Temple Without an Idol

Mar 19, 2005

It is 1AM. After a big dinner at sugarcane juiceman's village, we need to cross a section of the Narmada river that is controlled by a few people. Interestingly enough, I had struck up a friendship with that boat driver, so I jump onto Jeeta's new scooter-like motorcycle to find him. Perhaps he'll hook us up big time.

After some effort, we find Mukesh engaged in a 24 hour chant at a local temple. He's been very inspired by our trip and never charges us for any boat rides (about Rs. 200 every time); and as I anticipated, he's game to take us across even at 1AM.

Mukesh grabs a couple buddies, and with Jeeta, they all leave to make some arrangements. I am told to stay "right here", which incidentally, is in front of a temple.

I'm a sucker for devotional chants. Considering that I don't even know what "God" is, this is a curious part of my personality that even I don't understand. But here I am, at 1AM, stuck in front of a temple. A group of villagers had comes together to do an all-night chant, to pray for someone in need.

And these villagers chant like there is no tomorrow. Just when you think that the skinny drummer would tire, or the lady singer would get winded, or the buffed-up "manjira" player would lose rhythm of the fast-pace chant, they kick it up to another level. The crowd joins in the rapture, in chorus, pumping everybody up even further.

It's hard not to walk in. So I take off my shoes and enter the small temple. At 1AM, it's easy to close your eyes, but I'm wide awake inside. Seeing the devotion of these simple village folks can make anyone come alive. They are enthralled that a non-villager would join them. With a prayerful heart, I am with them -- body, mind, and spirit -- for a few minutes.

As I leaving, a hefty old man approaches me. "Sir, sir, I don't know if I should say this. I feel very bad about it, but sir, I'm just doing my karma," he said in a very hesistant tone. "Kaka, we are in a place of God. We are all brothers. Tell me, what's on your mind," I say, comforting him by putting my hand on his back and leaning down so we are eye to eye.

"Sir, I borrowed a lot of money in trying to build this little temple. It's been something I've always wanted to do," he said. "Oh boy, a money ploy," I thought to myself.

"But as you can see, we don't have a 'murti'. I will pay back my debtors, but I don't want to borrow money to get my God's idol," he said as if he was ashamed. I turn around to see that indeed the temple had no idol, but just some flowers in it's place.

"Sir, can you help? You look like city-folk, so I thought I would ask. I'm just doing my karma. I hope I didn't make a mistake in asking you," he said in a very apologetic tone.

Moved by his humility, I said, "Well, do you know where to get it? how much would it cost?" He innocently says, "I don't really know. I hear that you can get it from Ambaji and maybe it cost a three, four thousand rupees." Ambaji was 500 kilometers away; clearly, you don't need to go there to get an idol. My sense was that he really didn't know.

Coincidentally, or not, this was same night I gave away all my money. "I don't have any money, but I tell you what -- I will pray for you," I tell him. I really wanted to tell him more, but couldn't figure out a way to communicate it.

And then I saw his pack of cigarrettes. "Kaka, but you have to pray with me. And for your prayer to be effective, you have to sacrifice your ego. You have to let go of something you like. Like your cigarrettes. Will you try to reduce your smoking or perhaps stop it on days that you have these chants?" I ask him.

"Yes, yes," he says as if the idea had never struck him. "Promise?" I question him. "Yes, definitely," he adds with smile. I don't know if he'll stick with his promise but as the old man would say, I'm just doing my karma. :)

Jeeta is back, waiting on his motorcycle. So we hug and part ways, as I make a mental note of the exact location of this temple without an idol.

I plan to get an idol and drop it off anonymously, at that location. If you'd like to contribute in getting the idol, please PayPal me.   

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