The Spiritual Supermarket V.P.



Now Who says SEZ is a new idea. As no-holds-barred free enclaves (see the pictures above) Delhi has witnessed proliferation of shrines on public land for decades. Globalisation as the new mantra has given birth to a new faith: money as the universal measure manifesting in the ‘GNP syndrome’ lures them to acquire ‘riches’ at all cost. The belief in the power of the gods, through their capacity to grant boons or to withhold all desirable things, drives them to propitiate gods in every possible form. Rituals are born of man’s adoration for that unseen power underlying the mystery of creation. Each religion prescribes its own set of such practices to please gods. Patterned as they are into the traditional cultures, some ritual systems grow to such proportions that their real significance is lost. Sankara decried the obsession with rituals: in sharp contrast to rituals as a practice for detachment and renunciation and spiritual enlightenment, it has degenerated into a means for furthering crass materialism. In a society based on the premise of competitive struggle for existence, the religious fervor increases directly in proportion to the quest for material possessions, which creates a readymade market for such an enterprise. More the obsession to acquire wealth, more the need to invoke gods,

even by inventing new ones and in diversified forms of worship, (to upstage others) for their blessings. Even thieves and robbers worship Gods and perform elaborate rituals to please their special deities for success in their venture. Such a belief system has sanctified sprouting of a variety of places of worship in very nook and corner of the city. According to a conservative estimate, there are lac of places of worship in Delhi, which beats Varanasi clean. Master plan or no master plan, they usurp land everywhere. Earlier they erected these structures in public parks in residential colonies, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The current fancy is for sites in close proximity to marketing complexes so as to find a niche in the commercial space. To be in tune with the globalization culture these joints also compete with each other and adopt all kinds of marketing strategies to attract a bigger share of devotees. Not surprisingly, it is a new service industry and they are quite happy to trade off peaceful ambience (a pre-requisite for offering prayers) for a chaotic space in and around the shopping centers which is considered a more promising commercial location. They encroach on pavements which blocks footpaths, the sufferer being the poor pedestrians who are forced to walk on the roads along with the traffic with all the risk it entails. These structures even spill on to the roads and, as road blocks, disrupts normal flow of vehicles, often causing traffic jams. And, of course, will find a place in guinea book for blaring auditory hell in almost every neighborhood. The ordeal starts early in the morning, usually at five in the morning and goes up-to even midnight on days considered more ‘auspicious’. In a significant judgment the Supreme Court has ruled: “undisputedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others, nor does it preach that that they should be through sound producing instruments in the name of religion in a civilized society.” They enjoy all that SEZ stands for: free land acquisition and infrastructural support. No tax and get all amenities, e.g. boarding, lodging, water and electricity free. In this era of globalization and liberalization business management is the buzz word: exploit every situation to your best advantage, no matter how much people abhor it. Religion has become the most rewarding business enterprise today that ensures maximum profit for minimum cost and entails no risk. The economy of the ‘spiritual supermarket’ is flourishing in metropolitan cities as the new breed of ‘entrepreneurs’ exploit the religious sentiments of the forlorn and gullible people whose only hope, in a disoriented world, is some sort of a miracle. In a World turned upside down, afflicted as we are of the ‘midas syndrome’(kon banega crorpati culture), where the success rate is abysmally low, the majority, being dejected and the depressed become sitting ducks for the prowling ‘priests’. And in this era of neo-capitalism, where the consumerist culture thrives on marketing, they prosper by packaging myths as faith and assiduously projecting several belief systems (e.g. rituals) as means to material prosparity, or by playing gimmicks like lord Ganesha drinking milk, the pundits laughing all the way to stashing cash in the banks. We have private twenty four hours TV channels brainwashing people to do the necessary ground work. It is an irony, that even after decades of winning independence, and in this age of science, we continue to be mired in all kinds of superstitions. We have learnt nothing from scientific marvels. Man has been to the Moon and all preparations have been made to land on Mars. But we continue to worship planets as Gods by performing elaborate rituals. The planet Earth which has given us life and sustains it is no longer an object of

such a reverence, even though in the Atharava Veda, an entire hymn, the Prithvi Sukta, has been devoted to praise of Mother Earth. Earth was seen as the abode of a family of all beings, epitomized as Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam. Moreover, one of the main postulates of the Bhagavadgita is that the Supreme Being resides in all beings (vasudeva sarvam) and is the ultimate source and cause of the universal common good (sarva bhuta hita). Hindu Dharma requires that a common good (such as the protection of the environment, welfare of the poor and the needy, or the well-being of other living beings) takes precedent over private good (including individual material and personal well-being). It is an obligation that human beings owe, not only to each other, but also to all nature and the entire cosmos. The Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana confirms this basic postulate: a good devotee is the one who sees in all creation the presence of God: he reveres the sky and the clouds, trees and animals, mountains, sprigs and rivers as the living expression of the cosmic order from which he derives his own being. Such veneration, respect and acceptance of God in nature ordains (Dharma) human beings to maintain and protect the natural harmonious relationship in all human beings and nature (sustenance). Hence Dharma encompasses social order by encouraging education, the arts and charitable services. In this spirit, the ‘temples’ emerged as social institutions and performed many welfare functions (many still do), the most important being as the catalysts of distribution of the ‘riches’. Of course the affluent could distribute wealth directly but it was demeaning to accept it as alms. It was, therefore, routed through the temples and given to the needy as prasadam as obeisance to God. The Sikh Gurdwaras are a living example of the places of worship to fulfill the obligation of feeding the hungry, a task which is considered divinely ordained. In the past, the temples maintained schools and refuges for sick men and animals. Temple was, thus, a corporate body which often played a significant part in the life of the ordinary citizens, and were usually located outside the city. With globalsation as the new creed, the social function of redistribution has been, by and large, abandoned and the offerings by the devotees (fruit, milk, sweets etc.) and donations, both in cash and kind, is collected as fee (for getting favours from gods) solely for the benefit of the purohits and the organizers, like any business establishment. Pujari, as the self appointed PA to God, accepts offerings in the same manner as a babu receives bribes to fix all the adversities faced by the devotees. God is perceived more as a ‘godfather’ than as a godhead: all the sins we commit can be taken care of and we can purify ourselves by performing prescribed rituals as a computer disk can be reformatted to cleanse itself of the bugs. And we have a very unique concept of secularism: it does not mean a scientific rationalist outlook but a license to all religious outfits to propagate their myths as their creed. No wonder we have witnessed the most sinister tales of blending religion with politics, catapulting fundamentalist forces to power. Religion comes very handy to play the role of the mythical character of ‘Shikhandi’ in Mahabharata, under whose cover one may indulge in dirty politics, organize business network and even perpetrate communal violence without any fear of reprisal. In-spite of the constant refrain from various authorities, the MCD, the DDA and even the Hon’ble Supreme Court not to tolerate encroachment on public land, they defy the demolition squad with impunity. Nobody dare raise one’s voice for the fear of treading the sensitive path to be denounced as a

