A letter from a bhakt, to enforcers of temple dress code

Visiting temples is about why you go there, not what you wear
A letter from a bhakt, to enforcers of temple dress code
A letter from a bhakt, to enforcers of temple dress code
Written by :

Dear all-you-who-want-traditional-clothes-in-temples, 

At the outset, this is not a tradition-vs.-modernity debate. It’s not even a my-rights-vs.-your-rights debate. I write simply to tell you why I, or the next person, visits a temple. (And that’s a good reason why I should be anonymous). 

Recently, I read in the newspapers about martyred NSG Lt Col Niranjan’s sister saying this: “I have been reading the Gita. That’s the only reason I think I’m able to balance all this. To me, my brother is Arjuna. He has done everything possible by him for his karmabhoomi.” 

Thoughts of martyrdom aside, let’s also think – when and why do we think of God? Or temples ? In times of crisis? In times of mental agony? Sure, many of us do remember God as a thanksgiving-of-sorts, when things work out as we planned. But an equal number – or more – think of god when they want some peace of mind. 

I have a lawyer friend (let’s call her X). Soon after graduating at the top of her university, X started working for a prestigious law firm in Bengaluru. At 21, her life was like this: She would wake up every morning at 6, quickly get ready and start for office at 7.30, reach at 8.30 and start preparing her arguments and case files until 10 am. At 10, she would leave for the courts. She would go down from her second-floor office, and then, drop in on the temple next door. She would just stand quietly in a corner for a five-minute meeting with her god. 

It wasn’t a god she worshipped in her community (in fact, she hardly prayed in her own home -- and it was her mom who lit the diyas everyday). But it was a place to make peace. And catch her breath. Perhaps she just wanted to start her day with a silent prayer, perhaps she wanted to just give her mind a five-minute recess when she wasn’t thinking her cases through. So that her mind would sort itself out.  

She did this everyday over the three years she worked in that office, a routine as certain as Bengaluru’s peak hour traffic is.

If someone had told X at any point – please get out of your lawyer’s coat, get into a sari, walk into the temple, then get out of your sari again, get into your coat again, then go to court – well, she may have just stopped going to that temple. And perhaps lost out on the piece of peace it brought her as well. 

I have nothing against saris – saris are lovely, and I love wearing them whether the hashtag-100SariPact is there or not. But let's face it -- not all of us wear saris to work. 

I was reminded of X two months ago, when I saw a large car obscenely blocking the road near my home (because it occupied about one-third of the road in its double-parking). I was all set to find my best vocabulary for the driver, when a tall, stylish woman in a little red dress walked across to it. She was about 20-ish, wore high heels, her dress was above her knees, and she had the air of someone headed out for her first modelling assignment. I turned to see where she came from – she had just stepped out of a temple. 

If she had walked into a Tamil Nadu temple, I doubt she would have gone past the pavement on the other side of the road. In fact, the flower-sellers at the end of the road may have stopped her. But here she was, obviously coming out of a Ganesha temple. She jumped into the car and was right off. In minutes. 

I love making up stories on people I see in public places – in my mind, this girl was going in an ad agency’s car sent to pick her up for her first modelling assignment; she must’ve been excited, made herself up well; seen the temple while she was passing by, requested the driver to stop, nudged her way into it, said a quick prayer (probably with a tenner in the 'hundi'), rushed back and got back into her car, its engine already running. 

Like X, she, too, was just giving a quick prayer for a good work day ahead. And maybe the start of a career. 

But this is not just about having a good day. 

If you are in Bengaluru, you must visit the Eshwara temple in Indiranagar, a temple that’s at the mouth of the Eshwara Layout, off CMH Road. When you go there, take the pradakshina around the main sanctum of Shiva, the Destroyer. 

There you will see, little messages left on the wall, for Shiva’s ears only. The entire wall at the back of the shiva-linga is filled with graffiti --  no, not of the obscene kind, but of the yearning kind. 

“Please let me pass this interview at least” 

“Please let Rashmi not get more marks than me”

"Just 35 marks, please God.” 

“Don’t let Madhu love Ajay. Please let her understand my love.” 

“Please ask amma to not fight with appa so much” 

These are messages left in desperation. Lovers, job-seekers, students on their way to school, probably in their uniforms. Perhaps people on their way to the railway tracks to give up their lives, who decided to drop in for a prayer. And felt better. And changed their plans. For all we know, this temple alone must have prevented hundreds of suicides.

A temple is not so much an up-keeper of tradition, as it is an up-keeper of peace of mind. Please don’t force a veshti on a student who’s visiting a temple, scared about his Boards. He may not visit the temple and go to the railway track instead. 

Yours anonymously,

A Bhakt.

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