Temples: A Gigantic Market

Uday Nirgudkar

What is the biggest market ofIndia? There will be a wide range of answers, from telecom to agriculture or from steel to basic services and each answer will have several justifications; such as- massive turnover, pace of development, manpower and employment, national interest or its moorings in the Indian mode of life. None of the above markets-steel, telecom, etc.-will fulfill all the above at once, to be entitled the ‘biggest market’. The biggest market fulfilling all these criteria is in fact, the market of the temples! Here, ‘temple’ includes a Jain Mandir, a Gurudvara of the Sikhs, Churches, Masjids and the prayer houses of many religions and sects.

            Unbelievable? Then take a calculator and begin the exercise. There are 620,000 villages inIndiaeach with at least four temples. Then come the five thousand ‘type C’ towns with a population of 5oo and minimum ten temples in each. Next we have the slightly bigger type ‘C’ towns counting about a thousand and having a minimum of 100 temples each. At the apex, there are six megacities inIndiawith at least 1000 temples each. This accounts only for the Hindu religion. The number increases by 25% when you account for the prayer houses of all the other religions and sects. Now, all of these together, account for only the retail turnover. There are many wholesale traders in this business, such as the self-proclaimed Maths (monasteries), Ashrams, and Akhadas (hubs of religious sects). In addition to all the above retail and wholesale traders, there are a plethora of foundations and societies that claim to lead the common man to God through Yoga or to Samadhi  through carnal enjoyment , etc. Can you, now, with the help of your calculator gauge the enormity of this gigantic market?

            There is another dimension to be considered and that is the amount of man-hours consumed in this trade. Whenever a devotee visits a temple, church or a mosque, he is bound to spend at least half an hour there, whether there is peace and calm or noise and din over there. Some of them have more than 50000 devotee- visitors every day. Every Tuesday, for example, in the Siddhivinayak Mandir in Mumbai, about 70000 devotees are sure to visit. Over and above these daily visits, there are occasions like festivals, Palakhi (procession of a deity or a saint in a palanquin), Paduka, Prakatadeen (the day of manifestation), fairs, etc. when the crowds are enormous. These occasions we may ignore for the time being. Now, nobody will object if I state that every temple in this country, on an average, is visited by at least 500 devotees. Let us now multiply the number of temples that we counted earlier, by 500. Do our telecom, shipping, computer and other industries have so many customers as compared with the number of devotee-customers visiting temples? If you want to find out man-hours spent in this trade, multiply the number of devotee-customers with half an hour, i.e. by 30 minutes, the average time spent by a devotee in the temple. Can any other trade beat this number of man-hours spent?

            Again when we talk of turnover, every devotee must be giving away at least a rupee and much more if he wants to offer special pooja, Abhishek, etc. or buying something from the unkempt shops near the temple, then that makes it the largest turnover than any other sector in this country. I am certain no one will raise the issue of its being linked with social life and sentiments. No doubt the temples have given the society enormous emotional satisfaction and peace of mind; but at the same time, the fact remains that the same temples have caused equally horrendous turmoil and terror in the society.

            Now, before examining the criterion of scale of development let us just think of the huge ever increasing queues outside the temples or the mosques, wherein lies the answer. Increase in the number of industries, factories, laboratories and nuclear power plants are matched by the increase in Maths, Ashrams and temples. So, it’s an ever-growing market. The queues outside the temples consist of old people as well as youngsters, both men and women along with their kids. Some of them are beset with problems while others, having solved their problems, come there for thanksgiving and fulfilling their vows. There are politicians, sportspersons, Boliwood stars, criminals, page one and page three celebrities, highly educated as well as illiterates, scoundrels and gentlemen, teetotalers and drug addicts. The queues of the devotees consist of all types of people- those who can afford and those who cannot; villagers and urbanites. Is there any market other than the temple where real, astounding diversities co-exist in unity?

