The Sanatan Dharma aka Hindu Dharma is a mystical and oldest of all religion not represented by any founder or prophet besides it’s a way of life more than a religion predominantly established on knowledge of Vedas & Upanishads. A Hindu could be polytheistic or monotheistic because it doesn’t force its followers with stringent religious obligation but shows the path to attain Self-realization by virtue of spiritual enlightenment. Regardless of Puranas, the Dharmashastras i.e. sacred book of laws like Smriti & Sanhitas has an unbeatable importance which imparts various guidelines on life and living. It is kind of holy constitution enclosing different rules and regulation for spiritual passage of human life. With the study of Shastras the common man prone to believe in the theory of Karma (action) and has learned the Hindu way of living through rituals, customs and beliefs carried on by word of mouth from one generation to another.
The ritual, rites & customs are an inevitable part of any religion. In a very simple word to say the rituals are the performing or due practices done by a religious follower in a set order on a specific occasion like festival, birth, marriages, death etc. and few of them also performed on a daily basis too. The Sanatan Dharma takes the privilege to behold a maximum number of rituals on its account in contrast with other religions.
Hindus holy scriptures instruct about three paths to reach ultimate human goal i.e. Moksha (Liberation), they are Bhakti yoga (path of devotion), Gyan Yog (path of knowledge) & Karmyog (path of action). Bhakti yoga is mostly associated with ritual & latter two express some aversion toward ritual. Individual following Bhaktiyog practices ritual in the passage of his life for profound love of God and to express his gratitude & obligation. Our Rishi & Munis’ possessed great knowledge of God & simultaneously they were a great scientist, well versed with scientific knowledge. They prefer to amalgamate science with religion so both go hand in hand. Unfortunately, sense of scientific reasons lags behind and the only religious importance of rites & ritual prevails. Sanatan Dharma is quite flexible in comparison with other religions where some rituals mandatorily have to follow. In a bid to avoid monotonous passage of life where there are no arrangements which can encapsulate transcendental meditation, spiritual engagement with lots of utter joy and way to elude sheer boredom, ritual & rites play an indispensable role. In a hasty bustle of the materialistic world, it also takes care that we don’t lose sight for spiritual attainment.
Hindu dharma has been pulled through despite modernization, urbanization & even survive in foreign invasion & occupation but our most of ritual, custom and rite remain substantial which are still practiced in temples and homes benevolently. Hindus accustom it as an inevitable part of life to live in prosperity & harmony. Though not exact default set of order followed customs many times but what matters are our love, affection & compassion toward God. No matter what religious affiliation anyone has at larger or smaller extent ritual follow individual like a shadow.
Let’s elaborate various rites & ritual a Hindu(We are focusing on rituals of Hindus only) individual confront through out his life time. “Solah Sanskar” The sixteen rites of passage have predominant importance in Sanatan Dharma. These are actually customs which are embodied by rituals. In ancient period it is to be assumed that total number of Sanskars were around 40 but as time goes on variation took place and finally 16 Sanskaras set in order Viz. Garbhadhan(Conception), Punsavan (Protection of Fetus), Simantonnayana (Satisfying craving urges of Mother-to-be), Jatakkarma (Birth Ceremony), Namakaran (Name keeping Ceremony), Nishakramana (Taking child outdoor 1st time), Annaprasana (feeding solid food), Chudakarma (Hair Shaving), Karnavedha (Ear Piercing), Upanayana (Sacred thread ceremony), Vedarambha (Study of Vedas) Samavartana (Coming back after education), Vivah (Marriage), Vanaprastha (Preparation for renunciation), Sannyasa (Renunciation) & Antyesthi (Cremation).
Allow me to present a brief explanation of above mentioned Sanskaras what could I presume with best of my knowledge, conscience & references. First, three Sanskars’ are performed before birth and remaining in later life. A male donates his seeds in the womb of a lawfully wedded wife and both pray for a beautiful child to continue the human race. Once a woman conceives it bring responsibility of nurturing & protection of fetus by feeding woman healthy food & following a simple routine in the spiritual environment to evoke divine qualities in the child. During the pregnancy of woman due to hormonal variation, she craves for distinguished food which should be fulfilled. For the same purpose program of “Godh Bharai” customarily get organized by familiar, which literarily means “Filling the lap”. It’s first official welcome of an unborn baby & gracious way to pour blessing on mother-to-be where she can fulfill her craving for various food items brought by family & relatives especially for her. After birth of child familiar gives baby an identity in form of name by performing Namkarana. Usually for three month it is restricted to take new born baby out. By Nishkramana with blessing of God infant begin its worldly life. For initial six month baby feeds only on mothers’ milk later on mild semi solid food given, since then baby start to taste the food grown by Mother Earth. Whatever hair an infants grows in mother’s womb in period of 9 month are considered unclean. It must be removed. So “Mundan” or Chudakarma i.e. shaving hairs of head performed. Karnvedha (Ear Piercing) is not merely an embellishment but has scientific reasons which help to protect baby from some dieses like hydrosol, hysteria etc. Upanayana Sanskara marks the beginning of schooling life of child who is given sacred thread as a responsibility to carry forward. Then begin the learning of Shastras by Vedarambha under the direction of Guru where he must learn art, philosophy, Vedas & subordinate branches of study. Coming back after completing education Vivah (Marriage) is performed which include its own indigenous rites, most important of which is “Kanyadan” i.e. Gift of Maiden. Giving away daughter in form of donation by resolution has unparallel importance. By this way a father resolves to earn good deeds for himself & his ancestor to attain Brahmlok (Reign of Brahma) moreover she will be responsible for upliftment of groom’s ancestor too. After spending a lawful, honest & spiritual married life one starts to get rid of materialistic world breaking down mortal bondages by Vanprasthas & prepares for renunciation. Rites of Passage end for human being after the last rites.
