What Does Being Religious Mean To You?

October 1, 2011
Ask my mother, and she will tell you how disgusted she feels that her daughter doesnot believe in visiting temples or doing Pooja (prayer) at home and worse she doesnot have a little temple or a place for pooja at her home. 

I've grown up seeing a highly religious mother  who would wake up at 4 am to get ready and walk down to Kalka temple on weekly basis despite her being a working woman.  She would spend a lot of time in the home Pooja room ( a small room for prayer) every evening. Her salutation would be no less than the name of the deity she is devoted to.  Come Navratras and her visits to temple would increase and her time of prayer (including Aarati singing) would increase manifold.  She would come out of the prayer room, offering us, the poor children with some 'Charnamrit' (Literally meaning - holy water which has washed the God's feet) and some prasad ( sweet which was offered to God first).

She would take me along to the temple, which has a huge following in New Delhi.  As a kid, it was tough for me, as I had to wake up at 4 or 5 am, take bath and get ready in winter mornings to go to the temple.  And mind you, we were not supposed to eat anything.... means just anything.  We must pray with a pure mouth, must not consume anything before that.  After offering water, tilak, flowers, lighting a diya (earthen lamp),  prasad (sweets or fruit offered to God) and head bow or else prostrating before all idols (and hope u know there are 330 million Hindu dieties  and a big and established temple would have idols of around 10-12 deities minimum).  By the time, all the offerings have been made to all the Gods and Goddesses, it would be the time to do the collective Aarati.  

All this would take around 1 to 2 hours, and I would be dead hungry by then.  Needless to say that if i complained, that would elicit the wrath of my mother, so I would keep my mouth shut!

Today, at 36 years of age, and being a mother of two, I have still not imbibed the religious ways of my mother, and for that matter of my mother-in-law and my sister and my neighbour and my colleague.  I am a misfit here. My mother had been telling me again and again how important it is to have a small temple in home, and how equally important it is to light a diya (lamp) every day.  Initially, I felt terribly guilty for not being able to do all this, not even to pacify all the old ladies of my house.  But now, I just know I cannot and have no regrets.

For me religion is not lighting that diya, it's not singing that Aarati, it's not fasting for the diety, it's not visiting a temple, it's not going on a pilgrimage, it's not even placing the photo of your diety on your kitchen, or your car, or your study table or your home temple.  It's beyond all this.  These are just the rituals, just the method to remind yourself of the power.

I don't think there is any point visiting a temple through the VIP pass, VIP gate or VIP ticket (u can buy them by paying some Rs 1000-2000 in big temples).  I don't think God would be happy with you when you haggle with the poor rickshaw puller for 2 or 5 rupees after giving donation of 100-200 or 500 rupees.  I don't think it's worth getting pushed and manhandled just to stand and pray in front of the big idol of your God.  There are long, really very long queues outside the well established temples all over India and people wait for hours altogether to get a glimpse of their deity.  Having faith is something pious and I respect it, but simply following a ritual without giving any thought to it... is somehow beyond me.

I'm not saying that people who throng the temples go there only to see the idol of the deity, but there are people who go to experience the immense power, to feel the collective energy of thousands of people's devotion. Some go to meditate in peaceful temples.  If we begin to segregate the mere ritual from the real devotion and real connectivity with God, we will begin to see the worthlessness in the temple thronging act of our countrymen.  Every year, we read about people dying in stampedes in religious processions, or temples or in queues leading to temples.  Is it worth losing your life only to visit a place of worship, while God resides within us... around us.......in the human beings He created? I wonder.

My Observation on Religion And Society : There is something strange which i had been noticing for a few years about the co-relation of a person's financial status and the religious practices he follows. 

 I realized that the poor section of the Indian society spend more money on buying pooja articles, giving money (dakshina) to priests for the rituals.  They spend a big amount from their earnings on festivals and marriage/birth/death in the name of religion giving out money or food or clothes to others (mostly priests).  People working in cities go back to their states or villages for such religious and ritualistic practices thereby spending money on commuting and buying new clothes etc.  

