My dad is currently on a holiday in Sri Lanka and as with any parent who goes to Sri Lanka, his trip would not be complete without paying a visit to a couple of temples in Colombo and Jaffna. Having gone with his friends, naturally photos were uploaded on Facebook of their visits to a few of these temples. During one of their visits, my dad wore below-knee length shorts, and in response to that picture a family friend commented how he was disappointed in him wearing shorts to a temple and how he is setting a bad example to the younger generation.
This made me think hard about several issues which exist in our Tamil culture which are related to going to the temple.
The below arguments are my own. I am not claiming to be right, but this is how I think and believe just through my observations of those around me when I visit the temples.
The ‘correct’ attire
As a member of the so-called ‘younger generation’, I did not see any issue with my dad wearing shorts to a temple. Most may think I am defending my dad. Yes I am defending my dad to some extent, but there is more to this. I am defending my dad because I know his personality. I know he means no harm. Therefore whether or not he wears shorts, I know that when he enters a temple he does so with the right mind-set.
Let me take this opportunity to give a few examples of why one’s mind-set is more important than their external attire. I have seen, in the UK, Sri Lanka and India, devotees go into the temple with knee-length shorts or knee-length skirts. They come to the temple, pray and then leave, causing no hassle to the other devotees, in contrast to some members who come in full traditional attire and cause disruption to the other temple devotees.
I am not saying that we can fully disrespect and disregard the culture and wear items of clothing which are completely revealing. Of course not. But it is important for an individual to wear something to temple which makes them and those around them feel comfortable, hence I do not see a real issue with a pair of long shorts or mid-length skirt.
We live in a society where we place so much emphasis on the external attire worn to a temple and very little on the mind-set with which to enter a temple. No one in this day and age is silly enough to wear revealing, inappropriate clothes to temple; but everyone is entitled to wear something which is comfortable.
This one is very personal to me. The moment a girl starts her period for the very first time, she is treated like a piece of dirt. Traditionally she is kept inside a room, she cannot pray or associate with any member of the family until a priest has come to the house and done a Pooja to ensure ‘cleanliness’.
She is forbidden from going to the temple for the one week she is on her period because she is considered ‘dirty’. I definitely think there is more to it than this, so when I have done enough research I will write a more detailed blog outlining my findings. For the time being, what does it mean to be pure? How can we be so quick to label a girl on her period as impure to enter a temple?
My mum always says that a girl is weakest on her period so she should stay indoors and conserve energy. Traditionally this argument may have worked. But these days, in such a western and medicalised society, we know that a girl is only medically weak because she is losing blood. Making sure she eats well and takes iron supplements alone will be fine, if necessary.
A girl on her period is not a disease. So let’s stop making her feel that way. Do I agree with how girls on periods are treated with regards to going to the temple? No. But this is more than just a religious construct, it is a cultural and social construct.
Bhakthi or not?
A temple for me means an environment free from noise, and business/money-making motifs. When I walk in I should feel the positive vibration resonating across space. When I sit down I should be able to focus my mind completely on myself and be able to meditate and communicate with God with no distraction. How often do I get this in the city I was born and brought up in, very little.
The atmosphere of the temple is not only determined by the priests and running of it, but also by its devotees. We should all work together to create that ultimate atmosphere of ultimate devotion which we can do if we put our minds to it.
I am not writing this piece to claim that I am correct.
Many of you may not agree with me, and if this blog provided and opportunity for people to start up their own debates and discussions then perfect!
I want people to think and then argue for what they believe is right rather than what they are made to believe is right.
I have not fully explored these concepts in detail. So in the near future once I have fully looked into these arguments properly, I will further elaborate but until then: let’s think, commit and pray!