Religion, the Ultimate Drug


Religion is a potent source of solace to a lot of people.  Otherwise it wouldn’t have survived so long.  When you are going through an excruciating crisis, one of the best solutions is to go to the god that you believe in and put all the burden of your heart at his feet.  You feel very comfortable at heart. 

Will that comfort last if you come to know that the god at whose feet you have placed all your problems with so much trust does not exist at all?

This is the controversy that is raging in Kerala these days.

Sabarimala is a famous pilgrimage centre in Kerala.  Thousands of pilgrims climb a mountain, after taking a dip in the ‘holy’ river Pamba, to pay homage to the god Ayappa and receive his blessings.  The number of pilgrims rises to hundreds of thousands in the pilgrimage season, Dec-Jan.  On 14 Jan this year a tragedy took place near the pilgrimage centre.  About a hundred people died due to the stampede. 

Jan 14 is MAKARA SAMKRANTI.  A particular star is seen at its brightest on that day.  But hundreds of thousands of people cannot be directed to see any star in the infinite outer space.  So what do the people in power at Sabarimala do?  They light up a lamp from a remote hill.  Access to that hill is denied to any layperson.  It lies in the reserved forests. 

Earlier the tribal people living in those forests used to light up the lamp as part of their Markara Samkranti celebrations.  But the tribal people were vacated from the hills a few decades ago by DEVELOPMENT.  The Kerala government took charge of the hill.  Now it is the Kerala Police in connivance with the Kerala Electricity Board that light up the artificial light.  And the pilgrims stand enthralled by its appearance.  All the prominent TV channels in Kerala, including the Marxist Kairali TV, telecast the appearance of the lamp and the veneration of it by the pilgrims live! 

The stampede that occurred this year prompted the High Court in Kerala to issue an order.  It ordered that the authorities concerned [Kerala government and the Devaswam Board] should make it clear to the pilgrims whether the lamp is indeed miraculous.  The Hindu United Front in Kerala is arguing that the beliefs of the pilgrims should not be tampered with. 

In other words, let people enjoy the comforts of the delusion.  By the false belief that the lamp is indeed divine.

Is this what religion about?  Deluding people into a false sense of psychological comfort? 

If it is so, I should start worshipping my whisky bottle!

PS. I visited Sabarimala in the early 1990s during the height of the pilgrimage season.  But I was not a pilgrim.  I was a tourist.  So I had an added advantage.  The policemen who saw me in layman’s dress allowed me to go ahead without standing in the queue.  The queue is only meant for the pilgrims who will insist on going through all the ‘steps’ [and there are 18 steps at Sabarimala covered with gold – the last stage of the pilgrimage which only a pilgrim carrying the traditional bundle of offerings can climb].  I went all over the place including the sacrosanct premises allowed to the pilgrims. Today, probably, a layman-tourist won’t be allowed anywhere near the temple.  Especially if he is sporting a beard.  He could be a Muslim terrorist!  The Pamba river, considered holy even today, was so polluted even in the early 1990s that I wouldn’t dare to touch it even with my feet.  But the pilgrims had to take their dip in it!  Religion really transcends my understanding.  Let me hit a more rational drug, my drink of whisky.  [I am an escapist too.]


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7 Responses to Religion, the Ultimate Drug

  1. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    This tragedy is nothing new, at all Matheikal. In the 1960s 18 people died in a stampede as they were slowly moving in a queue to have “Darshan” of Lord Balaji at Tirupati! Those who survive such tragedies UNASHAMEDLY thank God for sparing them! Is there a stronger proof of selfishness as promoted by religion?

    Raghuram Ekambaram

    • matheikal says:

      But, Raghuram, the problem I’m raising is not of a stampede. It’s the questin of belief vs. make-belief. The lamp they are projecting as the divine, miraculous lamp is absolutely fake. And people are dying for it!
      I know you knew it!

  2. DMRSekhar says:

    Let the truth be told. “smoking is injurious to health”.


  3. Aditi says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I did read in the papers that the authorities did not claim the man-made light to be THE ‘makara jyoti’, and called it just ‘makara velakku'(I dont know what velakku means in Malayalam). It was just ‘symbolic’ for the occasion, as they said.

    • matheikal says:

      Yes, Aditi, there are two different lights involved: (1) Makara jyothi, and (2) Makara vilakku. ‘Vilakku’ in Malayalam means ‘lamp’. The Dewaswam Board in Kerala as well as the chief priest at Sabarimala agree that one of them is artificially made. And the people of Kerala know it too. Now the controversy is simply whether it should be made known to the thousands of pilgrims who come from other states. Or should it be kept in the dark so that the vested interests can reap certain benefits – both religious and economic.

  4. Dipak Chakra says:

    Fascinating stuff. What about waking up from death after 14 days and climbing to heaven! Or talking to allah when needed.
    May be I will try waking on water go to Loudre, may be become a saint by curing cancer.

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