When a nation is faced with a crisis of immense magnitude, it needs all its assets to fight the battle.
The biggest asset for any nation is its citizens, because political will, governance, implementation, remediation, redressal…all are effective only if the people support these actions. In the Covid-19 battle, this asset (the citizens) has been asked to follow one simple diktat – stay at home!
However, it is not an easy task to convince a raucous 133 Crore population to leave their daily routines and not venture outside homes. Indians are not known for their sense of discipline or orderliness. The sheer size and diversity of the country makes the task even more difficult. Both the
Central Government and the State Governments have made repeated appeals to people since February 2020 to practise social distancing. This was followed by a one-day Janata Curfew and subsequently by a 21-day lockdown which is currently underway. Yet even now, there are people who do not take the Covid-19 threat seriously and chaff at being asked to stay at home.
It is in times like this that the role of the Guru or the spiritual leader becomes increasingly important.
In times of trouble, people look up to their leaders for solace, inspiration, hope and direction. This is especially true for religious leaders who command the hearts and minds of millions of people.
Hindus celebrated the auspicious period of Navratri from 25 th March – 3 rd April 2020. This is a period devoted to the worship of the Goddess and usually about 50,000 pilgrims visit the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine on the first day. The 9-day festival at Vaishno Devi gets over 3 lac pilgrims and offerings of over Rs. 4 Cr. But this year the shrine wore a deserted look as it was closed to public on March 18 (even before the PM announced the lockdown). The temple of the Goddess is closed to her devotees on the days that are especially synonymous with her worship!
The annual “mahayagya” was conducted with just the priests in attendance. Not only this, the head priest of the shrine issued a public request asking the devotees to refrain from stepping out of their homes on Ashtami and Navami. Having anticipated that people may be tempted to step out or invite girls for kanjak puja, he tried to pre-empt it by reassuring them that inner prayers were more important and dearer to the Goddess than outward following of rituals. Likewise, requests were issued by the priest of the Jhandewalan temple dedicated to Goddess Aadi Shakti in Delhi to conduct the puja at home with family members only.
These requests must be seen in the twin lights of century old faith of millions and a pandemic caused by a microbe. When the custodian of faith asks the devotees to change their behaviour to fight the pandemic, it is a progressive act of nationalism. They are using their influence to help the nation fight a common enemy.
Likewise, the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple (among many others)
closed the darshan for devotees on 17 th March. For the first time in 128 years, the Tirupati Tirumala Temple closed its gates to devotees. The priests and head of temple trusts issued requests to the devotees to offer their prayers from the safety of their homes and planned for online darshan.
Another illustration is the Art of Living (AOL) Organization – founded by H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, it is present in 152 countries, reaching approx. 300 million people. AOL suspended travel in the month of March. The weekly follow ups of Sudarshan Kriya were stopped to avoid any crowding. Not only this, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is now conducting online meditation twice a day to help people manage this stressful period.In his discourse, he keeps emphasising that we owe it to humanity and our country to stay at home. His word influences the behaviour of millions and a slight nudge from him ensures that people exhibit the desired behaviour.
Hinduism has always revered spiritual leaders or Gurus who are often regarded as a link between the individual and the immortal. The festival of “Guru Purnima” is observed to pay obeisance to our Guru(s). There are many shlokas in the sacred texts that revere the Guru – “Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara, Guru Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah “- Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru is Lord Maheshwara. Guru is verily the Supreme Reality. Prostrations to the Guru.
When the status accorded to the spiritual leader is nearly that of the immortal, it is incumbent upon the Guru to guide his devotees in the right direction. This guidance is neither limited to the spiritual world nor limited to the periods of peace and prosperity. In fact, the Guru’s guidance is needed even more in volatile, uncertain and complex times. Likewise, his advice has a bearing on our non-spiritual life also. We live in a shared Earth where all living and non-living factors interact and influence each other. Each of our actions in this physical world has ramifications that go far beyond our immediate self.
When a Guru guides his followers on the right path, beneficial impact is seen manifold across multiple spheres of influence. Conversely when a religious leader misguides his people, the entire society, nation and humanity must bear the brunt of his follies.
Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta. Currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.
Note: The views expressed in the article are of the author's and not of Sify.com.
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