Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dark Side of Jagannath Puri Pilgrimage

[PADA: We are not trying to discourage anyone from going to India for pilgrimages, but we would like people to know they should be alert to various scams going on there, maybe similar mentality to the type of scams the GBC gurus are doing. We have heard of others having bad experiences in Vrndavana, Mayapura and similar sites. ys pd]

SD Dasi: I remember visiting Puri Dham many years back. Out of all the temples there, Tota Gopinatha Temple was the most spiritual and welcoming in my experience.

On arrival at the Puri hotel, I met with a temple pandit from Jagannath temple and arranged with him to have daily mahaprasadam to be delivered for an agreed one off donation for the duration of my Puri visit, then the pandit asked me if I wanted to have darshan of the temple Deities (for a very large donation).

He said that as I was brown skinned, I could pass for a local as long as I kept my head and face covered all the time and not speak to anyone inside the temple. He said he does this seva for many westerners. But for the donation amount he was asking (50,000 rupees), I thought that kind of money would be better used to help the homeless and hungry around the temple complex, so I politely refused his offer, not to mention I myself do not have such a huge amount of money anyway.

Soon I realised that westerners were not allowed entry into majority of the temples in Puri, very sad and disheartening. Nonetheless, there were smaller temples I were allowed entry and I gave generous donations there instead.

The overall experience in Puri was a strange one, on one hand I came across some very scary people (turns out I'm not the only one), for example once nearly got attacked by a local devotee with what looked like a sharp blade because I didn't give him a donation of 2000 rupees for showing me the library opposite the temple (apparently the 100 rupees I gave him was an insult, and the so called library was just an abandoned old building with no books or anything else). There were many such incidents, not near attacks, but aggressive, pushy, rude and insulting, most demanding large sums of money for little or no reason, but I always tried to see everything in a spiritual context ignoring the obvious corruption and greed.

However, on the other hand, I had the best time visiting Tota Gopinatha Temple, met some amazing and extraordinary local sadhus and had the most delicious, most awe inspiring prasadam ever experienced in my life. Also the one place were money was not the big issue for anyone. I was never asked, not once to donate anything, I gave out of free will and gave even more simply because they never asked or expected anything.

I know of several westerners (white skin ladies) who took up the offer to go inside the big Jagannatha temple, they all said that it was chaotic inside, very dark and very dirty. All their experiences were almost exactly the same, everyone entering the sanctum would get beaten over the head by hard long wooden sticks and the crowds inside was completely unmanaged, if anyone fell over, they would get trampled no doubt. Apparently no children are allowed entry because it is just that bad. A couple ladies recall they were grabbed and groped once they were inside the sanctum, but there was nothing they could do to stop it either as not only were they westerners but there was just so many people pushing and pulling it was impossible to do anything.

Inside the sanctum they all recall how pandits would demand large donations or guilt trip devotees into buying prasadam for large donations and to offer aarti. They say it was very, very dark inside and you can barely see the Deities. One lady made it to the front and could see the Deities, but she felt heartache when she saw how in her words, 'how dirty the Deities were, They presence was absolutely majestic for sure, but they are covered in black dirty smudges all over their eyes and face".

I never had any problems with the mahaprasadam being delivered to my hotel, it was always tasty, but the servitor would stay until you finished every morsel and then wanted another donation (one for delivering and another after you finished) even though it was meant to be a one off payment, it turned out to be much more, a payment to deliver and afterwards as well. But one family I knew didn't have a pleasant mahaprasadam experience at all, they purchased a few boxes of mahaprasadam inside the temple for 500 rupees per box, but when they opened it, some were covered in ants and the others had maggots inside the prasad.

Again, at the time and for many years after I always tried to see a spiritual side to these incidents, but I'm realising that there was and still is nothing spiritual about unscrupulous behaviour, greed, manipulation, abuse, arrogance, uncleanliness, cheating or nationality status in spirituality. Never was and never will be.

I am aware, there will be many that will disagree with me on the above, but I am not writing this to have anyones approval or to seek any kind of debate. I just felt that after so many years, it is time to call things out as they are. I was brainwashed into thinking a certain way, but those days are over and I am free of such shackles. If none of us take a stand and speak out, then nothing will change.

If there is something unjust and cruel, it should not be kept secret nor should such actions be interpreted as spiritual, there is nothing spiritual about greed, abuse and corruption. Similarly there is nothing spiritual about insulting or belittling other religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. I find there is way too much of that on FB, be kind to all from every background.

It doesn't matter to God what nationality you are or what religion you follow, as long as you love Him as He loves us all unconditionally whether or not we believe in Him, He never leaves us alone.

So many people are suffering in the world, the temples are rich beyond words, but they always want more money to no end while others are starving and homeless. Think about those in need, when a parent sees their children helping each other it brings them joy and happiness to witness how they co-operate. The same goes for us all, we may not be direct family relations but we are all connected to one another through the Lord, therefore everyone of us, are brothers and sisters together. 

Helping each other is a spiritual act, an act of love and kindness. The Lord resides in our hearts, He sees and is witness to all our doings and sayings. If we truly love the Lord our God, then we are proclaiming that we automatically love and respect every person from every other religious and irreligious background simultaneously as well (otherwise it is a contradiction).

Words have power, try not to misuse them, misunderstandings could be taken as an offence and that is not healthy for spiritual progress. The Lord is almighty and all powerful, naturally there will be many ways to worship His supreme majesty and receive His grace and mercy, there is not only one way, there is no such thing as there being only only way back to the Lord, so please be kind and respectful to all.

Love and peace to all.

PS. Be careful and not allow others to take advantage of your good nature. A person's status / position and dress / uniform are not evidence of a saint. Using the Lord's name for personal gain is happening all around us. Be alert by not funding such persons and especially organisations with never-ending fundraising (made up causes with an unprecedented amount times 1,000% cheating the congregation, locals and devotees to give way more than is actually required, most of which goes into personal offshore accounts) as we too have to accept some karma for such an action.

We all want to help others, the best way to do that is to help others direct.

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