Friday, January 18, 2008

Pilgrims progress

I have often written about pilgrims and how at most spiritual centers in India, the pilgrim is taken for a royal ride. This time, it is about Sabarimala. Easily the second richest temple in India - considering it is not open all through the year, this place is a complete mess during the "season".

Sabarimala, unlike other spiritual centers has its whole existence centered around a 41 day penance and 3 kilometre trek to the shrine. The shriet, in the middle of the Periyar Tiger Reserve has had its share of pilgrims being attacked by animals - all of which are taken as "gods will" and more recently, landslides, lathi-charges et al.

All of which is fine, but there is a fair amount of apathy when it comes to pilgrimage centers. Why should it be a pain to get darshan of a god, any god? Why does it always have to involve hours of queues and jostling and pushing and bad hygiene?

Tirupati stands out in this respect. It is a lot better than what it was and perhaps it can get better too. Some of the others just keep getting worse and worse. I heard a friend talk about Pandharpur recently and it was not good to hear.

Many of the others surely, can do a bit for the pilgrims. Perhaps, if the darshan is comfortable, they will go back feeling back better that their god is happy with them? In a country that thrives on spiritual centers, perhaps making these places easy and comfortable to visit will actually make a difference to the "happiness" of the millions who visit these shrines? What does it take to keep a temple and its surroundings clean and make it easier for pilgrims to visit? After all, the money that they put in the donation box thinking of god comes only to humans who "administer" these trusts and to the humans who run the government? Many of these are savings, hard earned money which these humans squander. So, why not provide simple decent comfort in return?

Meanwhile, the government is trying to get the name of the temple in the Guiness book of world records - perhaps it should try its luck in getting the place in shape.

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