The Immortals of Mahadevpura

So this happened.

Just when I absolutely need to be strong and healthy and jumping half-way across the city because I want to, and because my job demands it; I’ve been miserably ill. It’s one thing after the other, and none of it pleasant.

With my health the way it is, I’ve reached a point in life where I will try anything once. Short of scary, physical adventure type things, or Ayurveda, or voodoo, or sleeping with some random person I don’t find hot. There, I draw the line. In January when I met my priest/astrologer Uncle to find out if I were dying (I did mean it when I said I would try anything once), he assured me my death wasn’t imminent and suggested I go visit a temple every Monday and Thursday. He knows I don’t do God anymore so he said, ‘Go there at least for the positive vibration. Spend five minutes there. You need to calm down. You will feel better, eventually. Try a Shiva temple because those days are favourable to Lord Shiva.’

Today while working from home, I suddenly realised it was a Thursday and I told my mom we must try the temple thing. I promptly showered, got dressed in a sleeveless salwar kameez, and left for the temple. This, when I ought to have curled up with Mr. Plum.

I was feeling beautiful. I studied a little bit of French today, and had a charming conversation with an author I adore, and life was generally looking up.Β I’ve also taken to frequently telling myself what a sexy queen I am. It helps occasionally.

Anyway, today, my mom and I went to the Shiva temple in Mahadevapura opposite the Phoenix Market City.

And just as my Uncle suggested, I stood inside for two minutes and did what I absolutely love in a temple. I smeared my forehead with the kumkum and felt virtuous like those 70s Hindi movie wives who wore maang ka sindoor and sang lovely songs for their husbands who were usually the heroes; before they were kidnapped, or before they lost a baby, or found out their husband was cheating on them.

It was utterly fabulous, the idea, and so I continued being happy.

Then we stood uncertainly wondering if the priest would give us any prasada. He didn’t. Prasada being another temple tradition I love because it’s usually sweet and it usually tastes divine, quite literally.

Just then the older priest behind me mumbled something. I looked at him thinking he was telling me how long before I got the prasada and he said it louder again, ‘Tie your hair’ in Kannada. The other priest, his younger brother, who was on the other side of the temple, explained in English, ‘Hair. Tie.’ I just glared at both of them and decided peace was out.

My mom and I walked out of the temple.

The idea was to buy groceries on the way so I was walking ahead, pissed as ever, and telling my mom, ‘This is what will happen to the country if a Modi type person comes in to power. They will ask all of us to tie our hair when we go to malls.’Β Such Modi-outbursts come with seeing how the Modi fellows troll all over the internet and spout utter half-wittisms.

And I realised the priest and I needed to have a talk.

So I walked back though my mom kept asking me not to.

And let me assure you, my Kannada when I am incensed is positively eloquent. Okay, maybe there is an accent, but the words flow.

So I went up peacefully enough to the older priest guy and told him softly, respectfully, and politely, ‘Listen Sir, I don’t think you should tell people how to dress when they come to a temple, unless you personally heard it from God. And if you did hear it from God, it would be pretty hard to prove, so I suggest you just don’t say such things. Thank you.’

I swear I would have walked out. But priest decided that he must show who-da-man is and started screaming at me. ‘You listen to me. You will listen to me.’

And that’s when I decided to do paisawasool drama and screamed back saying, ‘No. I heard you. Now you listen to me. Don’t presume to tell people there is a dress code in a temple.’

At which he said, ‘There is a dress code in the temple. I cannot do the puja wearing pants.’

‘You work here, and if that’s what priests decide to wear, then, that’s what you will wear. So don’t use that logic with me. You have no right to tell me how to dress to a temple. Today, it’s hair; tomorrow it will be sleeveless clothes; day after you will say no salwar kameez; and a day later that we must wear only saris. When will it stop, then?’

‘No, no. That we won’t say. But you cannot come to the temple with your hair loose, or in a nightie, or short things.’

‘Okay, I don’t think a God cares about all that, but if that’s what your God is all about, then, you are welcome to him.’

At which point, the younger priest wanting to be peace-maker said, ‘No, no, don’t say your God like that. He’s your God too’ which is what I was waiting for and seized on immediately.

‘Yes, exactly. This is my God too. I, too, have a relationship with this God and I know he won’t care if my hair is untied or what clothes I am wearing. I came here for peace, I even found it. Till you, people of God, ruined it for me. And that’s not done. That is wrong.’

At this my mother interjected, ‘We never come to temples anymore. Today, she had agreed to. And you had to go ruin it, why must you speak to people like this?’

Older priest looked at my salwaar clad mom with hair tied. ‘Is this your mother?’

‘Yes, she is.’

‘Look at her, look at how she is dressed. Why can you not be like your mother? I even heard her telling you not to come back. But you had to do this, no?’

