An Evening in the Temple

The temple was a little building complex built on a clearing in the center of open fields. To one side was a lake, whose occupants were provided cover by a tree and a rocky outcrop along it. The sound of percussion instruments streamed out steadily in a rising rhythm as one headed towards it. The silence amplified the sound. The beat rose, reached a crescendo and then slowed down only to return to that crescendo.

Girls with jasmine flowers on their heads and lamps in their hands were lighting the lamps around the central structure of the temple that housed the temple’s deity, Devi. It had been an hour past dusk and we had reached there in our car and walked a small distance to reach the temple. I had a dhoti on with nothing above the waist. Wearing a shirt was prohibited inside the temple complex. The surrounding structure housed among other things a counter where we could pay for certain prayers and rituals, a hall with a low sloping ceiling with a narrow corridor in the middle to access a central courtyard. The surrounding structure also had a room for the priest and a kitchen.

I thought what purpose music served in the temple. I think it served a complex social and ritualistic purpose. Socially, it signaled to devotees in the village that ritual proceedings were about to begin. Ritualistically, it provided pause and entertainment for devotees already gathered in the temple complex. Perhaps it served a spiritual purpose as well – to arouse Devi from her slumber so that she may shower her devotees with blessings. These conjectures are mine. I didn’t ask.

The girls had finished lighting the lamps that surrounded the central structure. The priest chanted inside in a mixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit. The doors were thrown open. A devotee struck a bell hard. Others crowded a central corridor to seek blessings. The music played to its crescendo again. The musicians were local. They had day jobs and were not paid for playing at the temple. They did it as an expression of their belief. Temples might have once been centers where arts and architecture once prospered. Not anymore.

In my opinion this is what ails Hinduism. Hinduism has been about silly rituals that provide opportunities to encourage in its devotees the arts and appreciation of architecture. People went to the temple not just to fulfill their selfish needs but also to entertain themselves. They did this through ways that encouraged auditory, oral, visual participation. Now temples are only centers to fulfill people’s selfish needs. The entertainers seem more selfish than the devotees. Selfishness is leading to the death of the temple. Older temples stand out as visual treats also because they are architectural marvels. The temples built today just mock them. There is no creativity – no inspiration.

In the hall is a rangoli that takes the form of Devi. Her breasts raise above the floor as mounds. The priests use simple every day objects to perform rituals. Music accompanies the vigorous movements of the priest in and around the drawing. The ritual also was creatively done. In the end, in an act of destruction, the whole rangoli is rubbed with coconut leaves.

As I walk out of the temple into the silent night, my mind is silenced again. People talk to each other in whispers. After a brief interlude of participating in the ceremony, their minds returned to chores left undone at home. I make a mental note of writing these random thoughts on my blog when I return home and then allow myself to get lost in the stars that twinkle. Millions of them.

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