As a kid growing up in a tam-brahm household, I was introduced to temples and shlokas quite early. Fortunately, my parents are not really fussy about traditions. They think I ought to know what each custom really means and why it is practised but they don’t expect me to follow all of them, at least not anymore. Temples always attracted me. Apart from the positive energy that engulfs the temple premises, the fragrance from incense sticks wafts through the air and tingles the nostrils to extract a smile out of me. That is not all. South Indian temples, unlike those in the north, have a typical architecture and the grandeur of these temples catches your sight much before you set foot on holy ground.
Indian Art is beauty. The Brihadeeshwara temple in Tanjavur is a striking example of this art. Its ground plan resembles a fort and that has always amused me. The Shikhara on top of the gopuram, has apparently been carved out of a single stone. Doesn’t sound precarious, does it? Well, one look at the actual shikhara and you might understand why it is such a big feat. I visited this temple exactly 10 years ago. After 10 iterations of each season, the temple still stands tall, in all its glory – well almost! What I have always liked about this temple is that its gopuram is not painted. It is true to its stony character but the detailing still stands out. I will never forget the way this temple, its architecture and the shiv-ling within made an impact on my almost-atheist mind.
A sight that will always be close to my heart is this. I saw a group of foreigners (as they are often collectively called with envy in India) admiring the architecture and discussing the beauty of the structure. They stood amazed at how intricate the detailing on each structure was. From the walls to the gopuram to the shikhara on top of the gopuram – everything is adorned by beautiful sculptures depicting mythological tales. They stood for a long time talking about the most striking feature of the Brihadeeshwara temple – the writings on every stone that is a part of the massive structure. I wish sometimes, that I could decipher all that (that information is wealth)! They also prayed like all Hindus with their palms pressed together; the pandit was warm and welcoming. A group of Muslim ladies walked into the temple premises in their burkhas. They walked around admiring the architecture and clicking pictures and praising the king who had the vision to build something so grand. And they too, were welcome on the holy ground.
Having seen first-hand the damage done by communal riots in Gujarat, the sight of Muslims walking around a Shiva temple fearlessly and the Hindus around them welcoming them with open hearts fills my heart with love and warmth so beautiful that sunlight on a cold winter morning couldn’t compete with it. And this secular atmosphere was proof of the accepting nature of every religion. People belonging to at least three religions stood on holy ground together that day to seek blessings of a Hindu God.
Religion doesn’t have to mean war. And that I learnt in those few seconds. The pretentious wars fought in the name of religion are absolute bull, as they never intend any good to anyone. Every human being is secular at heart because we are born that way. We are born with no identity, no bias and no impression of which religion is better than which other. We are born secular. But we fight pretentious wars, to fulfil the bloody thirst of some average humans.
Maybe we should think a little before slicing another man…think about whether it is us at fault or the so-called-leaders commanding us to do so. The issue is that the warring soldier never ASKS!