Okay, so I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Chicago’s “Little Arabia” neighborhood (very little) and I’m perusing the India Bulletin, looking at the pictures of the Bollywood starlets and the articles on the Nano and how Obama wants “results” and “accountability” from Pakistan when I come across this nifty advert from the Hindu Temple of Georgia — the one Sherman marched through, not the other one just south of Russia.
The advert features Sri Sri Selvam “Siddhar” who also goes, it appears, by the name of “Dr. Commander Selvam.” Now THAT’S the most awesome title I’ve ever seen — Dr. Commander. It beats reverend doctor to a pulp, and only other title I’ve seen that came close was Doctor Chief Warrant Officer 4, though I think I remember the head of Air India in Dubai in 1995 went by the title Captain Engineer. I want to be a Dr. Commander, and as soon as I’ve finished this post, I’m going to find a mail-order outfit that will make me a Dr. Commander for $29.95 (or its equivalent in rupees). Or I will start one, and style myself a Dr. Commander, print up business cards, register a domain name and put up a website.
Anyway, Dr. Commander Sri Sri Selvam “Siddhar” (nickname? title?) owns his own ashram and was, according to the copy in his advert, “[t]he first Indian American in USA, who donated $14 million as a single donation to build the only Shiva Temple in the world with 108 Shiv in Georgia.” (Yeah, there are all kinds of grammar problems with that sentence. And if that’s what you have to do to become a Dr. Commander, then I am clearly out of the running, not having $14 million and not interested in building a Shiva Temple with 108 of anything. Still, I want that title…) And he also says that he is available to help with (quoted as is from advert):
Spiritual healings for problems Relates to Marriage, Family Business, Job, Immigration, Court cases, Relationship, Children, Black Magic, Jadoo [this, I think] and any kind of Human and Evil problems.
I remembering walking around a botanica in Rialto, California, seeing novena candles that dealt with the very same problems, with my personal favorites being “positive encounter with the police” and “victorious court case.” (There’s just such a botanica on Kedzie street not far from this Starbucks.) I’m not here to knock the Dr. Commander’s command of English ($14 million is nothing to sneeze at, Shiva temple or no Shiva temple, and I’m assuming he acquired it honestly; I don’t have 14 million of anything , honest or otherwise, save maybe intestinal parasites) but this is folk religion at its finest. I wonder what the Dr. Commander does to help with such things? Ritual, prayer and incense? If he (or his various subcommanders) burns candles while praying, is that not a novena? And how different does that make Sri Sri Selvam’s devotion to Lord Shiva from santeria, aside from the name of deity invoked and the language prayed in? Fascinating, this use of prayer against spells and black magic, to manipulate the material world, and I’d love to spend some more time studying and contemplating this, the similarities and the differences.
Again, I’m not knocking the Dr. Commander — he looks kind and thoughtful enough, the kind of guy you’d like to sit and drink tea and yogurt and eat vegetable biryani garnished with marigolds with. And maybe get him to invoke one of the 108 avatars (or forms, or flavors, or whatever) of Shiva to help you with your problems.