The Idolater is another one of those weird musings one indulges in a place of transcendence. And what better place for that other than the majestic Himalayas?
“What mind can penetrate your nature?
What language can express this marvel?
None, to be sure.
This is where human discourse turns towards the contemplation of the divine.”
– Leonardo Da Vinci
“Once upon a time, there was Man – the silly, weak, egotistical, dimwit Man. Mind you that this story (which it will surely appear to you) might not be accessible to you in any of those multitudes of religious scriptures that have been compiled ages ago, venerated and tempered by the same Man I was talking about just now (the protagonist of this ‘story’) and then buried by him in the sands of time when those same beloved scriptures and those same Truths failed to resonate with his own mindset and worldview.”
“No, this one – this blathering of mine which might take the form of a narrative for my yawning audience, “said the monk as he smiled rather condescendingly and gave Naveen a playful look. The latter yawned and tried to cover his mouth with his hand.” – is my own sermon,” completed the monk.
“This is one of those sermons they broadcast on those cheesy Bhakti networks, isn’t it?”, thought Naveen. “I didn’t sign up for this.”
To clear his mind and to prevent himself from dozing off in that congregation of devotees which had gathered around the dingy courtyard of the temple, Naveen stretched himself, contorting his body like a bow embellished with a taut string. He looked around himself, hoping that the breeze from the dusty Shivaliks, which shone golden in the afternoon sun, might provide some hint of caffeine.
“My ADD’s acting up”, thought Naveen as he yawned again, while the monk continued.
“This fantasy of mine, this legend, dates back to the dawn of humankind. The time when our ancestors shunned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, stopped resembling animals in the likeness, and instead picked up the axe and the plough. “
“This sedentary lifestyle must have hit our ancestors hard. Imagine a wild animal, a beast of the forest – the one whose very mortality depends on being a nomad, whose only routine is hunt, mate, eat, sleep, repeat; he’s suddenly domesticated! Suddenly that wild animal finds out about the overheads of having a roof above and a wall around itself! Same was our ancestor’s plight.”
“Before this, Man must never have really thought about private property. He had to adjust himself into a new kind of life- a life where he is away from his patch of land the whole time to cater to the needs of his fields! I pity poor little Man. This whole ordeal must have driven him crazy!”, the monk’s voice faltered as he spoke with tears in his eyes.
The mention of pre-history suddenly interested Naveen in the sermon, and he saw with wide-open incredulous eyes as the monk wiped his tears after being moved by a thought which emerged in his own psyche. Naveen liked history. In high school, natural science was not his forte, but somehow history filled the hole which has been made in his intellect by his own inquisitiveness.
The monk spoke again, “Man, driven to his wit’s end by the rigorous lifestyle he had gotten himself into, looked up to the sky for guidance and relief, with tired, sleep-filled eyes, as he had done before. But before he had done this out of awe, now he had to do it out of necessity.”
“He noticed that the sweltering heat of the sun, the breeze flowing in short but reliable spans, the trees, the wood, the earth- maybe those will invigorate him! He started praising them in tongues we have not yet understood, only deciphered. He started sacrificing his hard-earned crops, fuel, and clean drinking water to these elements of nature towering all around him, in the vain hope that his perseverance, his sacrifice, his sincerity, might move those elements to mercy.”
“Alas! Little did the poor Man know that the elements were lifeless!”
“But Man was adamant – he decided he would not stop until he gets his answers. He would not give in to the shallow silence of Nature. Nature would have to understand the plight of Man, Nature would have to guide him, Nature would have to bless him with knowledge about this abyss that Nature itself has thrown Man into. Nature would have to answer Man’s prayers!”
The unwavering baritone of the monk left Naveen spellbound. He realized with the sheepishness of a 21st-century realist that he was interested in whatever the monk was saying. The ramblings of the monk were exactly that – ramblings, discordant chatter wrapped up in the façade of a sloppy narrative, but somehow, they plucked the phantom strings of Naveen’s soul. In rapt attention, he subconsciously replaced the Man in the monk’s story with himself.
Wasn’t he the one who stifled this Man from his soul, Naveen thought and replaced it with the hollow non-entity of a nihilist and materialist he was now?
