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

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