In contrast to that, middle class or upper middle class strata of Indian society (especially urban population) won't care much about the ritual which makes them spend money.  In most cases, we have found some short cuts to rituals.  Now, more often than not, the short cuts are there because we don't care enough for them anymore rather than reasoning out as to why should we follow or not follow it.

So, the meaning of being religious is different for different people. What's your way of being religious? Do u light a diya, or a dhoop or incense stick, hum some mantra and begin your day feeling pious? Do you visit temples each time you go for holidays to any place seeking blessings of all the Gods? Have you ever questioned the ritual? Have you ever asked  the meaning and significance of a ritual and then felt a disconnect in your heart? Have you ever asked yourself 'does God reside in the place of worship'? What's your way? Do share....


Aarathi - (Aarati - is a kind of a religious song, sung in the praise of that deity.  It tells about the various powers held, the many accomplishments made and thus praises the greatness of the diety)  It is normally sung aloud together, with the priest taking the lead.  It's accompanied by loud ringing of bells ( the bigger the temple, the more the bells), and rotating a big plate on which an oil lamp, flowers, fruits, sweets and incense has been placed.  It is rotated in front of the idol of the deity, offering all the holy things to them.  Later, the same sweets are distributed to all the people as prasad.


Deepika said...

umm.. for me religion is far from going to some crowded place to get darshan of some statue.. what i believe is.. its all inside me.. all the time, everywhere.. not just in that temple or church ... i believe in god but not the ways it is acknowledged in world...

Ankita said...


nice post

religion is not 'adambar' or a show-off of religious ceremonies but a kind heart and an open mind.


Prathama Raghavan said...

My mother could be a lot like your mother. I have been living away from home for about 6 years now and though I always have a puja room and do burn a Diya for every other festival, I do it more for the sake of tradition than religion. My mother would call and remind me about the festival and instruct me on what I am to do and I follow out of respect to her.

I am not at all religious but I like some of the practices liking waking up early for Diwali or keeping idols for Dassera when I am at my parents' house from the tradition point of view.

Incidentally I am working on a post on a topic similar to this, not exactly religion but beliefs actually, I am having a lot of trouble articulating myself.

You have done a brilliant job. Well Expressed Article.

Nittinj said...

to me Religion provides lot of answers to basic issues such as what is society,roles and responsibilities at different stages in life. Sometimes, we don't want to ask questions and instead seek answers, advise, words of wisdom and religion embodies 1000s of years of wisdom of its millions of followers. Sometimes asking questions is important and though we may not find all the answers in the religious texts, most of the religions do provide guidelines, prescribe how to find answers for ourselves and for others. Very nice post and the blog...kudos 

Bhavin Sangoi said...

Excellent post. You are absolutely right even I feel the same way, our
religion has ended up in following rituals it has nothing to do with
spirituality. Some people follow these rituals out of fear such as what people will say or God will punish me etc. and some other do it out of grid. People demand various things from God like good marks in exams, good job, promotion, life partner and some even ask for help in their wrong deeds. for this they also take pledge like if I will get tender of so and so project I will donate 10% in the fund of your temple. This is also a type of corruption that you offer bribe to god for getting your work done. People don't want to understand that God is not their agent. you will get good fruits if you do good works and bad fruits if indulge in wrong activity, than it doesn't matter whether you worship the God or don't.

RESTLESS said...

Bhavin, good to c that u agree with the points i wrote about.

True, we are only left with rituals, and as u said - demands and requests to God.

RESTLESS said...

Welcome to this blog, and thanks for the comment!

I too think that either we are too scared or too ignorant to question our beliefs relating to religion.

We can find answers, surely there is so much wisdom in them.

RESTLESS said...

Hi Prathama,

So ur mother also tells u that! Good to know that we are in the same boat!

I too like some rituals, which make sense to me. Cleaning and decorating the home on Diwali etc.

