I think religion is an exercise in finding loopholes. Religious people I think will make great tax consultants.
So this evening I was at an uncle’s place where he had organized a Vedic recital. Some fifty or more people from the Vedic school he goes to (after having retired after an outstanding career as a space scientist) were there and they were chanting the Vedas. Now, today is a Saturday in the Hindu month of Shraavan (bastardized as Saavan), and the devout are supposed to keep fast (which I discovered only this evening) . However, given that it is not nice to not serve food to people whom you’ve invited home, my uncle had arranged for what people in Bombay term as an “upvaas feast”.
It absolutely beats me how rice is considered to be “food” while avalakki or “beaten rice” (which, as the name suggests, is made from rice), is not! No, I’m not joking. So this evening I learnt that as long as you don’t eat rice, your fast is still maintained! So you had the rather devout gurus of the Vedic school who were supposed to keep fast tonight gorging on Bisibelebhath and Kesari Bhath (among a rather long list of items) – just because the former wasn’t made out of rice, and the latter doesn’t contain rice anyway.
I’m reminded of the time some six years ago. My father had just died and (much against my will) I was being forced to perform a hundred post death ceremonies. Now, protocol for these death ceremonies is that you do it on an empty stomach. You only eat once that day, and that is a rather late lunch after you’ve offered the pinDa (cooked rice mixed with milk and curd and black sesame seed), first to your departed ancestors and then to crows and cows. However, during the course of time, people have made exceptions. Apparently you are now allowed to have coffee or milk in the morning before you perform the ceremony. And over the course of time that has come to be understood as “milk with additives”. And so I was fed cereal with milk (lest I revolt on an empty stomach) as I made my way every day for five days to one dirty “tithi hotel” to supposedly ensure my father’s soul went to heaven, and was tied to those of his ancestors.
Oh, and needless to say, that “only one meal in the day” rule for death ceremonies has been relaxed, too, in the course of time. Now you’re allowed to have dinner also, as long as (surprise, surprise!!) you don’t eat rice!
Then there is the concept of maDi or ritual cleanliness. This evening, my uncle took pains to announce to his guests that the food had been cooked under “strict maDi conditions”. Yet, when I happened to walk in to the kitchen, it was hard for me to walk any more as the floor was insanely sticky, with spilled food, I would guess. Ritual cleanliness I think doesn’t really imply real cleanliness. More significantly, maintaining the conditions or ritual cleanliness gives you an illusion of cleanliness and since you’ve followed the rituals you don’t see any need to keep your kitchen actually clean. It reminds me of what a friend maintains – that the religious are less likely to be moral than the irreligious.
And then I have mentioned on this blog earlier about how during religious functions hosts don’t really bother with serving lunch/dinner on time. For the record, this evening’s dinner was at 9:30, which I’m not sure is a particularly healthy practice (and which is probably I’m still awake).
So the net effect of this is that every time I attend a religious function I get further repulsed by religion. That people don’t answer my questions doesn’t help (I must mention that I’ve stopped asking questions, for I seldom get satisfactory answers. The only person who I still bombard with questions on religion is my mother-in-law who makes a patient and honest attempt at answering them more often than not). It is probably due to my upbringing (I might have mentioned here earlier that my father was atheist. I do one better than him in that I regularly wear my sacred thread, though I probably over-compensate for it by eating meat), but sometimes it actually amazes me that people believe in the kind of things they believe in.
I must consider myself lucky that my long-term gene-propagating partner is quite okay with my lack of religiosity (huge sigh of relief considering that on our first date she had demanded to examine my sacred thread), though occasionally she suddenly declares that we must resurrect our lives and we should “start praying”. Nothing concrete usually comes out of this.
Oh, and this evening my uncle castigated me for serving food while wearing jeans (as the wife remarked later, it was a good thing I was wearing jeans. Wearing a dhoti would have exposed the risk of my dhoti falling into people’s leaf plates).
And I’m still amazed that despite the advent of writing and recordings, people still choose to expend their valuable mental bandwidth in rote learning the Vedas, rather than trying to understand the philosophy behind them.
PS: Here is a post on why I don’t do my parents’ death ceremonies any more