            The telecom revolution that is taking place here is amazing. The uneducated ignorant Indians are buying a mobile phone at the rate of one mobile per second! But still more amazing is the fact that the temples have been able to maintain their market leadership. So the biggest market that reaches their products and services to the largest number of people is not owned by any company like the Tatas, Birlas or the Ambanis; it is owned by the very God who does or does not exist. So this ‘all time market leader’ god, not the one without attributes and form but the one with attributes and perfections,  confronts us in many places and many forms – in village after village, small lanes and narrow roads, every town and city-manifesting himself in the idols of the temples and gives joy and satisfaction to the devotees. List of such idols-gods with attributes and forms-enshrined in temples is enormous.

To list just a few, in Gujarat at Dwaraka, Somnath, Akshardham, Bhadreshwar, Ambaji, Sankeshwar, etc.; in Sikkim Hanuman Tok, in Guvahati  Kamakshi, Mahabhairava in Tejapur, Baijanath of Kaisohi,  in Uttaranchal, Hidimba mandir of Manali, Sheetaldevi at Gurgaon, Parashuram Kund in Arunachal, the temple of Govindaji in Manipur, down south in Andhra Pradesh Shrishailya, mukhalingam, Gunupudi, in nearby Goa-Mangeshi, Shantadurga, Mahalakshmi, Bhagavati, Chandeshwar,  in Karnataka Virupaksha, Chamundeshwar, Channkeshar, the Mahamaya of Chattisagada, Shuddha Mahadev of Panipat, in Mumbai the Siddhivinayak, Mumbadevi and Babulnath. Further on inMaharashtrawe have Ghrineshwar, Ashtavinayak, eleven Marutis, Pandharpur, Tulajapur, Shirdi, Shanishinganapur, and Ganagapur. In Rajasthan there is the SasbahutempleofUdaypur, Govindadevaji of Jaipur, The kali and Ramkrishna Mission Mandir of Bengal, besides the famous Kashivishvanatha, Haradwar, Vaisnodevi, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Thirupati and yes, how we can forget Ayodhya! All these god manifestations are just those that cater for the Hindus. Now think of the Christians’ Basilica, Saint Cathedral ofGoa; Saint Michel of Simla, Velankani from Nagapattanam and several mosques and Dargas of the Muslims. Devotional seats the Muslims’ are Haji Ali in Mumbai, Jama Masjid of Dilly, Jumma Masjid of Vijapur,Ajmer’s Sharif, etc. There are many well known Jain Mandirs like those at Jaisalmer, Varangal, Ajitanath, Mahsana, Gomateshwar, Chaubishi  andPatna.  The prayer houses of Buddhas are innumerable, e.g. those atGaya, Ajantha, Sanchi, Sarnath, Bomdila, Tavang and Rumtek. To add to this unending list are temples and prayer houses of the umpteen sects and religions prevailing inIndia.

As per the principle of marketing the customers must feel the need for your product; your product will not be sold till then. But once you are convinced that your product does fulfill some felt need of theirs, you have won the game. In this market of devotion, faith is the greatest need. Every human being needs to hang on to some faith or other. To fulfill this need he will, willy-nilly, go to a temple and try to relate to the divine power of his god, who may or may not exist. All this is but natural. Many of those who regularly visit temples believe as much in their own efforts as they do in fate and destiny. Yet they are innocent, trusting devotees and willingly become devotee-consumers. As they go to the temple and stand stooping before their god with folded hands and closed eyes, they get spiritual satisfaction and delight. They feel energized and elated. Whether they really gain energy or they imagine to have gained it, is their own problem but the feeling of piety and spiritual delight cannot be overlooked; it has its own value. They can then ‘leave everything to Him’ and stand up again to face the difficulties of life with renewed energy, which is otherwise quite difficult. It is not easy especially because repeatedly year after year ‘leaving everything to Him’ does not reduce the drudgery of life even one bit; on the contrary it keeps increasing. With all this, the mind first stoops humbly and then springs up again to fight another battle. In one sense the god-the great market leader – and his service work like a psychiatrist, whether he is the Bhairoba of Adgaon or the Dagadusheth Ganapati and the Siddhivinayak of the elite.

