I just read a piece by one Sujatha Desikan in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan. He quotes from a discussion between writer Sujatha Rangarajan and Rangarajan's brother.
The crux, Rangarajan was thrilled while visiting the Sri Rangam temple becos it brought back childhood memories. But more importantly becos his ancestors had worshiped at that very temple, roamed its precincts and touched the very stones, Rangarajan was touching.
Its true. I have felt the same way while visiting the Big Temple in Thanjavur and have written about it here. Curiously I have no childhood memories of Thanjvur. I have visited that temple only twice in my life and that too only recently. But the thrill I feel in my spine while visiting the temple, cannot be put in words.
I don't believe in 'God' and don't remember believing in anything super natural even as a kid. But the fascination with Thanjavur temple is unmistakable. Yes, I like history and the fact that Rajaraja Cholan built and roamed about the temple, adds to the intrique. But the instinct to do something closely related to my family is probably the leading emotion.
Similarly, I'm fascinated not just by Adi Sankara's Advaita but also the Smartha brahmin tradition he spawned. Again, becos I know that my ancestors have followed that tradition. And quite likely from the days of Adi Sankara himself! Advaita, Jainism and Epicureanism are philosophies I tend to agree with. Mostly becos I believe they reject the notion of 'God'.
But I have critiqued myself that the Smartha Brahmin caste affinity also lies at the root of my fascination with Adi Sankara. And I agrue with my conscience that, I hate Brahmanism. Not becos its convenient but also becos I realize the injustice and hypocrisy inherent in Brahmanism. While anything associated with Sankara and Advaith thrills, I feel pure hatred towards the scoundrels who run the Kanchi Sankara mutt now. If Jayendra is convicted and sentenced to death, I wud gladly volunteer to be his hangman.
I understand my anger is becos these Kanchi scoundrels violated something I hold sacred and personal. Afterall, at my Upanayanam ceremony, my dad passed on a family tradition hundreds if not thousands of years old. And this (wud be) murderer Jayendra was invoked as the Guru.
I have once ridiculed (some) Sikhs for claiming sanctity for their cult while denying the same to an offshoot. I believe Sikh affinity with their ancestors is understandable and is a cause to be celebrated. But that doesn't make their Gurus immune to scrutiny and even ridicule.
In my case, I'm open to the idea that Adi Shankara committed suicide having lost a debate. And another advaitin Vivekananda called Adi Shankara, a blood thirsty Brahmin who enjoyed defeating Buddhist scholars which resulted in their suicides. I agree with that assessment. Elsewhere, Jain monks have weird views on laity and women, and are rightly criticised for it.
I have seriously considered throwing away the 'thread' I wear. It has no practical use other than to brandish my caste. I try to hide it in temples and in water bodies where I have to take my shirt off. I'm told, Udupi Krishna temple offers food separately to people with and without the thread. I recommend a terrorist bombing of the place.
But I haven't had the balls to cast the thread aside. My father initiated me into this institution and I'll have to perform animist rituals for our ancestors when he is no more. I know its irrational. All my ancestors are dead and gone. They don't need any food. Any connection there is, is entirely in my mind and nowhere else.
But this irrationality has practical uses. I have attended five funerals in the last two years and I know its inevitable that I'll attend more. The irrational rituals at funerals and later on, seem very helpful in going thru the trauma. That I think is the most important reason to persist with religion. Animist rituals in my family tend to be about ancestors going somewhere (?!) and living there. But I'm even ok with animist rituals that claim going to 'God' or sleeping with 72 virgins (4 at a time).
Daniel Dennet, philosopher and one of the four horsemen, calls religion a continuation of our tribal identities. I agree. While indulging in 'God' and other irrational beliefs, we shud never forget the rational for indulging in such irrationality. Go for it!