By Pratyasha Nithin
Thousands of people visit temples every day for variety of reasons though the primary purpose of the temple is to allow people to offer their devotion to the Gods. Most women in India wear saree or salwar-suit to the temple. But, some women do wear casual tops and jeans, or skirts to temple as they are more comfortable in those clothes.
Such women who visit temples in western clothes may sometimes be subjected to stares and unnecessary attention from other people inside the temple. The elder generation often advises girls and women to wear only saree or salwar-suits to the temple.
Well there is nothing wrong per se in wearing Indian dresses, but it is often suggested, sometimes explicitly and most times implicitly, that going to temple in western attire amounts to disrespect to the deities who reside there. But does this suggestion hold any real value? Or is it just a mere superstition? Does it have any meaning from the standpoint of dharma?
Let us examine few hypothetical scenarios to understand the matter.
Scenario 1: Let’s say a woman gets ready in a traditional attire to visit temple. When she reaches the temple, she hastily takes darsana of the deity and then sits right next to her traditional friend who had arrived a few minutes ago. Then instead of doing japa or meditation or simply praying the deity, they sit there and gossip about their neighbors, daughter-in-laws, mother-in-laws, cousins etc. Is it respectful to do so?
Scenario 2: Now, take a situation where the same woman sits in her house in a traditional dress to do puja, but in the middle of the puja, instead of concentrating on the deity, she starts thinking about her problems, her conversations with her husband, and her arguments with her children etc. Now these thoughts will make her angry and frustrated and then she starts thinking about finishing the ritual as soon as possible because now what she is doing does not interest her anymore. Is keeping such anger and frustration in mind during the puja, and thinking about finishing the ritual with no more interest respectful towards the deity?
Scenario 3: Let’s now assume that this traditional* woman does not do any of the things mentioned above. Instead, she is very keen about doing the rituals properly. When she is in a temple, she sits silently and tries to concentrate on the deity. But suddenly another woman in a western outfit, may be a jeans or a skirt, arrives. As soon as the traditional woman sees the modern woman, she thinks – “Oh she has no sense of dressing in a temple. Why on earth temple authorities allow such women in the temple? It is so disrespectful.” At this point, the traditional woman’s concentration gets diverted. Instead of thinking about deity in front of her, now her mind is irritated and thinking about the western-attired woman whom she considers as culture-less. Is this attitude also not disrespectful towards the deity? Irrespective of the attitude of western attired woman, our traditional lady who had come to offer worship to the deity, has sidelined the deity and is now concentrating on another woman which also amounts to disrespect** towards the deity.
Scenario 4: Let’s now consider the modern woman. When she arrives at the temple, she is in a good mood. She takes darsana and is waiting for the priest to give her thirtha and prasad. But suddenly she finds a few ladies sitting there, pointing towards her and gossiping about her dress etc. This, of course, makes her uncomfortable. She thinks, “Why on earth these ladies cannot mind their own business? They are sitting here gossiping about my dress. Couldn’t they spare the temple? Oh, what a cheap mentality?” Now, two things can be observed here. First, the gossiping traditional ladies not only showed disrespect to the deity by gossiping, but also by diverting and distracting others. Secondly, this modern-attired woman was also no better than the traditional-attired woman in terms of devotion and mind-control. She did no better than the gossiping group. She easily became distracted and became angry at those who were gossiping about her dress. Also, now her thoughts were more concentrated on her own dress and on the gossiping women, than on the deity in front of her. Hence, in this case, the traditional-attired women and the western-attired woman, both were disrespectful towards the deity.
Scenario 5: Now consider a second traditional woman, who regularly goes to temple, sits and meditate. She does not care about the world around her. All she knows is that the temple is there to concentrate and meditate on God. After a few moments, a modern woman comes. She sees this woman and thinks, “Wow, what a dedication. So many people are around here and she is still meditating. If only I could meditate with such dedication.” Well, to be inspired with other people is good. To think about our own faults is good as well. But, it should not end with thinking. If it ends with only thoughts, as it has happened with this western-attired woman, she is committing the same mistake as people in previous scenarios. This western-attired woman is again concentrating on what other people are doing, instead of focusing her mind on the deity. Hence, she commits same disrespect.
Scenario 6: Now what if a western-attired woman sits and meditates in the temple. And a traditional woman sees her. This traditional woman can either be impressed with the western-attired woman’s devotion and dedication, or she may find it as a drama and show-off. In either case, if this traditional woman is only thinking about western-attired woman or about what others are doing, then she is also committing same disrespect as in the case of western-attired woman in scenario 5.
Scenario 7: Now, consider another woman who is crazy about her dressing sense. She may be traditional or modern. Before she leaves her house, instead of thinking about the deity or doing japa she keeps admiring her looks. She wants to look perfect. She puts on full makeup, wears her best outfit and goes to temple. Even in the temple, her concentration is on her looks. She does not want to touch or take anything that would ruin her looks. Her mind is stuck on herself. Irrespective of the attire she is wearing, she is disrespectful towards the deity, as her mind is elsewhere.
From all the above scenarios, it is clear that it does not matter how one dresses, it’s the thoughts and devotion that matter. The deity is not human to think about one’s materialistic appearances. He/She/It is far above that. The truth is, even if one covers every single inch of his/her body thinking that the nakedness will be offensive to the deity, even then all his/her efforts are wasted, as there is nothing hidden from the deity.
So even if one sits naked in front of the deity, it cannot be disrespectful to the deity. God knows what one thinks and what one does, he sees only dedication and not appearance. And most importantly, he gives one only what one deserves.
God would not prefer a person wearing traditional outfit but with zero concentration and devotion over a person wearing western outfit, but with strong dedication and devotion. If one worships God devotionally, he will be spiritually elevated. If one indulges in gossiping and is solely concerned about dresses, one will be more bounded to the mundane world. So it’s better if people stop arguing about dress codes and dressing sense, and wear whatever they are comfortable with and put their best efforts towards developing devotion and dedication towards the deity they adore.
* I have used the term “traditional woman” only in the sense of someone who considers herself very traditional and devoted just because she wears sarees and adheres to normally accepted outer ways of life. (She may not be truly traditional in the sense of rooted in traditional values of dharma)
** Actually, a deity does not get offended by any of our actions. He is the giver of fruits of our actions. When we say we are showing God disrespect, it does not mean God is getting offended. It only means, that our actions are improper and our attitude towards God disrespectful.