Saturday, June 25, 2016

Temple Darshan Photo Video Menace

The issue of Photo and Video Menace flares up again for the third year in a row during the Oyyali at the Narasimha Brahmotsavam at Parthasarathy Temple 

Saint Poets Azhvaars in several Pasurams in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham refer to festivals and Vedic recitals taking place in (Divya Desam) temples and devotees gaining positive energy from these festivals.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi refers to rows of houses, lining up the streets of Therezhandur, in whose porticos beautiful traditional ladies queued up to watch the glittering procession of the Lord with devotion. Many verses in the Divya Prabhandham talk about the vibrancy around the temples during festivals and how people came out of their homes to have a glimpse of the Lord in different vahanas. And the Azhvaars describe the happy state of the people in such times.

One thought, likewise devotees would come out to the temples to capture a glimpse of the Lord and to seek his blessings. Alas, it does not seem so any more.

Crowds are thronging temples in big numbers these days. And it seems there is a ‘devotional’ wave sweeping across Tamil Nadu. But unfortunately the reality on the ground at the temples is very different. With phones becoming ‘smarter’,holding a phone high over the head and clicking photo and video shots of the Lord has become a new fad. The first activity of an utsavam as the screen opens during procession is not to worship the Lord with folded hands but to get the camera ready for the first click, mostly at the cost of darshan for many of the devotees at the back row. Narashimha Brahmotsavam 

For the third year in a row, this was a sour point at the Narasimha Brahmotsavam that concluded last night at the Parthasarathy temple in Thiruvallikeni. For a minority of devotees, it has become difficult to have a clear darshan of the Lord during the Oyyali, a special walk of the Lord leading to the NamAzhvaar Sannidhi, that has in recent times created much excitement among the devotees. Better access now to sleeker phones with good cameras has led to intense competition among the devotees who are now vying with each other to showcase their photography and videography skills than enjoying the Lord's beautiful evening presentation of the Oyyali, all this completely unmindful of the devotees behind them. This photo and video mania is turning out to be a serious distraction for some of the true devotees. 


And what is even more worrying is that it is the traditional people with Panchakajam and sporting broad Thiruman who are clicking such shots repeatedly of the Lord despite pleas from more sincere devotees. In fact, the pleas are silenced with a response that this is a public place and that the devotees have the right to click their shots in whatever way they want.

Frustrated at the group of residents not acceding to his repeated requests, Shri. K Parthasarathy, a long time resident of Thiruvallikani, last Sunday lodged an official complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of the temple on the use of Camera Phones during Oyyali.

Shri. Parthasarathy has been watching the Oyyali at the Parthasarathy temple from the time he was a young school boy in the mid 1960s. He says that he has not seen such unruly behaviour among residents in the last 50 years. ‘In the decades gone by, devotees including a number of children used to come from across the city to specially watch the Oyyali.’

‘No one has a right to obstruct the darshan of a devotee. For the last three years, I have placed continuous request to keep down the mobile phones during Oyyali but the scenario has only deteriorated. Clearly, the use of mobile phones has had a negative impact on the traditions of the temple. The latest fad is of devotees taking ‘selfies’ with the God and that surely is not in good taste.’ 

Shri Parthasarathy also wonders at the decision to allow the Ghosti to have mobile phones in their possession during the Prabhandham recital when they are not allowed to wear a wrist watch.

In the letter to the Dy. Commissioner, Shri Parthasarathy says ‘Some of the devotees raise their mobile phones and large iPADS above their shoulder greatly hampering the darshan for old and short devotees (especially ladies) standing in the back during the Oyyali. When requested, the devotees gang up together and fight back. This is a very unfortunate situation and many devotees have to suffer silently through the Brahmotsavam.’

He has requested the temple officials to take corrective action so as to facilitate peaceful darshan for all. In his letter, he has also requested them to update him on the action taken by them in this regard. Almost a week later, he is still awaiting their response.


The scene is not very different in the ancient Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram or the Ranganatha Perumal temple in Srirangam.

 Shri. Malai Mel Krishna, who has been in Kanchipuram for the last ten years performing kainkaryam, says that things have definitely changed for the worse in the last few years at the Varadaraja Perumal temple. ‘We try our best to educate the devotees on the need for self discipline but with the sleek phones, they manage to take continuous shots disturbing the darshan of many of the sincere devotees. The first thing a lady asked recently on entering was if she could take a photo. It has almost become an exhibition kind of event and it is no more devotional.’

At the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, Saathatha Vaishnavas have the responsibility to make the announcement relating to maintaining silence and disallowing photo and video shots of some of the sacred events.  Vaishnava Sridharan, whose family has been performing this sacred service for a 100 years at the temple, was shocked, recently, when he received a video recording on whatsapp of a sacred traditional event that he had strictly shouted out as a ‘No Photos No Videos’ prior to the event.

For the first time, these sacred and events exclusive to the Srirangam temple that had been protected for centuries together as an event to be only experienced at the venue and not meant for public distribution are being posted out in public forums now. And that is a very disturbing feature.

Where is temple worship going?
It just seems that temple worship is going the wrong way – Photo posts on social media and photo exchanges on Whatsapp seem to be the order of the day. In decades gone by, the typical comment from a mother was to get the child to pray with folded hands in front of the Lord. But now, even young children are being encouraged to take video shots. And at the end of one such event earlier this week, a kid was appreciated and given a pat on the back by the adoring mother for a great video shot of the Lord. The mothers even teach the young children with the best angles and positioning for the photo and video shots. 

The instant drive to showcasing their presence at the festival is taking people away from the essence of  devotion. There is a new found eagerness to show that they belong to this new modern world of hi-tech phones. As they head back home every evening, the question asked is 'if you took a good photo of the Lord' and not 'did you have a good peaceful darshan'. If the hands are always in possession of a camera phone, where is the possibility of the folded hands before the Lord? The non-stop chat on the phone even while performing a pradakshanam, typing of messages, taking photo shots at all times at all places leaves one wondering as to where we are headed with devotion.

Temples and the streets surrounding it are not mere public places. There is certain sanctity to it especially during procession. There is an unwritten devotional code of conduct that one needs to adhere to when one is near the Lord.

It is hoped that the official complaint lodged by the devotee at the Parthasarathy temple this week will trigger the HR & CE to seriously look into this issue and find a long term solution to this menace that will allow peaceful darshan of the Lord. 

A top corporate chief Shri. R Shiv Kumar has been a regular at the Kapaleeswarar temple for the last many decades and recites the sacred verses there all alone in a peaceful state every morning at 5am for an hour or so. He is completely frustrated at the changing scenario and probably sums best the feelings of the few remaining devotees. 

'Honestly, I feel like running away, ignoring the world and being one with HIM. We are nor reformers. At best we express frustration and take half-hearted moves that won't solve the problem and will only add to our frustration. This is the age of Kali and it is at its worst in Tamil Nadu.'


(a different version of this story featured yesterday in The Hindu Friday Review)

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