Just a Thin Line Separates the Holy from the Unholy...

A visit to Guwahati is said to be incomplete without logging your attendance at the kAmakhyA temple. Another popular shrine is the umAnanda temple on the Brahmaputra.  

After avoiding a visit for so long (B has been generous with his graphic descriptions of the temples, their ambience, the surroundings, the hoary history), i finally 'logged' the two places in February. (I say logged also because we gave the sanctum sanctorums at both the temples a miss). 

It truly is blissful to enter a temple without a bag, a phone and the ego. This time the bliss ended there.

What is the footprint we left there? Some CO2, and several teardrops.

What did we takeaway? No prasAd, no holy forehead markings, only too many unfortunate impressions - 
1. Bleating kids and goats awaiting their turn to be sacrificed to appease the deity / please the purohit / satisfy an ego / satiate several tummies as 'prasAd'. Heart-wrenching. Blood could be seen flowing freely, so did my tears.
2. Rough and tough saffron-clad Pandas (purohits), no different from predatory touts, waiting for brand new visitors, to whom they can sell their services by conducting them through the entire complex - for a price. (And yes, there is a VIP entry possible too). 
3. The multitude of pigeons clinging to the lovey rock faces and sculptures, pigeons and doves of all hues probably awaiting nightfall and a few hours of freedom from teeming humans. (The white ones are mostly smeared with some vermilion-coloured chemical)
4. Despite sign boards that caution you against taking pictures, everyone is busy recording their holiness against vanity-bolstering backdrops. 
5. Our son caught between my silent, near-grieving, observance of this facet of 'Hinduism' and his agnostic-father's quite vociferous, realistic descriptions of publicised displays of devotion.

The approach to umAnanda temple is very scenic. Ferries ply between MG Road and the temple located on an island yonder. Here too, touts ensure that your passage to the temple is anything but peaceful.
1.     A mainland agent transfers you to a ferry agent, who in turns ties up with the ferry operator. (Though the Govt-operated ferries charge a very nominal Rs 10 one way, they are simply not available).
2.     Well-shod tourists munching snacks (no marks for guessing where the trash went) reach the ferry for a brief session of selfies and groupfies ahead of reaching the temple.
3.     A couple of men are busy filling near-white sands in sacks, presumably for legitimate purposes.
4.     No, there were no life jackets made available, despite rules that exist as a consequence of several tragedies that routinely happened all over the country.
5.     It’s a precarious transfer from the ghat to the ferry in the mainland and the island.
6.     Just adjacent to the sanctum, happy but indifferent families enjoy a ‘picnic’

A learned friend had recently described his impressions after a visit to the holy Mansa Devi temple
"Yesterday I went to the famous Mansa Devi temple in the outskirts of Chandigarh. It's a very prosperous shrine, and of course is visited by several lakhs of devotees every year. After paying respect, I went to the 'langar' which devout pilgrims treat it as a 'prashad'. I was appalled to see the unhygienic conditions in which food is prepared and served. The quality of rice was much worse than what is available under PDS. Cooked vegetables served were not worth it. Looking at the shabby condition of the water purifier and the wash basins, I avoided drinking water. And when I went to the washroom, there is nothing worse that I have seen. Not only terribly stinking, the toilet seats were overflowing with solid waste. The urine pots were leaking and the floor had layers of urine all around. This makes me wonder why the religious outfits never launch a drive to clean these shrines and to keep it always clean and 'swachch". Didn't Mahatma Gandhi say: "Cleanliness is next to God"."

i am convinced that the trusts and trustees of our temples, (whether famous / infamous / nondescript) must devote time and resources at creating and reinforcing awareness of cleanliness first and cleanliness last. Everything else can wait. Most temples are rich enough, surely. Varying degrees, and maybe slightly different takeaways, but i think i've exited the temples at Guruvayoor, Tirupati, Mathura, Brindavan, Kheer Bhawani, besides innumerable ones in Tamizh nAdu with more misgivings than quiet contentment. 

When will we begin to think of overcoming Hinduism’s external trappings? It is possible: sanAtana dharma provides individualised, customised private paths to hasten slowly.

The only temples that offer a clean and peaceful ambience imo are those in rural KeraLa that make do with dedicated local care-takers and limited income. (Polythene has invaded though). 

On the one hand we have ancient temples languishing in utter neglect all over our country, with half-hearted information and cautionary 'Protected Monument' signboards. 

Then we have these popular holy destinations that have somehow embedded themselves as boon-fulfilling pilgrim centres, but in reality are monstrous, commercial, exploiting, businesses, replete with graded darshan queues, plastic merchandise, suspicious-looking prasAd, and dubious pujAris.

And then we also have magnificent 5-star temple complexes replete with prasAd / food courts built more to glorify a sect than as places for divinity to reside. 

Swachh Bharat Mission could include Swachh Mandir Mission, can't it, Mr PM-and-your-Holier-than-Everybody-Else-Saffron-Brotherhood?

And yes, i am all for abolishing the VIP culture at temples also. 

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