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Rituals in Hinduism : The Touchstone of Tradition in the Religion

The significance of rituals in Hinduism starts with the ideology that rituals bring in social order to the society

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Yajna, a Hindu ritual, Wikimedia
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– by Christina Elizabeth Emmanuel 

Feb 23, 2017: Rather than residing under the umbrella term of Religion, Hinduism stands out for being a held high amalgamation of social values and philosophies. It’s a tradition and a part of Indian History.

Traces of Hinduism dates back to 5500 BCE, say Indian archaeologists. Clinging hard to the concepts of Doctrine, Practice, Society, Story and Devotion, Hinduism emerges as a platform of customs, rituals, and norms and created a Social Structure.

Rituals being the ‘formalized behaviour’ in which a collection of people engage religiously, in a certain way of expressions and motions. Hinduism gives much importance to these special gestures or behaviours that paved the change of a Philosophy to start known as the Religion existing from prehistoric times.

The significance of rituals in Hinduism starts with the ideology that rituals bring in social order to the society. Performing rituals around what is considered as the ‘sacred’ brings in the consciousness of ‘Profane’ that distinguishes the high posited thoughts on ‘Holy’.

Moreover, rituals bring in a collective identity to them even when it breaks into several clans or groups. The shared experiences thus evolve from the performance of rituals binds the people together towards a moral movement and transcendence.

Complete abiding to the common rituals within the communal premises promise a social mechanism that might bring social solidarity and social mobility in an existing social structure. As Stark suggested rituals leads to the continuation of the voluntary strengthening of collective conscience.

Hinduism is one of the wide spreading Philosophy or religion, comprises of a huge collection of rituals that has to be performed every day right from dawn till dusk. Apart from the endless social significance it holds, there are numerous spiritual significance it presents to its people.

  • ‘Yajnas’, where chanting mantras to performing pujas and offering to deities around the sacred fire ‘Agni Deva’ who purifies entirely without getting impure is the most prevailed ritual that has been known and performed by a large number of people till the date. The ritual never failed in bringing a sense of fulfilment and gratitude in the performer as it is directly associated with the psychological cognitive orientations of faith, hope and care. Every festival starts with yajnas and every beginning starts with this ritual.
  • ‘Japa’, the recitations on God’s which give the performer, the sense of closeness to God, a direct speech with God also is a powerful ritual in Hinduism that provides spiritual enlightenment to its people within a short span of time. Research says that ‘Japa’ increases the concentration level of the performer leaving great relief from the mundane problems.
  • ‘Aum’ or ‘Ohm’, the first vibes or voice that was voiced out in Mother Earth, evokes the sense of divinity around in the performer. It’s not used by everyone as it’s considered as one of the most sacred word in Hinduism.
  • Right from taking ‘Prasada’ after ‘archana’ to knowing deeply about ‘Brahma’ and ‘Atman’ constitutes the rituals in Hinduism, which develops as the touchstone of tradition and culture- the way of life.
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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)