In an age of religious decadence, when godliness departs from popular outlook, there will be innumerable discussions about religious issues. In such exercises, considerable time and effort is wasted in disputing minute physical details of issues: Spiritual principles and norms will find no mention. So much has been said about Sabarimala. But the question remains: How and why has a temple become a spot of social turmoil? Why is it that people fail to reckon even obvious and familiar truths?
The purpose of religion is to ennoble human beings so that they transcend selfishness and pettiness and live together in harmony and kinship. True religion, or spirituality, is the foremost resource we have for liberating individuals from their narrow-mindedness and aggressive pursuit of self-interest at the cost of social harmony and individual integrity. Yet, popular religiosity of all kinds lends itself increasingly to the very opposite. Why?
It is customary to damn religion per se. This is simplistic, and illogical. If religion or what is assumed to be belief is making human beings behave worse than beasts, it only means that what they practice is not religion, but something else. The danger is that this “something else” resembles religion and, to that extent, disarms discernment at the popular level.
Religion and superstition are mirror images. Superstition can, therefore, pass for religion, especially when the people know only rituals and practices — all priestly inventions — and are ignorant of the ethical and philosophical principles embedded in scriptures. Superstition is to religion what carbon monoxide is to oxygen. Both resemble each other insofar as they are colourless and odourless. But one sustains life, while the other destroys it.
The mayhem unleashed by vested interests in Sabarimala is being legitimised as solidarity with “believers”. To believe, per se, is nothing. I may believe ardently in a set of superstitions. That wouldn’t make me a believer. It would make me only an obscurantist. I may believe passionately that those who practice a religion different to mine are infidels. But that would only make me a bigot. This is because what I believe has no bearing on truth. Belief without truth is not only useless, it is positively dangerous. It is this sort of belief that is being politically promoted today.
While Christianity identifies God with love and Buddhism with compassion, the Vedic faith identifies God with truth. Gandhiji went a step further. He said: “Truth is God.” To compromise truth ever so little in respect of God is to be atheistic. Maintaining the appearance of being a believer doesn’t help.
Superstition is the most dangerous manifestation of untruth in religion. Superstitions are dangerous because they resemble articles of belief. Superstition is, in other words, deceptively religious. It passes for religion, but corrupts the very soul of religion. It stands to reason, therefore, that wherever superstition sways popular religiosity, the “believers” remain woefully vulnerable to manipulation by unscrupulous elements out to exploit people’s religiosity for ulterior motives.
Sabarimala has, over the years, succumbed to an avalanche of superstitions. For illustrative purposes, consider the following. It is ridiculously irrational and superstitious to assume that God, who is omnipresent, is confined to a particular spot. God cannot be partial to Sabarimala or to any mountain. Partiality is a human weakness, and it is scandalous to taint God with it. Secondly, it is a puerile superstition that God’s celibacy — if there is such a thing at all — can be threatened by women’s biological conditions, when it is God himself who ordained these conditions. Third, it is stupid to think that a tantri, or any priest or pope, has any special equation with God. Most priests, including tantris, are spiritually inferior to ordinary people. If they pretend to be otherwise, they are hypocrites and there is no truth in them. Fourth, it is shameful to spread and sustain the canard that by visiting this temple or that human beings can snatch special favours from God! It is even more superstitious to deceive people into believing that one temple is more potent for this purpose than another.
There is nothing in the literature pertaining to Lord Ayyappa that supports the superstitions surrounding Sabarimala. Yet, they flourish, and more and more people are seduced by it. This superstition-driven swelling of misguided masses awakens the covetousness of opportunistic politicians. If the annual attendance at Sabarimala were less than a thousand, no political party would have shown any interest and there would have been peace in the shrine.
The pattern at work here needs to be grasped. Superstition fuels popular fervour. This swells the crowds. Crowds attract politicians like vultures to corpses. Politicians reach these sites because irrational religiosity robs individuals of the capacity to think. These “believers” can, hence, be led by the nose. God is sidelined. Naked commercial and mercenary interests install themselves in the vacuum. Being an unnatural state, this breeds conflicts and upheavals. True believers suffer. They, unlike those blinded by superstition, are spiritually sensitive. They discern the abomination shrouding the sanctuary of the sacred. They are anguished, whereas the slaves of superstition get possessed by the hysteria of the political drama.
The message emanating from Sabarimala is the need for the society to wake up to the danger of superstition corrupting religion and religion, as a result, becoming a sanctuary of the unscrupulous.
The writer is a Vedic scholar and social activist