BY C JAYANTHI

It’s an odd thing, but religion and money are deeply intertwined. There’s always money lurking around faith and the faithful, whether it’s someone selling flowers, paying the priest for interceding with the divine, beggars taking advantage of our (often temporary) expansive emotions, or getting aartis done for a price.

At temples, we’re usually generous with our goods because most of us tend to feel that’s the way to God, despite all that we read to the contrary. That’s what happened with me when I went to Anna Nagar to teach French at a private institute that’s almost next door to a famous Shiva temple. My dad wasn’t well so I went and asked for a miracle. The first few times I went, I didn’t buy anything, just prayed. After 10 days of fervent prayer, my father improved radically or that’s what I believed.

My friend Joan Setur had told me prayer can achieve anything, although she advised me to try Jesus. But Shiva was my lodestar. I was deeply into him and he can stop evil, after all. As I prayed, and my father got better, I felt obliged to offer flowers, coconuts and deepams. Then I progressed to aartis. After which, as I felt I was neglecting the priest, I started leaving a Rs. 10 note on the pooja tray when he came around the devotees to confer God’s blessings. I saw found that other Shiva devotees were leaving Rs. 50 notes so I felt obliged to match in kind.

This was when I started to wonder at myself. Had I come to pray and ask for a bit of sympathy, a bit of luck, or show my monetary worth and might at the altar of God?

Is prayer—and therefore, religion —about finding the divine within and without or is it about making a show of your ability to spend? For some reason, many of us feel it’s the latter. Shiva granted my wish, or so I believed, much before I went on a spending spree. But I felt I had to please the Lord; else he may be displeased with me. And so I parted with my currency.

I could have just said thank you to Shiva, as Joan had advised. She did say, “Don’t forget to thank the Lord.” Even Christians give money in charity as charity is a virtue. But I’m sure you can show it without flashing all those big notes. Charity is not a privilege of the wealthy. Sometimes the poor show a great deal more of it. I wonder why, then, we’re so tempted to equate faith with a willingness to spend cash rather than earn some credit the hard way.

(C Jayanthi worked in The Times of India, New Delhi, and other English dailies in India and abroad for two decades. She teaches at Loyola College, Chennai.)

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