He remembered the thrill, the gratitude he used to feel towards every single aspect of his life when he was a student. He used to smile at everyone, used to weep tears of joy after understanding anything. He used to call himself an “ascetic of the Truth”. But now, the materialism, the search for basic necessities has sucked him dry. And he felt that the Man in him was crying out for guidance too……
“Man, after being fed up from the silence and his vainglorious lifestyle, called out loud to the heavens, ‘ Oh Nature! You gave us everything to our heart’s desire – wood, air, water, earth, fire – but you didn’t give, or forgot to give us, a God! Aren’t you full of Gods who play around in your lap? At least that’s what the shaman says. Pray, give us any one of those Gods, so that Humankind might worship Him, who might smile at our toiling and sacrifices that we will offer unto Him, who might understand and guide us! Give us a God, please!’
The monk stopped all of a sudden. His eyes were red with tears and his voice ablaze with fervour. He continued, “Nature was moved by this thoughtful entreaty of Man. Man was awestruck when Nature responded in a voice as terrible as a thunderclap, ‘Man! Heed this – go make a Shrine! On the eve of the full moon night of this month, when the starlit night would show the moon in all its splendour, will then you get a God in the Shrine – a living, breathing, benevolent God, will appear to you! Go make a Shrine!’
Man was ecstatic at this! He trembled with happiness, bowed to Nature by going on all fours and kissing the ground, and ran away to the settlement to inform others.”
“The anticipation of God’s arrival electrified Man in his preparation. He showed such fervour, sincerity, and enthusiasm that within a short time, the shrine was ready, adorned with beautiful calligraphy, and a sandalwood door that filled the shrine with an ethereal scent. The shaman who had predicted the possibility of God’s existence was made the chief priest. Soon the highly awaited night arrived.
Men, along with their families were waiting with bated breaths outside the Shrine, with garlands, vermillion, and other offerings for the God who was just about to arrive. The priest was ordered to open the Sandalwood gates as soon as God takes his place in the Shrine to inform the masses.
Soon, God arrived. How beautiful he was! How flawless! The God looked nothing like Man. The priest looked at the people, the devotees outside through the shrine’s window. They were all bubbling with happiness and blissful anticipation.
They had all seen the moon in the night sky and knew fully well the God must have arrived by now. They urged the priest to open the door but the priest stalled, wallowing in his fear and guilt. The devotees, mad at the priest and eager to see God, started banging on the Shrine’s door. The sandalwood door soon gave way. The entrance stood wide open.
The devotees swarmed in through the door and started praising God, anointing him with vermilion, putting garlands and wreaths of flowers on God’s body.
The priest stepped back and started weeping in consternation, as the celebration lasted through the night.
The next morning, after the ceremony, when the crowd of devotees left the shrine, the priest returned to his spot near the door and had his worst fears confirmed – the God had left the shrine, and in His place was his empty, lifeless husk. The Corpse of the God!”
A disturbing silence spread all across the temple’s courtyard as the monk stopped for a while. This sudden halt of a narrative still unfolding gave Naveen time to wrap his head around everything.
Why was he even there in the first place – a millennial listening to a sermon? Shouldn’t he rather be in clubs, watching colours mingle into myriad phantasms of smoke, and high bass music amplifying his existential crisis?
Shouldn’t he rather be looking for some girl to sleep with, call this union of the bodies a “relationship”, only to leave each other more broken from the inside than they already were?
Because he didn’t want that. He was fed up with the hollowness of the world that he had built for himself.
For as long as he can remember, he had been bothered deeply by the lack of explanation provided to him by the people around him, for their respective actions and beliefs. He had vowed to search his own Truth for himself, but the quest so far had been futile.
And to make matters worse, nowadays, a growing fear has started to cripple him. The feeling of emptiness – this growing dread that the world that he sees around himself isn’t worth a dime, that this simulation could snatch him off his belongings. And all this for the atheism, the nihilism! This whole façade of faithlessness was making him insane!
The only relief he had was the trekking trip he planned for himself meticulously every weekend. Walking alone through the busy streets, forest lanes and mountainous roads was his escape. He had an immaculate road trip planned for himself- a weekend getaway where he would tread the streets of Uttarakhand on foot. He had started with the city of Haridwar – the gate of Hari, or the One Who Steals Sorrow.
