By Prerna Grewal
The demand to stop the practice of issuing VIP tickets for having darshan at the temple is the new mantra of many devotees. Today, society and economy function together in a way that one’s class becomes a significant determinant of the privileges one is entitled to. Over time, people have become used to this model to the extent that it is more often than not reflected in their mentality.
The spiritual realm, a space for expression of faith, for taking a break from worldly hustle or for seeking hope has also been infected by this mentality. Under the pretext of satisfying all these purposes this mentality is gradually coming up as an alternate micro economy with its own norms of transactions and profits. The mentality or attitude of a minor yet influential section of today’s society is playing a significant role in letting this economy thrive.
An advocate had once filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking an end to the special darshan concept, since such a special categorization is in violation of Article 14 (equality before the eyes of the law).
The PIL drew attention to the fact that there was no regulation on the timings and no ceiling on the number of devotees in a special darshan group, thereby leading to various hardships for the ordinary devotees.
In this fast paced world, people don’t have a minute to spare, or at least they claim so, and want everything to be winded up as fast as possible. This attitude is exhibited also with respect to getting darshan of the deities as well. In cases like these, the purpose seems to be devoid of its essence.
It seems more like a practice that has to be followed for the sake of custom or status.“We have to visit 15 temples in five days, and a quickie darshan is the only way we can do it,”said Nandini Jayanth, an NRI, who embarked on a temple circuit during the famous ‘Chittirai’ festival in Madurai recently.
N. Raman, another NRI, said that every year he visits Srivilliputhur temple during the Andal birthday celebrations. “It is a massive crowd out there, and I cannot spend hours waiting for a darshan, and I have a gentleman’s agreement whereby I get waved through quickly”.
Obviously the agreements of many such “gentlemen” ensure the survival of this alternate economy. Accordingly it seems that not only God but even the time is a privilege of the influential. Apparently, the ordinary men aren’t as constrained as these special personages. The latter, because of being ‘important’ have more important responsibilities on their heads. But are they doing anyone a favor by sparing time for such “quickies”? If it’s being done out of a sense of compulsion, then it would be better if they simply avoided it and if they truly want to visit, then they might as well spare some time for it like hundreds of others.
Another important aspect that deserves attention is the utilization of the benefits earned through these agreements. Isn’t a major share of it pocketed for personal profits?
Many areas thrive on the funds accumulated through religious tourism. People are willing to spare large amounts of money for these special darshans. One would probably offend many religious devotees if one dares to raise the following question.
Will visiting a particular place of worship grant them better access to God?
If one tries to put forth an argument regarding the ultimate redundancy of these darshans, one would be inviting a significant amount of trouble.
The truth nevertheless is that the entire system earns a significant amount of money under the pretext of bestowing blessings. Not all of it is utilized for the development and prosperity of these places. Often smaller committees of selective people manipulate with the temple funds.
Like many other spaces this one too is infused with corruption and propagates by exploiting people on the basis of their faith. In India, it can be seen as one of the most widespread and deeply rooted networks of corruption.
Religion is so engrained within our mentality that it plays an influential role in shaping our decisions across different walks of life. Ironically, if it makes class barriers apparent, it also breaks through these barriers by having a magnetic effect and forcing people from all classes to act in similar ways. Although there is no doubt that people’s status shouldn’t be a determinant of their access to these places, the larger question that looms behind it is whether these darshans are worth one’s time, energy and investment in the first place.