Ok, good, so u too are writing something on this issue. Will surely read it.



RESTLESS said...

Hi Anika!

If we keep kindness in heart and openness in mind, then there's nothing more we need ... that becomes our religion.


RESTLESS said...

Deepika, really like ur thoughts!

I too feel the same :)

Jack said...


What is the use of following such rituals if heart is not clean? God resides in everyone and we need to first ensure that God has clean dwelling place. Going to religious places is as per own conscience and faith of a person which we should accept as long as it does not harm any one else. I too say prayers in the morning soon after getting up and also before going to bed at night but that is to thank God for being kind.   I do follow some rituals but that is as expected out of me being head of family and I do not let those be out of proportions.  One may go to TIRATH STHAANS or religious places but it should not be to blackmail God. It should be just to pay respects and say thanks from bottom of heart. What is the use of singing religious songs or making all religious sounds, shaking heads or clapping fervently if later I am indulging in cheating everyone or looking for easy prey to satisfy my lust? We need to have a clean mind and heart to let God be happy to live within us. 

Take care   

PS : Left comments from Slut Walk onwards after catching up with all posts. I read all these yesterday.

Rahulbhatia said...

A very thought provoking post! Liked it

BookWorm said...

well, i have never been so religious as to visit temples regularly.. till very recently, i have gone to temples only while accompanying someone else.. for company.. and not all by myself.. 

in my case, it was pretty different.. my mom was just the opposite.. perhaps being a working woman, she never found time to have puja, aarti etc in our house.. and our house still dont have a proper mandir.. so having grown up in such an environment, i too, have become not so religious.. 

yeah, but yes., we all do believe in some kind of power that pulls the strings.. the way things happen .. and frankly.. i have never questioned god's existence, i most often have a difference of opinion wiht him as to how things should have happened.. both in my life.. as well in the lives of the people around me.. so does that make me religious..? i dont know.. 

sowjanya C said...

True... Spirituality begins where religion ends.. None of the saints are/were religious. Was Jesus Christ a christian? No. He was a Jew. Was Lord Budha a Buddhist? Was Mahavir Jain a Jaini?? Religion is created by humans to form the foundations of Spirituality and foundation of knowing the Almighty somehow... Alas! We stuck up to the traditions and forgot the real sense

RESTLESS said...

So true Sowjanya!

RESTLESS said...

I think we began to relate religion with rituals... and there we began to give in to rituals in order to be religious. By this definition neither u r religious nor me!!!

RESTLESS said...

thanks Rahul...

RESTLESS said...

Thanks for words of wisdom uncle Jack.

Reema said...

I think this poem by Kabir explains it all

मोको कहाँ ढूंढे रे बन्दे

मैं तो तेरे पास में

ना तीरथ में, ना मूरत में

ना एकांत निवास में

ना मंदिर में, ना मस्जिद में

ना काबे कैलास में

मैं तो तेरे पास में बन्दे

मैं तो तेरे पास में

ना मैं जप में, ना मैं तप में

ना मैं बरत उपास में

ना मैं किरिया करम  में रहता

नहिं जोग सन्यास में

नहिं प्राण में नहीं पिंड में

ना ब्रह्माण्ड आकास में

ना मैं प्रकुति प्रवार गुफा में

नहिं स्वांसों की स्वांस में

खोजी होए तुरत मिल जाऊं

इक पल की तलास में

कहत कबीर सुनो भई  साधो

मैं तो हूँ विश्वास में

English Translation:Where do you search me?I am with youNot in pilgrimage, nor in iconsNeither in solitudesNot in temples, nor in mosquesNeither in Kaba nor in KailashI am with you O manI am with youNot in prayers, nor in meditationNeither in fastingNot in yogic exercisesNeither in renunciationNeither in the vital force nor in the bodyNot even in the ethereal spaceNeither in the womb of NatureNot in the breath of the breathSeek earnestly and discoverIn but a moment of searchSays Kabir, Listen with careWhere your faith is, I am there.

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