The annual Laksha Deepotsava of Dharmasthala began two days ago. It is a phenomenon I’ve experienced only three times so far, but is already a definitive experience. In a number of ways, it validates to me the reasons behind many of the decisions I’ve made in life. Sounds strange, doesn’t it. How can a religious, social and public affair like Laksha Deepotsava, that hosts crowds in literal millions, be a deeply personal experience?
I’ve always connected well with religious and cultural phenomena in general, no matter how big or small. There’s a well rooted love for the heritage elements of the Tulu land where I belong that comes without me making voluntary efforts towards building patriotism. This has withheld me from moving to an alien place even for a better career opportunity. I like being a part of the frequent and regular occasions that celebrate the religious and cultural aspects of the land. The customs are unique and meaningful; naturally inspiring a sense of connection in everyone.
Having attended so many such events since childhood, I’d thought I knew how they worked and what it meant to be in a crowd. That was until I visited the Laksha Deepa ceremony for the first time. The gravity of religious celebrations that extends to everyone irrespective of any age, gender or proximity barriers was more evident than ever that day. The sheer number of people who attended from far and wide was staggering to say the least. I thought I knew what being in a crowd meant; I clearly didn’t until then.
Ever since, the customs of Dharmasthala and many other religious celebrations began making more and more sense. I haven’t been a stranger to the criticism that religion receives in India. The constant finger pointing by the non-believing community doesn’t make it easy to wear your religious inclination on your sleeve. And we do our best internally to answer the questions they pose and validate our love for God as religion teaches us.
Being a part of events like this makes me realize that religion is so much more than what is commonly understood. The Olympic share of criticism is that the ideals of religion are outdated and useless beyond the walls of a temple, and that the centuries old preaching does nothing more than limiting modernization.
Precisely the opposite is true. If you’ve read Sapiens by Yuval Harrari, you’ll know how religion is a story that we told ourselves to achieve much better coordination in society and actually work together for advancement. That idea has rooted itself in my mind and ever since, I’ve been finding evidences to authenticate it. Large religious events are a part of the same process.
Only a largely influential institution can host an event where millions voluntarily arrive to take part, act in coordination, spend money, maintain basic discipline and wholly enjoy the experience. To ensure that the coordination of a crowd as massive as that, the institution has to be powerful enough and everyone at the location must believe they are rewarded in some way for their meaningful participation. The central force that glues that whole macro process together must be an undisputed force.
And that’s really what religion is in India, and many other countries. Temples do house a large part of the soul of this country and drive it towards progress in the most disciplined manner possible. The endless number of charities, philanthropy and developmental activities take place through the leadership of temple managements. People volunteer for free service in belief that they’re serving God through their deeds, while they are, in practicality, serving people and society. No other institution can draw coordination of this scale and efficiency than religion.
And that’s why, there’s so much meaning to the noise and hustle that surrounds us at an event like Laksha Deepa. We’re all there because of one entity that towers over and on some mystical level onlooks the whole process. And on some conscious or subconscious level, we acknowledge its supremacy and function together – something we wouldn’t do otherwise.
Here’s all the official information about Dharmasthala and the event.