Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Tambrahm's tryst with Atheism

It all started a few months ago, when God died.
Picture credits: Arun Raghavendar


I was brought up in a typical Tamil Brahmin household. I woke up to the melody of Venkateshwara Suprabhatham and to the smell of Cycle brand agarbathies, and sometimes to the sound of bells interrupted only by the rustling of the pages of The Hindu. On auspicious days, the bell in the nearby temple would be rung some two thousand times. I was taught to wake up and look into my palms, and say an ancient prayer invoking Lakshmi, Saraswati and Govinda.

My upanayanam - the initiation ceremony - happened when I was thirteen. Ever since that day, even though the frequency of Sandhyavandhanam rapidly fell from thrice a day to zero, I have worn my poonal every minute of the day, every day of the year. I found peace in temples and other such places of belief. I didn't believe in God in a particular form, but I believed in the eternal being. Long after I left the house of my parents, I continued to pray, light the lamp and apply prayer ash on my forehead.

I have tried to remain unselfish in my prayers - asking for love, mercy, wisdom and peace for the entire world. When I entered temples, I would extinguish every incantation in my armory before proceeding to ask Him for rewards. I was almost always ashamed of asking; it trivialized the act of praying. But I always asked, and often traded things I had for things I wanted. It used to work.

One fine day, everything changed. In my mind, God died.

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In a moment of madness and revelation, it all fell apart. The firmament was ripped open, drenching my world in blood. God, from an unquestionable truth, became an abstract entity. I could no longer be sure of anything; the ground beneath my feet yielded. I fell.

The myths were no longer accounts of God's greatness. I could no longer imagine them as exaggerated versions of truth. They were as false as my poems. Time had put them on a pedestal! A false height, from where they were told to us repeatedly, until we no longer listened to them for their beauty or their nuances. They were absolute.

But now, the layers began to peel off. The Ramayana - probably our most fragile tale - was unsurprisingly the first to break. Slowly though, in quick succession, every story bit the dust. Nothing was sacred. Not only did the stories stop relating to God, their final morals disappeared. Truth was wrecked. And fact didn't exist. I was thrust into an eternal nothingness.

Without a guiding force, I began to question every action and every result. It is easier to believe in a God who doesn't play dice than in the conceited theory that our world is an orderly speck of dust in a chaotic, meaningless universe. Day after day, I asked stupider, and therefore wiser, questions, none of which had answers.

My world imploded when everything associated with myth and belief also yielded - classical music, painting and sculptures, traditional clothes and languages. We have stored eons of history in our cultural and religious fabric. And now, it was impossible to dismiss only one of these attributes - you cannot extract God from songs and literature. Along with God, my world was dying.

In the absence of heavenly rules, life was easier and harder. There were new freedoms. And unkind responsibilities. In the past, I have always prayed in misery and in gloom. When God doesn't exist, can you still pray? I did not discard the threads on my body, but I renounced God, and severed the umbilicus. In the absence of rules, you must make them. Alone and empowered, I ventured into this challenging world where no one was accountable, where there was no fate, where there was no control. Everything was hanging by a withering thread which wouldn't entirely break.

I was alone and free.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


A few days ago, I went to the temple again. I found myself at its doorstep quite unintentionally, and if I had retained my earlier beliefs, I'd have termed it Destiny. Even in the brighter confines of this modern temple, there was peace. A beautiful silence enveloped me. I paused to think. And then, thinking paused.

The very same confines which stir some men to murder and violence blessed me. I wanted to believe that God wasn't dead. I wanted to talk to Him and to myself. I didn't have anything to ask, but I wanted to offer my belief.

I am convinced that humans need to believe in order to live, if not in God then in something or someone else. But true belief doesn't require you to hold on, because a satisfying peace is never insecure.

I could sit on a rock in the middle of the sea, or perch myself upon on a jagged rock jutting into the infinite sky, or gaze into a crackling crimson flame or watch the night sky with its billion stars. These, for me, are moments of God.

That day, the temple - because of its peace or its cool grey stone, or simply because of its familiarity - brought me closer to this exalted state. For the first time, in the stone, I could see His presence and His absence. In such a moment, I realized that my beliefs would disagree with everyone who has contemplated on the subject. But I knew that my beliefs would not exist if others stopped contemplating.

Just as belief in God is a compartmentalized thought, disbelief is also. Only the simultaneous existence of both possibilities encompasses the whole. Tolerance stems from the whole.

There is now contentment and ambition, peace and passion, earth and heaven.

1 comment:

  1. It is rather now that you have become a seeker Arun. I hail from a tambrahm family complete with the rituals and the beliefs. I realized that beliefs are dangerous particularly when I look at the abrahamic cults and their absolute belief in faith in their gods. I am a seeker now, ( an atheist also has a belief- that there is no god). AN I am a hindu, tambrahm and I try to uncover the yogic aspects of our illustrious past so that I may continue to seek and recommend the same to my children. Good luck seeking. Sri.