I think i have outgrown the Agama temples.
The reckoning moment came when 24 OBC Archakas and a woman Odhuvar were inducted into the service of Hindu temple devastanams by the ruling state government in Tamil Nadu this independence day, 15th of August. The move acceptedly brash, was met not suprisingly with stiff resistance. This has given rise to endless debates on social media as a backlash pitting friends against friends. The sore point is when you learn, your friends will remain your friends as long as you tow their line. Friends and even childhood friends remain lifelong friends when we remain confined within undrawn lines. One step any of us must take forward, then all hell can break loose. What an uneasy truce we have in Hindu society. How unreal this all is.
This has sparked many questions in my mind in last couple of days. Not that this may not have crossed any activist’s or freethinker’s mind. I have been an avid temple goer all my life and the massive and impressive Dravidian architecture south Indian hindu temples are my life’s mission. Heart’s favourite. I have visited/toured dozens and dozens in last five decades of my life and i have a list made up for future programs. Even so, something deep down nagged me. As someone who listens to my instinct always, I decided to record my reaction here in my blog post of how i felt about my friends responses and the media reactions in the matter.
Because there is not even entertainment of the idea of a conversation here. The topic is not open for debate or discussion. Chapter closed. Dead end. This is precisely what is the frustrating stumbling block when it comes to creating an equivalent and inclusive Hindu society. The brazen stubbornness of the Agama structure beyond criticism in this 21st century is one of the grandest failures of humanity and the so-called chest thumping democracy we purportedly have in India. As expected, the national mass media like our tv new channels in english language gave the Temple reform a deliberate miss. This one single point to me proved the historic significance of the move and assured me that we the Tamils were on right track. The south has always been a trendsetter.
I am kind of touched by the timing factor here. Today is Tiruvonam. Onam is observed in Kerala in remembrance of Mahabali, the Dravidian king and our forefather. The festivities keep alive the belief that Mahabali will return to claim his reign which is south India. Believe me this is just a coincidence.
The discussions on Agama temples raised the following questions in me:
- Are the Agama temples the first and foremost bastions of caste prejudice from where springs an air of superiority about some at the top of the pyramind of the Hindu race. Do Agama temples thus sanction discrimination right from their sanctums? Yes, they do.
- Once you disallow someone, discredit someone from something they are eligible to legally, it is the Agama model that can be held illegal. Yes, it is illegal to stop anyone from learning Vedas or working in Agama temples. Or do we have written laws to prove the contrary?
- The Agama temple doors were thrown open to the Panchamas only in 1947 with legal intervention. Which means, without legal help Hindus will not act on own accord. To remove injustice, the hand of law in Hindu temples is a must. This is why Hindu temples are under government administration. To provide justice to all Hindus, Hindu temples need government control. Which does not mean that the revenues earned by the Hindu temples may be spent on non Hindus. This is a separate topic for discussion. I will just stop with noting down that the Hindu funds may be used for the welfare and betterment of Hindu population alone.
- When the Agama temples put some on the top of the table, they naturally relegated others down the pyramid and some at the grounds level. The lowest could be the cremation or burial ground workers and manual scavengers with no hope to climb up the social ladder, stigmatized for generations.
- Can you even imagine the all Indian scenario of cremation and burial ground workers refusing to burn the bodies of FCs. I wish they strike work someday soon all at the same time. Let our governments appoint cremation grounds workers from all communities in future. Let every caste cremate their own including the brahmins and the banias. This single step can ensure dignity of labour and bring about a changed mindset in Hindu society.
- What happens when we venerate the Agama kind of worship and propagate it on a grander, national level with the approval and stamp of the regime. Self-aggrandizement of the creamiest becomes the natural output and stamping on the downtrodden becomes routine. We have the vicious circle where there is no escape from some dingy quarters deep down the social ladder.
- The Agama temple worship of Hindu dharma is deeply entrenched all across India, in every single state of ours and union territory, that you cannot even dream of uprooting this structure for creating a just and equitable society.
- The Agama worship is easily understood by the masses, accepted by the masses. Its reach is phenomenal. Its appeal is unbelievable.
- The Agama breeds a subculture within its precincts that includes music and dance and art forms. Together An Agama temple is like a museum of artefacts, fascinating and inviting and enthralling at the same time. It is a unique experience only a practising Hindu can identify with. No wonder, even the obcs and the panchamas play down the flipside of the Agama worship smitten by the lure of the Agama.
- The Agama subculture may span the vedic rites performed at homes, at festivities, at even funerals making the pundits and purohits inevitable parts of a hindu life whose services cannot be dispensed with
- In short, the Agama takes care of the highest in the hierarchy within its own structure. There is no place for outsiders here.
- The Agama network is really impressive, massive, nurtured over centuries. It is now a psychological phenomenon. Not even obcs and panchamas dare to touch it neither would any dravidian state government for that matter. It is colossal like the gigantic banyan tree. If it is be down, it can bring down the nation with it which can be of some concern.
