This is Not Religion. This is Anti-God.

bahubali

Durga Puja makeshift temple, built with millions of dollars. In Calcutta, where the poor sleep in the street, and their children go hungry.

(Photo courtesy: Financial Express. For one-time, non-profit, educational use only.)

In the name of worshiping Goddess Durga the Demon Slayer, corporate business-sponsored grandiose, glitzy events are doing precisely what Hinduism teaches us not to do. The organizers of these community celebrations in the city of Calcutta — often political leaders and their henchmen — are spending millions for fun and festivity, fighting for competitive awards, getting more political mileage and media glare, coercing ordinary people to pay for it, and making lives miserable for countless people who do not want to be a part of it.

Goddess Durga is not happy with them. In fact, she is angry.

Let the supreme Goddess’ wrath befall on these demons.

I am aghast at this completely unethical, morally bankrupt, scandalous use of money — in millions (taxed or untaxed) — in a place where countless people do not have enough to eat. They sleep in the street, can’t afford to send their children to school, or buy them a nice shirt at this festive time of the year.

This is the same place where recent floods caused havoc, and made countless poor people homeless. This year in particular, with the scary climate change, the floods across India and Bengal destroyed many lives.

This is the same place where women are victims of sexual violence on a daily basis.

I have no political power, and I live in New York, USA. But I grew up in Calcutta, and I love the city and its sane, intelligent people. I have talked to many people in the past few days. They are all aghast too. But they have no political power, either, and therefore fear for their lives. The entire country of India — my motherland — has now fallen to the rules of religious fanaticism, hate, violence, corruption, misogyny, and mafia.

I do not know exactly how much money is spent on these extravagant, lavish festivities. I have heard that one deity of the goddess is entirely adorned with real gold ornaments costing Indian rupees 6.5 crores, which is one million U.S. dollars. 

One millions U.S. dollars for a four or five-day festivity!

Only one of these grandiose events — the money used for it — could save thousands of children from hunger, diseases, or death. The money could educate school and college children against sexual violence, and institute special programs for saving women from rape and molestation.

Only one such festivity — the cost of it — could do so, so much more.

The makeshift temple I showed above is another example of this grotesque extravagance. This temple will come down in four or five days too!

There is no media outrage, no government outcry, no investigation, no meaningful audit, no income tax raids — things that a clean government (promised by both India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, and by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee) must do, or support. In fact, some of the biggest puja organizers are their party stalwarts.

Through this little blog of mine, I am drawing attention of people everywhere — people who feel such misuse of money and abuse of power are outrageous and criminal, and must be stopped at any cost.

This is no religion. This is not Hinduism. This is pure and simple, total moral degeneration. I invoke Goddess Durga to bring the perpetrators curse. May her wrath burn them.

Slay these morally depraved, dishonest, cruel demons, O Mother. Save our yearning for sanity and humanity from a total, irreversible destruction.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

Bengal village Durga Puja

A real, religious, ordinary peoples’ Durga Puja in West Bengal. Priest invoking the Goddess.

Photography of village home puja: Pallabi Pal.

Swami Vivekananda at 150: the Socialist Saint

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THE MASTER AS I SAW HIM. — “He believed that the one thing to be renounced was any idea of birth as the charter of leadership. He believed that the whole of India was about to be thrown into the melting pot, and that no man could say what new forms of power and greatness would be the result.” — Written by Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita (aka Margaret Noble).

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Today, January 12, Swami Vivekananda turns 150.

For us who grew up knowing him, reading him, idolizing him — it’s a very special day.

For those of us who grew up in Calcutta, India, and that too, within half a mile of his residence, within quarter of a mile of the college he studied — it gives us goosebumps to imagine how this young monk who passed away at the age of thirty nine, turned Bengal and India upside down, by his rousing call to young India — to get rid of superstitions, castes, and all forms of social and religious dogmas.

Swami Vivekananda, a Ramakrishna-ordained Hindu saint who relinquished mortal pleasures to work to uplift the Hindu religion, used the religion to uplift the morality and soul of Indians. He dared to say: It’s better to play football than to study the Vedas. Indian revolutionaries who fought back against the British colonial tyranny idolized him, emulated him.

