Goondagiri at Guruvayoor

published on January 2, 2011

Which of the following is attributed to the Almighty, whatever form you may believe in?

A. “Blessed are the Bullies For They Shall Get to See Me Ahead Of The
Meek”

B. “Paritranaya Goondonam, Vinasaya ca Sadhoonam, Goondagiri
Samsthapanaarthaya… “

C. “Come to See Me, Ye Who Are Most Corrupt, for Ye Shall Be Escorted
in the VIP Track With No Delay “

D. “Push and Shove and Squeeze Ahead of the Patient and Gentle, that
Ye Shall Receive My Blessings”

E. None of the Above

A rhetorical question, no doubt, but one raised by the policies of those who occupy the positions of power in the big temples of Kerala. Since cameras and cellphones are prohibited, let me record my experience at Guruvayoor in print:

You stand patiently in line and shufflein single file through an iron-railed Maze reminiscent of the cattle processing yards at major beef plants. Suddenly you find yourself being corralled into a six-wide river of humanity trying to crush through a doorway wide enough for one. You eventually get squeezed like toothpaste over the final threshold and into the corridor where you are directly in front of the SreeKovil, and raise your hands in devoted prayer and the bliss of being in the Presence to whom you pray every day, as you keep walking swiftly forward.

You feel a swift push on the back of your neck with loud yelling in your ear to “move on” – as if you can move any faster without climbing on the back of the devotee in front of you. The automatic urge to react with a swift turnaround and punch on the nose of the pusher overpowers you for a moment before discipline takes over and you reason that discretion is the best part of valor – they are a dozen, you are just one, you have no chance at all. You remember hearing of a professor from Kottayam, was it, who got beaten up and stomped on by the goon gang for protesting such treatment.

Welcome to the Goondagiri of the Guruvayoor Devaswom. I cannot say that it is exactly unique among Hindu temples, and in fact over half a century I have seen some enlightened steps taken at this temple. But is that any reason not to complete the rule of common sense and human decency? Should worshippers continue to tolerate any less?
One can anticipate the outraged intake of breath and gnashing of teeth. Who is this blasphemer, this Asreekaram, daring to criticize Shri Guruvayoorappan? What is so terrible about sharing space with other worshippers? Why should the Holy Devaswom and its Honourable Board change the practices that have been established since hoary antiquity?
Ease up, I say. What is going on every day at Guruvayoor is a travesty. Elementary arithmetic shows that it is completely unnecessary. The non-VVIP worshipper’s experience can be made far more peaceful and pleasant by simple, common sense steps and some discipline and interest from said Board.

The average worshipper goes to Guruvayoor to see the Deity, and actually spend some minutes in the Presence before hitting any halwa, trinket and Computer Horoscope establishments. At any one moment, no more than, 4 people can be standing right in front of the Sree Kovil, the Sanctum Sanctorum. With the Goons’ attentions, one can expect to spend about 2 seconds on the left side (from the Deity’s perspective), 1 second being pushed across, and maybe another 2 seconds on the right side. In addition, on the way down the aisle from last stone threshold, one has ten steps to walk , with an intermittently clear view of the Deity. That is another 10 seconds at least, even on the most rushed day.

The above system accommodates only a double line at most, beyond the last threshold. Two people step to the darshanam at the same time, and spend 5 seconds there. This is 24 every minute, 1440 every hour. The temple is open for 18 hours a day, and let us say that for 7 of those hours Darshanam is allowed (why this cannot be expanded is a question for another day). This means that roughly 10,000 people can easily step through and worship in peace per day. Is this enough? There are 5 trains arriving daily, and let us assume that 200 people arrive on each. Let us assume that there are 100 busloads at 50 people each , plus another 500 small vehicles carrying 6 each. This adds up to 9000 people, leaving room for another 1000 locals.

Let us now backtrack to the point where one enters The Maze after returning from the Comfort Station and handing over one’s footwear and a rupee at the footwear counter. Let me digress to commend the Devaswom on both these advances. I am old enough to remember when one had to go to the bathing tank and face the prospect of dissolving in the toxic sewage there. More to the point, one simply did not “go” in the Holy Town and one used to just walk barefoot. One usually came back with a splitting headache.

So we are now in The Maze. I count roughly 40 rows each accomondating some 20 at a time, through which people are corralled single file. That totals no more than 800 in all. The above calculation shows that the maximum waiting time, from entering a completely full Maze, to reaching one’s 5 seconds of Darshanam, is considerably less than one hour, not counting the delays for pooja closures.

In the process, there is never a need for two worshippers to ever come close enough to touch one another. On most days, the Maze is not full. Generally avoiding the Holiest Days because I am too meek, I have found that no more than twenty rows are occupied at one time. I am told, however, that on special days there is another Maze on the other side. A total wait time of two hours at the extreme, to worship in peace and tranquility and with no one pushing and shoving, is not unreasaonable.
My point is that even if there are a million people visiting a day (and such estimates are grossly overblown by people with no sense of numbers), only 4 people can be at the Sree Kovil at one time, and at 5 seconds per person, the calculation is the same. Absolutely no sane purpose is served by herding people to trample each other and get into a crush. If you cut the worship time to ONE second per person, you can accommodate 50,000 people a day in 7 hours of darshan, but that still can be done, single file, with people walking quickly under their own power, not being pushed and shoved.

