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Hindu Rites and Rituals: their meaning and significance

Rituals are the formulas by which harmony is restored - Terry Tempest Williams

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Vishnu Yagna Kunda in Yagashala, as part of Mahakumbhabhishekam of Gunjanarasimhaswamy Temple, T. Narasipur. Wikimedia
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December 13, 2016: For Hindus, rituals form a very important part of their culture. Rituals are made to instill feelings of religiosity and devotion. They are necessary to strengthen one’s faith in the religion and also God.

Earlier, the life of many religious Hindus practice rituals centered on the importance of performing the duties associated with one’s stage of life. With regard to this, Hindus passed through these four stages of life:

Brahmacharya: It if focused on acquiring education and developing one’s character.

Grihastha: Focuses on worldly pleasures and pursuits including marriage and career.

Vanaprastha: Focuses on spiritual things

Sannyasa: The life of contemplation

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According to Hinduism, performing rituals can help us get rid of all the negative hostile influences and attract the positive beneficial ones.  The main purpose of the rituals is the progress in one’s life, spiritually and materially. The material gain includes the gain of progeny, wealth, intellect, strength and long life. Rituals also lay down some rules of conduct that are necessary for a follower to perform to develop his personality and become a complete man.

Every ritual has a meaning ad a scientific reason behind it. For example, the scientific reason behind ringing the bell before entering the inner sanctum of a temple is that it clears our mind and helps us concentrate. The sound creates a unity in the left and right sides of the brain. The sound activates all the healing centers in our body.

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Rituals develop over the time. There are many rituals of ancient times that we do not perform today. Also, the meaning and practice of some rituals have changed over the course of time. During Vedic times, yajnas were related with Karma and Dharma. Today, these are associated with social activities.

But the rituals are not limited to Hinduism. A ritual is mere a form of language that communicates through formal gestures. Even the salute in the army is a form of ritual that acknowledges seniority. The rituals help transmit an idea over generations.

Sometimes, the ritual is separated from its purpose and understanding. Whether you understand it or not, you are obligated to perform it for the benefit of the upcoming generation.

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For example, the namaaz in Islam binds the entire Muslim community. So, even without our understanding, a ritual binds an individual to a community.

Rituals are a form of art, which appeals to some people more than it does to other.  Some people see the point, because they open themselves to art, while some don’t. A ritual communicates in a visceral manner, through the body and through the soul, not through the thoughts or the spoken words. One can see it and feel it. If you just observe a ritual like some tourist, it will not evoke emotions in you unlike in a person who participates in it and lets the art overtake.

Rituals can sometimes be suffocating if they are performed as an obligation and not with free will. For people who can’t understand the purpose behind the rituals, it can be torturous. To people, who immerse themselves in rituals and understand the concept behind them, rituals play an important part in making them a part of the social group. So there are good as well as bad aspects of rituals. But, as long as we want to connect humans to their communities, we need rituals.

Prepared by Diksha Arya of NewsGram. Twitter: @diksha_arya53

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Copyright 2016 NewsGram

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.