Even in this era of information technology, scientific advancement, globalised world and multi culture society, religion remains to be a major force shaping our outlook and actions; perhaps, more stronger now than a few decades ago.
While wars may have been fought over the religion since time immemorial and may have continued to be so even today, in typical routine it has been a binding factor.
More shrines are built than hospitals or schools these days.
Ganesh drinks milk even across the globe, in the electronic age, at the speed of rumour. What then is the definition of secularism in such a context? Secularism is not about atheism or saying no to any religion, it is rather about pluralism to acknowledge, allow, accept and respect each religion on equal footing.
Architecture of yester years has shown better tolerance in these regards. At least in India in the early phase of Islamic rule, the mosques were built by Hindu craftsmen and were built in similar tradition of trebeated – column and beam construction technique of temple building and yet honoured the Islamic dictates of no depiction of live creatures and therefore filigree of geometric and floral patterns instead.
Yes, in a later phase where shrines of one faith were desecrated and spatial elements as well as building elements were recycled to create another religion’s shrines, its traces were not removed.
The sculptures depicting human characters and animal motifs were effaced in keeping with religious dictates but the rest continued to be of valid consumption. It was tolerated and accepted by both religious groups for centuries as an act of time and fact of history.
Why is it only now there is sudden unacceptance or intolerance of the same which in fact was an act of history?
Is it the awakened sensibilities or reinvented fanatism? Are epitomes of religious tolerance such as Ajmer Sharif or Shirdi Sai Baba; or icons of religious coexistence, such as Trivandrum, which has temple, mosque and church in the same node of city, losing their aura?
The irony is that in this era of so-called pluralism and intellectual liberalised awareness about other faith, ironically more and more religious myopia and intolerance to other value systems have set in. There are more stringent restrictions and severe codes of conduct now. Present generation is apparently emerging to be more religiously inclined but unfortunately in ritualistic aspects.
Religion is getting more visible and louder manifestations than ever but its intrinsic values of tolerance and equality are least imbibed. May it be volume of visitors to shrines, frequency of pilgrimage, compulsive fasting or dress codes as well as attire; all refer to increased manifestation of religiosity, and yet we are getting increasingly insensitive towards other religions or even fellow human beings.
Even authorities have failed to take positions on the same and highly intolerant and regressive laws get enacted.
Politically when religion is the currency for election manifestos, there are equally regressive norms formed by the same parties disallowing the employees personalising the work area with religious icons or images on the personal working desk.
Today when builders and estate developers build housing colonies or townships with shrine as an integral aspect of development to succeed in marketing, do we have development plans and town planning schemes officially earmarking, assigning for or committing the space for provisions of the shrine through formal channels and official policy documents? Why such paradoxes or double standards?
Back home, Lucky tea stall gives lots of confirmation and confidence that fanatism and possessive religiosity is not with people and intuitive to day-to-day routine, it is unfortunately invented, imposed and quite often distorted by top-down superimposed decrees of small yet certain groups.
At Lucky restaurant, ancestral tombs continue to coexist with tea tables and worship continues with work. Respect rhymes with recreation. There are neither quarrels nor any other issues. The place is revered and respected for its unique character by people from all walks of life. In political domain this would be created as an issue.
We need to introspect our definition of secularism or revisit our perspectives of religiosity. Is secularism in illegalising religious acts, is religiosity in creative exclusive domains or is faith about its territorial manifestations and compulsive assertions in the middle of road. We are at crossroads and need to ponder and seek divine intervention. May God bless us!!!
The author is a city-based architect