Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Of Processions

I know I have really taken a break from writing for a while but here I go again...

In the couple of previous weeks the country saw the mass immersion of hundreds and thousands of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga idols of various sizes and proportions in the sea all over the country. On the day of the processions normal traffic came to a standstill on roads where the processions snaked they way. In some places traffic was not allowed to ply through these roads. What if you were in an emergency and stuck on one of these roads? What if you had someone critically ill to be taken to hospital? What if you had to catch a flight or a train trip?

As far as my knowledge goes (I am no pundit or Guru and correct me if I am wrong) nowhere in the Vedas or the Hindu religious practices have I come to know of such an instruction about the immersion of idols in the sea after marching through streets in a procession of the kind I am to explain. Other than polluting the sea with paint, cardboard, paper, glue and colors and causing ecological damage I don't know what good the actual process of immersion of these idols can do to the people indulging in the same.

Besides there are other sides to these processions as well. People, particularly the young ones in these processions are in a very intimidating mood. Many are drunk and dressed in disheveled clothes. Many of them wear fancy glittering clothes, headbands, ribbons, turbans and what not and with color powder applied to various parts of their body and clothes as though suffering clearly from identity crisis. This is accompanied by slogan shouting, frenzied dancing and music playing. Almost all other similar religions processions in this country share these traits. No wonder the word "juggernaut" that India gave the world stems from one of the most famous processions in the country, the famous temple procession of Jagannath at Puri in Orrissa. I was told that frenzied devotees would throw themselves at the wheels of the moving "Rath" (chariot) and kill themselves and hence the name.

Political processions on the other hand a tone of authority, autocracy and who-do-you-think-we-are and you-dare-not-mess-with-us undertones. It's worse if the procession is of the ruling party. I have stayed clear of most processions. But whenever I have accidentally come across political processions it is a disgrace to see how the men particularly the ones that are ferried in open trucks from outside the city look at women. These guys indulge in the "virtual" rape of women and girls by the way they stare at them. How boldly our women have learnt to live with this kind of sexual harassment.

There were days when processions were opportunities for communities to come together, foster brotherhood and spirituality but these days even these colourful events in the villages have politics and power as motive. Today it seems as though most of these activities are being exercised for escapism, as opportunities for venting out suppressed emotions and frustrations. Even in Singapore I saw it at the annual Theemithi (Fire walking) festival. It looked as though it was some psychological exercise these youths were indulging in to free their suppressed emotions and feelings (identity crisis certainly being one) than spirituality or God realization. After all did God want humans to jump into a bed of burning coals to understand Him?

Coming back to the idol immersion, I remember the community well at the end of our street in Velachery where I first lived. It was a big well with steps embedded inside the walls of the well in a circular fashion descending to the very bottom. Every "Ganesh Chathurthi" day the residents of the street celebrating the festival would indulge in chucking in their clay Ganesha idols at the end of the festivities. More than any religious feeling the objective of the dumping of the Ganesha idols in the well was to find out who made the biggest splash. As a small boy I watched and enjoyed the throwing of the Ganeshas into the well although our family was never used to such a process. In the years to come people started throwing in all kinds of rubbish and very soon the well became a garbage dumping hole. Over the years so much garbage was dumped into it that it was eventually closed. Can you imagine that! Ganeshas and garbage killed a life sustaining well!

In conclusion, envisioning that all such unwanted and purposeless processions will be banned someday I am reminded of J Krishnamurthy's sayings (not quoted verbatim) - "Burn all the Churches, Temples and Mosques of this Earth...and man will realise that he can still find God without them."

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