Pangs of hunger swept through the stomach of eight-year old Mool Shanker as he fasted through the Shivratri night in his home in Kathiawad region of Gujarat. The abstinence was a part of his sacred-thread ceremony, but while the rest of the family slept, craving for food kept him awake. And then he saw a tiny mouse scamper up the idol of Lord Shiva and nibble at the sweets offered earlier during the puja to the deity. That was the moment when he asked himself the fateful question: If the powerful god could not protect his offerings from a small rodent, how could he be the guardian of the universe, or even of his own followers?
From this moment on he started asking questions that his family and peers found uncomfortable. So they planned to get him married while still in his teens, leading him to renounce domesticity altogether and go forth in search of the Truth. It eventually led him, under the name Swami Dayanand Saraswati, to found the Arya Samaj.
Will Covid 19 situation force people everywhere to ask the kind of questions that came into young Mool Shanker’s mind 188 years ago? Around the world and across all faiths celebrations of popular religious festivals, where people would gather in ‘holy’ places and jostle and mingle with each other at close quarters, have been muted and radically abridged. We saw empty churches on Easter when Christians in large numbers across continents remember Jesus’ resurrection. The two Eids – in May and August – saw a very sparse attendance in the mosques. Processions to mark Muharram were called off.
This year the Amarnath yatra was cancelled for fear of the pandemic. All centres of Hindu pilgrimage are deserted. The ‘grand’ ceremony for laying the foundation of the Ram temple in Ayodhya saw less than 200 devotees in attendance. On Ram Navmi, Janam Ashtmi and Ganesh Chaturthi too temples, which would always be chock-o-block full, were deserted.
All these events which normally attract thousands of devotees at each venue had to be scaled down drastically because of the fear of the microscopic virus. Will this catastrophe lead the believers across all religions to ask the question: If the almighty, by whichever name he is called, cannot protect his followers from this miniscule menace in his own ‘home’ how powerful he really is? In the words of the Greek savant Epicurus: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
As we battle this virus, a large number of followers are bound to harbour serious misgivings about the power wielded by their deity. At the end of the day when painstaking scientific research brings succour to humanity, it should not surprise anyone if blind faith in religious beliefs, and with them some traditional myths including the fraud known as astrology, takes a serious knock.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.