An anecdote to bring out the meaning of religious tolerance.
Not so long ago, but long enough for me to view the happenings objectively, once we as friends had been to Churu in the state of Rajasthan in INDIA. While on our way, it was told that a very famous temple was not very far away and that we shud pay a visit to the Hindu temple.
We reached the temple precincts by about lunch-time. It was not a very hot day, as it was sometime during the winter months. We got out of our car and my Hindu friends started removing their shoes and socks to leave those behind in the car.They were surprised that i had not stirred to remove my shoes or my socks off my feet.
The smartest ( i prefer to keep names out) of my friends, said HEY DUDE U CAN’T ENTER THE TEMPLE WITH ALL THOSE LEATHER OR YOUR SMELLY SOCKS ON, LIKE U DO IN YR CHURCHES.
I said, Boss! I am not entering the Temple.
He was concerned as he thought that i did not like the parallel he drew between the Temples and Churches. I was as liberated then, as much as I am now. But there was hardly any scope for discussing religious matters as we were at an age, when our mental space was filled with fine restaurants, nice ambiance, elegant women and girls- who were breaking into womanhood and were donning traits and skimpy micros to assess their attraction quotient from the response from the type of men they mentally held in awe!
I allayed his anxiety and said that it had nothing to do with what he said about entering the Churches with smelly socks and dirty shoes. I told him firmly that i was not coming for reasons which i told him i’d explain while having lunch. He agreed and left for his Darshan. He came back probably in 45 mins. I’d had a peaceful smoke and taken my rounds in the market which was exclusively catering to the devotees who wanted certain puja material.
We went to a nearby restaurant which was serving authentic Rajasthani food. As we sat, my pal said I DIDN’T IMAGINE THAT U WERE A FANATIC! I had not entirely unanticipated that response from him. I said that my personal experience and my religious conviction made me believe that i’d be first of all a misfit to enter a temple and secondly, i may be forced by circumstances to do things which are explicitly forbidden in my religion.
He was flabbergasted that an Indian could be not only liberal enough to visit the Temple but was also adducing reasons for his staying back. I told him that when i, was a kid of seven and, wanted to gain access to the Tanjore BRAHADEESWARAR temple i was thwarted by the person standing at the entrance, after he ascertained if i was a Hindu and negatively answered by me, he held my hand restrainingly and told me that i can’t enter. When i went back home, i was wondering if i was wrongly stopped.
With none to turn to, i asked the Driver Rajendran, who was my dad’s driver if it was a mistake for a christian to enter the temple. He said in chaste Tamil, saar from your mannerism and the body language he had made out that u were just a curious visitor and not a devotee, that made him single u out. So don’t take it to your heart. Rajendran was a witness to the scene in front of the THANJAI BRAHADEESWARAR temple. Rajendran had been a lorry owner and had fallen in bad times and thus had taken up employment. He was a person with tremendous self respect and conducted himself with dignity which was way beyond the function he was performing, at that time.
That night I had to take a serious decision- whether i cud enter a temple merely as a visitor and not as a devotee? The inner voice’ answer was a resounding NO.
My friend after hearing the episode thought that that had happened so far back in the past that it shud not be allowed to interfere with the present.
I said i was not thru. I told him that my religion was monotheistic and the name of my God was JESUS. I neither know about other Gods nor am i obliged to know about other Gods, therefore i was merely following the prescription of my religious creed. I am too small a fry to talk about others’ beliefs but for the integrity of my existence, i have to focus on one God and the name is JESUS.
So where is the prohibition to enter Temples, even if u do not recognize our Gods? – he asked. I told him AS AN INDIAN I HAVE THE LIBERTY TO ENTER A TEMPLE OR NOT TO, SO DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO ENTER A CHURCH OR NOT TO, WHY DO U HAVE TO INSIST ON MY ENTERING THE TEMPLE?
FURTHER IF I WERE TO ENTER, AND A PLATTER WITH A BURNING CAMPHOR WERE TO BE EXTENDED BEFORE ME, I WOULD NOT WORSHIPFULLY FOLD MY PALMS TO THE FIRE EXTENDED TO ME, AS IT WOULD AGAINST MY BELIEF. THEREFORE WHY GET INTO A SITUATION THAT MIGHT MAKE ME STAND OUT AND CAUSE CONSTERNATION TO THE OTHER DEVOTEES?
THEREFORE i as a matter of principle and practice do not enter Temples.
IN future i also will not enter your churches, my friend said.
I told him, I FOLLOW MY RULES AND YOU SHUD YOURS ! I am prohibited from doing certain things and the commandments are NEGATIVELY WORDED for me such as, YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME; but if such restrictions are placed in your religion you shud also follow that.
This is a great country which has given rights to individuals NOT TO SING EVEN THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, IF IT WERE TO BE AGAINST THEIR CREED AND PRACTICE- but they have to show respect for the singing of the anthem by standing up etc. (Supreme court’s decision on JEHOVAH’S WITNESS Vs. STATE OF KERALA)
Once the Mahatma said, I AM A HINDU, A CHRISTIAN, A JEW, A MUSLIM and a PARSI.
Jinnah who was in the vicinity said ONLY A HINDU COULD SAY THAT.
Knowing the sarcasm of Jinnah one can undersatand the sense in which he must have made that statement, but in its essence a HINDU IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN WORSHIP ANY GOD IN ANY PLACE WITHOUT ATTRACTING THE FEELING OF GUILT- BASED ON HIS RELIGION.
Let us preserve it.