I have always loved temples, since childhood. I remember that in Nahan, a small town where I was born, there was a temple up the hill. It was a very short walk and I used to go there alone very often as a child. When I grew up the visits to temples or any place of prayer were rare as my parents though believers of God are fairly liberal and somewhere between laziness and hurry for modernity we stopped doing anything that continued a contact with God. We all grew up, got busy and moved on.
Though, many years later when I was travelling with a friend in Uttarakhand and we went to a temple with many many steps, many bells and I felt the same feeling of peace.
I realised that my love affair with temples, or places of prayer was not over.
Over the years, I have managed to see some beautiful places of prayer across many cities and few countries and have always walked away with a feeling of calm and hope. Very recently I visited two places of prayer, both are magnificent in terms of architecture and space but not any more or less important than the smaller places I have been to.
One is at the Vatican. St . Peter’s Basilica and the other one is Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum.
Both of them are worlds apart. While, St. Peter’s Basilica was buzzing with tourists taking selfies and all, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple does not allow photography and there is a dress code that one must follow and respect. But, there is a prayer room at St. Peter’s Basilica where one cannot speak aloud and all you can do is sit and pray or just sit for as long as you want. When I went there, I just sat and prayed for my family, friends and the world at large but there was something so moving about the place, so quiet and so heavy with the air of faith that I just found my eyes welling up and was unable to move due to this wave of emotion, a wave filled with a bit of self pity, a bit of feeling sorry for others, a bit of hopelessness, a bit of thankfulness, a bit of nostalgia and all of that. I realised that whenever I have looked around and seen people at places of prayer all I have seen is this intense devotion. You see them praying with the intensity that looks like once they walk out of here all their problems will be miraculously solved. But I don’t think those miracles happen very often.
What I did realise that it is not the presence of idols or symbols but the presence of human faith that makes a place of prayer powerful and hence that God is nothing but the energy created thanks to human faith.
It is the energy that we create and it takes a tangible form in our minds. And that form make us believe that things will get better. Prayer is nothing but a one sided conversation and God is probably our best shrink. We speak to God with all the honesty, I don’t think we are ever that honest with anyone else. We are honest with the energy because an invisible and non-tangible, silent form is not judging us. Since we are talking to our own energy, conversations with God are actually honest conversations with our own selves. Just that the idea of talking to God makes us feel there is someone listening and is less judgemental about us than we are.
Conversations with God help us to say it as is, it also helps to re-articulate and question what we are praying for, question if what we are praying for is what we want or is it something else. Conversations with God is an iterative process of arriving at that absolute one sentence we know when we say it, it will feel right. And frankly at the end of all this, I have realised that by and large all that we want is health, empathy and joy. The rest are just means to this end.
We as human beings need faith and hope to go on. To believe that what is good today shall remain good and what is not will become better. But in reality it isn’t always so. And that is our strife and that is our struggle with life. We strive to keep making ourselves better despite of reality and we keep struggling to understand how. For a better life I am not sure what the benchmarks are anymore. Because when I look around my life, I realise that it is pretty damn good.
So in places of prayer while I pray for health, happiness and joy, I also enjoy the energy of human faith that gives me more hope. And of course I do love the vast places of prayer that have come to stand tall thanks to the power of faith.