The underground cellars of the Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, have spilled out fabulous treasures whose worth is estimated to be around one lakh crore rupees (Rs 1000,000,000,000). The gold coins, chains, biscuits and other items like pearls and the navaratnas are supposed to have been donated to the temple by devotees in the past. There are gold coins belonging to different historical eras. People were ‘religious’ in all eras of the human history.
Is it more correct to say that people were trying to bribe the gods in all eras?
This thought occurred to me as I was reading the news reports about the Kannada film actress Maria Susairaj. She was party to the murder of Neeraj Grover. Maria’s boyfriend, Emile Jerome, killed Grover when the latter was found in a compromising position with Maria. Emile and Maria together disposed of the body. Maria was let off by the court with a relatively mild sentence of three years in prison which she had already served during the trial period.
Maria said repeatedly in the press conference she granted to the media persons who followed her relentlessly to the point of harassment, “It is only my God who has got me out. I have reconciled with my God. That is enough.” [emphasis added]
I have argued time and again in the past that God is, among other things, a kind of escape route for people with criminal tendencies. God is the water that flows in the Ganga: a dip in it can wash away all your sins and you are now free to commit more sins which the Ganga will wash away again and again! God is the absolution uttered by the priest in the confessional. God is the sponge that absorbs all crimes. You may have to pay a price, however. Like the gold items found in the cellars of the Thiruvananthapuram Temple.
I am not pointing an accusing finger at anybody. But I am questioning the logic behind the attitude. Does real conversion take place in religion or in one’s soul? [I am using the term ‘soul’ for convenience. You are free to view it as conscience, consciousness or any other such entity.] In other words, can a religious ritual make one a better person or is it a change of the heart that makes one a better person?
What religions seem to achieve is a temporary change of heart. A consolation rather than change of heart. You are washed clean or absolved of your guilt. You are free to commit new crimes.
A genuine change of heart does not need any religion. It comes from within as a result of one’s realisation of one’s mistake. That realisation leads to a permanent change of attitude. One becomes a better person with a resolve to avoid the wrong paths. With a resolve to follow the right path, to put it positively. Such realisation and change of heart does not require any bribing of the deities.
Yet the treasuries of temples, churches, mosques, gurudwaras… will continue to grow richer and richer.