Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gods must be crazy. Up on the mountains!

Growing up in a traditional and religious Hindu Brahmin family was quite an experience for me ever since I started wondering why things were the way they were.  One of them was about the locations of temples.  Why on some mountains far away from where people lived, forcing the believers to go all the way up the hills?  Why couldn't have the gods chosen more accessible places?

You can see the plumes rising from Turrialba

In the first place, asking such questions was, well, blasphemy.  My grandmothers had a stock response to any kind of question I had about traditions and the religion: "that's the way it is."  No questions needed to be asked.

Or, there were always some stories on how the gods settled on those mountains, or how some chosen humans--often men--were directed by those gods to construct temples on some mountains.  You either believed in those stories, or at least in those gods, or you did not.  I found it increasingly difficult to believe in them.

But, I loved going up the hills.  Come to think of it, walking up the hills to pray to gods was the only hiking I might have done in all my childhood.  We never did a nature hike because we wanted to do a nature hike.

The volcanic crater at Irazu

As I think about those now, it seems as if those hills were designed to encourage people to hike.  Imagine, if you will, a scenario like this: the elders talk to their fellow villagers about the importance of walking and hiking in order to be healthy.  Nobody is interested because, well, we humans have always preferred doing nothing over doing something.

So, the elders come up with an idea to tell the villagers that the gods have instructed them to go pray at the top of a mountain, for which they have to climb a few steps.  If they do, the gods will reward them, and punishments will follow if they don't.

The elders then work out a back-story on why the gods selected those particular locations.

Doesn't it feel like the gods could be up here?

Unfortunately, over time, this elaborate shenanigan became the truth.  People forgot all about the "subversive" health benefit aspect.  They built roads so that one can drive all the way to the top.  They bypassed the hundreds of steps and the workout.  Children didn't grow up jumping and running up and down the steps and, therefore, missed out on muscle and lung development.  Children even started playing video games while traveling on buses and cars that took them to the entrances of the temples.

I like to think that unlike the "religious," who have forgotten those old ways, I am truly carrying on that very old tradition.  I live with mountains always within my eye sight.  I can't seem to go on vacations to places that don't have mountains.  Mountains in France.  Mountains all around in Ecuador.  Mountains enveloping me in Orosi and San Jose.  I am already drooling thinking about a vacation by the Canadian Rockies.

Thus, my back-story is this: I chose all these places because my gods told me that they live on these mountains.  And that I will be rewarded for the pilgrimages I make.  My oracle tells me that the reward is the very fact that I am alive to write about all these.

Ah, my gods must be crazy as we humans are.

The basilica at Cartago


Ramesh said...

Not sure why Palani featured in your post - its hardly a mountain !

The origins of the temples on mountains could very well be as you describe. But actually temples are very few on mountains - where are the mountains in South India anyway. Its only Muruga's "Arupadaiveedu" which is famously on hills, although one of them - Tiruchendur is on the beach.

The grandest of the mountain abodes surely has to be Kailash and Manasarovar, the abode of Shiva. . Its in China now, but Indians are allowed to visit , but only on a group pilgrimage. Its the harshest of journeys, with extreme cold and altitude sickness to contend with. The devotion that drives ordinary people to do this pilgrimage in what is virtually a mountaineering expedition is amazing. Try that one, and you will truly be a blessed soul !

Sriram Khé said...

yes, have always been interested in the kailash/manasarovar treks ... as a kid, i first read about them in a series on hindu-temple-travelogue kind of a thing that was published in the vikatan, years and years ago ... i forget that author's name--i think he was the same one who also wrote those funny serialized plays involving tamil-brahmin households ...

are you planning on this trek????

Shachi said...

This post brings back memories of my sister n I hiking up Vaishno Devi temple up north in India. I was about to start college, and we had a blast going uphill. Mom n dad went up on horses I think. While coming down, we chose to take the shortcut and we came back in under 2 hours running downhill all the way. Without taking consent from our parents, we called massage therapists to our room and were enjoying the massages when the parents arrived :).

Mansarovar is on my list....I've heard its pretty. It will have to wait a few years though.

Sriram Khé said...

some memories, eh, shachi!

i am sure the walking up and running down helped with the muscle and lung development that i wrote about ;)

Subha M said...

the writer who wrote 'aalaya dharisanam' in aananda vikatan was bharanidharan. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/pilgrims-progress/article830445.ece

Sriram Khé said...

hey, thanks for the info, subha(sree) ... i recall looking forward to the new issue of the vikatan for his plays--the ones he wrote under the pen name of marina ...

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