The Mata Temple in Amritsar

It seems to be a slightly obscure temple. I don’t think it is on the map of most tourists who visit Amritsar. Or maybe with the increasing breed of auto drivers turned tour guides, it is now. The Lonely Planet Guide to India calls it the “Mata temple”. Locals call it the “vaishno devi temple”. The Lonely Planet guide says it is a must-visit for women who want to get pregnant. Anyway, we went. On the way back from our trip to the Wagah border.

It is an interesting temple, to say the least. The ground floor seems to be a normal temple, but the presiding deity is an old bespectacled woman in a sari which made me think that it is dedicated to some cult. Apparently not, and this is the way that Vaishno Devi is represented in most places (that is what my mother tells me). The ground floor is again noisy as most north indian temples are. As I enter, I notice this staircase that says “vaishno devi cave” or some such thing. And I go upstairs.

The first floor of the temple has been designed with The Crystal Maze (remember that awesome TV show on Star Plus?) in mind. I don’t know if it was designed that way to attract children, or if they actually decided to model the place after some famous temples, or if they just made it that way to make the place more interesting.

So in order to reach the shrine of the main deity (again a Devi), you need to go through a large number of “tasks”. You need to climb up and down a total of three flights of stairs each way (I think I counted it right). And then there is a stretch where the ceiling is so low that you need to crawl on all fours to get past. And you need to get past a blabbering madman (an employee of the temple) in order to stand in a queue – which leads into a second cave.

This second cave has ankle-deep water, and you need to wade through that. i was wearing cargo pants whose legs could be detached at the knees, but then I was afraid of misplacing them so just rolled them up. And while you were wading through the water, you had people who started shouting slogans in favour of the Mata. Death only it was. But at the end of the passage where you waded through the water, there was a wonderful sight. A one of a kind.

There was a statue of udders of a cow, and placed directly below that was a statue of a snake, and a lingam. Interpret this ensemble in whatever way you like. I first told my mother that this was a good way of ensuring middleman-less ksheeraabhishekam. Anyways we noticed people in front of us touching the udders and the lingam and the snake (yes, unlike most temple deities, these things were available for touching for general public).

When my turn came, not knowing how to handle it, I ended up groping the udders. And then stroked the lingam below. It’s been a week since we visited that temple, but my mother is yet to stop ragging me about what I did there.

That turned out to be the last of the “adventures” as we soon came to the main deity. The pujaris there gave us kadlepuri (puffed rice) as prasad, and put some saffron marks on our foreheads (eccentrically). And we were soon back downstairs enduring the noise of the main temple.

Yede thumbi haaduvenu format is unfair

A month or so back, I had blogged about yede thumbi haaduvenu, a talent hunt show for young singers on ETV Kannada. I was full of praise for the event. About the format. About the way SPB comperes it. About the judging. Organization. And all that. I think I had written that post towards the end of last season. The new season has just begun. And I have a crib. It is not a minor one.

The format has changed. Last time around, it was a “normal knockout”, with round of 16, quarters, semis, final, etc. Each round would have four contestants of which two would progress to the next round and two would get eliminated. It was a nice and clean system – considering that any non-knockout format for a TV show isn’t a good idea.

Now, they have some sort of a serial knockout. Each episode has four kids, of which two get knocked out. The two who survive compete the following week, with two new people. Two out of these four qualify further. And so on.

This might have been an excellent format – if only the players were robots. If only the players didn’t have that human element called “form”. The format as it is right now is heavily biased in favour of kids who join the program in later rounds. Maybe they have been seeded there based on qualification placings. Nevertheless, it is wrong, and puts the kids who join early at too much of a disadvantage.

Kids who join early need to be at their top form for a larger number of episodes than those that join later. Sustaining an above-average performance over a larger stretch of time takes much more effort. You will also need to keep in mind that the pressure to perform in such events is huge. For the kids who join later, however, all it takes is for them to get lucky and produce terrific form forĀ  a handful of episodes and they are through.

I suppose the producers of this event simply didnt’ realize that there is something called uncertainty. They would’ve looked at the format and said “this seems simpler for spectators and anyways the best will have to beat everyone else so this is ok”. I’m sure it the people who came up with this format are a bunch of fools who have no clue about either mathematics or about human tendency. I go back to one of my recent posts and call for the so-called “creative” or “qualitative” industry to cash in on the ibanking bust and take in some quants.

I’m reminded of one of the world chess championship (FIDE) cycles in the late 90s. They had a strenuous knockout tournament for a month to decide the challenger. And the winner of this tournament (Anand) then played the reigning champion Karpov who had been directly “seeded into the finals”. Anand got walloped by Karpov. And he had said something like “this is not fair. I have run the full marathon and in the last 100 meters this guy joins the race. what sort of a contest is this”

The current format of yede thumbi haaduvenu is no different. Now, if only the producers were to have some sense.