She Says

Priests or pimps? I almost met God in Vrindavan, but then, I refused to pay for it

Priests have made a lucrative business by playing on people’s faith, but can 'exclusive darshan' of an idol really bring you closer to God? Is that what visiting a famous temple is about?

 |  She Says  |  5-minute read |   21-06-2019
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In my solitary hours, I have often wondered about God.

Is God a father or a friend? Is he a guide or a facilitator? Where does God live? What does he or she really look like? Is God dead? Does God exist?

We all look at God differently. We all feel God differently. And that is alright. What does not seem to be quite right is the means to which we get to to meet our God. I am a Hindu by birth. Like everyone else, I did not choose my religion. I was born into it. While growing up at school, I was taught that God is one. But at home, even practising one religion, different members of my family were worshipping different Gods. I was introduced to the concept of having an “Ishta Dev” — the one God you submit yourself to.

As a lover of stories in every form, I was particularly inclined to mythology. I read the Ramayana, Mahabharata, tales from the Panchatantra and Puranas while growing up. One thing became clear to me at an early age — one’s relationship with God is highly problematic.

I am still trying to understand mine.

And while you try to understand your relationship with your God, someone else will try to foist their view on you, making it all utterly complex.

bankebihari_temple_m_062019060243.jpgA door to awareness: The Bankey Bihari temple in Vrindavan taught me an important lesson about faith. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Recently I visited the famous Bankey Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Even as you walk towards the building of the temple, you feel a strange rush. Everyone around is in a hurry, as if the beautiful dark sculpture of the great lord is going to leave at the earliest. People are seen jostling, stepping on other’s feet, trying to find their way ahead with little regard for the elderly or children. As I went inside the temple, I saw hundreds of people gathered in the hall. There was no queue. People were forcing themselves in to become a part of the great chaos that it was. I have always believed temples to be places that should make people more empathetic because to pray collectively is to become one with others, and in turn, be one with the Lord, to be aware of you being part of this universe as a whole.

Most temples in the present times have failed to accomplish this humongous responsibility of bringing people together.

By bringing people together, I don’t mean physically together — due to lack of proper management, squishing them into disturbing proximity, but making them aware of the oneness that they share as fellow beings.

Somehow, I managed to reach the middle of the hall from where I could see the idol of Banke Bihari Ji. It is an image of Lord Krishna in a tribhanga posture.

It is said that the Lord and his consort themselves presented this idol to Swami Haridas Ji who wanted the Lord to be in front of his eyes forever. The myth is that the idol represents both the Lord and his consort conjoined. It is said the beauty of the divine union was such that anyone who saw it once would give up all worldly things. The couple turned into one single black idol and even today, the darshan is never continuous. It is always hindered by pulling a curtain over it from time to time. It is believed that anyone who looks into the eyes of Shri Bankey Bihari Ji would lose his/her self-consciousness.

webp.net-compress-im_062019063338.jpgUnspeakable Beauty: The Bankey Bihari idol is said to have been gifted by the Lord himself to Swami Haridas. (Photo: Facebook/Bankey Bihari temple in Vrindavan)

Standing amidst the chaos that continued to push me from every side, I was about to lose consciousness because of the suffocation that was created due to the unmanageable crowd. For a moment or two, I even panicked, thinking, what if someone tries to take advantage of the pandemonium. The security guards and the officials were neither listening, nor trying to manage the sea of humans around them. I felt utterly hopeless in a place where I believed I would rejuvenate my hope. I was drained and deprived at the very source of strength. I looked at the idol. Undoubtedly, the sight was captivating. Language fails to describe the beauty exuberating from the black image — and for a brief moment, I felt happy inside.

I was mesmerised until a security personnel brought me back to the mayhem.

“Madam, do you want a close-up darshan from right in front of the idol?” he asked.

“Of course,” I replied, wondering how beautiful it would look from that spot he was pointing to.

“One hundred rupees for entry to the inner portion, madam,” he said, trying to keep people from falling over me, in return of the money that he was expecting.

I was devastated. It was as if the little portion of the earth beneath my feet was melting away. I could not reply but only notice that well-to-do looking people were having a close-up darshan of the 'universal lord' by paying the priests/officials, who then let them enter the inner circumference around the idol. I stepped back into the chaos again. All around me, there were people who could not afford to pay for the inner portion — trying their way to have one good look at the Lord, falling over each other, pushing, trying not to land over somebody’s foot, soaked in sweat from head to toe, but still, hands in the air, clapping as they chanted and cried, “Radhey, Radhey.”

banke-bihari-temple-_062019063815.jpgBeyond worldly status: Or, would you pay to get a close-up of the deity? (Photo: Facebook/Bankey Bihari temple in Vrindavan)

Asking the people to let me go out, I exited without looking back at the idol even once.

I was drenched in desperation. I knew I had the Lord within and around me and that this one idol could never fully embody his essence as vast as the universe itself. But for most people, this image of the Lord is everything.

Religion, and priests in particular, should facilitate the bond between the Lord and his devotees. Instead, they are acting like pimps by putting a price over the meeting between ‘the lover’ and ‘the beloved.’ It is, of course, justified to collect charity for the welfare and management of the temple. But it is not justified to collect a price for a better darshan of Bankey Bihari Ji.

He belongs to everyone, something our priests have forgotten, I guess.

As for me, I would rather earn my meeting with the Supreme through silent devotion rather than pay for it.

I carry him within myself — and for the time being, it is enough.

Also read: On dark nights, before the new moon: The restless dead seek peace. And Puri heals them

Writer

Ruchi Kokcha Ruchi Kokcha @ruchikokcha

Author is a writer and a poet. Her debut book, Obsessed, a romantic thriller, has been published by HarperCollins India.

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