Sunday, July 26, 2015

India travelogue 8 - Temples, money & anger

After some criss-crossing inside the temple, we reached the area of the priests. Again we showed the pass and they took a count. About 5 priests were sitting together chit chatting on a bench. Beside them on the right was a small lingam of Shiva and the cow Nandi. People made some offerings there, prayed and moved along. Beside that was a small room inside which was the idol of a God; not everyone gets to enter the room but since we had a pass we could. I now knew the significance of the pass.
I pretty much followed by friend; he was a young priest in a temple in Tamil Nadu and he seemed to know what had to be done where.

Within the temple there were many small shrines. There were a few cops concentrated around one enclosure doing crowd control (that appeared to be the main place in this temple). They were shouting, "Move, move. If you take so much time do you expect others to wait the whole night?”

When we stepped out of the first shrine, we saw a priest carrying some large object in his hand - it seemed to be made of stainless steel with a lengthy handle on the centre surrounded by four small open vessels on the base. He came close to my friend; when we peered inside the container we saw a lamp and some vibhuti (sacred ash). It also had a couple of Rs.10 notes near the lamp. By default when you have a lamp in the hands of a priest in a temple, you put your hands together near the flame and keep it on your eyes - like taking blessings. We did the same. And my friend took a Rs.10 note and placed it inside.

Blessing for money!

The priest started saying something in Hindi but I couldn’t hear him. My friend had a blank face. He took another Rs.10 note but the priest still kept saying something. I moved closer. "What is this? Ten rupees only for the blessings. Be gracious. Put hundred or two hundred at least. What is this ten rupees,” the priest said in Hindi.
I translated to my friend and when the priest heard me say 100 he repeated, "Yes, 100." But my friend didn't have 100; he asked me and I gave it to the priest. The priest blessed us. So far so good.
The pass got us an entry to the main shrine as well; over here you have Siva's lingam. No time given to pause inside; you just keep walking along. When we came out we were mobbed by 4 more priests; each of them having a similar stainless steel container in hand with the same contents. Wow; and they had now cornered my friend. I was also caught but fortunately found a gap through which I could escape this mob. My friend kept refusing while they kept giving their lecture in Hindi; he of course didn't know Hindi. When he agreed to put Rs.10, they refused; they didn't even let him put his hand in the container. Minimum was a Rs.100 note. We didn't know if this was the convention or what; it certainly didn't seem like practice with the way they mobbed him. He told me in Tamil to put my wallet inside; I did so and moved away from the mob. Finally he escaped as well. I wasn't keen on listening to the lecture they were giving about making whole hearted monetary offerings. Sometimes it is good not to understand what others are saying!

When we escaped and came to the area where the 5 priests were chatting, one of the seniors called my friend and advised him, "You don't need to give them anything. They are local priests."
At least now I knew the convention! They told us to sit nearby and said they'll call us when the main event starts. I was angry; I had never seen folks within a temple force people to give money - they seemed to be taking advantage of the fact that people didn't know whether to give or not; people would fear not giving because they wouldn't want to be cursed by these people in a temple; what if the curse became true?

I observed the priests with the stainless steel containers - when the local public came they weren't mobbing them. They waited but didn't force for a payment.

We were called to the main place when the main event was about to start; it was the abhishekam. That's the process in which the idol of the God is bathed with different things and then decorated. Common things used are water, yogurt, milk ghee etc. Before the ceremony started, one of the staff put cleaning powder on the floor near the entrance to the shrine where we were seated on a bench.
"First we will clean the area and then you can sit down," he said in Hindi.
My friend didn't understand but he did see the gesture of the staff pointing down; before I could interpret for him, he got up from the bench to sit on the floor. The staff shouted, "Are you mad or what? Wait."
I interpreted for my friend. Sometimes it is good to understand others!

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