A little essay in Hindi textbook in class 10th has left a powerful impression on me. Essay was titled “Dardidra Narayan” which roughly translates as “God in Poor”. In a passionate writing author appealed to readers to see presence of God in poor people and worship Him in forms which help them. Looking back, I can see argument having socialist leaning which derided rich people and their richness and put poverty on pedestal. Idea of romanticizing poverty has been part of Indian, and particularly Hindu, psyche for long, and has been dispelled only in last decade or so when consumerism became fashionable. Perhaps origin lay in poverty of early Brahmans who were most respected individuals in society due to their wisdom and learnedness. Or perhaps Hindu philosophy of disowning material comforts to connect soul to Supreme Lord was revered in form of poverty. Ills of richness in forms of consumption of meat and alcohol were considered sin. Belief in cycle of rebirth had big role to play in shaping Hindu attitude to sufferings in life where misfortune was accepted as punishment of past sins and had to be borne stoically rather than fought against. Whatever be the original cause, poverty remained associated with innocent, purity and closeness to cultural roots as depicted in numerous 60s and 70s movies.
Despite possible implications of looking for God in poor people, my belief was further strengthened by increasing detachment from formal religious institutions. As I found many holy men using religion as excuse to beg and undertake illegal activities, as I discovered full-fledged commercial operations running in garb of religious charity, as I became disillusioned by absence of any real guiding sage for Sanatan Dharma, I found myself unable to financially contribute to religious institutions and programs. I remain a devout Hindu who believes and worships God sans rituals, but I have practically stopped donating to temples. I collect money due to these places and give it to any charity working for welfare of poor or children. I think I see more value in money helping real people improve their lives in this world rather than helping temple Pujari appropriate even more for his personal gain.
I see God in poor to the extent that I prefer to give money to financially weak rather than to temples. I hope God will still count my credits for punya for admission into Heaven!! (See also: Virtue or Lack of Opportunity)