We're in the interstice now between two important festivals at Tirupati, the Brahmotsavams of September and October, perhaps a time for reflection, which may be the purpose of such calendar events.
What's so interesting about these festivals is their operational concept: ananda, joy. It's a very Vaishnava thing and appropriate, associated with 'the Preserver'. No gloom or doom, just thankfulness for creation and hope in life. This USP of the Vaishnava worldview was pointed out to me years ago by senior artist Mr Adimoolam, and that's when I began to properly notice the untrammeled celebration in the air the moment we cross the threshold of a temple to Mahavishnu in any avatar or aspect.
Showers of rose petals and sprays of sandalwood-water and rose-water flung at devotees, solo singers and groups of singers in sangeet seva, solo dancers and groups of dancers in nritya seva, the clothes and ornaments of deities changed to suit the seasons and for special days.
The intense ritual theatre of arati, including waving long peacock feather-fans set in antique silver whisk-holders, the velvet curtains, the great bells, the blazing lampfire and sometimes a glimpse of the historic jewellry offered to the deities by kings and queens. Life is one long party at a Vaishnava temple, the mantra is 'Affirm Existence'. Some temples have huge mirrors at the entrance that ask that we reflect on the reflection. Their literal, poignant message is 'Beyond the illusion, go forth to the unifying reality.'
Inside, we get to ask pardon for any lapses, knowing or unknowing, into kaam, krodh, moh, lobh, jhoot and ninda. We feel part of the human plan, taking our turn at darshan. We don't go empty-handed, we carry at least a rupee coin to offer, not because 'God' wants 'gifts' but as a reminder that we are an inter-dependent race and the money collected will be used for the general good.
When we leave, we take away prasad as a sweet aftertaste. True, there's much that annoys about some temples but there's no denying either that the key foundational premise is rather wonderful. Possibly the biggest take-home from a nice temple visit is a buzz of reassurance about 'God' as a real sweetheart and consequently, a kinder view of our fellow-beings, each an 'ishwar-shrishti'. Not a bad SOP if sincerely followed, could keep things sort of bright and affectionate.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture