The Commercial Pilgrimage

A very popular pilgrimage is that to the  four abodes in Himalayas called Chota Char Dham (Chota meaning small):BadrinathKedarnathGangotri and Yamunotri – all of these lie at the foot hills of Himalayas.  It is considered to be a journey that the devout undertake for earning punya … a term I have no English equivalent for – perhaps good deeds?  But then many undertake it in the summers, to escape the heat and placate the Gods at the same time.  Killing two birds with one stone…

Everyone has a personal religious journey to undertake.

There was a time in life when I was overwhelmed with life itself and everyone and everything that was happening to me.  I did what people normally do, when confronted by impossible odds.  I turned to religion.  Since I live life and do everything with passion, when that did not work for me … I went whole hog; I turned to world religions, to occult, to spiritualism and to astrology.  I wanted answers to the question that plagued me, “Why me?”

I did not get the answer to my question, but I got much more.  I got a world view on how human beings made sense of their surroundings, of nature and environment through religion.

In my humble view, all religion stems from one basic fact; it teaches us how to live in harmony with our surroundings, with nature and with each other.  It is a set of rules to live life by.  Rules which, when flouted, have disastrous consequences.

“Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” [John 2:16]

 The Bible says that Jesus cleaned up the House of God by throwing out the merchants, the money traders and people who were plying their wares.

Matthew 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The Koran has very strict rules on attire, behavior and conduct when one visits the mosques.

The Hindu religion, like every pagan religion has its root in nature worship.  We have myths woven around banyan trees, peepul trees, tulsi plants.  We consider our mountains holy.  We have huge temples and shrines built on rocks and hill tops.  Kailash Parbat is the abode of Shiva, the Himalayas are given a religious significance.  We, by rights, should be a very eco-friendly country should we not?

How did commerce get into it?

I went to JagannathTemple in Orissa once and was put off by the rampant commercialism.  I came back upset; there was no sense of piety there.  I visited Vaishno Devi twice and then turned away.  I get more happiness chanting and meditating in the confines of my bedroom sitting on my bed than I get when I go to these places.  But then each to his/her own.  My purpose here is not to upset any one else’s religious sentiment.

Religious tourism is a huge commercial force.  And hotels have been built to cater to pilgrims who can afford to be the religious tourist, afford the Char Dham Yatra.  The priests in the temples almost salivate as they take our donations, by hook or by crook.

Everyone is familiar with the images of the buildings being washed away in those awful floods.  Six floors to a building, or more, and built so close to Kedarnath, that one does not have to walk too far.  Pilgrimage in comfort.

Shiva in water

The images scared me and shocked me.  To me, they seem to be a scary version of our belief of washing our sins away by taking a dip in Ganga.

Are the Gods mocking us?

Are the divine forces sending us a warning?

Our ancients built these shrines with a purpose in mind.  The purpose was that spiritualism stands for harmony with nature.  They were situated far away in the lap of nature, where piety and peace would be found.

Nature is a stern taskmaster.  And a powerful one.  It is sending us a message … those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.  As a Devi worshipper I implore to all …

“Stop turning my Mother’s house into a marketplace!”



32 thoughts on “The Commercial Pilgrimage

  1. Ohh I just wrote a similar status update ! Commercialization, urbanization, flouting of rules , lack of planning and no respect for nature has lead to this. You are right, our forefathers built these temples so high up in the mountains for peace and quiet meditaton – Look what we have turned these places into !

    • Yes, while flouting the rules of the basic nature of the places. It is a fragile ecosystem we are toying with

  2. it is quite scary to even look at….i just read how unplanned structures, the rampant felling of the forests and setting up of unauthorized hydroelectricity plants in the region is causing all this…..

    true…”stop turning my mother’s place into a marketplace…”

    • The mountains are supposed to be left alone, specially the ones in Himachal, the ecosystem is too fragile, not to be tampered with. Hydel plants, luxury hotels going up to multiple floors, catering to the food preferences of the pilgrims, huge and heavy structures that are built after clearing the jungles, on mountains that are not able to withstand the burden …

      Recipe for disaster

  3. I share your thoughts about commercialization. I have never been able to understand how we can get peace in a crowded, commercialized place but then who am I to question someone’s faith? I don’t know whether it is a signal from nature but looks like these devastations will continue on large scales because no one in the administration really gives a damn.

    • Exactly. Even now, the administration has not been able to admit that to either the scale of the disaster or the fact that their negligence and greed brought this upon us

  4. As someone said so succinctly on Twitter – Irony: the relatives of the Kedarnath flood victims praying to the same gods that the victims had so devotedly gone to visit.
    A fabulous post as usual, Ritu. Absolutely loved it.

  5. Humans are paving the path to their destruction. Today we see that people are least bothered about nature and their surroundings. I feel really sad when I think about how mean and self centered human has become. Lately it has been observed a great increase in the tourist visiting sacred places, what for? Only to enjoy and relax, but not at the cost of mother nature.
    If we look back in our history we will see that these places were not meant to be crowded almost full year and that too by the people who are least bothered about nature and its soul.
    Its our duty to protect it. I read a beautiful book “The Alchemist” which was based on that fact that nature has a soul, it has its own language and a way of communicating. It is we who does not know and we don’t even bother to understand this fact as we are busy making and spending MONEY.
    The deplorable incident that we are discussing out here is no doubt a nature’s way of yelling(not telling) that back-off or else …..

