TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING HINDU CULTURE, RITUALS AND TRADITIONS…..

(Part Three)

Once an interesting true story appeared in a popular English magazine where a fourth generation lady in a family wants to know why the Easter Turkey was always cut in three and cooked whereas in all other homes the Easter Turkey was cooked whole. The lady in question goes to her mother, who tells that that was how it was always done in the family, and that she had learnt it from her mother – then the inquisitive lady goes to her grandmother who also tells her the same story. Then she goes to her great grandmother where she is told by the great grandmother that cutting the turkey into three was the ONLY way that the turkey was going to fit into the (great grandmother’s) cooker! – Observing this practice, the family had for generations been following the practice of  cutting the turkey into three until our inquisitive lady showed up.

Like this, customs, traditions, rituals and practices also have some basis. And sometimes, it could have some simple and functional basis! Many of the practices, customs and traditions or rituals must have started at some point of time because of some need/event. Later on, they get incorporated more as practices as over the years, the actual reasons are forgotten.

In Hinduism, for example, most of the practices, customs and traditions have some basis, some of which are truly scientific. And sometimes these stem from ABSTRACT concepts. The worshipping of a shivaling, for example, is an abstract concept not many in the western world have understood. ( If one observes our atomic reactors, which have one of the strongest structures in SHAPE to contain energy and also an igloo or a shivaling, the similarity would not escape comparison) But each Abstract concept of Hinduism can be expanded into a whole new way of life. In his famous book, The Autobiography of a Yogi, Sri Sri Yogananda says that the Hindu is often accused of LIVING ON ABSTRACTIONS! Abstract concepts define many a practice in a Hindu household. For example, the practice of putting small pieces of Kusha grass (Dharbai in Tamil) during an eclipse may seem odd. Normally, the grass is made to float on any water body, including milk, during the eclipse. And after the eclipse, the grass is taken out and thrown and the water/milk used. To the casual observer it may seem a simple ritual. But in essence, the small pieces of grass floating on the surface of the water in the vessels actually disturbs the surface tension, due to which invisible infrared/ultraviolet rays which abound during an eclipse, does not affect the water body since the disturbed surface tension deflects the rays through refraction. Sounds incredible? Also, there is the added feature of Kusha grass that is believed to absorb negative rays. Hence, the practice of putting grass on water during an eclipse seems very much scientific indeed!Like they say that school going children should not chew paan. Whenever a child asks, the simple rebuke/reply/answer that would be given is, “ The cow would come and gore you with its horns!”  But the actual reason is, that the tongue becomes thick when paan is chewed, which may prevent the child from properly PRONOUNCING the words. In other words, chewing paan may become an hindrance to the studies of the child, which is why the child is weaned away from such habits by invoking some fear that the bull will come charging. Again, the reason why RED sindhoor is applied on the married woman’s forehead at a particular spot has more scientific reasons than that of beauty, and the reason why North Indians apply Sindhoor on the head instead of the forehead too, has its own reasons. These specific reasons cannot be discussed on a blog platform for various reasons. But in today’s time, these traditions are now almost derailed by synthetic sindhoors and plastic bindhis…..

(To be continued)

TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING HINDU CULTURE, RITUALS AND TRADITIONS…..

PART ONE

(This is being written for some of the almost “western” Indians who read, breathe, and  live in western concepts, and, armed with an university degree, often “question” the various traditions and customs, without bothering to know the real value of these traditions and customs…)

In every religion, there are customs and rituals that are practiced for some purpose. Most of the time, these customs and rituals lose their meaning when they are not understood. Most of these customs and rituals are intertwined with societal customs and habits, and they become a tradition….

Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma, is a wonderful religion and a way of life. Most of the core concepts of Hinduism are hidden behind abstractions, rituals and customs. Great Truths are often hidden in all these abstractions, rituals and customs because the person who walks the path, is supposed to know. In Hinduism, most of the beliefs are not read in books. They are lived. However, unlike written books in other religions, Hindu Dharma largely has many unwritten rules and concepts that are passed on from generation to generation as traditions, rituals and customs. And soon enough, the meaning behind those rituals is lost…

One of the things that often confounds a westerner is the plethora of Hindu Gods. They say that there are 330 crore Gods and Godesses in Hindi religion. This diversity also define the democracy that one finds in Hinduism. Hindu religion is very democratic. In a household, for example, one member may worship Ganesha while another may worship Kali and yet another may just worship God as “Jothi” like Sri Ramalinga Adigalar. Again, one may follow the Gita, one may follow the Ramayana, or one may not even be able to read – yet, all of them may be Hindus. The Hindu way of life is so broad minded that you’ll find Jesus Christ or Allah or Guru Nanak in many a Hindu household, for the Hindu believes in the “diversity” of Gods and “unity” of the concept of One God. And from the plethora of Gods, the Hindu often picks and chooses that form or aspect of God needed for him/her at that moment of time. For example, when he/she is leaving the house for a journey, he/she may pray to Lord Ganesha or Lord Hanuman as they are more heroic Gods – best suited to protect the traveler. Or, if he/she wants to pray for good health of a family member, he/she may pray to Dhanvantri – the physician of the Gods – Or if he/she wants to do well in studies, Goddess Saraswathi may be the best bet – and so on. At the same time, the Hindu religion does not specify roles very strictly. For example if a person likes to worship only one God or Goddess for everything, that is also fine. The finest aspect of Hinduism is it’s flexibility and adaptability.

Hinduism lives in its rituals and customs. By following the rituals and customs, the Hindu is supposed to know the abstract truths behind the rituals and customs. Often, Abstractions like a lingam, define the Hindu’s logic of life. Unfortunately, the average modern Hindu in India is an educated and knowledgeable person who does not want abstractions to define his/her religion. He/She wants Hinduism to be out in the open, baring all the truths that it has concealed for centuries. And sometimes, when such truths are laid bare, they not only lose their charm, there is also the danger of misuse, using those very truths….

Again, in Hinduism no one agency or individual has the right or knowledge or power to unleash the wisdom of Hinduism to the masses – This will be decided by Kala Bhairavan, the God of Time. Like the Greek God of Time, Chronos, (chronology is derived from this word) the Hindu religion has Kaala Bhairavar. Kaala Bhairavar is an ascpect of Shiva the fearful. Again, Maa Kaali is known as the God of time in some sects – So one should not ask as to whether Kaal Bhairavar is the actual God of Time, or is it Maa Kaali? – The answer is found again in many puranas, stories and traditional customs. The important thing is to worship either one who suits our temperament.  Again, it is not important whether the Hindu worships the male or female variation of the Time God, as long as he/she understands the concept of time, and the role of the Time God in his/her life. So, when the time comes for the blossoming of the Hindu religion, in whatever fashion decided by collective Karma, the Time God, Kaala Bhairavan, acts – he acts according to the tenets of Time. (There is not one single Guardian of Hinduism – there are 330 crore Gods and Goddesses, it is a huge collective army of Gods and Goddesses!)

Hinduism does not prescribe that the person practicing Hinduism should follow this book, or wear these kind of clothes, or speak only Sanskrit, etc. The practicing Hindu is a very ordinary person, who follows many things apart from Hinduism, since Hinduism is so flexible to accommodate other ideas also.

The core concepts of Hinduism are very close to Nature. Pancha Boothams – the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and akash* – occupy a very important place in the average Hindu’s life.  During Ganesh Chathurthi and Durga Puja, it is the worshipping of the earth element at home and strengthening of the earth element that is being done ritually. The 5 elements are associated with Chakras and the Root Chakra supposedly get charged to the full when the earth element is brought home and worshipped.

(* – the fifth element is known as akash, space, ether, vacuum, etc – the tamil equivalent of the fifth element is “VIN” – Vinveli for short)

( To be continued….)