About Hinduism and India

Hinduism considered religion and spirituality to be a personal affair of the individual to connect his soul to God. Human body itself is a temple and abode of God, since it is formed out of five basic elements; Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. It draws warmth from Sun and coolness from Moon. The human body is a tool for creation, preservation and also destruction. Thus basic elements of Nature and gods symbolizing Trinity reside and act in human body.  Hinduism asserts oneness with the Universe by saying:

“जो ब्रह्माण्डे सो ही पिण्डे” – meaning whatever is in universe is also in our body.

The temple viewed is an external symbol of body. Various parts of human body have therefore been incorporated in temple’s architecture. Hindu is obliged neither to build a temple nor pay any visit to it on any particular day. It is optional to choose the time, form and place of worship for the individual.

Significance of Temples

Temples are classrooms of spirituality for the community. Even those who believe in formless god, also have temples. They have played a significant part in helping to preserve and enrich our religion, culture, arts, and crafts. Temples scattered all over the country have served as meeting places to foster national unity.  People living at far off places, have been voluntarily converging at one place on festivals like Kumbha and Jagannath Rath Yatra for several centuries. Thus temples, have served as information and coordination centers of all activities of Hindu Society.

Importance of Rituals

In Hinduism the meaning of dharma is related to the service of all living beings in the environment. But it is difficult for everyone to perceive abstract principles. Philosophy without perceivable actions is hard to be understood, and turns meaningless. ‘Some tangible activity’ is therefore necessary to translate thought into action. Rituals do this job. Religions without rituals become insipid.

The rituals are like spice to the food. They standardize a way to perform certain functions for the sake of uniformity and formalize the beginning and ending of procedures.  It is only when the rituals are separated from the faith and assume an independent existence, they become mechanical, lifeless and burden.

Nowhere in the world, human societies devoted themselves purely to abstract principles and dispensed with all sorts of symbols and rituals. A flag hoisting, an oath taking, or dress codes during university convocation, is as much a ritual as worship or sacrifice. Sage Manu recommended the performance of several rituals, not only to give concrete shape to the abstract spiritual ideals, but also to add color and zest to life. A solemnly conducted ritual creates conducive atmosphere, suggests the mood so that the spiritual aspirant may easily detach himself from the world and feel the mysterious presence of the Supreme Power.

Rituals are like customs and traditions, and may continue changing according to the environment in the society. For instance meditation at sunrise, noon and sunset with recitation of some Mantra, worship of God through symbols and idols, offering oblations to sacrificial fires, were some of the rituals more common in the past. But many exist today in modified form, or with lesser intensity.

Rituals of Worship

Since rituals standardize the system and consolidate the society, changes should not be frequent, and arbitrary. They can be varied according to circumstances, availability of time and resources. A broader conscientious must be arrived before any diversion is made to existing customs and traditions. Deviations should not be made for the sake of flimsy difficulties experienced by few individuals.

Hindu rituals are not as rigid as thought to be. More or less, all religions and civilized communities have been observing similar rituals with slight modifications. Hinduism suggests two types of rituals:

  • Daily Rituals are for the personal satisfaction of the individuals.
  • Contingent rituals are performed to formalize activities in the society on as required basis.

Daily Rituals

Sandhya, Homa and Puja are daily optional rituals. Individuals may choose any one, or all the three, or a combination depending upon time, facilities and resources available. It may be performed individually, or in the company of family members as well as in large gatherings. The venue could be home, community place, a temple, or anywhere. It is to be remembered that these are not for the benefit of God but for the individual to feel contented, humbled, calm and composed after having been relieved of his daily tensions. These are:

  1. Meditation Prayer (Sandhya) – It is focusing the mind on the Supreme Power in any form through meditation. One may meditate at any place and face any direction, since Almighty is everywhere. However climatically, the ideal suggested time is at dawn and dusk before commencing and after concluding daily routines. One may thank the Almighty by inner voice, whispers or chanting loudly one or several mantras, or by using simple words in any language. All forms appear appropriate to God.  The louder would certainly draw more attention and often ridicule from the by-standers. Any convenient clothing could be worn. It is desirable that the place should be clean and quiet as far as possible.
  2. Sacrificial Fire (Homa) – It is Vedic form of worship offered to formless Deity invoked through the sacrificial fire. Precisely it helps to remove pollution from the environment as incense and other materials with beneficial properties are burned along chanting of Mantras. It may be performed individually or collectively for better environment.
  3. Formal Worship (Puja) – This is comparatively formal and elaborate than Meditation prayer. But some or all the formalities can be skipped according to perceptions of the worshipers. The mode of Puja or worship is a replica of the courtesies and protocols normally extended to a beloved guest or a person of higher status. The procedure involved is similar to worldly form of respect that we offer to many mortals to solicit some favors. Only, the King of kings is the recipient here. Puja may be arranged at home or in a temple, and can be performed by the individual himself or more elaborately through a professional priest acting as chief of protocol. Stepwise, the following is the order:-
  • Avahana – invoking the presence of the Deity,
  • Asana – seat is offered to the Deity invoked,
  • Padya – the feet of the deity are washed,
  • Arghya – an offering of sandalwood paste and rice is made to deity,
  • Chandana – sandalwood paste is smeared,
  • Pushpa –  flowers are offered,
  • Dhupa –  incense is burned,
  • Dipa – lighted lamp is waved in front of deity,
  • Naivedya – food offering is made along with drinking water to deity.
  • Visarjana – Finally the Deity is given a farewell.

Contingent Rituals 

The rituals of this category are contingency dependent, and need to be performed when the situation arises. These were mentioned in Manusamruti since the evolution of the society, and continue to be observed in every society with local modifications. These are intended to formally announce the occurrence of major event in the life of an individual for the information of other members of the society. Though some of the embellishments prescribed by Sage Manu might have been out dated due to changes in environment, but in substance and the purpose, these rituals are essentially relevant in every society while some of the westernized Hindus mock at them. Their mocking is nothing but display of their utter ignorance and ingratitude to their own ancestors.

One significant aspect of Hindu ritual is that all activities are performed after invoking the ‘presence’ of Vedic gods, particularly Agni (Fire), Ganesha, and the heavenly bodies of our solar system as witnesses. Celestial witnesses are invoked for testifying the occurrence, as Human beings are liable to be inconsistent and unreliable for multiple reasons. Celestial witnesses are omnipresent and omniscience.

It is also to be remembered that according to Hinduism, God is not concerned with any form of clothing, food, or rituals. Whatever people practice based on their own perceptions, is only to please them-selves. If a person liked sweets and pampering, he would conclude sweets to be the best gifts towards God, and would derive satisfaction by offering the same to Him. He would suggest others also to follow the same. Likewise, rituals are pleasing as long as one can afford them. They become burden when forced upon.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes 27/72 – Environment Related Colorful Festivals)


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