Thursday, December 17, 2015

MY TAKE ON TEMPLES & SPIRITUALITY


MY TAKE ON TEMPLES & SPIRITUALITY
 I have not yet figured our what I experience when I pray. My daily or almost daily morning prayer is nothing but asking God(I read out a list of God's names) and ask the Gods to bless me and my family and friends( I read out a list of names of family and friends too). I find a definite reduction in anxiety  and feel calm and sort of have the belief that all my family and friends will be safe and problem free; this emotion of calmness lasts for a few minutes/seconds after my prayers. Then I get busy with whatever activity after my prayers; Once busily engaged, I stop experiencing any of the previously felt emotions...the spiritual mood, or anxiety or relief or whatever. On the days I miss saying my prayer, but I am aware that I didn't  pray, I experience a few seconds or minutes of uneasiness but this vanishes as I gets busy with some other thoughts or work. Sometimes I wonder if  praying for me is simply an anxiety reduction activity and not really one which makes me experience joy or spirituality or any of those 'better' emotions. I suppose, it would be nice if I could get something more out of my prayers.

The very few places where I feel calm and in a prayerful mood is when I am in a temple which is quiet, empty or almost empty and the temple should be of a "certain type". The few temples which fulfil this criteria are: The Kadumalleshwara temple in Malleshwaram in Bangalore in the afternoons when it's empty(I don't know how it is these days but in the 70s and 80s it was empty and quiet in the afternoons). The Gutte Anjenayah temple near LalBagh west gate is another temple where I am not distracted and I feel  able to focus at least a few seconds/minutes thinking of God and well-being of all living things.
 If I visited the temples alone, I would be able to focus more; However, I hardly ever go anywhere alone and often my companion is my chatterbox of a husband, who talks non-stop and so my limited ability to  focus or pray is further reduced! 
The other temples in Bangalore which I like as I get the spiritual feeling are the Basavanagudi temple(Bull temple), the Sri Mallikarjuna Swamy temple of Basavanagudi, The Shanimahatma temple near Navarang cinema house, in Rajajinagar, Gavi Gangadareshwara temple, Sri Bandi Mahakali temple near Kempegowdanagar, Gavipuram Gutthalli. Once again, I have to mention that the more crowded these temples are , the less spiritual and more distracted I feel!
 The  temples in the villages I have visited (my village and the villages neighbouring my village) are also places where I spontaneously experience a  sense of devotion;  I  feel spiritual in these temples and this spiritual feeling may be due to the quietness and the ambiance of these temples. I have the same spiritual mood when I am in the really old huge granite temples of Hampe, Halebedu and Belur.
I have listed below the features of temples which appeal to me and put me in a spiritual mood; I have also listed the features which put me off any spiritual mood ! 
a.Quietness. I cannot focus on the deity in the temple, with distractions such as lots of people, lots of noise, even if it is prayers or devotional songs over loud speakers, etc. These days, most temples in cities and 'popular' temples are terribly noisy. I go to them because someone at home, has forced me to go and not because I want to go. My question to the temple authorities is this,"Do you think God is deaf? Does he need to hear your devotional songs on the loud speakers? Will these songs be heard in heaven or where ever God is ? If God is every where, then why are the songs so loud. He can hear it if he is every where; even if God is not everywhere, surely, he(or she) is in the temple and he can hear it without the loudspeaker, can't he?
b. Absence of people or presence of very few people; the people in the temple,should be or at least appear to be focussed on the deity and should behave quietly.(I can get irritable, forget completely about God if the people are noisy, behave badly, etc! When I visit temples, I am often angry and disgusted and  become distracted from God when I see the priest favouring the 'richer' devotees; the priest yelling at someone; etc. These things put me off completely and I am not in a 'spiritual' mood but angry-disgusted mood in temples!
c. I prefer the temples which have not been 'modernized'. but most temples these days have been modernized. The old designs are changed and I simply don't feel spiritual in the modernized temples.  There is something about the simplicity and minimalism of the old temples and village temples, which really improves my mood. 
The most off-putting thing about modernized temples for me is the porcelain tiles on the walls which to my mind are 'bathroom' tiles. I always associate the shiny, plain white porcelain tiles with bathrooms, toilets and hospitals as I have seen them in only those 3 places during my childhood. Someone came up with the bright idea that tiling the walls of the sanctum santorum of temples will keep them clean or easy to maintain. And all temples I have seen (in Bangalore) seem to have adopted this idea! Looking at the white porcelain tiles on the walls makes me think that the Gods are in a bathroom and it simply puts me off, until I can distract myself!

