Saturday, November 19, 2005

Just one diya

More dash than cash: God, in fact, seems to like it simple
This has to do with grand marble mandirs being considered so vital today. It’s great to strut our stuff as a community, lay up treasures on earth, get ourselves a meeting point that works as belief bazaar, cultural centre and free shrink, plus does brilliant free takeway in biodegradable donas (leaf cups). Even the distant glimpse of a great House of God is electrifying and our highways are lined with shrines that everyone bobs their heads to or halts at for a quick prayer. These visible symbols are important for reassurance, they light up the land with their presence, knit regions through the circuits of sacred geography and give us valid reasons to touch base with interior and outlying corners of the Motherland.
Some of the best stories from religious tradition are to do with temples. Nandanar the beloved Tamil saint pined so hard for a glimpse of Shiva at Chidambaram. Saal Beg, a Muslim devotee of Lord Jagannath at Puri yearned for darshan and wrote the moving song Ahi Neela saila. But with all this justification for buildings, God’s own wishes, if we are to understand our stories correctly, are very modest indeed. Saint Jnaneshwar of Maharashtra says that the Lord is best pleased when worshipped with the flowers of good deeds. Or let’s recall one of Shiva’s nicest names: Asutosh. It means ‘Easily pleased’.
A sprinkling of water, a bel leaf, a flower — these are enough to make the Great God happy, if offered sincerely. Once, when some rakshasas attacked him, he thought they were worshipping Him because they hit Him with branches of bel, and so He blessed them! Take the tale of Kanappa Nayanar, a hunter. He was filled with such love for Shiva that he felt impelled to make an offering as a formal expression of his feelings. In his innocence he spat water from his mouth on the Shivling, threw down flowers from his own hair and laid a fresh kill of deer at the altar. We’re reliably informed that the Lord just loved Kanappar to bits.
With Pitr Paksh going on now (the period of formal Hindu remembrance of ancestors, when no new contracts may be signed, houses or cars bought), it makes sense to remember our soul links. Rather than grand buildings, these stories our ancestors bequeathed us are our real treasure, because they give us a happy, purposeful code of living: It’s not what you’ve got but how you use it that matters! The Vedic people made no temples, only altars that they made and took apart after each yagnya. Let’s cherish our wonderful temples, let’s build new ones by all means. But let’s not forget that baggage-less vision either, or the minimalist chic of just one diya, or just one agarbatti near the tulsi. The Indian Express: Monday, September 30, 2002

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