Religion and Superstition: Brothers in Arms

It was 21st September 1995.
I was in standard Xth and it was a very important day of my life.
I was pedaling my Hero Ranger bicycle hard through the busy streets of Patna, as I had to appear in front of an elite panel of professors at the science centre.
They had already scrutinized a thousand or so essay entries for a competition whose 3 winners would rub shoulders with other state level winners in a national total solar eclipse camp at Alwar on Oct 24th 1995.
My entry was selected and I was to appear for the interview, along with 25 odd other hopefuls, which would ascertain whether I could go on to see the total solar eclipse.
So, it was an important day.

As I navigated through the clogged streets, I saw a strange event unfold.
All the mandirs were swarming with a huge crowd and the scene was repeated in all the mandirs on the way, no exceptions. I did not have enough time to inspect what it was all about. I was perfectly aware that it was not a day of festivities. It oddly looked a few devotees too many for it being an inauspicious day of the calendar.

Later that day, when I rejoiced at being selected for representing my state at the national total solar eclipse camp, did the news of Ganesha idols ‘drinking’ milk all over the country lit up all the news carrying fraternities across the country. All the mediums reported the frenzied public reaction which bordered from it being christened as an act of the god, a divine intervention in the lives of all, to a definitive and conclusive evidence of it being the eternal yet a boilerplate act of supernatural miracle, which only the omnipotent God can dish out.

I was stunned.
I just could not believe how can a stone idol ‘drink’ milk?
I was absolutely positive that this news could not be true. Either it was a part of a well planned mass hysteria, which had led people to see what they wanted to see, or if it indeed happened, then it could be explained by scientific theories.

However, with in days of this miraculous event, the scientific fraternity had found out that this was a simple case of surface tension and capillary action, which created nation wide ruffles. But I remained frustrated. This was because whenever I discussed this phenomenon with my friends, they all would solemnly pledge that it was a divine miracle. The arguments were grotesque.
“How can you explain that only on ‘that’ day all the idols started ‘drinking’ milk?”
“Why only Ganesha idols drank milk?”
When confronted with the scientific facts, the last resort was quite nasty….
“No matter what science says, it was and it will be a divine incident, don’t you dare question it at all….”

Its deja-vu to me. Do not question the religion or else…..
Galileo questioned the divine theory of geocentric universe and had to pay for his ‘sins’ with his life, courtesy the church. Kepler introduced the concept of elliptical orbits for heavenly bodies but that was met with serious dispute as it did not agree with the religious portraits of a uniform and perfect universe because an ellipse is not as ‘perfect’ as the circle is. Even recently we had witnessed the pope ejaculate his wisdom of sex leading to cancer and AIDS. Also we had heard the Vatican declare that the scientists can embark on the mission of finding out the true fabric of the universe but its better to leave the concepts of its origin to the hands of divine superpowers.

So, the history is awash with examples which elucidate with remarkable ease that the religion has always posed as an adversary to the nature of free enquiry and research that asks fundamental questions. In other words, the custodians of the religions want us to be what they want us to be. Its better not to embarrass them with new discoveries, which would erode the mass base of the divine superpower believers and hence would land a body blow to their own powers.

We, the human beings have always believed in superpowers from the heaven. The time when the civilization was in its infancy and science and technology was practically non existent, these superpowers were the only solace to the bewildered human beings who suffered from virtually every element of nature. The result: human beings saw gods in rains, in sun, in boulders, in trees, in diseases, in animals, in fire, in primitive instruments, in stars…almost everything which either eased the human life or tortured it, was a god of some kind.

Then came the complexity when the division of labor implied setting up of different industries. Man discovered agriculture, farming, animal husbandry, pottery, gaming, weaving, administration and religious custodians. As the science was not developed enough, people turned to the religion for answers of the unknown. This made the religious custodians powerful.

