One hundred and seventy kilometres south west of Patna in Bihar, in a small village named Atraulia, a very modern sect of Hinduism is emerging. This community devotes their worship to one-time cricket champion Sachin Tendulkar.
Now retired, Tendulkar has been dubbed one of the greatest batsmen of all time and is the only player to have achieved more than 30,000 runs in international cricket. This year he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s most prestigious civilian award.
Thus without doubt, his accolades are abundant, and cricket is certainly a crucial aspect of patriotism and national feeling in India. Now, the great sportsman has been elevated to Godly status and the Indian people have erected a marble statue of his likeness in the centre of Atraulia village. Indeed, locals perform puja to Sachin-ji and refer to him as ‘an incarnation of God in the world of cricket’.
Manoj Tiwary, Bhojpuri actor and singer, has funded the project and the idol has been erected on his own land. The white marble representation, which cost 8.5 lakh rupees, is life size and elevated on a 10 foot high plinth, ensuring that villagers and visitors can pay homage to the vast edifice.
Although seemingly fairly far-fetched, this is a venture that goes further than an unabashed commitment to a national sport and a national hero.
Bihar, one of the poorest states in the country, struggles with an ill reputation as being relatively backwards. Tiwary’s efforts reveal an admirable attempt to bring tourists, both domestic and international, to the district. It is also part of a wider scheme to improve the cricketing and sporting prospects of this a comparatively undeveloped part of the state, with the construction of a new cricket ground.
Mr Tendulkar describes himself as a devout Hindu and on this basis has announced to his disciples that he is ‘not a God as he makes mistakes and Gods do not’. Nonetheless, this community’s wholehearted devotion to the demi-God Tendulkar embodies a brilliantly Indian blend of the material and spiritual and tradition and modernity.