Last week the Madras High Court refused to ban darshan and worship in temples at midnight when devotees want to pray while welcoming the New Year. Likewise, the High Court in Hyderabad upheld the right of the devotees. This similarity is significant.
Earlier, the priest of Chilkur'a Balaji temple near Hyderabad had threatened devotees with punishment if he was greeted on the New Year because that was an "English" custom, alien to Indian ethos. It was reported he would ask for six sit-ups. Not wanting to be greeted is not in his hands; and no one would abuse him.
There's no objection to his chiding the worshipers who reputedly come for worship there not to rush and cause disturbance during the perambulation around the sanctum sanctorum. Such behavior disturbs other worshipers. The worshipers are serious seekers; they want US visas.
Asking others not to celebrate the New Year's advent is one thing, but to threaten punishment to those who greet him on the day is quite another. By dismissing the near universally celebrated day on the Gregorian calendar is way off the mark. Those of other faiths too do. It is a calendar we find ourselves at ease with.
I dare say his threat can be interpreted as a trigger, should it gain currency, to confusion. How would the weekends be determined? How would we know which was our weekly off? Or the day the salary paid with certitude about the day? Why promote confusion?
Here are some reasons. Muslims follow the Islamic lunar calendar. Their festivities and religious events come on different dates of the Gregorian calendar as do Hindu events. For which an almanac is always available like a ready reckoner, connecting it to the days and dates of the Gregorian.
If Hindus shift to their almanac and the Muslims stick to theirs, who is going to tell us the day on which the Eid falls which is a bank holiday and we needn't go to school, college, or office or open our shop? Likewise, how would Muslims know the day Deepawali falls and organise their day? These sound simplistic but have significant import to our lives.
Would Christians who have no other calendar except the Gregorian then automatically become English though Indian?
At this point in our country's binary life, it is unlikely that the panchangam would also indicate Islamic events. Or their almanac indicate Hindu events. The Gregorian calendar links events of the two faiths making it a universal ready reckoner for ease of use. We are so divided for the narrow-minded leaders of the two faiths to allow a common calendar without the Gregorian interface.
If the priest has a preference for Ugadi and not the New Year's Day for celebrations, he is entitled to it as we who follow the Gregorian calendar. The only difference between him and others is that the rest want to celebrate both. Yes, his objection to the revelry at the cusp of December 31and January 1 being brought into the temple is understandable.
We need to make our places of worship somber, silent, dignified. We can't have others chattering, leave alone whop their greetings, and disturbing the quiet of the places of worship. Like the Azan disturbs us, our own chattering till we reach the sanctum sanctorum, disturbs others amongst us. Our behavior leaves much to be desired. To enforce that, the priest has my support. As for the rest of his limiting prescription, he can look elsewhere.