heretic. History is replete with instances when those who were not part of the locally dominant culture were intimidated and reduced to a second class citizenship and they became outsiders in their own country. I, like thousands of others, am myself a victim of a subtle religious persecution against the minorities. The dominant community in the locality has constructed a temple on the road in front of my house, a non-Hindu and a rationalist, in defiance of all the laws enacted by the revered parliament to safeguard my freedom, to carry on with my academic pursuits undisturbed and in peace. They keep pounding me with their chants and hymns, accompanied by striking of bells and chimes, to which I cannot relate and which make no sense to me. Protests are met with jeers and threats, only falling short of not forcing me to wear a ‘yellow badge’. In spite of the strong recommendation by the Grievances Commission, NCT of Delhi to the home department to deal with the lawlessness firmly and also probe the connivance of the police and the civic agency, the government remains a mute spectator. This is not an isolated phenomenon. Tainted by the shadow of political considerations, the government, in spite of all the protests, maintains a studied silence in such cases of the violations of fundamental rights of the citizens, expediency being the hall mark of governance. Closeted in their ivory towers, they have no idea about the kind of indignities people have to live with. The government has become totally impervious to the plight of the peaceful and law abiding citizens and refuses to act, as a matter of policy, unless blood runs in the streets. But then who cares: the recent demolition drive was a testimony to the fact that the entire city has been taken over by the land mafia. Most, however, are blissfully oblivious of any contradiction in their stances. Bankim Chandra Chatterji who has given us Bande-matram has also observed the following hiatus. “we know of a landowner who is a Brahmin and a very strict Hindu. In winter as in summer he gets up very early in the morning and takes his bath in cold water. After that he performs his daily worship for many hours with the utmost scrupulousness. Then he attends to the business of his properties. At that time his mind becomes wholly intent on the problem of ruining one or other of his tenants, depriving an unprotected widow of all her possessions, cheating his creditors, securing false witnesses to send some innocent person to jail, or concocting evidence to win his cases, and his efforts in all these directions are successful. Yet we know for certain that he is wholly sincere to the devotion to the gods and the Brahmins and that there is no hypocrisy whatever in that. Even when faking a document he utters the name of Hari (i.e. Vishnu, the preserver), and he believes that this will make the fraud effectual. Even though Bankim Chandra Chatterji, an exponent of new Hinduism, clarified that such a character could not be a true Hindu, none the less the landowner he described was a typical traditional Hindu. Of course, the story can be generalised to cover other religious systems as well, today. It is no wonder that India is ranked as the ninth most corrupt nations in the World, after all we have thirty three million gods to protect us. Of course, it is sound politics to look for the sacrificial lamb: the poor hawkers for whom their activity means survival are projected as the villain of the peace. The social activists as champions of the cause of the uprooted and the displaced, both individuals and organizations (who have done commendable work in this direction) maintain a studied silence and do nothing to mitigate the sufferings of the displaced pedestrians from

their right of way(especially the elderly and women) and children who get evicted from the parks. We talk incessantly of the need for clean environment and take strong positions on issues of like global warming (not to demean their importance) but show no concern for issues like basic health and hygiene of the common man. And yet we never tire of quoting the scriptures in defence of clean environment. The great Hindu saint and philosopher Vivekananda had exhorted: “So long as millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them. I call those men---who strut about in their finery, having got all their money by grinding the poor---wretches so long as they not do anything for those millions who are now no better than hungry savages.” Bhagat Singh, the national hero zealously condemned blind faith and put up a passionate defense in reason. He was convinced that religion is a tool in the hand of exploiters who keep the masses in constant fear of God for their own interests. The revolutionaries of HSRA realized that all moral ideals and religions were useless for an empty stomach and for him only food was God. He reiterated that all exploitation –economic, social and cultural had to go if we want build a strong nation.(Irfan Hindu, March 22, 2008) Those who have a passion for quick returns and for an exact balance sheet of effort and reward may feel impatient, and in the absence of knowledge lean on some faith based on silly philosophy. The result of this is that the human race becomes divided into rival groups of fanatics, each group firmly persuaded that its own brand of non-sense is sacred truth, while the other side’s damnable heresy.(Russell Unpopular Essays- p 41)