The colourful disco lights some temples put is another thing which puts all spiritual thoughts out of my head! I prefer the oil lamps and for some reason I prefer the 'tubelight'! I know of many people who hate tubelights, but I love them! I want to be able to see the deity clearly and not try to make out the dark idol in the dim light of oil lamps! This is the one modern thing in temples I really like! On the other hand, there is some indescribable satisfaction in trying to see the Deity in the dimly-lit-by-oillamps-in-wall-crevices sanctum santorum, as the priest, takes the lighted camphor or Deepa in circular motions. As the priest moves the Mangalaarthi thette, in circular motions, the flickering fire lights up parts of the deity for milli seconds. I get a thrill to see the face of the deity glow for a brief second in the yellow flickering flames of the lighted camphor before becoming dark and invisible as the camphor flames on the plate move away.  
The plastic wrappers of the agarbattis i.e.incense sticks and the wrappers of the Camphor lying around is another thing which irritates me and puts all thoughts of God out of my head and angry thoughts of plastic pollution in!

d.The temple smells don't bother me thank God. I love the smells of temples in fact. The temple smell is an interesting mix of flowers(fresh, dying and dried), burning camphor, burning incense sticks, coconut water and fresh coconut, vermilion & Vibuthi (?ash), burning oil and burning til seeds. These smells are not  so noticeable   in North Indian temples. The north temples seem 'cleaner', drier & have less odors and this maybe because their worshipping rituals don't involve so much of offerings of fruit, camphor, incense sticks, etc by devotees.  

 The use of disposable plastic cups and plates in temples is another thing which makes me feel less spiritual.
e.For me to feel spiritual, I would like to have the prasada on  a piece of banana leaf like before or the dried leaf-cup(called Donne in Kannada) instead of the current plastic containers.

I loved the temple walls whitewashed with lime and reddened with red-oxide. There is something appealing in the simplicity of the white and red walls of temples of the old days. 
Today, temples are painted with modern paints and look glossy. I do know lime & red-oxide is probably not so easily available and modern paint lasts longer and temples have to change, but it really cuts my spirituality. I wonder if I am simply someone who cannot accept change?

I loved the uneven ground inside the temple (compound) walls and just outside the temple building. The ground was covered by roughly cut granite slabs; our village temple did not even have granite slabs but had sand and thorns grew there and we had to walk carefully so as to not step on those damn thorns when we did the three rounds pradakshe-ne. Today, thanks to the money pouring into temples, the rough hewn granite and Kadapa stone slabs have been replaced by expensive, smooth and to-my-eyes-tacky-looking marble or polished granite slabs. There is something so spiritual about the rough hewn granite slabs and whitewashed walls than the more polished, painted, shiny temple buildings of today.
Today, rich devotees simply pour money into temples and temple authorities feel compelled to use to money to 'improve' the temple. Unfortunately, they seem to have more money than good taste or aesthetics and the temple gets 'improved' and over-built. With all the money pouring in, why the hell don't temple authorities build decent toilets for devotees? Why don't they make the temples handicap friendly? It is impossible for the handicapped to navigate the temple safely in India! It is such a Herculean task simply to climb the stairs in some temples and to cross the massive door steps in some. Why don't they have a space on the roof for birds...why cant they put out food & water for the birds on the roof? Birds are disappearing from Bangalore, even common birds such as sparrows. How much does it cost to feed the birds when so much Prasada is made daily in temples? Why don't they have a space for the homeless beggars who are outside the temple begging?

Previously, temples had really thick walls. I dont know if they had thick walls because thicker was considered as better in those days. I loved those thick walls! In some spots, the walls would crumble into muddy-sand, when you touch them. But I loved those thick walls, I dont know why. They were almost a foot or more thick.

Most old temples had the Peepul tree, Neem tree and Parijata tree growing in their premises or nearby. Many or all temples, have the Tulsi plant growing inside the temple premises. These tress were worshipped daily by both priests and devotees. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old and huge. What I love most about these trees is their hugeness. I also love the sound of the rustling leaves of the Peepul tree and the sound of the coppersmith(crimson breasted barbet)bird in this tree, I could never spot this tiny bird but what a wonderful/powerful song/voice it had! It was  a repetitive sound and maybe that is why it's called coppersmith... the vocals of this bird sound like a continual hammer on copper... 
To me, there was something so tranquil in the sounds of this bird combined with the rustling peepul tress leaves while sitting on the steps of the Kadumalleshwara temple. But with today's teeming population, I doubt if this or any temple feels tranquil at any time other than at the middle of the nights!
One really stupid thing I have noticed in Bangalore is that the ground surrounding the trees is so covered with concrete that there is no way for the water to go into the ground! I see this concrete around trees growing in temples and the trees on the roads. The earth is so covered with concrete in Bangalore that there is no water reaching inside the earth and the trees dry up and die eventually; the ground water in Bangalore is so severely depleted that wells are drying up and a whole lot of ecological problems are being caused and growing daily. Why cannot a science minded Bhakta pitch his two cents of advice to the temple authorities to enable the trees to grow, unhindered by concrete? Also the soil is trampled daily by the devotees doing the pradakshina and the soil becomes hard or is eroded which is harmful to the tree. Why cant they have a set of steps on which the devotees can do their pradikshana without trampling on the soil or grass surrounding the holy trees?
Now with India's population, growing out of control, space is limited, trees are getting chopped and new temples, have no space for trees!