This is the market -analysis of the devotee-consumers’ psychology of accepting the services of the Global God Company. People may or may not approve of it. But that is beside the point, for, the discourse here is not regarding the devotional attitude or the mind-set of those who do not mind standing in the queue for hours to have a glimpse of their saguna, sakar god (the idol of the god who otherwise remains invisible and intangible.) The point to be discussed here is ‘the management system; organizing and managing of such an extensive business.

That this biggest and all inclusive field remains unplanned and unorganized is the real concern here. Shouldn’t the changes, like modernity and transparency that have taken place in many other domains be applied to this field too? What should be their direction? What should be the technique and philosophy of the changing management system? Will the standard of the facilities and services offered to the customers in this field improve or not? How will the temple management tune their age old traditions with the changing life style of the 21st century? What kind of structure to handle emergency situations do the temple managements have raised to face the newly emerging problems of security of life and property? The most important point is that of the money the devotee-customers put in the kitty of the temple expecting it to be spent for some pious work by the temple authority. Is the money used for the purpose it is meant for? If not, is there any supervising system to monitor its use?

All these questions need to be very carefully looked into which we intend to do in the next article in the series. It requires much more attention as it happens to be concerning the biggest market inIndia, the present condition of that market and more importantly the future of this market.

Templeis a ‘no profit’ field and affects our economy and our mindset. We ought to understand and investigate it thoroughly. We should know what is happening in the global market of the temples. We all know that in the past our famous Somnath temple was raided and plundered by Mohammad of Gazani not once or twice but twenty-one times. He was not a religious fanatic; all he wanted was the wealth amassed there. Does our present system of temple management look like a modern state of art of the old Mohammad of Gazani method?

The high-tech temple management:

            Earlier we have seen that the temple market inIndiais the biggest market on all criteria- growth, social bond, coverage, size, whatever. Human beings need faith. Faith originated with man and will continue as long as he prevails on the earth. It is voyage without a beginning or an end. It is as personal as it is popular; as much deep rooted as it is shallow and uncouth. Compare these two scenes:

 In the first scene the Paduka of some Maharaj are brought in a palanquin in a very poor village; the poor villagers give away all that their whole family earns in a day in worship of those Paduka; leaving their children too, to go to bed without food. This brings into light the fact that Indians are soaked in religion, body and soul; for ages religion has been hooked up with god, temple and the Maharajas -the so-called pious men; and therefore they find it more important to worship god and his agents than to ease the hunger in their stomachs. The utmost faith of the famished society is visible everywhere in ruralIndiaand may remain visible for a long time.

Now compare this scene with that of the ever increasing festivals being organized in every street and lane of the cities. These festivals are psychological acrobatics to assuage the real or imaginary fear and insecurity. The shrewd builders of huge complexes have well understood this apprehension of their customers. So, very much like car parking they also plan a temple in their complex for parking your faith! And if a builder finds a dilapidated old temple quite close to his complex, then nothing like it. He grabs the opportunity of renovating the old temple and simultaneously gold-plating his own image. In addition forming a temple trust ensures sumptuous income for generations to come. This temple is bound to be overcrowded on days like Mahashivaratri, that guarantees double Punya (pious merit) to the devotees for all his religious actions of that day, almost like the shopping malls on 26th January (a holiday) when a grand sale is declared.

            All of us are aware of what happened to those who confronted faith, head on, and branded religion and god a good dosage of opium. Similarly we have seen what those who proclaimed loudly that ‘Human life means religion and god’ have done to our country. That is why we should be careful not to succumb to either of these trends but raise pertinent questions regarding the system and its management without encouraging or ridiculing faith. It’s a pity that these seats of wisdom where we expect to get answers to all problems of life are obliging us to question them. How can we allow the management of this system to remain mired in the 16th century and at the same time aspire to become a ‘mighty developed Bharat’ by 2020? The foot prints of development that are seen in other fields should be visible in this field too.

