time i was cautious.

Our tourist bus which left from New Delhi had reached Taj Mahal and after visiting that exquisite piece of artistry we were brought to senses by one lanky young priest who entered into the bus introducing himself as a “guide” for the journey ahead to Vrindavan Temple.  He had a gift of gab and talking in pure hindi interlaced with sanskrit shlokas, within few minutes he mystified each one of us and made us believe that we were now on heavenly sojourn and that all our sins would be washed away after visiting the temple of Vrindavan.

The priest on the way showed us orphanage for the widows, it was night and he pointed out to some building on the right side, we only had one option, to believe his words. Then after few minutes on the left hand side pointing to some compound, the other side of which we could not see, he told that this was shelter for 2000 cows, and the whole expenses for the orphanage for widows and this shelter home for cows came from the temple funds that we were going to visit.

Our bus halted and we alighted, we were “guided” by this priest through narrow bylanes with slums on both the sides, if one lost way, he  might never had found the way back through those maze of slums.  After wading our way through, we reached reached the entrance, we were totally devout by then and were feeling like totally transformed Krishna Bhaktas..

The temple was small and the priest showed us some marshy area, he said that there Lord Krishna performed his Raas  Leela. We again bowed our heads in reverence.  How easy it is to play with one’s faith, i now realize in the hindsight. Anyways, we entered the temple and we heard screeching sound of the grills locking us inside, we were bit scared, as to why they locked us in. Then another priest came, he again told many a tales about the importance & piousness of that place. The lights were switched off and the idol which we were going to see was covered with a cloth curtain. Then after chanting some mantra, he removed the curtain and suddenly and light was thrown on the idol of Krishna and Radha, which illuminated more in that darkness. The staunchest of the Atheist would have changed his views in such environs.

The sense of devotion soon melted, when they handed over booklets and asked us to donate atleast Rs.1,000/- each, not that we heeded that request, but many people who believed them, bestowed faith gave money and not just 1,000/- odd but in multiples. While we were leaving, we saw the “priest” who accompanied us taking his cut, the tourist bus driver rushing to the temple to take his piece of pie. We later realized that it was a well oiled system of links between the travel agency and the temple and the so called priests and guides. All aimed at fleecing money from people who go their with faith in their hearts. After some inquiry from locals, we got the shock of our lives, the temple we visited was not the original one, we were told by one good person, and the travel agencies in Delhi, Agra, Mathura have tie ups with temples of their choices in Vrindavan and they claim that very temple to be real one and we the faithfuls are taken for a good ride. virtually!!

So this time when we – the group of fifteen visited, and when our driver escorted us to the same temple, i could not control my laughter, the same rituals (of fleecing money) was repeated dutifully, but unfortunately the group was forewarned. Nobody paid a single penny,  no wonder the priest in the temple was irked, the guide was upset, but the most upset person we saw was our driver, who we saw running towards the temple to collect his cut and returning empty handed, the usually talkative guy lost his speech thereafter till we reached Delhi. We got a good sleep for which i nearly thanked him.

Looking back, i feel whether the system adopted by these people is correct? A person travels hundreds and thousands of miles to reach these places, only to feel duped. Will such money bring them any good? Will it bring good repute to the place where they travel, obviously, like me, others who feel that their faith has been misplaced will forewarn other probable visitors.

Its not that one feels saddened for having been duped for a few hundred rupees, one feels bad for having his trust, his faith used by others. This sense of betrayal hurts afterall.

All we decided after our trip, was to mark a big cross and never to visit these places namely New Delhi, Agra & Mathura again.

One thought on “The Business of Faith

  1. jeffssong

    🙂 We are of a mixed mind on this.
    On one hand, if a pilgrim goes to this (or any other) temple or place of god (whether real or imagined) – pays their few (or many) rubles – then goes home feeling blessed and enlightened … and then remains thus so for the rest of their lives – then, I wonder, was the duplicity and fact of lying worth it? Would it be worth the trouble of destroying that one’s happiness now that they have come to believe in such a thing? We know not, for we have done this one: used a Christian priest’s own Good Book as an iron to destroy his own faith. It was not a good thing. So we think now these days that “Hey, if they believe; if it heartens them – if they think it is magic – then so be it. I’m not going to interfere with someone’s happiness.”

    But on the other hand the religious greed, graft and grab – that sort of thing stinks to high heaven – and it’s not just there; it’s anywhere. We see the same sort of stuff right here in the ‘good ol’ United States” – the tourists trinkets and hawkers lining the street selling their wares around some attraction – go in and the priests and things just want your money. But then we learned to go in just for us and it made things much better.

    We love your good post – it gives a better sense and feeling of being in India. Would like to see sometimes; the links were very educational – followed some to read. Thank you for that and this.

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