Monday, June 21, 2010

The Holy Dollar


A recent visit to Madurai's famous Meenakshi temple was quite enlightening. The enlightenment was not just about the spiritual quotient of the devotees or the marvelous architecture of 16th century. It was not just about the excellent maintenance of the structure or the imagination of how the lives would have revolved around the temple square in the times of King Thirumalai Nayak. The enlightenment was also about the realization that "money is holy" regardless of its source, regardless whether it comes from a butcher or a Brahman, from robbery in a bank or labor in a field.

As soon as you enter the temple premises, you'll be guided by the helpful boards giving information about what kind of money one should shell out for what kind of services. There was this board which said "Entrance Fee for Foreigners is Rs 50." Nothing wrong here. In tourist spots across India, foreigners are often asked to pay significantly more. In the case of this temple, the amount is infinite times more (Indian's pay nothing; hence, 50/0 = Infinity).

The objectionable (to me only) board came next. It said "Foreigners are not allowed beyond this limit" and this board was put just 20 feet from the previous one. So, Mr Foreigners, temple authority wants all the money you got and hence will allow you in but once you pay up, you will be asked to stand out and appreciate the door only. Even though they would not tolerate a foreigner pollute the air by breathing in it, they have no remorse accepting currency notes from the foreigner's wallet made of cowhide. Foreign currency is even better.

It seems like temple authority soon figured out that its not just the foreigners they want to keep out. There are lot of Indians whom the god would not like to see. The board next to the previous one made it clear. It said "Only Hindus are allowed beyond this limit." Thankfully, atheists don't wear any badges claiming their lack of religion and hence, I had no problem sneaking in. However, Meenakshi temple is quite liberal as you can see there are no cast-wise limits set here.

Another rail of thought: Non-inclusion, to restrict access for people outside the religion, has been a major trait of Hinduism. Conversion has been rare. Hinduism does not allow others to explore it and convert. I believe, this is one of the major reasons of stagnation in its growth. The growth so far has been organic by means of population expansion and not by conversion. And population expansion is limited by the resources available. All the other major religions of the world have adopted conversion as an effective tool for growth and expansion. Christianity and Islam spread through the world like wildfire and became the largest religions within just 2000 years of its existence. However, despite having a bigger base population of followers and footprints extending far on the road of time, Hinduism could not spread beyond South Asia.

The previous paragraph would have made you think that the author is deeply interested in propagation of Hinduism. That's absolutely incorrect. The author is an atheist and interested in seeing a world devoid of religions and irrationalities. The previous paragraph was about the author's perception of the present condition of Hinduism but that doesn't mean the growth of the religion matters to him. You have to be an oxymoron to understand this stand. For others, confusion is eternal bliss.