            Can we just ignore it and shove off the responsibility of reform to the government? And can we afford to leave the biggest market ill managed and uncontrolled as it is in the present? Just imagine, there are minimum 4 crores devotees standing in front of the temples, expecting to be cleansed, purified and exempted from sins. This big a crowd will be there any time of the day. The job opportunity of this field increases by 5% at least every year. It is irrational to leave all this to the government. When the government is not capable of carrying out its own programmes inaugurated with such pomp and show, it is foolish to expect it to manage those programmes that it has not launched in the first place. Some want that the government should enact strict laws. Such laws are already there in place. But systems and their managements can never be reined in or improved by making laws.

            From the ‘the bottom to the top’ is the new trend of reconstruction and revival of our nation; let us, therefore, begin with the prayer houses. In the past, temples were managed by the local princes, chieftains, kings, etc. Most of them being strong believers and quite generous towards them, the temples did not experience any economic problems. Times have changed now. Gone are the kings and the princes and the chieftains. They are replaced by governments. But the temples are as rich as they were before because the devotees are now more generous and more supportive. With their support, many Churches were built from the middle of the 18th century to 1947, (the middle of the 20th century). They were accompanied by orphanages, schools, small indigenous banks, health centers, training centers, etc. Our temples too had many such social service programmes for many centuries. However the programmes mainly aimed at spiritual enhancement, peace of mind, realization of god, etc. but no social reform per se. Unlike the Christian Missionaries, propagation of religion had never been on their agenda. Only later ‘Brahmo Samaj’, a kind of reformist religion grew out of Hindu religion and similarly the Nirankari and Namadhari sects were expounded out of Sikhism. These sects initiated social reforms through their temple organizations.

             However, 1860 onwards till as recently as 2000, various independent laws or sections, case laws have been made, time and again, to monitor and regulate registrations of the trusts, their administration, their income and expenditure. While these laws are already in place, in reality, a few wise men from the town or village come together and manage the business of the temples there; then with skillful lobbying they also become ‘high profile’ members of the committee for temple administration. On one hand we have this temple management by a few local inhabitants and on the other are quite attractive, interactive, state of the art Websites offering web-pooja too. This makes it possible for you to witness not only your deity but also the deity’s elaborate live pooja on your webcam from wherever you happen to be in the world. With the passage of time the temple architecture has changed. The advances in Information Technology too affect the temple system.

            Today we have fantastic ‘off the shelf’ as well as customized software for temple-management available in the market. The software simplifies management, supplies information to the devotees, helps making the timetable of poojas, keeps account of income and expenditure, keeps record of donations, makes reports in whatever form one needs; you name it and the software will put it together. There is software to take care of every aspect of management of temples including those specially designed for employees of the temples. But hardly anyone uses any software. Most of the administrators and the trustees are above 60 and 70 years. They do not care for these modern fads since they have seen the temples being run without them since time immemorial. They may be right but one cannot ignore the fact that temple management, with a very few exceptions, is lagging far behind other fields where management and technological modification and improvement is readily accepted.

            The cause of this state of affairs lies in the way the managing committees are appointed. Most of us believe that the ‘no profit, no loss’ line of work does not require any modern techniques of management or technology. They are needed only in the profitable lines of work. This outlook is totally wrong. Consider the dealings that take place in the temple-trade: transactions run into 40 to 50 crores of rupees, 500 to 550 employees, 10 to 15 thousand devotee clientele, a few patrons, needy solicitants, etc. The picture of transactions is the same in thousands of traditionally managed temples. Most of the employees in these temples are either over-worked or listless. For, they know that their clientele is not going to reduce whether they keep the temple premises clean or not; whether they are transparently and properly managed or not and whether the necessary improvements are made or not. They do not feel any urgency to make the management of the temples devotee-friendly. Moreover despite the ‘Public Trust Act’, the appointment of members on the board of trustees is hereditary. Except from a few families no other person is likely to be elected as a member of the board, as it involves caste, cultural and more than anything else, monetary interests and convenience is the most important criterion in selection. Once the principle of blood-relation is accepted it becomes an unchangeable tradition passed down through generations. Any change towards modernization is resisted as a danger to the religious solemnity and gravity of the place. Eventually this tendency develops into chauvinism and a sort of weapon in the hands of the management to avoid any improvement.

