I was born a Hindu. I am a Hindu even today. Hinduism is my religion. But what does religion and faith really mean to me? In these years, I have grown to learn, re-learn and un-learn much about it, though it still seems to be unfulfilling… So as our main festivals arrive this year, I’m on a long reflective drive, trying to explore my relation with it.
Born and raised abroad, while at school I sang hymns in the praise of Lord Jesus and waited anxiously for the school’s annual Christmas play. At home my mother did not leave her responsibility incomplete in raising me by making us watch tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. At that point in Life, it seemed natural to me that one should learn and understand these two religions. Unknowingly, at that young age, I held on to the habit of writing to someone every day, in my little Diary, sharing everything I wanted- to God. When I look back at those diaries, I seem to have interplayed the role of the Diary and God, talking to them both as one.
Back in India as time went by, I was exposed to the hundreds of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and demons in various ways, and even as I admit that I took the path to knowing them all, I eventually gave away.
My paternal grandparents were an interesting couple. They bickered with each other all the time in defence of the Gods they followed respectively, and even refused to sleep together after a point! While my grandmother turned into an ardent ‘bhakt’ (spiritual follower) of Sri Satya Sai Baba, my grandfather remained a worshipper of the traditional Gods and Goddesses, including the ancestral House-God who was to be kept pleased at all times, the Five Pandavas from the Mahabharata and the nine incarnations of the Mother Goddess Durga. Of course all the other important Gods were also to be worshipped- the common ones being, Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Ram, Hanuman, Ganesh, et al. My grandparents’ love and hate was such that after a week she passed away, he followed her up. I guess in the end, both their Gods were powerful, for they took away precious lives right when they needed to. As a young child, I thought my grandfather’s Gods were more powerful though, since he prayed everyday to be taken and re-met with his dead wife, and I wondered if his prayers were answered, or his grief was so strong…
I would follow my grandmother to the houses in the neighbourhood where every evening the Sai bhakts’ group took turns in hosting a get-together where they sang hymns and blessed the house and family. I learnt quite a few of the chants and bhajans during those days, and as I cuddled in bed with her at night, I found it fascinating to learn about this new God who did magic, would appear in front of people as though it were a dream, and who according to my grandmother would die soon and be re-born at another time in another form. She would show me a picture of him in the middle with a number of conjoined heads that seemed to include Lord Buddha and Jesus as well. It read on the footnote: God is One. I thought, well that’s convenient!
I started collecting pictures of any God I could get my hands on and began sticking them on a large chart paper, If God is One, why not just keep them in one place together, It’s easier to pray that way. My grandmother wanted me to join these Sunday classes where children went to a certain school to learn good manners from the teachings of the Sai Baba, and took up a musical instrument to be able to sing the hymns. My mother refused, stating I wasn’t spiritually or musically inclined, but the truth is that she was scared I would turn into a yogi or a ‘mata’ as they would call a woman who becomes the chosen one to be possessed by the Goddess, for by then I had begun sitting for prayers, would watch and take interest in all things related to the Hindu religion and was making an attempt to make my own incense stick and ‘tika’. Well, my mother was right about me not being spiritually inclined but I could have definitely made use of the music lessons had I gone to that ‘good’-school.
At school as I learnt about how Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam all started, I understood that human beings can also become Gods and it made me wonder why it was so important to learn all the names and dates if eventually all the religions preached the same? Good versus Evil, Do good, be good, be kind, and so on.
I never really questioned the existence of a spiritual being, or if I could really call it, a God for all my life. Participating in pujas, prayers and havans with the hope that evil would ward off and good luck would come, with the hope that if the Gods were pleased, we’d get what we asked in return (isn’t that like a blackmail?). I continued to make efforts to do my regular prayers and blindly believed that there is someone who is in fact watching over us, and that behaving rightly was pertinent lest I be punished for my sins. Thanks to my maternal grandmother’s stories, I grew a liking for Lord Shiva and Ganesha in particular. I did my fasts whenever I could, in fact kept them only on the occasions of the Gods I had a liking for. Totally illogical, I know, but so it was.
Our house being close to the Monastery, I grew to like the monastery bell chimes in the mornings and evenings, smiled at monks, but also did not hesitate to participate in Christmas carols. In fact my late grandmother’s younger sister is a Protestant and she too would take me along to her Christian gatherings and did try a many times to convince me into the teachings of the Bible, though indirectly.
I was a little like Piscine in the Life of Pi, wanting to be akin with all the religions. But that wasn’t taking me anywhere.
Such were my times with God until last year I went through some personal and professional turmoil. I began to lose faith in the existence of God. If God wasn’t helping me, then I ain’t praying and thanking Him for nothing either. A little like that.
It was also at that same time that I got my hands on Karan Bajaj’s The Seeker which coincided with a trip to Sarnath-Varanasi, and this reaffirmed my perspective towards many things.. about the existence of God, the way of a religious or spiritual follower.
The exploration of my relationship with God was just beginning to unfurl into something further complicated, and until I found some answers or arrived at a decision, I decided to take a break from the relationship 😉 I stopped praying and blindly following the ‘rules’ or appeasing of the Gods.
Soon, I had to arrive at something though…