WHY RITUALS & TRADITIONS?
It’s summer time in India – a time when the country is in a season of marriages. Bridegroom’s can be seen everywhere, resembling prince of yesteryears, sweating profusely as much with heat as fear of falling off the horse they are required to ride to meet the bride. The bride herself is also sweating inside those heavy, expensively glittering saris with her head dropping low as much with the weight of jewellery as with the custom that requires her to look at nothing higher than the bridegroom’s feet. Laughable in today’s times when increasingly couples are dating or even living together for months before marriage. After marriage, watching wedding video’s the couple would be subject to constant ridicule and light hearted banter by friends and relatives. Traditions & rituals appear to convert marriage into a stage performance with nervous actors mostly with excessive make-ups.
So the moot question is: Have traditions and rituals become just an obligatory spectacle to perform, nothing more than just a source of entertainment for all?
The question become especially relevant for Indian living outside India, since it is more of a bother, forcing guests to wear something Indian, deny them booze and force vegetarian Indian food on their plates. Within India as well, increasingly, major urban Indian cities are becoming more like living outside India.
Of course there is lot of good to living in a world that is imploding to become a true global village. It’s also making every city a cultural melting pot. So with more and more Indians falling in love and living together, will Indian marriages in future start resembling African weddings – where it is a norm for couples to have dated, lived together and even had children? After all in African culture, physical and emotional relationships are individual choices and not confined to be conducted within a marriage only. African weddings are more of a ceremony to attain a stature and of becoming a responsible member of society and gain respectability, things that were very important in traditional African villages. However with urbanization and rising cost of Lobola, marriages are becoming fewer and fewer. Hence slowly but surely African society is starting to resemble those of Nordic countries, like Sweden and Bulgaria where more than 50% of population are co-habiting without getting married. Hence it seems like in this melting pot of a global village, only the flavour of the dominant will eventually prevail, while others unable to adapt, are lost forever.
So how much of a loss is it really?
A good analogy is the difference between having all your childhood spent in a boarding school with a kind matron managing 50 other kids, and compare that to being bought up by your own family. Not everything about the family is sweet and endearing, since they can get quite old fashioned, pedantic and irritating at times. Just that in everything that they do there is so much love inside that you sometimes need to dig a bit deeper to understand. Traditions & rituals can be seen as a resultant personality of your ancestors and all that mattered to them. To begin to understand meanings of these traditions and rituals is to start reconnecting the bond and enriching your life in a manner that is impossible to achieve in any other manner.
The above is true for every person around the world – but more so for Indians, since we have a country that has an extremely rich culture, abounding in different religions and faiths, which makes us unique. Hence for Indian to prefer to lose all that and allow to get swamped totally by western culture will be almost like losing our balance.
What is required is this sense of balance within each of us. And it begins within us – when we start understanding the meanings to the most common of our rituals and traditions. Since I am familiar with Hindu religion, I will give a few examples from them to prove the point:
- The greeting “Namaste” comes from two Sanskrit words “Nama” means to bow, “as” means I and “te” means to you. Hence word “Namaste” means “I bow to you”. It’s about negating or reducing once ego in presence of another.
- Another common practise in Hindu homes is to light a lamp morning and evening. The significance is that light symbolizes knowledge, while darkness signifies ignorance. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Secondly, knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth. Why not light an electric bulb instead? That too would remove darkness. But the traditional oil lamp has a further spiritual significance. The oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our vaasanas (desires) or negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vaasanas get slowly exhausted and the ego too finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we should acquire such knowledge as to take us towards higher ideals.
- The prayer room that Hindu homes traditionally have also have significance. It displays the attitude that God is considered the true owner of the house, while we are but caretakers of it. This notion rids us of false pride and possessiveness. Spiritual thoughts and vibrations accumulated through regular meditation, worship and chanting done there pervade the prayer room. Even when we are tired or agitated, by just sitting in the prayer room for a while, we feel calm, rejuvenated and spiritually uplifted.
Similarly we can analyse birth, marriage and death ceremonies and will find something beautiful in most of our traditions and rituals. I leave that to the readers. Once we understand, we don’t feel embarrassed performing it, but rather honoured. The invited guest watching it all, will also sense this shift in attitude and will leave the ceremony with a sense of awe more than anything else.