Uday Kumar Varma
Mathura and Vrindavan are imploding with development – What about the agony of an average and proud devotee
A recent visit to Mathura and Vrindavan was soul-stirring. The place is exploding and imploding with development. The pace is brisk, the ambitions soaring. The mood is upbeat. And yet, a certain sadness envelopes you as hordes of men and women, children of tender age and innocent faces, surround you as you approach the temples. A sense of disappointment surges within you as you negotiate and bargain with local ‘panda’ to ensure a good darshan. Could we envisage our holy places free of these aberrations? Does the new confidence as Hinduism resurges embrace an agenda of reforms too? What about the agony of an average but proud devotee.
A Prayer to Lord Krishna
The tragedy that claimed two lives in the stampede in the Banke Bihari Temple on Janmashtami day is both sad and unfortunate. To what one must attribute this painful and avoidable mishap? To administrative lapses or the indiscrete and undisciplined enthusiasm of the devotees? Or to the past karmas of the ones who lost their lives? Or to Lord Krishna to allow this to happen?
It has not happened for the first time, nor it is the last tragedy that visited this place. And yet, such tragedies seem inconsequential when one witnesses a degrading display of human conscience and a sad exhibition of human frailty and apathy that continuously survive in the vicinity of holy temples associated with the most humanized God, Lord Krishna.
A visit to Mathura and Vrindavan can only be exhilarating. There is something in the air, the ambience of this place that makes you feel differently. This difference invokes sensations of tranquility, peace, excitement, bliss but also of frustration and helplessness.
The place hallowed and sanctified by millions and millions of men and women, devotees with varying degree of intensity, of the pujas and prayers taking place at a thousand places simultaneously, and since millennia does command a collective vibration that can only be peaceful, serene and soul-lifting, and an aura that can only be enlightening and illuminating.
And such an aura can only be auspicious.
But So Disquieting!
And yet, when one meets the horde of beggars, many of them young boys and girls of tender age and innocent faces, there is a painful sense of disquiet and unease. What is auspicious and good about the place abounding in men, women and children seeking alms.
When one contrasts Lord Krishna’s famed and celebrated childhood in Gokul and Vrindavan that engender effortlessly such blissful and delightful sentiments, such calming and serene feeling, against those hundreds of children, who run after devotees for alms, the conscience cruelly combusts, and unease implodes.
That one becomes inured to this shocking experience so soon is another miracle that defies and shatters the belief and conviction of our being sensitive and humane.
We claim to have a faith that is not only the most ancient but also the most exalted and humanitarian, the most evolved and sublime in substance and sensitivity. And yet our places of God witness the most degrading display of human insensitivity and callousness. For, abating, howsoever unwillingly, wretchedly and cruelly placed men and women and countless children in their plight, can only be called degrading and debasing, an insult and a shame to the very essence of human values, and a resounding slap to our conscience. And yet we choose to hear it and ignore it.
Role of Karma?
Many of the wise among us, invoke the play of ‘karma’ for such lives. They believe that this cursed and unfortunate lot are facing this situation because of the deeds in their past births. Even if it is accepted, it does not explain the silence of the society that witnesses, accepts, even encourages such plight. Does it not trouble the people of Mathura and Vrindavan to witness willingly the miserable plight of these cursed creatures and yet go about their lives with their consciences at ease?
‘Karma’ may have crafted the destiny of the beggars, the destitute that throng to Vrindavan, it may have brought thousands of widows to Vrindavan in search of solace and survival but to passively watch their pitiful existence amounts to an exceptionally unconscionable conduct.
At a time, when we are taking renewed pride in belonging to a new awakening, of resurgence of the most ancient faith on earth, Hinduism, we do need to visit some of these practices and attitudes, which came into place primarily due to decadence and ignorance and superstition. We need to examine them objectively and rectify them.
Could we envisage a holy town where no thefts take place, where people can leave their belongings unattended because no one will touch them, where children get the best that the society has to offer, where women are safe and respected, where the visitor is not hounded by demands of greed or pity, where the sojourn is remembered for the profound peace and bliss that is supposed to descend on your being when you are truly in vicinity of His presence?
Is it too cynical to think of this?
The author, Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.