            Once this tendency is engendered there is no need to be aware of why the devotees visit that particular place of worship and what kind of services he ought to be offered. This is why we come across headlines in the news paper: 200 killed and 400 injured in the jam caused in the Haj Yatra. The name of the place and the number of injured and killed change but the story is the same wherever you go, in the temples on particularly auspicious days or in the fares of various deities or ‘Kumbha Mela’ or some ‘Palakhi’. It can happen even in the Shopping Malls and Multiplexes. At such places we ought to appoint people who are trained and experienced in the management of crowds. If we leave the management of such large crowds in the hands of the ignorant inheritors of the temple management, such accidents will be on the increase because neither the crowd nor the mismanagement is going to shrink.

            My intention here is not to brand all temple-management as corrupt and incompetent. But a few questions in this connection need to be answered. How can we define the enterprise of temple management? Do we need to classify our devotee-clientele? Are our temple personnel suitably trained for offering services to their clientele? How to assess the changing attitude of the devotees and change our services accordingly? How can we apply the Marketing techniques to temple management? Are there any universal norms? These are very sensitive issues and need to be handled very carefully but in another article.

            Today’s management of the temples is astute enough to astound even those politicians for whom aggrandizement of wealth is as important as worshiping god; ‘Money may not be god but its importance is no less than that of god’ is their guiding principle. In the olden days some anonymous devotees who wanted to do something beneficial to the society, built these temples. Today many nameless individuals have occupied these very temples with the intention of earning name and fame.

            I have in front of me, here, an advertisement -not of a bike or a soft drink or a computer manufacturing company- but that of a Church, atIllinoisinAmerica. The title of the add is very attractive. It tells a lot about what goes on in that church. See the main body of the advertisement; it says, ‘Church is that building with stone walls and stained glasses, right at the street corner, where on Sunday Mornings a lot of people gather. For years you have not been able to visit this place, as you were busy studying, growing, marrying and raising a family. We too were as busy as you were and you will be astonished to know the programmes we organized all this time.’ Next come the lists of all programmes for children, for young men and women and for older men and women. It also tells how one can participate in the social activities organized by the church. But the most important thing is the account of collection of money in the church and how it is spent on various programmes, in what proportion and in what way.

            In our country where people are basically very religious, there is no need to persuade them to visit the temple. It is, on the contrary, necessary to tell them not to overcrowd the temples. There is such a devotional deluge in our country that we may be compelled to advertise advising people to avoid visiting the temple on auspicious days to evade stampede and getting hurt. All the same, it is important that transparency of account of all the money that is collected in the temples and how and on what programmes is it spent should be maintained. The temples should accept the responsibility of maintaining transparency of accounts and put the accounts before the public. It is also necessary that the devotees should insist on that the temple management does this sincerely and systematically. The devotees ought to be alert about what happens to the money that they put into the collection box or in the salver at the time of prayers and whose coffers does it reach finally; they should keep the management on their toes.

            A three to four year old report regarding the accounting is relevant here as an example. That it is four years old is not important; what is pertinent is the research method, the recoding of minute changes and its transparency. Although the report is about American Churches, their attitude towards the devotees is an exemplar. These are some of its findings: 70 % Americans regularly donate about one thousand dollars per household to the churches. 55 % Americans offer their services as volunteers to the church once in a year. The total work-hours they put in amount to 20 billion and are worth 230 billion dollars. This means that the notion that the rulers of the developing countries compel their unruly people to believe in god is baseless. For the Faith Market is universal and prevails as much in the developed countries of the West as it does in the developing ones. The trouble-free, prosperous and uninhibited life of the people of the developed countries needs faith as much as or even more than people of the developing countries. In short, human mind, where ever you go, gets pleasure and gratification from faith. That is why nearly 5.5 million staff works fulltime or part time in the o.4 million churches, in addition to the innumerable unpaid volunteers. 60 % of the total donation that the Americans make, goes to the Church. The remaining 40 % goes to education, arts, sports, human rights, conservation of nature, health, etc. Many research projects are undertaken to enhance the amount of donation. The church goers are classified according to their age. How many hours every class spends in the church every week; what individual difficulties do they face; their difficulties as a class; and such other things are thoroughly investigated. The physical difficulties of devotees over 60 years of age are specially taken care of, providing all the facilities they need.

