When I took my brother and his wife to Badrinath and Kedarnath the car driver, on the way asked me one question: ‘We know and also taught by our elders that gods are within us and also in our puja room and local temples. Of course going to some pilgrimage is also part of sadhana in our bhakti. But why people want to go to such difficult pilgrim centers in remote mountains after negotiating all kinds of danger? Is gods expects us to come and worship them only at such places with much difficulties and dangers’?
In response I said that taking extreme physical pains and difficulties is considered as part of prayaschitta for the sins of commission and omission. Of course all those who go to such remote pilgrim centers know about the dangers. But as it gives some kind of mental satisfaction they are ready to take such risks.
However after the recent accident near Pokara in Nepal (May 9th, 2012) after the visit to Mukteswar, again the question of that driver came to my mind. This is not the first time that accident happened and won’t be the lost one. Because it is in a dangerous altitude and the services provided by private airlines in Nepal for this pilgrim place is not up to the mark of keeping all kinds of safety measures. However, before going to such remote places without proper facilities needs to be questioned. Of course I completely agree for the desire of people to go to remote and extreme dangerous places both for adventure and trekking. To enjoy some special kind of natural beauty one has to ready for such risk. However, people trained properly and the team that take them to such trekking have all kinds of facilities and in some cases they give proper orientation and if needed practical training before taking tourists to such places. When I went to Pindari glacier, I was given a proper orientation by my disciple who runs a business of trekking in Himalayas. As commercialization corrupted everything—tour and pilgrim packages, people should think twice even thrice before planning to go such extremely remote places. Though I never question their bhakti and sadhna, if their aim is to have a darshan of their deities, it is available in approachable places within their (safe) reach. And if their desire is both a mixture of adventure plus pilgrimage, then careful planning, preparation and choosing right kind of agency to take them there is important. Otherwise such tragedies cannot be avoided.
Of course such accidents will be again explained as gods’ wrath on certain failures in the ritual purity or procedures or karma of the sadhakas (devotees). For example on every car accidents during Ayappa pilgrimage in South India, it is blamed as a punishment for the failures of the certain vows by the devotees compromising with ritual purity that is required by that deity Ayyappa and never the mistake of the driver. The daughter of a pilgrim killed in Pokara accident told to the media reporter that though it is a tragedy for the whole family, yet as god choose to take her father during the pilgrimage, she is sure of his father going to the abode of Vishnu. I have witnessed such an attitude during my visit to various pilgrim places in Himalaya like Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Pilgrims don’t mind if they get killed in any accident in such place as it will assure them immediate mukti. Such explanation will help to console the family members but never will caution us to think seriously about the safety measure that need to be considered on such pilgrimage—particularly to remote places.
Dayanand Bharati. May 18, 2012