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Part-time Deekshas

With the onset of the month of Karthika start part-time religious observances and for a few days thereafter, people will be seen in black, red, yellow, white and various colored dresses. Sound systems, bhajans and rituals will go on in full swing. However, this does not bring about any change in people, neither in their mindset nor in their habits. It is very strange indeed!

A few days ago, a young man aged about 25 years was at our doorstep, his black robe indicating that he was under the observance of Ayyappa deeksha. I asked him what he wanted. He said that they were collecting funds to arrange a religious feast after Ayyappa worship. He requested me to donate whatever amount I saw fit. Then the following conversation ensued between us.

“Good! But tell me one thing. Why do you take up this deeksha? Is it to fulfill your wishes or for the benefit of society?” I asked.

I wonder what mood he was in, he replied politely, “I am doing it for my own good.”

“Then why do you have to collect funds from others for the feast? Is this mandated as part of the observance?” I asked.

He did not reply.

I further questioned, “Why don’t you instead feed those who are really hungry, using whatever you can afford from your earnings? What kind of an observance is this - feeding yourselves out of others’ money?”

He looked worried.

“I am sorry young man. I don’t donate money for such rituals. Please don’t mind,” saying so I excused myself from him.

For one who has nothing to lean on, it is natural to consider even the smallest aid to be of mighty support. Similarly in religious matters, due to lack of clear direction every new thing seems like a wonder to our society. When we forget our address, all houses appear as our own. I know people who made a lot of money turning Ayyappa deeksha, which originated in the state of Kerala, into a seasonal business by giving initiations, organizing tours and building temples. Looking at the popularity gained by Ayyappa deeksha, there is a growing number of people who have started doing the same with other gods, making a business out of it by setting a dress code and themselves posing as gurus. While some feel that such observances prevent people from converting to other religions, which might be true, a few others believe that these acts help in protecting Hindu religion, which is a completely wrong notion.

At a wedding, one of my friends proudly introduced a person to me saying, “He is our guru swamy. He has been taking part in Ayyappa deeksha for the past 30 years.”

I looked at him and saw no sign of spiritual refinement or maturity in him, instead, I saw in him the crudeness of a pickpocketer. I could see in his eyes a desperate craving for respect. I didn’t even care to greet him namaste and smiled at him carelessly, for which he was clearly offended.

“Did you visit Sabarimala?” he asked me.

“Not even once” I replied.

“Take deeksha and visit the place,” he said.

“If it feels good during the 40 day period, what about the remaining 325 days of the year?” I asked him.

“If one can, they may also do this for the entire year,” he replied.

“If one does not long to be so, then isn’t he already so?” I said.

He did not understand what I said and looked confused.

Sensing that the situation was getting out of hand, my friend introduced me saying, “He is an expert in Astrology.”

Guruswamy’s eyes lit up at the thought of having fun at my expense.

“Can you predict how this year is going to be for the natives born under Pushya star?” he asked me sarcastically.

I understood that he wanted to have an argument and make a fool out of me. He desperately wanted to take revenge on me for not greeting him.

“People are either born at home or in a hospital. How can they be born under any star?” I asked him with a careless glance, feigning innocence.

He received a serious jolt and we walked away.

“Why didn’t you atleast talk to him politely?” my friend asked me.

“Why should I? It is not a great achievement. Why should I boost his ego by pretending that I have great respect for him? A stone may be in river Ganga for many years. Does that make it pure? He has wasted 30 years of his life. Instead of feeling regret, why should he boast about it?” I retorted.

“He is very well off in life,” my friend said.

“Do you have any idea what you are saying?” I questioned.

“What is wrong with my words?” he asked.

“If he is well off in life why should I respect him? How can this be a spiritual quality? If it were true, what do you have to say about the enlightened masters, most of whom are poor? Both yours’ and his forefathers did not observe this deeksha. Do you therefore think they are worthless? The sages who are your ancestors did not know about these observances. Then what about them?” I asked.

My friend said, “One cannot win an argument with you,” and diverted the topic.

Guruswamy had been listening to our conversation. From his countenance, I could tell that he was extremely angry.

While I was washing my hands after lunch, Guruswamy and I bumped into each other again and he cast a furious glance at me. I countered by returning the same careless smile as before and walked away.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Snehalatha M, which was originally posted in on November 10, 2010. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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