My Granny never lost an opportunity to remind me that I was born thanks to her prayers at Tirupathi. Since my parents' first born was a daughter, my granny made a passionate prayer to the Tirupathy God and even my name was chosen there. Thus, Govind Raj I became in a family littered with Vaishnavite names. I grew up a very proud child because of this glorification.
My first brush with amoral behavior at religious places came when I was barely 9. It was a custom in our joint family to offer coconuts, bananas and flowers to the reigning deity in our local temple on every Saturday evening. One such evening it was little boy me who went to do this ritual. I gave all the offerings to the priest and went to do circum-ambulation [Pradakshin] of the sanctum sanctorum.
When I came back, the priest told me, "See this coconut you brought is spoiled. This is not good for your family. So you buy a new coconut and pay rupees ten as penalty also". I only had rupees 12 on me. I gave him all the money I had and he assured me that everything will be fine. He gave me a 'replacement' coconut and returned the spoiled coconut too. As is the custom, he took half piece of the good coconut, 2 out of 5 bananas and returned my bag with 'prasad'.
When I reached home, my Mom was surprised to know this. She was quite sure the coconut she gave me was not spoiled. When she checked, it turned out to be a revelation. The 'spoiled coconut' was in fact two separate pieces of two different coconuts. But much worse was the fact that the 'replacement' coconut the priest gave me was indeed the coconut I went with. My Mom recognized the huge coconut as one grown in our own backyard. It left a very bitter taste in the mouth. It shattered me to know there was such cheap act going on right under the nose of the 'God' !
There are hundreds of incidents that gradually took me away from Religion and Gods. I would stick with a few that had a defining role. There was a famous Astrologer who was close to our family. He would blame all the ills on the 'Naga' or the Serpent. I have lost count of the number of rituals my family has conducted to placate the Snake Gods ! With every such function, my indignation for the Astrologer and his predictions went on increasing. I was wondering how could a poor reptile affect so many people in so many ways.
One of those concepts that repelled me during young age was the "God will punish you if you don't do this and that" kind of talk. I used to think, "Why does this God create people who do wrong things and then want to punish them ?". I never had a satisfactory answer. Most of what the believers have done is semantic juggling.
The next issue was 'My God is the Real God and other Gods are false' preaching. Once a Christian preacher bored me to death with his unsolicited advice on the 'Real Creator' and the myths of Hindu religion and the harms of Idol worship. Respecting his age and with my inborn inability to be rude to elders, I tolerated him for almost three quarters of an hour.
Finally I was forced to ask him, "I have just one question, is Bible the final truth ?" He said, "Yes, it indeed is the ultimate truth and the only truth. Once you start following Bible, salvation is guaranteed". I replied, "But most of Biblical stories are cock and bull stories just like the Hindu mythology you were deriding so far. Bible goes against Science and evolution. Why don't you go and take some rest ?" He was offended and cursed me, "You will never know the real truth and will be condemned to eternal hell if you question the God". I was really angry and shot back, "Well, if heaven is the place where I have to tolerate people like you, I prefer to be in hell. Thank you and good night !"
The Temple - Mosque issue that divided a nation left a deep impact on me too. I have no hesitation today to admit I was in favor of 6 December 1992 demolition at that time. It was like justifying the act as retaliation against decades of Islamic atrocities. That was a mistake like many of those I have committed in my life. But as I evolved, I realized the whole issue was a non-issue. People sharing the same A, B or O Antigens were fighting for the sake of two of the most despicable characters from history. I moved further away from Gods.
The rituals, Mantras and all things religion became progressively intolerable for me. An incident at the now famous Padmanabha Temple at Thiruvananthapuram further escalated my disenchantment. I had a strong dislike for the custom of taking off shirts during temple entry. This custom has its origins in the filthy practice of Brahminical era when only those with the thread were allowed inside the temple. The more things change, the more we tend to resist change. Kerala temples haven't come out of the past; the dirty untouchable past.
In 2006, on our way to Kanyakumari; we visited the Thiruvananthapuram Temple. In spite of my dislike to go the Salman Khan way in public [no secret there, I don't have his physical attributes] I agreed to go inside the temple. I folded my jeans, took off the shirt and covered myself with a 'mundu and shawl'.
A youth standing near the gate asked me, "Are you wearing a pant inside ?" I asked him, "Yes, but how does that make a difference ?". He replied, "You can't wear a pant inside the temple". I said, "But, I have folded it till knees. Do you have a problem with knee length shorts or inner wear ?". He was rude now, "Inner wear is different. But PANT is not allowed. You can't question the customs of the temple".
I politely told him, "But I did wear a pant folded under a mundu the last time I came here. There was no problem. Why this new rule ?". He was hostile now, "This is a new rule since yesterday. You obey rules or face God's curse". I am not really good at arguing. I told my people, "I have already compromised on a lot of things I believe in just for you people. But this is beyond me. This temple will not suffer if I don't visit it and neither am I going to be any poorer if I don't enter. I am NOT going inside !".
This did hurt my parents and other relatives. But exactly at that point of time, I had learned to draw a line. I was not going to take any more religious crap. I have stayed firm to this. Not that I don't go to temples now. I do visit temples and enjoy the great food they provide in some of those temples. I also take part in some rituals just to keep my aging parents happy. If my occasional visits to the places of worship can keep them happy; it is worth doing so.
Looking at the havoc wrecked on the humanity by the people like Osama bin Laden and his followers and so many of these right-wing religious outfits, anybody would like to think, "Do we need Gods and religions ?"
This planet is but a small part of an infinite universe. We the human beings have advanced enormously thanks to the evolution that gave us a mind. The mind tells me to trust Science. Science can go wrong. But we can always correct ourselves by accepting the folly.
But Gods, Religions and dogmas will not change. The beliefs in beliefs will not change. Knowing fully well the tonnes of rubbish associated with the religions, people still follow religions and God. At this point in time, I believe we don't need God, Gurus, Religions and salvation. They just don't exist for me. We just need oxygen, food, water, shelter and a little bit of love !