My Small Street Temple
The demolition drive being undertaken in Cuttack makes me extremely sad to be a Hindu in India. The sheer duplicity and hypocrisy of us Hindus are evident, when we protest against the ban of Bhagvad Gita and demolition of an ISKCON temple in Russia, the breaking of temples in Bangladesh and Pakistan, but remain mute spectators when temples, which had been in existence for years, are demolished by our own governments.
The soul of India lies in the protector-gods and goddesses of the villages, hamlets, cities, mountains and rivers. These temples have been sanctifying our soulless towns and cities. The small and humble godly abodes in street corners, under tree trunks, on river banks, represent the gram devi/devata, who protects the believers.
The small street temples are a contemporary phenomenon of Indian city life and reflect not simply the Hindu face of the nation, but underscore a very important point that the core of the Hindu is the religious person; and the focal point of the life of this religious person is the temple he/she thinks is his/her own. These temples have been built with the sweat and money of poor Hindus we term the unorganised sector of the nation’s economy—auto-rickshaw drivers, street vendors, shopkeepers, roadside eateries, small-time electricians, carpenters, masons, even beggars, and other daily wage earners—they build their own little temples where they live or where they work—on the platform and on the roadside close to their huts and tenements. They do this to continue to retain binding ties with their villages and village temples, and build street temples to fill the vacuum caused by migration.
When ordinary Hindus build street temples, variously termed ‘unauthorised’, ‘illegal’, and ‘encroachment’, they do so because they want their ishta devtas and devis to be an integral part of their daily lives. It is their fervent belief that their business will do well that day, and that if they nurture these temples with devotion, the standard of their hitherto difficult life will improve. These people offer worship in street temples the first thing in the morning before they start work and the last thing after they end their business for the day or shut shop and return home for the night.
Odisha’s Hindu ethos is under assault from a soulless secular and seemingly anti-Hindu political party at the helm. The Hindus of Odisha today face a cruel paradox, political parties and leaders who claim to represent them have no empathy for Hindu faith and sensitivity. The wanton neglect of the centuries old temples in the state, the sheer apathy for the Sun Temple of Konark, the killing of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati are but a few examples of the state’s anti-Hindu mindset. The need of the hour, as I humbly submit, is for a greater assertiveness by Odisha’s Hindu community.
The government has attributed the demolition drive against unauthorised religious structures to a High Court directive, which it is bound to honour. I cannot write much against court directives, but can certainly question that where was the government sleeping when these temples were built in and around Cuttack. Why was any action not taken in the past 35 years? Surprisingly, a few of the already demolished temples had also received funds from the MP and MLA’s LAD funds.
Through my editorial, I am putting all Hindus in the dock—Hindu politicians with no conception of the Hindu nation who wield political power actively against Hindus, no matter what fig-leaf they wear to do it; Hindu organisations which continue to remain indifferent to the accelerated pace of de-Hinduising the country’s public space and institutions and continue to allow the wrong people to manipulate and control important Hindu organisations as their personal fiefdoms to the detriment of Hindu interests; Hindu men and women in important positions in the police, media, bar and judiciary who foolishly or with evil intent continue to mouth pious platitudes about secularism, pluralism, tolerance and constitutionalism as excuses to pursue their anti-Hindu objectives; and above all ordinary well-to-do upwardly mobile Hindus, who turn a blind eye to such matters and hence sell their Hindu souls.
Odisha has faced the onslaught of many iconoclastic invaders who ravaged its many temples. The Jagannath Temple at Puri was ransacked fifteen times spread over five centuries. The deities were taken away and hidden at different places. There are very few intact and complete temples in the state. It is time for the Gods to go into hiding once again.