New Delhi: Tuesday is New Delhi’s day of choice to propitiate Hanuman, the monkey god. At the Hanuman Temple on Baba Kharak Singh Marg in central Delhi, devotees mill about the courtyard, break and form raggedy queues under stern police eyes, and jostle for the divine touch.
This Tuesday, though, things were different.
For Lalit, one of around 15 people who guard devotees’ footwear, it was a lean working day. “What happened today?” he asks at around 6pm.
“There’s been no crowd at all this evening. That line…”—he points to a dozen people under a walkway covered with green plastic sheeting—“…should be stretching till the road by now.”
The queue is neat and tidy this time, but the announcement on the loudspeaker reminds the devotees to behave. “Keep moving, keep moving. Form a single line to enter the temple. Don’t push. Keep your wallets safe,” it says.
The mild-looking man behind the microphone, in an orange booth made of chicken wire, is not sure why the crowd is so thin. “The crowd today?” he says, without looking up. “It’s very low, but who knows why.”
Ravindra Chauhan, owner of a printing press in Chawri Bazaar and a regular at the temple, knows why. In a short while, the Delhi Daredevils will be playing the Deccan Chargers in the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament. “It’s the cricket match, I’m telling you.”
Chauhan has seen collections drop from their normal levels of around Rs10,000 per day to Rs2,000-3,000 when there is a match.
In the Tuesday’s IPL match, where each side plays 20 overs, the team representing Delhi beat Deccan Chargers of Hyderabad.
“A few days ago, I called a client to ask if I could come to his office to show him some proofs,” Chauhan says. “He refused. He said the match was going to start soon, and that he was going home.”
To prove his point, Chauhan calls over Vikas Sharma, a young priest at the temple. Sharma seems unwilling, at first, to doubt his congregation. “The regulars still come, you see,” he says, pointing to the short line heading into the temple. “All the floating members, the casual visitors—they won’t be here this evening. Otherwise, on a Tuesday, that man in the green cap would have much more work.”
The man in the green cap is Ajay, known and addressed by devotees and priests at the temple as “Ajay security guard”.
“Let’s go in. You’ll see for yourself how empty it is,” says Chauhan.
There is still an energetic tussle at the altar, but Chauhan says even the little space inside is normally crowded on Tuesdays.
In a corner, two other priests shoot the breeze. One of them, Lalit Pandey, has been with the temple since 1983. “They’ll come after the match, you just watch,” he says. “The crowd will build from 10.30pm and weaken only at 12.30pm.”
By 8pm, an hour after the evening aarti, or prayers, the line has grown a little more—but not enough for Jeevan Das, who sells sweets outside the entrance. “Crowd? You call this a crowd? This is just a third of a regular Tuesday attendance,” he says.
The queue, it appears, should by now be stretching out of the gate, onto the road, and looping back around into the courtyard.
“This is nothing,” he says. “It was Hanuman Jayanti only a couple of days ago, after all. It was his birthday. I think he’s just cancelled all his appointments for today.”