Picture a reality contest, one which is home to the greatest crowds of all time. You know the kind: people crammed in lines long enough to challenge marathon distances, intense desperation and the most extreme form of competition today. However, in this contest, contestants are not segregated by any criteria in particular, and anyone can enter. Forced participation has even been witnessed before. There has never, in the history of all time, been a winner of this contest, and there probably never will be. What you have just imagined is another day at the Tirupati temple, which may be the most commercially extravagant shrine in the world.
The entire town is built solely around the temple, and for the first time I managed to explore a museum based on a place of worship. But these trivialities stand no match for the one aspect that drives such an attraction and is in itself a most fascinating instance of irony: the people and their attitude towards such a structure.
We line up at about 8 p.m. I notice the other contestants, physically no different than the common human but mentally prepared for any extremity. I don’t know what to expect myself. How different can this be from any other ‘darshan’? The lines fill up in a few seconds, and it starts. The atmosphere is initially calm: cheerful families chuckling at antics of their 3 year-olds, relaxed couples with countless layers of skin and bones that resemble twigs that look like their visit may be a break from the old age home. The line splits, people separated by the most common factor today: money. I hurriedly make my way, disregarding others and breaking any social niceties that previously separated me from the rest. The transformation has begun.
After about 10 minutes of almost-jogging, we are packed into waiting rooms that have benches and televisions. This reminds me almost too distinctly of the waiting room at ICU’s in hospitals, where the concerned await with distress at the results; is their loved one going to make it? Strangely, this seemed very much like I was expecting such a verdict for God himself. The silent drone of voices and lack of movement spelled the calm before the storm, and anyone who hadn’t experienced this before could make out that something strange had filled the air, and the mood was in transition. Two men, wearing only white, expressionlessly walk toward the gate. So, the doctors have finally allowed us to visit the patient, I think. Then it begins: every one of the 100 ‘people’ around me mechanically makes their way through in such great force that nothing could have stopped them from reaching that gate. The locks open, bodies fly about, young ones are almost hurled in the air by parents who have retained a shred of emotion, but others don’t seem to care anymore. I look into one of their eyes expecting rage, and find happiness instead. This isn’t what lies in people’s eyes while they smile socially for a photograph. This is genuine joy, combined with barbaric physical actions. The very amalgamation of the two in authentic measure is enough to terrify. This mixture is the one that, when implemented, may point toward the final straw, the one that indicates the eventual lack of humanity in them.
As we finally make way to the main temple, chaos in its truest form ensues. I stand at the heart of worship, and in the duration of a single breath, I realize the agony of it all; the very followers of such a power trample his teachings on the way to attempting to reach out to him. I stand not at a source of joy, but one of destruction. We mourn our creator without realizing it in the slightest bit; he mourns his creation in complete knowledge of its pursuits. One doesn’t control everything it creates. Creation may also lead to annihilation.