How about hushed silence instead…
During a short trip to Gwalior, we happened to visit the 9th-century Sahastrabahu Temple in the complex that houses the glorious turquoise stone-studded Gwalior Fort. It was the first ‘ancient’ Hindu temple I had seen.The marvellous architecture and the exquisite carvings left me stunned. But other than the beauty, what struck me most was the peaceful aura created by the absence of idols and worshippers (to clarify, it’s not a working temple anymore).
So, here it was…the complete contradiction of a typical Hindu temple, which is surely one of most chaotic places on earth. Worshippers shout, loudspeakers blare, babies wail, flower vendors harass and guards shove. If places of worship are meant to direct you inward and connect with your subtle spiritual side, then a pair of earplugs and a steel armour can be your only salvation in one of these. And if that’s not enough, loud bells clang continuously…for whom do these bells toll…can’t God hear you anyway?
Apparently, the temple bell is made of a special composition of metals, so that a single clang creates a long sound of ‘Om’ which is designed to unite the left and right brains and enhance the sensory/spiritual experience. I doubt if most prayer-goers even have a clue to that. If they did, would a temple bell still sound like a repetitive, frantic doorbell to wake up a sleeping God far, far, very far away! Do you really need a voice in a place of worship?
When we travel, I often reflect on the atmosphere in places of worship. Large or small, famous or forgotten…cathedrals, mosques and temples propagate reverence through solemn soundlessness. I remember the serenity of the ancient Sounion temple of Poseidon near Athens, perched on a craggy cliff top overlooking sea, the slender marble columns gleaming white like they did in 444 BC. I recall the silence in the Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar, broken only the noisy racket of a hundred birds crowding for personal space on their favourite tree in the courtyard facing the lake. I still feel the peace of the Rumtek Monastery in Gangtok, where Buddhist monks murmured their chants under their breath, so softly that I could hear a corner candle hiss as it finally burnt out.
I think of all the countless churches and cathedrals, where you stop talking even before you enter the hallowed doors. You push your phone into silent mode, and you feel embarrassed every time your camera goes ‘whirr and click’, or your feet make that displaced wooden plank creak just a bit. People are sitting quietly, heads bent in prayer, mindful yet undisturbed by the tourists treading softly, admiring sculptures, stained glass windows, paintings, vaulted ceilings and architecture. Even guides are narrating in low voices, gathering groups as close as possible. Despite the crowds, everyone falls into line. Disciplined like a school assembly.
The peace and quiet creates a comforting haven…you can hear own breathing, and sometimes, the embarrassing growl of your stomach if you’re late for a meal! The atmosphere compels you to withdraw, get in touch with yourself, introspect. Just like an hour alone with your book on a park bench, or a session of quiet meditation.
Well, it is a cultural thing, and joyful noise is joyous for some. But imagine how it would be if our Hindu temples had stricter codes too!