I showed him my swollen, arthritic fingers. I said, ‘Look at this. My palm. None of my five fingers look alike. God made it so that even our fingers aren’t alike. And you want me to become like my mom? Why would I? God made me the way I am. And I will tell you why I came back. I came back because this is wrong. What you are saying and doing is wrong. Especially because it is a temple and people come here for peace. And you are ruining it.’

‘You are wrong but I will forget it and excuse you.’

‘Excuse me? There is nothing for you to excuse. God needs to excuse you for ruining my peace in His name. You have no right to tell any woman how she must or must not dress.’

‘I have every right to say so.’

‘No, you don’t. And this shows how wrong you are. But if you are so desperate about telling women how to dress, do it to your own women in your house. And if you are lucky, they might listen. Don’t tell me. Or anyone else like you did to me today, that’s all I ask.’

At which he pulled the Brahmin card. ‘People like you don’t know, but we Brahmins know these things. Anyway, I will excuse you.’

At which I pulled my Brahmin card, and was he done in! Well, what’s the point of being a mixed breed if you don’t mix and match?

‘Ha!’ I said. I actually said, ‘Ha!’ Like that. With an exclamation. ‘Please, my Uncles have temples in Rajajinagar and Basavangudi, and they are priests and astrologers too, and I have seen them at work and they never tell anyone how to dress. So, please, don’t tell me I won’t know because I am not Brahmin. Ha!’

And I walked out.

And by God, was my Uncle ever right! I felt like a fucking million bucks.

So like that.


About Bhumika's Boudoir

I love to laugh, and end up being a part of high drama and stormy emotion even when I don't pursue it. Being creative, and communicating with people get me going. I enjoy all the good things in life especially those that are slightly risque, and apologise little, if ever, for all that I do. Literature is a passion and so is music.
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20 Responses to The Immortals of Mahadevpura

  1. Jaanda says:

    Haha.. πŸ˜€ But seriously isn`t a priest`s dress more exposing? πŸ˜›


  2. Prashila says:

    haa haa haa. I am sorry, but I laughed at places even when I was not supposed to laugh and nod sympathetically πŸ˜›


  3. shreikurao says:

    The whole temple saga is beyond my understanding. I find it funny when people nod to some unknown mantras and songs and enact bhakti. Is that all! And then these tresspassers between you and your god, I just can’t take it. I still go to temples, thanks to my folks and come back saying I won’t ever go there again. I can go on and on here, but I’ll stop. My body is my temple. Atleast no one intrudes there.
    And on a lighter note, I can’t imagine the kannada that you’ve translated here πŸ™‚


  4. I am so very proud of you! That was fabulous and I’m glad you felt better once you walked out (altercations, especially with hypocritical, self-righteous half-wits, can be unsettling most times). Priests like that are exactly the reason I have absolutely no religious faith.

    I also felt a twinge of sadness for how religion has completely stopped making sense in the place of its origin. I was allowed to stroll around in temples in Bali dressed in shorts, a sleeveless top and my hair left free. The priests and people around were least interested in lecturing people on their appearance and more interested in explaining the Hindu faith and its rituals to curious onlookers and devotees. Such a far cry from our homegrown hypocrites.


    • This is exactly why I was so pissed, BB. Someone might have mentioned a ‘dress sense for temples’ as a practical guide in some unknown decade. But to blindly follow it as a rule and worse to attempt and impose it on others, well, they can put their rules where the sun doesn’t shine. And blessed be God.


  5. Blore Girl says:

    I’m sorry to make it look like I’m going all Hindutva on you – I’m not – I assure you. But something about this whole exchange made me a little uncomfortable. I am the loose-haired, sleeveless salwar-wearing, occasionally temple-going type Tam/ Kan Brahm too. I totally get the kumkum smearing thing you described so well. I love the drama of it all…

    A priest has never told me off for my clothes till now (I used to wear jeans and tees when I was younger), but the hair thing – IS a touchy subject. And not without good reason, if you ask me. It’s something we are asked to do at home too – during pujas and such. Consider this 1. it’s messy as hell to prostrate and do a namaskaram with loose hair. Not a pretty sight at all when you come back up, unless you have super short hair. 2. in Hindu ceremonies and pujas, you run the risk of burning your hair if a lamp is close by. 3. Loose hair strands invariably find their way into food – into prasadam in the case of temples – and who would want that? (isn’t that also why we bunch up our hair while cooking?), 4. if you look at it from a purely cultural perspective, it’s a grooming thing. Braiding/ pinning your hair is a sign of being well-tuned out. It looks neat in a temple/ religious – is all.

    I wish the priest had been less anal and more polite with you. And I totally feel you when you say that you are giving the temple thing a shot to deal with tough circumstance. Don’t let this stray incident discourage you… not all temples/ priests are anal and there’s nothing a tiny butterfly clip can’t solve. πŸ™‚



    • Blore Girl, welcome to the boudoir. πŸ™‚ I really like how empathetic your comment is. Hugs for that. I wish everyone disagreed (when they had to) in the world as articulately and with as much class as you.

