“Clink”! And the money is dropped inside the handi (donation pot) after my prolonged conversation with god .I had ceremoniously enlisted all that I wanted and I was pretty sure I was going to get all of it. As a child I believed that the 5Re coin dropped after our prayers was the ULTIMATE BRIBE, apart from the garland, thali , diya etc. that we offer at the pedestal. Naively, I used to think that this 5Re coin is going to get me all that I prayed for because. As kids, we think every scenario works the same way. Be it a shop or a temple. We window shop and come back with nothing. We pay at the counter and we come back with new clothes. We pray and come back, we get nothing. We pray and drop money; Voila! We get what we asked for.
However, as I grew older, and the need for rationality kicked in I came to realise that this money was not exactly a bribe, but just an offering at the temple, for its maintenance, for the salary of pujaris( priests), for the prasad( deity offering) and as such for the well- being of the temple. Made sense, hence the act was justified.
However, what happened yesterday defied rationality and every bit of faith I had in my religion.
I had the opportunity to go to Vrindavan, the city where according to Hinduism, Lord Krishna spent his childhood days. Vrindavan has over 5000 temples and thousands of people visit this city daily, as a pilgrimage to the land where Lord Krishna has stepped foot and spent his childhood. Of all the places in the world, Vrindavan was where I least expected something of this sort to happen.
Introducing Mr Vinod Sharma, an acrimonious faced man with a pretentious tilak on his forehead who rotted details about the holy cities. He was our tour guide for Mathura and Vrindavan. He spoke mechanically and mechanically duped us. “After the tour, you must give me a token of your appreciation as it is my right and I deserve it”.He deserves nothing.
Among the 5000 temples, instead of taking us to the big prominent ones like Iskon , he took us to a small temple somewhere inside some lane. Apparently, this was the exact point where Lord Krishna was served butter after defeating Kali in River Yamuna. The idol here was apparently unearthed during a ceremony by 3 saints. A lot more “apparentlys” were spoken before we arrived at this much hyped destination. Flaw 1 : Indian tour guides who impart false knowledge and stories on Hinduism.
Introducing fake smile pujari. He gleamed at us , his bakras for the day. He asked us to sit in the centre so as to enjoy the aarti better. We all excitedly placed ourselves in the front centre in the hopes of having a fulfilling aarti. Much to our dismay, there was no aarti. He spoke a few words about the holiness of Vrindavan and then the nightmare began.
This temple is plastered with stone gravel blocks engraved with peoples’ names. Without chanting even a single prayer, the pujari began explaining why these names were engraved and why we must all get a gravel block with our names graved there. He gave horrendous reasons like “ We will do a puja in your name daily”, “ You are surrendering yourself in gods house and going, no harm will come to you henceforth” and more of such sorts. Then, he took out a receipt book and asked people to fill out so that they can pay up for the stone block. This deceiving businessman cum pretentious pujari had one more laurel –the gift of being bi lingual. Using this to his advantage, he lured the south Indians in our troop.The amount being asked was not meagre, Rs. 1000 to Rs,4000 only. The more you pay, more blessing you receive by placing a random stone in a random temple in some random lane of Vrindavan. Morbidly fascinating, aint it?
To add on to our horror, 3 well-built rowdy -like men walked in and started distributing the receipts and explicitly asking for money. They even brought down the price from Rs 600 to Rs.100 for reluctant people. If only these men worked in Sarojini! How happy we girls would be! The ‘fake smile’ pujari had the audacity to cash in on a poor man’s dead mother. “ A separate stone for her will let her soul rest in peace and god will make sure her blessings are always with you”, is what he said. How can a poor man deny any amount for the peace of his beloved mother? He reluctantly caved in for the love of his mother.
These wretched people attack your weak points and shove you in a cul de sac where you have no option but to surrender. An Indian man who had a foreigner wife was asked to pay a lump sum of Rs.3000 .Since he did not have hard cash, one of those built men took him on a bike to the ATM! Can you imagine that man’s state? He came here to show his wife Indian culture, the place where the god he prays to was born, and this is what she gets to see. Her husband getting looted in the name of god, her husband’s god’s blessing being directly proportional to the amount they shell out. Her helpless expression among all this commotion is something I can never forget. Monuments in India anyways charge foreigners exorbitantly high prices, now temples too have a foreigner blessing charge.
The horror isn’t over yet. We walked out of that aarti hall into the next one where they forced us to pray and ask us to politely drop money. “ Khushi Khushi 100Rs rakh li jiye. Makhan Chor aapka raksha zaroor karega”( Drop a 100Rs note, God will definitely protect you) is what they said.. They offer prasad only to those who paid money for that “useless stone block”. Imagine! So, you get blessings only if you pay up Rs.3000. Hideous right?
I walk out of there completely dejected. I had lost a fraction of faith in God and almost all my faith in humanity. What have they done to Hinduism? Commercializing a religion is not a joke. Playing with people’s faith is not a joke. But what do these men care? Money minded scrooges’ waiting to exploit anything and everything – even God.
This has been an eye opening experience for me and I sincerely hope nobody else has such an experience. Please be careful when you donate money in temples. Our money is not going to god( Duh), then why are we giving it at all?. Your hard earned money is their easy money. The concept of dropping money in temples is entirely flawed, and it’s high time we stopped encouraging this inveigled system.