At IIT Kanpur, we have a place called MT here. Nobody knows its real name, some say it stands for Motor Transport, for it was where auto rickshaws used to stand previously, some say it stands for Mehta Telecom, for the oldest shop. Whatever the real name maybe, MT is one of the oldest, most favored and typical hanging out place in the campus. It stands out among the rest of the campus as a place which doesn’t look like an educational institute at all, it looks more like an assortment of shops that spring up near a highway, paan-cigarette shops, tea-samosa shops, and a bicycle repair shop. Add a small temple too. Students flock to MT in droves day in day out, for smoking, for getting ‘real’ tea in dirty glass cups. The most repeated lines among students, after the classes, or in the afternoon in hostels, doing nothing, is “Chal MT chalte hain”. I think it stands out among other IITs in this respect; it still has one small corner of its campus that is rooted in ordinary people, people of Naankari, the adjoined village, students whirring their ways through examinations, relationships, depression, festivals, jobs, internships, and what-not, workmen, guards rushing in after shifts…
Okay, I got emotional, hehe… Anyways, that small temple, which is of God Hanuman, is quite an active one, and organizes ceremonies on particular festivals. These days, I guess Navratra are going on, so Sundar Kaand paath was being organized there, along with an Havan. I was there in the evening, sitting on a sidewalk with my friend, sipping tea, watching the whole thing going on. Half a dozen people was chanting from holy books, three four of them were playing dholak, manjeera and surprisingly synth too. The other congregation was at the small gate of the temple, chanting a completely different bhajan with lots of manjeera, temple bells ringing and stuff. Frankly, it would have sounded pure noise to many. But not to me. I was sitting there, just watching these guys going about it with great gusto. I liked the atmosphere. I have never been a religious person, but I have always loved the atmosphere that is created on festivals, or during a ceremony in temples. I haven’t visited a temple ever since I got to college, but the atmosphere during Diwali is most exhilarating and positive to me. So I was sitting there, and I could feel the positivity flowing in the air, a sort of good-feeling. I was thinking, if such a thing could induce such kind of joy in an agnostic like me, what would these guys be feeling. I see people, many of them students like me, getting their chappals off, and kneeling/joining hands devoutly to the gods.
The thing that happened with me today has happened a few times before too. I was just sitting there, transfixed, enjoying the strange feeling of joy and peace that was in the air, not listening to what they were saying, just the music, and a kind of a dazed euphoria, as if on drugs, where you forget the pains behind, and just believe, just rest, on the supreme force, and he will take care of the rest. I was thinking, that is why religion will never vanish from human world. Because there’s one thing that religion has: faith. Atheism can give people everything, but it can’t give them just this one thing: faith. And all the things that come with it. Strength, based on faith. Optimism, based on faith. Hope, based on faith. That’s why religion will always be the majority, and atheism a minority. Religion gives faith. And people don’t need a real god to have faith. They just need the concept of ‘God’. They will create the rest from it. Atheism can’t give you that. It can only give you reason. Rationality. Logic. Of course, optimism, happiness, and strength come from reason and logic, but it’s a long and hard path, the path of a Buddha, the path of enlightenment. And humans are weak creatures. Yes, taken individually, people have shown remarkable strength and courage, history is full of such examples. But at any given point of time in history, men, as a society, as a collective, are weak. And weak can’t walk the path of Enlightenment, of Buddha. They need the alternate way, faith. And notice! By faith, I mean faith in anything, literally anything, except the axioms and natural laws of this universe and your own mortal self. Faith is like a shortcut, a wormhole, it lends you power, it lends you strength, hope and optimism.
I was thinking… It’s an amazing thing! No matter how much I dislike it, I couldn’t help being enchanted for those moments for the strange feeling there were giving me, even though I ridicule, in principle, every single thing they were doing there. That’s the power of religion! This is the amazing thing atheism can never give people. Faith. That, is the power of religion.
After-note: Looks like initial readers have taken the impression that I am a religious man, or my religious faith is restored. Well, it is not so. I’m as strictly anti-religious as I ever was, and I was examining this advantage of religion and belief-in-god over atheism from a objective point of view.