The Shiva temple on the banks of the river near the old Peepal tree was thronged by devotees morning and evening. The reflection of the morning Sun made the river waters orange, and the river seemed like an ascetic in flowing ochre robes, bowing to the temple of Shiva right in front of it. Birds chirping on the tree seemed to chant some sacred hymn. While devotees from far and near came with offerings of flowers, fruits, milk and sweets to have a glimpse of their deity. Fragrance from the incense sticks wafted through the air around the temple alongside the sound of bells. Small bushes of tulsi graced the entrance of the brick floored shrine. In the center of the temple stood the black, rock-solid Shiva-linga. Water poured on its top through a pierced copper vessel, constantly keeping it bathed and clean. Devotees offered flowers and milk bowing in reverence to the deity, while ants feasted on bits of fallen sweets given in prasad.
Along the north wall stood three banana trees in a row, at the end of which was the simple and humble abode of Deenanath the temple priest. Deenanath would get up early each morning and after cleaning around the temple and bathing, would sit for hours chanting the name of his lord Shiva. His wife Janaki accompanied him in his chanting, sometimes his son too would wake up along with him, but would soon go off to sleep again. Deenanath and Janaki would wash the temple daily and furnish it with fresh flowers which they grew in the nearby yard. Janaki would prepare a sweet that would be distributed to the devotees as prasad. This was a daily family ritual for them which kept them happily busy. Their son, Surya, however was not a devoted sort. But Deenanath never imposed the rituals on him. Deenanath believed that devotion, like friendship, could not be imposed. He believed that it was a spontaneous flowering that took its own time to grow and blossom.
But as time passed by he grew anxious for handing over the temple responsibilities. He knew he was growing old and needed someone to take over the charge of the temple so that the devotees always had a place to visit. So he thought of talking about this to Surya who was now a mature adult and though independent, showed some interest in the temple.
When he finally spoke to Surya, he refused, saying, "Baba I cannot do this job".
"But why, what is wrong with this? You would anyway take up a job somewhere, here I am offering you one, and the good thing is you know everything about it."
"Yes I know everything about it, I know that you will be a devotee for a lifetime but never be the Lord. You work from morning to evening, making this place worthy of worship yet this work is not acknowledged. Those part time devotees who visit the temple kneel and bow to the rock statue of your lord and completely ignore your existence! Our family feeds on the offerings made to that rock idol. I feel ashamed that your status is even less than a rock! This job is humiliating and self-insulting." blurted Surya.
Deenanath was taken aback by his son's words. He knew that Surya was not the devout kind, but his views about his work came as a big blow to his devoted heart. He felt broken within, and though outwardly calm he was shattered within. He tried to gather himself up, and regaining his composure said,
Son, you are free to choose the work of your choice, but there is a misunderstanding you have regarding my work and I need to clear that. Had I been desirous of status I would not be here in the first place. I am here for my love for Shiva, who has been my constant companion in life; and the devotees who visit the temple are bringing something more precious than what is visible to you. They bring with them a gift of devotion. Their eyes can see God in a rock and that is great. Bowing to something powerful is natural, but bowing to something that is considered weak and worthless as in your views, simply a rock, is what I call devotion. Their coming with this feeling feeds the devotee in me. This gift is invisible and perhaps the most valuable gift that they bring. Their devotion is what endears them to me, and whatever I do for them is my way of expressing my love for them. I am happy to have a lifetime or more of devotion, as the creation of devotion is something as great as God.
Still if you think that status is something that is brought by something other than love and devotion, you are free to choose a status of your choice.
Both father and son then proceeded to light a lamp in the temple. That evening was dark no more!
Author: Jyoti Prateek