Saturday, August 7, 2010

Deeply unsettling…

I have tried convincing myself, unsuccessfully, that I have no business commenting on people’s beliefs and rituals. But there are certain experiences that are so agitating that you choke!

Chennai is a city that is an unfathomable concoction of disparate ways of living. You have the usual Page 3 glitterati, the revered Kollywood stars, the megalomaniac politicians, the intellectual few, the balanced educated middle class, the poverty stricken slum dwellers, the miserly rich – sounds like any Indian city?
Hang on – You have to live here to understand how stark the differences between people are and how these manifest themselves in every day living, unlike a metropolitan like Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore.

On the same stretch of road, you can see women wearing short dresses, salwar kameezes, saries from 6 yards to 9 yards; men wearing shorts, jeans, dhotis and suits, children with dainty sandals, sneakers and bare feet!
But this kind of economic variance is not as perturbing as the religiously charged atmosphere of the city.

In a strange way the whole city is united in its religious fervor and yet divided by the differences because of religion again. Temples adorn every street and corner available – queues of people throng these every single day – different gods for different sects – different traditions for different sects.
I am no religious person. I know only one entity - one god – a super power that I believe in. My god has no religion. The only good part about religion is the festivals – opportunities for community celebration and I believe in the spirit of all festivals irrespective of the religion they come from. So what irritates me is when religion interrupts normal life – be it the kavars in UP, the chhatt processions in Bihar, the use of loud speakers in jagratas, bhajans – however all these can be ignored as just inconveniences – take a different route, stuff cotton wool in your ears...

What is deeply unsettling is rituals out of my understanding – the death dance – the joyous dancing by men around the dead body celebrating life after death or the end of a torturous life and peace in death – I do not know.
I was just growing accustomed to this very common sight on main roads and streets here, that I had another disturbing experience yesterday. I witnessed, at multiple places, men and women with lemons and arrows pierced on their painted bodies, faces and even eyes – swaying swords, dancing as if in a trance – with hundreds around them in some sort of unexplained frenzy.

My heart had that sinking feeling you get when you sense the world around you collapsing.

At North Usman Road, I was in an auto waiting at the traffic signal – when one such procession stood right next to me. The dressed up man and woman looked towards my side and our eyes met. I did not see any religious faith, strength, joy or even anger. There was an unmistakable desperate fear, their gaze seemed to go beyond, as if in a given-up-search of another horizon.
In a split second, the noisily dancing crowd around broke my line of sight.

Why in the name of god torture do we torture our bodies, kill our souls, inconvenience and hurt others – why can’t we use the name of god to bring peace, serenity and love – the symbols god stands for?


  1. hey the religious fervor that u have potrayed here is pretty much evident everywhere.. ya sometimes i also why bring GOD in each and every equation.. Are we capable enough to lead a life on our terms?

  2. @Thunderror: :)

    @TBG: u bet!!!

    @Sushobhan: Maybe I can understand the need for god but for religion I cannot!

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  4. I am from chennai..I was blinking with your post here about whats ur nativity?

  5. @Maubrey: Nativity - u got me thinking - anyways to answer ur question factually - am a Kumaoni born in Shimla and brought up in Delhi

    @Pannu: thanks!

  6. Most of our religious traditions or customs are somewhat clueless.
    While there are a few practises which may have meaning but people never bother to understand, but there are some like this, which I am not sure when it started and why...


  7. Yuvika, a post after long. I was wondering about you.

    The pierced tongued/ bodied people create a strange feeling within me. I feel disturbed when I see them and the image always haunts me. God and faith are supposed to be comforting, peaceful and harmonious but piercing is something painful, gory and forced. I have often longed to talk to those individuals and ask them how they realise god through all that they do.

    Death-dance is something I enjoy. Turning something sorrowful into celebration is wonderful :)

    Religion and faith are two different things, I reckon.

    Hope your Sunday is coming on well.

    Joy always,

  8. No clue why they do it. Wrongly defined route to happiness or salvation maybe.

    Nice to see you post after a long time.

  9. @Ram: most of us are clueless on that!

    @Susan: Feels great to hear from you, as always! I echo your thoughts on this. Not sure of the death dance bit :)

    @Sameera: thanks and good to hear from u!

  10. after marraige i moved to chennai and i can recollect many things like the celebration of dewali in the morning,the death dance,self piercing to proclaim onces faith !! every human has some tradition that keeps us alive...for e.g christ on the cross too looks painfull for non christians but it excepted over time if we know the meaning behind it.... these traditions will looks strange if we dont know their significance... all humans are tribal by nature and these celebration helps us to bring it out...human race has evolved from tribal culture where we work hard and celebrate whenever we can...india is a kaleidescope of cultures evolved over centuries and these traditions have a meaning if researched may look weird but on a psychological side it has its benefits ... it is now the culture of the youth to go to a discos where they drink and dance all night..which is again weird to me as when i grew up...tradition celebrations are better than this...i respect the traditions in india as they have some inner significance which we have to try to understand...i love your blog as you deeply touch upon many issues...

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  12. @Satya: Thanks! And I take your viewpoint as very valid.

  13. Amazing write up..I m a regular visitor to ur blog, but leaving a comment for the first time..U r a real LSR Alumni..keep it going.

  14. oooh and WHAT.. never heard about this dance at death.. never seen it tooo..

    though have seen the pierced people fail to understand why they would do that...
    what god will want his people ot suffer so much..

    Dont know india is such a wast country so many sects, religions the funny thing is each religious body says GOD IS ONE.. there is ONE GOD yet all this goes on
    but then on other hand thats what makes OUR COUNTRY the country it is THE BEST anywhere :)

  15. @Annonymous: Well, thank you! Would much appreciate it if you revelaed your identity too - i take it that u know me!

    @Bikramjit: yes, too diverse to ever understand completely!

  16. everything comes down to the last paragraph.. more precisely, the last line.. its as simple as that.. but then, ppl ain't ready to accept that something as major as religion and pleasing God can be attained by 'so meagre' a thing as being a good person.. hence the need for self mutilation, animal sacrifice, human sacrifice and whatever else there is..

  17. Can u write something on the innocent relationships between the opposite sex during the school days, which almost all of us have gone through. And later on, those memories brings a smile on our face, whenever we think about them at any stage of our life.. :)

  18. Hey the death dance has a lot of meaning to it. Whoever you may however you are at the end you are just reduced to ashes. It is the celebration of the equalising power of death. It is just our culture.

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  20. It's just superstition...coz god don't ask u to poke urself but it ask u to be kind hearted...but we prefer to poke ourself and be a ill hearted person to fellow human being...We are known as humans... the way u have been awarded...check my blog

  21. Superstitious is a very apt word - I don't know what kept me from using it. And it is dangerous...Will check out your blog.


  22. 'world around you collpsing' is your subjective view.. you live in your subjective truth so does those folks in theirs. religion is optional social structure designed to give guidance, values/morals.. and i hv to say althou iam agnostic, its not bad to have imaginer friend in the time of needs.

    in an ideal world you expectation will be met but then ideal will borring and not very diverse.
    everyone has to find piece with him/herself, with society, with faith. its shapes are thoughts, actions, reactions,.. hope is to do that without hurting others or self..

  23. Your last sentence sums it very well - Find peace without hurting self or others.


I appreciate you taking out the time to share your valuable opinions! They mean a lot!


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