In south India, devotees have installed 'Nagara kallu' or statues of the snake deity near the trees to seek  favours from the Gods. These are often, about one to two feet in height, beautifully carved of granite and I loved these statues, installed between the trees(at least at Kadumalleshwara temple). In a country, where everything which is not nailed gets stolen, I am amazed that these beautiful statues are not stolen, though they are sitting in open places, unguarded!

The other things about old temples have not changed much or at least I cant notice any changes. The rituals are the same, the Gods continue to be made of Panchaloha and are still beautifully carved/moulded. The Teertha and Prasada are the same.  


I adore the old temples which have Kalyanis near them or running rivers close by. There is something about the Kalyanis and the steps going down to them which puts me in a spiritual mood, even though I vacillate between atheism and belief on a daily basis! Now, with all my exposure to modern knowledge, I would never put the water of the Kalyani into my mouth or even bathe in it. But I love the look of it, just the same! As a blissful , ignorant child, I had unquestioningly obeyed my grandmother and did all that she asked me to i.e. sipping the waters of the Kalyani  and bathing in it.
The Kalyani I saw most recently was the one in Hampe about two years ago. The waters were green, the place was empty except for a few tourists like me, there was wild grass and plants growing around it, it was so calm and quiet, I could have spent hours there, reading or photographing, sleeping or contemplating! I even saw lotus plants which made the scene so serene.

I am torn between wanting these temples to have few visitors and maintain the ambience and wanting people to visit these temples and experience what I did! The sad thing is, the moment, these temples become popular, more people visit and the entire ambience is inevitably lost! More people visiting means more income generated, more publicity, more investments into the temples and then they lose their age-old majestic beauty and ambience!


above is the Kalyani at Hampe I visited.
Below is the river near the temple of Hampe.


Below you can see the huge, once great,  Hampe temple in ruins. At present, there are few people here. It's quiet and the weather is like tropical. If one has simple needs and can live with less of modern amenities of life, one could attain Nirvana here!


Below, is a carving of Nandi on a river rock


Imagine that you are troubled and want to seek God, alone. You go to Hampe. Climb this small hill to be alone. Sit in the abandoned temple you see below. Sit and meditate. Not many will disturb you, though India is so damn full of people! Because this place is almost empty! You can carry lunch or come down to eat at a hotel in Hampe village and go back again.
Even the walk, up and down in this hot place, will make you forget your troubles! You will be busy trying to cool off and you will forget your worries!



Below is what I meant by red and white temple walls

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Below is a picture of an old village temple, which has been repainted in recent years with a gaudy orange. it was a lovely, muted limestone white wash before. This is what I meant by saying earlier that these days there is money being poured into temples but without  good taste!

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Look at the pic below. Imagine sitting on top of this hill (Hampe) to meditate. It is so calm and quiet, I can sit here, and feel all my anger against so many people simply melt away. I can see my anxieties melting away. I can feel my worries (if I have any then) seeming less important.  I can feel my mind going blank and calm and I can think positively simply sitting here and watch the Tunga river flow by these silent granite rocks. The climb to reach the top of the hill is also like some sort of penance! I was so out of breath that my mind was blank...no thoughts at all, I was simply gasping for breath, too thirsty to talk, legs stiff and all I could do was sit. look at the surrounding area and recover!

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The ISKCON temple in Bangalore  is completely different! It is so modern, (read commercialized)that I don't know whether to be amused, amazed or put off! It is like a mall in some ways and they sell Prasada which are not typical Prasada at all.
I do know that I should not depend on temples or 'external' things for my own peace/spirituality/Nirvana/Moksha/Shanti or whatever it is you want to call it. I do understand that no amount of peace in the temples or the outer world will help me gain inner peace. I do know that it is my mind which needs to be at peace and also that the external environment contributes very very little to my mind's experience of peace. That I should be able to experience peace, irrespective of what is around me in the external world; that I need to experience peace even in the midst of chaos. That I need to be at peace, even when I am in the middle of deep shit! I know that I can't go around blaming 'noisy' temples or 'crooked priests' for my inability to achieve Moksha. I cannot go around demanding  that the world and people change so that I can attain Nirvana!  If I want Nirvana, I need to change.
Yet, somewhere  deep inside me I think that, Nirvana would be a tad easy to gain, if I could meditate in solitude in an ancient, abandoned  temple  in the middle of a forest, sans people, surrounded by wild flowering plants, trees, birds and a Kalyani, !

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