India had always been associated in the imagination of outside world as pre-eminently a land of religion. Religion is the cornerstone of Indian psyche. Festivity is an integral part of religion and brings with it colour and variety. This adds charm to India’s mysterious magic.
Lately it is seen that people have become too religious. This is more noticeable now because what was till now concentrated in one part and celebrated as a local religious activity has now widely spread on the national scene. Indians have all the time on earth to participate with extreme energy and gusto in organized religious activities. Kumbh Mela is such a huge attraction these days . It has become a fashionable hub attracting celebrities from the world, with luxury tents of thousands waiting for them. Where is the austerity and peace of older kalpavasis? In the month of Shravan hoards of Kavariyas come to Varanasi barefoot from far-off places to offer gangajal on Lord Vishvanath. Kashiwasi welcome them with open hearts. Administration makes elaborate plans. They are given one lane of the highway all to themselves. But they insist on having DJ and when the administration refuses there are uproarious events, clashes, schools are closed on Mondays. People throng to Char Dham yatra, Amarnath yatra, Tirupati, Sai baba temple. The Vaishno Devi’s twelve-kilometer scenic way is a busy commercial street. Chatt puja of sun god performed with fervor in Bihar is now an event on national scale addressed by the mega stars of Hollywood. Ganesh utsav, Durga pooja, Ramlila are of course, in our memory since childhood.
But at the same time let us accept that in these two or three decades the culture of street religion has taken a very sinister form. Discipline and serenity that go with religion have evaporated. To be associated with one of the Ashrams and boasting about the personal spiritual pastime is the latest fad. We have become loud and noisy, insensitive and vulgar. Even the tranquil ambience of the most serene holy places like Sarnath is shattered by the full blast of filmy songs coming from outside stalls. We all notice the huge crowd that accompanies the idols taken for visarjan. It comprises mainly of unemployed, rowdy youth who go with loud speakers, dancing on the filmy songs, blocking the road. And to add fuel to the fire, police remains a mute spectator for fear of the local netas who take the avatar of bhakt vatsala gods.
Why religion is turning inside out and making us so restless? What can be the reason of this street religion epidemic? Population explosion? Increase in wealth and infrastructure? More stress and worries therefore, urgent action for instant remedies and immediate gratification of our wishes? Is religion really the opium of the masses as Karl Marx said? His statement is not a condemnation of religion. It has more subtle implications to it. Marx also adds that religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world. Religion offers them illusions about the future life and a seemingly firm ground in the insecure present that is many a time infested with economic deprivations. Religion thus is the sheer intoxication of people in expectation of their needs and wishes to be fulfilled. The real goal of religion is missing. There is no trace of a sense of permanence, depth, stillness and serene tranquility in this kind of hectic religious activities – just a kind of satisfaction that the pooja done, obligation over, reward assured.
It might be that we are in the process of rejuvenation. It might be that this is the beginning of us taking a U turn in the direction of going back to Vedic time. Cultural progress is never linear: it is circular. What was at the peak gets degenerated with time and slides down, what is at the bottom gets nourishment from the new ideas of great masters and thinkers and gradually moves up. Let us hope that gradually the boil of excitement will subside and religion will again settle down taking its inherent depth, simplicity and discipline.