Haridwar, being a popular religious spot for the Hindu faith, is also a beautiful treat to the eyes- the city lies on the outskirts of the Shivalik range, which are themselves the outskirts of the Higher Himalayas (the Himadri). It is surrounded by tracks that wound through forests. Small temples scattered all around the terrain provides a disarming ambience to the traveller- especially one as troubled as Naveen.
In one such roadside retreat, Naveen had found the Neeleshwara Temple, a shrine of Lord Shiva, the almighty. Neeleshwara, when loosely translated, means “The Blue God”.
“And then what happened?”, Naveen blurted out, not able to contain himself.
The monk smiled brightly at Naveen, took a deep breath, and continued.
“Man was deeply hurt by the blasphemous act his society had committed. He was beset with guilt and vowed never to summon Nature ever again, lest Nature, on the behalf of the Gods, should punish his society. He feared the wrath of Nature.
But this brief encounter, this fleeting glimpse of the divine made him restless. The tryst with a benevolent God, instead of quenching his thirst, has instead increased it tenfold.
Man decided he would ask for forgiveness and request Nature again to give him a God, with the promise that he would not act unrestrained this time.
Man again summoned Nature,
“O Nature! I, on the behalf of my society, am present to hereby plead forgiveness from you about all that happened at the Shrine. We will never act foolishly again. Pray, give us a God! Please! I have the same request!”
But Nature didn’t respond. Man retreated in agony.
But his restlessness got the better of him yet again. Man decided he would request Nature every day until Nature responds. One day, after having petitioned the same old request to Nature, and getting no answer, no sign of relief, Man got angry. He bellowed at the sky,
‘How dare you stay silent after hearing my cry for help? Weren’t you – you and your pantheon of Gods – the ones who appended this feeling of devotion and curiosity like a lust in my body? How come you are denying me the respite? I have a right to the worship and devotion of the Gods! You HAVE to give me a God!’
Again, there was silence. Man, who was trembling with anger, was about to leave but suddenly a torrent of rocks came falling from the sky.
With bloodshot eyes, Man took one of those rocks and flailing his arms as if showing off the rock to the sky started hurling abuses at Nature,
‘So, is that your answer, O mighty Nature? How noble of you to reply to my humble request and confession with rocks! You are a brute! A megalomaniac, sadist monster! That’s what you are!’
Nature replied through its voice which echoed all over and made the earth tremble,
‘Great Man! Pray, do not get me wrong! I’m not abusing your devotion. Truth is, ever since you made the second request, I haven’t had a moment of rest. I’m searching all over the heavens for any God who would agree to descend down and make an appearance in front of you, but they all are petrified at the very thought of this proposal. I will refrain from telling you what secondary Gods replied after hearing your request, but even Sun – the most benevolent of them all, told me that he fears the devotion of Man.
It is not that your prayers, your entreaties, your worship, your sacrifice, is unacceptable and unwanted to the Gods! Instead, it’s unbearable!
When you sacrifice even a small flower to the Gods, your purity equals the wrath of an earthquake! Whenever you shed a tear out of devotion to the Gods, it is as if the water of that one tear droplet equals the fury of the Deluge – able to drown the entire creation into oblivion!
Forgive me, mighty Mortal! Nature and Heavens are no match to the power of your devotion! These stones, these rocks are the only substances ever conceived by the Gods that can equal the power of your sacrifice! Forgive me!’
Man picked up those stones. He understood Nature’s decree. He set about creating the first stone idol in the likeliness of the God he’d once met.”
The monk rose up from his elevated Asana, and said,
“Whenever you bow in front of an idol, my friends, do not consider it to be a mere representation, a false image of the almighty! Idols represent Man’s ardent desire to be one with the divine. Idols aren’t hollow like the lives we lead! Revel in your sacrifices and these idols, devotees! They are as glorious and as mighty as the Truth you expect to find!”
With tears in his eyes, Naveen felt relieved and weirdly at ease. He bowed down in front of the idol of Neeleshwara, and for the first time in his life, he prayed.
For the glory of Humanity!
For the glory of the Absolute Truth, and for those who seek it!
Also Read: The Himalayan Recluse