At times their solutions hit the nail on its head and the mass base of belief grew. However, the next day another man could describe the phenomenon in scientific language and propose a better solution. This was a dangerous situation. If the unknown man’s theory gains popularity, the powerful cease to exist. So he has to be gagged. And that was done more often than not. Result: – The religion kept towing the old lines of thought. Over time, this baggage grew to a huge size and all its artifacts were antiquated theories and practices with little or no tangible benefits vis-à-vis the new technology era. The tangible effects came from the most enterprising source, the man himself.

There came many great men and philanthropist of their times who had a profound effect in the lives of many. They were normal human beings with much more empathy for others and they attracted a good many followers. As the great man passed away, the legacy remained. Curiously, at times, the legacy kept augmenting. The greatness and the nobility were replaced by mythical testimonials of miracles and supernatural powers. Thus the noble human being turned into a saint, a prophet and was propelled to the higher orbits to join the other numerous superpowers. The rest was the same. There was a similar kind of custodian group, which kept towing the old lines for centuries and centuries. Any question about the divinity was a taboo.

Tomorrow we may very well see a new cult for Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, where people would claim that they could bring men back from the cadaverous state by their healing touch: – pretty much the same as it is said for many godmen and prophets. The custodians propagate the message that its better to be led by the path set by prophets and saints and godmen who lived centuries ago and still believe that’s the best way of life. Any new change would make the old principles and doctrines null and void and there is no scope of updation as the custodians themselves are lesser mortals compared to the superpowers and hence find themselves incapable to carry out any modifications to existing doctrines.

This germinates the seed of superstition. Fuelled by lack of free enquiry, rigid old doctrines which are considered gospels and outclassing the radical thoughts as blasphemy, the religious lines become a supermarket of superstitions. In these supermarkets of superstition and divinity: the palmists, numerologists, vastu-shashtris, zodiac sign readers, miracle healers, occultists, fortune tellers, thought readers et al open their souvenir shops and do brisk business. Scientific temper peters out.

Religion is big business. Look at the huge mandirs that have come up in recent past. The Akshar Dham Mandir in Delhi, an endeavor that costed over 1000 crores. Siddhi Vinayak of Mumbai is poised to sport a 100 kg gold ornamentation. Tirupate Balaji receives over a 1000 crores as alms every year. Our godmen are big business tycoons. Swami Ramdev’s Divya Yoga Ashram is a multi million dollar enterprise. So is the ashram of Sai Baba of Puttaparthy. It’s true that divinity does sell.

However, the only way to keep people hooked up to this economically potent industry is through coming up with mega publicity stunts. The incident of 21st September 1995 was once again repeated on Augest 19th 2006. Results were identical. No matter what amount of education has percolated into the society, we still remain in the blind superstitions of religion and remain fancied to the dictum of ‘no questions asked’.

Even we suppress the innocent child’s queries. We tell our children not to question the religious ethics. I remember a toddler attracting a strong rebuke from his mother when he saw certain similarities in goddess Durga with an octopus, probably because both have multiple limbs.

Apart from superstitions, this closed door policy of little or no change, fans the communal fire and intolerance too. Add a bit of political gimmick to it and you have a lethal cocktail, almost comparable with bollywood’s favorite combination of sex and violence which sells everywhere, from mega cities to hamlets.

Religion, itself is a great anchoring concept. Something that can bring about a feeling of relief and justice to many. Something which can root people facing adverse situations in life. Its one of the most complex socio-psychological fabric of the society.

The problem is not with the religion itself. The guardian angles and the custodians are the people who have turned it into a static cesspool of rotting old ideas and customs. It makes us superstitious, weak, and resistant to free thinking and impedes scientific temperament. As long as we the citizens keep a blind faith towards our age old religious doctrines and refuse to imbibe scientific temper by free enquiry, we will remain as one of the most superstitious being living on this planet.

As a famous philosopher had once pointed out: “If people attribute everything that they do not understand to the divinity, there will be no end to the divine things.”

Till that time comes, lets rush to the nearest milk booth and then let the idols drink the milk or better lets rush to the sea and collect the ‘divinely sweetened sea water’, and lets get drunk with superstitions and utter religious prayers in dillirium.
A Men !!!


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