    After all the law of nature is “WHAT YOU GIVE IS WHAT YOU GET”

    • I agree. The Himalayas are a very young mountain range, in terms of ecology and history. The surface is fragile and it can not take the rapacious development that has taken place. So it hit back

  6. Just when you think you’ve been inundated with, no saturated by the countless posts on the web, that are mostly to do with science and the politics of society, there .. you’re ‘HIT’, and not merely by anything that is less real or human than all of the former. This post? (I would hardly call it that), a Slice of the Spirit of nature and nature’s, moved me on the inside. It touched to enliven and evoke that intangible yet most Beautiful aspect of The Universe and the human being – The Living Consciousness and The Spirit. Not everyone or everything is able to bring about that effect. It takes The Stuff of Life to invade your insides from miles afar and make you feel such tremors within. Thank you!!

    • Apart from all of the above, I also love the manner in which you portrayed the absence of the phenonmena – the blame-game (as a consequence of shaken devotee morale), that would’ve been the “expected'” side-effect at the scene of such a precariously prevailing catastrophe. Instead, as your post reveals, one sees the afflicted, people, devotees, rising up to greet Nature-Power (KedarNath), with the Spirit and Stuff of Life: Hope and Faith.

    • I truly believe in the living consciousness, the fact that we are interconnected, a part of the same spark of energy. I truly believe in balance, and here it was upset which led to disastrous consequences.

      And blame? Assigning blame and accusing people is a game that politicians play, because they have a lot to answer for. Nature has been attacked and nature is retaliating … that is all there is to it. What saddens me is the destruction of the mountains and the loss of life.

      • Beautiful – the manner in which you threw extra light on the matter!! Yes, you are right about the blame factor certain politicians bring in, in the wake of similar events. Also, the blame that people tend to shift onto The Force they call their Creator, did not occur in this case. As you had remarked, those who were regular devotees seemed ready to pay the price for the balance having been tipped off, by other avaracious human beings. I loved this post RituJee. 🙂 🙂 What happened is very sad, but in your words, “Nature is a stern taskmaster!”

      • In some of your subsequent comments on this page, you brought out some really valid points!! How you for instance, mention that Nature is a Force that is to be reckoned with, when we try to take her reigns into our hands by Force. Whether we choose to or not to connect the phenomena that She brings about as a consequence, with Religion, it remains True that She is a Force that lies beyond us, in the majority of instances. Once again, echoing your sentiments, I see it as a case where people connect Religion with Nature whereby they acknowledge that She is the Power and Force, that they are answerable to if and when they are True Devotees, and are obliged to do so even when the situation is otherwise.

        What is more, as you say, with one swipe of Her Hand, she brings about Balance to those areas, parts of Her, where the scales have turned lopsided .. In the Hinduism (I wouldn’t call It a Religion irrespective of what a few Priests or people, attempt to make of it, or reduce it to), Lord Shiva’s Third Eye Represents Destruction in connection with any perceived Inbalance, and infact, at the crown of His Head rests, Who/What Represents Mother Nature – The Mother Goddess Who/That is Revered. You said, “This time it was the “pilgrims” and a pilgrimage centre, that had to pay for the abuse of Nature and what She stood for.”

        Again, as you remark in your post and following comments, instead of Religionizing the issue, those who are True Devotees have always wisely chosen to Naturalize Religion, given the undeniably profound Interconnection, ours with The Force of Nature – Our Mother and literally The God Who runs our lives in many more ways than one. The post illustrates the same perfectly and conclusively. Then, She Nature becomes God, Mother and Religion.

  7. I would not add any religious attachments to all this devastating scenes. But one thing is sure.. all these are outcome of our interference in the various cycles of nature. Its not a divine warning but a natural one..

    • Yes, but then we do attach religious significance to nature, do we not? And those pilgrims had gone for a religious vacation. All the unplanned development was done in the name of pilgrims and “people”.

      Besides the image of the Shiva statue being inundated by waves and finally being washed away … it seared my consciousness. Its a nihilistic image that I will carry with me forever.

  8. Commercialization puts me off too. I would rather meditate at home. My fear is that this is just the beginning. If we continue to flout rules, we will face nature’s fury, be it Garwhal or Gurgaon, Dehradun or Delhi.

    • Oh yes. Look what is happening in USA. Nature has been abused, and they are paying the price. Brazil’s rain forests are another place where we see it coming. Tsunamis in the oceans due to indiscriminate fishing … the list is endless

  9. Commercialization happen when people instead of believing in the Creator start believing in the creations… and greedy businessmen try to take advantage of this weakness into selling them any creation… Sad but fact in many parts of the world…

    Dropped in here from the indiblogehwaris.. :).. first time and i am loving it 🙂

    • Thanks for dropping in.

      I would not bring religion into it or the Creator … This is nature we tampered with in the region and it has retaliated

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