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….)

 

Kali, the Mother

The terror and the fury

Of sickle and scythe –

Weapons of death and destruction

Dancing in her hands

Her bare breasts covered with blood

Still dripping from the severed head that she carries in her hand –

What terror she must infuse in the evil minds of evil men?

She annihilates the past, the present and the future,

As the presiding deity of Kala, time;

Her formless form pervades infinity,

Devouring the maya of time and space,

astride on the wings of Infinite knowledge;

In primal purity she stands, wearing nothing but

The fundamental elements of nature as her clothes;

Lord Shiva had to hurl himself on the ground

To stop her from destroying all creation

In mock regret she bites the tongue,

When her feet touches her lord’s inert body on the ground

What an excuse for the Shiva – Sakthi leela?

Fifty skulls adorn her neck

One for each character of the Sanskrit vowel, claim scholars

As if she belongs to a language!

Even if Sanskrit is heavenly, is she not the mother of the universe?

The mother of all, wicked or wise, weak or strong;

Her heart melts to true devotion, uncoated with egoistic and educated theology

Ferocious she may be,

She is still the loving mother of the world;

For all her ferocity, for all her intolerance of evil, and for all her Motherly Love,

She ever remains the Mystic Mother of the Cosmic Universe….

And yet, men paint her black and call her Kali.

( Navratri just got over. These days, the true meaning of Navratri celebrations is being lost in the commercial sellout of the festival. Hopefully, the real meaning will resurface after some westerner publishes a book about Indian festivals and their meanings……)

Note : The father aspect of God, the Father, and the mother aspect of God, the Mother, are two interesting concepts of Indian/Hindu faith. In this, the mother aspect of Kali, is most misunderstood as a primitive God, wanting sacrifices. On the contrary, we find great poets like Bharathi, Aurobindo, Tagore, Ramprasad Sen, Kamalakanta Chakravarti, Trailokyanath Sanyal, Kalidas, and Kazi Nazrul Islam inspired by the notion of the mother aspect of God, as MAA KAALI, or simply, MAA. To the Great Mother of this Cosmic Universe, the true symbol of feminine godliness, I humbly submit this poem.