I’ve never been the religious type. I seldom go to temples. I seldom go to temples in my own city. I do visit temples when I’m traveling, but that is more as a tourist attraction. I’ve been to Tirupati once (Boxing Day 1991) and to Mantralaya twice and am not keen to visit either place again. After my first visit there in 1990, I would consider the Annapurna temple in Horanadu (near Chickmagalur) as my favourite temple. This was until a year ago when I visited it again and got pissed off by the crowds and formalities.
The amount I contribute to the Hundi in temples is also highly variable, and a direct function of how much I like the temple. I consider my contribution to the Hundi as my contribution for the upkeep and maintenance of the temple, and in support of the temple’s activities (for example, I tend to put in a higher amount in temples which serve free food). If I don’t like a temple, I just make a token contribution of Rs. 2 or Rs. 5 and flee. Also, I usually make my contributions to the Hundi, and not to the plate that comes along with the mangalaarathi. This is to ensure that the priest doesn’t kult my contribution.
Some temples do end up making me feel spiritual. It is hard to describe that feeling but let me tell you that it is the same that I felt when I smoked my first cigarette (and decided that smoking was too addictive to take up as a hobby and abandoned it). It is that feeling of inner calm. It is that feeling of being at complete peace with oneself. Sadly I haven’t felt that way at any temple since I started earning, else that temple might have been blessed with a fat contribution from my wallet.
I find the temples in North India too noisy. I remember literally running away from the ISKCON temple in Delhi six years ago because I thought it looked like a discotheque – loud devotional songs and people dancing. Today I went to a couple of temples near Connaught Place and it was similar – loud bhajans on one side, astrologers sitting all around the temple, and general disorder everywhere else. There was no way that temple could offer any peace or calm or any spiritual benefit. I fought with my mother when she insisted I should contribute at least Rs. 10 to the Hundi.
My contribution to temples is also an inverse function of its popularity – I usually contribute less at more popular temples because I can freeride on the rest of the visitors’ contribution. If it is a smaller temple and if i like it, I feel more responsible to contribute towards its upkeep.
And when I go to a temple, I always get archane done. That way, I definitely get some sugar candy!
And why do I not want to go back to Tirupati? Because I think it is too crowded to offer any kind of spiritual benefit. And Mantralaya? The last time I went there someone got a special pooja done in my name and as “prasad”, the swami there threw a towel on my back, and then threw an orange and asked me to catch it. I find that demeaning and don’t want to go back there again. Oh, and I wasn’t let in to the dining hall since I wasn’t wearing my sacred thread.