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Have Indians turning more religious than ever before?

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Indians are becoming much more formally religious and display religiosity in an unabashed and arrogant manner compared to say 30 years ago. Why does one see increasing display of religious rituals and forms these days? Is it because of increasing affluence or is it that it so appears due to the hyperactive publicity? Or is it due to the rising levels of ambitions to succeed at any cost and the consequent insecurity, which forces one to turn to religion in such immodest, opulent manner?

By Dr. Guruprasad Mohapatra

A Wall Street Journal survey conducted amongst the European citizens in December, 2004 revealed that an overwhelming percentage of citizens across the entire Europe are turning away from the mainstream religion — Christianity.

In fact, amongst the youth, the percentage of irreligious or non-believers was even higher. The survey revealed that a vast majority of Europeans, and the youth in particular, are turning away from the Church and becoming irreligious.

Compared to this, in India I find that we are becoming much more formally religious and display our religiosity in an unabashed and arrogant manner, compared to say 30 years back. Never, in the 1970s and 1980s, I had seen so many people, particularly amongst the educated professionals, such a craze for religious forms and rituals, and such a pride, almost arrogance, in such adherence. Religion for many was a matter of great faith and spirituality, a form of direct communion with the Lord, and there was so much of humility and grace in one’s religious practice.

I do not remember so many Muslims observing fasts, wearing caps and burkhas as one sees now. Nor do I remember Hindus observing in such a detailed, ritualistic manner, and amidst such pomp and opulence, so many festivals. Now one makes a claim for a Guinness record or Limca record for observing the longest fast or the biggest gold or cash donation to a religious place.

Offering to the Lord is a very personal matter, done with utmost humility and gratitude, and certainly not a matter to take great social pride and to be publicized.

Why does one see such increasing display of religious rituals and form these days in India? Is it because of increasing affluence in India, which gets spent on religiosity just like in other areas like clothes, jewelry, and entertainment? Or is it that it so appears due to the hyper-active publicity industry in the form of the 24X 7 TV channels and the print media, which keeps highlighting it?

Or is it due to the rising levels of ambitions to succeed at any cost and the consequent insecurity, which forces one to turn to religion in such an immodest, opulent manner? Let us remember that the rise of Buddhism, Jainism, the Sikhism and the Vaishnav movement was mainly as a protest against the utterly formalistic, ritualistic religious practice devoid of spiritual content of those days.

But what we see now is that the form is becoming the focus and not the content. Religion cannot be reduced to a mass excitement about what to eat and when to eat on what day. It is not the height of the temple, nor does the gold the temple has that makes the devotees so humble and devoted at Puri, Dwaraka, Somnath, or Amritsar. Mere religiosity sans spirituality would achieve nothing substantial as all our ancient classic scriptures and epics have maintained so unambiguously.