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Chapter 16
We are all born like Catholics, aren't we – in limbo, withoutreligion, until some figure introduces us to God? After thatmeeting the matter ends for most of us. If there is a change,it is usually for the lesser rather than the greater; many peopleseem to lose God along life's way. That was not my case. Thefigure in question for me was an older sister of Mother's, of amore traditional mind, who brought me to a temple when Iwas a small baby. Auntie Rohini was delighted to meet hernewborn nephew and she thought she would include MotherGoddess in the delight. "It will be his symbolic first outing," shesaid. "It's a samskara!" Symbolic indeed. We were in Madurai;I was the fresh veteran of a seven-hour train journey. Nomatter. Off we went on this Hindu rite of passage, Mothercarrying me, Auntie propelling her. I have no consciousmemory of this first go-around in a temple, but some smell ofincense, some play of light and shadow, some flame, someburst of colour, something of the sultriness and mystery of theplace must have stayed with me. A germ of religious exaltation,no bigger than a mustard seed, was sown in me and left togerminate. It has never stopped growing since that day.
I am a Hindu because of sculptured cones of red kumkumpowder and baskets of yellow turmeric nuggets, because ofgarlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because ofthe clanging of bells to announce one's arrival to God, becauseof the whine of the reedy nadaswaram and the beating ofdrums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floorsdown dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because ofthe fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lampscircling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung,because of elephants standing around to bless, because ofcolourful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheadscarrying, variously signified, the same word – faith. I becameloyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what theymeant or what they were for. It is my heart that commandsme so. I feel at home in a Hindu temple. I am aware ofPresence, not personal the way we usually feel presence, butsomething larger. My heart still skips a beat when I catch sightof the murti, of God Residing, in the inner sanctum of atemple. Truly I am in a sacred cosmic womb, a place whereeverything is born, and it is my sweet luck to behold its livingcore. My hands naturally come together in reverent worship. Ihunger for prasad, that sugary offering to God that comesback to us as a sanctified treat. My palms need to feel theheat of a hallowed flame whose blessing I bring to my eyesand forehead.
But religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what therite and ritual stand for. Here too I am a Hindu. The universemakes sense to me through Hindu eyes. There is Brahman,the world soul, the sustaining frame upon which is woven,warp and weft, the cloth of being, with all its decorativeelements of space and time. There is Brahman nirguna, withoutqualities, which lies beyond understanding, beyond description,beyond approach; with our poor words we sew a suit for it –One, Truth, Unity, Absolute, Ultimate Real............
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