I have been reading this poem by Tagore or references to it across several newspapers in India as a temple is being built in Ayodhya, UP. At the moment, India battles a pandemic that has infected nearly 2 million people (August 7, 2020). However, the leadership in the government seems to be out of step with what the rest of state machinery is doing, which is fighting the pandemic and its shocks. In a search for meaning, we look back at a poem by a person who is a major inspiration to the idea of India, An idea that the current leadership wants to replace with a regressive, caste supremacist, inward looking ideology that does not treat all Indian as equal.
As the world gets more interconnected (we saw how fast a half-alive virus travelled, thanks to us) we are seeing people in power (politicians, big tech) using ways to leverage the interconnectivity to strengthen their power and make more profits for themselves while making laws and unwritten rules to deprive people the advantages of faster communication and interconnectivity.
This focus on temples (and its equivalent in other countries) seems to be a result of this wall we are building around us.
“There is no god in that temple,” said the Saint.
The King was enraged;
“No God? Oh Saint, aren’t you speaking like an atheist?
On the throne studded with priceless gems, beams the golden idol,
And yet, you proclaim that’s empty?”
“It’s not empty; It’s rather full of the Royal pride.
You have bestowed yourself, oh King, not the God of this world”,
Remarked the saint.
The King frowned, “2 million golden coins
Were showered on that grand structure that kisses the sky,
I offered it to the Gods after performing all the necessary rituals,
And you dare claim that in such a grand temple,
There is no presence of God?”
The Saint calmly replied, “in the very year in which, twenty million of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought;
The pauperized masses without any food or shelter,
came begging at your door crying for help, only to be turned away,
they were forced to take refuge in forests, caves, camping under roadside foliages, derelict old temples;
and in that very year
when you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple of your’s,
that was the day when God pronounced:
“My eternal home is lit by everlasting lamps,
In the midst of an azure sky,
In my home the foundations are built with the values:
Of Truth, Peace, Compassion and Love.
The poverty stricken puny miser,
Who could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects,
Does he really fancy of giving me a home?”
That is the day God left that Temple of yours.
And joined the poor beside the roads, under the trees.
Like emptiness of the froth in the vast seas,
Your mundane temple is as hollow.
It’s just a bubble of wealth and pride.”
The enraged King howled,
“Oh you sham cretin of a person,
Leave my kingdom this instant.”
The Saint replied calmly,
“The very place where you have exiled the Divine,
Kindly banish the devout too.”
Read more elaborate thought on the same in Dhaka Tribune by the wise Vivek Menezes