Millennium Post

The grandeur mania

The austere Dayal Nagar ceremony stands out as a splendid example against the canvas of a declining culture in this nation

These days, when people in our country are gripped with the maniacal fever of grandeur, opulence and luxury, a recent wedding ceremony in Dayal Nagar, Vizag draws a sharp contrast. Unfortunately, with growing aspirations for material possessions and a lifestyle of comfort, and with the change in culture to imitate the rich, the means have become secondary. The values of austerity of the past are being given a go-bye, and living within one's legal means is being treated as one's weakness.

Close to the beach in Vizag, the 45-years-old, 21-acre, Dayal Nagar colony is a world in its own. Following a life of simplicity and austerity, the 200 families of Radhasoami Satsang cult seek spiritual solace in their Satsang hall and depend only on the Doordarshan TV for their entertainment. The idea of community living does not end just with a celebration of festivals or meetings but also includes activities of organic farming of vegetables, running a kitchen for multiple purposes, a vocational educational centre, children's hostel and a women's wing for several activities. It was the recent marriage ceremony in this colony, of the son of one of its members, CMRDA Commissioner, Anant Kumar (IAS), which has caught the attention of the people of this coastal city.

Whether it was due to the presence of the state governor, ESL Narasimhan, along with his spouse to bless the occasion, or it was due to the unique frugality of the ceremony, the event got wide media coverage. Performed on the beach in the florally decorated venue, the marriage rituals took just an hour and the blessings another half-an-hour before the couple signed the register. Significantly, all the expenses, including the dinner in the colony prepared by the community members for about 100 important guests, cost only Rs 36,000. This is in contrast to the mad imitation in Vizag, and elsewhere, in splashing unimaginable wealth to entertain crowds of guests, with the new flourishing business of event managers standing in attendance in their uniforms. Then, there are also gifts such as cars, buildings, and dowry in cash which are all considered inevitable.

Lamenting about the present day madness, a Vedic expert says, 'Grandeur has no place in Vedic marriage. Nowhere is it said that the dinner should be lavish and that there should be such a large attendance; so much of gold; so many silk sarees. It is simply a sacred institution for having children and satisfying sexual needs as per Dharma, while at the same time to showcase an example of an ideal couple that would serve the society. If people have so much money, let them get their girl married in a simple way; and spend the rest of it for the marriages of the girls of poor families.'

Comparisons are odious. Yet, it is doubtful if anyone would take a leaf out of this example since it is not palatable to the present day society that is maniacal about grandeur and luxury. Businessmen and industrialists who are behind centres of power and work in tandem with political leaders are using every new method to bombard the society with mouth-watering advertisements. Although many possessions that were considered as luxuries in the past, like fridges, TVs, mobiles, etc., are now reduced to daily necessities, yet, there are many, which convince people to buy. Despite all the talk about the ill-effects on eyes and brains, especially of children, smartphones are found in every hand, all day. In the present day culture, show of wealth – luxury yachts, huge villas or flats, high-end cars with special numbers, etc., are all status symbols. It has simply become infectious across the country. People aspire to have the luxuries, by any means, whether ethical or unethical and even when they are sucked into debt traps. No one speaks of austerity when business houses are ruling the country either directly or through a proxy. Everything is a business – marriage ceremony, religion, home needs, organic foods, health, etc., even education.

Extravagant Yagnas are being performed by politicians. The popular Vedic exponent condemns it saying, 'When we believe that God has created this world, everything belongs to Him. Then, where is the question of Him being pleased with specific offerings? He only expects humans to focus their minds on Him in puja and live as per Dharma.' Vedas taught us austerity and not lavish wastage. In the past, we had leaders like Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had practised and preached austerity.

Patel had quitted a flourishing legal practice and a life of luxury to that of austerity and advocated against political power-hunting. He was a unifying force, and would never have allowed divisions on the basis of religious practices. He would never have permitted cow-vigilantes to be so audacious in killing people of other religion and lower castes. Instead of following his precepts, we only glorify him by building the tallest statue, believing only in grandeur.