- If the Agama structure is to be shaken, it is therefore possible that the entire structure of Sanatana Dharma may come loose. This will be clearly the next level in Hindu evolution. Another plane totally. However this is an acid test that Hindus WILL have to take someday or other. If not today, then tomorrow. But such a day will definitely dawn in Indian history when self-questioning will begin. Yes, we can only postpose this date cannot avoid it. But by then, it may be too late to make amends. I expect a good majority of India to have converted by such a time. It kind of makes me sad. But it is not that those higher up the ladder do not foresee this condition at a later date. I would think that the current regime could be leaving it to the future generation to work out a plausible solution.
- The Agama temples were probably built after Shankaracharya’s time the 7th century CE. It is after his times that castes came to be more pronounced in India with clear demarcating lines. All the more a reason to shun the Shankara mutts.
- A quiet and efficient hierarchy of things was established and the Agama network is astounding. Even the question of dismantling such a structure can portray one as anti-Hindu even if it meant anti-caste aspirations.
- Blatant crass commercialization of Agama temples is there for all to see.
- Not even Gandhi and EVR touched or questioned the Agama. Their first target was inclusivity at basic level.
- With Agama temples, Hinduism got reduced to Abhisegams and Alankarams of dieties decorated with precious gold and diamond jewelry. Pilgrimage became a corner stone. Gone was the Inner Shanthi, aspiration for Inner Peace or Self-REalization. Bhakthi came to mean noise and pompous shows.
- Agama temples are thus extremely ritualistic and so are Hindu lives. Steeped in ritualism, with spirituality and purpose disappearing from the scene. Now Hindu spirituality has become that very synonymous with rituality that we cannot think Hindu without the ritualistic paraphernalia.
- Passive aggression is the worst kind of violence because it damages someone psychologically and feeds, gloats like parasite on their self-esteem. This is the typical characteristic of Agama Vidhi.
Is there a way we can get out of the mess created by the AGama temple system. Yes. Kudos to the Tamil Nadu state government for even giving a thought in this direction. This is not exactly moving out of Agama but the current move can be the next best thing we can think of. The great equalizer. This is how history is scripted. Galileo did not get guillotined for nothing. He went against the top brass. He antagonized friends. He rebelled. He risked death. Yet he spoke the truth as he knew it. As it was. Time proved him right.
I am myself a deeply ritualistic, religious person, so you can imagine how much it can hurt me to write this down. In fact i am feeling extremely depressed and disturbed by the developments. I don’t approve of usurping of temple administrations by force. But what knifed my heart was that my friends felt and believed and averred that some are born with silver spoon and by virtue of birth belonged in the sanctum sanctorum whereas others did not measure up. I don’t have to take this personal, i can remain neutral, but i don’t want to. At least i want to put in on record that India will be doomed with this kind of mentality. This is sick! Sickening! On basis of birth one claiming superiority and brushing down brutally others under the carpet – this callousness is shocking! I don’t think at this rate Hinduism will progress or survive. And if we don’t, we don’t have anyone to lay blame on. The mental sickness, the hypocrisy of the caste Hindus will do the HIndu dharma in. We don’t need the Abrahamics.
Today if we voice our honest opinion on religion, we are viewed as anti-national, anti-Hindu. Tamil Nadu and Kerala are two of the bravest states of India. They may be corrupt but one can even survive corruption but not hypocrisy which is the deadliest cancer. It gives me utmost satisfaction to note that the two states have not budged an inch. Not in next 1000 years will they ELECT HONESTLY a BJP government. And I underscore the honest word. All my life i voted for these guys. Yet the defiance of my state always makes me proud. I am proud of my ex chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram who refused to oblige anyone on their terms and laid down her life holding her head high.
I cannot change my own friends, i accept defeat. I cannot change my nation. But I can scale down my pre-occupation with Agamic temples. I will start doing that right away. And I will try to convince fellow hindus on one to one basis to STOP going to Agama temples and focus on meditation. I will discourage other hindus to stop following acharyas and mutts and fake sadhgurus. This i can do in my individual capacity. My religious perspective is changing right now. It will be a long drawn process i know. Much more difficult for me because I have viewed myself deeply spiritual and at the same time ritualistic. I guess it is my Mother Goddess who even planted this seed of thought in my mind. I guess at best i will be HER instrument. Ever since the idea germinated, I have a feeling that i am getting propelled on to next stage of spirituality. I never had the urge until now. I though do want to take it slow.
High time Hindu Dharma evolves. Our Dravidian architecture granite temples are an engineering marvel. Ancient and historic. But i wish we leave them at that. Hopefully we hindus evolve. I wonder why some factions are not letting us do that. Why are the flocks not allowed to graze further down the spiritual path? Simple. It means, there is the risk of the power equations changing. Everyone becomes one and the same. None can have the hegemony of remaining insulated and self-righteous. You cannot bend and break the back of fellow humans like the crematorium worker or manual scavenger like you have been doing for over a thousand year.
Phasing out Agama. Will i be able to do it? Only time can tell. I will remain a devout Hindu with or without Agama. Seeing the God within you is not as easy. It shall take time. Nevertheless I will go for it with all my heart.