Begone Godmen" is the title of a book written by the famous rationalist Dr. Abraham Kovoor. It illustrates his mission against superstitions and god-men. At a time when we are well on the road to having a temple of our own, I thought it relevant to provide an insight into this God business and the "Nirvana Economy" which is run now with corporate finesse.
In the ancient age when many natural happenings that are now comprehensively explained by science, were supernatural and not easily comprehended by the people. Faith abhors a vacuum and readily serves up answers. The answer was in the form of God-men who became the focal point for a solution. They would do the needful to please God on our behalf.
Much before the creation of God by man, they created demons, Satan, evil spirits, ghosts etc. To mutilate the effect of Satan, man would have created God. When all rituals and offerings to God did not bring relief to the seeker, some God-men branched off with a new marketing strategy of specializing to remove evil spirits. In the crowded horizon of several Gods and evil spirits, people were unlikely to know the real cause of their problem and another branch called astrologers and fortune tellers filled the vacuum. All such exponents supported the existence of each other and the faith system and all usefulness of the faith system and its products also got created perfectly. They then brought into play the 'Karma' theory. It means there was no failure on the part of the God-men in pleasing the God or driving off evil spirits but Karma it was that prevented relief to the seeker.
The more time and devotion people invest in God-men they harden their adamancy that much more to defend him or her. It attracts the principle of cognitive consistency and a powerful motive to maintain it gives rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behavior.
The advent of science and technology and its resultant globalization has given rise to a different set of believers. It is clear that the socio-political scene and economic standard as well as the competitive world thrust on people who largely find themselves insecure and speculating on the wonder of life and darkness of death, have laid a fertile foundation for a 'swami' career that require little investment and no liability. While pre independence God-men advocated simplicity, austerity and spirituality, many on this side of Independence seemed to have played by different rules and developed value systems completely at odds with their predecessors, meeting the requirements of the new India milieu that have their faith anchored in transactional religion. They flock to temples and ashrams so that their misdeeds can be traded off with a proportionate amount of charity or service. The believe that God-men can connect them to a hotline that will take them to God. They fool themselves into believing that God-men will lead them to the elevator to heaven and are scrambling to get onto it.
God is likely to lose out to God-men given the dwindling belief of the present generation. God is a growth imperative. Spirituality is all about growth towards the fullness of our own scope as human beings. Growth of this kind is a demanding, even daunting prospect. The God-men offer them a easy, alluring alternative. You don't have to grow and assume responsibility for your destiny. All you have to do is abandon your life and destiny to the keeping of these God-men or women. People are ready to pass the burden of their sins to the spiritual agent and shirk personal responsibility. The combination of proximity and separation appeals to them. They offer a smooth path which is an invaluable gift empowering us to shift the blame any which way - that does not bring us in front of the mirror whereas the mirror is all that we need to get in touch with the universe.
Other religions frighten devotees with religious wrath. Hinduism texts instead take the route of pleasing their Gods who are always open to persuasion. The characteristic of opportunism unites Indians and we are essentially an Hobbesian society, one which is self centered and has low trust between people. Why do we worship Vishnu the manager of the cosmos and Shiva the ultimate destroyer and not Brahma, who is the creator? We know Brahma has nothing more to offer now, having created the Universe. There is no gain in petitioning him now.
Tremendous energy and thought have been expended in perfecting the marketing strategy of God-men with the result that many of them have vast empires and tremendous clout. Fame acquires critical mass and translates into money. The race is now on for shelf space. Patanjali is set to become a $ 1 billion brand by 2017. The large devotee base is attractive to political parties, though I am not sure if it translates into votes. God-men cultivate political and bureaucratic patronage. . Justice P.N. Bhagwati, retired Chief Justice of India made the startling claim that his verdicts were guided by Sri Satya Sai Baba's hands. God-men are often in the media eye and prime time news channels commenting on important issues of the day. This is invaluable as a brand recall strategy. The love triangle between God-men, Indian media and the naive public is complete. People are credulously ready to shed all skepticism and suspend all disbelief. Rampal Baba allegedly used to bathe in milk everyday which was used to make kheer for his followers!!! Incidentally, nobody has explored the relationship between organized religion and sexual exploitation.
30 years ago, the number of atheists in the world was 2% and has exponentially risen to 22% now. The religiously unaffiliated called "nones" are the second largest group in North America and most of Europe . In the US, "nones" make up almost a quarter of the population. 50 years ago, TIME asked in a famous headline "Is God Dead". The echo reverberates even today.
Does anyone believe that having a physical temple elevates the social standing and level of respect that our community has? That said, it is time to have a good marketing strategy for the temple under construction, given all the above negatives. The temple must have a large enough community of worshipping households that can meet the requirements for temple building. It need not be identified as a Devadiga caste temple which could have the potential of limiting the entry of visitors. It takes considerable resources beyond just land. Temples are expensive to maintain - there are land taxes, salaries for priests, maintenance, electricity water, trash removal and cleaning, proper approach roads, fresh flowers on a daily basis, incense sticks, food offerings etc. The temple may not be a mere place of worship - it should be a place of energy and social bonding. We need smart temple entrepreneurship to attract devotees and must make it to modern liking, far removed from the one size fits all concept and the excessive pandering to the orthodox and the conservative. It has to be a multifarious centre of worship, social, economic, religious and cultural life of the people. It should be developed as the nucleus of the village and should achieve integration of different communities. There is an emerging market for spirituality. 28% of India's population is under 14 years of age and 18% between 15-24 years of age which makes a future market of over 400 million. 41% in the 25 - 54 years category will also pay for faith insurance. The young, middle aged, the aged and the women form different faith segments.
We may consider having the temple exclusively for women only, meaning no males will be allowed entry. The priests also should be women. The Attukal temple in Kerala celebrates the Pongala festival where millions of women participate and has made it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest gathering of women for any religious activity. The Bhagati Maa temple in Kanyakumari prohibits entry of males. We must take care to structure the temple around their spiritual needs with different attractions and different revenue models. We may think of having a library, a reading room and entertainment spots, showing faith based movies. It can become famous say, for rituals specially for first time mothers to be, rituals performed to ensure that the child and mother enjoy perfect health and happiness.
Considering the percentage of young population in our demographics, proper dharmic spiritual education of the young populace about Hindu religion, philosophy and tradition is essential as they are the emerging market for spirituality. They are the ones who will carry forward the legacy of Hinduism and ensure that it remains the guiding spiritual force for generations to come.
(COMPILED FROM VARIOUS SOURCES FROM THE INTERNET)
~ Navin Ullal, Mumbai
Thinker & creative writer.