I am not a regular visitor of places of worship. The only time I do visit is once an year on my birthday after several requests from amma. The past week, eventhough it was not my birthday, I accompanied my friends to a famous shrine associated with the 'krishna consciouness cult', here in Bangalore. I had faint memories of visiting the place as a school kid with my parents. But, over the years, it had changed a lot. What strikes as soon as you enter the compound is how well maintained the whole setup is. The feeling I got was similar to entering a corporate office rather than a temple. Later I were to learn that its not only the exterior that gives this feeling. Infact, most of the big temples fail to give me that feeling of devotion. Its those nondescript small temples in the countryside which evoke such feelings usually. No amount of huge buildings or gold plated deities manage to do that.
The entry point was the biggest example of the 'business of religion'. A guy sitting at a counter called out to us and offered us a pass. By buying that pass for Rs.250, we can go straight inside and have the 'darshan'. Else, you have to stand in a long queue, chant 'hare rama hare krishna' at every step till you reach the temple door. Its a process which takes 30 minutes. By paying some money, you can sidestep that and get a direct appointment with God. Now, is n't that something exciting? Am reminded of how some bollywood stars gets a direct darshan of Thirupathi Balaji using their VIP status. They might be having delusions about buying a place in heaven too.
And so, after a long wait in the queue, we walked inside for the 'darshan'. I could see some people clicking the deity with their mobile cameras. And one of them was promptly driven away by the security. The ropes to regulate the queue were arranged in such a way that once you get the darshan, you are forced to walk straight to a counter selling devotional books and cds in all languages. While I was wondering at the business mentality at play here, I never knew that this was just a start. What followed was shocking for me. The ropes and barricades lead the 'involuntary' you expertly through an array of shops spread over several huge rooms. There's no way you can get out without passing through each of these shops. The items ranged from pastries to household stuff. There were shops selling bags, toys, stationaries and even a vegetable market! Everything you need to setup a small temple at your home are also available here. It was nothing less than a supermarket, all inside the temple complex. The Gods probably occupied 5% of the total area of the complex.
When everything around us is commercialised, we can't expect religion alone to stay away. Infact, Religion Inc. makes much more profit than most of the big corporates. Donations continue to pour in. Sinner billionaires donate a part of their billions in the hope of cleansing the blood from their hands. No higher authority dare ask a religious establishment on the amount of donations that they recieve every year. No questions are asked on how all that amount is spent. Its a free ride for many. When Baba Ramdevs become billionaires overnight, we can be sure that there's something wrong with the way many among us see their relationship with God. Atleast some does think that God can be bought.
And its best to end with this song from motherjane, which I've quoted in some old posts too..'
motherjane- 'Soul corporations'
The cross maybe the ultimate metaphor
For religion sold as a brand
A sacrifice exchanged for the almighty dollar
with the tacit blessings of the Vatican
we all have guardians trading faith for power
businessmen by whom we swear
betraying everyone from eshwar to allah
with their holy wars for market share.
We're losing our religions, entrusting our gods
to corporates that prostrate before balance sheets
Unsuspecting pawns inititating brethren
into the oldest MLM to stalk our streets
Behold the soul corporations, the spiritual supermarts
dispensing salvation with a price tag
mocking the truth that resides in our hearts
Paralyzing the human conscience with practised art
And of the various hues of desecration
this makes them the hardest to beat
the unsure can't endure the liberation
the pious don't discern the need
for if there's a truth to be told
religion's just a shadow of god
illuminated by thought and understanding
sullied by the ambiguity of words.
[you can listen to the song at motherjane.in]