The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Celeb at temple gate' Not again

This is really getting a bit too much. Every other day, one sees pictures of movie/TV stars praying at a popular temple at Prabhadevi. We are provided several nuggets of largely irrelevant information regarding the visit. Whether the celebrity walked, ran, rolled or was airdropped. Barefoot, or shod. Head covered, or bare. Who came with whom. At what precise time' Post-aarti or pre-' Which particular scheme the person has subscribed to ' gold card membership or a maamuli silver' How much do these privilege cards cost' Duration of darshan' What was asked of god' Donation if any.

I find this highly intrusive and deeply offensive, to both the celebs themselves and other lesser known devotees. Why is this temple indulging in such an aggressive publicity drive' What for' A place of worship has to retain its sanctity above all other considerations. And every worshipper who goes there has the absolute right to privacy. Does Ganpati Bappa know or care who holds a platinum card' That would be reducing Mumbaiís adored deity to a credit card manager, peddling benefits to members with the highest spending power.

It was never this bad, nor this blatant. In recent times, religion has been hijacked by politicians and businessmen (sharks, if you ask me). Temples provide the best revenue models and offer the highest returns. True. But to exploit a place of worship and convert it into a commercial enterprise whose brand equity goes up in direct ratio to the number of Bollywood stars visiting it, makes me feel ashamed and sorry.

I feel equally astonished by the fact that these stars allow themselves to be photographed during what ought to be a deeply introspective and inspiring moment ' not a cheap photo-op, for godís sake! And yet, we see an entire galaxy of big names posing away, hands folded, aarti thalis in hand. Some arrive with faces artfully made up. Others look suitably humble and casual. While still others offer sound bites about the state of their blistered feet after walking 15 kilometres.

These ďdarshansĒ are generally at some unearthly hour. Chances of even the most diligent presswallahs just happening to be present at the venue are pretty dim. So, who alerts the press' And why' How come lensmen show up at 3 am to catch a megastar at prayer' And how come those flashbulbs are allowed inside the temple when regular devotees get no such privilege' Why can certain VVIPS jump queues and get an instant one-on-one with god, while others wait in line for hours on end and are then rudely hustled away, mid-prayer, by overzealous temple guards who push and shove them around roughly' Does god himself keep an appointment diary with celeb entries'

These are disturbing issues that need to be addressed by those keen on converting what used to be an unpretentious, humble shrine as recently as 10 years ago. There were no barricades and sandbags then. People who wished to enter could do so without the present coupon system. Okay, now that the numbers have ballooned beyond expectations, I agree itís necessary to bring in some order and discipline, especially on Tuesdays and other auspicious days. Thatís fine. But I appeal to those in charge of ďmarketingĒ this complex not to offend and insult the sentiments of anonymous worshippers who come there with faith in their heart and a prayer on their lips. To ask such persons to move aside and make space for paparazzi while movie stars pretend to commune with god is the worst travesty. That goes for all other similar places that try and cash in on peopleís belief. Itís a gross violation of our collective sensibilities. Leave orchestrating photo-ops to lounge bars owners and boutique babes. Ganpati is a tolerant, forgiving god. But even he has a limit. Let us not test his generous nature. Let us not try his patience, or else...

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