Some of us may find all this very similar to the surveys made by profit making soap or bike industries. But we must remember that when a customer in the crowd, wherever or whatever he wants to buy- even if it is a glimpse of his deity- there should be some established order or a system to cater to his need. Nobody will doubt that this system should not be arrogant, but be, on the contrary, responsive to the devotee-customer. Why shouldn’t it be almost like any profit making system competing with others to retain their customer. Notice here that in both (the church and the profit making company) there is a service providing agency and a customer accepting that service. This similarity and the guiding principle of customer satisfaction should apply to the temples too.

Now we have to determine what is meant by a responsive administration.  It is that administration that understands the customers, tries to fulfill their needs, listens to their complaints, welcomes change and provides the details of all these transactions along with its accounts. The customer quickly notices the difference in the service offered by such establishments; viz. the temples in this case are clean and the edifice is well looked after, there are special arrangements for women and elderly people; the staff is willing, considerate and courteous and one feels calm and relaxed at such a place.

Most of us visit our family deities once every year. How much of it is due to tradition and how much because we experience a kind of tranquility? We pay for ‘Abhishek’ (drop by drop ablution of an idol) on our children’s birthdays and obtain a receipt for it; but are we at the same time satisfied with the service? The filth in the premises, the arrogance of the staff and the ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude of the administration exasperate us. At times, out of frustration we go to the temple office give vent to our annoyance and submit a written complaint. But it is the total indifference that saddens us. The management here is insensitive and unresponsive.

Of course, I won’t wholly blame the management for it. With the change in time, the various components that go to make the management need to be trained so as to adjust mentally to changing demands. But no such attempt has been made in this field of religious service. Every establishment in the non-profit field, -this certainly includes temple keeping- ought to ask itself certain questions. ‘What is our business? Yes, keeping a temple is a business but based on no-profit principle. Who is our customer? What are his needs? What is their purpose in coming here? What kind of experience should we offer them? Etc.

Keeping all pride and prejudice aside, when we dispassionately try to answer these questions, we notice that temple keeping is a ‘feel good’ business and as such faith is our business here. Once this plain truth is accepted, then the customer – the devotee to whom we offer our services – stands before us in a clear perspective. We now become aware of his needs, his predicaments and also can imagine what principles and techniques of management can be of help here. But for this to happen what we need is a professional outlook.

Can we not organize an all inclusive management that can take care of those devotees who regularly visit the temple with utter devotion as well as those who can and do donate generously? Compare this to a company. A company has share holders who not only share the profit that the company makes but also possess the right to intervene in the running of the company and also suggest changes. They keep an eye on the balance sheet, various transactions and policies of the company through the annual meetings of share holders. Then why should the share holders of a temple keeping company- the devotees who come there for gaining religious merit, the workers employed there, the volunteers who maintain sanctity of the temple, the priest who maintains the tradition, the vendors and peddlers who sell flowers, garlands, lockets, booklets, stickers, cassettes, etc. – not participate in an annual meeting as do those of any other company? Why should they not have the same privileges that are enjoyed by the share holders in the profit making fields?

Why shouldn’t the complaints of the devotees and their redressal by the temple authorities be displayed in the temple premises where it can be easily noticed by all? If done, it will create a confidence in the minds of the devotees that the temple authorities are sensitive and responsive towards the convenience of the devotees. Financial transparency will further enhance this confidence. Agreed that it is not all that easy; but it will certainly help develop certain models and principles for management of temples.

Let me give an example. What is the normal source of earning of a temple? It is mostly the money put in the coffers by the devotees and the sale of ‘Prasad’, photos, etc., and also from renting out the enormous spaces owned by the temples. We can collect the data such as how many devotees visit the temple every day and how much is their contribution; how many visit once a month, once in six months and once a year; how much is their total donation; the amount of annual rent collected; the average increase expected in it; etc. If all this can be properly analysed, the temple may raise enough funds for a big project.

