All we want is a hotline to god, public safety be damned, writes Sumit Paul

‘Bola baccha dekh kar masjid aalishaan/ Allah tere rahne ko itna bada makaan!’

--Nida Fazli

(Seeing a grand mosque, a surprised child exclaimed/ Allah, you live in such a big house!)

‘Being stupid and having no imagination, animals behave more sensibly than men. But they are happy. When the whole of mankind was engaged to influence gods for their benefit, the bull came with timely care and ate away the rice given to a beggar in charity.

To save the sun, millions of Hindus will assemble on the bank of the Ganges. How many would assemble to save India? Much of their energy is wasted in imbecile superstitions.

India will never be free until the Hindus and the Moslems[n1] give up all their superstitions and try to realize their own state of life’. (Excerpts from Aldous Huxley’s famous essay ‘Benares’, 1926)

‘What a paradox!'

On April 8, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh tweeted ‘no gatherings till 30th April’. It was presumed that it would include Baisakhi gatherings at various gurdwaras, but no, the preparations of Baisakhi at Damdama Sahib are continuing. Lakhs of people come every year to seek blessings on ‘sajna diwas’. There will be a surge in Covid cases. The SGPC just wants to fill its treasury. The same thing is happening in Uttarakhand, which is preparing for the Mahakumbh mela in Hardwar. Why in India, it’s always religion that controls everything, at the cost of the safety of people? At the same time, the Punjab CM has decided not to open educational institutions till April 30.

Rashpinder Singh Sidhu, by mail (The Tribune), April 12, 2021.

Despite the rampaging pandemic engulfing lives and economy and paralysing the entire health system of the country, Har ki Pauri Ghat in Haridwar witnessed a tsunami of devotees during the ongoing Kumbh Mela. Not only that, the state’s CM is exhorting people to come in droves and dive into the holy Ganga!

Religious fervour

Human life is everywhere at stake. Yet, the people in India are more worried about their ritualistic Ramzan prayers and gatherings at mosques and Hindus are busy in the simultaneous Navratri festival! Both the communities are sulking that governmental ban on shrines and religious places owing to Covid-19 has deprived them of having direct communication with the almighty! Much more than the fate of the mankind, religious-minded people are sad for not being able to make a beeline for darshan at temples. This is utter idiocy and absolute primitiveness.

The point is, why’re we so naive as not to be able to understand that at this critical hour, our public display of religious fervour may jeopardise innumerable lives? Why were religious places opened as early as October-November, 2020 when corona was still taking toll on human lives? Sabarimala, Tirupati, Shirdi and other religious places remained open for three-four months when we became complacent and lowered our guard, thinking that all these gods drove away the pandemic!

In Poona, maximum deaths took place immediately after Ganeshotsav in September 2020. Though the local administration had banned Ganesh pandals, devotees assembled for 10 days to have special darshan and seek the blessings of Ganapati at a famous temple in the city. This spread the virus that swallowed many lives.

Pray from home

Agreed, believers and religious-minded people are regulated by their faith and beliefs and they seldom use their logic when it comes to religious faith and their deities, but the government has every right to intervene and ask people to follow all religious rites at home. When people are so oafish, shouldn’t the government act as a draconian martinet?

Shrines are places where people gather indiscriminately and occasions like Navratri or Ramzan stimulate our religious zeal and zealotry all the more. High time we understood this and behaved like responsible citizens in these distressing times. Remember, even the so-called god is utterly helpless and hapless to tackle the menace of corona.

Moreover, if at all any god exists, it’s immanent. Humans themselves are divine. We needn’t seek god in shrines and hanker after it (yes, no he/she, god mustn’t be gender-specific) like a musk-deer. ‘Jab zara gardan jhukai, dekh lee tasveer-e-yaar’ (Just looked within and found the image of god therein) is not just a poetic expression. It’s the manifestation of our intrinsic divinity. The mystics, they understood the true connotation of divinity, urged humans to pay obeisance to god in the shrine of heart. Dil ke mandir mein ishwar ko bitha/ Tu hi banda tu hi pujari us ka (Instal the image of god in the temple of your heart/ You’re the worshipper, you’re its mediator).

Divinity within

I may sound preachy or even spiritually pontificating, but the reality is, most of us have misunderstood religion and god and to them, outer manifestations and explicit representations are signs of divinity. That’s mistaken. The iconoclast Kabir believed realisation of self-divinity or implicit spirituality was enough to know god.

Yet, we’re too obsessed with magnificent shrines and erroneously think that these are the places where one can find god. Haven’t we incarcerated god in four walls? It’s time we recited with the Urdu poet Bashir Badr: But bhi rakkhe hain, namazein bhi ata hoti hain/ Dil mera dil nahin allah ka ghar lagta hai (Idols are installed, namaaz is regularly performed/ My heart appears to be like allah’s abode). Alas, when’ll this sublime realisation dawn on us?

So, stay indoors. Don’t pollute religious places by overcrowding and further spreading the virus. Happy and safe Ramzan and Navratri to all.

The writer is a regular contributor to world’s premier publications and portals in several languages.

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