When we hear the name “Raj Kapoor”, it is the image of a fair, rather portly man with typical mannerisms that comes to mind immediately. His artistry and films follow. However much religions may extol the existence of a “better” world, once we die, the truth of the matter is that each living being has to complete its ordained time on earth before exiting to an allegedly improved space.
Hindus hear of a Vishnu being lulled to sleep on His serpentine bed Anantha on the Ocean of Milk. Upon hearing a cosmic ‘Om’, His eyes open, a Lotus that becomes the world of Brahma, the Creator arises from His navel, getting Him the epithet ‘Padmanabha’ or He who has a Lotus in His navel. The resemblance to the umbilical cord and foetus is uncanny.
Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the Annihilator, is ‘always’ concerned about taking care of Brahma’s creations. One never finds ‘any’ demon, however great be his penance, asking and getting a boon from Vishnu. Almost all of the hard earned boons of the demons are slanted against the balance in creation. The greater the willful ways of the demon, the more spectacular the incarnation of Vishnu, to save His beloved world. In fact, to protect his child devotee Prahlada, Vishnu acquiesces to all the near-impossible conditions of Prahlada’s demonic father who thinks he has succeeded in cheating death.
Vishnu dons the terrifying Narasimha avatar. Hiranyakashipu gets his designer death on the lap of Narasimha (neither on earth or in the sky), on the doorstep (neither inside a building or in the open air ), at dusk (neither during day or night) as the demon is ripped apart by Narasimha’s nails ( neither by weapons or by bare hand ).
The one common thread that runs through ‘all’ the phalashruthis or benefits of many Shlokas ( chants praising various deities ) and pujas run thus:
It means riches, grains, many sons to leave the wealth to (India was and is patrilineal to a great extent) and a long life to witness all these benefits. But for Vibhaandaka who desired that his son would get salvation while he, the father, was still alive, people desire not only progeny, but a good life for them. This is in direct contradiction to the ‘unreality’ of life as we live it. If we were really convinced of the emptiness of this life as we know it, two things would happen. No one would be bothered to have children anymore. Everyone would retire to remote places and meditate away the rest of their time on earth as there would be no point in anything else.
To a lot of people who have a tough time in their lifespan, a better ‘other world’ is a great comfort. It evens out the odds immediately. The truth of the matter is that no one remembers what happens pre-birth. Nor do they know what happens post-death. At least, not by any independently verifiable means. Near death experiences have been discussed threadbare. Both Nachikethus and Lazarus who returned after death are unclear about life after death. In fact, even Yama, the god of death, is reported to have said that He knows nothing beyond collecting dead souls. He is as clueless as any ordinary person about the why and how of death.
Every faith avers the presence of an omnipotent, (largely) benevolent power. When some unidentified vitality slips out of all living beings and their sleep like state continues forever, it is called death. The physical leftover has to be handled in ordained ways of disposal. This proves that the physical body is not the ultimate thing in creation.
Yet denigrating the physicality of this world as we know it leads to the acute dichotomy of a mind-body divide. This basic divide (where none actually exists) is the beginning of control of human beings by outside agencies. By denying the value of temporal things, ironically enough faith becomes bound to the size of the congregation, the wealth of the house of god and the marketing efficacy of that particular religion.
The latest Covid-19 pandemic has put human beings at a physical risk. Theoretical concerns like geographical boundaries, skin colour, GDP etc have surrendered to a tiny virus. Human beings have become aware of their genus. Unlike other natural calamities like floods, droughts and earthquakes, the rest of the flora and fauna are left untouched. The only species which kills its own members (except during mating season) are human beings. Now human beings are helplessly watching the random ravage on themselves by this unfamiliar infection. The Corona virus puts us in reality of this world. That it has no cure, careens us uncomfortably close to the exit to the vast beyond.
It is a healthy attitude when the body, soul and mind are in touch and working together, rather than against each other. Shiva, was a great God who was basically an ascetic. There is remoteness to Him. He is also known as Mahadeva, the God of Gods. Devastated, Shiva’s wife Sati immolated herself when her father Daksha Prajapathi insulted Shiva. Clutching Sati’s charred body to Himself Shiva danced the Thandavam of agony and anger that threatened to destroy the universe. Vishnu used His divine discus to cut Sati’s body into fifty-one pieces, all places of great Divinity. The all-knowing Mahadeva too lapsed into the thought that His beloved wife was the being He held to His heart. With all His distance and reticence, Shiva too was confirming His adherence to Vishnu’s world of existence on earth.