Sunday 1 January 2012

Incredible India: Bahá'í, the faith and the Lotus Temple

Intrepid and foolish
My first day after the torture of lecture I thought I’ll be the intrepid tourist seeking out the tourist attractions of New Delhi rather than hiring a cab to take me around for the day.
Sometimes I forget that I get disorientated quite easily that my sense of bearing might be lost when I think I am charting a course somewhere.
On agenda was the Bahá’í Lotus Temple and the India Gate, they were as far apart as you could have them in the large expanse of New Delhi but I was confident I will make it.
After 2 changes of the metro I was just about 8 stops from where to get off on the Violet Line; I wondered about that choice of colour but having used Red, Yellow, Blue, Blue, Green maybe Brown would have been an option and Black was out of the question. I had been advised to get off at Nehru Place but the Lonely Planet guide suggested Kalkaji Mandir – I stayed on the metro to Kalkaji Mandir and caught my first glimpse of the temple before I got there, it looked close enough.
Going everywhere but there
However, getting out of the station was a maze that by the time I was out, I had made it into the compound of a Hindu temple before I realised I was off course. I risked the ire of a religious mob too because I could not count the number of leather items I had on my person – belt, phone case, camera pouch, wallet, shoes, bag – everything short of a leather thong.
Turning around, I made for the main road and saw my first pedestrian bridge in New Delhi, built in such a way as to discourage usage; the riser was looking from the side a zig-zag of close to 500m probably to aid wheelchair users and there was a staircase opposite the riser but getting there meant jostling with busy traffic.
On crossing, I came upon serious a National Geographic type enclave or slum as I risk political incorrectness, but I had already realised that the road to great monuments was not paved with finesse at least that much I saw in Agra.
Another Hindu temple but no Bahá’í temple, I was at the point of giving up having walked up and down the road to no avail and really decided on returning to the station.
No gate in sight
As I approached the station, I caught a glimpse of the temple and a smile crossed my face, wiping away the despair that had clouded my countenance as I chided myself for being too adventurous for my own good.
The temple was imposing but there were no directions to the entrance, not from the station where they had put up an advertisement and synopsis of the Lotus Temple or from the roads around the temple.
From the fence, it appeared you could gain entry from a field behind the temple, that ended up in a perimeter walk of the fence around the temple grounds through places the wiser would have done well to retreat from, I did not retreat until I got round to where the gate was.
Learning and viewing
I have gotten used to the security rigmarole; we all have to walk through metal detectors, be frisked and have our bags X-rayed and checked, even at the temple of universal peace.
Not knowing much about the Bahá’í faith, I made for the information centre, walked through the exhibition and sat to watch the 21-minute introduction to Bahá’í which was quite enlightening.
I could not help but think that the premise of Bahá’í was ambitious in that it from my own thinking had found the superfluity of sophistry to suggest that it is the culmination of every revelatory religion allowing for difference by assimilation.
The teachings appear humanist though the monotheistic theme directs the sense of devotion, I could relate to the core elements of the recognition of humankind and the service of religion to humanity which many of the established religions are losing in the quest to fulfil creed and tenet at the expense of the people.
Not my opiate
However, I could not connect with the supposed spirituality of the message, in all, within the supposed difference most religions still to the same narrative – leaders rising out of obscurity with a message for the day, gathering a following, upsetting the political order, earning persecution and either being martyred or dying.
Each person is persuaded of their convictions and as Karl Marx once said, in German, “Religion is the opium of the people.” Opium is a drug – a painkiller, a sedative, a narcotic, a stiller, a dream-inducer that can separate people from reality into fantasy, it offers the succour of numbness in the presence of pain and suffering – Religion does in many cases opiate, on my way to the Lotus Temple, there was a queue almost a kilometre long of people mostly unshod and certainly well-dressed trying at access a Hindu temple – Go figure!
Not another burning bush
After the exhibition, I walked towards the Lotus Temple and there realised we had to bag our shoes to walk the hallowed confines of this amazing architectural edifice that they say draws more visitors than the Taj Mahal.
I thought the Taj Mahal was awesome even though it is a mausoleum, but I was not ready for another “burning-bush” experience of walking unshod when my own religion does not make that a requirement of others. There might be a conservation concept behind this but it has not been suggested.
The deification of humongous premises as the incumbency of the holiest interactions in my view belongs to centuries past, the matter of devotion is purposefully of the heart, if it still beats to some rhythm; that we are gathered together for the purpose of worship does not change the building into the throne of deity but that is just an opinion – I passed on the opportunity and clicked away with my camera from afar.
Now that the Bahá’í have ensconced themselves in sprawling landscapes in Israel and have erected amazing architectural beauties on all continents, they probably have a claim to some legitimacy but they did not come close to when King Agrippa said to Apostle Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me ...” I am neither convinced nor persuaded but impressed, yes, impressed, indeed.
Then I was off to the India Gate.

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