Come 2018 and as part of making that special beginning, going to the temple became one of the items on my “To do” list. Everything else on the list for the Christmas break had been accomplished. A visit to the Louvre – tick, visit to Ferrari world and the water park- tick, meet friends for Christmas – tick, tick, tick one for every get-together we attended, visit to the doctor- tick, write my last blog post for 2017- tick. The holidays had come to an end and the space for the temple tick was blank.
6th of January 2018, the last day of the holidays, I was finally standing in the Krishna Mandir (temple), with a hundred others. The doors to the inner sanctum in which the idol was kept was still closed. The idol of Krishna was being adorned with flowers and other finery as per the ritual. Despite the numbers, there was a peaceful silence. The soft sound of the sitar in the background was part of the silence. A hundred heads waited expectantly for the doors to open with their hands joined while their lips moved, some with prayers of gratitude for the year gone by and others with prayers of hope for the year ahead. Some with a wish they wanted to be fulfilled and some with many wishes not because they were greedy but because they were needy.
The mixed smell of incense and fresh flowers wafted through the air. Standing there, it was hard not to feel the calm. It felt as though God was listening I hadn’t felt that way the last time I had come, which was almost a year ago. Neither am I proud of not having visited nor am I ashamed of it. I had felt a disconnect and had preferred to pray at home rather than visit the temple. Not going had nothing to do with faith. I had become critical of the practice. The temple was too small, too crowded, too busy and going there had felt more like a ritual that needed to be done. I had even made myself believe that while prayer is important, going to a place of worship is not. “One could pray anywhere, anytime!”. I totally believed in it. and that belief removed all sense of remorse or guilt. While I still believe there is nothing wrong in not visiting a place of worship I now know that being part of something bigger in the form of a group prayer is immensely uplifting.
Today as I stood there, in the very same place, I was a different person. I felt peace. The room reverberated with a hundred silent prayers. The faith, the hope, the belief of the people there created an unseen energy, pure, positive and energizing.
What was different between last year and this year? There seemed to be no change in the place or the number of people there. I had changed! Maybe my circumstances had changed…
The paucity of space, the dilapidated state of the old temple building, the steps leading to it held up by iron rods that looked like they would give way anytime, under the weight of thousands of feet that climbed up and down every day which had been a source of frustration earlier did not matter anymore. I had chosen to find faults then. I had chosen not to be part of this madness that required one to wait in a queue for hours together on days of religious significance before one could enter and when one finally did manage to step in to the prayer room, one would be asked to move out as quickly as possible to make way for the others. It seemed crazy. Going there made no sense. Not to me!
All that somehow did not matter now.
I felt different. All the little inconveniences seemed insignificant and everything that had previously seemed distressful, now seemed to have a purpose and a place of their own. The pain points seemed to disappear into oblivion. My brain seemed to be looking at the positives, not the irritants, over which I had no control over. My brain chose to be amazed by the belief of thousands who thronged on a daily basis here, no matter the queue, the long waiting and the absence of space inside.
I stepped out of the temple into the open. Feeling content. I made my way to where I had left my footwear. There in front of the shoe racks, under a tree, benches had been arranged for people to sit on. People sat there to wear their shoes or to eat the prasad (food that was offered to God and then distributed amongst those who visited).
In front of the temple is a mosque. It’s a wonder how people of both religions make their way to their respective places of worship in harmony and there has never been a dispute on this foreign land in the last forty years or more. One can hear the temple bells and the prayers from the mosque at the same time. On the steps of the mosque or on the benches in front of the temple, Hindus sit along with Muslims. Even the biggest critic would find it hard not to appreciate this.
There are in reality two temples in the same complex, one relatively new devoted to Lord Krishna, the same Lord Krishna of the “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna” fame and the other, much older one for all the other forms of Gods. The older temple is behind the Krishna temple. The entrance, is through a narrow lane lined with shops selling fresh flowers- jasmines, yellow and orange marigolds and some pink ones, whose name I’m not aware of. The aroma of flowers and sandalwood fills the air outside. I make my way to one of the shops to buy flowers for the altar at home. Colorful pictures of Gods and Goddesses line the walls of the shops which also sell other paraphernalia related to Hinduism. The shop owners are simply men of trade; not necessarily Hindus or even Indians; many here are Iranians or Indian Muslims.
Since the older temple houses many more Gods and since there are as many religious festivals and practices as there are Gods, this temple is generally crowded. Behind the temple is an open area overlooking the creek. With space enough to accommodate not more than fifty people at any point in time, during festivals, one needs to wait in a queue for hours before one can enter the temple. Thankfully, people are made to queue at the back of the temple. In the winter months, it’s a pleasant wait for you can see the dhows making their way across the creek carrying tourists and passengers across, pigeons feeding on grains generously spread by shopkeepers and gulls gliding over the waters, making for amazing photography and providing the much needed past-time for those who wait in line.
Flowers in hand, deeply satisfied, I returned. It wasn’t just a tick anymore on my “To Do” list. It was much more than that. I had made up my mind to visit more regularly not because religion expected me to do it (which it does not) but because there is something about praying together that is powerful .
What do you think? Do you believe that man gets disconnected when he is happy and gets closer to God when he is besot with troubles? Would love to know your opinions on the subject.