I’ve been culturally raised as a Hindu, and I think that aside from the aspect of weird right-wing patriarchs politicizing the religion, it’s a pretty cool one. I guess I say this because my performing of Hinduism basically consists of 1) singing bhajans while wearing pretty clothes; 2) eating delicious fried puris and potatoes and varan bhaat at my parents’ annual satyanarayan puja; 3) learning (largely via comic strips and amazing televised depictions) about all the epic beheading-heavy, gender-bending adventures of the Gods and Goddesses; 4) attending festivities that contain lots of food and things like dancing with sticks and throwing colored powders on each other; 5) visiting the temple after someone in the family gets married or buys a new car; and 6) trying not to be a total asshole.
So anyway, on my last trip to India, I visited a few temples. The temples in Goa and Kerala were beautiful and serene, and not too crowded. Then, back in Bombay, my parents and I decided to go to Siddhivinayak Mandir, after my dad and I did a quick stop-off at some Italian joint for beer and garlic bread. And oh my Ganesh, the temple had a VIP line! Aside from the usual temple vendors selling things like beads, garlands, and transparent dhotis, there were all these eager merchants lined up outside with VIP Pooja Thalis that you could buy for 250 rupees to fast-track your journey through this aggressive, life-threatening idol worship. I came out of that temple so beaten and irate. I mean what the hell kind of twisted Hunger Games Hinduism was this?!
The experience wasn’t exclusive to this temple. I went to a couple of other popular temples in Bombay and was similarly violated by ardent devotees. And outside of one of them, I was told that we were lucky to have gained access to the temple at all, because it had been closed off for weeks so that Bollywood actor and ex-con Sanjay Dutt could have private praying time!
I think I hate big Bombay temples as much as I hate San Francisco’s 18-and-over nightclubs, but I am willing to give them another try just to make sure.