Monday, April 23, 2007

Temple Trip

J had asked to go to the temple so we did yesterday. I am not sure what part of the temple experience draws her but I am glad that it does. It is the only opportunity she gets to see a number of people who have the same skin color as us. Most kids come to temple in ethnic clothes but J does not have any as yet. I notice their absence only at such times and forget soon thereafter.

Visiting a Hindu temple in the US has never been a religious experience for me. Something about the purohit tipping a half gallon container of Marva Maid over the Shiv Linga turns prayer into pantomime. The effort to educate the children about religion underscores every activity.

The mantras chanted by the purohit are beamed up from a laptop using an LCD projector. The priest has a small microphone clipped on his vest. The place is bristling with technology. You almost fear that they may decide to record and upload the event on YouTube for the greater edification of the masses. After the havan, a well meaning old gentleman makes a PowerPoint presentation explaining what went on in English. Everyone listens to him very respectfully. We are awed by the trouble he has taken to put this together.

All of this is nothing like the temple experience that I grew up with. No one made any effort to translate what the priest was saying. You repeated after him, went through the motions, sought and received blessings and went off your way. There was no pressure to make it an educational experience.

The Gods were within reach, easy to placate and even easier to relate to. The floor would be grimy from oil, water, turmeric, sindoor, flowers, leaves, ashes from burnt incense sticks. The stone idols would feel cold and sometimes sticky to touch. There was a sense of immanence about the temple and everything related to it. The Gods had dwelled before you and would continue to do so long after you. The temple was built around an idol with a long and obscure history.

The notion of a temple in this country is completely different as it must obviously be. The idol is no more than a doll resembling a Hindu god. It has no history and in as such no independent locus-standi. It is not nearly the potent idol of Krishna nestling in the gnarled roots of an old banyan tree that passers by stop to pay obeisance to.

It not surprising that the kids are bored out of their minds, sitting by the corner with their back to the idols reading comic books. The older ones feel a sense of obligation to their parents and go through it more patiently but not necessarily with any greater comprehension of what is going on. Surprisingly, the real time transcription and translation of the mantras does little to alleviate the problem.

Maybe this is a case of the road to hell being paved with the best intentions. As for J, she acts like an interested and curious tourist taking in the sights of a place unlike anything she sees on a regular day. As a Hindu and a parent do I have an obligation to make her take it a lot more seriously ? I don't know.

1 comment:

Musings.. said...

HC..You describe this aptly.. and for similar reasons I do not frequent the temple here in Zurich.

I recall a small incident when my son was a 3 years old. My husband's side of the family are Christians and my son was taught to cross himself with the word 'Amen' at the end. I would say 'swami, budhi tha, kapathu' (in Tamil meaning..God give me wisdom and protect me). on one fine visit to the temple my son chanted loudly 'Swami, budhi tha, kapathu' and then crossed himself with a loud 'Amen' much to the surprise of the onlookers!!