Unholy water

When my parents telephoned to say that they would be visiting us for a fortnight to spend time with their grandchildren, we were filled with joy. We were then living in a north Indian town and any visit from near and dear ones was welcome. We immediately started planning how to make their trip enjoyable, and decided that since mom was highly religious and God-fearing, she should be taken to famous temples located nearby.

First in my list was one of the jyotirlinga temples. Though we were tired after a hectic overnight journey, mother was excited to fulfil her vow. After freshening up, we went to the temple straightaway. By the time the poojas were done, it was almost noon. Having skipped our breakfast, we were hungry. As soon as we came out of the temple, our escort said that there is an other temple nearby which should not be missed. Though I was reluctant, my mother insisted we visit this temple. The temple was located on a steep hill and we climbed up panting and puffing. The temple was inside a small dark cave and the only lighting there was a brass lamp. As we entered the temple, the priest who was smoking a beedi, asked us whether we have brought any offering. We said no, but dangled a hundred rupee note. He performed ‘arathi’ and gave theertha (holy water) in a table spoon. As usual my mother consumed it thrice and soon she started coughing. The holy water was pungent and foul tasting. Making faces, we trooped out.

I was curious to know the contents of the theertha. Despite the family opposition, I entered the temple again alone. This time the priest asked me whether I have brought a ‘pahwa.’ I did not understand what he meant and asked him to explain. He showed me a quarter bottle of arrack. I got angry and asked him how dare he demand liquor in a holy place. He laughed and said that the deity is fond of liquor and it is the only offering the Lord accepts. So saying, he placed an arrack bottle to the mouth of the deity. Half the bottle vanished in one go. I was amused. I asked the priest to explain but he said one should not seek explanation of divine powers. In the pretext of perambulating the deity, I went behind it and saw a big vessel kept at its back. Whatever liquor that was poured in the mouth of the deity would collect in the vessel and a portion of the same was distributed as ‘theertha’ and the remaining was probably consumed by the priest!

Elated over this discovery, I climbed down. My family members were hovering around my mother looking worried. She had swooned. It did not take me long to find out that the country liquor had its effect on the empty stomach of the staunch devotee!

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