Temples For Thought - Should We Care?
Let us begin with the context — The #FreeTNTemples campaign is aimed at freeing the Tamil Nadu temples from the clutches of bureaucracy. Since it aims to redress an aching reality, the campaign has garnered a lot of support from devotees. But what if you don’t belong to Tamil Nadu? What if you are not concerned with places of worship?
To answer those questions, let us first see the various categories of responses observed regarding this campaign:
The Supporters -
Self-explanatory, they support since they can clearly see that money given by the public as a donation is being eaten up by politicians and bureaucrats. You can find details here of how idols are being stolen, pujaris are not paid enough for day-to-day operation, no maintenance, temples in dilapidated conditions, etc. There have been many prominent voices who have already been demanding the freedom of temples from government administration, so this campaign is helping to echo their concerns.
The Opposers -
Largely vested interests who stand to lose the illegitimate “revenue” they have been extracting from temples (cases where temple funds were used to buy personal items for an officer or the likes are common). For who is going to lose except for the ones who are currently looting? The campaign is currently focused within TN state, but has scope for national implementation.
The “Why Should I Care” -
Fair question, one that I also would have had a few years ago. Let’s clear some facts about temples:
Temples are NOT places of prayer.
Temples are NOT meant for prayers, in fact, our whole culture never encouraged prayers. Prayer has a personal aspect to it, mostly asking for something, or keeping your own desires or happenings in mind. The mantras and chants recited are NOT prayers, they are either devotional compositions that simply describe/praise the deity, or they are sounds that generate certain vibrations that are conducive for wellbeing. None of these ask a deity for anything, and that is a crucial part, that is now very often misinterpreted.
What are temples for, then?
Temples are consecrated spaces which assist in the creation of wellbeing. What do we mean by wellbeing? Most people today complain of being stressed. Difficult situations existed in earlier times as well, but the stress levels today are much higher. What did people do earlier that they had lesser stress? Why did their life seem simpler? In broad terms, stress is a consequence of misplaced importance, people today spend more time fixing the external instead of fixing the internal first.
Have you noticed that sometimes just being in a particular place or around a particular person can either increase or decrease your level of stress at that moment? You would have heard stories about how our ancestors visited temples daily. Visiting the local temple was a part of the daily routine, and this routine was given priority. It was not that some divine power was pleased and hence reduced stress for them, it was simply that daily, some minutes of the day were spent in a consecrated space — a space where a deep sense of positivity and lightness pervaded, a space where all else was forgotten, and all attention and emotion was directed towards a higher consciousness, keeping worries and desires aside, just for a few moments. This “keeping aside” played a key role in wellbeing.
Try this — doesn’t matter if you believe in divine or not, find a local temple that appeals to you and that’s not too crowded, simply go and sit. A temple could appeal differently to different people, subjective to many things, could be the deity, space, cleanliness, beauty, quiet, etc. Without any expectations, just keep quiet and sit with eyes closed in that space. Do it a few times. Then see the difference.
The science of temples is primarily aimed at wellbeing, with innumerable cultural ties to it to enable absorption into routine. This has to be handled with a certain know-how and devotion, and the temples have to be maintained in a particular way else they risk getting desecrated. So before you conclude if saving these spaces matters to you or not, do try the above experiment first!
Being indifferent does not stop you from making a difference. :)
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” — Alice Walker
For more info, you may visit the official site at FreeTNtemples.org