I’m one of those ardent followers of Richard Dawkins. I harbor contempt and scorn against all religions and, in the past, i have had some fierce debates with theists and I have on many occasions, overstepped the line and have mocked them too!
So, on 25th-Dec-2014, i was making my way to the Ekal Rann on my cycle. I was told in the morning that, there was a famous Ekal Mata mandir just before the starting of the Rann and I would be offered accommodation and food there. Without thinking too much, I was making a bee-line for the temple armed with a haphazard map that a local had drawn for me.
It was 5:30 PM in the evening and stopped at the village before Chobari (again, I can’t remember the name anymore 😦 ) for some tea and lip smacking kutchi dabeli. As it was winter time, i knew the sun would set pretty early and I still had around 30 kms to go to reach the temple. In the anticipation of riding in the dark, I fitted out my tail lamp onto the seat post and i snapped my headlmp just below my helmet. After the short break, I got on the saddle, shifted my chains onto the bigger dogs and started mashing away. I knew it was a costly mistake to make but I was racing against time now.
At 7:00 PM, it had become pitch dark and I was still fighting it out on the cycle. It was the first day of my cycling trip and my quads and bums were complaining loudly to me. I took a small water break at the side of the road and a few moments later, I heard a voice behind me. Surprised and a litte scared, I turned around to see a local villager standing just feet away from me. My heart beats rose by a few notches when i saw him holding a sickle in his hand!! Since he had no torch on him, I could not see him coming. He asked me if i was ok. When i said yes, he asked why am i riding in the dark? I said i had started my day late and hence, was running behind schedule. He said I still had 10 kms to go to reach the mandir and then said, “Agar andhere mein chalna mushkil ho raha ho toh, aap mere ghar par aaj rat ruk sakte hain. Appka khana aur bistar ka suvidha ho jaayega. Kal subah app mandir ke liye nikal sakte ho” (If you are having trouble riding in the dark, you can stay at my place. I’ll take care of your food and bedding. You can ride to the temple early in the morning). I humbled by his offer but, I told him I was grateful for his help but i had to reach the mandir tonight or else, my entire trip schedule would be ruined.
After thanking this villager, I switched on my head lamps, got up on the saddle and started mashing again.
At 7:40 PM, I reached the temple completely exhausted. As i crossed the threshold of the temple campus and entered in with my cycle, the irony of the situation hit me like a truck. This temple here was my final hope of getting accommodation and food for the night. An angry atheist had come knocking on the doors of a temple, an institution he so despised! I smiled inwardly at my own stupidity and made my way to the 2 people sitting just outside of the main temple doors.
The swami-ji of the temple asked me to leave the cycle near the trees and instructed me to first remove my slipper and helmets, wash my feet and hands and then come into the temple premises. Like an obedient child, I did as i was told and went to meet him. As i got into the temple, the swamiji asked me to pay my respects to the ekal mata and i did as I was told without questioning.
As I came out, the swamiji asked what i wanted. I told him I needed accommodation for the night. Without asking any further questions, he asked me to take the room that was right next to his room. He further asked me to get to the kitchen by 9PM for dinner. I thanked him and went straight to my “room” to wash up. I was yearning for a fresh change of clothes and a good hot water bath.
After a filling dinner, I sat outside the room reflecting on the whole situation. I had run away from temples all my life. I wasn’t even sure when was the last time I had entered a temple in my home-town. I had come to the salt deserts hoping to find some peace and solitude and my journey had led me right back into a temple.
For so long, I had poured scorn and hatred and contempt upon “gods” and “religion” and the institution of “temples” and the stupid “theists” who followed them like sheep and yet, one of those very same temples had unquestioningly and without judgement, provided me with shelter for the night….They never asked me where i was from, they did not ask me my beliefs, they did not ask me my caste or creed..To them I was just a worn out traveler who needed shelter for the night and they provided the same..