Last month I had been to the Swaminarayan temple in Dadar. I had work that side and decided to do darshan at the Mandir. the first time the children did not want to leave the temple. We were there for good one hour. They saw the evening Arti too. The next week, I took them again around the same time. I was happy that I was able to expose my children to the temple culture. They had a lot of questions. Prime question was why are women asked to move out when the Arti is going on in the airconditioned section. Why do mot seen get to be ahead in the Arti and women have to sit further behind. I explained that in Swaminarayan dharam/ religion, the saints/ sadhus/ Swamis do not look at women. There are different sections for women as the Swamis can to the rituals and not women. I myself now cannot see any logic to all this. And sure enough, whatever I was explaining to my children was not a good enough explanation for them. To explain celibacy vows of the priests is one thing and to explain this demarcation is something else. Makes me wonder if Lord Swaminarayan actually said all this in the sense in which it is followed in the religion.
My grandmother had also explained about the religion to me. She had said that only Swaminarayan Bhagwan says do not fast and harm your body. This was one cool religion where God said if people follow me, they will always have enough and will not be poor. The rule was there about the Swamis not looking at women but in smaller towns where they opened temples, the Swamis were allowed to interact with women folk. A temple runs well when old women go there during Bhajan, Arti. With their belief, they can get their children , grand children to come, pray and contribute. In religious matters, in lot of households, the women folk have a say. She also mentioned that once in Varanasi she was not going for the Arti for the usual reasons and the Swamiji said all this is human nature and she should go to the temple. My Granma told me all this, before the religion broke up into different sects.
Once at Mysore Palace, I saw a group of the Swamis of Swaminarayan sect with their followers. I asked one of them where are the Swamis from. He said the name and said they are from a different faction. "Faction" is the word used. I was shocked. That's how different sects who follow Lord Swaminarayan, relate to each other. May be that follower did not know English is what I wanted to convince myself with. But faction is too harsh a term for a non English speaker. I am not judging the religion but the people out here.
So on my second visit to the temple with children, there were in familiar zone, asking questions and enjoying the procedures. Half an hour into this, an old man walked up to me. His face was very angry. He had got the watchman along. He said in Gujarati, "Aava kapda maan mandir maan nahin aav waanu". he said more and he was rude. What he meant was you cannot come to the temple in these kind of clothes. I looked at myself for the first time as I could not understand what I had done. I was in a loose t shirt and capris which were below my knees, perfectly covered. But the man had had seen my calves and my ankles and my feet which were open. He had got a watchman along so in case I argued, he could get me pushed out. He was the age of my Grandfather, if he would have been alive. But what he saw in me was not a young mother getting her children to the temple. He saw in me a woman who will spoil Swaminarayan s name. He saw in me a woman who was not in a saree or salwar kameez which are considered decent garments. He thought my presence will bring filth to the mind of followers. He thought I was against the Sanskruti or culture.We left without a word. In fact, my children said Mamma, 'lets go'.
I had no answers for my children. I do not know what they picked up from this episode. I did not even write about it for 3 weeks as i did not want to write when I was feeling angry, emotional,hurt and humiliated.I do not dress up for the temple neither do I dress down. If I am decent to go all around Mumbai with my kids on the roads, then I am surely decently dressed for a temple. I am a Hindu by religion and have visited temples practically every day from my secondary school life. I believe in God. I pray and do puja. I believe in festivals. I do some rituals. But I do not pretend to my God. Swaminarayan religion is supposed to move with times. Has a huge number of learned followers and does a whole lot of social work. Then How can one man kick me and my innocent kids out of the temple? Is this what happened to the lower castes when they entered a Mandir? I was so scared that I did not want to create a scene. The old man looked so vindictive that if I had argued, he would have filed a false complaint against me with the Police. The Swamis do not talk to women , so the running of the temple must be with this kind of old city goons. New Age terrorism. Terrify the people who come for a few minutes of prayer and peace.
At a Dadar jain temple at kabutarkhaana, Mumbai, I had a similar experience years back. I was in jeans. An old man did not approve so he sent the watchman to ask me to leave the temple premises. I was alone. I left, never to go back. I knew Jains are very conservative and narrow minded as a community and very feudal too. They actually teach in their pathshaalas to young kids, how Krishna and Ram are bad Gods. They forget that their Lord Mahavir was born a Hindu. So I was okay with it. I had seen a lot of Kattar/ hard core Jains in my earlier building and was not surprised. After all this was their God, not mine.
Are we all living like this? What about temple being a place where all can visit. I do not mean one smokes, drinks or parties in the temple premises. But is going to pray with your children wrong?