There is usually nothing overtly religious about me, perhaps 'Spiritually curious' is a better description..as such I've always tried to see the Gods or whatever else from my own point of view apart from hearing that of other's too. On a recent trip to Calcutta, I wanted to go to Kalighat( though I've been there before once with my parents) this time I wanted to see the Goddess as I would find her, without anyone describing to me her significance.
Supposedly one of the most sought after pilgrimage sites in Bengal, the roads winding to kalighat lead through the Keoratala burning ghat. It brought a smile to my face, not because Kali is associated with destruction but because as a Devi of hope she draws so many people who pray to her, little realizing that all of it perhaps drowns eventually in the burning ghats..I wondered then if she laughed.
Like in all other Hindu temples, I was asked by the Pandas( a set of priests..for the lack of a better word) in kalighat to enter through the VIP gates by paying up Rs 500..my silent negation left many of them mumbling to themselves. But I wanted to see Bhakti, like the hundreds apparently saw it standing in a Que for an hour.
After surviving an hour in the Calcutta heat, when I finally reached the inner sanctum crowded with people shouting hymns, pushing and jostling each other, I was quite close to the feet of the Goddess. By some instinct I wanted to touch my forehead to the bars, that separate man from God & stand in a second of silence. But no sooner had I touched the bars, the priests shouted out in Bengali, "Don't try to touch the Mother or go close to her. Every one just wants to come & touch the statue, as if they know a lot about worship. Leave the worshiping part to us, the priests".
Something within me broke down that moment, some sudden unknown rage. As quietly as possible in a chaotic place as Kalighat I told the Panda 'Do not to teach me my Bhakti, It is between me and my lord and you are somehow no where there.' I did not glance back & started walking out. Offering rs 500 or 1000 or whatever might grant you an immediate access to God, but it cannot change the regular person's equation of worship or decide whether you are entitled that one moment of silence.
Just as I was about to step out, someone touched my back and called me, 'O didimoni ashun' ( didimoni is sort of girl/woman a commonly used word to address women in Bengali. ) To my surprise, the main priest who had scolded me, was beckoning me. He had stopped the line for 2 minutes and opened the barbed wire fence like structure. While I looked at him, he asked me to touch the feet of the deity and offered a bangle from somewhere near the idol. I did get my moment of silence with the deity, but then I looked at the hundreds of faces looking on, the screams, the sweat, the chants, the jostling..where was Bhakti in all this, I wondered..or maybe there was.
I hurried towards the exit. Something felt very broken and misused as I sat on the steps, with my head low..looking at the numerous hibiscus flowers strewn in torn patterns..I wondered what humans had done to the gods and vice versa..I wondered if I would come back ever.
A police woman asked me if everything was ok..I smiled back vaguely..ya perhaps, who knows.
( Image courtesy http://bestindiatourism4u.blogspot.in/)