Temples, Festivals and Holy Men

Surely, our temple festivals have a lot to offer for everyone – be it for the religious and cultural-minded, fun-loving men and women, vendors making brisk sales and even Conmen! During my recent holiday to Chennai, I had an opportunity to experience the grand celebrations in Tiruchanur Goddess temple near Tirupati. This festival attracts me every year particularly because of the presence of two renowned Nadaswaram(Shehnai) players – Sheikh China Maulana’s grandsons and Mambalam Siva. I endeared myself to the Nadaswaram players as I was one of the very few keen followers of their music sessions during the temple festival, encouraging them to play new compositions.

In this post, I’m going to narrate an incident that I witnessed during the festival.
This happened on the 5th day of the 10 day festival.The main deity(Goddess Padmavati)was taken in procession around the village streets. The procession was led by well decorated temple elephants followed by graceful presentation of Kolaattam(a beautiful play with sticks),a puppet show, school girls in colourful costumes dancing in bliss, high decibel Kerala drummers beating to a tiringly repetitive rhythm, a Clarinet group playing popular tunes, Nadaswaram vidwans rendering melodious classical music, a group of Divya Prabandham chanting scholars, a group of VIPs cordoned off by the cops etc. Just behind the VIP enclosure, the VAHANA carrying the Goddess decorated exquisitely with flowers and jewellery passed by. The Goddess was closely followed by a group of scholars chanting vedas, marking the end of the grand procession. It’s a wonderful spiritual experience to savour.
Occasionally, one would find a couple of dancing ‘bhajan’ groups at the very end of the procession. On the Day 5 of the festival,it was this bhajan group that caught my attention because something bizarre happened. An old man was surrounded by 4 or 5 guys singing what sounded like a folk bhajan song. The old man wore a funny looking flower garland around his head and had holy marks of ‘Tiruman'(Tilak)on his forehead. He was doing some dancing jigs, bobbing up and down in jerky motion as if in a trance. Within minutes his audience multiplied in great numbers and looked mesmerized by his antics. Even as they approached him, the old man would place his both his hands on their heads as though blessing them. And the gullible villagers would instantly shove ten rupee notes around his garland carefully tying the notes to the string. Of course the old man did have a few personal assistants to make sure safe & secure placement of the notes around the garland. During the half an hour that I witnessed the show, the guy seemed to have walked away with a neat collection of perhaps a few hundred rupees.

This side-show was nothing compared to another spectacle I saw on the temple premises. A holy looking temple priest with the Vaishnavite’s Tiruman & Srichurnam(Tilak)placed at 12 places on his body would sit everyday inside the temple in a cosy corner after the day’s puja rituals were over. His personality, appearance and make-up would easily qualify him for a holy swamiji or monk. Several gullible North Indian devotees would prostrate before him and donate money liberally. According to reliable sources, this priest would easily make a cool collection of thousands of rupees every day.

It’s pathetic to see that our temples and holy shrines are being used by conmen to make easy money at the expense of gullible villagers.

Published in: on December 22, 2013 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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