I am the wrong person to write about temples. Because, I hate them. Most of them. At least, the ones with deities inside. I am indifferent to mosques and churches. Why? I have never been harassed in a mosque or hounded for money in a church. Actually, no one really cares when you are there in an Indian church. Apart from the peculiar Indian habit of leaving shoes outside, churches here are really nice, calm and friendly places. Mosques have ruled about shoes and head being covered etc, but they don’t forbid foreigners and are not guarded by touts out to make money.
These pictures are of the Raja Rani temple in Bhubaneswar, probably my most favorite temple. The architecture, energy of the place and the fact that no puja happens here, it is managed by the ASI, not a Brahmin coterie. And, to me these are the best temples. Temples, untouched by brahmins and touts, both being the same in most place.
I can’t think of any other famous temple in Odisha that offers an iota of peace. I once abandoned a single female friend to see the Lingaraj temple all by herself because I could not stand the aggressive pandas.
The Puri Jagannath temple is the worst. It has a thousand rules against foreigners, non-odia speakers and Dalits and other religions. Then it has a hundred rules against the odias. When I was dragged there I was a child, I remember my father constantly muttering “nana, ame odia” as a pleading to leave us alone. Non-odias were advised to not talk, in case someone either peddles sightseeing services or worse, questions identity. In our odia pride, most of us don’t realise what a den of biases that temple has become and what harassment it is to visit that place.
I only went there for the food. The eating area was always dirty, you had to tip toe to the handwashing area because of the food and much on the ground. But it all in the name of bhakti. Thank god, I grew up and no one could drag me to where I did not want to go.
Then there is the famous Nilamadhaba temple in Kantilo. I will never forget the ten pandas that took us around, made us walk into every shrine and pay, we signed donation registers without knowing it’s a donation register, we were physically blocked until we paid and they called after us even as we were walking down the stairs even after paying nearly two thousand bucks.
Years of being a good Odia and a docile son of being dragged to every temple in sight on every occasion, I guess I have had it. I will be glad not to see a temple up close ever again. Unless it’s the Khajuraho, which I have not seen, intend to see and take notes.