The priest is the personification of falsehood - Giuseppe Garibaldi
Perhaps it is this black pearl of wisdom which has converted me into an unabashed admirer of the Italian statesman named above; in fact he is the only dictator in history I hold in veneration - not just for his brilliant exploits in the battlefield and politics but for the sui generis selflessness that exuded from him even when he appeared to be involved in a task that could be legitimately construed as ruthless. Evidently he held the clerics in utter disdain as emerges in this famous aphorism.
My position vis a vis the clerical community has been consistent all through my adult existence, perhaps even earlier! I recall how peeved I had felt when during my early years in a boarding school, our warden, Mrs. May Lall, a British lady of utmost grace and with an overflowing reservoir of humanism, was denied entry to the Pashupatinath Temple. Mrs. Lall had married an Indian Air Force officer on training in the UK and decided to relocate to India. She had formally converted to Hinduism without any coercion and enthusiastically participated in all the family festivities.
Even as a pre-teen, it made a deep impression on me, and I vowed never to visit that particular 'temple' until this deeply offensive regulation was removed. It ended up placing me in a difficult situation as many of my family members had been ardent devotees of the shrine and more than a century ago , a part of the complex was supposedly ordered and built by one of my paternal forbears. However, as far as I was concerned, this odious regulation had robbed it of its claim to divinity.
Very soon I was to learn that this temple was not the only one which had an edifice that was offensive to humanistic sensibilities. I discovered that Kashi Vishwanath temple prohibits entry of non-Hindus! Since that day, I have refused to enter the premises. My position at the time was considered unreasonable and radical. It was soon to be vindicated when my first cousin, himself a lifelong native of Benares and coming from a family of ardent temple devotees, brought his Ukrainian wife to the shrine. When she was denied entry, he refused to enter the temple precincts himself. A bit before my time, the temple did not allow Dalit entry. When that was permitted, a 'sage' called Karpatri declared that the temple had been desecrated and started a movement. I do not have any personal memories but I do know that his cult still enjoys a massive following.
In the mid 1960's, I recall the province of Bihar was in the throes of a massive drought. Jayaprakash Narayan was collecting funds for relief work and we were all donating whatever we could-even schoolboys like us! There was one institution that refused to donate a single naya paisa-and its annual income at the time was Rs. 2 crore. The institution was the Tirupati temple. This I remember made JP very upset indeed-and I to this day share his disdain!
Soon afterwards I was to learn that the Hare Krishna devotees, perhaps the most ardent followers of Hinduism (I disagree with their philosophy on several counts) are not permitted entry in the Jagannath temple. The list is endless.
And the priests who frame these un-divine and unjust regulations continue their practices unabated and unbridled. Apart from the little time I was able to spend with Mother Teresa, I found these hucksters of holiness alarmingly devoid of any realistic commitment to humanity which surely demands extending a helping hand to the needy rather that insistence of unquestioning adherence to rituals and accepting rituals rather than underlying philosophy as a basis for identity. In effect every religion has been reduced to a crude trade union.
The novelist Arthur H Lewis has authored a best seller named Molly Maguires about a secret society. On reading the book, one cannot escape the conclusion that the practices demanded by that secret society are very similar to the commit we are expected to uphold towards our respective religions. Growing up in Lucknow in the 1960's, we were not exposed to Hindu Moslem riots. But nearly every second week we witnessed grotesque hostilities between the Shias and the Sunnis, the two sects with no theological dissonance; and there was hardly any effort by the clerics to contain this insanity. Years later I was to witness the same phenomenon during my sojourn in Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants.
That this clerical misguidance is still very much in evidence is proven by the utterances of one Rahul Easwar, his soul-mate Pandit Ajay Gautam and the different Muslim imams who make daily appearances on the television. Normally at each other's throats, these people have joined forces to thwart by hook or crook equal access to 'divine' places to all women. Their spurious logic is not only misogynistic but it is truly a scourge which demeans all victims, perpetrators, spectators and mute observers.
I was gratified when the razor sharp Padmaja Joshi took a very offensive imam to task - I only wish she had exercised the same 'put down' towards Rahul Easwar who believes that tantric practices justify all the offensive regulations that have been in vogue-including the right of the Namboodiris to have excessive monopoly over priesthood in certain temples as justifiable. Quite frankly this gentleman's understanding of Vedantic principles appears pathetically suspect if his utterances are anything to go by and I am really surprised why he is allowed to exercise his decibels to ruin any prospect of a decent discussion.
My anger and annoyance assumed stratospheric levels yesterday when on channel after channel I saw this self-proclaimed champion of Hinduism comment on the unspeakable tragedy in Kerala. More than 100 innocent people lost their lives through a grotesquely illegal flouting of statute by the temple board. There was of course the customary expression of condolence. But even at a moment like this, he was more concerned with emphasizing the preservation of 'tradition' rather than outlawing this profoundly unreligious practice which had resulted in so many deaths. And as far as action against the temple authorities was concerned, his position was that it would not be possible to take action against the authorities as they were insulated by age old traditions. His tone was positively minatory when he stated that legal action of that nature would lead to a serious law and order problem. That convinced me more than ever that the correct place for any cleric who dares to challenge the constitution is the comfort of a prison cell!
Guiseppe Garibaldi! I hail your wisdom.
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