Repeat ValueAbout an year ago when I was on holiday in Madras, I accompanied parents and some relatives to a nearby temple near my uncle's house. There I saw someone pulling out a guitar, which quite naturally surprised me. A peek inside showed that the place was set with mikes et al. The guitar guy sat down and started to strum away - some people around him cleared their throats, and off they went - singing bhajans semi-pop style. Not only that, there was also a lot of arm-waving and clapping, quite in the style of Afro-American church choirs. It was quite unorthodox and hence interesting. My own individual brand of theism+agnosticism coupled with a natural scepticism for any religious social activity meant I could take an objective view and see what effect it was having on the devout public assembled there.
Digression: I have never seen another city yet that has so much to do with
so many temples (not comparing temple-towns here whose identity
revolve around the temple). A good way of putting
this is to invoke comparisons from those great reflectors of Indian society:
the soap opera. While the Hindi soap opera has its social occasions among
seasonal and off-seasonal Garba Raas festivities, the Tamil soap will set up
scenes in temples. Coincidences, altercations between estranged relatives,
murder plots - all are cooked and baked in the temple plot. The Hindi soap
prefers to have a tulsi plant in its aa.ngan and be done with it - to move on
to the more important business of
sorry sari exhibitionism.
To my mind, the performance caused three kinds of groups to emerge. one: those who were in-sync with these radical devotional ideas and uninhibitedly joined in the expressionism, two: those who weren't quite sure what to make of this - not being the kinds of Indians who love to dance at their own weddings (or anyone else's, for that matter) and who have a general disdain of all things flamboyant, and three: those who had made up their minds that this wasn't going to be their style of seeking the lord.
I say all of this (the above and the following) with a view to being non-judgemental, motivated by curiosity. I was quite surprised to see all this in orthodox, temple-frequenting Madras. It is also, possibly, a small reflection on the eclectism of the religion that this hasn't quite resulted in any particular vaad-vivaad on the methods employed in devotion. Coming back to that temple, my aunt's brother was in the inside of things, and consequently my uncle too, so information as to who was behind all of this became clear shortly.
The name is Ravi Shankar.
Sri Ravi Shankar
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
After India's not so happy experiences with popular godmen, there has been a lull of such personages in the media. But this gentleman has come on to the main pages of the newspapers in the last few years (esp. the Times of India group whose ruling family evidently have a close association with him - so this probably goes in the rule books for their journos of things they must cover?). Words like Sudarshan Kriya and The Art of Living have punctuated those media reports. High profile proponents increase its visibility.
I'm always a little shy (wary?) of any organized religious activity (and haven't been in the frame of mind or circumstantial need to seek out any such so far - perhaps it will come later on in life), so I'm just curious about his organization. My cousin who has done the course (or some part of it, I forget) says it's pretty decent and somewhat difficult. There's a lot of breathing exercises et al involved. I'm curious in general as to how a religious preacher/teacher starts off. Are these activities radically new ideas developed wholly by the individual or does he/she learn it from some guru or some scripture? Or was there a mystical dimension to their discovery? Is it a discovery or an invention? The flip side is: is it a well known idea well packaged? Do they feel happy about the publicity?
Whatever be the case, Ravi Shankar's organization is quite the in-thing among people. One hears a lot about it here and there. This post was sparked off because I saw a lot of rush in traffic coming back home today, lots of parked cars outside the nearby grounds. He's having a meeting there today.