I write this saddened and disgusted. The experience I have had today has left me with a bad taste in my mouth and disillusioned with those we are supposed to look up to as guardians of our faiths and beliefs.
Today I was refused entry to the Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna because I was born in a different land. Not only refused entry, but pushed and shoved by Temple Priests, my Indian wife ridiculed and reduced to anguished tears because she stood up for me and my 6 year old niece left mentally scarred by the sight of her uncle who she considered the same as everyone else, being discriminated against, shouted at and forcibly prevented from entering a place of worship.
I have been living off and on in India for the last 17 years and permanently for the last 5. I was married in a Hindu Temple and have visited religious sites (Churches, Dargahs, Gurudwaras and Temples) of all the great religions in this wonderfully diverse country of India. I have always been welcomed and this is the first time in 17 years that I have been barred from entering a place of worship.
The reason given by the Head Brahmin? “Foreigners do not know how to behave and are disrespectful and therefore they have been banned from entering. “
I was carrying an offering of flowers, had removed my shirt as is the custom in this Temple and was in the company of my wife and six year old Niece. Is this a sign of disrespect?
Foreigners give up their comfortable lives in the West and travel half way around the world to live in a different culture, a different climate, with no close family support, and take the trouble to learn another language and customs, in their search of the great spiritual traditions that India is famous for. They come and study Yoga, learn Sanskrit and practice meditation.
To ban all of them from visiting a House of God because they are not Indian is disgusting and discriminatory. Is the God in this Temple only for Indians? Did God, when he created the world, make a mistake when he created the other countries and races?
Hinduism is a beautiful, open, and tolerant religion, teaching non-violence, acceptance of all beliefs and love for all. What kind of Hinduism are these priests practicing? To behave violently both verbally and physically, to have no compassion for a fellow human being, to make fun of someone, all while standing in the sanctified place that foreigners are accused of disrespecting?
The great Saint Sri Ramakrishna once said “Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated. “
A foreigner who comes to India to visit a temple has much more bhakti than the Priests I witnessed today.
What do I say to my niece who loves me unconditionally; who has always accepted me as an integral part of the family and has never paid attention to the fact that I look different to the rest of the family? How do I explain why a priest is pushing and shoving me and preventing me from praying to the God that she loves?
Eventually I will forget this and move on. But it is the devout masses of India who visit this temple in their thousands, that I feel sorry for. They will spend their life savings on a pilgrimage to this Holy Place to seek blessings for their lives and loved ones, only to be herded like cattle, shouted at and pushed, given 10 seconds for Darshan (sight) of the God they love and respect, and then fleeced of their remaining money by Priests who promise them all will be well if they perform a Puja.
If this is how the keepers of religion behave then I am no longer a follower. I believe in God but no longer in religion. My religion is one of compassion for my fellow man and tolerance and acceptance of all, no matter their colour, race, or beliefs.
All I can hope for is that, if the Hindu concept of reincarnation is true, these Priests are re-born in a foreign land.
“However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is Mine” – Bhagavad Gita iv -11