Rites, Rituals and Festivals

In the year 2007, the Shivalinga at the holy place of Amarnath melted away due to tremendous increase in the number of visiting devotees and global warming. The intended demolishing of the Ramasetu is another such issue. The former is caused by imbalance in nature; the latter for sake of commercial interests. But both the issues and several others hurt the religious sensitivities of the Hindu community. Whatever the politicians might regard them as, it is high time that we, the common people, religious or otherwise, belonging to any religion, should make up our minds and decide what we should learn from such issues, and to what extent we should let our faiths and religiosity take hold of our minds and brains.

Like all other institutions, religion too is a form of institution- the earliest one for that matter- that evolved out of the necessity for stabilising the society and is a part of its culture. Every culture has two aspects; the first is intellectually enlightening and the other pertaining to social conduct. The foundation of the intellectual aspect of Indian Culture was laid down by our ancient sages. They strived to progress from ignorance to knowledge. Their ultimate aim was the trinity-Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram-(Truth, Bliss and Beauty). In their endeavour to discern the ‘Rita’- the universal laws governing Nature- they wrote the Upanishads and the Darshans. The rebels among them stayed away from the maddening crowd and lived in forests to write their Aranyakas (literally meaning works written in forests). What these sages discussed, debated and passed on to the later generations was beyond the understanding of the toiling masses. The other aspect i.e., social conduct was taken care of by intelligent but shrewd and sharp men with very little consideration of the lofty philosophy of the sages. For a peaceful society they strengthened the social structure laid down by the Varnashrama System. This made it possible to amalgamate into one society the various tribes with their unique lifestyles, belonging to different races, religions and lands including small kingdoms spread all over the subcontinent. For moral rectitude of the masses they reinforced ritualistic devotion and belief, they wrote Brahmanas that gave a concrete shape to all rituals of worship and there by assimilated almost all tribes and their deities into the eclectic Hindu religion. They also compiled the Smritis in order to lock the society into one socio-economic -administrative framework.

With all these schemes and strategies, they managed to engender a peculiar mass psyche i.e. unsuspecting, uncritical belief and uncomplaining acceptance of one’s lot. Each of us is influenced by this psyche even to day. Most of us accept the role assigned to us in the society without finding out if any change for the better is possible and faithfully observe all traditionally inherited customs and rituals. We are annoyed if any one causes any interference in these practices. It does not strike us that the cultural practices aught to be informed and cautiously watched over by the intellect. The social conduct based on uncritical belief which is not restrained by intellect, leads to unrest in the society. It gets commercialized leaving no place for moral values and ethical behaviour that depends more on the conscience than on religiosity or religious dicta.

The western scenario is slightly different because the intellectuals in those countries turned to the study and research in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Through their efforts the western culture overcame the stagnation caused by uncritical belief and became progressive. Their scientific outlook made life more secular. In India, too, there had been many astronomers, mathematicians, physicians, surgeons, etc. But the sharp Brahmins who compiled the Smritis and the Brahmanas did not allow the progressive scientific culture and enlightening knowledge to reach the down-trodden poor for fear of increasing their appetite for more knowledge and wisdom. They were banned from learning and were immersed in religious rituals and practice, Poojas and prayers, pilgrimages and festivals, observances and penance of all kinds so that they perpetually turned their sight towards the ‘Other World’. Our outlook still remains “Other Worldly” because of our weak psyche and intellectual inertia despite the fact that the right of every Indian to education is enshrined in the constitution and many of us are educated.

We have got to overcome this weakness and inertia and start thinking afresh about our customs and rituals and especially those rituals and religious observances forced upon our women to keep them chained within the four walls of the home. All that is harmful and degrading to human dignity should be discarded forthwith, retaining the healthy practices necessary for emotional development. We must weigh up how much time we can afford to spend in the religious practices vis-à-vis our family, social and monetary obligations.

The Indian mind is not content with the 330 million Hindu gods with additional gods of other monotheist religions, all dwelling in the other world. So we install deities in the earthly rivers, mountains stones, animals, trees, souls of the departed, ghosts, saints, fakirs and what not. Instead of conserving the revered rivers, mountains, trees and animals we ruin them in the name of religion. All the more annoying are the suddenly propping up temples of some ‘Swayambhu’ (self-born) deity in the shape of a stone smeared with red lead. The faithful gullible start worshipping the deity and the temple priest secures profitable means of livelihood. Somewhere else a beautiful cloth is spread over a road side tomb and it suddenly becomes very popular as a Peer that answers people’s vows. In every religion there are plenty of Babas, Buvas, Bhagwans, Avalias, dead or alive, all with superhuman powers. This blind faith harboured by all Indians irrespective of the wondrous Baba’s religion is the lone indication of national integration in our country. Religious fanatics who are out to cut the throats of people of faiths other than their own eagerly look up to all these Babas for solace. They enthusiastically participate in each others’ strange and weird religious practices and assimilate deities from other religions as their own. Those who advocate conserving the original pristine nature of their own religion do not bother about this intrusion of alien deities, Babas and rituals; on the contrary a conflict flares up if the administration curbs a ritual that causes law and order situation. E.g. when carrying coconuts and other stuff for worshiping Siddhivinayak was banned as a safety measure, there was a great hue and cry demanding resignation of the ruling Government. Do the politicians who demanded the resignation ever stand in the queue outside the temple?

One has to critically examine these senseless religious notions that cause a good deal of waste of all kinds and keep the minds and intellects of the common gullible people immersed in the intoxicating religiosity. We ought to adopt a rational outlook towards our religiosity and observance of religious rites, rituals and festivals. It is an important means of emancipating our women trapped in the quagmire of customs and traditions generation after generation.

Suman Oak