      But here’s the thing. It’s not about anal priests, or touchy topics.

      While I see how seemingly practical your assertions of why hair should be tied are (another Uncle put forth the same views), I would still disagree because I don’t buy the logic.
      Not just because I wasn’t anywhere close to prostrating/the lamps/prasada (that wasn’t given).

      Our Indian clothes (saris/half-saris/and if we are wildly modern, the salwar kameez) that we wear to temples and at poojas are also equally susceptible to catching fire. And no woman is really allowed near the garbhagudi where the prasada is kept nor is it something women serve themselves in temples. I don’t have long hair so it’s not a discomfort even if I were to do an ashtanga namaskara. πŸ™‚ Incidentally, the longer your hair, the easier it is to have it unbound and do a namaskara because it won’t fall all over your face like it would when you have shoulder length hair.

      So you see, much as I know what you are saying is something we all might have heard at some point in most Brahmin/Indian households, I won’t accept it and I will question it. I would urge you to as well.

      In my head, agreeing and acceding to something like this with the sort of logic they have given us, and which you have faithfully reproduced here, is tantamount to agreeing to ‘Naturally, I got raped. I went out after dusk.’

      I definitely intend going back to the temple, and many other temples, not to worry.
      But a butterfly clip?
      No, bugger that.
      Hugs. πŸ™‚


  6. Natasha Gayari says:

    Such a lovely piece. πŸ™‚


  7. Marvin Grep says:

    I need to show this to my sister-in-law. She had a similar run in.


  8. I’m quite a spineless creature. Here’s why:
    Long ago, while I was still in college and enjoying my long(ish) hair (I had one of those horrid “boy cuts” throughout school), I’d visited this temple near mum’s place. Having had short hair till then, long hair was still a novelty for me and I used to keep flicking it about like they do in the shampoo advertisements. I used to experiment by leaving my hair, even though it was unruly and I looked wild.
    Anyway, long story short, I went to the temple in jeans, a t-shirt and I’d left my hair. The priest admonished me and told me to tie my hair to “show respect” to God. I meekly obeyed.
    Ever since, I’ve made sure I dress “decently” when I visit the temple. So much so, post marriage, the priests in the family temple are very impressed with me and the way I’ve “maintained our culture despite being born and brought up in Bangalore.”
    Basically, they’re impressed that I wear a saree with glass bangles and hair neatly tied every time I visit the temple. That’s all.
    I do all of this just to avoid confrontation. And because I’m a wimp. Hats off to you for standing up to the self righteous jackass. And for doing something I’ve never had the courage to do.


    • Never too late, love. πŸ™‚ And thank you. A priest who is not family once told my mother: Ishtu mordrunaagi mathaadudru, nimma magalu eshtu paangithawagi pooje madthale. Point being, you can always impress people more by being yourself. At least the right sorts of people. And the others, well, really, what’s the point of that?

      I adore how honest you are. Not many people would have written a comment like this. So you are wonderfully special, RR. Allow the world to celebrate you for it. πŸ™‚ Hugs.


  9. Veena says:

    Good one Bhumika…I am glad u went back. Such non-sense these people are. Its ur hair, ur dress, ur faith in God. Who is he to question. Btw i pass by that place everyday (for last 7 years) and didn’t know there is a temple. Maybe now i will visit and leave my hair. I really I am curious to know if he has learnt his lesson. Maybe I’ll also repeat your dialogs and surprise him πŸ˜‰


    • Veena! Thank you so much. It’s adjacent to the Mahadevapura BDA complex behind that opticians that’s come up now opposite Phoenix. Please, please go and give us all a report. And yes, use my dialogues and add some of your own. πŸ™‚ By by God, he’d better not say it to anyone again. I will go there this evening. It’s a Monday, after all. Har har Mahadev. πŸ˜‰


  10. Too bad I am so late reading it. I enjoyed it. Awesome piece this one. I visit temples once in a while but I have never heard any priest tell off a woman, or any of my sisters. I was disappointed for you but later I was delighted that you went back and yelled at him. There is no logic in what he said. What you did was gutsy. Priests can be nasty in their words and their deeds. There may be very few who would talk back at them. You are a brave woman. I know a 12th century Kannada woman who stopped wearing anything and now has a temple in her honor. They call her Akka Mahadevi. She is even famous for not tying her hair. Next time ask the priest if he knows the name. My grandfather was a ‘God’ man. He and that priest would be blood brothers if they met. He had written a book called ‘Pooja Vidhaanagalu’. He had written the right way of doing pooja. Different poojas for different gods. I know first hand how these people can be. I haven’t read that book yet, I don’t think I will, and neither have my parents. πŸ™‚


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