The expressive devotee


I had seen that old man a couple of times. He was neither a priest nor an exorcist. He was a devotee who visited the temple quite often, and his visit lasted for hours. He stood in front of the sanctum sanctorum having long conversations with the Goddess and her Family. The sanctum sanctorum had a statue carved with four faces, one on each side. They depict the images of the Divine Family – the Goddess, her Husband and her two Children. Such a statute symbolizes the unity inherent in the countless Gods of the Hindus. The old man, standing like a child being asked to narrate a poem, reported almost everything to the Goddess, with topics ranging from how his children have abandoned him to the increasing cost of rice and vegetable these days.
 At regular intervals, he would say, “Now you know it all” to indicate that the Goddess really does not have to be informed, and yet the news has to be brought to the door of the sanctum sanctorum. I sat down in a corner and closed my eyes, trying to be a silent listener of the conversation. The tone seemed to be as casual as it can be with the mother, yet there was respect, love and emotion filled in each word that was uttered. I could hear few other devotees walking inside the temple and placing their offerings to the divine family on the steel table installed adjacent to the steps of the sanctum sanctorum. They completed their 3 rounds of circumambulation, sat in a bench for few seconds (a ritual), and walked out.
The old man was now at his closing statement to the Goddess, and I thought ‘ok, maybe he will go home now’. To my surprise, he walked to the other side of the sanctum sanctorum where the image represented the Husband of the Goddess, and started reporting again, but on other topics. Now the conversation seemingly focused on village politics, bad governance and so on. The old man supposedly came from a neighboring fishing village and spent most of his time in the temple. There was helplessness in the voice, yet no regrets or complaints about the state of affairs in the village. There was a candid expression of the apprehensions that bothered him. The tone now was still casual, but resembled the one that goes along well with a close friend.

That particular day the temple staff had expected some visitors, who belonged to the wealthy society of the town that donates huge amount of money when it comes to the service of god. In fact, they represented the temple board committee. The old man, by whose virtue, I believe, the Goddess and her Family usually do not get bored almost the entire day, was now interrupted by a temple staff. The staff asked the old man to have some fruits and rice pudding. When I opened my eyes and stood straight, I saw the old man being taken away by the staff towards the entrance of the temple.
The staff gave an impression that he was very polite in his act of driving the old man out as it was time for the business visit of the temple committee members. When the old man started enjoying the rice pudding from the pot placed closed to the entrance, he accidentally dropped a morsel of it on the floor. Another senior staff got angry as the floor that was cleaned for the rich guests was now dirtied. He aggressively pushed the old man out. Suddenly, it felt like the crucial node that had connected me to the Goddess and her family had disappeared. The committee members came in, bowed down, closed their eyes for a few seconds, opened them, and started discussing among each other the arrangements for the annual festival. The Goddess and Her Family were left alone.

       Kedar Uttam

Author: Kedar Uttam