Monday, September 21, 2009

Roadside shrines

When you have a nation of over a billion people, each with their own personal god who they want to enshrine publicly, is it any wonder that our cities are overrun with shrines?

In all my years, I have yet to encounter a single banyan tree which has not provided shade to a pantheon of deities. Any neem tree worth its girth has sacred red thread wound under it. In the older parts of Bombay, every self respecting street has at least one life-size cross which have long since ceased to be memorials to a long buried citizen, and have now taken on the aspect of a place of religious worship. And there are all those tiny roadside shrines, which look deserted on most days, and suddenly come alive with candles and fresh flowers once a week. Even our walls are covered with pictures of religious symbols, but that is a whole different story.

A skeptic may wonder why despite having an abundance of shrines, Bombay is the only major city in the world that repeatedly witnesses terror attacks. A religious zealot may argue that that the ‘other’ gods and goddesses neutralize the good that their own God does. A person like me would like to believe that it is the hope and spirit of the people that keeps the city going – the same hope and spirit that drives them to put up the shrines in the first place.





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8 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

The shrines must present an incredible sight! Not so much of that here, although there are small memorials set out on highways to mark the place of a fatal accident. The sight always makes me sad...

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Tabitha Bird said...

Thanks for visiting my blog:)

I have never been to bombay, but I imagine those shrines would be an amazing site.

Karen Walker said...

Hello Rayna,
I love the idea of personal shrines. I have an altar in my bedroom, which, I think, is similar. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your lovely comment.
karen

Watery Tart said...

I haven't been to India, but it always seemed a place seeped in spiritualism and so this seems very fitting to me.

And the religious skeptic in me thinks this varied and entrenched religious presence contributes to the problems--most people believe too strongly that their god(s) alone is the right one, and can be incited to violence over the fact.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Anything that reminds us that hope is alive is good. Blessings upon all shrines, no matter what faith!

Elspeth

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Elizabeth - shrines that are memorials to accident victims is sad. Most of the ones in India (regardless of denomination) are set up when a prayer was answered.

@ Tabitha - the sad thing is that we are so used to them, we don't even see them any more :-(

@ Karen - most of these do tend to be private alters, even if they are in public places. And your blog is lovely.

@ Tami - somehow, I think the intolerance bit is overrated. In India, there are just so many gods, and religions and sects, most people do what they want to do, and let the other guy do what he wants to. And often, they share faiths too. But when the violence happens, it is so violent, that makes news.

@ Elspeth - I totally agree.

ladyfi said...

I agree with your interpretation: how lovely that the spiritual is all around!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Thanks, Fiona.

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