Showing off Holiness – Religious Sound-Pollution – 9 Nov 12

To finish this week, in which my topic was religion once more, I want to return home with this entry, home to Vrindavan. You all know that our town is a very religious town. It is called the playground of the Hindu God Krishna and it is said we have more than 5000 temples in which you can worship all different Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism. The moment you enter Vrindavan, you notice the religiosity of the place. There are pilgrims on the roads, you see the temples and small chapel-like houses where people go to worship and most of all you hear people chanting and singing religious songs everywhere. It is this religious noise which I was contemplating about.

If you have not been to India yet, you may think of the sound of church bells or of a boys’ choir, singing with their tender voices. What is really going on here however needs to be witnessed in order to fully realize the difference. Every temple that has a bit of reputation has speakers hanging outside its door, facing the road and spreading the noise outside on the road. It does not matter whether they have a big program going on inside or if there are only three or four people chanting in an otherwise empty room, they will put the speaker on full volume and let it blare out onto the road into the complete neighbourhood. It is not subtle, it is not a soft voice in the background, it is hard-core, full-volume chanting, often regardless of musical talent, melodies and right tunes. I generally call that religious sound pollution.

Before Vrindavan-lovers now start their protest, let me add that I have absolutely no problem with people chanting religious hymns or songs. I actually approve of a joyful atmosphere in which people sing and when our kitchen is filled with music, it makes me feel comfortable and happy. Every temple should have the right to do singing and music, too, even if the singers are not very skilled in their art. But why, really why, do you need to place those four or five speakers onto the temple walls? Why do you need to amplify and shout it out to everyone who wants to or does not want to hear it?

I believe that this is religion on the outside, not on the inside. You are showing off how religious you are and the louder you can get, the more holy and blessed you think you are. Do you think by putting your speakers on the wall and keeping others from sleeping in their beds, you will turn non-believers into believers? Admit that you are doing it for others, not for yourself. If you did it for your own joy, you would not need the speakers, you would be happy just on your own, singing, enjoying the music and whatever religious feeling you get from it.

I sometimes wonder how it must have been when there were no speakers. When I grew up, we would hear the speaker sound in festival times but not every single day of the year! I don’t deny that the constant singing gives the town a certain atmosphere – but it has become too much and too loud. It is like a competition in between different temples who can sing the longest and the loudest. I am sure people would prefer walking in the streets and hearing the real voices coming out of temples instead.

My main point is here that people use religion to show it off. Don’t do this – stay real and be yourself, there is no need to force others to listen to it.