No wonder he was often fondly called the Socialist Saint.

Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita (aka Margaret Noble, an Irish woman) followed his footsteps, and worked among the poorest in Calcutta until her death at the age of forty four. She was also responsible for co-founding a major socialist movement in India — a “crime” for which Ramakrishna Mission (a nationwide, now international, organization her guru created) ostracized her.

India, unfortunately, did not follow the religion-based morality-upliftment lessons Vivekananda and Nivedita preached. Social patriarchs — including missions and monasteries — took their religion part and forgot about the upliftment part. Media selectively glorified some of their “innocuous” teaching and conveniently excluded the “controversial” ones. As a result, Vivekananda’s India is now one of the most corrupt, violent and immoral places on earth. The recent developments in the land of Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda and Ramakrishna are truly catastrophic, calamitous, ominous.

I want to say more about this great man whose life and teaching we can perhaps compare with those of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Both used spirituality to teach the downtrodden how to rise up and walk straight and tall. Both died at the age of thirty nine.

I’m including a famous poem Swami Vivekananda wrote and Sister Nivedita used in her writings on the guru. It may bring some special reflection on this dark and depressing time. At least, I hope it does.

Let us invoke the Holy Mother. Come, Mother, come!

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Kali worshiper Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the Swami's "illiterate" mentor.
Kali worshiper Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the Swami’s “illiterate” mentor.

Kali the Mother

The stars are blotted out,

The clouds are covering clouds

It is darkness vibrant, sonant.

In the roaring, whirling wind

Are the souls of a million lunatics

Just loosed from the prison-house,

Wrenching trees by the roots,

Sweeping all from the path.

The sea has joined the fray,

And swirls up mountain-waves,

To reach the pitchy sky.

The flash of lurid light

Reveals on every side

A thousand, thousand shades

Of Death begrimed and black —

Scattering plagues and sorrows,

Dancing mad with joy,

Come, Mother, come!

For Terror is Thy name,

Death is in Thy breath.

And every shaking step

Destroys a world for e’er.

Thou ‘Time’, the All-destroyer!

Come, O Mother, come!

Who dares misery love,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in Destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.

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Sister Nivedita. Know her.
Sister Nivedita. Know her.

Durga Puja and the Poor, Naked, Hungry, Sick Girl

Photo: author.

“Mystical Poet” Tagore wrote his non-mystical Bengali verse a hundred years ago:

“আনন্দময়ীর আগমনে আনন্দে গিয়েছে দেশ ছেয়ে
হেরো ওই ধনীর দুয়ারে দাঁড়াইয়া কাঙালিনী মেয়ে
বাজিতেছে উৎসবের বাঁশি, কানে তাই পশিতেছে আসি
ম্লান চোখে তাই ভাসিতেছে দুরাশার সুখের স্বপন…”

Bliss filled the mortal earth up and down below
Almighty Mother arrived: time for joyous psalm
But watch the poor, naked girl with nowhere else to go
Arrived at the rich’s door with an ever-extended palm.

Has anything changed since Tagore wrote it? Just look around.

Of course, Bengal and India were undivided back in those days. A British colonial rule was in place. People like me or my parents or grandparents didn’t have political freedom. There was famine. There was rule of the jungle. There was huge rich and poor disparity – with the Indian rich with their British masters exploiting and whipping their Indian servants, womanizing their Indian women, and shooting and hanging “terrorist” revolutionaries (they did it for a hundred years before Gandhi and his Congress Party were brought from South Africa, and put in power).

There was extreme poverty; a once-rich and prosperous civilization was force-transformed very quickly into a pauper nation. Beggars would mob affluent Desi landlords and their ladies (i.e., Rajas and Ranis spending millions on their cat’s wedding) visiting the Kali temple in Kalighat. Prostitutes and their pimps would line up the same streets after dark. There would be huge charity at the Durga Puja festivities organized by powerful community leaders known for their unquestionable allegiance to the most powerful people in their version of White House or 10 Downing Street…

But wait a minute! I just read the above lines the second time over…what am I talking about? Have I gone insane? It seems I’m talking about  2011, and not 1911 — two years before Tagore got his first-ever-Asian’s Nobel Prize and exactly the same year when the British moved the Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi!

