By Ishaa Srivastava
Think about how Hinduism manifests itself in large sections of our society. The idea of India is heavily impregnated with the multitude of its religious identity. Religious devotees and pilgrims dedicate much of their time, money, and resources in the fervent service of God. They undertake pilgrimages to places like Amarnath in dangerous terrains, enduring much physical pain. They part with their wealth, indulge in daily prayers, and renounce their possessions to be in God consciousness.
The idea of renouncing possessions and making a ritualistic offerings in a temple may seem vague to many, but it is a great form of devotion towards God. The idea behind making an offering in a shrine is a reflection how one is willing to part ways from materialistic things. It should be seen as an act of detachment. A first step towards detaching oneself from the materialistic world.
Those who have undertaken a journey in South India, maybe familiar with how thousands of people offer their own hair at the Tirumala Tirupati Temple, an act that absolves one from all ego and repays the debt to God. A lot of Hindu temples also receive massive donations (in cash or gold) from Indian and NRI devotees, which is used for the temple infrastructure, food for devotees, or other charity work.
The Sabrimala pilgrimage (Ayyappan pilgrimage) attracts millions of male Hindu devotees from Kerala, and South India as a whole. Preparations for the pilgrimage usually start in November, and the pilgrims adhere to a vratam, a 41 day period of abstinence. This is akin to the Kavar Yatra undertaken in the sacred month of Saawan (July to August) by Shiva devotees (Kaavariyas) in north India.
Many partisans have of course, gone beyond and gone astray with the whole concept of sacrifice fundamentally. Commercialisation of a few temples in India takes away the piety of a place of worship. One is reminded of Nepal; the nefarious killing of 100,000 animals during the quinquennial Gadhimai Festival which last took place in 2014. Before we point our finger, however, remember there have been horrendous cases of sacrificial rituals in our own country. In 2002, for instance, 105 children were buried alive for ‘just one minute’in Perayur Village, Tamil Nadu, during the Kuzhi maatru thiruvizha—or the festival of the pits. Family members ‘bury’ their own children in the hope that their wishes will be fulfilled.
Where do we draw a line between moralistic rituals as social practice and an actual unquestioning, spiritual devotion to God?