India is the land of Hinduism. 1 billion adherents of the ancient faith. And the ideas from this eastern faith have come across the sea. Karma is a part of our vocabulary. Reincarnation floats around the buffet of "wouldn't it be nice if." And the practices of yoga/meditation have been co-opted by America soccer moms. PIeces are adopted and celebrated. The East is praised for it's innocence. So today, we braved a famous Hindu temple to witness the expression of faith firsthand. Some observations.
1) It'll cost you.
On the way into the temple, there is the booking center. This is where you buy tickets. An anointing from the priest for you and a friend is only 50 rupees. To have the priest speak a word of blessing over an arranged marriage, the cost was 500 rupees. To approach the main idols, worshippers must give the equivalent of 3 days wages. Each.
At the booking counter, you coulld buy tickets which told the priests how to bless you. The tickets allowed you to come near to the larger, more powerful idols. The more you had, the closer you can come.
The approach to each idol takes the worshippers into a maze of silver railings. Like going to a roller coaster park. People filed into the lines to approach the idols, tickets in hand. I wandered and watched and stood silent.
2) If you believe you can fly, you can.
The people are sincere in their faith. They pilgrimage to the famous temple. They walk a hundred miles barefoot to show their devotion. And when they come toward the temple, there is a honesty in their worship. They want the statue to bestow a blessing. They bow low. They kiss the statue a dozen times and whisper a repreated prayer. They clothe the idol with clothing, flowers, food, and incense. All with the hope that this idol will smile upon them.
3) Choose your own adventure.
The temple is the house to many gods, and to many of his famous followers. Walking up the steps the temple you are flanked on every side by a pantheon of different gods. Each of the cardinal directions of the temple is marked with a door through a large "gopuram" (a holy tower). Each of the towers is decorated with hundreds of gods. Hundreds. When you enter the temple proper, there are a number of small shrines. You can go to these shrines and offer worship. The big gods have the amusement park treatment, requiring the worshippers to navigate the maze of shiny metal.
There were so many different idols, I didn't know to which the temple belonged. And different people travelled there to worship different ones. The biggest statue in the place wasn't for any god, but for the follower of a god. His statue stood a hundred feet tall, and he is famous for all the hymns he composed for his god. He is worshipped. There are cows there on the site. A priest watches over them. For a price, you can come to these cows and touch their hooves and kiss their hemlocks. For a price.
There is no doctrine. There is no declaration of truth. There is just the path that has been chosen/inherited. Everything can be and is worshipped. Up on a hill, there is an elephant in chains. This elephant is kept because he carries the idol during festival season. During the off season, devoted worshippers can come and for a price recieve a blessing from the idol's carriage. Pay a fee, the priest works his magic, the elephant lifts up his trunk, and the blessing is received.
This is a glimpse of Hinduism. A glimpse of India. A glimpse of the why.