Going back to your roots usually brings with a certain amount of feel-good and a sense of belonging to a place.
I went back to my native place Kochi after a while. And though I did feel good in the warm company of affectionate relatives and caring folks, I somehow felt a disconnect between my roots and what I had become.
Maybe education is a bad thing.
Cuz it takes you away from the beliefs that have been blindly and fanatically followed over the years.
Technically, I belong to this community called Goud/Gowda Saraswat Brahmins.
To cut a long story short, centuries ago, my ancestors were apes.
Then many years later, they became the nomadic Aryans who worshipped natural elements (Fire, Water, Wind etc) as recorded in the Vedas.
Many more years later, they settled on the banks of the now extinct Saraswati river and were called Saraswat Brahmins. This was the era when kings ruled and sadhus smoked up some good stuff to come up with what is today called Indian Mythology. Superhero Gods were thus born as their writers with a fertile imagination fuelled by ganja, to get into the good books of their kings, endowed them with supernatural powers, more like how director Suresh Krissna gave some gravity defying stunts to Thalaivar Superstar Rajnikant in ‘Baasha’ and ‘Baba.’
Many more years later, some of them who lived in the state of Goud wanted their own identity and called themselves Goud Saraswath Brahmins. The nomads they are, some of them reached Goa and during the Portuguese invasion when they were being forced to convert to Christanity, they fled further south. Thus, the entire Western belt was called the Konkan coast cuz of the scattered settlement of Konkani speaking people in Mangalore and surrounding Kanara districts to Kochi. Some of them went up North and scattered around Maharashtra. This was when they to compete with their Dravidian counterparts started building temples and worshipped stone idols, something which their Aryan ancestors were strictly against. The literature available to them, told them about Gods with fancy names and superpowers. These images and artist’s impressions of Gods gave these people adequate scope to create idols. The Dravidians of course had giant sized idols in their village… the Ayyanar, that they turned to for protecting their village. To paint these Dravidian Gods as evil, some Brahmin artistes used that imagery to represent evil Rakshasas in their temples. As the rivalry grew, there were cultural exchanges as they got into a game of one-upmanship!
Many more years later, further subsects where born in the already fragmented Goud-Saraswath-Brahmins-settled-around-the-Konkan-coast. Then, they were divided on the basis of region… Kochi and Mangalore and further by the religious heads or spiritual gurus they turned to.
So my folks in Kochi are the ones who follow a particular guru, someone the majority of the entire community hero-worships. They have a trust in his name and the Tirumala Devaswom temple in Kochi run by that trust is one of the biggest temples and the hub of religious activity in Kochi.
I have gone there over years. In fact, my sacred thread ceremony was there too. But those were days, when I blindly followed the rituals.
Today, as someone blessed with knowledge of history and science, I know about the influences over the years in defining what is today considered as culture. I understand the need to demystify myths. As a journalist, I have been always fascinated to go in search of truth and to question practices and rituals that do not make sense.
This time when I went there, I saw something I had never questioned. Even in this day and age, the entry into the temple’s sanctum sanctorum is restricted to “pure Brahmins.” To ensure that, only Brahmins displaying their sacred threads are let in. My uncle proudly told me it was to conserve the sanctity of our temple.
He went on to tell me stories about the revered Swami. I’ll just narrate one of these stories.
A senior Christian leader once sought an appointment with the Swami. He’s said to have initially agreed. And when the date came closer, he called it off. Reason? “What happens if I reach first and he comes late? It will be reported as “Swami waited for Father to arrive.” And what happens if I go late? It will be reported as “Swami went to meet Father.” Both of which, I’m not comfortable with.”
Well… I wouldn’t be exactly proud of this sort of a religious head. He gave me another anecdote about the Swami similarly not showing up for a screening of Adi Sankaracharya because the ideology was very different.
I for one do not understand this. Religions are supposed to bring people together, not divide them.
Like our Prez said once: Religions are like islands. Unless bridges are built between them, people are going to stay marooned in their own worlds believing that their island is the world. I think religions are just a way of life … like food, like clothes.
If we have the freedom to choose what food to eat and what to wear, shouldn’t we broaden our minds to choose what to take from what religion and help ourselves to our own food for thought?