For the past couple of days we have been seeing the heartbreaking images of the Kedarnath temple totally decimated by the ongoing floods and landslides. More than 62,000 tourists and pilgrims are still missing, 100s have already died. All over the Internet you can find the image of an 80-feet Shiva statue submerged under gushing waters. Just now I was watching on TV how a few devotees (looking beaten and wretched for whatever reason) were trying to save the idol of Dhari Devi from getting swept away, risking their own lives.
Historic temples and idols have been destroyed since the time immemorial. Natural disasters, attacks from foreigners, fire, epidemics, whatever, the gods inhibiting these temples are never immortal. They are as prone to destruction as the mortals worshiping them. Then why do we deem them so powerful? Why do we believe that a mere visit to the Sabrimala Temple will take care of our afflictions? Recently I read an article from an atheist who asked, why 100s of pilgrims are killed every year, visiting their revered shrines and temples? Most of them go with their own list of problems they want their god to sort out. And their gods kills them. What irony.
I won’t be hypocritical here. A couple of years ago our daughter fell critically ill. For straight three days we was sitting beside her while she cried in pain. The condition was exacerbated by the fact that we had lost trust in doctors. The last day of her illness, sitting by her side, I prayed all night. Quietly, my wife pledged a visit to Vaishno Devi.
Was our daughter cured by my prayers and my wife’s pledge? Realistically, we know why she got cured. She had reacted adversely to the antibiotic administered by the doctors at the Max hospital. I have a friend who is a doctor and for long she has been struggling with the unpredictable health of her children. The point is, she is aware of the various problems kids can go through. Although I had been talking to her and consulting her all the time, suddenly she realized what was the problem. Some kids also need to be given another medicine to counter the adverse effect of the antibiotic. We gave her that medicine and within two hours she was sitting, watching her favorite cartoon and laughing. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Despite knowing why our daughter felt well (because of the advice given by my friend), when my wife couldn’t visit Vaishno Devi, we got quite worried. I am on wheelchair and at that time our daughter was around six. We haven’t got much family support so there was nobody she could leave behind in order to visit the temple.
Then after a couple of months, when a person known to us visited the temple, we sent some money and got the prasad from him. Although logically we both know that it isn’t proven that Vaishno Devi (being a divinity she must have enough intelligence to understand our problem) would be highly upset if we didn’t carry out the pledge, something kept nagging conscience. When it comes to our daughter, we don’t want to take chances. There are some powers we don’t understand, and neither make sense of. And since they have been there – in mind or whatever – and almost in every civilization, you got to take them seriously.
Both my wife and I are not overtly religious. We are often put off by the show put up by typically religious people – giving money to the temple while never helping another human being, or living a highly immoral life despite regular visits to various temples. My wife often says that the more morally corrupt you are, the more you want to visit temples and shrines. This might not be true for everybody, but for the majority, this holds true. Instead of going to temples and shrines, we would rather spend our time and money doing something worthwhile. Now, you can say that the person going to temples and shrines thinks that he or her is also doing something worthwhile, but I’m sure you are saying that for the sake of redundant argumentation. You very well understand my basic point.
So why isn’t our faith shaken when mighty temples are destroyed by the wrath of nature and by marauding foreign armies? The group of devotees trying to save the idol of Dhari Devi from the surging waters will be praying in front of the same idol to save them from the scourge of this flood, from which they have just saved the idol.