July 26th, 2020
You once asked me being the atheist you are, if anyone’s really seen God living inside worship houses? I’m neither a Muslim nor a Christian but I might have bowed in more mosques and churches than Hindu mandirs.
Whether it was the Basilica and Convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced in Lima or Stephansdom in Vienna or the La Almudena in Madrid, there’s this whispered calm in the cool, old air of these churches. The pew benches have a little kneeling bench in front for you to rest your knees. Imagine the weight of them prayers those kneeling benches have bore over centuries…
And whether it was the Selimiye Camisi in Konya or the Xī Ān Dà Qīng Zhēn Sì in Xi’an or the Masjid-i Jahan Numa in Delhi, no matter how loud the azaan, their carpeted floors always cradle you in stillness there.
But Hindu mandirs are like a bloody circus! And the Hindu Gods & Goddesses are a whole different cattle…wait actually cows are also…Hindu deities. Never mind. There’s all 33 million of them and each have different worshiping rituals. Take Lord Shiva who greatly gets appeased when doused in Panchamrita which takes fresh cow milk, curd, honey, sugar and ghee to make (of course each has a signifiance in the greater Hindu universe). And the preferred time for Shiva worship is Monday, early mornings. And then on Tuesdays it’s Hanumanji’s turn but only in the evening when the sun goes down and then on Wednesday it’s Vishnu‘s turn…
So probably why Hindu mandirs always seem to be in total chaos. People scuttling to get 20 seconds with God of the day to offer thalis full of everything dear to them. Sometimes I think we Hindus spend most of our lives up and down temple stairs struggling to not spill our panchamritas!
Few years ago on a weak winter’s day I was at Pashupatinath in Kathmandu. Usual chaos. A large crowd had started gathering in the courtyard around the main Shivling temple. The temple had 4 doors in each direction which were about to be opened to public for a viewing. That day I hadn’t really gone to Pashupatinath to pray but to see the dead Burning Ghats behind the temple. Seeing that I was trying to thread my way out of the growing crowd, a stranger advised to rather stay put and get darshan. So there I was amongst Hindus from all of the world. A family on my bus from India had made a 5-day road journey just to offer prayers there.
2 staff stood in guard at each of the doors to open and keep the overexcited devotees from jumping over the handrails to get inside the temple (oh it happens). I must have been at least good 5 people in depth behind from the front handrails. The energy in the crowd was electrifying. As I was trying to shuffle and find a better view line, I caught one of the door staff staring at me. And as the doors were about to be open, for some reason she lunged over the handrails, grabbed one of my arms and pulled me right up to the front – exactly in front of the eastern door. And just before they opened the door, she leaned over and whispered in my ear; aache se maango.
The doors opened and the crowd surged forward roaring Om Namah Shivya; Har Har Mahadev! But I stood there absolutely still in that frenzy, staring at a Shivling that has been there since 400BC listening to prayers of generations, as a warm cosmic bubble enveloped me in quietness.
Even in utter chaos, Anand – God still sees us.
But you’re right nobody has actually seen Shiva living in the Shivling or Christ in the Cross above the altar. The Divinity actually lives in the kneeling benches, the carpets, the temple stairs, the woman who pulls you to the front of the line. In us.