As a child growing up in a Hindu household, I was taken on several pilgrimages to remote parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Famous temples in India are not the hang out spots of preference for teenagers, for several reasons:
a. Most of the rituals happen ridiculously early in the morning. Think, 4 a.m.
b. Popular Indian temples are realllllyy crowded and if you are not a VIP or don’t work for the government, you are likely to spend at least half a day standing in a queue of sorts, being shoved around and eventually forgetting why you are waiting in line at all.
c. Returns are not commensurate with the pains.
Pains= giving up your weekend (that you’d rather spend playing video games/hanging out at a cafe with friends), to travel by a van (without air conditioning), on roads that often don’t exist, to a remote land without clean restaurants or bathrooms, which is also dusty and hot, standing in above mentioned queue-of-sorts for hours and hours, being shoved around by people behind you.
Returns= Catching a glimpse of a black statue decorated with flowers and diamonds for exactly 3 seconds before you are pushed ahead by a crowd control officer (yeah, Hindu temples hire them!).
I am almost 30 now. My idea of temples has changed.
My new temples are houses of art, where people pursue a craft with/without purpose.
Where people look for meaning beyond their 9–5 jobs.
I spend hours and hours perfecting a large porcelain bowl at a pottery studio only to have the cuff of my shirt destroy it in seconds. But, that doesn’t stop me from spending more time on larger and more intricate bowls. With each incident, a bit more of my ego is destroyed but I’m happy. The smell of wet earth under my hands is my incense.
This new temple surprises me with the spirit of community; with beauty; with fragility.
I go in with the intention of spending 3 hours focussing on nothing but mounds of clay. It is liberating. It helps me shut out the world and pursue an alternative reality, albeit only for a few hours.
My new temples are music halls, where communities are made around something bigger than individuals. Where people lose themselves to sounds.
My new temples are libraries, where people forget about themselves and live other lives, if only briefly.
My new temples are clubs- yes clubs- where people dance with abandon.
There is pursuit of divinity in each of these places.
There is a longing for something greater than oneself in all of these places.
What’s your temple?