Religious Rituals and Noise Pollution

Sometime back, famous Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam got entangled in a controversy when he called the early morning prayer from a nearby temple “hooliganism” because it forcefully woke him up every day in the morning. He was severely criticised for his remark. However, as per his clarification, his only intention was to highlight the nuisance created by loudspeakers at the religious places, especially during dawn. However, in the ensuing debates, the larger phenomenon the singer was pointing towards got side lined and the focus was kept on him being pro-religion or anti-religion. But the pertinent question which needs answer is– Does our society need to think about the use of load speakers at religious places?

In several religions, dawn has been given special importance. It has been considered the best time to meditate, to concentrate, etc. as it is the most peaceful time of the day. In the past, people used to maintain peace in the morn and enjoyed the calm. With the advent of radio and television, people used to listen to hymns at low volume in the early morning and relished the serene atmosphere. Unfortunately, later, with the development of electroacoustic technology, speakers got mounted on the roof tops of most of the religious places and over the course of time; they have taken the responsibility of putting the recitation of holy texts in the ears of the people in the morning, willingly or forcefully.

Apart from accomplishment of the aim of making people to take God’s name every morning, these loud speakers have created a lot of problems for the citizenry. Speakers are being used without giving due consideration to proximity to educational institutions, hospitals, libraries, etc. Students who prefer to study in the early morning find it very hard to concentrate. The noise pollution created by these public address systems is very deleterious for the hearts and minds of the people. Only medical science could ensure the extent to which this pollution is destructive to the ears and psyche of the infants. The old are another group who suffer when it comes to the blatant disregard of the ill-effects of using such loud systems. Further, no study has been conducted which conclusively say that majority of people enjoy these early morning renditions at temples.

All religions discuss about the importance of peace in establishing one’s relation with God. People go to religious places like Badrinath, Amarnath, Hemkund Sahib, Golden Temple, etc. to find peace. Given this larger religious context, it is surprising that people have to deal with loud speakers blaring in their residential areas in the name of faith, while defeating its very purpose. Apart from the daily religious rituals, this pollution multiplies during festivities. Large processions are accompanied by huge set-ups of load speakers powered by mobile generators. We must not forget that the tradition of drum beating has taken new proportion. Drum troupes are hired to move along with the processions. At present, loudness has become the measure of grandiosity. We must ask ourselves– does all this really have any important role in propagating or maintaining the practice of one’s religion?

The usage of such loudspeakers and the euphoria around the religious processions has existed because apart from the commoners, even the government authorities have failed to act upon these. The close connection between religion and politics has allowed this to continue. If anybody raises questions then he/she is branded as anti-religion. Though several High Courts’ judgements and the National Green Tribunal have ordered to keep a check on usage of such speakers, the lax implementation of orders and the lack of accountability have allowed the unimpeded use of speakers.

In the end, it is important that the people must realize that the religion is for individual and it is not the other way round. Being able to practice one’s religion, whether within community or individually, must not be inextricably linked with the nuisance of speakers or drums, especially at odd hours of the day when people might sleep or study. The government and municipal authorities must implement reasonable measures to tackle this problem without entangling themselves in the unnecessary debate of whether the moves are pro or anti-religion.

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