In Bihar I was given another kind of gift in the name of God. In Baidyanathdham at Deoghar I went along with some Harijans for darshan of the sacred image of Mahadev. We were not able to have that darshan, but we got our prasad in the form of a good beating at the hands of the God’s devotees. Those who beat us did so in ignorance, so I did not want them to be punished. On the contrary, I was very pleased that the hundreds of brothers and sisters who were with me all remained calm. Not only that, those of my companions who got the worst of the beating all said that they felt no anger at all. I believe that this will prove to be the death-throes of the demon of discrimination.
I had no desire to enter the temple by force or by the authority of the law. It is my custom never to enter any temple into which Harijans are not allowed entry. I had made enquiries, and was told that Harijans were allowed to enter, so after our evening prayer we all went reverently for darshan, keeping silence on the way. I myself was meditating inwardly on the Vedic verses in praise of Mahadev. That being the case, when we were unexpectedly attacked and beaten it was for me a specially moving experience. My companions encircled and protected me, intercepting the blows which were aimed directly at me. Still, I did get some taste of them to complete our ‘sacrificial offering.’ I remembered how, in this same dham, the one whose servant I call myself (Mahatma Gandhi) had received the same kind of treatment. I had experienced the same blessing, the same good fortune, as he did.
I went to Jagannathpuri for the Sarvodaya Sammelan (in March 1955); and we went to the Jagannath temple, but had to turn back without entering. I had gone there in a mood of great devotion, but I had a French lady with me, and it was my principle that if she could not go in, neither could I. I began in early youth to study the Hindu religion, and I have continued to do so to this day; from the Rigveda to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Mahatma Gandhi, I have studied the whole tradition as reverently as I could. I claim with all humility that I have tried my best to practise the Hindu religion as I understand it. In my opinion, it would have been a very unrighteous act for me to enter the temple and leave the French lady outside. I asked the authorities there whether she might enter along with me, and they said No. So instead of making my obeisance to the Lord, I saluted them respectfully and turned away. As I said at the time, I do not look down upon those who had refused us entry. I know that they too must have felt sorry about it, but they were enslaved by ingrained ideas and were unable to do the right thing. So I don’t blame them much. I say only this: that such an incident bodes ill for our country and for our religion. Baba Nanak was also refused entry into this temple and was turned away from its doors. But that is an old story, and I hope that it will not again be repeated.
[Gandhi had once castigated Mahadev Desai for not advising Kasturba and his wife against entering this temple.]
At Guruvayur there is a temple, so famous that it could be called the Pandharpur of Kerala. Years ago Kelappan had fasted there; Gandhiji had come and joined him. He asked Kelappan to give up his fast, saying, ‘I will fast in your place.’ Gandhiji thus took the fast upon himself, and after that the temple was thrown open to Harijans.
When I reached Guruvayur I had with me some Christian fellow-workers. I asked the temple authorities if they would allow us all to enter together. No, they said, they could not allow that, but they would be very pleased for me to enter and would feel sorry if I did not do so. ‘I am sorry,’ I replied, ‘I do not understand how I could have any experience of God if I were to leave these Christian friends of mine outside. I cannot worship in that way.’ So I did not go in.
A great debate ensued in the Malayalam newspapers about my not being allowed in Guruvayur. Public opinion on the whole was against my exclusion. Only one or two papers criticised me for insisting that people of another religion should be allowed inside the temple. The rest, a score or more newspapers, said that I was right, and that it was a big mistake, which would do much damage to Hinduism, not to allow us to enter.