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Urban Junkie

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

If you don't go to the temple ...

… the temple’s gonna come to you. Right where you hang out – you don’t need to go an inch out of your way. In the midst of mall crawling, multiplexing, coffee-barring and pub-hopping, you can hop over to a readily accessible agent-of-god and get a dose of jukebox religion.

A bit of trivia I read a few days ago but have not been able to dislodge from my mind. The ‘culture ministry’ in Thailand, in an apparent burst of marketing savvy, would like to install monks in malls. Because (allow me to quote) "People nowadays have no time to go to temples, only shopping malls. They can get closer to religion if we provide the opportunity".

Seriously? Well, I know that the barefoot-up-the-mountain pilgrimage is probably passé, but … seriously?

I’m not sure what it is about this that bothers me so. I’m not particularly religious myself – have not been to a temple or any other place of worship in years – and I also don’t need to take up cudgels on behalf of those who do take religion seriously. Nor do I belong to the down-with-the-malls camp (occasional pangs of nostalgia for Sunday mornings at Russell Market notwithstanding). I revel in plush, air-conditioned shopping spaces, I’ve been known to get lost in supermarkets for unrespectable lengths of time and I’m properly grateful for the ease that all-in-one-place malls bring in the midst of an overworked, over traffic-jammed, never-any-parking bustle. I’m delighted to be a mollycoddled consumer, and thank you for all the convenience.

And that is precisely the point. Malls are about making the mundane more pleasurable and easier to get done – but surely not about reducing the potentially magical aspects of life to mundanity? Isn’t there a limit to what we’re spoon-fed in pre-digested, bite-sized doses? I’m also a bit intrigued that the advocates of religion – or spirituality – would think of this made-easy format as a desirable objective. Would this really work as a way for people to “get” religion?

Oh well. If others can benefit from marketing wisdom, why not religion? What’s sauce for the goose, and all that. Distribution, packaging and visibility … aren’t those the mantras for everyone? If shiny gold packaging works for coffee (pouted the priest) why not for me? Why not, indeed?

A young friend who read this snippet along with me had an entirely different take on the issue. The culture ministry apparently wants to “campaign for religion in places where teenagers gather" – a piece of information that caused a spontaneous shudder. “Oh, gross. I hope they don’t get the same idea in India. Imagine having to stub out your cigarette hastily because there’s a pundit sitting across from you in Coffee Day”. Hmmm. There’s a thought there for worried parents, though.


  • I ain't that religious myself...but did walk from coimbatore to Palani for a special prayer...and the coffee day Idea actually sounds interesting. Wonder wat the poojari would be doin at the other table? *food for thought*?

    By Blogger arvindiyer, at 8:12 PM, December 06, 2005  

  • does that mean you cant wear shoes/chappals in malls? also, in india, maybe they have to do some kind of bidding to see which religion gets to put their god in... all this, just in case you thought god wasnt watching you in malls.. holy mall culture!!!

    By Blogger manuscrypts, at 3:09 AM, December 07, 2005  

  • Not so strange-I spent last sunday leading a meditation in the market place!! Dilli Haat...a regular mela in progress,and a small group of people sitting in meditation, followed by whirling. everybody loved it. Metropolitan Mall next week, then Coffee day...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:52 AM, December 07, 2005  

  • these people are so insecure about their beliefs...religion is such a personal thing...'tis a pity they don't understand that and go around trying to impose their beliefs on people...

    By Blogger the Monk, at 9:38 PM, December 07, 2005  

  • Yes, yes, it is when you stagger out of the apparel shop, wallet empty, credit-card maxed, that's when you feel the need for god.
    If the mountain won't go to Mohammad, Mohammad will go to the mountain, I guess.

    By Blogger Rhyncus, at 1:34 AM, December 08, 2005  

  • But is the barefoot-pilgrimage passé really? Because, I love the idea, it makes for many a wonderful holidays with friends or with family - I'm quite sad at having to miss going with my friends to Sabarimala this year again!

    By Blogger Sooraj, at 1:48 AM, December 08, 2005  

  • I can just about imagine a shop next to a costume jewellery store with a window dressed like Barclays. What would it display? Well...an extensive range of god figurines...an ishta devta there and a nimishamba here. A satyanarayana in the midst of many more. "An idiot's guide to recognising Gods" thrown in casually for the multitudes who dont know God beyond the friendly Ganesha and the Wealth Endowing Lakshmi...

    By Blogger Siri, at 10:38 PM, December 08, 2005  

  • Hi Anjali, off topic comment. Could you please give me your e-mail address? We are coordinating with the Akshara volunteers via e-mail. You can reach me at blogpourri@gmail.com.


    By Blogger Sujatha, at 1:55 AM, December 12, 2005  

  • what if the monks start marketing their religion / beliefs whatever at the malls....? scary thought that... or is that actually what the ministry really hopes?!

    By Anonymous Charu, at 5:34 AM, December 12, 2005  

  • arvind: according to my friend who was so horrified, I imagine he would be keeping a sharp eye out for nefarious activities ...

    manuscrypts: I doubt if the 'overt' presence of god would be a dampener to anyone who needs to be 'sold' religion anyway :) ... my objection is really to branded / packaged religion jostling for attention with the shoes, jewelry and movies!

    anon: I think what you are doing is quite different. Meditating for oneself in a public space (which, as i understand it, is what you do) is not the same as 'marketing' one's wares to people who are otherwise not interested. Everyone may love the whirling, but were you trying to 'sell' it?

    monk: maybe it's insecurity that drives this ... or maybe just a misguided attempt to get market-savvy

    rhyncus: oh, absolutely. That makes it all perfectly clear :)

    sooraj: I stand corrected, then :)

    siri: :)

    sujatha - sent you a mail!

    charu: well I guess the presence of the monks is itself an act of marketing ... but my worry is really that religion per se should be 'marketable' in this (frivolous?) manner - we see plenty of hardsell of religion otherwise anyway!

    By Blogger Anjali, at 6:26 AM, December 12, 2005  

  • i am religious. bt i dont think one shud show it by going to the temple. :-)

    By Blogger Jithu, at 3:00 PM, December 13, 2005  

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