So why is the real process such an ordeal? This is where I place the blame squarely on the pot bellies of the Devaswom’s Goonda Netas. I can cite two reasons:

1. Violation of the Law of Conservation of Mass. My calculation above assumes that only those who come through The Maze reach the Darshanam. From the Guruvayoor Devaswom website I see that it is run by “The Hon. Minister Sri. Kadannappally Ramachandran, Dr.V.Venu I.A.S, K.K.Vijayakumar, I.A.S, Shri.K.Jayakumar.I.A.S, Sri. P.K. Sreemanavedan Raja (Zamorin Raja), Sri. Mallisseri Parameswaran Namboothiripad, Brahmasree P.C. Vasudevan Namboodiripad, Sri.Thottathil Raveendran, Sri.A.V. Chandran, Sri. A.M.Gopalan, Sri.Adv.K.V.Babu, Prof.T.R.Hary, and K.M.Raghuraman (M.Com). As fearsome a moustachioed gallery as ever terrorized the Chambal ravines. I doubt if any of these VVIPS ever stand in the line, instead of breaking the queue and injecting Themselves at the final threshold ahead of us mere plebes. Multiply this number by about 100 VVIP family and friends and business associates and other favored ones, and we reach about 1400. But that is still only an hour’s worth even if all were to visit every day.

2. Deliberate, Malicious Stampede Creation. The Devaswom worthies seem intent on maximizing the harassment and humiliation of us plebes. After the relatively well-ordered patient progression in single file through the maze, one passes through the Metal Detector. Then comes the Stampede. The organizers deliberately push people into the gateway, not in single file, but as a 6-wide stream goaded to crush through a doorway meant for one. And it never lets up beyond that, through the path over the OverBridge, along the lamp-lit wall, and especially and worst of all, through the final threshold. As my calculation above shows, this is completely nonsensical, because no additional throughput is achieved by subjecting people to this torture.
I happen to be taller than the average south Indian, so I am usually able to breathe. Consider for a moment the plight of people shorter than the average, crushed from all sides by sweaty bodies, elbows ramming into their sides, clothes rumpled and crushed, feet stepped on.

Why must we tolerate this situation in 21st century India?
I maintain as well that this is deliberate because I am surely not the first person to have noticed or mentioned it. The Young and Modern conclude that this is all because Hinduism is a savage Third World cult, and switch to more modern faiths. I say that it is abysmal mismanagement at least, and malicious mistreatment in reality. It must stop.

True, there is some provision for Senior Citizens etc. to go in the VVIP line, but this is little comfort once the stampede has been generated and the crush is on inside the temple. Talking to long-time residents of Kerala, I find that many gentle, peaceful souls have simply given up trying to get inside the temple for a Darshanam, and speak sadly of the days when they could still survive the rigors of the experience and actually hoped to worship on a Festival Day . In other words, The Meek have long-since been mostly driven away from the temple. The Money Lenders, Corrupt Judges, Real Estate Crooks, Lobbyists and Political Sycophants and other Go-Getters etc. continue to occupy the Temple and clutter the Holy Premises. Is this Hindu Dharma of the Kali Yugam?

Many locals will of course point the finger at demographic characteristics of visitors, etc. I agree that on a micro scale, the behavior of many of my co-desis is abysmal, and the concept of observing the priority of those ahead of oneself in line, is alien to many of these Go-Getters. Many prejudices as well as the results of objective empirical observation can be cited. But all these are irrelevant. Take any large group of people and stampede them by force into a situation where they must push and shove to go through a narrow gateway, and they will push and shove in panic and desperation. The fault is squarely on the organizers. Seeing this occurring day in, day out for half a century, I must maintain that this deliberate, malicious and criminal. A great temple must set the standards for civility, not trample on them.

If a simple line is maintained, there is never a reason for any devotee to be touched by any other human in the entire process. Once this discipline is established, the Go Getters who try to break lines or push ahead, should be simply removed from the line and put back at the start of The Maze and asked to try again and behave decently. A video camera can record behavior in the line, and get the evidence clearly to back up any such action. A few exemplary acts, and the message will get through clearly that civility is absolutely required. Surely the horde of yellow-towelled goons can be asked to enforce civility instead of wasting their time pushing me by the neck to show their awesome power?
So I conclude by asking the gentle reader why we should tolerate this goondagiri at one of our most hallowed shrines. Call the Devaswom goon gang to account. Demand that they establish simple, common sense processes and insist on civility. Stand up for the meek, the old, the gentle, and the infirm, so that they may also go and experience the Darshanam in peace and tranquility. The devotees of Shri Guruvayoorappan deserve no less.

Think of the alternative. If the right to worship at Hindu temples is limited to just VVIPs, goons and bullies, what is Vaikuntham going to be like when these “blessed” souls all congregate there? Can you really accept that this is the wish of Maha Vishnu?

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