The CM of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, also stands out as a symbol of grandeur. He has unveiled a huge statue of NTR, whom he had unceremoniously backstabbed in the past. It is only to catch the voters. Against the recommendations of the Sivaramakrishnan Committee, by converting all precious delta lands, he is constructing a world-class state capital at Amaravathi by engaging experts from Singapore. Why can't the new state with a serious financial crunch function from a modest place? Can't Indian experts build it, like the well-planned Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar or Raipur? It is to benefit his land sharks. Tomorrow, he may even think of constructing a tower taller than Burj-Khalifa of Dubai. Rumours are flying thick and high about his vested interests in Singapore and Dubai. But the moot point is, do we need a Taj Mahal at this stage and, for a great public debt?

The glitter of much-advertised luxury and grandeur provides deleterious results. With great aspirations, parents only focus on the grading of their children, and not on their character building. When the children fall short of the expectations of parents, they tend to get depressed and end up their lives or become deviant with criminality and unethical practices. They do not learn lessons to face difficult situations in life to become strong characters since they do not have any role models to emulate. Although we have many examples like Abdul Kalam who had struggled in their lives to achieve higher goals, no one reads about their life stories. Gandhi, Patel, Shastri, and such others have been long forgotten. And, the leaders of society hardly fill this gap to inspire the children. They are only taught to follow religious rituals.

But, we should know that ritualistic chanting of Vedas and mantras, and performing pujas, is purposeless unless one understands the rationale behind them. In those days when our society, that was totally illiterate, required certain regulations and methods of social control, Vedas evolved, and Dharma laid the path of righteousness based on ethics and values. Re-birth was made the Damocles' Sword hanging on people. By declaring that Vedas were words of God, and were thus infallible and unquestionable, society was bound to have faith in the Dharma laid down. Society was convinced that only through their sins or meritorious deeds they would attain Hell or Heaven and that they would carry the effects of their deeds to the next life. People were made conscious of the hanging sword and were thus dissuaded from indulging in evil acts and were guided to follow the Dharmic way of life. Further, in order to curb extravagance that could become infectious in the society, and would lead to unethical practices, Vedas taught us austerity. Whether re-birth is true or not, the method adopted through Vedas and Vedic religion did serve as an effective way of societal control and enforcement of Dharmic tenets.

In course of time, laws evolved as a part of administration and religion got a separate identity. Both the methods, however, served their purpose in societal regulation and control. We have now reached a stage when there is a plethora of laws and enforcement agencies. There are judicial drags, corruption, and unabated manipulation of the criminal justice system with money and power. There is neither deterrence nor reformation. Ethics and values take a back seat in this system. While a victim of rape suffers a living death for years, the perpetrator is large, making a mockery of the machinery. If a culprit finally gets punished at his ripe age for the crime he had committed when he was young, in what way it is a deterrent? People commit crimes and indulge in unethical practices, and manipulate systems through bribery, and then they fall back on God to condone them again paying bribes to Him in the name of donations. Neither the spirit of Vedas and religion nor the Laws have any effect on them. There is no repentance, nor compunction. Often there is miscarriage and crucifixion of justice, as Krishna Iyer said.

We are thus passing through times when there is a duality of control of two failed systems. Religion has become ritualistic and commercialised; bigots and fake swamis and yogis, like Asharam Bapus, Ram Rahims are ruling the roost; politicians in nexus with these gurus are exploiting public sentiments in their power-hunting; businesses are flourishing in the name of religious centres, religious articles, etc. And the motions in the legal system are only ritualistic without causing any deterrence or reformation. And, people, killing their conscience, are too busy in earning material wealth, instead of focusing on ethics and values.

Against this canvas of decaying culture, with consumerism and imitating grandeur, the Dayal Nagar ceremony stands out as a sterling example to think and emulate; and reminds us that we need to come out of the grandeur mania.

( Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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