A couple of new points can be raised here. Man wanted to divulge the mystery of creation of the universe; philosophy came into being to serve this purpose. Different philosophies had their own adherents and to retain the faith of these adherents in that particular philosophy, rituals were invented. And finally the adherents needed to develop chauvinism to keep the faith ‘burning brightly’. But at the same time, since time immemorial, the different faiths along with their progress also encouraged variety of arts-sculpture, music, painting, dramas, plays, etc. This development continued very nobly and sanctimoniously through centuries, resulting in the famous sculptures of ‘kailas Lene’ and that in the ‘Pulakeshi’ caves. Similarly beautiful Churches and Cathedrals were constructed in the West. Today such nourishment of arts in prayer houses seems to have come to an end. In fact every temple, here, should organize at least one music programme and one arts exhibition for the delight of their devotee followers. We should insist that the temple management arranges such programmes and makes provision for them in their budget.

One more fact about raising a temple. It is fashionable for some spiritualists to abandon all earthly affections and raise a hermitage where many male and female ascetic disciples are expected to gather. The head of the hermitage then has a huge family of disciples much too larger than the one he abandons. And here lies the rub. One must be chary about the purpose behind raising a hermitage, a temple or a prayer house. It can be a means to get hold of a piece of land which otherwise is very difficult. More than the deity that is supposed to be alive and quick to respond to the devotees’ difficulties, the devotees themselves ought to be alert and quick to respond to the land grabbing gang behind the Guru of the hermitage or the temple.

We ought to look at all these schemes and designs objectively and impartially. These days we have temples as well as bars at every street corner and you will not find a single bar that does not prominently display the photo of some Baba, Buva or Guru. Similarly in the long queue before a deity there is not a single person who comes there just to feel cleansed and purified. Each one of them comes to ask for some favour from the deity. The sincere devotees in the ‘Pandharpur Vari’ feel overwhelmed by the mere sight of the temple dome and shed tears of joy that they have reached their destination. But the same Vari also consists of many so called devotees and their supporters needed to look after their leaders’ carnal desires. We stoop before the devotees who are overjoyed at the sight of the dome while the other kind disturbs and saddens us. Similarly the faith of the devotees walking long distances barefoot goes hand in hand with the filth in the sands of the river Chandrabhaga.

Simply purifying one’s own mind is a narrow, self centered attitude. What we need is to raise the necessary infrastructure that goes to help us peep into our own minds; we need to provide the management and administration that is well informed and answerable. I had been to Chennai a few years back. After a hectic week I decided to rest in the hotel on the Sunday. I had to go, however, for delivering a lecture at Kanchipuram. While on the way, my host informed me, ‘it’s a small town of weavers and temples.’ Lecturing on information technology would be a great blunder here, I thought. As we entered the town we noticed a beautiful temple. Noticing the pleasure on my face the host suggested that we visit the temple. I pointed out the huge crowd waiting in the queue, but in a few minutes I found myself in front of the pleasant idol with a prayer salver in my hand, in the calm and serene atmosphere of the temple. As I came out of the sanctum sanctorum, I was surrounded by a number of youngsters in saffron clothes with sacred ashes smeared on their bodies. And to my utter surprise, they actually started asking me questions on ‘Microsoft Windows 98’. Later they all attended my lecture and bombarded me with questions on technology to IT till I sat in the car to return to Chennai. Finally I could not help myself and asked them, ‘why do you need to know about IT when you all are going to spend rest of your life in the temple and looking after it?’ One youngster replied, ‘we have abandoned all this-worldly pleasures but not the pursuit of knowledge. Computer and Internet are the means of acquiring knowledge. Should we not use these modern means to improve our administration?’ I saluted them. I am confident that our temples will, one day, become pursuers of knowledge. What about you?



(Translated  From Marathi by Ms Suman Oak)