Sunday, March 10, 2024



Mahashivaratri 2024 was a tremendous experience. Nityanjali, our dance troupe performed in Thiruvaiyaru (10:00 pm) and Thiruvidaimarudur (4:00 am). As always, it was a lovely experience. The insane travelling with the packed schedule and rehearsals can be gruelling but the entire process is never less than amazing thanks to the good company, yummy food (which included homemade murukkus), surprisingly clement weather, live music, dance, and a taste of the divine in all its sacred and scary glory.

While people’s faith is entirely private and all are entitled to their beliefs it has to be admitted that the faithful, especially when they turn up in droves for religious celebrations can be a public nuisance. I was appalled by the surging crowds at the temples and the terrifying lack of crowd control or event security which would guarantee the safety of the heaving masses which included the elderly, babies, and disabled people. There was zero consideration for others as I witnessed folks forcing their way into narrow entry points which doubled as exits, uncaring that they were shoving and hurting others. Traffic snarls were apparent in every road at all hours of the night and the lack of civic sense was apparent in the way people discarded paper cups, plastic bags, and unfinished food across every inch of available space be it a temple or toilet. 

The risk of a stampede loomed over our heads although, it felt like I was probably the only one who was deeply concerned about getting crushed beneath the filth encrusted feet of the faithful. (On a related note, why are holy places in India such an unholy mess?) The devotees seem to think that just because temples are sacred spaces nothing bad can happen never mind that history and recent news is filled with tragic events where hundreds lost their lives in stampedes which occurred during large gatherings at temples when religious festivities were being observed. Examples include stampedes in Vaishno Devi Temple (2022), Rajahmundry (2015), Andhra during the Pushkaram festival, Gandhi Maidan (2014) in Patna after Dussehra, Ratangarh temple (2013) in MP during Navratri. Incidents have also been recorded in Puri Juganath, Kumbh mela, Sabarimala, etc.

Mercifully, our dance troupe stuck it out by taking care of each other and keeping a wary eye against the more aggressive of God’s fervent followers of all genders who are not above using their chests, elbows, and stomping feet to clear a path. There is always the risk of chain snatchers, pickpockets, and perverts as well. Surely there is a way to celebrate religious occasions without endangering life and limb? The divine can be truly experienced only in silence, solitude and space not in cramped enclosures where hapless deities are caged in sanctum sanctorums almost as a defence against the insane crowds who will literally kill for a glimpse of their God.

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