Jai Maa Dashama!

I reproduce below an article from the “venerable” Times of India :

For ritual, these girls sit on floor to study

by Yogesh Pareek, Times News Network 28 July 2009

BHARUCH: Some tribal girl students of a school in Rajpipla are learning their science lessons sitting on the floor for over a week. These young girls are strictly following all the rituals associated with Dashama Vrat’ festival. In this festival, a devotee of Goddess Dashama is supposed to fast for 10 days and shun all material comforts. He or she who keeps the vrat should sleep or sit only on the floor. Hence, at least 42 girl students of Kanya Vinay Mandir Science School in Rajpipla are following this ritual in their school too since last eight days. They sit on the floor to learn their lessons.

“Being ardent devotees of Goddess Dashama, we follow the rituals in the school too. We are students of science, but at the same time believe in our traditional rituals and hence, will not sit on wooden benches till the fasts are over,” said a Class XI student Pooja Tadvi.

Surprisingly, the school has allowed these tribal girls to sit on the floor. “I am teaching science for the last 25 years and don’t really believe in all this. However, we have allowed these girls to follow the rituals as their parents want them to. If we adopt a strict approach, then the parents will stop sending the girls to the school,” said a teacher in the school Deepak Jagtap.

That’s great. If a girl spends her waking hours chatting on Orkut, that’s new-age.

If she decides to fast for 10 days and shun all material comforts, that’s oh! so 19th century.

The correspondent writes : “Surprisingly, the school has allowed …”. What makes him qualified to pass judgement over his piece of news? If this judgement-passing by journalists is a welcome trend, then why not on the thinly clad models put on the sports page. No. Those models are fine. But you see tribal girls practicing religion as they see fit, and you cry bloody murder.

The science teacher says that he is teaching science since the last 25 years, and doesn’t really believe in all this. Then he does not believe in the slogan “In God we trust” printed on every dollar bill? He does not believe in Christ’s birth? He does not believe in Krishna’s dramatic escape from Kansa’s prison? Granted, he is fully entitled to follow atheism religiously. It is just that if he tries to validate all his beliefs only through the lens of the published scientific theories of Newton, Einstein et all, his belief span is going to be very limited indeed.

“But I believe in God. It is just these ‘outmoded’ styles of worship I detest.” – Lets assume he says. But then what is to determine which style of worship is ‘in’ or ‘out’? Are people standing in rows and singing hymns – in keeping with the times, but these school girls are not?

Ultimately I feel religion is about evolving. A person enrolls in photography school, as he is interested in photography and wants to become better – fast. A soul takes birth in human form, with the infinite grace of God, who feels he/she is at the cusp of mukti – the state of eternal bliss. A person, having taken human form, not striving for salvation; is like a boy, after securing admission in AIIMS, spending the whole day playing with marbles, and not bothering to become a doctor.

If having taken birth as a human itself proves that your soul has successfully given voice to its eagerness to attain godhood, then partaking in religious activities is nothing but an attempt to speed this up still further.

If we remove different layers of religiosity, and peep deep within, we find that the central precept is exercising control on our baser instincts and delaying gratification. This is very crudely put. A better way to refer to the core teaching would be “viveka” – i.e. discrimination between what is good and what is not; and taking the path thus revealed, the road less travelled.

This capacity for discrimination, the capacity to judge as to what is right and wrong, effectively distinguishes us from the other living forms – which too are temporary abodes of souls on the same journey as us.

It is but common sense, that a central tenet of this capacity for discrimination, is the capacity for self-control or will-power; for without it, the knowledge of what is good for me is useless. A lemming, having sat through a discourse on the treacherousness of the ocean, is still going to jump off the Norwegian cliffs, attempting in vain to swim through the waters, meeting a watery grave.

So, in  a way, viveka and will-power, both feed and strengthen each other. A greater amount of viveka on the ill-effects of tobacco will help my will-power to stay off cigarettes. And by exercising my will-power, I am respecting my viveka, rather than pushing it aside, thus giving it a further boost.

Whew… So where were we… Yes, the tribal girls intent on learning physics while sitting on the floor.

Whether, we see and learn from these girls, or the devotees who undertake the forty-one-day Lord Ayyappa penance, basically, they are giving up the immediate sensory pleasures, and preparing themselves for the ultimate challenge – attaining oneness with their lord in the current life itself, without having to suffer the ignominy of repeating once more and trying afresh in the next life.

A person on this path, is not just a seeker, he is, in my humble opinion, a better citizen, a better neighbour, a better family man – though not necessarily a better consumer for all the stuff peddled by the media.

Hence, I humbly beseech that it behooves our brethren in the media, to support these girls in their articles (instead of those on page 3). Rather than seeing articles defending “Sach ka saamna” and how our culture is too strong to be derailed by a simple TV serial, it would be refreshing to see someone standing up for those who have chosen to take the road less travelled.

Yours in samvit,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)