I just realized I was describing today, when I was thinking about a century before. What nonsense!

So, now…I promised my readers that I would not write in a long-winded, complicated way; I promised I would keep it simple. So, my point is this.

The Slumdog Here and the Millionaire Over There

Nothing seriously has changed in India. Even after sixty-some years of the British-donated independence and transfer of power to a bunch of feudal, racist, patriarchal, corrupt and violent people that ruled the subcontinent and its three, partition-created countries, out of the estimated 1.2 billion people (i.e., a fifth of the world’s population), nearly eighty percent still live in either abject poverty or some variety of poverty. Women are systematically subjugated, bride burning and dowry deaths are rampant, children don’t get enough to eat and can’t go to school, corruption, police brutality and violence are sky high, and a large number of people are extremely superstitious, illiterate without the ability to think or analyze, and those who can afford to spend money would not spend money for any social justice or even a liberal-philanthropic cause. But they would not blink for a moment before spending millions on their cat’s wedding (or else, cat walks). The poor and the minority are considered untouchable.

If you need an even longer list of failures of a failed Indian (or Pakistani) state, read my little article Sixty Years of Fake Freedom. [Well, now it’s seventy years.]

Hey, nothing personal, really. This is what it is. You don’t believe me? Let’s have a debate.

So, what does it all have to do with religion? Well, the ongoing Durga Puja across India and the Indian-Bengali diaspora is an example of that fakeness.

What IS Sprituality? Live Merry with “Eyes Closed?”

The high-excitement community Durga Puja has taken an extremely degenerate form where corporate money flows like Hudson River’s polluted water (I was tempted to say Ganges’ filthy water — then decided not to because of religious sentiments, even though Holy Mother Ganges is perhaps the most polluted river in the world now). Billions of dollars are spent to erect makeshift community puja temples with their blaring-deafening microphones that would all come down in just four days; another few billions are spent on making the clay idols that would also dissolve in the same Ganges or her sister rivers in four days. The other few billions are spent by the upper class and middle class Indians and Bengalis on expensive saris, kurtas, ornaments and sundry expenses. And oh yes, how can I forget…Bengalis would spend like crazy to eat out…no fun and festivity would be complete for Bengali-Indians without fancy feasts and fabulous fish curry.

But they would not spare even a paltry ten or fifteen percent of the unthinkably-outrageous amount to feed, clothe, heal or educate the poor and the destitute, even in the name of the goddess. Swami Vivekananda called this ignorance-apathy “a crime.” But he died a hundred years ago, and his teachings died soon after.

Tagore observed the un-Godly inequality a century ago. He wrote about it all his life (media feel real uncomfortable talking about it; the “mystic” thing works nice). Nothing changed ever since. Poor people are still poor, the hungry and the sick are still hungry and sick, anemic women are still fetching water from two miles away from home, beggars are still begging at the temple courtyard waiting for the rich to dole out alms (for the “pious,” that would be a holy, religious act for a sure no-return birth to heaven — no reincarnation required at all), and slaves and virtual slaves are still serving their masters — in urban and rural India and Bengal.

In the midst of fun-holiday-decorated, highly charged, electrifying, gold- and silver-ornamented Durga Puja, Eid, Diwali and Christmas festivities, the have Indians don’t have much time to think about the have-nots — the poor and dispossessed that Tagore, Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita talked about. In fact, using terminology such as haves and have-nots would automatically qualify me to be a communist…radical…at least, too political. India don’t do political no more! That “sin” too died a hundred years ago.

The conscience of the haves, perhaps, still pricks once in a while. Then, to absolve themselves from the committed sins and possibly-committed sins, they offer more pujas, salats and salts to their gods and goddesses, and offer more alms to the beggars mobbing them at the temple courtyard. (Hey, you know, that’s safe too — just get rid of ’em ASAP — or you could get either bedbugs or badmouths.)

A great, ancient civilization — along with her great, ancient religions — moves on. That poor, naked, hungry, sick girl Tagore wrote about waits for her dream reincarnation to be a film star, or at least to be the wife of a politician, business magnet or cricket player.

Jai Ma Durga!

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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More than a Century at the Kali Temple: Waiting for Alms