God of little kids
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19th Jan 2012, 03:08 AM #1
God of little kids
God of little kids
Ranjeni A Singh talks to little children to find out what they think about God. There are some interesting revelations.
"What does God look like?" "He looks like a human being," the children shouted in a chorus. "I have seen his statue in temples and in films. Sometimes, he has more than two hands. God can also be a woman," said Rishul.
"Where can you find him?" Some children pointed to the sky. Some said he lives in temples and a few said he lives within us.
These were all tutored answers from children. As adults, we are so engrossed in finding out what priests, swamis, philosophers and politicians have to say about God that we completely overlook children. 'Children are like God,' we often say but never care to find out what the little ones actually think about God. We are busy feeding them with our views on God as we think their faculties to understand godly matters are not yet developed. But research indicates that, just as children develop cognitively, physiologically, and emotionally, they also develop spiritually.
So I coaxed the children I had gathered from the neighbourhood to share with me their uninhibited view on God. "Do you think God looks like a chocolate or a Teddy bear?" Suppressed giggles gave way to loud laughter. "I think God looks like a circle," said chubby little Divya, her eyes sparkling. "My face is round, the sun and the moon are round. I like oranges and they are round," she reasoned. On hearing this, eight-year-old Prakhar pushed his way through the group of kids who had gathered around me and said, "Ma'am, bhagwanji toh bhoot jaise lagte hain. Jaise bhoot nahin dikhayi dete, Aap God ko bhi nahin dekh sakte - "God looks like a ghost. Just as we cannot see ghosts, we cannot see God."
They are opening up now
"Can God look like Sachin Tendulkar?" There was more laughter. Then one boy raised his hand and said, "Only when Sachin hits a century." For nine-year-old Nandini, her papa is like God. "When my mother was seriously ill, he took her to the doctor, cooked food for us and helped me do my homework."
"God can be in animals too," offered Gurmeet Singh. Some kids looked shocked; perhaps they might have been told that animals are lowly creatures. But this child cared little. "My dog Bruno is my best friend. Whenever I am not well, he keeps sitting besides me. Even mummy-papa go to office," Gurmeet said. He had a point. "God cannot be in chocolate as it is a non-living thing," reasoned Ryan. Smart kid. He knows what he is saying.
All Gods are same
Manimala Roy, the principal of Basava International School says she organises visits to religious places for pre-primary students to familiarise them with different religions. I asked the children of the prep class to name some gods. "Hanuman, Ganesh, Jesus, Krishna, Allah..." they rattled off. Surprised at their information, I teased them by asking, "Is Doremon also a god? Pat came an answer: "Who toh cartoon hai" - "He is a cartoon character."
Meghna, the teacher who took the children to a mosque, says the students were thrilled to see the spacious prayer hall there. "When I asked them to pray, they started looking around to find statues of deities. When I told them that in a mosque there are no dieties, people just pray, they closed their eyes, folded their hands and started praying. Some even mumbled shlokas." Surely, they don't discriminate between gods.
I asked a boy what he saw in the church. "I saw a cross and a fat book called Bible. The priest said God lives in the cross," said little Kshitij. "But a cross is something that the teacher puts in my notebook when I write something wrong," said his classmate, Azan.
Guide them properly
Contrary to popular belief, children know that there is someone who is very powerful and can protect them. Besides family influence, "it is inherent in human nature to repose faith in someone powerful," says Swami Nikhilananda, the head of Chinmaya Mission, Delhi. The children I spoke to knew nothing about religious beliefs. All of them saw God as a superhero with magical powers. They had a positive - often playful - impression of God.
"Children's images of God change from a physical, anthropomorphic one to a semi-physical one, to a non-physical one. By adolescence, their god-concept loses its human-only qualities and takes on supernatural ones," says Roy.
At this age, it is important to guide the child properly so that he grows up to have a healthy view on godly matters. "I know many parents who inadvertently guide their children to be divisive by telling them things like 'our god is the most powerful god' or 'their god cannot do this or that'. According to Swami Nikhilananda, "Children should be taught the samskara and culture into which they are born in a proper way. At this age, telling them politically correct things may not help. If you tell them they can pray to whichever god they want to, in the bargain they will not get anything."
"By understanding how children perceive God, and how they develop these perceptions, I am sure adults will be in a position to understand how to communicate matters related to religion and spirituality to children, says Shyamala Menon, a child psychologist. Ten-year-old Ankita asked me, "Why is everyone building places of worship if God is within us?" Any easy answer to convince the child?