The incident of Birth & Death has paramount significance in any individuals’ life. So the ritual surrounding them establishes utter importance. As soon as infant inhale its first breath, rites began in the family by observing “Yutaka” i.e. abstention from idol worshiping or going into ceremonies for 10 days. The Yutaka period for the woman after delivering a child is about 45 day during which she is restrained from doing puja or going into the kitchen. Why is it important? After passing through one of most delicate & fragile phase of woman’s life which was jubilant but painful make her unstable by both mentally and physically. She needs recovery time and those 45 days serve the purpose. She gets love, affection, and care from family & relatives which she required at that time most. When a person dies family observes “Pataka” which also means for abstention from physical worshiping, exchanging gift, participating in holy ceremonies etc. Scientific reason behind it is very clear as one might have died so the family members are vulnerable to be the carrier of diseases so these 12 or 10 days are the period of Purification from death impurities according to Vedic philosophy. More over mental instability arises due to the affection of deceased personal so family members get time to control the emotions before confronting society. “ The Shraadh “ as described in Garud Puran is performed to unleash the mortal bondage of deceased on 13th or 14th day after death, for next 11 months on day person dies and yearly on Sarvapitri Amavasya. According to Shastras, everyone has three types of holy debt first Pitru-run (Debt of Ancestor), Rishi-run (Debt of Seer) & Dev-run (Debt of God). By performing Shraddha we get rid of debt of ancestor further its nice way to express gratitude and pay homage by donating good deeds earn by Shraadh to final journey of deceased.
Look at some daily practices we do. As soon as we get up in the morning before putting feet on ground we should chant looking at our hands “Karaagre Vasate Lakshmih Karamadhye Sarasvati |Karamuule Tu Govindah Prabhaate Karadarshanam” which literally means “On upper side of hands Godess Lakshmi reside, in the middle Maa Sarasvati exist and at bottom Lord Govinda resides that’s why we must look at our hand in morning” God who is ubiquitous also exist in our hand so we began our daily routine expressing our gratitude toward God for bestowing us another beautiful day. Most of us might have heard the chanting of mantras or bhajans from various places even from bathrooms eventually when our grandparents or elders are in there. It wholeheartedly suggests us to use every spare time in remembrance of Lord Almighty. After bath first thing to do is your Nitya Puja (Daily Worship) which is subsequently done by elders of the house in which we profoundly wash small idols with water & milk, clean it up, apply a paste of sandalwood on it, put a flower on it and offer a prayer from the abyss of our heart. Why? If some one saves us from the dreadful situation we become thankful to him and remember them on special occasions. Imagine how much obligation we owe toward God for conferring us a human life which is only species which has right of Moksha. We are immensely indebted to God. To remember his gratitude this Puja plays a vital role. Everyone like to get praised, Gods too that’s why we perform Aarti after Puja in which we sang praiseworthy songs of deities to express our love, benevolence & gratitude concluding worship for that period. Applying Tilak on the forehead is customary & its scientific importance has also been proven. Types and ingredients of Tilak depend on upon sectarian norm such as in Vaishnava sect (Followers of Vishnu) sandalwood paste is used where as in Shaiva Sect (Followers of Shiva) apply Bhasma (Holy ash) on the forehead and whole body. Tilak helps to stabilize “Ajna chakra” also spelled as Agya Chakra which exists in between eye brows and has immense important in transcendental meditation. When applied completely on the forehead it helps to keep the head cool, calm & prevents energy wastage. Apart from these reasons it also acts as an embellishment that’s why Hindu married woman and unmarried girls too wear bindis which make them more beautiful & attractive.
Substantially it’s quite hard to elaborate all ritual, custom & rites in a given specified limit of words. Here I just try to give an overview on some of them for a clear understanding of true meaning hidden behind it. In Sanatan dharma, its various rituals are followed by Hindus in a variety of manner based on their position in society, cast, financial background and religious beliefs. It is also true that some of the rituals are not applicable at this stage of time for example Vedarambh & Samavartana (because no Gurukul left this day to go & come back)), Sannyasa (impossible for most) etc. at least for all. In the current scenario where everyone is engaged in running behind time & money aloof from their owns, these customs bring them together in form of Diwali, Holi, Rakshabandhan, Ganesh Puja, Navratri to name a few. This all works as a catalyst for our mutual interaction & togetherness which is extensively important for social harmony and welfare.
In a contemporary world, most people carry out ritual as accustomed formalities considering we are bound to do this or we might evoke the wrath of God by not doing this. Sanatan Dharma never emphasizes to perform ritual strictly but by considering it as an occasion to remember Lord Almighty with a kind heart. Everyone is given fill right to accept or reject customs by examining with respective their conscience and time periods. The Moksha which has been appraising as the ultimate goal of a human being can also be attained by Gyan Yog or Karmyog where rituals are not mandatory. Myriad ritual ceremonies can help to remember the grace of God and its unbreakable bond with us. Profound & consistence practice of rituals pushes us to live a pure, harmonious & spiritually enriched life which is indispensable for self-realization.