re•li•gion [ri-líjj?n]

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Most religious folk can find a sanctuary in their own place of worship. The mystical sensation of ancient history and traditions enveloping the soul and drawing it closer towards salvation is what brings worshippers back time and time again. The priest, rabbi, or minister’s monotonous chanting of the prayer draws the parishioners into a hypnotic state of worship for their lord, losing all other worries and pain. Once the congregation is enslaved in this devout trance to their almighty, they begin to feel the true essence of life. My own sacred experience occurs at the kovil (Hindu Temple).

Foreigners gasp at its enormity and intricacy of the detailed stories carved into the gopuram (ornate monumental tower at entrance). The soaring columns surrounding and supporting the kovil emanate grandeur and rigid power that fills even the least holy worshippers with immense pride. People of all ages and classes are dressed up, humbly adorned in gold so as to please their deity’s saintly eyes, for they are within the home of the god. Shushing Sarees and twirling pavadas (traditional garment worn by women and girls) rich in life, walk from one statue to another, pausing to whisper their prayers for good health and prosperity. As the throng shuffles to each idol in a clock-wise direction, the main pooja (religious ritual as an offering to deities) happens in the middle of the inner sanctum for the most important god.

The Lord just radiated compassion through his kind face. That same smooth, smirking smile could never alarm these devotees; knowing the story of Lord Vishnu (A god), they admired his protectiveness and praised his boyish beauty. Even the worn state of the statue could portray his soft, bluish skin garnished with the best cloth and jewelry as supernatural being and not an ostentatiously dressed, hypothermic man. Worshippers must pay a fee to come within arms-distance of the deity and have their own miniature pooja just for their family. Countless devotees come every day to the kovil just to allow their feet to smile from the touch of the cool granite or even the scorching pavement of the flooring. This pleasure escalates when the basket for the pooja that has been sitting so close to the idol’s limb is passed around for the last blessing. As everyone hopes to get a glimpse of the lord to exchange a few words, they nearly topple the previous person forward, subconscienciously being drawn toward his gravitating gaze and receive the Om (a mystical or sacred syllable in the Indian religions) straight from his holy hands to their incomparable selves.

A kovil can be a place of prayer and solemnity for certain believers, but for most it is an area to celebrate good fortune and thankfulness with their loved ones. The constant, unmistakable DING of the large metallic bell at the entrance, indicating one’s arrival and departure, turns into the background melody of the temple. Once arriving, the followers start the pradakshina (circle from left to right of temple) and pause to murmur their prayers before going to the next. The only sound in this process is in your heart; all the emotions of hope and promise sucked from the core and poured into the prayer and out through the guarded lips for only the holy one to hear. The strange words from the traditional Sanskrit language, spoken with a skilled tongue only routine could enforce, held with the worshipper in a vise-like grip from deity to deity. The mantra spoken most often, "Om Namo Narayana" (Obeisance to Narayana/Vishnu), is how the devotees offer their ever compassionate and loyal being to the holy ones in return for deliverance and acceptance. As a new music starts from the beating of the mridangam (South Indian percussion instrument) and dexterous plucking of the veena (Indian classical stringed instrument), the atmosphere slowly began to relax. The casual exchange between idle worshippers amongst the lively shrieks of the small children pleased their gods to know there was joy and amity in their home. Soothing harmonies of the two instruments brought the congregation together to a smooth sense of serenity, allowing them to return to their abodes content and fulfilled.

As each religiously active member departs to his own separate way, some may feel like a freed prisoner while others might feel cleansed, having participated sincerely, while praising their deity. There are many opinions about religion, and these different ways affect other parts of life also, like politics and war. Some people say a higher being is impossible and the theory of religions itself is a waste of time in the. Another group of people that do not have or want a religion, but believe in higher force, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, “If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.” There are even the most devout human beings who dedicate their entire lives for their sacred religion and belief. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a well-known philosopher raised in a strict and pious household stated, “Religion is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble.” People who have not yet “tasted” religion or have had second-hand experiences from war may frown upon the concept of giving one’s freedom to a god and their rules. The actual definition of religion is "people's beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life." Since people have expansive beliefs and views, just about anything could be manipulated and justified as a religion. This could have crippling effects on world peace and would be a great threat to humanity. Does this mean all religions should be eradicated?





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